The massive transfer of life between Afro-Eurasian and American hemispheres is known as the “Columbian Exchange”. This exchange was precipitated by Christopher Columbus and the Italian voyage to the “New World”. The exchange is depicted as a major turning point that had profound and lasting effects on the trajectory and development of human populations, specifically African culture. Specific factors altered if not increased the effects of this exchange on various populations such as the African populations. Factors which range from but are not limited to: crop demand, population size, and wealth. However, this essay will revolve over sugar as it increased the importation of African populations and question “To what extent did the high European demand for sugar affect global African dispersion?” Perspectives on the matter of African slavery vary from population to population as it created an engulfing negative aspect onto the conditions on which this slavery occured. However, there is a positive view as the slavery not only combined African populations but African cultures as well as dispersing it wherever African slavery occurred. The opening of the Atlantic world is majorly credited to the Portuguese and their yearn of westward expansion. This yearn, however, was veered by their discovery of slavery while colonizing western Africa. The Portuguese later witnessed increased dependability on slavery as it was a method of free labor. This dependability was not only a benefit to the Portuguese but also an obstruction to indegenous methods of labor. The direct correlation of the effects of slavery can be witnessed as it increased the European economy while aiding in the economic decline and dispersion of African populations.(Trace96) .This essay will also explore the range of which African dispersion occurred, the first instances of the sugar industries’ call of slavery as well as the extent that this first example of free labor led to various methods of free labor such as Indentured servitude during western expansion. The effects of the slave trade as well as its misallocation and African cultural surpression in correlation to the sugar industry will be discussed through the works of Tayyab Mahmud, Joshua Dwayne Settles, and journalist Ekrem Bugra Ekinci, and Russell Menard. This essay is worthy of research due to the fact that the immense influx of African populations into American and Afro-Eurasian hemispheres is a turning point and initiation for African integrated American culture. This influx which can be credited to sugar and its call for a labor system allowed for the spread and combination of various African languages, cultures, and traditions as well as ethnic groups, setting the stage for modern culture today.
The origins of the sugar industry majorly known, in the Caribbean included the importation of some four million slaves on these plantations.(Menard). Industries were entirely impossible without the presence of some form of slavery. The trading of manufactured goods for slaves who were then shipped to sugar colonies, (the middle passage) was seen to be the peak of harsh conditions endured by slaves. During this passage, slaves were kept in a row like groups for weeks if not months at a time. This entire traffic of slavery was fueled by the English demand for rum, molasses, and in large sugar. However, slavery in England itself had been deemed illegal in 1772 which then caused a direct controversy over slavery in the sugar colonies. Arguments rose up as a result to the banning of English slavery. The arguments were found to be popular in colonial America and England by abolitionists. Boycotts eventually rose up in contradiction to keeping slavery as it fueled the sugar industry. Proponents of this boycott included the liberal use of physical metaphors by boycotters stating that “ Sugar is imbued with the blood, sweat and tears of slaves”.(Menard 2006). In response, many slaves and planters of sugar recoiled and found it a conspiratorial attack against their financial interests. Many slavers proclaimed that slave life in the sugar industry far surpasses the conditions in which they would have lived in Africa. William Beckford, a Jamaican sugar planter, states that if slaves were able to run free then “they would run riot, starve or both”(Beckford). In other words Beckford claims that slaves in this case Africans are unable to govern themselves which they had been doing for centuries preceding the sugar industry. In response to this sugar boycott, parliament created news pamphlets in order to get their message widespread. These pamphlets became popular as many English citizens were fond of the messages depicted by parliament. In the first year as many as 250,000 pamphlets were printed and were credited with focusing forces onto the sugar boycott. Andrew Burn an author of these pamphlets, pours blame onto the consumers of sugar for feeding this evil act of slavery. “My reason, and experience tells me, and medical authority assures me, that sugar is not a luxury; but has become by constant use, a necessary of life; and great injury have many persons done to their constitutions by totally abstaining from it.”(Burn 1972). Burn states that the inflictions put upon these people (slaves) are not worth the luxury of having sugar simply as a commodity but opposing views state that the slaves are in fact benefitting from this sugar farming as it gives them a “purpose”(Sherwood). To the right is a poem depicting the general attitude towards this sugar boycott. It compares the value of sugar with the cruel injustice of slavery and uses the generally used analogy of “blood as the price of sugar”. (Tyler). This coincides with Andrew Burn’s statement that sugar is not worth the unjustified pain endured by it’s slaves for it only to be a general commodity and not an extreme necessity.
