The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage

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Most history books has recorded that between the years 1701-1760, millions of Africans were literally stolen away from their native lands leaving behind their families, work, heritage, and everything that was familiar to them. Robbed of their independence and ‘humanness’; they were reduced to cargo. This was what ‘the Middle Passage’ also known, as the ‘Slave Triangle’ was all about; the trading of goods and commodities among continents including the trading of black men, women and children who were treated like property.
     The first leg of the journey was from Europe, mainly Portugal to Africa. Many of the goods produced in Europe were not available in Africa or America. The Europeans traded manufactured goods, including weapons, guns, beads, cowrie shells (used as money), cloth, horses, and rum to the African kings and merchants in return for gold, silver and slaves. Africans were seen as very hard workers who were skilled in the area of agriculture and cattle farming. They were also used to the extreme temperatures that people of lighter complexions could not bear. There had always been slavery in Africa amongst her own people, where men from different tribes/villages would raid other villages to kidnap the women for their pleasures, and the men to use as slaves. To learn that they could actually profit from this activity made the job of getting slaves very easy for the Europeans. Slaves acquired through raids, were transported to the seaports were they were help prisoner in forts until traded.

Once the goods were off loaded in Africa and the slaves loaded, the second leg of the journey carried slaves across the Atlantic Ocean to the North Americas (the new world).
     It is prudent to speak here to the inhumane way in which the slaves were transported during this first leg of the journey. The trading of slaves was very lucrative for the Europeans. As it goes in business, the higher the demand, the larger the quantities supplied. All the slaves were branded to show to whom they belonged, and the male slaves were shackled together and packed in the hole like sardines, while the women and children were sometimes allowed to stay on deck.     Any acts of aggression by the men or women resulted in severe beatings to discourage the behavior. Imagine being beaten and shackled with a rival tribe man or not being able to communicate with the person beside you because you both spoke different languages!

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While in the hole, they were feed a paste of millet (porridge) twice daily, they were not allowed to use the bathroom, or to bathe or clean themselves. Some captains allowed them on deck once daily to exercise or to be scrubbed down with vinegar and warm water. Needless to say, disease was rampant on many ships and the smell of human foul was unbearable. Many slaves died as a result and their bodies were thrown overboard. In fact many slaves ended up strangling their shackled counterpart or neighbors to make more space in the hole for themselves.

     The next leg of the journey was across the Atlantic to the Caribbean (West Indies). Although the journey may have started out with hundreds of slaves, sometimes the whole shipment or a large portion of it would be wiped out from
illnesses or disease. Those who were left were washed and made presentable for sale. They would be sold to work on the cotton, coffee or sugar plantations, and became the property of the white man who bought them. They were sold regardless of any family ties among the group, and regardless of their ages. Most literature suggests that the human cargo was sold for very high profits. These profits were used to buy sugar, molasses, spices, coffee and tea from the islands of the West Indies.
According to Holt et al, the first stop was Brazil where 32.2% of the slaves were sold; then to the Dutch West Indies where 9.4% were sold; the French West Indies, where 22.0% were sold; the British West Indies, where 21.0% were sold, and then the Spanish and North Americas where the remaining 14.80% were sold. It is this part of the journey which is known as the Middle Passage.
     The middle passage journey took from five weeks to several months. The last part of the journey took the slave traders back to Europe for the final part of the trip. It must be noted that there were different triangular routes taken from Europe. Sometimes the ships came from Portugal and sometimes from England. No matter what the route was, it resulted in the exploitation of Africans.


·     Holt, Rinehart, Winston. ST9 Atlantic Slave. Accessed
Tucker, October 12th, 2003. (Date of publication unknown).
·     Thomas, Hugh, The Slave Trade. Simon & Schuster, 1997. Accessed Tucker, October 11th, 2003.

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