Browsing "Slavery in Africa"

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

History records that the first colony to legally establish slavery was Massachusetts, the Puritans of New England enslaved the Pequot Indians [including children] who resisted their invasions; by 1750 Rhode Island had surpassed Liverpool as the center of the transatlantic slave trade; Yankee notions and rum were traded in Africa for those already enslaved; Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney’s gin transformed cotton production in 1793; Manhattan banks supplied easy credit after the Louisiana Purchase opened the western lands to slave-produced cotton; and cotton-hungry New England mills were fed from that new land. It is then easy to see the source of slavery’s perpetuation and it clearly points to those who could have easily ended that relic of the British colonial system.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reaping the Economic Benefits of Slavery

“The superabundance of land to which the English colonists, from Adam Smith downwards, attribute the prosperity of new colonies, has never led to great prosperity without some kind of slavery. The States of New England, in which Negro slavery [was permitted], form no exception to the general rule.

[Though] the Puritans and followers of [William] Penn, who founded to colonies of New England, flourished with superabundance of land and without [a great number of] Negro slaves, they did not flourish without slavery . . . [though] they were led to carry on an extensive traffic in white men and children, who, kidnapped in Europe, were virtually sold to these fastidious colonists, and treated by them as slaves.

Even so lately as the last twenty years, and especially during the last war between England and America . . . vast numbers of poor Germans were decoyed to those States which forbid slavery, and there sold for long terms of years to the highest bidder at public auction. Though white and free in name, they were really not free to become independent landowners, and therefore it was possible to employ their labor constantly and in combination.

A black man never was, nor is he now, treated as a man by the white men of New England. There, where the most complete equality subsists among white men, and every white man is taught to respect himself as well as other white men, black men are treated as it they were horses or dogs . . .

In another way, the States which [abolished] slavery have gained by it immensely without any corresponding evil. The great fishing establishments of the [New England] colonies were set up for the purpose of supplying the slaves of the West Indies, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, commodities which have never been raised on any large scale in America except by the combined labor of slaves.

A great part of the commerce . . . of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, has always consisted of a carrying trade for the Southern States . . .

At the present time, which is the great market for the surplus of farmers in the non-slaveholding States on the western rivers? New Orleans. And how could that market exist without slavery? Capitalists again, natives of the States which forbid slavery, reside during part of every year in the slave States, and reap large profits by dealing in rice, sugar and cotton, exchangeable commodities, which, it must be repeated, have never been raised to any extent in America except by the labor of slaves.

The States, therefore, which [abolished] slavery, having reaped the economic benefits of slavery, without incurring the chief of its moral evils, seem to be more indebted to it than the slave States.

If those who [abolished] slavery within their own legal jurisdiction should also resolve to have no intercourse or concern with slave-owners, to do nothing for them, and to exchange nothing with them, we should see an economical revolution in America . . .

It is evident that the most Southern States of the Union cannot abolish slavery without incurring great dangers, which the North had no reason to apprehend when it emancipated its black population . . . [and were] gradually introduced into the society . . .

The Northern States had nothing to fear [as the] blacks were few in number . . . But if the faint dawn of freedom were to show two millions of men their true position, the oppressors had reason to tremble.

And as soon as it is admitted that the whites and the emancipated blacks are placed upon the same territory in the situation of two foreign communities, it will be readily understood that there are but two chances for the future: the Negroes and the whites must either wholly part, or wholly mingle.”

(Selections from the Economic History of the United States, 1765-1860, Guy Stevens Callender, (original 1909) Reprints of Economic Classics, 1965, excerpts, pp. 793-799)

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

The existence of African slaves in the American South was largely the result of foreign interests and New England slavers importing already-enslaved black people from Africa. With the agricultural expansion of the United States enabled by the Louisiana Purchase, large numbers of laborers were required to work the fields.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Foreign Slave Trade in Antebellum Mobile

“An illicit market in Mobile supported foreign slave trade despite the federal prohibition against it since 1808. Reports appeared occasionally of African natives working in the city. In March 1859, according to the British consul, “twenty wild African Negroes” worked in Mobile. Since these slaves spoke only their native dialect, residents concluded that the slaves were recently imported. Their appearance sparked excitement among the citizens about the foreign slave trade.

