Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reconciling History

As always, I'm in the process of learning and thinking, learning more and rethinking.

It just so happened that I was delivered a book by the local library's book mobile titled, The Door of No Return  by William St. Clair. One of the aspects of the transatlantic slave trade St. Clair addresses is the active participation of native Africans, the Fante in this case. And I decided to do some quick checking and thinking myself.

This wasn't a case where I didn't feel up to writing a post. Just that in the process of confirming what I read and what I'd already learned, I found these really great posts. So I'm sharing them with you. I'll share my thoughts later (I hope), but before I go, I'll also share with you one of my favorite heroines from history, Queen Nzinga. ~ No1KState

"Africans Sold Their Own Into Slavery and Are Just As Guilty as Whites..."
22 February, 2007 - 11:19

I hear this "fact" being bandied about in desperate attempts to divert the attention off the historical imbalance that exists between Europeans and Africans. Even some black apologists misuse this myth to let White Supremacy off the hook.

Bear with me while I destroy this foolish notion.

1) Defining "Slavery"

Historically, there are two basic forms of "slavery". "Freehold" slavery and "Chattel" slavery.

Freehold slavery is a system of forced servitude that was often used as repayment of a debt or to right a wrong.

In freehold slavery, there's a defined period of servitude (e.g., 12 years). After that period of time, the "slave" was free from servitude.

Freehold slavery did not result in an identifiable slave class. Any debtor or criminal could be enslaved.

In Freehold slavery, the "slave" retained relationships with their "free" family/community, and often lived in their own home on their own land.

The children of freehold slaves were not born into slavery.

In the freehold system, the "master" did not have the power/right to murder the slave. The slave retained basic human rights.
Chattel slavery has basic fundamentals that are opposite what you'll find in freehold. In Chattel slavery, the human is the property of another.

In Chattel slavery there's no defined period of servitude. The slave was a slave for life.

There was no "cause" for enslavement. The "slaves" were kidnapped and taken to foreign lands.

The children of slaves were born into bondage.

Chattel slavery is most successful when there's an identifiable class system (e.g., slave=black, non-slave=not black).

Stripping the "slave" of their native culture is a fundamental tool of control in Chattel slavery.

In chattel slavery, the "master" is not bound to regard the "slave" as human and is in complete control of the fate of his property.

Freehold slavery existed throughout the world before Europeans invented Chattel Slavery and forced it on Africans and "Native Americans". Note that this is not an attempt to excuse the practice of freehold bondage. I'm only drawing clear distinctions between the two forms of slavery.
The European slavers had the full support of the Catholic leadership. On June 18, 1452 Pope Nicholas V issued Dum Diversas, a Papal Bull authorizing the Portuguese to reduce any non-Christians to the status of slaves.

2) Did Africans "sell their own"?

Some African tribes have a history of trading their prisoners of war, or their criminals, to the Europeans. This, historically, was done to satisfy the needs of the Arabs and Europeans and to divert the attention of the slavers from the tribespeople. Eventually, some tribes took up arms to subdue other tribes and then pass those prisoners onto the slavers. Further, these same warring/slave-catching tribes eventually fell to the slavers themselves. The greed of the slavers knew loyalty only to itself.

It's worth nothing that King Ja Ja of Obopo was an African king who refused to do business with the slavers. For this he was captured along with his kinspeople. He was taken to Jamaica where he organized rebellions. Eventually he was re-captured and taken away from the island. It's unknown where he was shipped to, or where he died. When informed Rastas sing "Jah Jah" they are also invoking the spirit of King Ja Ja of Obopo.

The story of Agyeman Prempeh (Ashanti king, b. 1872) is also noteworthy in that Prempeh sacrificed his own freedom so that his people would not face collective persecution by the British.

The African tribes who did engage in trade with the slavers could have no way of knowing how the Europeans would use the captives. Chattel slavery and the associated denial of human rights was unknown to them. The terrors that were visited on the kidnapped Africans is solely credited to the slavers themselves.

Remember: Freehold slavery was the form used in Africa, Greece, Eastern Europe, etc. Chattel slavery was a NEW form invented by Western Europeans to control enslaved Africans and "Native Americans" and propagated through the Trans-Atlantic Slaving War.

The African concept of "slavery" did not include or appear to consider the complete horror that Chattel slavery would become. So, to say that Africans "sold their own", while historically factual, is conceptually inaccurate. They had no idea what those captured Africans were in for.

Further, resisting the slavers demands for more bodies resulted in collective cultural annihilation. Under such a threat, no real "choice" is offered. Assisting the slavers was often the only option for survival.

It's highly unlikely (and historically unsupported) that the Akan sold their Akan kin or that the Ashanti sold their Ashanti kin for the purpose of naked profit - and with the blessings of religious leaders, 'fair trade' was the last thing on the slavers minds. They were out to pillage in the name of their God, all else be damned.

There's a fundamental flaw in the way outsiders think of African communities. The distinctions between groups are often overlooked in favor of the chauvinistic assumption that all black-skinned people are fundamentally the same. In Nigeria alone, there are no less than 250 ethnic groups that are at least as distinct as the Spanish are from the French. For example, the Dinka and the Yoruba possess different languages, customs and manners of dress. It's highly unlikely that they'd regard each other as belonging to the same "race" (which is, of course, a Eurocentric approach to describing the differences between different groups within the human species.) and it's unlikely that they had developed any degree of Pan-African ideology prior to the Slaving Wars. Any claim that Africans sold "their own" must be supported by evidence of the Akan selling/trading Akan people, or Dogon groups selling/trading other Dogons.

3) The outcome

Regardless of whether "Africans sold other Africans", that fact has no bearing on what Europeans did to us once they got us to the west. African humanity/dignity/psychology has been under relentless attack by foreign aggressors. We cannot write this off by attempting to assign some equal blame to Africans who had little choice in their participation in the slave trade.

We must resist the myth that our African cousins share guilt with Arabs and Europeans for the shameful history of human bondage and slaving wars.

As Africans we must seek pathways to recreate lost links to our relatives throughout the global African family and, as Ayi Kwei Armah asserts, return to "Our Way".

As members of the human family we must all seek the truth.

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But Don't Jack My Genuis