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Slavery is one of the ugliest stigmas of human society. Ruthless exploitation of other people regardless of their needs, cultural peculiarities, and the desire to be free contradict the nature of humanistic relations between individuals and humiliates peoples dignity. Unfortunately, for a long period of time, slavery had been considered the only way to find a cheap workforce and use it not thinking about the creation of the appropriate conditions.
Due to the peculiarities of the historical development of states, black people from Africa became a good used by planters and other slave owners to generate profit and preserve their specific social position1. However, captives did not want to give up and tried to eliminate the bonds of slavery. The lack of rights and power to struggle resulted in the emergence of particular forms of resistance that preconditioned the radical shifts in peoples mentalities and the creation of the tolerant society we can observe today.
Speaking about the problem of slavery and resistance to this issue, the historical background should be mentioned. Starting with the massive colonization of new territories and especially the Caribbean Basin, Africa had turned into the main source of new captives that were enslaved and transported to various regions2. This intensive process gave rise to the term the Middle Passage. It can be described as a sort of triangular trade created to ship millions of slaves to the New World3.
Special ships with goods for African markets departed from Europe (England, Portugal, Spain) and traded these things for Africans who were sold by local rulers. Later, they were transported across the Atlantic as slaves to colonies. In these regions, they were exchanged for raw materials and ships went back to Europe. These voyages became significant financial projects that guaranteed high revenues for organizers and an unsavory reputation to the Middle Passage.
Forms of Resistance
Numerous descriptions of the given path show that it was extremely dangerous for slaves. In accordance with the historical documents, about 15% of all captives died during the journey because of horrible conditions, lack of food, and congestion4. Ships were overcrowded as crews comprised the insignificant part of all people on board. For this reason, the first manifestations of resistance can be found during this route. One of ten ships at the Middle passage had rebellions on their boards5.
Slaves tried to avoid their future undesired destiny and to control their lives. In many cases, it was a hopeless task because of the lack of weapons and fetters that were used by the crew. However, sometimes Africans managed to take captive over cargo ships6. This event proves the idea of the existence of the extreme desire to be free among individuals who were doomed to be sold. These manifestations of resistance significantly impacted society and the whole history as they demonstrated to the world that Africans would struggle for their rights and gave hope to other slaves.
Another form of resistance can be determined as the cultural one. The fact is that in the majority of cases captives were delivered to countries with culture and traditions different from their native ones7. Under these conditions, living in these areas up to their death, slaves were supposed to forget the peculiarities of their native mentality and culture. Moreover, owners often gave other names, different from original ones (for instance Equiano was called Jacob) to make Africans assimilate8.
However, these attempts were useless. In his notes, Equiano emphasizes the desire of slaves to preserving their mentality and culture9. For this reason, millions of people from Africa continued to adhere to their customs and use their native names while speaking to each other. The author is sure that this fact is critical as along with the desire to learn new things from white people, captives also did not forget all they had got while being children10. As a result, this form of resistance promoted the further desire to continue the struggle for freedom and protected the unique African culture that also turned into a powerful weapon against slavery.
Finally, Africans who lived in areas known as sources of captives also resisted enslavement using all the ways they had. For instance, Equiano is his work mentions that his own settlement was aware of kidnappers who could use the opportunity when grownups were away11. He offered an example of him seeing suspicious men and giving the alarm to prevent them from doing harm to people. They were surrounded and stopped; however, soon Equiano and his sister were kidnapped12.
Nevertheless, this example perfectly proves the idea that local people had their own system to protect themselves from slave-owners and other individuals who wanted to find a cheap workforce13. Correctly realizing the danger that came from these people, Africans living in areas belonging to the sphere of interest of European states tried to resist and not become slaves become of the hardships associated with this status. Unfortunately, incidents such as Equianos one show that these measures had limited efficiency because of their inability to protect all people. However, their importance cannot be overestimated as they created the basis for further struggle and desire to become free.
In such a way, there are three distinct manifestations of resistance among slaves taken from Africa. First of all, in their native land, they tried to struggle against kidnappers to protect their way of living. Second, they also engaged in riots in cargo ships transporting captives at the Middle Passage. Finally, the cultural form of resistance was also observed. The combination of these three forms created the basis for the growing wave of dissatisfaction among all slaves who were taken from Africa and preconditioned the emergence of radical shits in their and other peoples mentalities. In the course of time, these alterations gave rise to multiple abolishment movements that tried to eliminate slavery and provide equal conditions for people of all races. For this reason, the importance of these manifestations of resistance remains significant and should be considered the origins of the long struggle for freedom.
Altogether, slavery was a dramatic event in the life of millions of people who were forced to leave their native land and work in other countries without any chance to come back or become free. However, slaves did not want to accept this destiny and resisted oppression and enslavement. They tried to take captive over cargo boats at the Middle Passage, fought at their native lands against kidnappers, and cultivated their unique culture even in other states. It all helped them to survive and achieve the main goal. They became free and contributed to the development of the worlds culture by increasing its diversity.
Donnan, Elizabeth. Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America: Volume I: 1441-1700. New York: William S Hein, 2002. Web.
Equiano, Olaudah. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written By Himself. London: Printed for, and Sold by the Author, 1794. Web.
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Mustakeem, Sowande. Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016.
- Sowande Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2016), 36.
- Elizabeth Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America: Volume I: 1441-1700 (New York: William S Hein, 2002), 3. Web.
- Ibid., 4.
- Mustakeem, Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage, 43.
- Ibid., 87.
- Ibid., 87.
- Donnan, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America: Volume I: 1441-1700,21. Web.
- Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written By Himself (Lonon: Printed for, and Sold by the Author, 1794), 67. Web.
- Ibid., 78.
- Ibid., 65.
- Ibid., 32.
- Ibid., 33.
- Ibid., 33.