Saturday, 21 April 2018

S is for Safari... and... Songs... and... Slavery


is for


Oumou Sangaré is a multi-awarded musician and a leading exponent of the Wassoulou genre of Mali - its performers are largely women, and its lyrics address themes and subjects relevant to the lives of women in the region. Here is a song from her 2009 Grammy nominated album Seya -





And  for a completely different listening experience, here’s Tiwa Savage, with Standing Ovation featuring Olamide, both Nigerian contemporary artistes.









Slave trade, strategies and the impact on Africa

Slavery started with civilisation some 9-10,000 years ago, all societies took slaves. Mesopotamia, Ancient Greece, Rome. Males for hard labour, females for domestic work and sex. POWs were often taken into slavery, both civilians and soldiers. Wars were frequent and brutal and provided an abundant supply.

Roman slavery was in some respects as brutal as Roman methods of military conquest. But for many Roman slaves, particularly those working in urban domestic contexts rather than toiling in the fields or mines, it was not necessarily a life sentence. They were regularly given their freedom, or they bought it with cash they had managed to save up; and if their owner was a Roman citizen, then they also gained full Roman citizenship, with almost no disadvantages as against those who were freeborn. The contrast with classical Athens is again striking: there, very few slaves were freed, and those who were certainly did not gain Athenian citizenship…, but went into a form of stateless limbo.
~ SPQR, A History of Ancient Rome, Mary Beard.

However, free slaves and those in privileged positions were few. The majority led an unspeakable life, flogged to an inch of their lives in the mines and fields. And legions of them thrown into arenas to die a most horrible death for public entertainment. In the last two centuries BCE there were several slave uprisings in Rome, ending with the most famous one led by Spartacus. That brutal treatment of mine- or chain-slaves didn’t make a comeback till the plantation slavery in the era of colonisation.

Arabs conquered ever increasing swathes of lands around the Mediterranean from the 7th century onward. The Med was a natural hub for slavery, with ancient kingdoms clustered around it and vast hinterlands with relatively less urbanised/militarised populations.

Along the South Med coastline, the Arab conquerors of North Africa become a lucrative market. Trans-Saharan trade entered a new phase characterised by a swelling demand for slaves in the Muslim cities as Islam spread outwards from Arabia.  The African Sahelian kingdoms and the North African Berbers raided their enemy settlements to supply slaves. Slave trade stripped villages of the best, the working men and women of reproductive age, leaving little scope for any economic progress. Trans-Saharan trade had sent a few million Africans into slavery. Once the Europeans came, they upped the ante big time.

Things took a turn for the worse with Portuguese arrival - they opened up another channel. Settlers arrived at Cape Verde in the 15th century, and were granted a monopoly. Cape Verde became a strategic hub situated as it is between Europe, America and West Africa. The Portuguese set up slave trading stations on the West African coastline. Cotton and indigo, produced with African slave labour in Cape Verde, were exchanged for more slaves at Guinea. And then these slaves were sold to the ships which regularly docked at Cape Verde.

It was a smooth, self-sustaining cycle and spectacularly lucrative, given the labour-intensive plantation economies in South America and the Caribbean. And of course every other European nation with trans-Atlantic interests wanted a share of the pie and soon came sniffing. The Portuguese monopoly crumbled pretty quickly. By the 18th century, the British had become the market leaders in this appalling trade. They devised a process in which no part was allowed to go waste, the diabolical triangular trade.

Made up of a three part voyage, each part was independently profitable – the ships would start from England with goods for West Africa (guns, rum, cotton, beads etc); offload these at the African slave coast, fill the ship with slaves - packed into the hold in such atrocious conditions that many would die during the Atlantic crossing; upon reaching the West Indies, they sold the slaves and stocked up on sugar/molasses, then made the return journey home, where the cargo could be made into rum again.

