Sunday, February 28, 2016
The Origin And Evolution of Human Societies
We are living in the socio-economic system known as capitalism. It is not eternal. There have been other socio-economic systems before it which we will consider as this article proceeds, and it will not be the last. The point is that societies as well as human beings, evolve. However, the evolution of society, while it is bound up with the evolution of man, is not identical with it.
The Darwinist theory of evolution concerns the physical development of different aspects of nature: plants, animals and all the multifarious forms of organic life, including man. Darwinism regards man as part of the animal kingdom descended from a precursor type of ape, beginning something over five million years ago. Early forms of human beings, known as hominids, have left behind fossil evidence that appears on the scene up to perhaps three million years ago. But modern man, homo sapiens, evolved from hominid ancestors somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago, during which time the social organisation known as hunter-gatherer society appeared. Primitive man of this period was a tribal dweller of the old stone age, paleolithic man, who had just the beginnings of social organisation, based on the primitive technology provided by the stone implements of production at his disposal. The continued evolution of society grows out of this period. But that depends also on the advance of primitive technology such as enables the transition to a stable form of tribal society able to hold its own in the struggle to survive the hostile forces of nature such as predators, a lengthy process.
What, then, is the decisive stage for the emergence of society proper? That period when he starts producing (and reproducing) the necessities of life, commonly called the means of subsistence. This is the period which sets man apart from the animals, a transition from early, brutish life, proceeding through a scavenging, hunting and gathering stage to a stage of producing, and not just collecting, the material means of subsistence. Such production enabled the formation of stable tribal society, leading eventually to settled communities. This level of social organisation rested, in fact, on the improvement of stone-age technology, both in the instruments of labour and in the production skills required for their use. Today, stone-age technology seems trifling, but then it was a big factor in social development. The acquisition of new stone tools which could also serve as weapons gave men new power in the battle against hostile nature. In particular they aided the collectivity of tribal life and co-operation for survival. Regular production of the means of subsistence at last became a reality.
The social development which we have so far depicted is based upon the brilliant research and analysis of two intellectual giants of the 19th century, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, whose joint theory of historical materialism, also known as the materialist conception of history, (for which Engels gives the main credit to Marx), created a revolution in human thought. They were the closest of colleagues, who painstakingly studied all that was known of early history, in the process discovering and establishing the laws of development of human society.
The decade 1830-1840 saw massive class struggles in Europe between the wage workers and the towns and the burgeoning class of capitalists, employers of wage labour, even when the latter were moving to political supremacy. This class struggle forced itself to the forefront in all spheres of life, and in doing so compelled European thinkers to consider history anew.
Already a revolutionary democrat, Marx was impelled by the great social movements of the period to make a profound study of the different forms of human society which had existed up to that time. He showed for the first time the overriding importance of economic development as the underlying cause of all important historical events and movements, singling out the class struggle as the motive force of history.
The Materialist Conception of History
An excellent statement of the main principles of historical materialism is given by Engels in his popular exposition of Marxism: Socialism, Utopian and Scientific. Here is a brief extract from it . ‘The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent on what is produced, how it is produced and how the products are exchanged. From this point of view the final cause of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in men’s brains, not in man’s better insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the mode of production and exchange. They are to be sought not in the philosophy, but in the economics of each particular epoch’.
What then, happened to primitive tribal society? What caused it to change and what did it change into? Fundamentally, the cause lay in changes in the mode of production of the material means of subsistence.
The prehistory of man
At the time Marx and Engels first reached their views on historical materialism, in the mid-nineteenth century, nothing was known of prehistory, of the period before written history. The great American anthropologist Lewis Morgan rectified this in his masterly work Ancient Society. Marx and Engels openly acknowledged their debt to Morgan, the first to discover and reconstruct the whole epoch of prehistory.
Morgan had lived among the Iroquois Indians for twenty five years, researching their way of life. From his work it became clear to Marx and Engels that for thousands of years existing tribes were based on a primitive communal form of social organisation, with little in the way of productive forces at their disposal. Gradually new implements were developed and invented, using stone, wood, horn and bone to make axes, knives, clubs, stone-tipped spears, chisels and fish hooks. Men also learned how to make and use fire. Nevertheless the level of the productive forces was still very low. This necessitated common labour. Common labour entailed common ownership of the means of production, with relations of equality, co-operation and mutual assistance among members of the tribe. Likewise, the products of people’s labour were shared equally. What is decisive here is the common ownership of the means of production. Hence the description of this social epoch by Marx and Engels as ‘primitive communism’.
Morgan’s work provided Marx and Engels with the scientific basis for establishing ‘primitive communism’ as the socio-economic formation which preceded slave society.
Primitive communism as a social-economic formation lasted far longer than any of its successors, from early tribal life to the beginnings of civilisation in the form of slave society. The Maori and other Pacific peoples , both Polynesian and Melanesian, lived under forms of primitive communism before the incursions into their lands by European countries, sparked off by the development of capitalism.
Primitive communism lasted a whole historical epoch, based on a certain level of development of the productive forces. The principle productive force then, as now, was man with his production skills and techniques. Each main epoch in the development of human society constitutes a specific mode of production, or social-economic formation, of which five are now known: they are: Primitive communism, Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism and Socialism (that is, the lower stage of Communism).
What caused the decline of primitive communism? Ultimately, it was the development – over a very long period of new and more advanced productive forces. Metal tools and implements replaced those of stone and wood: the wooden plough with a metal ploughshare, bronze and iron axes, iron speartips and arrowheads; these along with pottery, made labour far more productive than formerly. Herds of domesticated livestock could be raised, and crops grown by settled communities. These two pursuits – stock raising and agriculture – became separated from each other in the first great social division of labour, some tribes concentrating on stock raising, others on agriculture. Later on, handicrafts such as metal working, tool and weapon making, and the making of clothes and footwear, also became separate branches of production.
Slave society and primitive communism showed that the development of the productive forces was they key thing in forcing on the transformation of one great socio-economic formation into another. the instruments of production developed independently of man’s will. Their growth was the principal factor in the changes of the productive forces at man’s disposal. But as the productive forces of the epoch worked within the framework of a given set of production relations, as they grew in size and productivity, so they came into ever-sharper conflict with the previously established production relations. Eventually, this conflict ended in the overthrow of existing production relations, ushering in a new social order, or socio-economic formation; those production relations (or the property relations within which they had to develop) had become a fetter on further social development. They had to be broken up, cast aside, and replaced by new ones at a higher level, giving new and higher production relations which help the new productive forces to develop. Just as slave society had superseded primitive communism, so feudal society superseded slave society.