Later in 1859 the schooner Clotilde, owned by the Northern-born steamboat builder Timothy Meagher, transported what was reputedly the last cargo of contraband slaves from Africa to the United States. Slavers then transported 116 survivors of this voyage to John Dabney’s plantation on the Alabama River a few miles north of Mobile. Some slave-owners in the area secretly purchased some of the Africans, and the shipowner and captain retained the rest.

Slave ownership remained confined to a small proportion of the free population of Mobile, slightly less than 6 percent in 1830 and 1840. Masters and mistresses came from widely different backgrounds and occupations. In 1860, New Englanders like Thaddeus Sanford, a newspaper publisher turned farmer; Gustavus Horton, a cotton broker; and William, Rix, a merchant, owned slaves. So did foreign-born Mobilians like Israel I. Jones and Jonathan Emanuel, [both] English-born merchants; Ann Yuille, a Scottish baker’s widow; and Albert Stein, a German-born hydraulic engineer.

In 1850, 191 women owned 807 slaves. Women made up nearly 10 percent of large slaveholders, those with 11 or more slaves, in 1850. By renting some of their slaves to local employers, widows received good incomes.

Sarah Barnes, sixth largest slaveowner in Mobile in 1850, presumably rented some of her 52 slaves to others. So did two other women with large slaveholdings in the 1857 city tax book. Eliza Goldthwaite, widow of a former State judge, who claimed 17 slaves, and Sarah Walton, widow of a former mayor of Mobile and mother of Octavia Walton Levert, owned 20 slaves.”

(Cotton City, Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Harriet E. Amos, University of Alabama Press, 1985, excerpt, pp. 87-89)

 

May 7, 2017 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa    Comments Off on “Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”

“Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”

The central African city of Timbuktu (Timbuctoo) continued as a market for slaves long after the British had abolished their transatlantic slave trade — which had more to do with destroying French colonial commerce than philanthropy. The Captain writes below of how the British action simply forced native African slave traders to the interior of the Dark Continent, and the trade flourished nonetheless as slaves were a traditional African medium of exchange. In his 1961 book “The Slaves of Timbuktu” (Harper & Brothers), author Robin Maugham found that slavery still existed among the African tribes in the late 1950’s. He was the brother of author Somerset Maugham.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”

“[Mahometan Foulah] Mami had visited many of the European colonies and Moorish kingdoms on the north coast of Africa, so that he was not stupefied by the untrammeled ignorance of Africans who consider Timbuctoo a combination of Paris and paradise. Indeed, he did not presume, like most of the Mandingo chiefs, to prefer it to Senegal or Sierra Leone. He confessed that the royal palace was nothing but a vast enclosure of mud walls, built without taste or symmetry, within whose labyrinthine mesh were numerous buildings for the wives, children, and kindred of the sovereign.

The markets of Timbuctoo, alone, secured his admiration. Every week they were thronged with traders, dealers, peddlers and merchants, who either dwelt in the neighboring kingdoms, or came from afar with slaves and produce. Moors and Israelites from the northeast were the most eminent and opulent merchants; and among them he counted a travelling class crowned with peculiar turbans, whom he called “Joseph’s-People,” or in all likelihood, Armenians.

However, in spite of its despotic rulers, Timbuctoo was a great central mart for exchange, and commercial men as well as the innumerable petty kings, frequented it not only for the abundant mineral salt in its vicinity, but because they could exchange their slaves for foreign merchandise. I asked the Foulah why he preferred the markets of Timbuctoo to the well-stocked stores of regular European settlements on the coast which was reached with so much more ease than this core of Africa?

“Ah!,” said the astute [slave] trafficker, “no market is a good one for the African in which he cannot openly exchange his slaves for whatever the original owner or importer can sell without fear! Slaves, Don Teodore, are our money.”

(Adventures of an African Slaver, Captain Theodore Canot, Star Books, 1928, pp. 135-136)

 

 

 

 

 

Rhode Island’s Record of Slaving

The British Royal African Company was primarily responsible for populating North America and the West Indies with African slaves, and despite being near bankrupt from exorbitant expenses was considered too big to fail. After the Revolution, British-imposed slavery was set on a potential track toward abolition, but the cotton gin of Massachusetts inventor Eli Whitney in the mid 1790’s, along with the rise of New England cotton mills, perpetuated African slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Rhode Island’s Record of Slaving

“The [British] slave trade was carried on by means of “factories,” or trading establishments, defended by forts on the west coast of Africa. In 1750, the Royal African Company had nine factories, the chief of which was Cape Coast Castle, with a strong fort built on a huge rock that projected into the sea. It was expensive to maintain these forts and trading posts. In fact, the company was prevented from going bankrupt by an annual grant of [10,000 pounds].

