The Slave Ship

I’m reading a fascinating book: The Slave Ship, A Human History by Marcus Rediker.

As a map freak, I was particularly impressed with the maps of the West Coast of Africa that note the distribution of the various and numerous tribes during the 1700s.

I’ve been a student of slavery for some time, but the level of detail here astonishes.

It’s no secret that the most powerful African tribes were generally predatory on the smaller and less-weaponed ones. Slaves were spoils of war – and the definition of “war” ranged from petty local revenge to large-scale assaults not unlike those carried out in Darfur over the last decade.

Creepy and wicked stuff abounds in the tales of how slaves were marched to the Coast from the interior. Many were kept aboard anchored ships until the holds were full – a process that could take months. There’s a long story of a young boy (recorded in an autobiographical book that was to become a tool of abolitionists in England) who was enticed from his family with stories of the “houses with wings” (the slave ships) and indeed, he was dumfounded by the first sight of them, despite the fact that he and his fellow enslaved were deeply anxious about being eating by the white folks who looked like red-faced devils.

Several pages are devoted to the sharks that followed slave ships and were well fed with the bodies of those who died in transit – or the living who were made a lesson to discourage insurrection, always a threat. Many slaves rebelled by refusing to eat – and were force fed.

Some 14 million African were enslaved over four centuries. Perhaps 3 million died before or during the crossing to Europe, the Americas or the Caribbean. Rediker makes a case that slavery defined global capitalism.

Gotta get back to reading….

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