The fall of the slave trade in 1807 turned to be a devastating blow to the entire sugar industry. The main force in the abolishment of slavery in European countries was credited to the Roman Catholic Church as they began questioning whether this act was religiously right. Overall the catholic church did treat slaves more humanely than those in the protestant church and protestant faith. Early enslavement of Africans were somewhat justified in the early catholic church as they portrayed them as “barbaric savages, without laws or religions, and even void of a language”(Bravo). This interpretation of the Bible was questioned which resulted in the creation of an anti-slavery organization that proved slavery to be a sin. This campaign was a succes due to the fact that abolitionists focused their methods on the views of the population as they feared not going to heaven which would be void if slavery was seen as a sin. Parliament then passed an act on March 1807 which would make it illegal for Britons to participate in any trade that resulted in the enslavement of Africans. Although the abolishment of slave trade caused a decline in sugar and goods grown by slaves in Britain it however did not diminish the existence or wealth of these goods in Britain. Those who opposed this abolishment financed, and insured the trade in other areas that allowed it. Vast amounts of Slave-grown tobacco were imported from southern U.S states and then from Cuba and eventually Brazil. Sugar grown by free labor were inefficient to quench the British thirst for it so slave-grown sugar was imported. Various abolitionists brought to light the fact that slave-grown goods were still in circulation in the economy would only increase the trade of slaves. Britain however ignored this warning and increased their earnings from these goods. This British dependability on slave-grown goods only increased due to their newfound wealth in result, this legitimized the produce of coffee, cocoa, gold, and palm oil and were all supported by domestic slavery and serfdom.
The after-effects of this trade also proved to be devastating, and an inhumane blow on African economies. The trade slowed population growth in Africa and reduced the general aggregate population. (Manning). Between the 16th and 17th centuries more than 13 million slaves were produced in Africa and transported across the Atlantic with over 77 percent of these slaves (about 10.1 million) were produced along the west-central coast of Africa during the 150 years span of 1701 and 1850. The casualties involved in the trade were not entirely consisted of those actually taken captive but those seen as collateral damage and those resisting their family members and friends taken captive. The effects although invisible to the every-day eye proved to have altered the path of development on African economies.(Nunn). The demand internationally for enslaved Africans had an extreme influence on the resource allocation within Africa, as the foreign demand increased, Africans in response captured and exported more of their fellow people creating an effective demand situation. These demands were not only external but an internal force must have played a part. In other words in order for the external influences and factors of these demands tp have a significant impact on the entire African economy, the indigeneous African people have to had responded to the external stimuli: the external factors and foreign demand for slavery. (Manning). “Africa Engaged”. There is a direct correlation between the international demand for enslaved Africans and the relative value of the people in connection to their value in global production. Due to the fact that as one rises the other as a result also rises exponentially. (Darity). Walter Rodney, a prominent Guyanese historian, political activist, and academic, in his book How Europe underdeveloped Africa, further makes evident the claim that the slave trade altered African Economies.(1972). The trade had an introspecting ideal to it due to the fact that it encouraged slave raiding and discouraged state-building by encouraging the capture of slaves for slave but on the other note discouraging the capture of land as well as the cultivation of a citizenry for the purpose of taxation in its place. The single differentiating factor between this form of human trade and others throughout history is the fact that, quoting Rodney “..there have been times in history when social groups have grown stronger by raiding their neighbors for women, cattle, and goods, because they then use the “booty” from raids for the benefits of their own community. Slaving in Africa did not even have that redeeming value. Captives were shipped outside instead of being utilized within any given African community for creating wealth from nature.(page 100)”. (1972). In comparison to Nunn’s studies about GDP per capita in our modern era and in the slave trade, results show that the trade had a negative long-term effect on economic participation than other forms of the trade that differentiate from the African slave trade. (Nunn 2008).
However, alternate arguments have risen in response to Rodney and Nunn’s claims. David Eltis, a professor from Emory University argues that the slave trade was a “small share of Africa’s economic activity and, therefore, could not have caused major social or economic disruptions”(1991). As seen today, this claim has proved to be false due to the economic decline and political dissassortment as a result from years of years of picking on the “small” shares as remarked by Eltis. Several professors, including John Fage, John Thornton, and Phillip Curtin all also have opposing views with Rodney and Nunn’s claims. These professors argue that the “trade encouraged the consolidation of political states and favored economic development in the long run and that the production of slaves was primarily a byproduct of internal African struggles- an outcome of Africa’s indigenous economic and political evolution rather than a product of exogenous shock like effective demand”.(1969) (1998) (1975). All opposing perspectives on the decline of the African economy due to the slave trade shout the same message: AFRICAN ECONOMIC DECLINE IS AT FAULT OF AFRICANS AND THEIR INTERNAL STRUGGLES AND ALL EXTERNAL FACTORS HAVE A VERY MODERATE ON THE AFRICAN ECONOMY IF ANY AT ALL. Which is the very opposite to the claim in which will be proved by this overall essay. The basis upon which opposing claims have been made may be credited to the fact that Africans sold neighbors and even their family members into slavery. However the entire trade process would have never caused Africans to enslave their own brethren if not for the initiation of it by the early Portugese because of sugar.
