Slavery routes – a short history of human trafficking (2/4) | DW Documentary


This is the story of a world
whose borders and territories were drawn by the slave trade. A world where violence, subjugation,
and profit imposed their own routes- and forged empires. Back then, there was no oil. Slaves were the driving force
behind these emerging empires. In the 14th century, Europe discovered that it was
located temptingly close to one of the planet’s most
important trading regions. We tend to forget the riches that
were produced back then in Africa. This map, the Catalan Atlas, whetted
Europeans’ appetite for conquest. It mapped the winds, for
the benefit of travelers. It also provided information on the
military strength of different nations. And it provided an economic map, tracing the trading routes towards
Africa and its resources. A small kingdom was the
first in the rush to seize control of the coasts of Africa: Portugal. In its wake, a new network
of slavery routes was drawn. At the very beginning, this
was a Portuguese project. They were coming out of the crusades, fighting this bitter war
with Muslims to the south. So, part of the adventure to Africa was
to basically consolidate their position and perhaps also secure an
advantage against Muslims. Lisbon. The largest city in Portugal and the only
European capital on the Atlantic coast. At the mouth of the Tagus, the Discovery Monument
evokes nostalgia for a time when the Portuguese
made the world their home. Carved in stone, some 52
meters above the water, the heroes of Portugal,
pioneers of the Conquest, look triumphantly towards the ocean that
gave them such wealth and prestige. They are headed by Prince
Henry “the Navigator,” the architect of a perilous project: to open up a new trade route
via the Atlantic Ocean. His aim was to bypass the Muslim
rivals in the Mediterranean and gain access to Africa’s Gold Coast. In the 14th century, the
Portuguese succeeded in ousting the Arabs from their territory. The Kingdom now had free rein to
begin its campaign of conquest. Promising gold and power, Henry the Navigator convinced the
nobility to follow him in this adventure. Henry the Navigator was the crown prince. This mythical figure, this great Christian Portuguese
prince was portrayed as very devout. He started out commanding
a band of raiders: pirates who took prisoners. To brave the Atlantic, an ocean few
European sailors had dared to explore, Prince Henry had a new and
revolutionary kind of vessel. Caravels: high-decked sailing ships that were capable
of battling storms in the open sea. The Portuguese established a sea route
taking in the coast of west Africa. Cap Bojador, the islands
of Arguin and Cape Verde. Each mile covered was a
victory over the Muslims, who were present on the entire
Northern part of the continent. Portugal has traditionally
glorified its great explorers- forgetting that most of them built
their fortunes on the slave trade. Today, Lisbon is undergoing a facelift. After the Discovery Monument, renovation
work extended to the Alfama district. As construction progressed, the riches of
the first “world city” have resurfaced. By chance, workers uncovered the foundations
of the former commercial harbor. In the space of one century, Lisbon
became the richest capital in Europe, some distance ahead of
Paris, London, or Amsterdam. Chinese vases, pots from Indonesia,
ornamental glassware from Macao. And amid the shards of earthenware
from all over the world, a woman’s skeleton was also found. Initial DNA tests revealed
that she was an African slave, buried without a name or gravestone. The archaeology of slavery,
a relatively recent field, is exhuming a long untold history: the fate of the one million
Africans who were shipped off to Europe between the
15th and 18th centuries. This was an extremely
brutal, predatory economy. The Portuguese would
disembark and, arms in hand, rush to capture the inhabitants
of these African coasts, starting with Mauritania and then
Senegal, home to many poor fishermen. They were captured with nets. On each mission, dozens would
be seized and loaded on these ships to be
brought back to Europe. In various locations between
Morocco and Mauritania, Prince Henry’s mercenaries
kidnapped unarmed civilians. Deported to Portugal, these first captives were unloaded
in the first port on the way home: Lagos. On this beach, one
morning in August 1444, nearly 250 men, women, and children who
had been captured on the Atlantic coasts were sold to the highest bidder. This sale was a major event: the first spoils brought back to the
country by the Portuguese Conquistadors. They had set off on a quest for gold- but after finding none,
they came back with slaves. The event was so highly anticipated
that Gomes Eanes de Zurara, the chief chronicler of the realm, traveled to the beach in
person to record the event. The following day, it
was the 8th of August, early morning because of the heat,
the crews began to work their boats, unload their captives and
take them ashore as ordered. Some had their faces
down, wet with tears; some looked at the others and
were groaning with grief; some looked to high heaven,
fixing their look on it, shouting aloud up to it, as if asking
the Father of Nature for help; others beat their cheeks
with their palms, or threw themselves
flat on the ground; others made lamentation in a song-like
manner after the custom of their homeland. And though the words of their language
could not be understood by us, their sorrow was understood indeed. A sorrow that increased when
