The Middle Passage

Middle Passage, the forced voyage of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. It was one leg of the triangular trade route that took goods (such as knives, guns, ammunition, cotton cloth, tools, and brass dishes) from Europe to Africa, Africans to work as slaves in the Americas and West Indies, and items, mostly raw materials, produced on the plantations (sugarricetobaccoindigorum, and cotton) back to Europe. From about 1518 to the mid-19th century, millions of African men, women, and children made the 21-to-90-day voyage aboard grossly overcrowded sailing ships manned by crews mostly from Great Britainthe NetherlandsPortugal, and France

Slaver captains anchored chiefly off the Guinea Coast (also called the Slave Coast) for a month to a year to trade for their cargoes of 150 to 600 persons, most of whom had been kidnapped and forced to march to the coast under wretched conditions. While at anchor and after the departure from Africa, those aboard ship were exposed to almost continuous dangers, including raids at port by hostile tribes, epidemics, attack by pirates or enemy ships, and bad weather. Although these events affected the ships’ crews as well as the enslaved, they were more devastating to the latter group, who had also to cope with physical, sexual, and psychological abuse at the hands of their captors. Despite—or perhaps in part because of—the conditions aboard ship, some Africans who survived the initial horrors of captivity revolted; male slaves were kept constantly shackled to each other or to the deck to prevent mutiny, of which 55 detailed accounts were recorded between 1699 and 1845.

 

So that the largest possible cargo might be carried, the captives were wedged belowdecks, chained to low-lying platforms stacked in tiers, with an average individual space allotment that was 6 feet long, 16 inches wide, and perhaps 3 feet high (183 by 41 by 91 cm). Unable to stand erect or turn over, many slaves died in this position. If bad weather or equatorial calms prolonged the journey, the twice-daily ration of water plus either boiled ricemillet, cornmeal, or stewed yams was greatly reduced, resulting in near starvation and attendant illnesses.

 

In the daytime, weather permitting, slaves were brought on deck for exercise or for “dancing” (forced jumping up and down). At this time, some captains insisted that the sleeping quarters be scraped and swabbed by the crew. In bad weather the oppressive heat and noxious fumes in the unventilated and unsanitary holds caused fevers and dysentery, with a high mortality rate. Deaths during the Middle Passage, caused by epidemicssuicide, “fixed melancholy,” or mutiny, have been estimated at 13 percent. So many bodies of dead or dying Africans were jettisoned into the ocean that sharks regularly followed the slave ships on their westward journey.

The Middle Passage supplied the New World with its major workforce and brought enormous profits to international slave traders. At the same time, it exacted a terrible price in physical and emotional anguish on the part of the uprooted Africans; it was distinguished by the callousness to human suffering it developed among the traders. 

By : The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica

African-American History

African-American history is the part of American history that looks at the African-American or Black American ethnic groups in the United States. Most African Americans are the descendants of Africans forcibly brought to and held captive in the United States from 1555 to 1865. Blacks from the Caribbean whose ancestors immigrated, or who immigrated to the U.S., have also traditionally been considered African-American, as they share a common history of predominantly West African or Central African roots, the Middle Passage and slavery.

African Americans have been known by various names throughout American history, including colored and Negro, which are no longer accepted in English. Instead the most usual and accepted terms nowadays are African American and Black, which however may have different connotations (see African American § Terminology). The term person of color usually refers not only to African Americans, but also to other non-white ethnic groups. Others who sometimes are referred to as African Americans, and who may identify themselves as such in US government censuses, include relatively recent Black immigrants from Africa, South America and elsewhere.

 

African origins

Most African Americans are descended from Africans brought directly from Africa as slaves. Originally these slaves were captured in African wars or raids and transported in the Atlantic slave trade. African Americans are descended from various ethnic groups, mostly from western and central Africa, including the Sahel. A smaller number came from eastern and southeastern Africa. The major ethnic groups that the enslaved Africans belonged to included the HausaBakongoIgboMandéWolofAkanFonYoruba, and Makua, among many others. Although these different groups varied in customs, religious theology and language, what they had in common was a way a life that was different from the Europeans.  However, since a majority of the slaves came from these villages and societies, once sent to the Americas these different peoples had European standards and beliefs forced upon them, causing them to do away with tribal differences and forged a new history and culture that was a creolization of their common pasts, present, and European culture. Slaves from specific African ethnic groups were more sought after and more dominant in numbers than others in certain regions of what later became the United States.

Regions of Africa

Studies of contemporary documents reveal seven regions from which Africans were sold or taken during the Atlantic slave trade. These regions were:

The largest source of slaves transported across the Atlantic Ocean for the New World was West Africa. Some West Africans were skilled iron workers and were therefore able to make tools that aided in their agricultural labor. While there were many unique tribes with their own customs and religions, by the 10th century many of the tribes had embraced Islam. Those villages in West Africa that were lucky enough to be in good conditions for growth and success, prospered. They also contributed their success to the slave trade.

"A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots." Marcus Garvey