Slavery routes – a short history of human trafficking (3/4) | DW Documentary


This is the story of a world whose borders
and territories were drawn by the slave trade … where violence, subjugation
and profit imposed their own routes. This criminal system shaped
our history, and our world. On the island of São Tomé, the
Portuguese invented an economic model with unprecedented
profitability: The sugar plantation. -This was the first black
colony: the first slave society. -We witness the marriage of
the black man with sugar cane. In the 16th century, other European
powers were eager to follow their model. Their greed would plunge an entire
continent into chaos and violence. Nearly 13 million Africans were cast
onto new slavery routes to the New World, where the English, the
French, and the Dutch hoped to become wealthy…
immeasurably wealthy. Because the Caribbean has
similar climatic features to São Tomé, it eventually became the principal
crossroads of the slave-traders’ routes. For people in the western world, these
islands are today associated with vacation. Guadeloupe offers tourists a dream
destination: sunshine and pristine nature, rekindling myths
of a lost paradise. Holiday makers tend to confine
themselves to the beaches of Le Gosier, Sainte-Anne, and Saint-François.
But as this sign indicates: they are all too close to another side of the island’s
heritage that was anything but a paradise. Just a few meters away
from the bathers is a burial site where countless skeletons were
discovered. Between 500 and 1,000 graves are still
buried beneath the sand. The Raisins Clairs beach is
one of fifteen slave cemeteries that have been excavated — 15 among the
one thousand that exist in the Caribbean. 89 skeletons have been exhumed by
French archaeological research experts. Judging by the state of the bones, they
concluded that these men and women had not reached the age of
thirty. By the time of their death, the toll from working on the
plantations had so deformed their bodies that they
seemed more like 75 year-olds. These people were human
guinea pigs for the sugar experiment, the collateral damage of an
unprecedented trade war: the sugar war. -74% of all slaves carried off,
were carried off because of sugar. If you want to understand the slave
trade, you just need to know about sugar. Sugar proved more addictive
than pepper or cinnamon. From the 17th century onward, Europeans
craved this rare and expensive commodity. In London, Amsterdam and
Paris, sugar-fever was rampant — prompting a new generation of adventurers
to go to any extremes to get it. Ship owners and fitters,
merchants and pirates all knew that to produce sugar,
you needed a lot of slaves. John Hawkins was one of these new
entrepreneurs, for whom profit reigned supreme. The English privateer was a
pioneer in understanding that a fortune could be made by shipping
black captives to the New World. In the mid-16th century he convinced
Queen Elizabeth the 1st to lend him a ship, the “Jesus of Lübeck.” For the expedition,
Hawkins conspicuously set the tone by choosing a trussed-up
black man on his emblem. -“I do confirm to your highness that I
will bring home forty thousand marks without any offence of the least to
any of your highness’s allies or friends. I will conduct this enterprise and
turn it to the benefit of your whole realm, with your highness’s consent. The voyage
I propose is to load negroes in Guinea and sell them in the West Indies,
in truck of pearls, gold and emeralds that I will bring
back in abundance.” 1620. A century after sugar
plantations were introduced in Brazil, the Atlantic became the
battleground for the Sugar war. England, the Netherlands and France wanted
to break Spain and Portugal’s hegemony. In the Caribbean, the Dutch took control of
Curaçao, Saint Eustatius and Saint Martin. The French: Guadeloupe, Martinique,
Grenada and Saint-Domingue. The English occupied the Bahamas,
Jamaica, Antigua, Barbados and Dominica. Only Cuba and Puerto Rico
remained under Spanish rule. After the extermination of
the native Arawak people, the first sugar canes
flourished on this fertile land. -The Caribbean became a space of conquest
for the Europeans very early on, really, it was the first place that Columbus
landed in the New World, the first place that the Spanish began to search for
gold, and the first place they began to enslave the Indians. So they were
thoroughgoing colonial spaces created by design of European planters and imperial
policymakers and for their profit, right? There aren’t so many places where you can
completely overlay a territory like that. So, in some ways, the Caribbean is a
space where you find the purest of colonial territories, where the masters of the
space actually get to create the space to suit their
own needs. In Guadeloupe, every plot of land,
every single square inch of ground is connected to this violent
