Week 2 – 1/16 Traditions of Slavery

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20 thoughts on “Week 2 – 1/16 Traditions of Slavery

  1. Caroline January 13, 2013 at 4:01 pm Reply

    In the reading, I noticed a difference in the way male and female slaves were treated that showed up across the ancient cultures and in the more recent West African slave trade. In general, the men were seen as threatening to the enslavers, while women were seen mostly as sexual objects. In the ancient societies David Brion Davis talks about in Inhuman Bondage, where most slaves were taken as captives during war, the men were killed because they were “too dangerous to enslave,” (33) while the women were either raped or, in Brazil, “absorbed and assimilated into the conquering society,” (28). Later, in West Africa, the difference between men and women seems to be more complex. John Thornton states in “Warfare and Slavery,” that conquering societies also “retained” (59) female slaves, but sold the male slaves, not because they believed the men were too dangerous, but because men were in higher demand from the Europeans. Joseph C. Miller also makes an interesting statement in “West Central Africa,” saying that the “prime (nubile) women, mothers with infants, and girls were precisely the category of slave that African lords must have been least willing to give up,” (49).

    • Ben Wright January 14, 2013 at 8:29 am Reply

      This is a great observation, Caroline. I appreciate your ability to see how social constructs like gender manifest in different contexts of slavery. I hope we can keep a close eye on the way ideas about gender influenced the development of slavery (and vice versa), and I hope we can discuss how other social constructs may have similarly (or differently) influenced slavery and abolition.

  2. Taylor Neal January 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm Reply

    The readings this week bring up many concepts that suggest that racist theories and ideologies are simply the result of attempts to justify slavery. For example, the idea of superiority was common among the cultures of people who owned slaves as described in Inhuman Bondage. In it, Davis mentions that the function of slavery for the Tupinamba tribe was to make themselves feel superior. They defined themselves as “nonslaves”(28) and performed rituals to exploit, “degrade”(29), and “dishonor”(29) the people that were slaves. The Tupinamba’s rituals and ideologies resemble the abusive behavior of American citizens, exemplified in the lynching of Henry Smith. A whole mob in Texas took part in humiliating him (31). Davis goes on to say that this humiliation “…nourished what we now call ‘racism’”(31). In “The Slave Trade Within Africa”, one racist theory of the Portuguese was that blacks ate less than whites because they could, “…thrive for days at a time on nothing more than millet heads and kola nut” (Miller 47). Professor Joseph C. Miller recalls this “misdiagnosis”(47) that resulted in the malnutrition and death of many slaves but justified the conditions of their forced journey from the interior of Africa to its coastal ports.

    • Ben Wright January 15, 2013 at 4:29 pm Reply

      I’m glad you are looking for the roots of racism in these readings Taylor. What does it mean, however, when the Tupinamba, exposed their same-race captives to a similar process of dehumanization as racist mobs in postbellum America? What does this tell us about the relationship between slavery and racism?

      • Gahbrielle Armardi January 16, 2013 at 12:08 am

        I feel that Davis bring out a great point when he writes about societies quest for the “natural slave”. Physical characteristics were used as a convenient way to identify slaves and the free. Since humans are over 99 percent the same there are no genetic characteristics that make one set of humans more superior than the other. However, racism is an idea that stems from the convenience of identifying slaves by their physical characteristics.

      • Daniel Land January 16, 2013 at 12:37 pm

        I also thought the question of the ordinal birthing with regards to racism and slavery, somewhat akin to the classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma, was intriguing. Though the Atlantic slave trade and American slavery came to revolve around racism, peoples such as the Tupinamba suggest that this was not always necessarily the case.

  3. Christine Shaw January 14, 2013 at 10:47 pm Reply

    The topics covered in the readings were enlightening to me because of the details and their breadth, both in terms of the geographical areas discussed and the time period covered. In the history classes I have taken previously, the focus when discussing slavery was primarily on its significance in Atlantic triangular trade and in the United States, so the sections regarding slavery in a more global context particularly interested me. When looking at the development of slavery in different countries, there are many interesting comparisons that can be examined between the institution as it appeared in ancient civilizations and in the modern era. In ancient Greece and Mesopotamia, conquered peoples and captives of war were a more common source of slave labor (Davis 38), whereas slaves were generally acquired in America through trade for economic reasons, not war. Another obvious difference is the strong racial aspect of modern slavery that was less present in the ancient practice (Davis 43). In both time periods, there were many reasons a person could become a slave and various ways that slaves were used, from symbols of wealth to sources of manual labor.

    • Eric January 16, 2013 at 1:37 am Reply

      In all cases prior to the Atlantic slave trade, I think it can also easily be said that the reason, in part, for forcing the conquered individuals into bondage was to make the conquerors feel “god-like,” as Davis points out, and to enforce the fact that these slaves had been conquered. During the Atlantic slave trade, however, we see that this slavery becomes more of an economic pursuit.

  4. Eric January 15, 2013 at 11:10 pm Reply

    I think the most interesting points presented in this week’s reading were the clarifications between different types of slavery. One interesting difference is found between American slave owners in the nineteenth century and ancient Roman slave owners. Davis reminds us that American slave law attempted to greatly imitate Roman slavery, however, some of the harsher punishments were left out, even though it was driven more by sheer racism in this later time. Where such hatred came from would be an interesting question to explore. In both ancient Rome and ancient Babylonia, slaves were regarded as property, just as in America. this distinction as property even came about through a somewhat more reasonable reason, their people had been conquered, rather than the need for them for agriculture. While the greater number of slave revolts are easily understood, the resentment the white upperclass had for their property, and the need to dehumanize remains confusing, at least to me.