What is the connection of slavery with today’s world? Engels answers: ‘It was slavery that first made possible the division of labour between agriculture and industry on a larger scale, and thereby also hellenism, the flowering of the ancient world. [Hellas = Greece). Without slavery, no Greek art and science; without slavery, no Roman Empire. But without the basis laid by Grecian culture, the Roman Empire, also no modern Europe. We should never forget that our whole economic, political and intellectual development presupposes a state of things in which slavery was as necessary as it was universally recognised. In this sense, we are entitled to say: Without the slavery of antiquity no modern socialism’.
From Slavery to Feudalism
Slave labour, earlier the source of great profits to the slaveowners, from being a form of social development finally became a hindrance to further development. With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the hub of slavery throughout Europe, so the old production relations of slave society no longer fitted the expansion of the new productive forces. Feudalism took the place of slavery. The barbarian Germanic tribes which overthrew and defeated Rome adapted their already existing gentile constitution to the actual conditions then prevailing. Large scale slave labour estates owned by Roman aristocrats were no longer profitable. Small-scale farming once more became the rule. Engels comments that estates were parcelled out among tenants and farm managers, ‘Mainly, however’, he notes, ‘these small plots were distributed to coloni, who paid a fixed amount annually, were attached to the land and could be sold together with the plots. These were not slaves, but neither were they free. They were the forerunners of the medieval serfs’.
Over a period of about four hundred years feudalism gradually became established throughout Europe. Kings and a landowning nobility arose, seizing land and reallocating part of it to dependent peasants and serfs who, in return worked their landlord’s land for nothing except the right for each to work a small plot for himself and his family.
Despite the fact that serfs and small peasants were exploited by landowners, because they could in a small way own their own means of production – a plot of land and tools to work it – and also own their own product, they had much more incentive to labour than slaves. They looked after and improved their tools, and sought to improve by wider use of fertiliser, the use of animal power for ploughing and transport, and the development of the three-field system; handmills were supplemented by water and windmills. New crafts developed: iron was produced from pig-iron; paper, gunpowder and printing were invented (or re-invented, having first appeared in China). The craftsman, often originally a serf, obtained increased status.
With greater production under the new system, trade increased, leading to the growth of new towns as trading centres. Artisans could own their own tools and products, and took the trouble to improve techniques. The towns played an ever more important role in feudal society, becoming havens for runaway serfs and centres of the new, developing industries out of which capitalism was born.
As the centuries passed, the growing middle class of the towns (middle because between the aristocracy and the peasants), the burghers or bourgeoisie, strove for independence from the rule of the landowning nobility. As trade and manufacture grew in importance, so too did the bourgeoisie. The new productive forces introduced in the towns included the system of manufacture – that is, simple co-operative labour in production. Most labouring people were serfs or peasants tied to the land. To provide labour for manufacture this connection had to be broken, and was.
Thus, within the framework of feudal class relations a great growth of capitalism and the capitalist class took place. Once more the productive forces had outstripped the productive relations and a new socio-economic formation had to overthrow the old; capitalism had to overthrow feudalism by force in order to seize political power and create the conditions for a new growth of the productive forces, which now were able to achieve an immense growth, based on the development of wage labour. This form of labour was at the same time social labour as distinct from the individual labour of the feudal artisan or peasant. It enabled giant strides to be made in production.
Marx and Engels gave a graphic summary of this process in the Communist Manifesto(1848):
The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalisation of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?
But capitalism is not the last word in social development. It, too, has seen in Soviet Russia and People’s China the overthrow of capitalism. that is a fact of history. That socialism was lost in all the countries where it had achieved state power, and capitalism has been restored is a serious blow to the aspirations of the working class, but, while a big setback , this is nevertheless only a temporary situation. History is still certain to throw up new socialist revolutions which will bring about a transformation in one after another sector of the human race. In the 1950s one-third of the population of the world was living under socialism. that time will come again, and ‘the end’ will be written to the capitalist world system.
History, as Marx and Engels proved in their immense intellectual labours, is a law-governed process, by which is meant natural, and not constitutional, law. Each mode of production, or socio-economic formation, has its own special laws of development.
As previously noted, the production relations of each epoch necessarily correspond to a certain level of the productive forces at society’s disposal, which, as we have already seen, consists of people with their production skills plus the tools or instruments of production. As Marx succinctly puts it: ‘The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill with the industrial capitalist’.
It is a common feature of human society in all periods of history that it can only exist by producing the necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter. In this very process of producing, people willy-nilly form definite relationships. These are called ‘relations of production’ or, more briefly, ‘production relations,’ and they concern how people stand towards the means of production; whether they own them in common, as under Communism, or whether one class owns them and can thus exploit another class as under slavery, feudalism and capitalism.
Whatever the epoch, these production relations form the foundation, the basis or economic structure of society. Under communism, primitive or advanced, the basis is classless, because the means of production are socially owned. Under slavery, the basis is the dominant production relations of slaveowners to slaves; under feudalism, it is those of feudal lords to serfs, and under capitalism, those of capitalists to workers.
In the foregoing sketch of development we have spoken of Primitive Communism, Slavery, Feudalism, Capitalism and Socialism. Each of these social systems consists, like a building, of two closely connected parts, a ‘basis’ and a ‘superstructure’. It includes different kinds of governing bodies – democratic assemblies or monarch’s courts, for instance; the state with its armed forces, police and law courts, churches, academies and so on. A set of ideas in regard to politics, religion, law, art and culture, etc. also grows up which form an ideological superstructure as part of the whole the most decisive The most decisive institution of the superstructure and the principal one on which the political power of a ruling class rests, is the state. In the imperialist (modern monopoly) stage of capitalism the monopoly capitalists have created a huge military-bureaucratic state machine as an instrument of suppression. In classless society there will be no state, for there will be no classes to suppress.
Under capitalism different political parties may be elected to office in ‘democracies’. They may make some reforms, but they cannot and do not make any fundamental change to the basis. For that, something very different is needed – a revolution. ‘Labour Governments’ come and go. But the capitalist basis remains.
In the physical world surrounding us or, as it is called, Nature, and in human society and human thought as well, change and development take place as a result of constant struggles between opposing tendencies or forces, i.e., opposites. Such opposites are called ‘contradictions’. And in human society the basic contradiction is that between the productive forces and the production relations. It is this contradiction that is the motive force which pushes forward the development of society. In a class-divided society such as capitalism the basic contradiction manifests itself as a struggle between classes.
