Atlantic Slave Trade from Africa: A Dark Chapter of History

Human slavery has a terrible and tragic place in the annals of history. The worst sort of violation of human rights is depriving someone of their freedom, autonomy, and life. For centuries, many societies accepted and condoned slavery. However, in the 15th century, the most violent, scariest, and horrifying new era of slavery emerged, which had a significant and catastrophic impact on human history. Millions of African men, women, and children were brutally abducted from their homes and communities, crammed into overcrowded, unsanitary slave ships, and subjected to perilous trade across the Atlantic Ocean therefore this oceanic trade is termed as the Atlantic Slave Trade. Due to illness, starvation, and cruel treatment, around 2 million individuals perished without a burial or a trace during the Barbaric Middle Passage across the Ocean. Consequently, the African continent was left unstable and open to invasion and violence for centuries. 

Over a period of the Atlantic Slave Trade, more than eight out of ten Africans were forcibly removed from Central and Western Africa to the Western Hemisphere, where they were subjected to extremely inhumane forced labor. These people had mostly been sold into the hands of Portuguese, British, Spanish, Dutch, and French slave traders to work as servants, while some had also been directly taken captive by them during coastal raids. As the West African coast was the nearest part of the continent to the European holding in middle and South America, it became the center of the slave trade to the Americas.

This epoch of long voyages marks the beginning of the abuse and exploitation of enslaved individuals. Europeans dispersed African captives across the Americas to lead lives of degradation and brutality, without a thought for their personal lives. European powers sought labor from Africa, launching a tragic era of kidnapping, and trafficking that enslaved millions of African people. Never before over such vast distances had millions of people been kidnapped, transported, and trafficked.

For over 400 years, more than 15 million Africans were the victims of the tragic Atlantic Slave Trade, which was incredibly cruel and criminal. During this darkest period, the African slaves endured physical punishment by European traders, including whippings, beatings, and branding. Families torn apart when sold to other owners caused great emotional suffering. They were seen as property, and the reason they were regarded as property was that they were black. In slave ships, the African captives experienced constant dread. They were frequently chained together and unable to sit upright because of the low ceilings. The oxygen level was so low that the candles would not burn and the heat was intolerable. Huge populations of enslaved captives were cramped together in incredibly small places, which made the conditions on the slave ships appalling. As a result, the African captives suffered from a number of ailments. The extremely bad situation of these slaves was made worse when they developed various ailments. The cramped and unsanitary conditions on slave ships provided the perfect breeding ground for diseases to spread rapidly. Limited access to proper medical care and nutrition weakened the captives’ immune systems, making them more susceptible to illness. They were plagued by fatal maladies including malaria, dysentery, measles, and smallpox, which resulted in great suffering and loss of life.

During this maritime migration, they were subject to forced exercise, which sometimes included dance and song for the entertainment of the crew. Disobedient slaves were tormented and beaten, often whipping with the particularly harsh cat-o’-nine-tails, a device made to cause the most agonizing pain. Even those who resisted by refusing food and water were beaten and force-fed.  Sometimes they also used Speculum Oris, a medieval tool used to pry open someone’s mouth. Crew officers frequently handled hunger strikers with a specific level of cruelty because these types of acts of resistance were likely to spread. Sometimes slaves were even killed and dumped into the ocean, while some captives committed suicide, by jumping overboard. White overseers and masters frequently violated the sexuality of slave women. In a lot of situations, the most fertile enslaved women and men were frequently chosen to be together, in order to produce more offspring. Most slaves were prohibited from getting married unless their owners allowed it, and many marriages were not legally recognized until slavery was abolished.

In the end, this story of centuries-long oppression portrays the image that African black people were never weighed on the scales of equality.  The trade of black people and the act of selling them for meager prices is a hideous stain on humanity’s face, that cannot be removed with a few words of condemnation. The nations involved in the slave trade have not yet fully acknowledged this heinous crime as a violation of humanity nor a single redress or reparation has been made to Africans affected by the dehumanizing trade. Slavery in some form still exists in Africa today, and it controls the lives of millions of people. The major powers never allowed the Africans to unite and divided them into several tribes and regions, forcing them to engage in conflict so that their resources could be readily controlled. The African nations are rising against Western exploitation now, but it would be interesting to see how effective and long-lasting that resistance would be.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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