Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Barbados, The African Slave Trade and the Sugar Industry Part 1

This is the first of what I estimate to be a 6-7 part series on the African Slave Trade and the Sugar Industry in Barbados.  I think that it is important to spend time on this subject not only because of the importance of the Sugar Cane crop to Barbados and the Slave Industry but to read and learn. To stop and think of what people groups all over the world have done to one another. The Spaniards to the Amerindians. The English to the Scottish and Irish, The Europeans and Americans to the Africans and  Hitler and his followers to the Jews. The truth is these are but a few stories, for centuries people have enslaved, murdered and tortured each other. Hopefully we will learn from our past and never return to it.

In an earlier blog about white slavery and servitude in Barbados I spoke about a period of time between the years of 1652 to 1659 it is estimated that well over 50,000 men, women, and children of Irish descent were forcibly transported to British imperial colonies in Barbados and Virginia to serve as slave labor on plantations.The extent to which White prisoners were transported to Barbados was so great, that by 1701, out of the roughly 25,000 slaves present on the island’s plantations, about 21,700 of them were of European descent.

Prior to 1637 The main crops planted in Barbados were tobacco and cotton. These crops were not fearing well. The Barbados tobacco said to be a peasant crop was so distasteful it is said that not even Pirates would smoke it. Cotton of itself did not grow well in the interior of the Island and anther crop was clearly need. It was the Dutch who came to the aid of Barbados offering guided tours to Brazil and introducing the sugar cane It was in 1637 that Sugar Cane was brought to the Island and at first were only used to produce rum. It would not be until 1642 that Barbadians would begin to use the cane to produce sugar. At first they found this transition very difficult but with the aid of assistance from Brazil they were able to achieve success. The success was so grand that land value went up by 5 times the value prior to the introduction of sugar cane.

It was at this time in history that the African slave trade was introduced to Barbados. Planters found themselves in need of a stronger and larger work force. This was a problem remedied again by the Dutch who introduced them to the vast reservoir of labour in West Africa.
The African people who were enslaved belonged to that of a vast territory which now includes Sierra Leone and Guinea, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Niger and the Cameroons. They spoke many different languages and had many different customs and cultures. They came from a populous region where slavery had long been existence by purchase, by kidnapping or by the fortunes of war. It is however important that we recognize that the slavery experience in Africa bore little resemblance to the Chattel slavery that they were to endure in the Caribbean for it did not strip a man of all his rights and property.

The then slaves came to Barbados by tens of thousands. Some failed to survive the horrors of the Middle Passage while many others reached their destination.   Ships departed Europe for African markets with commercial goods, which were in turn traded for kidnapped Africans who were transported across the Atlantic as slaves; the enslaved Africans were then sold or traded as commodities for raw materials, which would be transported back to Europe to complete the "triangular trade". The term "Middle Passage" refers to that middle leg of the transatlantic trade triangle in which millions of Africans were imprisoned, enslaved, and removed from their homelands.

An estimated 15% of the Africans died at sea, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself in the process of capturing and transporting indigenous peoples to the ships. The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the Middle Passage voyage is estimated at up to two million; a broader look at African deaths directly attributable to the institution of slavery from 1500 to 1900 suggests up to four million African deaths. These figures do not pertain solely to the slave trade in Barbados but on a whole which was shared between European powers such as Portugal, England, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Brandenburg, as well as traders from Brazil and North America, all took part in this trade.

The duration of the transatlantic voyage varied widely, from one to six months depending on weather conditions. The journey became more efficient over the centuries; while an average transatlantic journey of the early 16th century lasted several months, by the 19th century the crossing often required fewer than six weeks.

African kings, warlords and private kidnappers sold captives to Europeans who held several coastal forts. The captives were usually force-marched to these ports along the western coast of Africa, where they were held for sale to the European or American slave traders in the barracoons. Typical slave ships contained several hundred slaves with about thirty crew members. The male captives were normally chained together in pairs to save space; right leg to the next man's left leg — while the women and children may have had somewhat more room. The captives were fed beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. Slaves were fed one meal a day with water, but if food was scarce, slaveholders would get priority over the slaves. Sometimes captives were allowed to move around during the day, but many ships kept the shackles on throughout the arduous journey.
It is estimated that between 9.4 and 12 million Africans arrived in the New World Disease and starvation due to the length of the passage were the main contributors to the death toll. Additionally, outbreaks of smallpox, syphilis, measles, and other diseases spread rapidly in the close-quarter compartments.  In addition to physical sickness, many slaves became too depressed to eat or function efficiently because of the loss of freedom, family, security, and their own humanity.

Slaves were ill treated in almost every imaginable manner. While they were generally kept fed and supplied with drink, as healthy slaves were more valuable, if resources ran low on the long, unpredictable voyages, the crew received preferential treatment. Slave punishment was very common, as on the voyage the crew had to turn independent people into obedient slaves. Whipping and use of the cat o' nine tails was a common occurrence; sometimes slaves were beaten just for “melancholy.” The worst punishments were for rebelling, and here the captains were often horrifically creative; in one instance a captain punished a failed rebellion by killing one involved slave immediately, and forcing two other slaves to eat his heart and liver.

In 1645 there were 5,680 African slaves in Barbados and by 1684 that number had grown to 60,000. This was an average figure that was maintained up until at least 1753.

Part 2 coming up tomorrow.

Provided with the compliments of your friends at Glory Tours. The #1 Provider of Sightseeing Tours in Barbados http://glorytours.org/

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