• Friday, December 08, 2023
businessday logo


What “Slave Trade”? (5)


Onwuchekwa Jemie

(Toward an Afrocentric rectification of terms)

What the Black Chatellization War did to Africa:Following is an excerpt from my account of the matter in my book The West and the Rest of Us (1975):

“As missionaries of Christ, as pirates and buyers of gold and slaves, the Portuguese brought ruin wherever they came. . . .

“Starting from the coast, the wave of slaving raids ad¬vanced inland, spreading insecurity, disrupting and ruining settlements, seizing and channeling to the coast long lines of able-bodied Africans for export overseas. The procurement of the millions sold on the coast over two and a half cen¬turies of intense slaving cost the continent many millions more, compounding the human loss. . . .

“But this human hemorrhage, though great, was by itself perhaps not the greatest price Africa paid. In the country¬side of the spreading slaving belt, slaving wars and expedi¬tions disrupted settled life for over two centuries. They forced a ceaseless and damaging migration of peoples, set¬tling here today, harried tomorrow, moving on the next day in a vain search for safety and security that were nowhere to be found. The spread of ruin that accompanied this chronic disorder as settlements were burned and abandoned to rain and termites, plunged Africa into the terrible backwardness that bedevils her even today. Without people to tend them, farms and settlements were reclaimed by tropical forests and deserts. With neither peace nor prosperity there was little energy left over for creative enterprises. Agricultural pro¬duction dropped; the economic arrangements that had sup¬ported towns and cities, that had fed them with the products of the countryside, broke down and vanished. Famines came and stayed. With that the towns thinned out and declined.

“Everywhere the level of culture declined in a maelstrom of social disorders. Everywhere traditional humane values, the security of life and person, the established rela¬tions of decent community, were endangered and under¬mined. Under the excuses of necessity, moral decay spread. As slaving touched community after community with its pressures, there was a debasement of legality. Customs lost their hold on men, and arbitrary laws and practices were instituted for the advantage of slaving elites. Sale into slav¬ery became punishment for more and more offenses, down to the trivial. Hallowed institutions, religious as well as secular, were subverted. . . .

“With spreading insecurity, for individuals as well as communities, peace and tranquillity vanished and learning declined as men’s minds concentrated on elementary se¬curity. . . . As learning declined, ignorance and fear became entrenched. For the coming centuries farm and handicraft techniques stagnated at best, and more often declined from the levels of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The great courts de¬clined as kingdoms and imperial states crumbled. And with the courts vanished the centers of higher learning. The uni¬versities of Jenne and Timbuktu had attained renown long before the fifteenth century; at the end of the sixteenth, ruin fell upon them; their scholars dispersed never to gather again after the collapse of Songhay. Between them and the new African universities of today there would come a wasted gap of three and a half centuries during which knowledge degen¬erated into esoteric mysteries, magic reigned and there flour¬ished a rank trust in the potency of ritual.

“The social pulverization brought about by slaving re¬sulted in the minute fragmentation of African polities. The slow unification of diverse peoples which the imperial states of classical Africa had fostered had been stopped. As the sixteenth-century kingdoms and imperial states disintegrated, they fragmented further and further under the impact of slaving. . . . [and] were pulverized into a jigsaw puzzle of small, mutu¬ally hostile peoples. . . . With all this fragmentation the arteries of cultural transmission were broken off or blocked. As the imperial institutions that had accumulated cultural inheritances broke down, vital cultural legacies were lost.

Everywhere, instead of growth continuing on old established foundations after a period of stagnation, new beginnings had to be made. Where Rome had absorbed her barbarian invaders from northern Europe and had bequeathed her achievements to them, it would not be so with Songhay. When Songhay disintegrated, her parts were sucked, like jetsam and flotsam, into the funnel of ruin which an expansionist Europe had plugged into the coast of Africa. . . .

“The fact that it was external forces—the economic opportunities of slaving for overseas export—that called Af¬rica’s slaving states into existence played as much a part in cutting them off from the legacies of their pre-slaving pre¬decessors as the fact of the ruin and disintegration of those sixteenth-century states. For instance, Benin’s primary rela¬tions were with its Igbo and Yoruba neighbors in the lower Niger basin. When it turned to slaving, its external relations began to be primarily determined by demands made for slaves at its Atlantic port. This became not only its primary external focus; this demand for slaves decided its primary interest in its neighbors—their ability to provide slaves.

“Such also were the orientations of all the slaving states that rose after the sixteenth century. Whether they were coastal trad¬ing states taking advantage of the new trade, or a new grouping by menaced peoples of the hinterland for protec¬tion and profit from slaving, the states born in such circum¬stances had neither the peace nor the opportunity to inherit much of constructive value from their pre-slaving predeces¬sors or neighbors. Had it not been a time of danger and confusion, had it not been a time when the dominant eco¬nomic opportunities led to the coast and to the service of Europe, they would have, as before, concentrated on build¬ing on what their predecessors had done and turned their major energies to serving their African interests without finding it essential to depopulate and ruin their neighbors. But that was not to be. A fatal page of history had been turned.

“The new slaving states were not only cut off from the gifts of their African pre-slaving predecessors; worse still, they were created on a historical stage on which the play of African initiative was severely limited to meeting the de¬mands of Europe. They were called into being and existed exclusively to supply slave labor for European economic development.

“In this matter of the extent and quality of their initiative they were a sorry contrast to a Benin or Bornu or Songhay or Mali or Mwanamutapa or Ethiopia or Ghana which had each come into being for internal African rea¬sons, not because they were conjured up to serve a Europe that was battering down Africa’s doors, demanding slaves. With the rise of its slaving states, Africa lost its historical initiative, its economic autonomy, and became a satellite of the West long before outright conquest and colonization would strip all disguises from that satellization.

“Because of the confusing times in which these slaving states were created, because they were palsied by the ruin-spreading trade on which they were based, these carrion-states produced little of note, save state machines that dis¬pensed ruin and peddled instability. While the carrion-states grew rank with savagery, the remnants of the older states whose eminence pre-dated the slave trade lived on, plagued with stagnation at best and with decay more often than not.

“Without vitality to generate new thoughts and culture-enhancing action, cut off from the currents of new ideas that were transforming seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, by the decline of trans-Sahara trade and of com¬munications to the north, and by the barrier of coastal slav¬ing states to the south, these older states of the African hin¬terland drifted into military, commercial and technological inferiority with respect to Europe and its diaspora. When in the nineteenth century European travelers visited them, even those of them that had best survived decay were specimens frozen for three centuries—fossils out of the sixteenth cen¬tury, left behind in feudal isolation by an industrializing world. Not only had they declined from their sixteenth-century past, they had by the nineteenth century been thor¬oughly outstripped in power and prosperity by a Europe that had profited immensely from the very disasters that had crip¬pled Africa.” – (Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us, New Edition, Lagos: Pero Press, 1987, pp. 198-209)

Thus, whereas Europe gained immeasurably from its unprovoked Black Chatellization War on Africa, Africa was ruined. Black Africa was deliberately destroyed to make white Europe rich and powerful.