New relations of production when they are established assist the productive forces to develop, but in time they become a barrier to the further growth of the latter. A conflict between the two develops and grows sharper until a point is reached where it culminates in a social revolution, when the old production relations are overthrown and replaced by new ones and society is reconstituted on a new basis. The old superstructure then undergoes big changes to bring it into line with the new basis.
Laws of social development
The evolution of man from other organic species was firmly established, except for religious obscurantists, by Darwin in the mid-nineteenth century. As Darwin showed, evolution was (and is) a law-governed process. So too is the development of human society.
This article is headed ‘The Evolution of Human Society’ in order to throw light on the development of society and on the laws which govern that process. It leaves unsaid much of the teachings of historical materialism so as to concentrate on the main essentials. As we have indicated, certain general laws of development hold good for society. These are:
1). The law of contradiction between the productive forces and the production relations. The operation of this law brings about the transformation of one socio-economic formation into another through the sharpening of the contradiction. It is the basic law of social development. In class-divided society it is expressed by the struggle between oppressed classes.
2). The law of basis and superstructure. Every social system consists of an economic basis and a superstructure erected upon it. A fundamental change in a social system takes place when a social revolution changes the basis and then proceeds to change the superstructure.
3). The law of class struggle. In a class-divided society the underlying economic contradictions are expressed in society as a class struggle which is the motive force of social development. The sharpening of this struggle brings about a social revolution.
A summing up
As can be seen, these are general laws, not laws solely applicable to capitalist society.
The materialist conception of history is the only scientific view of history. This conception for the first time places history on a proper foundation, showing the mass of the people as the real makers of history. It is they throughout history who have maintained society through their productive work; it is they who, in earlier generations have been the principal agents in improving the instruments of production along with scientific experiment, and it is they who advance society through their actions in class struggle. It is beyond doubt that such struggle will lead, in New Zealand as elsewhere, to a new socialist society.
Sunday, February 21, 2016
Some Great African Empires Before the Coming of Europeans
While Europe was experiencing its Dark Ages, a period of intellectual, cultural and economic regression from the sixth to the 13th centuries, Africans on the other hand were experiencing an almost continent-wide renaissance after the decline of the Nile Valley civilizations of Egypt and Nubia.
The leading civilizations of this African rebirth were the Axum Empire, the Kingdom of Ghana, the Mali Empire, the Songhai Empire, the Ethiopian Empire, the Mossi Kingdoms and the Benin Empire.
The Aksum or Axum Empire was an important military power and trading nation in the area that is now Eritrea and northern Ethiopia, existing from approximately 100 to 940 A.D.
At its height, it was one of only four major international superpowers of its day along with Persia, Rome and China. Axum controlled northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, northern Sudan, southern Egypt, Djibouti, Western Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia, totaling 1.25 million square kilometers, almost half the size of India. Axum traded and projected its influence as far as China and India, where coins minted in Axum were discovered in 1990.
Axum was previously thought to have been founded by Semitic-speaking Sabaeans who crossed the Red Sea from South Arabia (modern Yemen) on the basis of Conti Rossini’s theories but most scholars now agree that when it was founded it was an indigenous African development.
Kingdom of Ghana
Centered in what is today Senegal and Mauritania, the Kingdom of Ghana dominated West Africa between about 750 and 1078 A.D. Famous to North Africans as the “Land of Gold,” Ghana was said to possess sophisticated methods of administration and taxation, large armies, and a monopoly over notoriously well-concealed gold mines.
The king of the Soninke people who founded Ghana never fully embraced Islam, but good relations with Muslim traders were fostered. Ancient Ghana derived power and wealth from gold and the use of the camel increased the quantity of goods that were transported. One Arab writer, Al-Hamdani, describes Ghana as having the richest gold mines on Earth. Ghana was also a great military power. According to one narrative, the king had at his command 200,000 warriors and an additional 40,000 archers.
After the fall of the Kingdom of Ghana, the Mali Empire rose to dominate West Africa. Located on the Niger River to the west of Ghana in what is today Niger and Mali, the empire reached its peak in the 1350s.
The Mali Empire was founded by Mansa (King) Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers, especially Mansa Musa. He was the grandson of Sundiata’s half-brother, and led Mali at a time of great prosperity, during which trade tripled. During his rule, Mansa Musa doubled the land area of Mali; it became a larger kingdom than any in Europe at the time.
The cities of Mali became important trading centers for all of West Africa, as well as famous centers of wealth, culture and learning. Timbuktu, an important city in Mali, became one of the major cultural centers not only of Africa but of the entire world. Vast libraries and Islamic universities were built. These became meeting places of the finest poets, scholars and artists of Africa and the Middle East.
The Kingdom of Mali had a semi-democratic government with one of the world’s oldest known constitutions – The Kurukan Fuga.
The Kurukan Fuga of the Mali Empire was created after 1235 by an assembly of nobles to create a government for the newly established empire. The Kurukan Fouga divided the new empire into ruling clans that were represented at a great assembly called the Gbara. The Gbara was the deliberative body of the Mali Empire and was made up of 32 members from around 29 clans. They were given a voice in the government and were a check against the emperor’s (mansa’s) power. It was presided over by a belen-tigui (master of ceremonies) who recognized anyone who wanted to speak including the mansa. The Gbara and the Kurukan Fuga remained in place for over 40o years until 1645.
According to Wikipedia, Disney’s “Lion King” movie was based on the real life narrative of Mansa Sundiata Keita.
The Songhai Empire, also known as the Songhay Empire, was the largest state in African history and the most powerful of the medieval west African states. It expanded rapidly beginning with King Sonni Ali in the 1460s and by 1500s, it had risen to stretch from Cameroon to the Maghreb. In 1360, disputes over succession weakened the Mali Empire, and in the 1430s, Songhai, previously a Mali dependency, gained independence under the Sonni Dynasty. Around thirty years later, Sonni Sulayman Dama attacked Mema, the Mali province west of Timbuktu, paving the way for his successor, Sonni Ali, to turn his country into one of the greatest empires sub-Saharan Africa has ever seen.
Perhaps, it’s most popular leader was Muhammad Askia the Great. At its peak, the Songhai city of Timbuktu became a thriving cultural and commercial center. Arab, Italian and Jewish merchants all gathered for trade. By 1500, the Songhai Empire covered over 1.4 million square kilometers.