those in charge of dividing them came and started to split them one
from another to make even groups. To do this it became necessary
to take children from parents, wives from husbands,
brothers from sisters. For kin and kindred no rule was kept, each captive landed where
luck would have it. Zurara describes an extremely brutal scene: children taken away from their
mothers, screaming, whipping. Clearly, what he is witnessing
makes him very uncomfortable. Things changed after that. They had to justify it. And he did so by pointing to this
civilization brought to the savages. In the early 15th century, human trafficking was common
throughout the Mediterranean- in Portugal, but also in the south
of France, Spain, Italy and Sicily. Most of the slaves came from the Balkans, traded via the ports of Cyprus,
Constantinople and Aleppo. Back then, Africans constituted a
minority within the slave trade. In Lisbon, these proportions
would soon be inverted. The first African captives
deported to Portugal would be followed by countless more thousands. The “Street of the Negroes’ well” one of a few alleys that are the only
reminders of when this neighborhood, the Bairro do Mocambo, included
a ghetto reserved for Africans. The holy war between Christendom and
Islam resulted in the latter’s victory. Constantinople, the last remnant
of the Byzantine Empire, fell into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The Christian side of the Mediterranean
from lands further east- also blocking the movement
of slaves from the Balkans. For Christian Europe, pursuing the conquest of the Atlantic
was now more necessary than ever. The Islam-Christendom clash
has reached stalemate and the whole area where they
had been acquiring slaves was now Christianized or Islamized. There was only one region to head for, Africa becomes associated with slavery
as a result of these developments. Officially, Muslim leaders
and the Catholic Church condemned the enslavement
of free people. But in practice, the demand
for slaves did not diminish, and justified continued raids. In these societies, people
were driven by religion. They weren’t “fanatics”- that term is probably too modern. But religious motivations- conquering Islamic areas to
convert them to Christianity- were very important, since the papacy
supported Portuguese expansion by granting rights to colonize. To take revenge on the Muslims, Pope Nicholas the Fifth gave the
Portuguese his moral endorsement. Thanks to the Vatican’s support, they could continue raiding
Africa with complete impunity. Portugal’s National Archives in Lisbon
are home to the “Romanus Pontifex”- a bull issued by the Pope that
gave the Portuguese carte blanche and established a legal framework
for the enslavement of Africa. We had formerly by other
letters of ours granted among other things free and ample
faculty to the aforesaid King Afonso? to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans,
and other enemies of Christ, and to reduce their persons
to perpetual slavery. ”Perpetual slavery.” Two words decreed by the
highest Catholic authority. Two words that amounted to a
sentencing of innocent Africans. Two words that would justify
everything, in the name of God. With the Pope’s blessing, the Portuguese ventured further and
further south along the coasts of Africa. Their caravels and strategies were
copied by other European nations, eager to take control of
African gold and slaves. Flemish, German, English,
Genoese, and Venetian. Merchants from across Europe
invested in the Atlantic adventure. It’s not as if Africans were
passive towards European merchants entering villages to collect
individuals and put them in captivity. African societies had their
own power structures. They had a capacity for
initiative, they negotiated, discussed the terms of relations
with European merchants. The tipping point was when the
Portuguese entered the South Atlantic, beyond the Equator, and thus
entered a new economic space. There, they came into contact
with the Kingdom of Kongo, which would play a big role. The Portuguese took possession of
an island off the African coast. Uninhabited, virgin and fertile, São Tomé also provided an
ideal and secure harbor, at 150 nautical miles from the mainland. This lookout post enabled them to keep an
eye on the region’s most powerful state: the Kingdom of Kongo. Kongo is an interesting
case of African history, very different from everywhere else. When the Portuguese got there, they discovered that there was a king and
that there was what they called a kingdom. And not only that, it was an area where
there was no Islamic influence at all. Portuguese entered into relations with the
King of Kongo on virtually an equal basis. And since they weren’t Muslims, there was no hostility on
the basis of religion. And then, for reasons I don’t
think we fully understand, the King of Kongo decided that he was
going to convert to Christianity. And he did, he became Afonso I. And he welcomed
missionaries from Portugal. The Portuguese were the only
ones to supply products from the Mediterranean to King Afonso. For the first time, they had established
a monopoly on an African territory. The Portuguese arrived in a
hierarchical society where the nobles- in short- ate more and better than others, dressed more elegantly than
others and consumed luxury items. So when the Portuguese arrived
with all these new items. How shall I put it? The Kongo aristocracy went totally crazy. They became infatuated with all of this. You can sense that the customs