and deeply-rooted history. Today, all that is left of the
Sugar War is a field of ruins. Of the 250 sugar refineries
active in the late 19th century, only two remain
in operation. In 2017, experts from
France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research
exhumed the remains of the “Saint Jacques” residence and sugar
refinery in Anse-Bertrand … A mill, stock rooms, and three
rows of so called “Negro huts”, where hundreds of slaves
were penned up together. In this brutal work-camp, human
beings were but one tool among others… Each became a mechanized, emaciated body,
consumed by work until their final breath. -Both the time in which the slaves
were digging the cane holes and the times in which they are harvesting are really
the peak of the labor on a plantation… You can almost see the slaves wasting away
when they were digging these cane holes, because the work was so strenuous
and they were getting fed so poorly. -You found women in all the
gangs, half the time doing the hardest, dirtiest labor on the plantation,
alongside the men or even before the men. And one of the things that means,
when you find young women doing this quite debilitating labor, is that the
birth rate is very low and the mortality rate, infant mortality rate, is shockingly
high. And in the mid-18th century, people talked about 9 out of 10 infant
born to enslaved Jamaican women dying, right, within the first year. So, there
is no way in which the plantation can reproduce itself under
those kinds of conditions. -The plantations were managed by
overseers who saw the slaves in purely functional terms. This was
absolute exploitation of the workforce. It was a very particular society …
because the average rate of life expectancy on a plantation was extremely low
— about 8 to 10 years after arriving. -The logic of the slave system was
one where the availability of the workforce had to be absolute. And for this, man
was conceived as an accessory of the land. He appeared as such in house inventories.
Slaves are listed next to records for livestock or manufacturing
implements … That’s the archaic aspect, which
was put to use by a capitalist system which largely met market supply
and demand, with its fluctuations, needs and competition,
free competition. The sugar plantation saw slavery
enter a new era: The stronger the demand for sugar, the more the slave trade
expanded, and the more the slave traders sought support from
banks to finance their expeditions. London is one of the oldest
centers of global finance. The City of London was the first
to create a commodities exchange, to develop credit markets and to
issue banknotes on a massive scale. Without the invention of a centralized
banking system, the explosion of the slave trade in the 17th
century would not have been possible. Preparing for a slave expedition was
expensive, and having a financial arsenal gave England a decisive
advantage over its competitors. -You’ve got to remember that the state is
getting a tremendous amount of revenue from the plantation complex so
they have a very strong vested interest in the slave trade. If you had gone to
the King of England in 1680 and said: “look I’m going to give you a choice:
you can either have these 13 colonies in North America or you can have
this one little island called Barbados”, he would have taken Barbados in a split
second because of the sugar revenues. And this is something that’s going to
persist as a very important interest for European states up until
the very end of slavery. To support the sugar war, the
City lent money on a colossal scale. In the midst of these steel and glass
buildings, the two pillars of the English economy that financed the slave trade
are still prominent on the London skyline. At the heart of the financial district
is the venerable Bank of England, the world’s first central bank. A couple
of blocks away is Britain’s most powerful insurance company, the
prestigious Lloyd’s of London. Atlantic slave traders had to take
on heavy debts to charter their ships. Without an insurance company, most
would risk ruin on their first expedition. The slave traders made investments as
if playing a game of poker. The risks were high, but if successful, the return would
far outweigh any other type of investment. Insurers like Lloyd’s had everything
to gain by participating in this game of chance. A successful expedition could
yield up to three times the initial stake. In the Lloyd’s archives, little evidence
remains of the profits amassed by insuring these high-risk expeditions. Most
accounting records were lost in a fire in 1838, the same year that slavery
was abolished in the British Caribbean. Ports had to adapt to this initial
“scramble for Africa” and the Caribbean. In London, Blackwall became the slave
trade’s principal wharf. All manner of goods were sold here: precious fabrics,
jewels, porcelain, weapons and brandy — all bought on credit with the banks’ money.
