Coalition of the Confused

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Slavery   World Wide WTF?

Started Nov-21 by Apollonius (Theocritos); 572 views.
By way of introduction, consider the opening scene of The Egyptian (1954) where we see Peter Ustinov at his comic best pleading with Sinhue (Edmund Purdom), the aspiring young physician to take him on as a slave.

Ustinov plays Kaptah, a low-life, lost in turbulence of a radical period in Egyptian history, with new ideas and new peoples making life uncomfortable for everyone, from pharaohs to beggars.  

Kaptah is a perfect scoundrel, who needs a protector and friend, and gladly chooses personal bondage to someone who is himself barely middle class in background over the destitution of the ancient slums.  His lies and thievery save Sinhue on many occasions.

Of course most slavery wasn't voluntary, even if a lot of it was self-inflicted.  I'll come back to the issue of debt slavery at some point in this thread to shed some light on this way in which slavery becomes prevalent in a society.
But first of all, consider the real impetus and enabler for slavery:
... This raises at once the crucial distinction between captivity and slavery.  Especially where societies were small, freshly taken captives were sure to be close enough to home to escape, unless physically restrained by confinement or bonds.  And yet a tied captive was also a useless one.  Only when transported to a distance where escape was unthinkable, only when conditioned by isolation and intimidation, deracination and degradation, could a captive be freed from his bonds and become once again, even though as a slave, a useful member of society.  Slavery could only be achieved by a wide dispersion of captives.  It was therefore very seldom the simple result of military action followed by resettlement in the predator community.  Only exceptionally large states, like Dynastic Egypt, Meroe and Aksumite Ethiopia, could locate their own war captives sufficiently far away from the point of capture to prevent escape.  And even here, many of the captives acquired by great states came to them in the form of tribute paid by their weaker neighbours, who had raided them from further afield.  Almost always, therefore, the captives taken in warfare or raiding would pass through many hands before reaching the destinations where they would finally be acquired and absorbed as slaves.  It is scarcely too much to say that effective slavery required the existence of a slave trade.
-- Roland Oliver, The African Experience (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991)
Remember:  In primitive societies, no male captives were kept.  While women and sometimes children were taken away alive to become concubines or child labourers, all adult males were killed, either on the spot or tortured later, as part of ritual and entertainment.
Thus, shocking though it may seem to the modern ear, because previously mutilation and death were the inevitable outcome of tribal conflict, the initiation of slavery and the slave trade was a actually an advance in human relations.
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For Americans talk of slavery has a particular resonance, and is chiefly associated with its legacy in the United States.
One of the best places to start is with a book called Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade by David Eltis and David Richardson (Yale University Press, 2010).
While this book includes written accounts, descriptions, and pictures, this kind of information is available from many other sources.  What the atlas does best is what it says it does:  graphically depict the volume of the trade through maps.
The actual numbers they come up with are not really new, however, the documentation is better and the statistics are broken down in many useful ways, such as number of ships outfitted at various ports and volume of trade for specific countries and time periods.
A few of these maps are available online:
Volume and direction of the transatlantic slave trade from all African to all American regions 
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Something that might come as a surprise to many, maybe especially Americans, is that the number of captives transported to the U.S. (and earlier, what became the U.S.) was so small, fewer than were received by the tiny island of Barbados!  By far the greatest number went to Brazil.  Almost 6 million of captives, nearly half the total, were transported by the Portuguese.  The British were also heavily involved:  about 3 million.  The French and Spanish transported about one million each.  The Dutch transported about 500,000.