The Ethiopian Empire
The Ethiopian Empire also known as Abyssinia, covered a geographical area that the present-day northern half of Ethiopia covers. It existed from approximately 1137 (beginning of Zagwe Dynasty) until 1975 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup d’état. In 1270, the Zagwe dynasty was overthrown by a king claiming lineage from the Aksumite emperors and, hence, Solomon. The thus-named Solomonic Dynasty was founded and ruled by the Habesha, from whom Abyssinia gets its name.
The Habesha reigned with only a few interruptions from 1270 until the late 20th century. It was under this dynasty that most of Ethiopia’s modern history occurred. During this time, the empire conquered and incorporated virtually all the peoples within modern Ethiopia. They successfully fought off Italian, Arab and Turkish armies and made fruitful contacts with some European powers, especially the Portuguese, with whom they allied in battle against the latter two invaders.
The Mossi Kingdoms were a number of different powerful kingdoms in modern-day Burkina Faso which dominated the region of the Upper Volta River for hundreds of years. Increasing power of the Mossi kingdoms resulted in larger conflicts with regional powers. The Kingdom of Yatenga became a key power attacking the Songhai Empire between 1328 and 1477, taking over Timbuktu and sacked the important trading post of Macina.
When Askia Mohammad I became the leader of the Songhai Empire with the desire to spread Islam, he waged a Holy war against the Mossi kingdoms in 1497. Although the Mossi forces were defeated in this effort, they resisted attempts to impose Islam. Although there were a number of jihad states in the region trying to forcibly spread Islam, namely the Massina Empire and the Sokoto Caliphate, the Mossi kingdoms largely retained their traditional religious and ritual practices. Being located near many of the main Islamic states of West Africa, the Mossi kingdoms developed a mixed religious system recognizing some authority for Islam while retaining earlier African spiritual belief systems.
Once a powerful city-state, Benin exists today as a modern African city in what is now south-central Nigeria. The present-day oba (King) of Benin traces the founding of his dynasty to A.D. 1300. The Benin Empire was a pre-colonial Edo state. Until the late 19th century, it was one of the major powers in West Africa. According to one eye witness report written by Olfert Dapper, “The King of Benin can in a single day make 20,000 men ready for war, and, if need be, 180,000, and because of this he has great influence among all the surrounding peoples. . . . His authority stretches over many cities, towns and villages. There is no King thereabouts who, in the possession of so many beautiful cities and towns, is his equal.”
When European merchant ships began to visit West Africa from the 15th century onward, Benin came to control the trade between the inland peoples and the Europeans on the coast. When the British tried to expand their own trade in the 19th century, the Benin warriors killed their envoys.
Africason is a musician and a die-hard believer in Africa
Find my songs on iTunes: Artiste name: Africason
Saturday, February 20, 2016
A Short History of British Involvement in Slavery
By Marika Sherwood
British involvement in slavery is over 2,000 years old, but not in what is now the accepted perspective. Cicero noted in about 54 BC that the 'British' enslaved by Julius Caesar 'were too ignorant to fetch fancy prices in the market'. The enslavement of the people of this outpost of the Roman Empire continued for hundreds of years as we know that Pope Gregory spoke with some British slaves in the slave market in Rome in the seventh century AD. Domestic slavery usually called 'serfdom' also existed in Britain: serfs were bought and sold with the estate on which they had to work for a fixed number of days a year without payment; they could only marry with their lord's consent, could not leave the estate and had few legal rights. However, as they could not be easily replaced, they were not as physically abused as enslaved Africans a few centuries later. The institution of serfdom was not abolished in Britain until 1381.
Britons were also enslaved by the Barbary pirates. The cross-Mediterranean trade was subject to piracy and privateering (piracy licensed by ruling monarchs) by many of the coastal seafarers. Some of the British enslaved by the north Africans (the 'Barbary' coast) were used as galley slaves; others fulfilled the usual tasks allotted to slaves; those who converted to Islam had an easier time. The men seized by the British from Barbary vessels were either sold as slaves or executed as pirates.
The enslaved/imprisoned could be ransomed: Queen Elizabeth I, for example, attempted to have the 'Negroes' resident in Britain volunteer to hand themselves over to a trader named Caspar Van Senden. This Lubeck trader had told the Queen that he could sell them as slaves in Spain and Portugal, which would enable her to repay his expenses in ransoming and returning to England some English prisoners held there. It seems that neither free Africans nor the owners of any enslaved Africans in Britain were prepared to obey the Queen's proclamation, as she had to issue it a number of times.
Slave trading from north and east Africa
The enslaving of Africans was of long standing. Arab and then Muslim slave traders had been marching Africans, or sailing them across the Red Sea and then the Indian Ocean, from about the sixth century AD. It is probable that at least as many women as men were taken: the women were used as domestic labour and as concubines in the harems of the rich; men were also domestics, but most were destined for the military. When some were used – and abused – as plantation labour in the area we now call Iraq, they eventually revolted and were not again used for such labour. The Africans were not seen as non-human objects, had rights and could rise in the ranks of the army and the society. In most Arab societies they could also intermarry and the resulting children were not slaves. Slavery in Muslim societies was not racial – the Turks enslaved my Hungarian ancestors while they ruled Hungary from the sixteenth century. There was also an export of east Africans to India and the intermediate islands. The conditions of slavery in India were similar to those in the Muslim world, more akin to serfdom in medieval Europe than to the conditions imposed upon enslaved Africans in the Americas.
Slave trading from west Africa
Why were Europeans enslaving Africans? Because they needed labourers to work for them in this world new to Europe – the Americas. In the process of conquest they had annihilated many of the native peoples; those who survived the Europeans' guns and diseases not unnaturally refused to work in the mines taken over by their conquerors, or on the plantations they created. The Europeans tried two solutions: export prisoners, and export men who indentured themselves to pay off debts. But both groups either succumbed to diseases new to them, or ran away to freedom. So another solution was sought. Africans did not have guns either, so why not enslave and transport them?
Europeans could not send armies to conquer Africans or to kidnap them. They had to make their purchases from the local kings and chiefs. The traders found all conceivable means to foster warfare, as Africans were usually only willing to sell prisoners-of-war. The enticement of European goods – especially guns and ammunition also eventually resulted in kidnapping gangs raiding neighbouring peoples. Those caught or taken prisoner had to be marched to the coast to await purchase. How many were killed during the raids, wars and marches is unknown. Could it be as many as were eventually transported? The number transported is estimated to be between 12 and 20 million. (It must be noted here that the African sellers had no notion of the monstrous forms of slavery that were practiced by Europeans in their colonies.)
