In 1998 Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, told an audience including Bill Clinton: “African chiefs were the ones waging war on each other and capturing their own people and selling them. If anyone should apologize it should be the African chiefs. We still have those traitors here even today.”
Those words from the Ugandan President, though strikingly critical, remains the signature truth of what can be called one of the greatest crime against humanity in the history of the world. Without a doubt, the traders benefited from the help of their local counterparts as someone had to find the stock.
It is a fallacy of history to say slavery started when the Europeans came. In fact it didn’t as before the Europeans came , a form of ‘slavery’ had existed in Africa.
Slavery within Africa was different. A slave might be enslaved in order to pay off a debt or pay for a crime. Slaves in Africa lost the protection of their family and their place in society through enslavement. But eventually they or their children might become part of their master’s family and become free. (Discovering Bristol)
In the humanity of Life it can be said some are born to reign, some are born to be leaders and some are born to have leaders thrust upon them.
An economic system where people are segregated into caste and as such their life of poverty enshrined in their very existence , was the ideology that created this system of slavery. Indeed this ideology still exist in 2015; money trumps people.
The first black slaves brought to Jamaica did not come directly from Africa but were either Africans, or the descendants of Africans, who had been enslaved for a time in Spain. In 1518 King Charles I of Spain (Ferdinand’s successor) signed a four-year contract, allowing an annual supply of 4,000 African slaves to enter Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico. After that, slaves were taken directly from Africa.
More than 1 million slaves are estimated to have been transported directly from Africa to Jamaica during the period of slavery; of these, 200,000 were re-exported to other places in the Americas.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Akan, Ga, and Adangbe from the northwestern coastal region known as the Gold Coast (Ghana) dominated the slave trade to the island. They frequently rebelled and joined the Maroons who had escaped the plantations and lived in mountains. As result of this, the plantation owners decided to enforce other groups from West Africa in an attempt to diffuse the Akans.
After 1776, slaves were “imported” from other parts of Africa- Ga and Adangbe people from Toga, Yorubas and Igbos from the Bight of Biafra (Nigeria) and Kongos from Central Africa and they outnumbered the slaves from the Gold Coast. The demand for slaves required about 10,000 to be imported annually.
In the British mind, slaves were no more than property and merchandise to be bought and sold. On this premise, the British enacted a whole system of slave laws aimed primarily at policing slaves. In general, the premise that slaves were no more than property allowed slave owners to treat them brutally. The severity of this brutality varied. Slaves on large sugar estates generally suffered the harshest punishments, while those on smaller estates and in towns received somewhat better treatment.
Since their arrival on the island, blacks had resisted their enslavement. They engaged in what is referred to as atomized forms of resistance, such as foot dragging (work slowdowns, or ‘go-slows’), destruction of property, theft, absenteeism from work, and the covert murder of whites. But resistance also took the forms of large-scale rebellions and establishment of maroon communities.
By December 1833 there was a Bill for the abolition of slavery, and it became effective on August 1, 1834. At that time all slaves became apprentices. They remained working for the same slave masters. The system was a failure, and that too was abolished. Slaves received their unrestricted freedom on August 1, 1838.
When Britain abolished the institution of slavery in 1834, Jamaica had a population of more than 311,000 slaves and only about 16,700 whites. Unlike other groups of people who came to Jamaica, including the Jews, Indians, Lebanese / Syrians and Chinese, they had no assets, no property or businesses and most of all, no land.
It can be debated whether the leaders of Jamaican independence are at fault for the continuation in some ways of this ‘caste system’, where the Africans, now ‘independent’ were far from real economic wealth and freedom.
Indeed Bustamante and Manley the ‘fathers’ of the nation of Jamaica seemed to champion the inhumane and squalid state of the Jamaican poor to the wretched social and economic conditions of colonialism. They championed workers rights and ‘never lost sight’ of the poverty that surrounded the people.
However setting people free without wealth is like setting a boat assail without an engine. It drifts, waiting for a wind of opportunity, never to move an inch. At the very least upon independence all Jamaicans should have been granted land to start their homes. Nothing really changed on August 6,1962 except the flag.
Marcus Garvey, the other leader we hear so little of in the independent struggle of Jamaica , saw the problem of slavery from a different perspective. Maybe because he was also a black man who lived and experienced the scourge of slavery and the caste system, he championed the black man to be land owners as well as the repatriation to Africa. To say he was at odds with Bustamante and Manley was to describe it lightly.
“No man can convince me contrary to my belief, because my belief is founded upon a hard and horrible experience”. “The world has made being black a crime, and I have felt it in common with men who suffer like me, instead of making it a crime I hope to make it a virtue”.(Marcus Garvey)
Three different ideologies, three different perspectives, one real fact- the majority of Jamaicans today are still affected and live on the same system that caused their fore-fathers to be implanted here, the social caste. As it was then as it is now, there will always be the have and the have nots. Democratic socialism, capitalism, unionism, religiousness, communism, call it whatever you will, people live and survive in Jamaica and the world by extension, not on a class system, but on a caste system. It is sadly humanity’s obsession.
Thanks NeoMakeba for original post