Colonization of Africa
Europeans started exploring Africa by late 15th century. These contacts were tragic and disastrous for the Africans due to the slave trade. Europeans needed slaves, as labors to work in their American colonies. In North America, slaves were used for plantation of tobacco, rice, indigo and cotton; while in South America, they were needed for sugar cultivation.
The native people of Americas were not suitable as they could escape from work, and were intolerant towards the European diseases, like smallpox, mums and measles. Whereas, African laborers were suitable as they had a developed immunity towards tropical diseases, could survive in harsh conditions, could not escape, and were readily available to the Europeans. European traders bought adult male labourers from Africa to America to work on plantation fields.
Initially Portuguese excelled in the slave trade, and established a slave market at Lisbon. Later, with the increase in demand for slaves, they were directly transported from Africa to America. As most of the American territories were under Spain, the Spaniards participated in the slave trade. Some African chiefs also participated in the slave trade; they sold slaves to Europeans in exchange of guns and ammunitions, clothes, metal ware, spirits, coins, decorative wears and horses.
Later, slave trade thrived under the British. By 17th century, an English company was actively participating in the slave trade, with the consent of the King of England, and a due share for the King. Soon, Spain gave the monopoly of slave trade to England.
The System of Triangular Slave Trade
It is the term used to describe the prosperous trading cycle across Atlantic, as a result of the slave trade. First, European merchants purchased slaves from African chiefs, in return for European manufactured goods. Second, they sold those slaves in the Caribbean, and bought easily transportable commodities like cotton, sugar and tobacco. Finally, they would sell the commodities in Europe, and fetch huge profits. Out of some profit, they would purchase some manufactured goods, which would again be used to barter slaves from Africa. Thus, the cycle continues. The entire period of 1500 to 1750 was called the Commercial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th century owes much to the capital earned from the overseas Commercial Revolution.
The result of this system of trade was: Millions of Africans were uprooted from their homes; many were killed while resisting the invaders; many died while traveling in the congested ships from Africa to America; in the American plantations, they were forced to work in inhumane conditions; if they tried to escape, they were tortured and beaten badly; if a white man killed a runaway slave, he was rewarded.
Middle Passage is the term used to describe the brutal manner in which slaves were transported from Africa to America, in the Atlantic Ocean. They were taken in ships as inanimate objects, with little space. Male slaves were kept constantly shackled to each other, or to the deck to prevent mutiny. The conditions were so unhygienic that many-a-times the sailors revolted. As a result, not even half of the slaves captured reached America alive. Dysentery was the main killer. Most of the dead bodies were thrown into the ocean.
Decline of Slave Trade
After 1850s, slave trade quickly declined. As European economies began to shift from agriculture to industry, Europeans got a better area of investment. Secondly, slave-operated American plantations had to compete for capital and preferential laws with textile mills and other industries that hired free laborers. Thirdly, slaves in America reached point where they could reproduce enough off-springs to meet the labor needs. Thus, there was no need to incur the expenses for importing slaves from Africa.
Also, slavery was a hindrance if the interior of Africa was to be opened to colonial exploitation. Some colonial powers waged war against African chiefs in the pretext of abolishing slave trade, so they could establish a colony there.
- It led to the depopulation of the African societies, making problems for the stability of the society.
- Slave trading caused many wars and introduction of corrupt laws.
- Further, within the tribalistic African societies, it created classes of elites and under-privileged.
- Also slave trade was the beginning of the relationship of dependency with Europe. Africa’s valuable human resources were being traded for the factory made manufactured goods of Europe.
- On a different note, African culture mixed with European and Native American cultures, and led to new mixed-cultures. Thus, there emerged new dresses, music, literature, cuisine, culture, religious practices, all of which left a deep mark on the American culture.
Part 2 on Colonization of Africa coming soon….
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