Slave [sleyv] from Middle English, from Old French sclave, from Medieval Latin sclāvus (“slave”), from Late Latin Sclāvus (“Slavic Person”), from Byzantine Greek Σκλάβος (Sklábos), from Proto-Slavic slověninъ …
The seminal image many 50+ year old Americans have regarding the West African slave trade’s operating model can be traced back to the 1977 television miniseries Roots. Some of you may recall sitting in front of your CRT television screen unknowingly watching the roots of a future social justice movement unfold before your eyes as a gang of European men magically appear deep within the Heart of Darkness wielding nets, superior numbers, and incredible brutality and snatch up a young and happy Kunta Kinte from his ancestral homeland.
Like me, I bet the knot in your gut got tighter at each stage as Kunta Kinte was first shipped off in chains to a slave depot, sold at auctioned, and finally sent to America where his foot got cut off and he was renamed Toby. The miniseries was a monumental success at implanting those first seeds of suburban white guilt into what had previously been infertile terrain. Afterwards, many Americans could never innocently watch OJ Simpson run through airports in quite the same way.
Roots was the initial vector that dug its pernicious roots into the formerly oblivious white collective consciousness. It succeeded where back in the 1960s continuous years of three minute lead story action clips on the Six O’clock Evening News showing groups of helpless southern Negroes getting pummeled by police truncheons and slammed with water cannons had failed. Thus those January nights back in 1977 unleashed the power of humanized myth that unequivocally proved superior to the old ways of cold impersonal facts. It was through this new found power of myth and the visceral emotions it conjured that a primordial wokeness was spawned.
Today, when discussing even the most oblique references to slavery in America, the emotions ignite, misguided passions reign supreme, facts equate to racism, and the phenomenology of history devolves into one where history becomes but a construct derived to aid and abet a white supremacist patriarchy. Case in point – according to current woke orthodoxy, evil cis-male Europeans just up and sailed 3,500 miles south to forgotten lands like Zenaga, trekked hundreds of miles inland without roads, maps, or logistic support, and – according to some extraordinary unverified estimates – kidnapped up to six million innocent Africans.
But was this the reality on the ground in West Africa circa 1619, or did Europeans instead rely on intermediaries to conduct their dangerous, high opex dirty work and if so, who were these intermediaries? Do Americans have an accurate understanding of the West African slavery supply chain, or have they instead meekly decided to go along to get along and ingest without question a toxic narrative that is an antipathy encumbered product tainted by a combination of pop culture and political agenda? And last, did slavery in West Africa materialize out of thin air with the first appearance of Europeans, or did it exist long before their arrival?
The answer to this last question is both morally and legally significant, as it could nullify any and all claims to both tangible and ethical debts of reparation borne by ancestral liability. For if Caucasian Americans are collectively guilty – including those who immigrated here after the Civil War – as a result of their ancestors’ theoretical participation in the West African slave trade, would not a basis be equally established to extend slavery’s collective culpability to African Americans if it were shown that their ancestors too participated to an equal degree in the West African slave trade? Would not equal culpability on both ancestral sides of the Atlantic nullify any and all claims by one party against the other? Further still, if slavery in West Africa was shown to be prevalent long before the arrival of Europeans, based on the premise of hereditary culpability, then slavery in America could no longer exist as some kind of alleged “Original Sin”.
The forthwith exposition can be considered a template for countering the unreasonable and fanciful woke dogma surrounding the realities of West African slavery and specifically, the false claims regarding Europe’s and America’s sole complicity in this industry. It is an attempt – described here in broken wokespeak – to deconstruct the prevailing narrative derived to aid and abet a People of Color aligned, non-binary, trans-supremacist heterarchy. Let us begin our journey of enlightenment.
The Songhai Empire as Gateway to Europe’s Appetite for African Slaves
Between the 4th and early 16th centuries AD, through a succession of kingdoms that included Wagadou (Ghana), Mali, and Songhai, the West African Sahel was among the wealthiest regions on earth during a period when most of Europe wallowed in medieval feudalism. Prior to the discovery of the Americas, West Africa was the world’s largest source of gold – so much gold in fact that when the Malian king Mansa Musa visited Mecca during his 14th century hajj, his 60,000 strong retinue (including 12,000 slaves) distributed so much gold that he crashed its value and created a decade of economic chaos on the Arabian peninsula.
