The transatlantic slave trade was the capture, forcible transport, and sale of native Africans to Europeans for lifelong servitude in the Americas. Since 16and at 19and centuries, it is responsible, more than any other project or phenomenon in the history of the modern world, for the creation of the African Diaspora – the dispersal of black people from their places of origin on the African continent.
As a result of the transatlantic slave trade, there are currently 51.5 million people of African descent living in North America (United States, Mexico and Canada), about 66 million in South America, 1.9 million in Central America and more than 14.5 million million in all the Caribbean islands. Through centuries of transformation and upheaval, these diaspora peoples have developed rich cultural traditions, distinct societies and independent nations, all sharing elements of a common African heritage.
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The transatlantic slave trade was one stage of a three-part system known as the triangular trade. The formation of the triangle began when European ships, carrying guns and manufactured goods, sailed to Africa, where the goods were exchanged for enslaved men, women and children. Then the same ships transported the human cargo across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas.
This horrible journey was called the Middle Passage. Completing the triangle, the ships—after disembarking the enslaved Africans—were reloaded with cotton, sugar, tobacco, and other cash crops produced by slave labor, and returned to Europe.
The triangular trade generated incredible wealth for the European and American nations that participated in it, at the cost of millions of human lives. An estimated 1.8 million Africans perished during the Middle Passage.
The countries that enslaved the largest number of Africans, at most or least, were Portugal, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Spain, the United States and Denmark – sending a total of 12.5 million Africans enslaved to work in what was considered the “New World.”
Other European nations, such as Germany and Sweden, participated in the trade indirectly or for a brief period. Canada, usually omitted from the history of slavery, was actually involved in the keeping of slaves, first as a French colony and later as part of the British Empire.
“Little is known about slavery in Canada, both inside and outside the country,” says Charmaine A. Nelson, director of the new Institute for the Study of Slavery in Canada at the NSCAD University, Halifax. “It’s national amnesia.”
Role of fellow Africans in the slave trade
Another downplayed factor is the pivotal role played by ruling African states in capturing and selling their fellow Africans to European traders – around 90% of all captives. The main motivation behind these transactions was the acquisition of firearms for use in inter-ethnic warfare. Slaves were taken as far north as present-day Senegal south to Angola, and transported to destinations as far south as Argentina and as far north as New England.
Dehumanizing everywhere, the practice of slavery could still vary from place to place. This variation explains the demographic, cultural, and even genetic distinctions among modern diasporic black populations.
A July 2020 genetic study found that enslaved women contributed more than enslaved men to the modern gene pool of people of African descent in the Americas. The results also show that Caucasian men contributed more than Caucasian women, confirming the well-documented practice of sexual violation of enslaved women.
African communities beyond the Americas
Prior to the transatlantic slave trade, there were eastward and northern slave trade enterprises known as the Arab slave trade. They contributed significantly to the creation of an African diasporic presence in the Old World.
“People from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and the Swahili coast were deported as slaves to the Indian peninsula,” says Sylviane A. Diouf, an African diaspora historian who co-curated the 2013 exhibit. , “Africans in India: From Slaves to Generals and Sovereigns” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York.
“From the 1300s, many of these Africans and their descendants became generals, admirals, architects, high officials, prime ministers and rulers, immortalized in numerous portraits. They also founded the states of Janjira and Sachin, where they ruled over Hindu and Jewish majorities.
The Arab and transatlantic slave trades inevitably coincided, if not in their commercial transactions, in their human exploitation. It is known that mainland Africans were taken to the island of Madagascar by Arab slavers as early as the 10and century. At 18and century, European slavers began operations on the island, transporting an estimated 6,000 people in chains to American slave markets. Although these Malagasy constituted a tiny percentage of the total enslaved population, their DNA is identifiable to this day among their living descendants, such as actor Maya Rudolph and director Keenan Ivory Wayans.
To satisfy different European fascinations, enslaved Africans were also taken to Europe.
“Among British royals, nobles, ship captains and merchants, a tendency began to keep Africans as entertainment, curiosities and sometimes surrogate sons,” says Monica L. Miller, author of Fashion slaves: black dandyism and the style of black diasporic identity. “In almost every case, these black men were dressed extravagantly in the latest fashions or liveries – a forced madness.
Role of resistance
For nearly four centuries before its abolition by all nations concerned, “the transatlantic slave trade not only influenced the composition of slave communities in the Americas, but also powerfully shaped slave resistance”, according to Marjoleine Kars, author of Blood on the River: Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Savage Coast.
“Take, for example, the Berbice slave rebellion of 1763-1764. Lasting over a year, the rebellion took place in a small Dutch colony on the Caribbean coast of South America in February 1763. Slaves, led by a man named Coffij, or Kofi, broke up raised, put the Dutch to flight and fled. colony control.
READ MORE: 7 famous slave revolts