Whether there were benefits to African slavery or not has become a very controversial topic of which a valid response may depend on the cultural background of whomever is asked. However, there was. In reality slavery has been a part of human development for centuries dating back to the Byzantine-Ottoman wars (1265-1479) and the European ottoman wars(14th-16th centuries), nonetheless, African slavery to this magnitude has never been experienced in all of history to reap the effects that were reaped. The slavery of Africans led to the dispersion of Africans on a global scale of which instances such as the Harlem renaissance arose and became a significant example for the dispersion of African culture which is a benefit of slavery. The renaissance was an explosion of culture within the African community of Harlem New York City during the 1920’s. Not only was it an embodiment of a radicalized and politicization of a disenfranchised population, it was proof of the humanity and demand for equality from the earlier said negative aspect fof the slave trade. This newfound identity of African Americans led them to an increased social consciousness that allowed a population that had only endured inferiority and depravity, a source of release and inspiration. The main drives for this movement were credited to Charles Spurgeon Johnson and philosopher Alain Leroy Locke and their orchestration of the Civil Club Dinner in Manhattan 1924. (1924). Southern life at this time differed from that of Harlem due to the fact that African Americans were imprisoned in an economy of sharecropping of which all hope of improvement ceased to exist. In addition the implementation of the Jim Crow (1877) system and it being void of any voting rights also differentiated from life in Harlem. Southern African Americans viewed the north and Harlem as a beacon of hope and escape from the harsh lifestyle of the south. Harlem became the center of black cultural life that forever changed the dynamics of the entire nation as well as a re-establishment for the identities of African Americans. Yes, it is true that the problem being endured by African Americans in the south would have never occurred if slavery was never introduced to the Americans, on the other hand this combination and spread of African cultures and Harlem as a beacon of African diaspora would have also never occured. The African slave trade was maybe in fact more beneficial to America as a whole than the individual African American population. As mentioned, sugar was the main source of influx of this slave trade and its abundance brought to light the fact that in the Americas, European colonial officials lacked the sufficient labor to exploit it and as a result African slavery came into play. The profits made from the sale of sugar as a good was ironically used to purchase more slaves and fuel the slave trade. In spite of the harsh and inhumane environments endured by sugar labor it aso created an economic infrastructure for the agricultural produce of North America. In return an economic boom was seen in North America which would later create its mark as a world nation.
The European demand for sugar as a commodity was not limited to only europe as they did create the global thirst for the good which was paid for by the lives and freedom of Africans, sugar was also a key product in the Caribbean islands and West Indies or “Sugar islands”.(1791). The islands were a focal point of international conflict due to its value in the sugar industry and nations quarreled with one another for domination over this region. Nations who rivaled one another concentrated laborers via the slave trade in engaging in commodity production. Each colonial power reserved itself for the produce of its own colonies by monopolizing colonial shipping and sheltering the colonial market for its own industries. This allowed global nations to stimulate production and promote their accumulation of national wealth. However, global sugar production grew at a slower but steady-state rate with a stable structure. Production in the Caribbean often shifted with the appearance of immense amounts of sugar from regions outside of the Caribbean which included not only the vast redistribution but also the quantitative increase of international sugar production in correlation to the qualitative restructure of national relations in the market. This was seen as a significant shift due to the fact that the global economy was no longer directed by political domination over products of colonial production, instead, the main quality that proved to be key to global power under the current world economy was “the economic control over the flow of resources”(Brion). “Even before Britain had gained full naval supremacy, it was clear that the economic struggle would center not on the control of colonial production but on the control of colonial commerce to European markets. By 1804, Britain had no need to fear a rival slave trade augmenting the production of her competitors. The crucial problem was not the supply of labor but how to control the flow of commerce to Europe”(David Brion Davis”). With this being said the destruction of the sugar empire via the revolution of Saint Domingue further proves Davis’s statement due to the revolution directly targeting the control of resources. The revolution had a somewhat ideal timing because it occurred during the vortex of international economic and political currents between England and France for domination of the world economy. The rivalry between the two world power combined with the conflicts within Saint Domingue brewed what resulted in the final blow to the sugar industry. The Haitian slaves sort of depended on the revolution to create a political conjuncture in order for their overall purpose to be achieved, to not only end slavery but also to break the French hold on the colony.