and behavior were changing. And they did indeed change. The drawings of the first
missionaries who arrived in Kongo illustrate this new bartering system. But gold fever encouraged the
Portuguese to continue their conquest. They learned that the Akan people’s
gold mines were in El Mina. For the invaders, the only way to
get their hands on the precious ore was to offer the Akans
what they needed most: slaves to descend into the mines. As such they became the
Kingdom’s slave-traders. Gold production, which had been going
on in West Africa for centuries, including the area of Guinea,
Mali and parts of Senegal, but that distance had moved mostly
in the Akan gold fields in Ghana. And that attracted them, because
gold you know was buoyant, you know, it was a measure of wealth. “El mina” means “the mine.” And they were after the gold of
what they called the Gold Coast. Because a lot of gold does come
from the interior, right there. The first triangular trading system in
history was launched between São Tomé, the Akan mines and the Kongo Kingdom. European goods for slaves in Kongo. Slaves for gold in Elmina. The Portuguese used this bartering system to create an autonomous trading network. The arrival of the Portuguese
brought about major changes, because they made the direct
connection between Elmina, the coast of Kongo, and São Tomé. It was an interesting triangulation because the system that would
thrive in the Americas was first tested out in that region. This crucifix in Portugal commemorates
the annexation of São Tomé, which would open a new chapter
in the history of slavery. It was here that the
Portuguese would create the first platform for the
mass deportation of captives. And it is here that a straightforward
slave-trading system would evolve into a massively profitable
production system: the sugar plantation. With thousands of slaves
disembarking on its beaches, São Tomé became an island exclusively
dedicated to sugar production. São Tomé and Principe were a laboratory. Because that’s where we witness the
marriage of the black man and sugar cane. In the colonists’ eyes, the
two functioned well together. So we’ll marry the black
man with sugar cane. The idea was simple: the island was transformed
into a plantation where slaves within easy
reach were imported. Each year, 4,000 slaves arrived and
filled this very limited space. That means big concentrations. And so this was the first example of
a black colony and a slave society. The model became a global system. On São Tomé time seems to stand still. Sugar cane was replaced by
coffee, then coffee by cocoa. When they landed on the island, the first slaves brought
with their knowledge of working the soil in the tropics with them. But to this day, São Tomé remains one
of the poorest countries in the world, and farm workers continue to
live in the slaves’ old huts. You don’t really need a servile
population to grow sugar, but to grow it on the scale
they were doing it, you did. But you needed slaves, because what you did during
the harvest period is you made them work 14 hours a day. You know, right into the night. Any night there was a moon, you know,
you just kept cutting all night long. And, again, with fatigue, the
risk of injury increases. So it was very risky and it
was extremely hard work. Sao Tome is a lab in various ways. It is the first big experiment with sugar
cane in the tropics and that’s what allows, later on, the transfer of the
sugarcane production into Brazil and later into the Caribbean. After Christopher Columbus’s
journey to the Americas, Pedro Cabral, hired by
the King of Portugal, opened a new sea route to the West. The Portuguese were still obsessed
with the search for gold. But now they knew that if they failed, sugar cane could potentially
replace this precious metal. On 23 April 1500, Cabral’s ship
docked in an unknown territory. After our departure from
Belem, as Your Majesty knows, we reached the Canary Islands
and then the Cape Verde. We followed our sail heading
west, across the sea. That same day, at the hour
of vespers, we sighted land- that is to say, first a
very high rounded mountain, then other lower ranges of
hills to the south of it, and a plain covered with large trees. Pedro Cabral had just reached Brazil- only to find no gold. To be profitable, this immense newly discovered
land would have to be cultivated. This in turn meant that a new trade route for slaves from Africa to
Brazil would be set up. The Santomeans had to look for slaves
on the coasts of the African kingdoms, and bring them to São Tomé. And starting in 1516, they would
start bringing them to Brazil. They were intermediaries. The Santomeans had the monopoly on
the supply of slaves to Brazil. 1516. From São Tomé, contingents of captives were now being
shipped to Brazil and the Caribbean. The first transatlantic slave
trade routes were established- between the Kingdom of Kongo,
São Tomé, Brazil, and Portugal. Meanwhile in Europe itself, hundreds of captives arrived
each year via Portuguese ships. In Lisbon, black and white aristocracies
ostensibly lived on an equal footing. They shared a common language
and the same interests. All grew rich from the slave,
sugar, and gold trades. Among them: German merchant
and banker, Jakob Fugger. This economy mostly involved the
political and trade elites, from both European and
African societies. Local sovereigns collaborated
with the Portuguese; some converted to Christianity,
