“Slavery and the slave trade were the most intense and lasting cohesive activities in the Atlantic World for demographic cultural, military, social and political reasons” (Sanjurjio, 2020). For almost 500 years, from 1444 to 1926, slavery was an acceptable form of forced labour worldwide (See Appendix) but especially within Latin America. The complete launch of captured and enslaved indigenous people from less developed and third world countries within the Americas became a huge phenomenon, one that had demographically radicalised to places such as Cuba, Colombia and Brazil. Other countries were slow in comparison to the process of enslaved Africans within the Americas, but despite their slow and partial involvement, they were still not exempt from witnessing the cultural, political, economic, religious, artistic and social legacies’ effects that the slave trade and slavery held.
Modern society looks back with incredulity towards this type of trade at the thought that once upon a time it could have been classed as acceptable. This essay will examine the development of slavery and slave trade legacies within Latin America and Western society and will observe whether we have collectively forgotten the horrors of slavery and whether there can be pride is our past actions.
Spain was one of the first countries to develop a slave trade. The first documented load of captured indigenous people was in 1510 when Spain shipped them off to be slaves in the Americas (see appendix). Between 1530 and 1580 marked the new high volume phase of Spanish transatlantic slave trade (Eagle, 2019). A metaphorical game of “monopoly” (Eagle, 2019) was played on a continuous cycle during this period, because as the number of deaths rose so did the incapable demand of requesting more slaves became apparent. The journeys themselves were horrendous for the slaves. The slaves were shackled below deck with no air, little food and no exercise. Still to this day, the memory of the sufferers of the transatlantic slave trade and slavery is still apparent but through modern day actions; racism, poverty and religious syncretism.
As Sanjurjio (2020) states “slavery is not dead it’s not even past”. The public memory of slavery and slave trade within modern day society, remains, just in less obvious forms. For instance, racism is a cultural and political legacy. Due to the embedded social opinions during the times where indigenous people were seen as inferior within in every aspect of life, such judgements are now hidden amongst modern day racist comments, emphasising their race to be as “dangerous wild-beasts” (Sanjurjio, 2020).
Poverty is an economic legacy. Afro descendants within the Latin American communities are at greater risk of suffering extreme rates of poverty, nowadays more than ever. Does this not symbolise that such legacies have not been collectively erased from our memories? It is highly unlikely. After the age of 15 they are less likely to have the desire to stay in the educational system, they experience higher threats of violence and discrimination just for being black.
Nevertheless, it took almost 500 years before western society appreciated the enormous cruelty being inflicted on the peoples of our colonies and thus will probably take another 500 more or so for their legacies to be completely erased from our collective memory. With education and increasing travel, those enslaved peoples, not only resented being invaded and controlled but saw the truth behind our presence. It was only when the unfairness’s and the inequalities of the native inhabitants of the colonies became a source of resentment that Western consciences were pricked and campaigns for the abolition of slavery began, against great opposition. Gradually one by one colonies gained their independence. Therefore, do we as a western society require more knowledge and education on the subject of slavery and slave trade in order for common modern day prejudices, discriminations and racist comments to be erased, or will it remain a part of our society’s social embodiment?
As said by Sanjurjio (2020), “ a sense of the past is a way of being in the present”. Although the Spanish colonies were among the last to abolish slavery, acknowledging our faults that have taken place in the past, enables us the “best way of arguing with ourselves” (Sanjurjio, 2020). Recognising the faults at face value. Recognising slavery and slave trade has left a deep ingrained footprint within the minds of all citizens in the world will allow the future irradiation of some negative legacies left behind as a result of such events.
In conclusion, true slavery is ugly, is cruel, and is degrading. It is surely abhorrent. Slaves had no rights, they were thought of as barely human and often treated like animals. Can we possibly take pride in that trade which was so prevalent for almost 500 years; in having subjugated and exploited other human beings to such an enormous extent? The history books urge us to look outside the box, with pride and spirit, that conquistadors even dared sail across unknown lands, forgotten about the torture instigated within. Many look back on the slavery and slave trade period with nostalgia, are we as a western society proud of slavery? Surely any pride must surely be tinged with guilt? I believe the gradual appearance of slavery and slave trade legacies on today’s society has impacted the way we define pride. Such appearances are not examples of the way nations pride themselves on the torturous past events but are demonstrations of the acceptance of responsibility towards said inflicted miseries. It is the way our collective memory accepts “the responsibility of explaining what they many not want to know”.