Africans, of course, both resisted kidnapping and fought back against those who wanted to capture them in wars. But without guns they had little hope. And the further you lived from the coast, the less likely was it that you had access to guns. The devastation wrought by the constant warfare and kidnappings, and the export for hundreds of years of millions of the most able-bodied and vigorous of the population, naturally had a long-lasting effect – still there today.
(One of the issues that has not been researched is why so much rum and other hard spirits were sold by the Europeans. Is it possible that Africans, like some native north Americans, have no resistance to such liquor and become very quickly addicted? After all, Africans had their own liquors.)
There was simultaneous slave raiding and slave trading by African Muslims and Arabs, for export to the north and the east. As Muslims were enjoined by the Koran not to enslave each other, Muslim slavery was not based on skin colour, but on religion.
Britain, the 'nefarious trade' and slavery
Britain followed in the footsteps of the Portuguese in voyaging to the west coast of Africa and enslaving Africans. The British participation in what has come to be called the 'nefarious trade' was begun by Sir John Hawkins with the support and investment of Elizabeth I in 1573. By fair means and foul, Britain outwitted its European rivals and became the premier trader in the enslaved from the seventeenth century onward, and retained this position till 1807. Britain supplied enslaved African women, men and children to all European colonies in the Americas.
The 'Slave Coast' came to be dotted with European forts, their massive guns facing out to sea to warn off rival European slave traders. Each 'castle' incorporated prisons or 'barracoons' in which the enslaved women, children and men were kept, awaiting purchase by the traders, who could initially only reach the coast at those times of the year when the winds blew in the right direction. The prisons – without sanitation, with little air, must have been hell-holes in the humid coastal climates. The death rates are not known.
The trade became a very lucrative business. Bristol grew rich on it, then Liverpool. London also dealt in slaves as did some of the smaller British ports. The specialized vessels were built in many British shipyards, but most were constructed in Liverpool. Laden with trade goods (guns and ammunition, rum, metal goods and cloth) they sailed to the 'Slave Coast', exchanged the goods for human beings, packed them into the vessels like sardines and sailed them across the Atlantic. On arrival, those left alive were oiled to make them look healthy and put on the auction block. Again, death rates (during the voyage) are unknown: one estimate, for the 1840s, is 25 per cent.
Plantation and mine-owners bought the Africans – and more died in the process called 'seasoning'. In the British colonies the slaves were treated as non-human: they were 'chattels', to be worked to death as it was cheaper to purchase another slave than to keep one alive. Though seen as non-human, as many of the enslaved women were raped, clearly at one level they were recognized as at least rape-able human beings. There was no opprobrium attached to rape, torture, or to beating your slaves to death. The enslaved in the British colonies had no legal rights as they were not human – they were not permitted to marry and couples and their children were often sold off separately.
Historian Paul Lovejoy has estimated that between 1701 and 1800 about 40 per cent of the approximately more than 6 million enslaved Africans were transported in British vessels. (It must be noted that this figure is believed by some to be a considerable underestimate.) Lovejoy estimated that well over 2 million more were exported between 1811 and 1867 – again, many believe the numbers were much greater.
Abolition of the trade by Britain
Europeans who were Roman Catholics often treated their slaves more humanely than those of the Protestant faith, perhaps especially the members of the Church of England, which owned slaves in the West Indies. (Roman Catholics did not deny Africans their humanity and made attempts at conversion, while British slave-owners forbade church attendance.) The enslavement of Africans was justified in Britain by claiming that they were barbaric savages, without laws or religions, and, according to some 'observers' and academics, without even a language; they would acquire civilization on the plantations.
In the 1770s, some Christians in Britain began to question this interpretation of the Bible. They began a campaign to convert the population to their perspective and to influence Parliament by forming anti-slavery associations. Slavery was declared a sin. According to some interpreters of William Wilberforce, the main abolitionist spokesperson in Parliament, it was this fear of not going to heaven that impelled him to carry on the abolitionist struggle for over 20 years.
Parliamentarians and others who could read, or had the time to attend meetings, were well informed about slavery by the books published by two ex-slaves, Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano; slightly less dramatic and emphatic anti-slavery books were published by Ignatius Sancho and Ukwasaw Groniosaw. Equiano, like Thomas Clarkson (another truly remarkable man), lectured up and down the country, and in Ireland.
The Act making it illegal for Britons to participate in the trade in enslaved Africans was passed by Parliament in March 1807, after some 20 years of campaigning. Precisely why so many people signed petitions and why Parliament voted for the Act is debatable. (20) It is somewhat curious that many of the chief – including Quaker – abolitionists were importers of slave-grown produce.
Slave emancipation by Britain
A few Britons – including the British Africans – were not content with abolition and campaigned for the emancipation of slaves. This was another long struggle. Among the most forceful were the women abolitionists, who, being denied a voice by the men, formed their own organisations and went door-knocking, asking people to stop using slave-grown products such as sugar and tobacco. The most outspoken was probably Elizabeth Heyrick who believed in immediate emancipation, as opposed to the men who supported gradual freedom.
This battle was won when Parliament passed the Emancipation Act in 1833; as the struggle was led by men, it was for gradual emancipation. But protests, often violent in the West Indies, resulted in freedom in 1838. The slave-owners were granted £20 million (about £1 billion today) compensation; all the freed received was the opportunity to labour for the paltry wages that had now to be offered.
This Act only freed the enslaved in the West Indies, Cape Town, Mauritius and Canada. Slavery continued in the rest of the British Empire. Even the importation of slaves into a British colony continued – into Mauritius, obtained from the French after the Napoleonic Wars, where importation was not stopped until about 1820.
Emancipation in Britain
Africans have lived in Britain since they arrived as troops within the Roman armies. How many came here in more modern times, i.e., since the fifteenth century, has not been researched. They begin to appear in parish records of births and deaths from the sixteenth century. Again, what proportion was free and how many were slaves is not yet known. The famous decision by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in 1772 in the case of James Somerset, taken to court by activist Granville Sharp, merely stated that Africans could not be exported from the UK to the West Indies as slaves. There was no consistency in the many court judgments on the legality of slavery in Great Britain.
The efficacy of the Acts
As there was almost nothing done to ensure that the Acts were obeyed, slave traders continued their activities, as did the shipbuilders. Information about this was sent to Parliament by the abolitionists, some of the captains in the Anti-Slavery Squadrons and British consular officials in slave-worked Cuba and Brazil. Investigations were held, more Acts were passed, but all to no avail, as no means of enforcement was put in place in Britain. All the government did was to set up the Anti-Slavery Squadron – at first comprised of old, semi-derelict naval vessels, unfit for the coastal conditions. To enable them to stop slavers of other nationalities, Britain entered into treaties with other slaving countries. But these were also ignored. The slave trade continued, unabated.