For four centuries, the European demand for sugar drove one of the most shocking chapters in human history, the coerced migration of millions.  The socio-economic and cultural impacts on both the origin and destination countries were mind-boggling, and the ramifications echo down to this day.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database estimates that 12.5 million people were forced to leave Africa, 10.7 million ultimately completing the voyage. That’s more than the current population of entire Portugal! From the African diaspora, the trans-Atlantic trade likely took captives from modern day locations of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and Ivory Coast in West Africa; and Congo, DR Congo, Angola and Gabon in Central Africa.

Most nations abolished slavery over the 19th and 20th centuries. However, the practice continues in many regions, including Africa. Recently, shocking footage of slave auctions has emerged - of African migrants being auctioned off in Libya. There are no words.

(I'm fully aware this is a superheavy post for the A-Z and it's not a feel-good, popular topic. But anyone writing about Africa cannot in all honesty ignore this historical event with all its overarching implications)

From the Safaris


~ Thank you for watching! ~


Books n Stuff

Wole Soyinka (1934 -) – is a life-changing Nigerian poet, playwright, essayist, novelist, and a political activist - a towering presence in the African socio-cultural halls of fame, one of the most compelling voices from the continent. He is the first black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, and remains the only black writer to have won it from Africa. (Hmmm…I’m not sure what that says about the Nobel!) He has written some 30 plays, 2 novels and another dozen books as collections of his other works including poetry, essays, memoirs and short fiction. He has taught at Ife, Ibadan and Lagos Universities in Nigeria and at UK, USA universities as visiting faculty. His honours are too numerous to mention here. In 2014, Soyinka revealed he was diagnosed and cured of cancer.

I read him first as a young teenager  – a couple of his poems were part of my literature syllabus, and I’ve been under his spell ever since. His use of language is rich and indelibly memorable.  He was making waves across the world with his work way before he was awarded the Nobel. About the same time as I was studying for my school certificate, an older cousin working towards a postgraduate degree in Comparative Literature in my hometown in India had his works as part of her syllabus too, I was thrilled to know that and talked about his poems with her on holiday one time. His Telephone Conversation remains an abiding favourite of mine. Read more about this inspirational personality here.

Two paddles clove the still water of the creek, and the canoe trailed behind it a silent grove, between gnarled tears of mangrove; it was dead air, and they came to a spot where an old rusted canon showed above the water. It built a faded photo of the past with rotting canoe hulks along the bank, but the link was spurious. The paddlers slowed down and held the boat against the canon. Egbo put his hand in the water and dropped his eyes down the brackish stillness, down the dark depths to its bed of mud. He looked reposed, wholly withdrawn.

‘Perhaps you’ve guessed. My parents drowned at this spot.’

~ from The Interpreters, Wole Soyinka.

Not so well-known fact : The revolutionary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti was Soyinka’s cousin.  

I leave you today with this clip of Soyinka reading one of his own poems. Enjoy!







Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018

20 comments:

  1. Sigh. Of course you couldn't ignore it. And in one form or another slavery continues across much of the world. Bigger sigh.
    But history needs to be balanced. Ignoring the dark days perpetuates their influence.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad you think so too. And it goes on worldwide - 40 million at last count - more than the population of Canada, or Poland. Mind boggling terrible.

      Delete
  2. Hari OM
    The sad thing is slavery is not confined to Africa. There is a very big white slave problem out of Eastern Europe (mainly women, of course, but a surprsing number of men). It sears the heart to be constantly reminded that we are basically animals and it takes a lot to rise above that. I did not at all mind your serious post N. It needs to be spoken.

    And big respect, love Wole Soyinka. YAM xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I know. Eastern Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa, nowhere is exempt...desperately sad and disturbing. Glad you enjoyed the Soyinka reading.

      Delete
  3. Hi Nila - thank goodness you didn't leave this out - and put it over fairly succinctly and pertinently ... even reminding us that it continues to this day.

    These Africa series are so good, with so much for us to come back to - to learn, listen and absorb more of your wonderful Africa, as too appreciate the history of that multi-national world ...

    Thanks - brilliant post - and I will be back - cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It would less disturbing if it were consigned to the past definitely...sadly it isn't, slavery is a global issue even now.