A giant port complex gradually evolved: a city within a city, entirely
devoted to this new business. Following London, in 1663, other
seaports rushed to take advantage of this lucrative trade… Lorient,
Copenhagen, La Rochelle, Bristol, Nantes, Liverpool, Bordeaux, Antwerp. From all over
Europe, slave ships set sail for Africa. -When I began to see slave ships
leaving from not just Liverpool and Nantes, but from every port in the Atlantic,
as soon as a port becomes big enough to contemplate the transoceanic voyage,
there is a good chance that voyage is going to be a slave trade voyage. And we
have got 170 separate ports, tiny places. Today they have got no idea that once
upon a time, they sent out slave voyages. Saint Peter’s Port in the
Channel Islands, charming place and yet, it is a
slave trade port. Over a period of two centuries, more
than three and a half thousand expeditions set sail from French ports. More than
half of them left from the port of Nantes, the main French hub
of triangular trade. The sculpted figures along the
Quai de la Fosse or Feydeau Island are reminders of an era when
the great slave trading families displayed their pride in being the
main architects of the city’s wealth. It was they who made Nantes
France’s leading commercial port. -Wealth came from slavery. There were
negotiators, ship owners, and all those who produced foodstuffs — vintners,
producers of flour, fabric, and hardware. -The Atlantic ports also generated wealth
for areas that stretched very far inland: as far as Orléans, in the case of Nantes.
Goods were also transported along rivers. So the wealth that slavery
produced was essential for France. 1669 … From Nantes, Bordeaux,
La Rochelle and Le Havre, slavery money flowed back up rivers
to Rouen, Orléans and Angoulême. It had such repercussions on inland
areas that it became a national objective. Louis XIV knew that to win the sugar
war, he would need a powerful fleet. The king ordered the construction of 500
galleons. The Atlantic became the theater of a naval war between France, England and
the Netherlands … a bitter fight in which each sunken ship was a total loss
for the respective country’s economy. -It was very expensive to build and
equip a 74-gun ship and pay its crew. Ultimately, who bore the cost?
The bill for financing these wars, the financing of ships and arsenals,
was mainly footed by French peasants. The slave trade fleets were protected. 16
thousand galleons were already protecting Dutch commercial ships, while the
3,000 light and fast Royal Navy cruisers terrified their adversaries. France
paled in comparison to these armadas. Each nation needed a fortress in Africa
if it were to compete in the Atlantic race. Just like on the Caribbean islands,
these forts were the bastions of the triangular trade. As military
bases, they offered a secure store for bartered goods and
captives before departure by sea. In less than 80 years, 43 such forts
were built from Senegal to the Niger Delta. Every stone, beam, and element of masonry
was transported by boat from Europe. -Most of these fortresses are built
by states: individual capitalists or even groups of trading capitalists did not
have that kind of money in order to build those sorts
of fortresses. The English already had thirteen,
the Dutch ten, the Danish five… Even the Prussians, with their
three forts, surpassed the French… On the Gold Coast, in today’s Ghana,
the Fante and Ashanti rented Europeans plots of land to build their forts. The
Europeans established trading posts & fortresses all along the Atlantic
coast, from the Ewé territory to the Kongo Kingdom. Equatorial Africa became
the world’s principal source of slaves. In this accounting
document written in 1688, we learn that over an 8-year
period, it shipped 60,783 slaves. Each cost the Royal African
Company 8 to 12 pounds sterling — the equivalent today of
between 950 and 1500 euros. They were all bought with trade goods.
The demand for slaves was so high that the Europeans pressured their
African partners to help them plan, rationalize and industrialize
their system of mass deportation. -Slaves were often bought on credit. And so
that meant that European ships would come, they would have a whole cargo
full of textiles, different metal ware, rum, tobacco, whatever and these
would be given to the local merchants, extended to them on credit
and then the merchants would go inland with those goods
and buy slaves and come back. -The biggest impact was the level of
violence, the rising level of violence, the level of uncertainty that permeated
society everywhere and also the opportunity for new big men to emerge,
new powerful leaders. Somebody gets a hold of more
firearms, somebody gets more aggressive, they build their own personal
chieftain and, suddenly, they’re powerful. Among these leaders was Antera Duke, a
major African trader from Calabar in what is now Nigeria. In his diary, he spoke of
the methods he used to terrorize captives. Kidnapping,
detention and murder … -“At about 4am I got up. Awful rain.