The competition of French slave traders, who paid more for their human merchandise than the English company, was especially formidable since the French African Company was heavily subsidized by its government.

During the first half of the eighteenth century Bristol and Liverpool were the great slave trading ports of the British Empire. In 1750, a total of 155 British and colonial ships were engaged in the slave trade, of which 20 came from the American colonies, principally from Rhode Island.

Toward the close of the colonial period, however, there were 150 Rhode Island ships employed in this traffic as compared with 192 English ships, a record to which Southerners pointed during the antislavery controversy.

These ships often were engaged in a triangular trade with England or the American colonies, the west coast of Africa, and the West Indies. To Africa the slave ships carried trading goods, bars of iron, rum –“well-watered” – forearms, lead, beads, and cloth, which they exchanged for slaves.

The later were transported to the sugar islands of the West Indies and exchanged for molasses, run and gold coins. In New England, the molasses was manufactured into rum to exchange for more slaves.”

(A History of the Old South, The Emergence of a Reluctant Nation, Clement Eaton, MacMillan Publishing, 1975, excerpt, page 31)

 

Resisting England’s (and New England’s) Slave Trade

It was “English merchants and factors” and New Englanders who traded their goods for Africans near the coast of West Africa; as few white men could survive entering the interior, Europeans depended upon African tribes to sell them their already-enslaved brethren.  At the feet of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French can also be laid the introduction and perpetuation of slavery here. Both the Virginia and North Carolina colonial legislatures pleaded in vain to the British Crown to cease the importation of Negroes to their shores.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Resisting England’s (and New England’s) Slave Trade

“On account of the dangers of navigation off the coast of North Carolina . . . ships engaged in the African slave trade seldom, if ever, brought their cargoes direct to the colony. Relative to these conditions, [Royal] Governor Burrington said:

“Great is the loss this country has in not being supplied by vessels from Guinea with Negroes. In any part of the province the people are able to pay for a shipload; but as none come directly from Africa, we are under necessity to buy the refuse, refractory, and distempered Negroes brought in from other governments.”

Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that that on occasion the early planters sent cargoes of tar and pitch to New England to be sold and the proceeds to be invested in young Negroes. English merchants and factors from about 1770 to 1776 did not hesitate to sell Negroes to South Carolina planters on liberal terms, and during those years the colony prospered…”

On the eve of the Revolution an attempt was made to prohibit the slave trade. The Provincial Congress in session at New Bern [North Carolina], August 27, 1774, resolved, “We will not import any slave or slaves, nor purchase any slave or slaves imported or brought into this province by others from any part of the world after the first day of November next. This resolution was passed in conformity with a resolve of the Continental Congress, and its enforcement was designed to strike a blow at British [slavetrading] commerce.

The first impressive protest from any considerable body of citizens in the colony against the African slave trade was registered by the freeholders of Rowan County [North Carolina] in 1774. They placed themselves on record . . . in the following resolution:

“Resolved that the African slave trade is injurious to this colony, obstructs the population of it, prevents manufacturers and other useful emigrants from Europe from settling among us, and occasions an annual increase of the balance of trade against the colonies.”

(Slaveholding in North Carolina, An Economic View, Rosser H. Taylor, UNC Press, 1926, excerpt, pp. 21-22)

Emancipation and Repatriation

The American Colonization Society organizers below were well-aware of the origins of the slavery they detested – the avarice of the British who planted their colonial labor system on these shores, though opposed by colonial legislatures – and the perpetuation of the slave-trade by New England merchants.  They knew as well that should a naval force not be positioned off Africa’s coast, those New England merchants would prey upon the newly-emancipated in Liberia.  Note the predominance of Southern men in the Society.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Emancipation and Repatriation

“On December 28, 1816, the colonizers assembled in the hall of the House of Representatives. The constitution drafted by [Francis Scott] Key and his colleagues was adopted; and thus was founded the American Colonization Society. The constitution declared the purpose of the society to be the promotion of “a plan for colonizing (with their consent) the Free People of Colour residing in our country, in Africa, or such other place as Congress shall deem expedient.”