      Delete
  4. Indeed this needed to be acknowledged and I'm so glad you tackled it. And our hearts should be heavy in the knowing.

    I'm glad to for the information about Wole Soyinka. I do know his poetry, but it was such a delight hearing him read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Acknowledgement is the first step to correction...which is taking a long time, but there are many NGO's doing sterling work, and so we'll get there, hopefully, someday. Glad you liked the Soyinka clip - one of my favourites! :-)

      Delete
  5. Wow, you surely did your homework on this one. I knew nothing of this. It's very interesting and the music is so soothing to the mind/heart. As far as slavery you cannot even bypass that because it goes on still in the world today & that is so very sad my friend no matter where you live. Thank you for sharing all you vast knowledge with us. Have a very nice day & weekend! hugs

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately yes, it does go on in every part of the world today...not just in Africa. Wish you a great weekend too!

      Delete
  6. Simply a necessary "S" - sad but part of history. Well done post - simply divine Safari....my fave. Have a sunny pleasant weekend. Downhill slide to the finish!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not only history sadly...prevalent even now.

      Glad you liked the safari clip. Wish you a great weekend too.

      Delete
  7. It is a sad fact that slavery is still with us in modern times and we need to be reminded of these atrocities from time to time. We need to be vigilant and also to lend support where we can. Thank you for sharing. www.hesterleynel.co.za

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Governments, NGO's and communities have to come together to solve this issue. NGO's rescue people trafficked, especially the sex slaves, but they languish in shelters in foreign countries because the paperwork for repatriation takes aeons...and their communities/families who've sold them into slavery in the first place, don't want them back because of the stigma...desperately sad situation all around.

      Delete
  8. I was shocked to read the news from Libya recently. People tend to imagine this as being an issue of historical eras, but it's not...

    The Multicolored Diary: Weird Things in Hungarian Folktales

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's very much a modern day issue - according to the ILO there were over 40 million people held as slaves worldwide in 2016, including 16 million children...Just beyond shocking.

      Delete
  9. "Slavery started with civilisation" struck me as being rather oxymoronic, although you were correct in saying it, of course. And there's no need to apologize for such a heavy topic. No one says you have to write all happy, feel-good posts, right?

    Just today I read a very disturbing story of an eighth-grade teacher in Texas who sent students home with an assignment to fill out a worksheet listing both negative and positive aspects of slavery. The teacher has been suspended, and everyone else involved has condemned the assignment, including the publisher whose textbook supposedly inspired the creation of this worksheet.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my goodness, that's some seriously warped thinking - positives of slavery! Not surprised it created an uproar...

      Civilisation till the 19th century remained pretty barbaric in all respects that I can fathom. Rulers were forever gouging out eyes and burning alive and crucifying, raping and looting whoever they felt like, enslaving the weak and generally making 99% of the population miserable and making a thorough nuisance of themselves. Living together in a community with some rules, written or otherwise, is what defined a civilisation, very little was civilised about them as we define civilised now. Equality is a brand new concept and many societies still pay lip service to it and do precious little to bring it about imo...

      Btw, my posts are superlong if read end to end, mostly about past stuff, no quick-read quality about them either. A-Zers do expect short and peppy posts, read, comment, click away in 30 seconds flat - this one's an epic fail by all standards :-)

      Delete
  10. Slavery is a serious topic that many people seem to imagine happened only in the past. As you say, it is a global problem happening right now. I am always surprised when I meet someone who has no idea how prevalent it is. Thank you for tackling a difficult topic.

    On your video - I had no idea lions skinned their food before eating. Fascinating! Thanks for the education, Nila.

    Emily In Ecuador | Sunrise in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had no clue either! Makes sense because fur is probably indigestible, but not something that occurred to me before.

      Slavery and trafficking are just the most terrible evils to plague humankind all through till modern times.

      Thanks so much for your support through this series.

      Delete

Thank you for your comment. Your feedback and opinions keep the conversation lively and the words flying.