Britain not only continued to build slaving vessels, but it financed the trade, insured it, crewed some of it and probably even created the many national flags carried by the vessels to avoid condemnation. Britain also manufactured about 80 per cent of the goods traded for slaves on the Coast.
The Squadron did capture some slaving vessels. These were taken to the courts set up in Sierra Leone (and even more ineffectually in the Americas). If the ship was condemned, the Africans on board were freed and settled in Freetown, a British colony. The ship's crew were given prize money. When Freetown grew too crowded, some of these 'Liberated Africans' were dispatched to the Caribbean as 'apprentices'; others were induced to enter the military. Their fate in the Caribbean and in the Seychelles, and whether any were sent to Cuba or Brazil, has not yet been fully researched.
It was no more difficult to evade the Acts making it illegal for Britons to hold slaves than it was to circumvent the Abolition Act. In India where, according to Sir Bartle Frere (who sat on the Viceroy's Council), there were about 9 million slaves in 1841, slavery was not outlawed till 1868. In other British colonies emancipation was not granted until almost 100 years after the 1833 Emancipation Act: Malaya in 1915; Burma in 1926; Sierra Leone in 1927. The final slave emancipation colonial ordinance I have found is in the Gold Coast archives, and is dated 1928. Britons owned slave-worked mines and plantations and invested in countries which were dependent on slave labour until the 1880s when slavery was finally abolished in the Americas.
In fact, the role of slavery in Britain's wealth did not diminish. Vast amounts of slave-grown tobacco were imported from the southern states in the USA, and then from Cuba and Brazil. When the amount of sugar now grown by free labour in the Caribbean colonies did not satisfy British consumers, slave-grown sugar was imported. Despite campaigns pointing out that this would increase the trade in slaves, the import duty on free-grown and slave-grown sugar was equalised in 1848. Much of the imported sugar was exported, earning Britain even more money.
Cotton manufacturing consumed and enriched Lancashire, including the port of Liverpool. Over 80 per cent of the cotton imported was slave-grown. It is probable that about 20 per cent of the British labour force was one way or another involved in the importation and manufacturing and then the export of cotton cloth. Bankers, manufacturers, shippers, traders, weavers, printers, dyers, shipbuilders and many others earned a living or made a fortune from cotton. There were very few protests about the importation of slave-grown cotton, compared with the protests about sugar. Clearly, it was more important economically to the wealth of the UK.
Britain, partly due to its new-found wealth, also needed some African products: this 'legitimate' trade, producing coffee, cocoa, gold, some minerals and palm oil (for greasing new machines and washing dirty people – think of 'Palmolive' soap), was usually supported by various forms of domestic slavery or serfdom. Naturally the European export firms wanted the cheapest possible product! Once colonial administrations were established, labour was needed to construct roads to improve the transport of these products – this was almost invariably what was euphemistically called 'contract' or 'forced' labour, i.e., temporary enslavement. Britain was among those who signed the League of Nations' Forced Labour Convention, but, as one author noted, 'most of the colonizing Powers have been more or less guided [by the Convention]... and have at least taken note of that body's resolution that natives must not be driven to work for the private profit of others' (my emphasis).
Support for slavery was also demonstrated during the American Civil War in the 1860s. Some Britons ignored the declared neutrality of the UK and raised millions of pounds to support the pro-slavery Confederates. Many ships, both merchant and war, were built for them with total impunity, despite the official neutrality, which made supporting either side illegal.
The after-effects of the slave trade
a) The creation of new societies in the Americas.
b) The emigration of Caribbeans of African descent, as there were no real means of economic survival, to the south American mainland, to build the Panama Canal, to the USA, to Britain.
c) The devastation of villages/towns/peoples in Africa through the European fostered wars.
d) The destruction of much indigenous manufacturing in Africa.
e) The displacement of many Africans in west and east Africa during the period of the trade in slaves within Africa and around the world.
f) The division of Africa between the European powers at the Berlin Conference in 1885, ignoring previous historical boundaries, language groups, kingdoms – the after-affects are there today, as are those of (c) and (e).
g) The spread of racist ideology to justify the enslavement of Africans. In slightly diluted forms this is with us today, perhaps most perniciously in the total absence of African history from our school curricula.
Africason is a musician and a die-hard believer in Africa.
Find my songs on iTunes: Artiste name: Africason
G.M. Trevelyan, History of England (1912), 26.
I have not been able to discover whether the 'droit de seigneur' existed in Britain: in some European countries the lord of the manor had the right to spend the first night with a newly married serf bride.
See, e.g., William D. Phillips, Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade (Manchester, 1985); Daniel J. Vitkus, Piracy, Slavery and Redemption: Barbary Captivity Narratives from Early Modern England (New York, 2001); Robert Davis, Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters:
White Slavery in the Mediterranean (New York, 2003).
Miranda Kaufman, '"The speedy transportation of blackamoores": Caspar Van Senden's search for
Africans and profit in Elizabethan England', BASA Newsletter, 45 (Apr. 2006), 10-114. Back to (4)
See, e.g., Ronald Segal, Islam's Black Slaves (London, 2003); Humphrey J. Fisher, Slavery in the
History of Muslim Black Africa (London, 2001); Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, 'Trading on a thalassic network: African migrations across the Indian Ocean', International Journal of Social Science, 188 (June 2006).
On Turkish enslavement of Africans, see Albertine Jwaideh and J.W. Cox, 'The Black slaves of
Turkish Arabia during the nineteenth century' (paper delivered at African History Seminar, School of
Oriental and Advanced Studies, 18 May 1988).
The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean, ed. Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya and Richard Rathbone (Trenton, N.J., 2003).
See, e.g., Edward Reynolds, Stand the Storm: a History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (London, 1985);
Hugh Thomas, The Slave Trade (London, 1997).
Some African polities were centralised kingdoms, some were vast empires, while others lived in more democratic societies under chiefs and elders.
From 1796 to 1806 Britain exported 1,615,309 guns to west Africa; many were sub-standard (Forced
Migration, ed. J.E. Inikori (London, 1982), 133).
There is ongoing debate about numbers. See, e.g., Philip D. Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Madison, Wis., 1969); J.E. Inikori, 'Measuring the Atlantic slave trade: an assessment of Curtin and
Anstey', Journal of African History, 17 (1976), 197-223; Paul E. Lovejoy, 'The volume of the
Atlantic slave trade: a synthesis', Journal of African History, 23 (1982), 473-501; David Eltis et al.,
The Transatlantic Slave Trade 1527–1867: a Database on CD-ROM (1999).
