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EXPLODING THE MYTH OF AFRICAN RESPONSIBILITY FOR SLAVERY (Part 1)

(DAVID A. COMISSIONG)


Now that our Caribbean governments have launched a serious effort to
secure the payment of Reparations for the tremendous damage inflicted
on the people of Africa and the African Diaspora during the centuries
of European orchestrated slave trade and enslavement, a number of
“fifth columnists” have crept out of the proverbial woodwork and are
seeking to confuse the issue with allegations that our African
ancestors not only collaborated with the European enslavers, but were
so accepting of the slave trade that they refused or neglected to
resist it.

The only way to respond to this type of mischievous propaganda is to
subject it to the cold hard undisputed facts of history! So, before
we even consider the issue of Africans who collaborated with the
European enslavers, let us begin with a consideration of the methods
by which the various European powers commenced their trade in African
human beings on the west coast of Africa.

Let us look briefly at the cases of Portugal - the first European
nation to establish a trans-Atlantic slave trade - and Britain, the
European nation that developed the largest slave trade.

Portugal commenced the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1444 with a raid
on the western coast of the African territory that is today known as
Mauritania. This is how Gomes Eannes de Zurara, a courtier of the
Portuguese Royal Family, described the event in his “Chronicle of the
Discovery of Guinea”:-

“Most of the captives... had been taken in a village where .......
they (the Portuguese), shouting out, “St. James, St George, and
Portugal,” at once attacked them, killing and taking all they could.
Then might you see mothers forsaking their children, and husbands
their wives, each striving to escape as best they could. Some drowned
themselves in the water, others thought to escape by hiding under
their huts, others stowed their children among the seaweed, where our
men found them afterwards........”

The British “trade”, on the other hand, started with the two voyages
of Captain John Hawkins in 1562 and 1564. This is how these voyages
were described in several publications, including the 1878 publication
of the Hakluyt Society entitled “The Hawkins Voyages”:-

“Hawkins sailed with three ships from England in 1562 ....... in the
River Sierra Leone, he captured at least 300 blacks, partly as he
said, “By the sword, and partly by other means”......... In 1564
........ Hawkins set out on a second voyage ...... The new expedition
again made for the River Sierra Leone ..... and every day, went on
shore: “to take the Inhabitants ...... burning and spoiling their
townes”.

So, we can see from these two examples that this so-called “trade”
began with European criminals inflicting murder, mayhem and terror on
defenseless towns and villages along the west coast of Africa. There
was no talk of collaborators in these beginning phases of the
trans-Atlantic Slave Trade!

From these beginnings of attack, de-spoilation and mass kidnapping,
the Europe enslavers went on to devise several other means of
procuring so-called slaves:- befriending Africans and inviting them
onto the European ships where they were then kidnapped; constructing
castles or fortresses along the West African coast for the purpose of
collecting and storing enslaved Africans; purchasing enslaved Africans
from African collaborators; putting in place European or mulatto
“middlemen” who were stationed in Africa to raid for and collect
“slaves”; and engaging in the opportunistic kidnapping of individual
Africans whenever the opportunity presented itself.

The fifth columnists wish to focus on the role played by African
collaborators - as if every system of oppression does not feature some
members of the victimized group who collaborate with the oppressors!
However, it should be noted that even as Euro-centric a historian of
the trans-Atlantic Slave Trade as Hugh Thomas, the English author of
“The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade”, confirms the longevity of
the practice of the direct European “stealing” or kidnapping of
Africans:-

“In 1702, the Africans near Cape Mesurando complained to Willem
Bosman of the Dutch West India Company that the English had been
there, with two large vessels and had ravaged the country, destroyed
all their canoes, plundered their houses, and carried off some of
their people as slaves .... In 1716 the monarch of Fooni received
five men from the Royal African Company’s chief agent on the River
Gambia whose mission was to “panyar” (Kidnap) the people and make them
slaves.....”.

But if the fifth columnists insist that they wish to focus on the
issue of African collaborators, perhaps we could pay some attention to
how some of these collaborators got involved in the process of
collaboration in the first place. Let us take, for example, the case
of Bandi, a 1620's King of a state in the territory known today as
Angola. Hugh Thomas tells the story in his “History of the Atlantic
Slave Trade” as follows:-

“A new Portuguese governor of Luanda, Luis Mendes de Vasconelos,
embarked on a campaign designed to finish with the threats of the
continuously hostile Ndongo, for good or evil. He captured that
monarchy’s capital at Kabasa, and the Ngola (or King) fled ...... He
(then) defeated a native chief named Bandi, on whom he imposed an
annual tribute of one hundred slaves.”