The Niger River during this time possessed six times more arable land than the Nile. In the adjacent Sahara to the north, Africans operated extensive salt mining operations. With the arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century AD, a prodigious iron smelting and blacksmithing industries occupied entire villages from one end of the Sahel to the other. The West African political economy was such that no king ever enforced strict ownership over the entirety of his realm, so after the millet harvest an African peasant could earn good extra income panning for alluvial gold, mining iron ore, harvesting trees to make charcoal fuel for iron smelting, or travelling north to labor in the salt mines.
The Sahel during this period was awash in food and gold and large prosperous cities like Gao grew into architectural wonders. So what happened that would drain not only the wealth of an established long-standing power center yet leave nothing behind but piles of dirt from what were formerly majestic structures of timber and adobe brick? The short answer is that it all fell to pieces due to horses.
In the 9th and 10th centuries AD, trade caravans from what are today Morocco and Algeria began regularly making their way south through the Sahara desert during the winter months. These caravans initially brought with them manufactured goods and luxury items to exchange for gold, ivory, specialty woods, animal skins, and salt. But during the 13th century these caravans started supplying a vital military component to the various competing rulers of the Sahel – Barb horses. Ownership of horses gave each ruler a cavalry, and ownership of large herds could facilitate military superiority over rivals.
The Malian, Hausa, Mossi, Bornu, Kanem and Songhai cavalries regularly battled each other for over three hundred years to what could be considered an equilibrium sometimes punctuated with transient victories and an occasional ebb or flow of juxtaposed borders. Continuous combat was made possible only by a steady supply of Barb horses from the Maghreb, a market that traders were happy to oblige as the supply of gold from the Sahel appeared endless.
But with its monsoonal climate and tropical diseases like trypanosomiasis, the Sahel Africans found it difficult to breed horses – the local Dongola sub-breed had a short life expectancy – and thus a steady flow of imported Barb horses were required to both replenish the high equine mortality rates and maintain at least military parity with the surrounding kingdoms. These imported horses were expensive and were initially paid for with alluvial gold, which was starting to go into productive decline during the 15th century at about the same time the Songhai king Sonni Ali Ber led a successful campaign to defeat his enemy Mali and consolidate rule over the Sahel from Lake Chad to the Cap-Vert peninsula. So the height of Songhai power coincided with maximum operating costs to retain that power just as alluvial gold production from the Niger River went into decline.
Saddled with the mounting expense of maintaining many cavalry regiments stretching across an 1,800 mile expanse, the Songhai lords began to launch slave raids upon the various Sahel peoples. So as the 15th and 16th centuries progressed, slaves rather than gold became more and more the medium of exchange between the Songhai lords and the horse traders of the Maghreb. As these traders brought more and more slaves to the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, most were purchased by Arabs but many were sold on to Europeans where they were employed as domestic servant in wealthy cities like London and Antwerp and were considered a high status symbol – the “negars and blackmoores” of 16th century Elizabethan England. So it was not the Europeans that first procured slavery in West Africa, but the Songhai themselves that introduced Europe to African slaves via Arab and Berber intermediaries. Europeans at this time were a minor end customer, where the primary slave demand was provided by Arabs.
As the 16th century ground out successive years, the gold really began to play out. Continuous and devastating slave raids depopulated the Niger River goldfield regions – crashing not only gold but also food production – and drove its inhabitants onto marginal lands that had been earlier deforested to manufacture charcoal for the formerly prodigious iron smelting industry. Over a period of 200 years the once prosperous Sahel was transformed into a land inhabited by subsistence food scavengers and all powerful cavalry lords where the incessant demand for horses laid economic waste to this once prosperous region.
With Songhai power in the late 16th century at its nadir as a result of internecine strife and succession wars among the dead king Askia Daoud’s many sons, the Sultan of Morocco, Ahmad al-Mansur, took advantage of the ensuing political instability and sent a military expedition across the Sahara and in 1591 these 4,000 Moroccans and their cannons defeated the Songhai at the battle of Tondibi.
Thus with the defeat of the powerful Songhai Empire the coast of West Africa south of the Arab stronghold Nouakchott was left wide open to European maritime exploitation. By 1625 the Dutch had established a permanent settlement at Gorée and the Portuguese likewise at Portudal, both located in modern day Senegal. These initial European forays onto West African soil provided the vital resupply anchorage that enabled further permanent settlements along the entirety of the Gulf of Guinea and as far south as Namibia. And it is at this point where the Kunta Kinte mythology begins with the permanent settlement of Europeans on African soil who allegedly trekked hundreds of miles inland into dangerous areas they did not control to randomly kidnap happy Africans into slavery. Was this the reality on the ground in Africa back in 1619? The Angolan experience provides the answers…
Fair use excerpt. Read the whole article here.