The organization of the Society was perfected on January 1, 1817 with the election of officers. Justice Bushrod Washington (kin of George) was elected president.

The following Vice-Presidents were then selected: Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford of Georgia; Speaker [Henry] Clay of Kentucky; William Phillips of Massachusetts; former Governor John Eager Howard, Samuel Smith and John C. Herbert of Maryland; Colonel Henry Rutgers of New York; John Taylor of Virginia; General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee; Attorney General Richard Rush and Robert Ralston of Pennsylvania; General John Mason of the District of Columbia; and Reverend Finley . . . the first name on the board of managers was that of Francis S. Key.

The lawyers, clergymen, members of Congress, and other public men, who organized the American Colonization Society were idealists. Their aim was to eradicate slavery without causing political or economic violence. Statesmen from the North and South were able to stand together on the platform of the Society.

According to some historians, the colonizers were “idealists with troubled consciences.”  Patrick Henry cried . . . “I am drawn along by the inconvenience of living without them. I will not, I cannot justify it . . . Slavery is detested; we feel its fatal effects — we deplore it with all the pity of humanity. But is it practicable, by any human means, to liberate them without producing the most dreadful and ruinous consequences?”

The more practical business men of the country sneered at the scheme. The cold and calculating John Quincy Adams criticized the idea as absolutely visionary. The critics doubted whether the free Negroes would be willing to leave the United States for tropical Africa; and even if they did, whether they would be able to govern themselves after they arrived there.

But the colonizers were not discouraged. They believed that as their purpose was humane it had the approval of Providence, and that if they persevered they would meet with success in the end. They also . . . [believed that] the deported blacks would take with them what they had learned in America and would found in Africa a free and happy commonwealth.

Fortunately [Virginian] James Monroe, who succeeded Mr. Madison in the presidential chair on March 4, 1817, gave his endorsement to the plan of colonization. And in a year or two representatives of the American Colonization Society were on their way to Africa with instructions to explore the west coast of the Dark Continent and to select a location for a colony for the free blacks of America.

Before long auxiliary colonization societies were formed in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York . . . Early in 1818 the people of Baltimore contributed several thousand dollars to the cause, and the Legislature of Maryland requested the Governor to urge President Monroe and the members of Congress to negotiate for a colony in Africa by cession or purchase. Similar resolutions were adopted by the Legislatures of Virginia, Tennessee, and other States.

As a result of the pleas of the friends of colonization, the Congress, on March 3, 1818, passed an act directing the United States Navy to capture all African slaves found in the possession of American slave-traders, and empowering the President to appoint agents on the coast of Africa to receive, shelter, feed, clothe, and protect the slaves so captured.

The passage of this law brought cheer to Francis Scott Key and his associates. It meant the cooperation of the United States Government. The coast of Africa was lined with slavers; and without the aid of the Navy the little colony would be at their mercy.”

(Francis Scott Key, Life and Times, Edward S. Delaplaine, Biography Press, 1937, excerpts, pp. 198-201)

 

Mr. Tubman of Liberia

The country of Liberia was founded by the American Colonization Society, mostly Southerners and ably led by President James Monroe of Virginia. The intent was to settle freed slaves in their homeland and to plant responsible, republican government on that continent.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Mr. Tubman of Liberia

“The president of Liberia is a plausible and enterprising man in his middle fifties named William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman, sometimes called by the nickname “Shad.” The Honorable Mr. Tubman has been Chief Executive of Liberia since 1944, and will probably remain president for a considerable time to come. He is a character of the utmost originality and interest, who gives forth a certain waggish note.

Liberia is sui generis — unique. I could use any of several adjectives about it — odd, wacky, phenomenal, or even weird. It is, as is well known, one of the five independent countries in Africa, and for a great many years (until Egypt became a republic in 1953) it was the only republic on the continent. Haiti in the West Indies aside, it is the only Negro republic in the world.

Monrovia, the capital, was named for President Monroe, and is practically the only city I have seen without either taxis or buses. The people are too poor, too mercilessly exploited. A village in Uganda or in the wastes of northern Nigeria will have bicycles in profusion, but not the capital of Liberia. There was no successful telephone service in Monrovia until last year [1954], and the system does not extend beyond the city.