Inserted between the incredible maps, are reproductions of paintings and descriptive text depicting the trade.  On the whole, these are a little misrepresentative.  For example, there is the famous painting:  Chaine d'esclaves venant de intérieur from an unknown 19th century French artist which was published in L'Afrique, ou histoire, moeurs, usages et coutumes des africains: Sénégal (Paris : Nepveu, 1814), which could easily give one the wrong impression since it shows the slaves being led away by Europeans, whereas in fact, virtually all Africans were captured by and marched away for sale by other Africans.
Information on the sources of African captives entering the Atlantic slave trade is limited, as is information on the circumstances in which they were enslaved and moved to the coast for the voyage to the planations and mines of the Americas.  Some came from several hundred miles inland and took months to reach the African coast.  Many, if not most, came from places much closer to the coast.  Some captives from Senegambia and West Central Africa were victims of drought and famine.  Others found themselves enslaved because of debt.  But the largest single source of captives was violence, including warfare, state-sponsored raiding, and kidnapping.  As the scale of the Atlantic slave trade grew, the circles of violence in Africa linked to transatlantic slavery intensified and widened.
-- David Eltis and David Richardson,  Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Yale University Press, 2010)
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Most depictions of the slave trade in this volume, or for that matter, anywhere, date from the period right before the slave trade was made illegal in Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the United States, and were originally printed in anti-slavery tracts, so we need to be aware of that bias.  We also need to consider of how conditions changed over the course of the more than three centuries when the transatlantic slave trade was going strong.  Everyone has seen the pictures of how slaves were squished in outrageously crowded conditions and read some figures indicating how high the death rate was in the crossing (something like 15%).  Most died from disease, and the factor most relevant to surving the Middle Passage was the health of the slaves at the point of disembarkation.  Captives held for long periods on the African coast before being sold to European traders fared worst.  It's also well to remember that conditions were extremely bad for everyone.  Crew members were allotted only slightly more space on deck than the slaves got in the hold.  Fully one third of the crew on slave ships never made it home.
Defenders of the commerce stressed that each slave ship carried a doctor or surgeon: that for marketing reasons captains became increasingly intent on minimizing mortality; and that in good weather slaves were brought up on deck for exercise-- indeed, they were flogged if they refused to dance, jump, and sing.  The trade reached its all-time peak towards the end of the Enlightenment, in the late 1700s, and was certainly not declining in 1807 and 1808 when Britain and the United States outlawed it.  Much mythology about the "awkwardness" of slavery notwithstanding, abolitionists were forced to confront the growth and vitality of the New World slave economies.  Some 3 million Africans, or about one-fourth of the grand total exported, were shipped off to the Americas after 1807, despite the militant efforts of the British navy.  As David Eltis has observed, we can easily imagine the increasingly powerful and steam-driven British and American merchant ships expanding the flow of African slaves not only to Cuba and Brazil but to the kind of markets many Southerners dreamed of by the 1850s.  What prevented such an expansion was not the operation of supply and demand but a major transformation in Anglo-American public moral perception, spearheaded by a small group of abolitionist reformers.
I do not mean to question many of the benefits of the free market, but if history can teach us some unexpected lessons, here is one: we should recognize that Britain's 1807 law, which ended the country's 130 year dominance of the slave trade and led to the economic decline of the British Caribbean, was a revolutionary move toward regulating the global market.  That step was followed by a series of treaties and expensive naval interventions aimed at ending the free market in slave labor.  This antislavery campaign was complex and acquired more mixed meanings when incorporated in nationalistic and imperialist causes.  But there is still much to be said for the historian W.E.H. Leaky's famous conclusion, following the American Civil War, that England's crusade against slavery "may probably be regarded as among the three or four perfectly virtuous acts recorded in the history of nations."
-- David Eltis and David Richardson,  Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Yale University Press, 2010)