took Portuguese names, and sent their children to
Portugal to learn Latin and study at the University of Coimbra. These elites became predatory ones. On the west African coast, the riches that Portugal
devoured seemed inexhaustible. In the Belém district of Lisbon, the
building of the Jerónimos Monastery was financed by the slave,
sugar, and spice trades. The splendor of its architecture
are testimony to an era when Lisbon dominated the world and flooded
other European capitals with its goods. You have to emphasize that
this was a black slave trade, as this economy was based
on African slaves. This trade was the main
income for the crown and for part of the Portuguese elites. The state was being built upon overseas
income, so a new phase started. With the arrival of Europeans in Africa, the history of slavery assumed
a whole new dimension. For the first time, the trade focused
exclusively on Equatorial Africa. And the number of deportations reached
an unparalleled scope and scale. It’s not comparable in terms of
scale, because for the Islamic trade, we’re talking about, you know,
roughly a thousand-year period. Much bigger impact in a shorter
period of times in the Americas. In Lisbon, the history of African
slaves who arrived in Europe has largely been forgotten. Most traces of their presence were
destroyed during the 1755 earthquake. And any lasting pieces of that memory
were scattered when the city was rebuilt. In this hunting lodge a few
miles from the capital, a painting by a Flemish artist
depicts Lisbon in 1580. “The King’s Fountain” portrays a
neighborhood that no longer exists, where people of different
skin colors danced together. Here, a black man in shoes embraces
a white woman with bare feet. Musicians play for a pair of lovers. A knight of the Order of Christ. In chains or in ceremonial dress, Africans present their wealth
to Europe’s smallest kingdom. An image of an era when this
connection between Africa and Portugal made Lisbon the most important
economic capital of Europe. As early as the 1500s, 10% of
Lisbon’s population was black, not counting descendants. Seville was similar,
Barcelona and Malaga too. Today, in southern Europe- in Portugal, Italy, Spain,
and southern France- an estimated 50 to 60% of the
population could have African ancestry. It is a question which all scholars
of slavery have wondered about: what happened to those
black people in Europe? Some say the figures aren’t that big: they melted into the population,
disappeared on their own. But it’s hardly tenable
to argue that thousands, tens of thousands of people,
or hundreds of thousands, disappeared without a trace, without passing anything
on to next generations. For us historians who work on archives, it’s fairly easy to find
an African ancestor; but for people’s family history,
it’s something that they forgot, or have suppressed. Merchants went to round up slaves in the
border regions of the Kongo Kingdom. Everywhere, the raids multiplied. Luanda became one of the crossroads of
the original trans-Atlantic slave trade. In Kongo, the relationship of equality
between Africans and Portuguese collapsed. So Luanda became, from
then on, from 1590s on, became the most important single
port, single place in Africa from where Africans left for the Americas. 23%, something like that, of
all Africans left from Luanda. Going heavily to Brazil, which of course is the biggest area where
Africans go in the Americas by far, almost half of all
Africans end up in Brazil. And Luanda was really an outpost
of Brazil in many ways. They determined that a merchant
should import 20,000 slaves per year. Slaves became contractual objects. They stopped bartering. It then became something
highly speculative. So figures then amounted to thousands. Slaves were counted by lots,
and no more one by one, and even the language changed. They spoke of “pieces.” This defined the slave in
terms of stature and age, as calculations were made
in terms of profitability. You have to use the expression
slave “production,” because within central African States, and especially the Kongo Kingdom and
small states that had separated from it, there wasn’t a slave
trade, strictly speaking. The system and conditions
had to be created. So it was people from the outside who fed
antagonisms that might allow people- let’s say free people, citizens- to end up in the slavery networks. Amidst all the traffic between
the African coasts and Brazil, a slave ship ran aground
off the coast of São Tomé. The Angolares are the
descendants of those castaways. Their ancestors found
refuge on this beach. For nearly 500 years, the
Angolares lived here, far from the plantations
and the Portuguese. Poor, and secluded, but still free. They have made this story the
bedrock of their identity and of their spirit of resistance. A ship came from Angola
with people onboard. The ship capsized, and the people
started to swim to save themselves. Four of them swam to Celeste beach,
hanging on to the ship’s debris. Once they got to the beach, they
stayed there for a long time. They eventually founded a
family and had children. I think São Tomé is also a laboratory
for a new forms of social relations and for a new society because you
have a society mainly based on slave labor which has a vast
majority of the population enslaved. And where social relations
between enslaved and masters would be very tense. On São Tomé, the jewel of the empire, the sugar plantation system
gradually began to crack. The island was impossible to control. In the heart of the forest, groups of
