The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: The Psyhic Inheritance

By Nettleford, Rex | UN Chronicle, September 2007 | Go to article overview
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The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery: The Psyhic Inheritance


Nettleford, Rex, UN Chronicle


The Caribbean is arguably the living laboratory of the dynamism of the encounters between Africa and Europe on foreign soil, and both with the Native American who had inhabited the real estate of the Americas during periods of conquest and dehumanization and the corresponding process of struggle and resistance. For these purposes, northeast Brazil with its iconic centre in Bahia, New Orleans and all of the eastern littoral of North America, referred to as Plantation America, constitute along with the island-Caribbean the geo-cultural area that houses a civilization with its own inner logic and inner consistency.

The advent of later arrivants into the Caribbean after the abolition, first of the trade in enslaved Africans and later of slavery itself, did not save them from labour exploitation. But those new arrivants did enter as free men and women into a society which by then had the promise of decency and civility informing human, if not an altogether humane, existence. This has been made distinctive by the catalytic role played by the African Presence in social formation within a psychic universe, a great part of which has been plunged, wittingly and unwittingly, into subterranean and submarine silence. Such mixed metaphors are masks to hide real visages or mute-buttons to impose that threatening silence which Jimmy Cliff, the reggae superstar and talented lyricist, characteristically described thus:

  "You stole my history,
  Destroyed my culture,
  Cut out my tongue,
  So I can't communicate.
  Then you mediate
  And separate,
  Hide my whole way of life,
  So myself I should hate."

  From "The Price of Peace" (1973)

It is fitting that the CARICOM Caribbean should be concerned with breaking the silence, that second most powerful act of oppression which the African Presence in the Americas has suffered for the past 500 years along the Slave Route. Such are the acts that define the journey by those who having been severed from ancestral homelands and suffered in exile on plantations, but have survived and continue to struggle beyond survival.

The quest for the truth of what has evolved over the past half a millennium is an effective way of tackling what has been arguably the greatest scourge of modern life. It may well have been the culmination of some four centuries of obscenities perpetrated in the pursuit of material gain, fueled by greed and the lust for power, and often under the guise of carrying out a civilizing mission, said to be divinely ordained and even earlier sanctified by papal edict.

The fight for, and occupation of, the newly "discovered" Americas was continued with the enslavement of millions. This was followed by the systematic dehumanization of an horrendously exploited labour force, as well as by the psychological conditioning of millions into stations of self-contempt bolstered by an enduring racism, underlying rigid class differentiation, and the habitual violation of human rights. These are a few of the blots on human history that have left legacies of the deepest concern in humankind's journey into the twenty-first century.

However, there are other legacies--which speak to the invincibility of the human spirit against all odds, but also to the ability of the human mind to exercise the intellect and imagination creatively for the advancement of human knowledge and aesthetic sensibility. The contribution of the African Presence to all this is deserving of bold assertion, supported by painstaking investigation, critical analysis and decisive programmed dissemination-all part of the mission of the UNESCO Slave Route Project.

In the Americas, the historic encounters between diverse cultures from both sides of the Atlantic have forged tolerance out of conflict and suspicion, unity within diversity, and peace out of conflict and hostility. The African Presence on the Route is a celebratory incantation of a philosophy of life and of the hope-in-despair, which has sustained survival and beyond in defiance of the trans-atlantic slave trade and slavery.

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