From: slackerx


Apollonius (Theocritos) said...

the initiation of slavery and the slave trade was a actually an advance in human relations.

Spoken like a SQUADDY.

Why am I not surprised?

So for you, being mutilated, tortured, and killed are better than being kept alive and put to work.

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One of the most ironical things about the history of slavery in general and slavery in the Americas in particular concerns the case of Bartholomé de las Casas (1474-1566), known as the "Apostle to the Indies". 
He was a Dominican who participated in the conquest of Cuba in 1511 and acquired a large encomienda of Indian serfs, which he gave up in 1515.  For the next fifty years he dedicated his life to the defence of the Indians, preaching, writing political-religious tracts, and lobbying the Spanish Crown.
His efforts paid off, at least in some ways, because Spain outlawed Indian slavery in their colonies in 1542 and the encomienda system of Indian serfdom in 1550.  Unfortunately, by that time the Indians living in the Caribbean were virtually extinct, in part from working in conditions to which they were not accustomed, but mainly from Old World diseases.  
No history of the New World, and especially the Caribbean, could be complete without saying a word about disease.  Descriptions invariably use the phrase "European diseases", however the truth of the matter is, most of these diseases, while transported in European ships, were of African or Asian derivation.  
Until Europeans and Africans arrived small pox, measles, typhus, yellow fever, malaria, tuberculosis, and pus infections were completely unknown in the Americas.
Yellow fever was never endemic in the islands.  But it visited and revisited them all with devastating effects.  Africans brought both the yellow fever virus and Aedes aegypti to the New World.  The mosquito remained but the virus died and was periodically reintroduced to a nonimmune population.  Invariably epidemics were associated with slave-ships newly arrived from Africa.  Port cities crowded with European sailors, businessmen, and immigrants supplied nonimmune hosts.  The packed tents of soldiers provided the mosquitoes and the virus with an ideal envrionment.  Thus invasions during wartime set off several of the worst epidemics.
Because both the malaria parasites and the yellow fever virus require masses of nonimmune hosts, they probably spared the sparsely settled Spanish islands during the 16th century.  These fatal microbes were present by 1598, when yellow fever and other diseases killed most of a British army that had taken and planned to occupy San Juan, Puerto Rico.  After 1625 they continued to ravish northern Europeans trying to settle the Lesser Antilles and Jamaica.  In 1655, the French landed 1,500 men at Saint Lucia.  A few months later, only 89 remained alive.  During some years after the British captured Jamaica in 1655, the death rate among new settlers was almost as staggering.
At all times the islands were fatal for new arrivals.  The creoles, who caught relatively mild cases in childhood, thus acquired immunity to yellow fever and malaria.  But the death rate was extraordinary among healthy young Europeans.  One third to one-half of the indentured servants arriving during the 17th century did not live to complete their five-to-seven year term of bondage.
  -- Jan Rogozinski, A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and the Carib to the Present (Facts On File, 1992)
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Labour became so scarce in the Caribbean that by the early 1500s there was virtually no one left.  The gold that so attracted the Spanish was quickly worked out and most of them moved to Mexico or Peru where opportunities were better.  By the middle of the century there were only a few cattle ranchers and a lot of ferral pigs.
But the same Bartholomé de las Casas who worked so hard to defend Indians decided that importing slaves from Africa to replenish the labour supply was acceptable.  Until the introduction of the sugar plantation system in the 1640s from Brazil where it got its start a few years earlier, this traffic remained relatively insignificant, but after that the slave trade grew steadily in importance right along with the importance of sugar to the economy of the New World.
It was the combination of sugar and tropical diseases that made the Caribbean islands into colonies populated almost entirely by African slaves.  The introduction of sugar to Barbados between 1640 and 1645 did not in itself make African slavery inevitable.  European laborers can grow sugar, and white labor produced much of the sugar grown in Barbados into the 1650s.  Indentured servants stopped coming during the 1660s, because the islands became deadly for whites.  The African slaves sold by the Dutch in the 1640s introduced several diseases to which whites have no immunity.  Whether colonists came from Europe or Africa, they faced a new disease environment in the islands, but blacks fared less badly than whites in adjusting to this new climate.  As a general rule, about one out of three slaves died during the first two years in the islands.  As many as three out of four white settlers perished soon after arrival.
-- Jan Rogozinski, A Brief History of the Caribbean: From the Arawak and the Carib to the Present (Facts On File, 1992)
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Virtually all societies with an advanced social organization practiced slavery.   Even the indigenous peoples of Canada's far north who lived a peripatetic lifestyle, moving from place to place as they followed the wild game they depended on for food, used slaves.   And though peoples living on the Northwest Coast of North America likewise did not practice agriculture, slavery was vitally important to their society.  These peoples relied on the fishing, whaling, the gathering of mollusks, and other resources from the sea.  But the Haida, for example, considered fishing to be slaves' work-- while high ranking individuals pursued other tasks. 
Warfare was endemic and though territorial conflict played a role, the main source of conflict was revenge wars (wars conducted as pay-back for wrongs or insults) and slave raiding.  About thirty percent of the population living on the Northwest Coast were slaves.
The capture of slaves for labor and wealth was a common and critical motive for conflict.  Kamenski stated that warfare provided the Tlingit with wealth in the form of slaves and argued that "the Tlingit himself considered it demeaning to perform dirty work.... this was the duty of slaves or at least women."  Slave raiding was also standard practice among the Haida, who raided up and down the northern Northwest Coast against the Tlingit, Tsimshian, Heiltsuk, Kwakwaka'wakw, and other Haida.  Among the Tsimshian, Garfield noted that "raiding parties were organized for the capture of slaves or to avenge a wrong or injury inflicted by another group", and that "raiding for captives, either to be returned to their relatives for ransom or kept as slaves, was profitable."  The northern, central, and southern Coast Salish groups needed to be constantly on the defensive because the Lekwiltok Kwakwaka'wakw were avid slavers.  Traded to the Haida or Tlingit, Salish slaves often ended up nearly 1,000 km (over 600 miles) from their home.  The taking of their people prompted a number of southern Coast Salish revenge wars against the Lekwiltok.
 -- Kenneth M. Ames and Herbert D.G. Maschner, Peoples of the Northwest Coast: Their Archaeology and Prehistory (Thames and Hudson, 1999)
This book is full of fascinating detail about the Indians of the Northwest Coast.  It turns out that most reconstructions of Native houses turn out to be inaccurate in some important respects.  Houses were always built with only one entrance, and this was made so as to force anyone who entered to stoop down and do so on all fours.  This was done in an effort to limit the damage from frequent attacks.  Slaves always slept just inside the entrance so that they would likely be the first casualties.
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Rank and Social Classes


