From Chains to Bonds: The Slave Trade Revisited

From Chains to Bonds: The Slave Trade Revisited

From Chains to Bonds: The Slave Trade Revisited

From Chains to Bonds: The Slave Trade Revisited


Most important issues of today's world - such as development, human rights, and cultural pluralism - bear the unmistakable stamp of the transatlantic slave trade. In particular Africa's state of development can only be properly understood in the light of the widespread dismantling of African societies and the methodical and lasting human bloodletting to which the continent was subjected by way of the trans-Saharan and transatlantic slave trade over the centuries. But this greatest displacement of population in history also transformed the vast geo-cultural area of the Americas and the Caribbean.

In this volume, one result of UNESCO's project Memory of Peoples: The Slave Route, scholars and thinkers from Africa, the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean have come together to raise some crucial questions and offer new perspectives on debates that have lost none of their urgency.


Following the ‘OUIDAH 92’ festival, an event of worldwide impact which was attended by many distinguished intellectuals, a new meeting was held in this same historic city of Ouidah, so fraught with memories, on the occasion of the launching of UNESCO’s international Slave Route project. Its purpose was to consider ways and means of enabling black peoples, formerly oppressed and reduced to slavery, to rise together, with the support of all the nations of the world, to the challenge of development.

The worst for black peoples is not that for centuries they were the victims of the greatest deportation in human history, the slave trade. The worst is that they themselves did, to a certain extent, internalise the racist discourse developed by that practice, and came finally to believe themselves to be inferior; that they lent a credulous and sometimes conniving ear to the sirens who sang in every tone the message of their congenital inferiority. Such sirens have been of every kind, from the most outrageous to the most ingenuous, from the ‘big guns’ represented by such aberrant works as Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines and Hitler’s Mein Kampf to the insidious statements of certain contemporary politicians. Otherwise serious, intelligent and efficacious men and women, these politicians, at the start of the twenty-first century, still believe that they can assert that Africa is not ripe for democracy, and are not above publishing sensationalist articles such as the one that appeared in a French weekly under the provocative title: ‘A taboo question: should Africa be recolonised?’

That a project such as the Slave Route study can actually be launched is due to the fact that there are many who do not believe in such alleged racial flaws any more than they believe in the intrinsic superiority of some ‘master race’. We know that the accidents of history must be explained in historical terms, that the atrocities which have occurred in Rwanda and in former Yugoslavia, just as much as those in Bosnia, are rooted in harsh realities and a tragic chain of circumstances. What is needed is concerted, lucid, intelligent action on the part of men and women of goodwill, and of the international community as a whole, rather than the sneering comments of some superficial analyst.

We can readily understand the sense of revolt voiced by the poet who wrote: ‘Europe has for centuries crammed us full of lies and pumped us full of pestilence.’ Europe? Césaire would be the first to reply: no, but rather a certain Europe, the Europe to which American and Caribbean blacks owe their . . .

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