fugitive slaves set up “mocambos”- places of sanctuary where they organized
themselves into armed groups. The distance between
Lisbon and São Tomé proved troublesome for
the Portuguese crown. The kingdom of Kongo was reluctant to
intervene in the island’s affairs, while the Portuguese lacked armed men on
the ground to defend their interests. So, to solve the problem, they
decided to manufacture them. One of the fundamental elements
of this society as a laboratory was the creation of “mestizos,” as they were called, part of a concerted
plan devised by the Portuguese. The Portuguese sought to cross
white men with black women to create a mixed-race population. A population where- according to the texts of the time- the white fathers would transfer Portuguese
values to their mixed-race children. The aim was to create a
group within society who could defend white,
Portuguese interests on São Tomé. We often completely forget that
interbreeding stemmed from violence. Very often, these children
were the products of rape, of relations between master and slave. In a letter addressed to the
King, São Tomé’s administrator, Bernardo Segura, explained how he intended
to use these mixed-raced children, the empire’s bastards. Many settlers have children
with their slaves, and if Your Highness granted
freedom to a few of them, they would be allowed to
live as free citizens. As there are no other free children, they would remain free at the service
of God and of Your Highness. Crossing white men with
black women on São Tomé, the mixed-race individuals fathered by
Portuguese men were a separate group called the “sons of the land.” By defending the Crown’s interests, they became crucial figures
in the slave system. The Filhos da terra, sons of the land,
had no secure position in the country and would therefore live
off this trade network, which brought them wealth, gave them
authority, like that of the Portuguese. But they too were
children of the country. We mustn’t see this just as
a black and white issue. Not in the 16th century. Maybe later, but not at that time. It wasn’t about race. It was about the economy. Money! My grandfather also had slaves. They were black and owned slaves. They were slave hunters too. And they’d been slaves themselves! No, this is a story I lived,
it’s in my blood, I know it. As demand mushroomed, the “sons of the land” started
kidnapping citizens of Kongo- despite the religious, diplomatic
and cultural links between Portugal and the kingdom. In a letter to his counterpart in Portugal, King Afonso the First told of
his dismay and desperation. Afonso, I think, was far more
intelligent than alleged. When he is presented as
a very Christian king, he appears as some sort of
by-product of Portugal. But he tried to modernize the kingdom by integrating resources
that came from Portugal. But he soon realized that his
country was losing its soul. Every year, Santomeans reenact this
first merger between Africa and Europe. To exorcize its violence,
they incarnate all the roles, wear appropriate costumes, a dance in which victims and
persecutors live side by side, the sons of one and the same family. The procession is called “tchiloli”- said to originate from the word “tragedy”. Slavery leads to societies that are
constantly searching for themselves. Due to a lack of identity, perhaps. Memories of Africa
are so vague, even for us Santomeans, who live about
200 or 250 kilometers from the coast. We’re closer to the African coasts
than the Antilles or Réunion. Even here, memory
is a problem. What memories do I
have of Africa? None. And yet, I am black. No memories. None. In 1595, tensions boiled over on São Tomé. Amador, a slave born on the
island, headed an uprising- one that the sons of the
land were unable to contain. Mills, factories, and
harvests were destroyed. The Santomean experiment
had revealed its limits. The union between African slaves and
sugar cane had been consecrated. The Portuguese knew that they could
export the system everywhere. One by one, they disassembled the mills, the ovens, and the sugar factories,
and rebuilt them in Brazil. The key which changes the direction of the
slave trade is the transfer of sugar, as you mentioned earlier, from one
side of the Atlantic to the other. And it then makes the hop to the part
of the Americas closest to Europe, which is the Caribbean A year after the uprising, Amador,
the leader of the rebellion, was executed in public. The result of a large-scale experiment
between Portugal and Africa, São Tomé, despite the violence it was
born in, has shaped its own history. A history founded on the heroic
struggle of the first slaves. To ensure the survival
of their economic model, the Portuguese took their slaves and their
agricultural insights with them to Brazil. By demonstrating that the model
could be exported to the Americas, they inspired other
Europeans to do the same. Sao Tome was the intermediary
stage in the spread of sugar. In some ways, it was the
first Caribbean island. Although it wasn’t in the Caribbean. In 1620, the Portuguese were the
uncontested masters of the slave trade. 25 years after the
revolt headed by Amador, they had already deported 300,000
captives to Brazil and Central America. Soon it would be the other
European powers’ turn to embark on conquests of the New World. With them, the slave trade’s tentacles spread all across the Atlantic
and reached a new target: the Caribbean.

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