Saturday, March 14, 2009

Fascinating book, The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas, covers the Atlantic slave trade from 1440 to 1870. It was a literally filthy business from first to last. More than 11,000,000 Africans were brought to the New World, while countless others — probably about 2,000,000 — died of miserable conditions in the overcrowded ships en route.

Interesting fact: fewer than 5 per cent — about 500,000 — of these Africans were brought to this country. Some 4,000,000 were carried to Brazil by the Portuguese, 2,500,000 to Spanish possessions, 2,000,000 to the British West Indies, and 1,600,000to the French West Indies.

All this puts something of a damper on the assumption that slavery was a sin specific or “peculiar” to the American South. The slaves had been Africans who were sold to European merchants by other Africans who had enslaved them in the first place. Several of Africa’s proudest empires were built on the sale of slaves. For centuries Africa’s chief export was human beings. When Congresswoman Maxine Waters speaks of “my African ancestors’ struggle for freedom,” she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Slavery was an African institution long before it spread to the South , and there was no abolition movement to trouble it. When Europe banned the slave trade, African economies reeled. What a world.