See, e.g., Sylviane A. Diouf, Fighting the Slave Trade (Oxford, 2003).
See, e.g., Ann O'Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and their Successors (Rochester, N.Y., 1997).
Fisher, Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa.
For a graphic account, see Nick Hazlewood, The Queen's Slave Trader (London, 2005).
See Melinda Elder, The Slave Trade and the Economic Development of 18th Century Lancaster (Halifax, 1992); James Rawley, London, Metropolis of the Slave Trade (Columbia, Mo., 2003); Nigel
Tattersfield, The Forgotten Trade (London, 1998).
Lovejoy, 'Volume of the Atlantic slave trade', 483, 497.
There are many books on the abolitionists: see, e.g., Robin Blackburn, The Overthrow of Colonial
Slavery (London, 1988); The Abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade, ed. David Eltis and James
Walvin (Madison, Wis., 1981); Suzanne Miers, Britain and the Ending of the Slave Trade (London, 1975). The effect of the 'abolition' was first challenged in the much disputed work of Eric Williams,
Capitalism and Slavery (1944; London, 1964).
Vincent Caretta, Olaudah Equiano, 'The Interesting Narrative' and Other Writings (London, 1995);
The Letters of Ignatius Sancho, ed. P. Edwards and Polly Rewt (Edinburgh, 1994); Reyahn King et al., Ignatius Sancho (London, 1997); Ellen Gibson Wilson, Thomas Clarkson: a Biography (London, 1989). Unchained Voices, ed. Vincent Caretta (Lexington, Ky., 1996) contains Ukwasaw
Gronniosaw's 1772 publication, and excerpts from Ottobah Cugoano's Thoughts and Sentiments of the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce in Human Beings (1787).
See, e.g., J.R. Oldfield, Popular Politics and British Anti-Slavery (London, 1998).
For information on this, see Marika Sherwood, After Abolition (London, 2007).
See Claire Midgley, Women Against Slavery (London, 1992).
See, e.g., Richard B. Allen, 'Licentious and unbridled proceedings: the illegal slave trade to Mauritius and the Seychelles during the early nineteenth century', Journal of African History, 42.1 (2001);
Shihan de Silva Jayasuriya, 'Indian Ocean cultures; African migration and identity', Ziff Journal: Monsoons and Migration, 2 (2005).
See Marika Sherwood, 'Black people in Tudor England', History Today (Oct. 2003). Back to (24)
On Black peoples in Britain, the most comprehensive book is Peter Fryer, Staying Power (London, 1985).
See, e.g., D. Eltis, 'The British contribution to the nineteenth-century transatlantic slave trade',
Economic History Review, 32 (1979), 211-27; Sherwood,After Abolition. Back to (26)
B. Benedict, 'Slavery and indenture in Mauritius and Seychelles', in James L. Watson, Asian and African Systems of Slavery (Oxford, 1980).
Sir Bartle Frere is quoted in Lionel Caplan, 'Power and status in south Asian society', in Watson, Asian and African Systems of Slavery.
For details, see Sherwood, After Abolition and Marika Sherwood, 'Manchester, Liverpool and slavery', North West Labour History Journal, 32 (Sept. 2007). See also Williams, Capitalism and
Slavery; David Eltis, Economic Growth and the Ending of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Oxford, 1987); J.E. Inikori, 'Slavery and the development of industrial capitalism in England', Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 17 (1987), 771-93.
The quotation is from Eric A. Walker, Colonies (Cambridge, 1944), 98. On forced labour in Africa and a fine denunciation of Lord Lugard, see Toyin Falola, 'Slavery and pawnship in the Yoruba economy in the nineteenth Century', in Unfree Labour in the Development of the Atlantic World, ed.
Paul E. Lovejoy and Nicholas Rogers (London, 1994); Sherwood, After Abolition, 127-41.
On, e.g., weaving, see Adiele Afigbo, Weaving Tradition in Ibgo-land (Lagos, 1985); Colleen E. Kriger, Cloth in West African History (Lanham, 2006).
See, e.g., Inikori, Forced Migration.
A Brief History of Black People in Latin America
Let's look briefly into the history of Black people in Latin (Central and South) America and the Caribbean.
In world history these two western regions were the first areas of the Americas to be populated by African immigrants. Yet wherever possible, they prepared and accepted reality with the African immigration to the Americas may have begun before European exploration of the area. African slave trading began before Columbus, and the earliest Spanish and Portuguese explorers. The most direct route from West Africa to the (then) New World was to what we now know as Brazil. Through the 15th and 16th centuries, slavery then moved up the coast of South America through the Caribbean. In fact today the largest population of African people outside of the African continent is in Brazil. The explorers were likewise accompanied by Black Africans who had been born and reared in Iberia. In the following four centuries millions of immigrants from Africa were brought to the New World in servitude.
Today, their descendants form significant ethnic minorities in several Latin American countries, and they are the dominant element in many of the Caribbean nations. Over the centuries, Black people have added their original contributions to the cultural mix of their respective societies and thus exerted a deep influence on all facets of life in Latin America. A strong African influence saturates music, dance, the arts, literature, speech forms, and religious practices in Latin America and the Caribbean. Africans, whether as slaves or free immigrants, brought a variety of African cultural influences to the New World. They came from so many places in Africa and were too scattered throughout the Americas to reestablish all the conditions of their homelands.
Like all other immigrant groups, they discarded some aspects of their culture, modified others, and created new forms. This African adaptation to local American conditions is called creolization. The percentage of Africans in local society and the time they spent in any one place played in the development of an African (central or south) American culture in Latin America. In countries such as Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico, African immigrants were the minority. They had to deal with a significant and dynamic form of European society and culture. The African communities survived, and in some instances grew against the stiff and relentless competition of the majority, or "high," culture. Pieces of the African ethnic subculture were eventually adopted by the mainstream. Nonetheless, the African character of the African American culture is less pronounced than in societies where Blacks were the majority of the people.
In the plantation societies of the Caribbean islands, people of African ancestry held substantial control over their daily lives, despite the efforts of the politically dominant minority group to restrain and oppress them. The lack of cultural homogeneity as well as the laziness of the plantation elites provided an almost unique opportunity for the African masses to create their own society and influence the "high" culture. Caribbean people speak variants of the standard European languages, which always reflect West African speech patterns regardless of whether the spoken language is English, Spanish, French, or Dutch. The French spoken in Haiti constitutes a language of its own. In Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire, Papiamento, a blend of Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese, is one of the official languages. None of these Creole languages is limited to the poorer, uneducated classes. Creole has now been given greater respect in the literature and political life of the Caribbean islands.