I walked up to the city trading house, where I met all the gentlemen.
We got ready to cut off heads.” -“5am, we began
decapitating slaves: 50 heads
fell that day.” -Very clearly, these sacrifices
were intended as a form of terrorism that were meant to make it very clear
to the population who was the boss and who was not, very much the way
the Mafioso type organizations behave in terms of making sure that the members
of the association respect whoever the Godfather is and if anybody steps out
of line, they can be assassinated or killed and so they don’t step
out of line, obviously. For the benefit of a handful of
enterprising & unscrupulous profiteers, the entire continental economy was
transformed. On the coast, African brokers knew all of the inner workings of the sugar
plantation. A slave ship from Saint-Malo, “Le Marie Séraphique”, docked at
Loango in the Kingdom of Kongo. Its captain’s drawings provide
exceptional details of the negotiations between Europeans and Africans. The
merchants from the coast knew that the Marie Séraphique’s captain was in a
hurry: he had to arrive in the West Indies before harvest time. This was the time of
year when slaves sold best and when the best sugar was available. So they
deliberately prolonged negotiations to drive prices up. 312 captives
were rounded up in 116 days. The Marie Séraphique arrived
in Saint-Domingue, now Haiti, one year after leaving France. Only
nine captives had perished: a good ratio for the crew, who celebrated
their success. In the drawings of the Marie Séraphique, no allusion to the
slaves’ suffering appears. They were dehumanized shadows, tallied and lined
up like barrels at the bottom of the hold. The transportation of human
beings turned into a nightmare… -It’s very important to understand
that violence on board slave ships would be used selectively. In other words:
no captain wanted to kill the entire allotment of people on board because
that voyage would then have no profit. So when there was resistance,
what the captains would do, is organize a spectacle in which a
small number of people would be executed in extremely vicious, horrific ways as
a means of terrorizing everybody else. All of the enslaved would be forced to
come up on deck in order to view these executions. One slave ship
surgeon said that frequently the decks, the main deck of the ship would
just be completely awash in blood, in the aftermath of one of these failed
revolts. Revolts were common and they were almost always suppressed. But the captains
would use that situation to kill a small number in order to intimidate everybody
else, sending the message that if you resist us, this
will be your fate. -I’ve also suggested that the
slave ship created categories of race. For example the multi-ethnic Africans
who are loaded on board a slave ship, go aboard as Ebo or Fante or
Mende but when they come off the ship they are unloaded as members of a
“negro race”. And the same parallel process goes on among the sailors. These motley
crews they are English, Irish, also in some cases African. They leave their
European port, but when they arrive on the West coast of Africa, they
become the White people. On Caribbean beaches,
captives disembarked as “blacks” in a world dominated
by “whites”. Providing an outlet for a society
founded on violence and race, the Carnival maintains the memory
of the days when the sugar industry imposed its rhythms, rites and
seasons and set the pace for island life. It was an era when drummers announced
the end of winter and the resumption of cutting — when fleeing
slaves covered themselves in molasses to help
prevent their re-capture. -What progressively distinguished
Atlantic slavery, what made it different from other systems of slavery,
was the construction of race. It was precisely this superimposition
that developed between physical appearance, with its
own term, and status. At the extremities of this continuum of
both status and color, there was the white master and
the black slave. -The term “white” did not exist prior
to slave societies. The term “white” developed specifically in the Antilles.