All the peoples on the Northwest Coast shared a system of rank based on a combination of wealth and heredity. As pointed out in Chapter 16, the most productive parts of both the land and the sea were owned nominally by individuals but were exploited by kinship groups. On the death of the nominal owner, the title to the real estate always went to a surviving kinsman, and the same kinship group continued to use it in the same manner as it had done before the death of the first nominal owner. Much movable property was also owned and used by kinship groups in the same way. Incorporeal property, in all its forms, was likewise shared and inherited. Social position, then, was based on the value of the corporeal and incorporeal forms of wealth and the hereditary titles that went with them.

The distinct social classes were to be found everywhere on the Northwest Coast: freemen and slaves. The following account of the status of slaves refers to the dominant pattern over most of the coast but does not apply to a small area in northwest California and southwest Oregon. Slaves were obtained by taking prisoners in raids, but, once a slave status was established, the slave could be bought or sold, either from one society to another or from one freeman to another within the same society. The owner had the power of life and death over his slave, and slaves were sometimes killed on the following occasions: at the death of the owner; at a potlatch, as destruction of wealth to show that the owner could afford it; at the building of a new house, in the form of a foundation sacrifice; and at performances of the cannibal society of some of the British Columbia peoples, who actually ate part of the corpse. Slave killing was much more common in Alaska and British Columbia than in Washington and Oregon, and was totally lacking California. However, slaves were sometimes freed at the death of an owner in the same areas where killing was permitted, showing variation within societies in this respect. Slaves were released for ransom if their kinsmen could raise the price, although in a few localities the stigma attached was so great that even the slave's closest relatives did not want him after he had been for a time in this lowest status, and they refused to redeem him. In the north, where matrilineal descent prevailed and kinship ties were strongest, slaves were generally ransomed by kinsmen and the stigma removed by a purification ceremony.

Slaves were treated almost as well as the lowest-ranking freemen in some localities, but in others they were compelled to do the most menial work, to eat inferior food, and at death were denied normal burial by being cast into the sea. Slaves were allowed to marry each other in most localities, but their children usually remained slaves, thus showing that slavery was hereditary. Debt slaves are also reported sporadically all along the Northwest Coast. Inability to repay a loan, as well as gambling debts, was sufficient to relegate a person to this status. As elsewhere, the debt slave was normally ransomed by relatives, and was never equated to the true slave described in detail above.

-- Harold E. Driver, Indians of North America (2nd ed., rev., University of Chicago Press, 1979)