As a distinct minority the beginnings for African people in the Americas, brought on cultural change in their lives. Official acceptance modifies some forms of culture and for Blacks in Central and Latin America life was no different. The carnival is an example. Until the 19th century, the annual celebration of carnival was confined to the Black population; the upper classes condemned carnival and tried to end it as a public festival. By the early 20th century, however, it had attracted all classes and races. Currently it has official government support in the Bahamas, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, and Brazil. Although carnival has become highly regarded, and its festivities are open to all races and classes, the chief participants of these carnivals are still Black. The same remains true for other folk festivals such as the Jonkonnu in Jamaica.
In some cases, however, the transition from low to high culture buried the African origin and influence. An example is Argentina where the tango (dance) was developed from dual African ancestries. One source is undoubtedly the Spanish fandango, but the fandango is really Moorish. The other source is a Black dance called the candombe, the feature attraction of Afro-Argentine festivals during and after the period of slavery. Latin American music has always been deeply influenced by the vibrant rhythms and melodies that Blacks brought with them from their African homeland.
This is particularly true of Brazil; in fact, the first real music school in that country was founded by a Black priest. Brazilian music is thoroughly filled with African themes, and well-known composers such as Heitor Villa-Lobos have long found inspiration in the Black musical heritage. Many Caribbean musical styles have become widely known, including the mambo from Cuba, salsa from Puerto Rico, reggae from Jamaica, and calypso from Trinidad.
As is expected, spirituality and religious practices were distinct factors in the cultural adjustment for Blacks in Central and Latin America, and the Caribbean. Regarding religion, African immigrants to Latin America and the Caribbean not only retained some of their original beliefs but also borrowed and modified religious rituals from the various European Christian churches they encountered there. Religious affiliation, however, is no longer restricted by race or color.
A number of Christian groups such as the Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals, and Churches of God are predominantly Black. However, religious sects of African origin—such as the vodun in Haiti (see Voodoo); Shango in Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela, and Brazil; Santería in Cuba and Puerto Rico; Kumina, Myal, Revivalist, and Ras Tafari in Jamaica; and Umbanda, Macounda, and others in Brazil—are no longer only Black. Black people have left a deep impression on the teachings and literature of the Caribbean, Central and South America. In some parts of Latin America, such as Brazil, well-liked tales and legends are to a great extent of African origin. Themes dealing with slavery have always been popular with Black writers. Some, such as the Brazilian poet Luis Gama, were also active in the abolitionist movement. Antonio de Castro Alves was identified as the "poet of the slaves" for his treatment of slavery in his writings.
João da Cruz e Sousa, the son of emancipated slaves, is considered one of Brazil’s greatest poets. As nationalism intensified during the 20th century, even more attention was given to African origins. The Haitian poet Jacques Roumain stressed the value of his native (African) culture, while expressing the pride and bitterness of his Black ancestry. Nicolás Guillén, one of Cuba’s most eminent poets, wrote some of his best works as "Black" poetry based on the rhythms of Afro-Cuban music. Many novels, poems, dance, and mime of Latin America and the Caribbean incorporate African speech patterns, styles, or concepts trying to express the spirit of the Black cultural heritage.
In the Nobel Prize-winning poetry of Derek Walcott and the autobiographical short stories of Jamaica Kincaid, one can read reconciliation with the differences between the writers’ native West Indian and adoptive white environment. Geopolitical migration still remains a pillar of African presence in western hemisphere below the United States. The Maroon settlements in the days of slavery were (in reality) Black states. They had communities in North, Central, and South America. They were, in effect, states within states. Haitian slaves led by Jean Jacques Dessalines captured the governing apparatus in 1804.
This was only the second independent country in the western hemisphere (at the time, the first being the United States) and the first one ruled by Blacks. Haiti became a symbol of Black independence and a catalyst for 19th century Black Nationalism. Blacks in many other countries were involved in politics but in some nations such activities were restricted. After 1911, Cuba, for example censored the organization of political parties based on race or color. The Cuban government also suppressed the military efforts of the Afro-Cuban leaders Pedro Ivonet and Evaristo Estenoz to reverse that political decision which ended in tragedy in 1912. Government troops killed 3000 Afro-Cubans in Oriente Province, putting an end to Black political resistance in Cuba.
In São Paulo Brazil, the Frente Negra Brazileira (Brazilian Black Front) was founded in 1931. It served as the national political voice of Afro-Brazilians, but ended along with other political parties during the Vargas dictatorship of the 1930s and ‘40s. In the British, French, and Dutch Caribbean, Blacks have participated in politics for more than a century, and today hold local political power. Governments controlled by people of African ancestry have been in power in the Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Antigua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Jamaica. The Marxist government of Cuba has acknowledged Cubans an Afro-Latin American people and has formed close relationships with Angola, Ethiopia, and other African states.
Other Caribbean countries have also established contacts with the free nations of Africa directly and through United Nations agencies and other international organizations. These Caribbean-African collaborations have been based on shared ideology than on race or color. Today throughout Latin America, Black communities are asserting themselves after years of marginalization and apparent invisibility. In Brazil, where Black and mixed-race people make up more than half the population, two breakthroughs are indicative: the election of the first Black mayor of Sao Paulo and the appointment of Pele, the beloved former soccer star, as minister of sports.
Blacks in other Latin nations are making their presence felt. Colombia recently elected to Congress politicians who emphasize their African heritage rather than deny it, as in the past. Blacks from Costa Rica to Peru to Uruguay are increasingly active in politics and new organizations that promote Black culture. The rise in activism results partly from economic and political stability, which allows the social order to concern themselves with the disadvantaged and the disadvantaged to press their demands. The progress of African Americans in the United States also has influenced Afro-Latins through the media.
In one of the few regional studies of its kind, the Inter-American Development Bank published a report in 1996 estimating that as many as 150 million Latin Americans, about a third of the region's population, are descendants of African slaves. Other estimates are lower because many people of mixed race do not define themselves as Black.
For further reading see below links, and check on History and Cultural Relations.
Afro-Hispanic Pacific Lowlanders of Ecuador and Colombia.
Africana The Encyclopedia of the African and
African American Experience
Editors: Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Africason is a musician and a die-hard believer in Africa.
Find my songs on iTunes: Artiste name: Africason