Liberia is roughly the size of Ohio or Tennessee, but the entire country has only ten miles of paved road, five of which are in the capital. Liberia never had a road until 1916 when an enterprising American diplomat built one in Monrovia itself so that he could use an automobile that had arrived there by mistake, the first ever to be seen in the country.

Consider health and education. Only two native Liberians have ever become doctors. There are also two naturalized Haitian MD’s, but in the whole country there are probably not more than a half-dozen reputable physicians outside of Firestone and the [Christian] missions. Infant mortality runs as high as 75% in some areas . . . [and] no public health service at all existed until 1931—and Liberia had been an independent republic since 1847!

More than 90 percent of the population is illiterate . . . in 1946 the total sum allotted to education in the national budget was only around $50,000 (80% of education was taken care of by missionaries); it is substantially higher now, roughly $1.5 million out of a budget of $10,088,810.

Liberia College, the chief institution of “higher” learning in the country where several of its leading contemporary citizens were educated, had for years no library, laboratories or scientific equipment; a former head of this school calmly appropriated all its funds on one occasion, and with his loot sent his daughters to be educated in Italy.

Thievery — the cities swarm with thieves — is most conspicuous during the rains. First, rice is short then and people are hungry. Second, the noise of the rain makes it easy for thieves to get around. Stealing is, however, by no means confined to professional criminals or to the poor, who are so miserable that petty theft may easily be forgiven — it is almost a national sport. Newspapers talk openly of “wholesale stealing” in government departments . . . [and] recently the Italian delegation lost, of all things, its safe.

In the field of political corruption Liberia has some wonderful distinctions. One president of the republic (not Mr. Tubman) got 243,000 votes in a certain election, though only 15,000 persons were privileged to vote.

Most educated Africans in neighboring countries pay lip service to Liberia because it is an independent republic created by freed Negro slaves, but they despise it inwardly because it constitutes a betrayal of what modern Africans stand for. Even Ethiopia has higher standards. Liberia might almost be called a kind of perverse advertisement for imperialism since although the country is free, the people are so badly off compared to those in most French and British colonies.

One brief word on Liberian history. Liberia was created by the American Colonization Society, a private organization (its first president was a nephew of George Washington) formed in 1816 to transport freed American slaves to Africa, where they might settle and start a new life on their own.

The motive was only humanitarian in part. A good many American slaveowners wanted to get freed slaves out of the country; it was dangerous to have them around. Also in 1819, the American navy was empowered to seize slave ships on the high seas, free any slaves found and return them to Africa, as part of an attempt to suppress what remained of the organized slave trade.

Out of Slavery — Slavery

One of the most horrifying official documents I have ever read has to do with Liberia, the report made in 1931 by an international commission inquiring into the slave traffic.

For years rumors had been heard, which the Monrovia government persistently denied, that Liberia tolerated organized slavery. At last in 1929 pressure, largely from the United States forced an investigation. Henry Stimson, secretary of state at the time, wrote to the Liberian authorities: “It would be tragically ironic if Liberia, whose existence was dedicated to the principle of liberty should succumb to practices so closely akin to those its founders sought forever to escape.”

Facts uncovered by the commission were — and are — appalling. It found that “slavery as defined by the 1926 anti-slavery convention” existed in the country, that contract laborers “were recruited under conditions of criminal compulsion scarcely distinguishable from slave-raiding and slave trading,” and that high officials of the Liberian government not only connived at this traffic but made money out of it.

Mr. Tubman, current president of Liberia, was a Senator during this period and is mentioned twice in the commission report, each time in connection with the receipt of fees from native chiefs.”

(Inside Africa, John Gunther, Harper & Collins, 1955, excerpts, pp. 843-849; 860-861)

 

 

 

Sep 22, 2016 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Nigeria a Source of Slaves

Nigeria a Source of Slaves

The country of Nigeria was named for the Niger River, which means “black,” and the ninth longest river in the world. For many years a great source of slaves — and though the trade had diminished by 1847, in that year more than 80,000 slaves were shipped out of Africa “to all destinations.” In 1859, in command of the USS Crusader off Cuba, (future Confederate naval officer) Lt. John Newland Maffitt, was capturing New Englander-captained slavers and liberating thier slaves.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Nigeria a Source of Slaves

Nigerian history along the coast, like that of Sierra Leone and the Gambia, begins with the Portuguese. A Portuguese ship reached the Bight of Benin in 1472. Traders of other countries, including the British in particular, then began to reach this wild, forlorn, fragrant coast—they sought “pepper, Elephant’s teeth, oyl of palm, cloth made of cotton wool very curiously woven, and cloth made of the barke of palme trees.”