So you can see how vital this Atlantic slave area was to the construction of the
racial categories that we still use now. We use them as though they hadn’t changed
throughout time, when, in fact, they have. Race was a weapon of
submission, meant to carve into flesh the supposed inferiority of some people
and the infinite superiority of others. Cut off from their roots and their
families, the black slaves were reduced to a servile mass, without
names and without orientation. The plantation was a machine
that devoured its workforce. It needed a constant supply of new
arrivals. Landowners wanted to transform the slaves’ bodies into tools. On
plantations, whipping and torture were used to deprive
them of their humanity. In this garden of torture, the
master’s authority was absolute. -So you take, for example, a character like
Thomas Thistlewood. And you can almost see in his diary the escalation in
the violence that he thinks he has to mete out to the enslaved to
keep them working on the plantation. -“I arrived as a foreman on the
new plantation barely two weeks ago. We had to carry out justice
on a negro who had escaped. We severely whipped him and rubbed pepper,
salt and lime juice into his wounds.” -“Three days later, the body of another
slave who had escaped was brought to us. I cut off his head and we
burned the body in public. That was the only way to exert
our control over the negroes. In this affair, my reasoning
was adopted by all the colonies… The unfortunate condition of the
Negro naturally led to us being hated. Only strength and violence
can hold them back.” -These kinds of tortures and these kinds
of punishments, this kind of brutality, actually became common place on these
plantations where you had white people working out among armies of slaves
who they feared they could not control. The sound of the screaming and
the stench of the burning bodies, that also became a fundamental feature
of the Jamaican landscape, right. That is what plantation society is.
It’s that smell, it’s that sound, it’s that fear and terror that’s compelling
people to work and to obey their masters. There is no way to separate
that kind of terror from the labor on the plantation from the
profits that that labor produced. But the plantation owners could not
squander the slaves they had bought on credit. The state had financed
the shipment of slaves and wanted its return on
investment. The plantation society relied
solely on market forces. Violence was a necessary cost, and thus included in
balance sheets. It took 4 years to amortize the price of a slave. Thereafter, they were
valuable only insofar as they could hold a machete. This was the price to
pay so that Europe could eat sugar. -I don’t think that it’s possible to reduce
another human being to a mere cipher, to a mere extension of your will. And
that’s where a lot of the tension and the possibilities for slave revolt and
resistance come in, because if my purpose is to subject you absolutely, but you
can never be subjected absolutely, we are always going to have conflict. At the
extremes of human domination, even in slavery, we find there is always
resistance, there is always tension and there is
always struggle. Throughout the Caribbean, escaped
slaves took refuge in the heart of the most remote forests. They were called “maroon
slaves”, in reference to the Spanish word “cimarrón”, which originally designated
cattle that had escaped into the wild. In these isolated places, they began
to organize resistance. In Jamaica they included Captain Leonard Parkinson,
the leader of the maroons, and Grandy Nanny, an Ashanti,
known as the “maroon priestess”. In Barbados, Boussa, an Igbo war
chief …Through rebellion, the insurgents found a name
and an identity. -All throughout the mountainous areas of
Jamaica, you have these communities of formerly enslaved people who have
escaped, and they learn the territory, they learn to cultivate crops
there, and they learn to fight as well: harassing plantations, taking gun powder,
getting new recruits, and maintaining and building communities in the
mountains, right? This becomes increasingly a problem for the British, and by the
second/third decade of the 18th century, it breaks out into a major war. And
the British aren’t even sure they are going to be able to
maintain the Island. The uprisings spread to other
islands — and then to the coast of Africa. Wars raged in the slave capturers’
hunting grounds — notably in Senegambia, where Muslim religious leaders blamed
slave trade goods for corrupting society. These outbursts of violence plunged
the sugar industry into a crisis, which also had an impact in Europe. A growing
number of voices expressed outrage at the horrors of
the slave trade. -In all of the major slave trading
ports, everybody knew the truth of the slave trade. And I’ll tell you one way in
which they knew it. Slave-trading vessels had a very specific smell and you
could never get the smell out of the wood. In fact, it was said, in Charleston, South
Carolina, which was the major port for the importation of slaves into North
America, that when the wind was blowing off the water a certain way, you could
smell a slave ship before you could see it. What that meant was that in
every port these ships, these ships of horror that stank of human misery,
that this was all very well known. -Certainly information about the
slave trade and its characteristics, the experiences of enslaved Africans
in the course of the middle passage came increasingly to public attention in
the late 1780s. Abolitionist campaigners placed particular emphasis
on the Middle Passage. -That’s when the polemical arguments
begin, and many pamphlets being published and the case being argued, slave
owners realizing for the first time, that they’re going to have
to make an argument about the legitimacy of
colonial slavery. Within this context, in 1783, a
court case involving Lloyds and a slave trade company enjoyed significant
publicity in Britain. Abolitionists used it as a platform to reveal the
slave traders’ barbaric practices. -The so-called Zong Massacre, which
took place in the early 1780’s, was a very important event. It basically consisted
of a slave ship captain throwing a group of living Africans overboard in
an effort to collect insurance money. Now this was, this voyage went
on and it only came to court a couple of years later because one of the
insurance companies refused to pay. And when this event came to court,
an abolitionist named Granville Sharp shows up at this court case. And
the question being: “Were they actually property or not?”and Sharp’s
answer is: “This is mass murder. This is just plain mass murder.
