During some of our history lectures in Benin on the slave trade, I learned a lot that had never been presented to me in public school, and realized just how US-centric our education is about this matter. I thought I would share a few odds and ends that stuck out to me.
- While we in the US are taught about slavery from an American perspective, many other countries were far more active in the slave trade, Brazil topping that list. Other Latin American and Caribbean countries (like Haiti)
- While Europeans were heavily involved in the slave trade, relatively few slaves went to Europe
- Most slaves came through the Slave Coast, like Benin’s Point of No Return in the coastal city of Ouidah
Slavery was an active part of many African societies long before the Europeans got involved, but it was a bit different.
- While Africans did capture and sell other Africans to European slave trade (whose immune systems were too weak and numbers too small to go into the interior themselves) Africans did not sell their own. That is, one kingdom would sell their prisoners of war and such, but not their own people. This in turn allowed them to get firepower and increase their authority within the region.
- Slavery within Africa was also distinct in that it never denied that a person was a human being, and they were not excluded from society. One could earn their freedom (and it was actually realistic to do so, unlike in antebellum America), be a respected member of society, marry and have children. They could return to their community after they were released, although many chose not to.
- The term “African-American”was thoughtto be offensive for a
while, particularly around the time of abolition and the founding of former slave colonies in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The insinuation was that these Americans really belonged in Africa, which is a big part of why these colonies were founded in the first place–so there wouldn’t be a whole bunch of free blacks in America, demanding their rights and respect. The disdain for this term certainly sheds some light on the debate over the use of the terms “negro” and “colored” in the US census.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever learned about slavery? Any reactions to these tidbits? And of course, thanks to Professor Kate Luongho for the knowledge and inspiration!