As the global counter trafficking in persons’ institutions ready themselves for the commemoration of their efforts on 30th July, it would be refreshing to be reminded of our own human history that informed this criminal practice. It is our hope and desire that we shall continue to pull together and deal with both the pull and push factors which seem to sustain the criminal endevours of perpetrators.
A historical perspective
25th of Mach 2022 was set aside by The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The objective of this day is to enlighten the general public about the tragedy of the slave trade and to engrave the tragedy of the slave trade in the memory of all peoples; The day is viewed as an opportunity to reflect on those that suffered and perished at the hands of slavery, but also as an occasion to raise awareness to the world’s youth about the dangers of racism and prejudice.
The Genesis of Transatlantic Trade
In 1441, Prince Harry of Portugal sent Gonçalves, his captain to the coast of West Africa to bring back a cargo of seal skins and oils. The captain was inexperienced and hence was only sent to bring mundane things. However, he was ambitious; as the ship approached the coast of Mauritania in West Africa, Gonçalves decided to impress the prince by taking back what he knew was his true desire-Slaves. He expected that the prince would reward him highly. And so on his way back, Gonçalves together with his men loaded the caravel with the captives as well as the skins and oils they had been sent to gather, and sailed back to Portugal.
This episode marked the beginnings of an era of European exploration that brought the continents of Europe and Africa into contact with one another through forced transatlantic migrations from Africa to Europe, and eventually to the Caribbean and North and South America. In the 1440s, Gonçalves and other Portuguese explorers began a process that created an Atlantic world connected in ways that it had never been before. This traversing of trade routes and the introduction of African slaves into a new world shaped the lives and experiences of millions of Africans, Europeans, and Native Americans who met on the shores of America. The trade lasted up until 1807 and majority of the captives were collected from West and Central Africa
Remembering the Victims of Slavery
The victims of the transatlantic slave trade endured a series of catastrophic events; they were separated from home, family and nearly all things familiar; captured in the African interior, transported to the coast; sold to slave traders; passed the sea in conditions of squalor and indescribable horror (it is estimated that, out of the 12.5 million enslaved Africans, 1.8 million died during their voyage). The enslavement tested the spirit and will of men, women and children who struggled to find meaning and happiness in a new world order.
Behind the facts and figures are millions of human stories. The stories of those who were ripped from their homelands and families. The stories of those who fought against their oppressors. The stories of those who triumphed against all odds to win their freedom. Those stories continue today as people across the globe keep struggling together against the transatlantic slave trade’s most enduring legacy – racism.
It has always been presumed that the West has been economical with the truth as to the fact that their economies were largely constructed by the sweat, tears and blood of slavery captives. And as the world continues, year in, year out to commemorate the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, all efforts need to endevour towards collaboration and to renew the collective resolve to tackle modern day slavery. This year’s theme was, “Stories of Courage: Resistance to Slavery & Unity Against Racism”.
United Nations. (2022, March 25). Outreach Programme on the Transatlantic Slave Trade and Slavery. Retrieved from United Nations: https://www.un.org/en/rememberslavery/observance/2022
Williams, H. A. (2014). American Slavery; A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.