As white folk celebrated their holidays and honor the remembrance of the lies they told. Black people have many sad reminders of their dastardly deeds and we should never forget the evils they inflicted upon us either. Therefore, I thought I’d offer this reminder about our stolen past to which there was nothing more horrifying than the “Middle Passage”. Coincidentally, most of you don’t know that the first registered slave ship was named the “Good Ship Jesus”! The African has overcome some adversity since being stolen from Africa but none worse than the removal of the culture and spirituality the practiced.
Try to imagine, if you can, being kidnapped, forced march hundreds of miles shackled, beaten, put into pins, and then placed in a tomb-like environment with people you cannot, in many cases, communicate with for months. I believe this was the first step in the process of stealing the souls and culture of the stolen people of African and the beginning of the creation of a new people they would call Negro.
The ride on the Good Ship Jesus codified the end for millions of souls who made that horrible journey into the unknown interned in the belly of the beast with a destination unknown. His-Story speaks of this wretched practice as part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. However, this was more commonly known as the “Middle Passage,” which refers to that middle leg of the transatlantic trade triangle in which millions of Africans were imprisoned, enslaved, and removed forcibly from their homelands never to return.
The transatlantic trade triangle worked this way. Ships departed Europe for African markets with commercial goods, which were in turn traded for kidnapped Africans who were transported across the Atlantic, which took many months to be 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”. A single voyage on the Middle Passage was a large financial undertaking that was commonly organized by companies or groups of investors rather than individuals.
African kings, warlords, and private kidnappers sold captives to Europeans who operated from 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. Typical slave ships contained several hundred slaves with about thirty crew members. The male captives were chained together in pairs to save space with their right leg chained to the next man’s left leg, women and children, on the other hand, may have had somewhat more room. The captives were fed one meal a day, with water, like animals with foods such as beans, corn, yams, rice, and palm oil. Of course if the food was scarce, the slaveholders would get priority over the slaves.
The duration of the transatlantic voyage varied widely, from one to six months depending on weather conditions. Although, the journey became more efficient over time as the average transatlantic journey of the early 16th century lasted several months, by the 19th century the crossing often required fewer than six weeks. West Central Africa and Southeastern Africa was the most common region for traders to secure the human cargo that was destined for the Caribbean and the Americas.
An estimated 15% of the Africans died at sea, with mortality rates considerably higher in Africa itself in the process of capturing and transporting the indigenous peoples to the ships. The total number of African deaths directly attributable to the Middle Passage is estimated well into the millions. A broader look at African deaths directly attributable to the institution of slavery from 1500 to 1900 suggests up to four million perished. However, many historians say the number was close to one-third of the Africans captured, and it is believed that nearly 60 million were captured.
For two hundred years, Portugal had a quasi-monopoly on the export of slaves from Africa. During the eighteenth century when the slave trade accounted for the transport of about 6 million Africans; Britain was responsible for almost 2.5 million of them. In addition to markedly influencing the cultural and demographic landscapes of both Africa and the Americas, the Middle Passage has also been said to mark the origin of a distinct African social identity. These people, in American, came to be known as “Negro,” which is a Spanish word that means “Black” but no Spanish country refers to its people of color that way.
Most contemporary historians estimate that between 9 and 12 million Africans arrived in the New World while others remain firm that it was more like one-third of the continent’s population. Disease and starvation due to the length of the passage were the main contributors to the death toll with dysentery and scurvy causing most of the deaths.
Then there were the outbreaks of smallpox, syphilis, measles, and other diseases spread rapidly in the close-quarter compartments. The number of dead increased with the length of the voyage since the incidence of dysentery and scurvy increased with longer stints at sea as the quality and amount of food and water diminished with every passing day. 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.
While treatment of slaves on the passage varied, the treatment of the human cargo was never good since the captured African men and women were considered less than human. Yes, they were “cargo” or “goods” and treated as such as they were transported for marketing.
Slaves were ill-treated in every imaginable manner. Although, they were fed enough to stay alive and supplied with water. This was only because healthy slaves were more valuable but if resources ran low on the long or any unforeseen circumstances on the voyages, the crew received preferential treatment. Slave punishment was very common and harsh because the crew had to turn independent people into obedient slaves. Whipping and use of the cat o’ nine tails were common occurrences or just simply beaten for “melancholy.”
The scares of this and that of slavery linger to this very day. I would say the effects of the loss of land, knowledge of a geographical origin, our history resulting from this wretched crime as Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and wonder if the descendent of the stolen Africans will ever “overcome”. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…