And so, while there might have been some Africans who collaborated
because they adjudged, in their own self-interest, that there was a
profit to be made, there were several who had collaboration imposed on
them via European conquerors demanding a tribute of slaves, or because
they found themselves in a dangerous and unstable environment in which
a choice had to be made between collaborating with the enslaver and
saving one’s own skin, or remaining apart from the enslaver and
becoming a victim of the process of enslavement that was fast
engulfing the African continent.

It should also be noted that some of those who collaborated came to
regret it after the full consequences of the slave trade became
apparent, and ultimately attempted to resist and to extricate
themselves from the tentacles of collaboration. Two examples of this
phenomenon are King Afonso of the Congo and Queen Nzinga of Angola.

King Afonso had initially collaborated with the Portuguese enslavers,
but by 1526 he was writing to the King of Portugal complaining that
the slave dealers were depopulating his kingdom - “There are many
traders in all parts of the country ... They bring ruin..... Every
day people are kidnapped and enslaved, even members of the King’s
family” - and went on, unsuccessfully, to appeal to the Portuguese
monarch to replace the slave trade with a more constructive type of
trade relationship.

Queen Nzinga, for her part, went to war against the Portuguese and
their slave trade regime in Angola, and in the words of Hugh Thomas -
“She eventually established herself as the strongest military power in
southern Angola, and the Portuguese failed to deal effectively with
her.... She never became the reliable purveyor of slaves for whom
successive governors of Luanda hoped.”

But the issue of African collaborators is completely routed and
dismissed by the recognition that ultimately, in the long scheme of
history, not even the most willing and “successful” of African
collaborators benefitted materially from the trans-Atlantic slave
trade or the associated system of racialised chattel slavery!
Eventually, all of them were set upon, conquered and exploited by the
said European enslavers who followed 400 years of slave trading with
100 years of the physical colonisation and domination of the entire
African continent!

A good example of this are the Ashanti of West Africa. The Ashanti
are an Akan-speaking people of central Ghana and neighbouring regions
of Togo and Ivory Coast, and their traditional capital is the town of
Kumasi in Ghana. During the 18th century, the rulers of the Ashanti
Kingdom participated in the European orchestrated slave trade,
collaborating with the Dutch in particular, and extending their
empire.

But what was the ultimate fate of the Ashanti? By the mid-19th
century, the British colonialists had decided that the Ashanti
“empire” had to be dismantled and the Ashanti brought under British
control. Thus, in 1874 the British Government launched a ferocious
military campaign against the Ashanti, using the latest in European
weaponry. The end result was the defeat of the Ashanti army and the
sacking of Kumasi. This military defeat led to the disintegration of
the Ashanti “empire” and the temporary deposing of the Asantehene or
King of the Ashanti!

The final phase of the destruction of the Ashanti kingdom took place
in 1896, when the British demanded of the restored Asantahene (Prempeh
1) that Asante be placed under so-called British “protection” and
Prempeh refused. Once again the British army marched on Kumasi,
deposed the Royal Family, and sent them and their generals into exile.
Thenceforth, the Ashanti territories were incorporated into the
British colony of the Gold Coast and subjected to colonial
exploitation.

Clearly, no serious 21st century Reparations activist would be looking
towards the Ashanti in modern-day Ghana as a target for Reparations
payments. Indeed, one would not be surprised if the remnants of the
Royal Family of the Ashanti are not preparing themselves to launch a
claim against the British Government for the damage inflicted on the
Ashanti people during and after the Ashanti wars!

No! If we are serious about Reparations we must focus on attention on
the Governments and institutions that launched, orchestrated,
maintained and profited immensely from the twin enterprises known as
the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the system of racialised chattel
slavery. I refer to the national governments of Western Europe, the
various Royal Families of Europe, major European multi-national
corporations such as Barclays Bank and Lloyd’s of London, and elite
European families such as the Leylands and the Camerons! This is
where the real wealth extracted with devilish cruelty from the sons
and daughters of Africa over 400 years is to be found!

(To be continued)

DAVID A. COMISSIONG
CLEMENT PAYNE MOVEMENT,President
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clement_Payne_Movement