Soon came traffic much more lucrative, that in human beings. Indeed slavery dominates Nigerian history for almost three hundred years, with all its bizarre and burning horrors. We have already touched on slavery in East Africa; on the West Coast its history was different.

First: the origin of the Atlantic trade was the discovery of America and the consequent development of sugar plantations in the West Indies. When the American aborigines were killed off, as they were promptly, a labor force had to be found somewhere, and slaves from Africa were a marvelously cheap (as valued by African tribes) and convenient device to this end.

The trade brought fantastic profits. In the Cameroons in the early days the purchase of a slave from African tribes was “two measures of Spanish wine” and he could be sold for a thousand ducats, the profit being 5,000 percent. As late as 1786, a slave could be bought from African tribes in Nigeria for 2 pounds and sold in America for 65 pounds. In that period, 100,000 slaves or more were shipped across the Atlantic each year.

Second:  Aside from the British and Portuguese there were slave traders of several other nationalities, but Britain got a monopoly of the business by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1712.

Third:  Africans were as much involved in the overseas slave traffic as the Europeans since the latter did not dare as rule penetrate inland from the sea — the interior was too dangerous. Instead, they bought slaves from warlike African tribes — the Ashanti on the Gold Coast for instance — who seized and collected other Africans and marched them to the coast. As much barbarity accompanied these raids on Africans by Africans as accompanied the actual voyage across the ocean.

Fourth:  Africans also sought and captured slaves for themselves. In Northern Nigeria for example, slavery was almost universal until most recent times; slavery did not become illegal in Nigeria till 1901, and a few domestic slaves are still alive who have never been emancipated. A case can be made for slavery and the slave trade.  It is that tribal wars took place in the African interior without cessation, and that it was better for a man to be taken prisoner and made a domestic slave or even sold into slavery, than to be killed and perhaps eaten.

On a slave raid the object was to get the prisoner alive and with luck, he might survive the trip to America or Arabia. On balance, the slave trade (despite its inferno-like horrors) may have saved more lives than it cost. In any case it is the origin of a great many healthy, useful and progressive Negro communities in the Western world.”

(Inside Africa, John Gunther, Harper & Brothers, 1955, excerpts, pp. 752-756)

Sep 22, 2016 - Black Slaveowners, Slavery in Africa, Slavery Worldwide    Comments Off on Persistent African Slavery

Persistent African Slavery

The author below asserts that the commercial slave trade across the Red Sea ceased due to the efforts of Emperor Haile Selassie, and the steady depopulation of the remote region adjacent to the Sudan. “Slavery diminished for the simple reason that there were no more slaves to find.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Persistent African Slavery

“The name “Ethiopia” comes from the Greek, and means “burned face.” Most citizens dislike the older, more conventional name for their country – “Abyssinia” – because this has an Arab origin and connotes “mixed.” [The high altitude] . . . helps to keep disease down, because the sunshine is so sharp. Recently, an officer of the World Health Organization said of it, “A filthy country – but most sanitary.”

Coffee is the most important crop; our word “coffee” comes, in fact, from the Ethiopian place name “Kaffa.” Parts of Ethiopia are still semi-savage; it is one of the few countries in Africa where, in some areas, it is distinctly unsafe for a person to go about alone. (There are some similar areas, of course, in New York City).

Some Ethiopian women – until quite recently – wore their hair plaited with the bowels of oxen, and among the Gallas [tribe] dead children may be hung on trees instead of being buried.

Whether or not slavery still exists substantially [in Africa] is a moot point. Of course there are slaves – it is impossible to draw the line in many parts of Africa between slaves, family retainers, or servants who just don’t get paid. Abyssinia was for generations (along with the southern Sudan and northern Uganda) the chief source of slaves shipped to Arabia and the Yemen.

When Ethiopia entered the League of Nations in 1923, Haile Selassie pledged himself to wipe out slavery, and did his best to do so. Yet the Italians say that, when they took the country [in 1936], they released no fewer than 420,000 slaves.”

(Inside Africa, John Gunther, Harper & Brothers, 1955, excerpts, pp. 261-262)