This is not about property rights. These are
human beings.” -The judge actually upheld the
insurance companies, which refused to pay insurance on the murdered Africans. And
it was Vassa who brought this to attention of Granville Sharp and it was
Granville Sharp who then turned it into a big issue that helped to
mobilize public opinion in Britain. Gustavo Vassa was one of
England’s most fervent abolitionists. Born in Nigeria, he was deported
to the Caribbean at the age of 11. At the age of 21, he managed to buy his
freedom while passing through England. In his autobiography published in
1789, he recounted his experience of the “Middle Passage” down in the hold,
and delivered an impassioned plea against slavery. Vassa held up a mirror
to the nations that had reduced him to the rank of a
marketable object. -“Gentlemen, Such a tendency
has the slave-trade to debauch men’s minds, and harden
them to every feeling of humanity! It is the fatality of this mistaken
avarice, that it corrupts the milk of human kindness and turns it into gall.
Which violates that first natural right of mankind, equality and independency, and
gives one man a dominion over his fellows which God could
never intend!” “Yet how mistaken is the avarice
even of the planters? Are slaves more useful by being thus humbled to the
condition of brutes, than they would be if suffered to enjoy
the privileges of men?” By the time Gustavo Vassa spoke
out in 1789, 7.7 million Africans had been deported — 1 million from
Senegambia 3.4 million from Benin and Biafra; 3.2 million from Central Africa;
and close to 73,000 from eastern Africa. While David Eltis and the Emory University
research team have established precise deportation figures, the income amassed by
the slave trade is still being estimated. Historians are trying to assess
today how much profit the slave trade yielded for banks
and insurance companies. -The slave trade is not only a
foundation of American capitalism; it is a foundation of all of European
and Atlantic capitalism because it created this massively profitable economic
system that linked the countries of North Western Europe to the
Americas through the plantation system. The great scholar activist C. L. R. James
pointed out that the slave system created the greatest planned accumulation of wealth
the world had ever seen up to that moment in time. And this of course is a very
important part of Western prosperity. Between 1633 and Britain’s abolition
of the slave trade in 1807, English and then British companies deported
2,755,830 African captives. Most of them died on the plantations — worn out
from working in the sugar cane fields. All of this for
the sake of profit. In 2007, Westminster Abbey in London
hosted a bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade …
in the presence of then Prime Minister Tony Blair and Queen Elizabeth II.
One of the guests, human rights activist Toyin Agbetu,
disrupted the ceremony. The plantation owners and slave
traders could not accept losing the hard-won Caribbean, the immensely
lucrative driving force behind the rise of global capitalism. At the beginning of
the 19th century, they sought to thwart the wave of protest in civil society.
By that time, slavery, a practice that dated back to the dawn of humanity,
seemed immoral, and to belong to the past. Britain had understood this before
the others, and was thus one step ahead of its rivals. It was
preparing itself for world domination.

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