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The triangular trade system was so named because the ships embarked from European ports, stopped in Africa to gather captives, after which they set out for the New World to deliver their "human cargo," and then returned to the port where they had originated. The Middle Passage was that leg of the slave triangle that brought the "human cargo" from West Africa to North America, South America, and the Caribbean.
Depending on ship design, weather conditions, and points of departure and arrival, the journey across the middle passage lasted from six weeks to three months. A few days before departure on the slave ships, all enslaved men, women, and children had their heads shaved, supposedly to reduce the spread of disease and facilitate hygiene. On the day of departure for the New World, they gave slaves who had been confined to the holding camps awaiting ships an "abundant" meal, signaling their last hours on their home continent of Africa. They were then stripped naked of their clothes, chained in pairs by the ankles, and taken by canoes, usually at night, to slave ships which were usually anchored in the harbors.
Inside the ships, slaves were stacked and crammed into the dark and small holds, which now became their home. The conditions on slave ships repulsive, horrifying, painful, and inhumane. These peoples entire journey was primarily spent sitting on top of each other on wooden plank floors. Besides many diseases, ship holds were poorly ventilated, sometimes causing suffocation during storms when the few existing hatches had to be closed. And of course, normal bodily functions had to be done: people used the restroom, bled, vomited, coughed, sneezed, died, etc., all in the holds of slave ships. In addition to the stench of slave ships, the practice of throwing dead and dying slaves overboard brought sharks from miles around to feed on the bodies. Many people committed suicide by jumping overboard or hanging themselves with any available rope. It has been said that "if the Atlantic Ocean were to dry up today, there would be a trail of human bones stretching from Africa to the Americas.
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