Friday, March 21, 2008

Black History: Raw Human Stock

Crossposted from Left Toon Lane, Bilerico Project & My Left Wing

click to enlarge
In the late 15th century, Europeans (Spanish and Portuguese first) began to explore, colonize and conquer the territory in the Americas. The European colonists attempted to enslave some of the Native Americans to perform hard physical labor, but found them unaccustomed to hard agrarian labor and so familiar with the local environment that it was difficult to prevent their escape. Their lack of resistance to common Old World diseases was another factor against their suitability for slavery. There was already a small traffic of African slaves to Iberia in the 15th century through the kingdom of Granada or the Iberian outposts in Africa, creating the Black Ladinos, African slaves who had learnt the language of their masters. The Europeans had also noted the West African practice of enslaving prisoners of war (a common phenomenon among many peoples on all of the continents). European colonial powers traded guns, brandy and other goods for these slaves, but this had little effect on the Arabian and African trade. Compassion for the suffering of the Native Americans prompted Friar Bartolomé de las Casas and other men of clergy to propose Africans as more suitable. Las Casas would later lament all slavery. The African slaves proved more resistant to European diseases than indigenous Americans, familiar with a tropical climate and accustomed to agricultural work. As a result, regular trade was soon established.

While some slaves shipped to Europe and America had previously been African slaves, many enslaved had been innocent bystanders. It was not uncommon for the Europeans to hide and wait for an African to come along, and then kidnap him. The retrieval of slaves was also obtained through Africans convicted of a crime. It was also likely for Africans of a tribe to be captured by an enemy tribe as a prisoner of war and then exchanged for goods. This lasted from the 15th to the 19th century, devastating the lives of at least ten to twenty million Africans. All forced into foreign enslavement, exported in exchange for imported goods. This is known as the slave trade.