    • Gahbrielle Armardi January 16, 2013 at 12:16 am Reply

      I think the need to dehumanize comes from the idea that in order to truly feel superior, the white upper-class had to have someone beneath them. Someone that seemed like less of a human, so when compared, they would seem like a greater being in the human race.

    • Taylor Neal January 16, 2013 at 8:28 am Reply

      I think that in some cases there was not even a “need”. The classes that felt themselves “superior” actually felt that their slaves were less than human. Davis speaks of Orlando Patterson’s idea of “natal alienation” and how slaves were cut of from roots/ family. It was easy for their owners to believe that they were not necessarily human, especially when the slaves did not look like them.

  5. Daniel Land January 15, 2013 at 11:19 pm Reply

    The first reading exposited the slave trade within Africa by providing a mixture of statistics and detailed descriptions regarding the manner and extent of enslavement as well as the execution of the trade itself, utilizing both first-hand accounts and modern-day analysis. What struck me about this reading was the pervasiveness of slavery throughout Africa. Quite frankly, I had no idea of the extent that slavery dominated African life. For example, Mungo Park, in his firsthand account of African slavery, observes “The slaves in Africa, I suppose, are nearly in the proportion of three to one to the freemen” (Park 32). Three to one! – with a large percentage of the freedmen, I’m sure, living in constant fear of assimilation into this terrible trade, if not themselves partaking in it. Post-reading, I’m left with the idea that one might rightly make the general statement that for almost all Africans, daily life was enveloped by (as opposed to revolving around) the slave trade/system (during the time period of interest). Inhuman Bondage provided an introductory analysis in a slightly philosophical vein as Davis discusses modern and traditional definitions of slavery. Traditionally, slaves are defined as “chattel property of another man or woman” (Davis 30), which Davis himself feels is a crucial component of slavery (Davis 32). After discussing Patterson’s definition of slavery focusing on the alienation and dishonor of slaves, he briefly touches upon Hegel’s view that slavery constitutes an immediate infringement upon a basic (abstract) right, in need of no advanced legal structures for partakers to be conscious of its injustice, and thus a universal vice rather than an inevitable social construct.

    • Taylor Neal January 16, 2013 at 8:37 am Reply

      I found the firsthand accounts in “The Slaves in Africa” the most interesting. One story, in particular, reminds me of Patterson’s definition of slavery in regards to alienation. It is the one about the father who’s son was to be taken into slavery in order to pay a debt. The father offered to be taken instead. It had been 30 years from the time of the interview since the last time he saw his son and the rest of his family.

    • Christine Shaw January 16, 2013 at 9:09 am Reply

      I was also surprised by how much of Africa was already involved in slavery. I found the discussion in the readings about the types of warfare in Africa to be interesting, including how that lead to the capture of more slaves. It seems like wars might have changed from being politically based to more economically motivated as the Atlantic slave trade grew and they could trade slaves for European goods.

    • Caroline January 16, 2013 at 10:11 am Reply

      I thought that what Christine mentioned, whether the warfare in Africa that lead to the slave trade was economic and forced by the Europeans or political, was a really interesting question brought up in “Warfare and Slavery.” I think the conclusion John Thornton came to though, was that African warfare was mostly political.

  6. Gahbrielle Armardi January 15, 2013 at 11:56 pm Reply

    Through “Inhuman Bondage” by Davis I have a much better understanding of the Atlantic Slave Trade. His vivid descriptions on how southern whites lynched Henry smith portrayed lynching as a form of entertainment. The audience would not only watch, but collect pieces of the lynched slave as keepsakes. Davis refers to slavery as a form of dehumanization or “human animals”. In my opinion, the person that watches a human being burn to a crisp and then collects his ashes is far more barbaric. In Roman culture it was common for large audiences to watch a slave ritual death. After all in Roman culture “All slaves are enemies”. Racism also makes more sense when Davis brings up “the millennia-long search to identify the “natural slave” or an easily identified slave. I never knew that red-haired people were associated with slavery. I found it very interesting that the Tharacians’ related red-hair with slavery. One aspect I rarely considered before is slavery occurring due to someone in the family selling another member. In “The Slave Trade within Africa” by Mungo Park, it seemed that in the family slaves were sold for frivolous reasons. For example, Runago was sold because he couldn’t agree with his brother (p.41). Selling a family member into a life of bondage is very extreme when compared to a disagreement.

    • Eric January 16, 2013 at 1:48 am Reply

      An interesting point I noticed in our reading (I’m sure “Inhumane Bonadage” is just a typo there, but I have a point to stress nonetheless) is that by Inhuman Bondage Davis hints that he does not mean the way these people were treated was inhumane, he even tells us of some very well off slaves in Babylonia, but rather, they were placed into such bondage as a way of reducing them in the eyes of their masters to an inhuman state. This made it easier for the masters to view them as property, just as they viewed their cattle.

    • Christine Shaw January 16, 2013 at 8:49 am Reply

      As noted in our reading, an element that was common to most instances of slavery was how the slaves were viewed as being almost animals. Despite the many purposes for having slaves, they were perceived and treated as “dehumanized,” even in the earlier societies, so the master would feel superior in comparison.

    • Caroline January 16, 2013 at 10:27 am Reply

      An interesting point you brought up was the difference in the role of racism in ancient and more modern slavery. In Inhuman Bondage, Davis mentioned that Roman slaves were of many different races. In fact, slavery in most ancient societies was caused by war, not racism. I wonder how and when slavery became based in racism.

    • Daniel Land January 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm Reply

      I also thought the reading on the various means of enslavement was interesting. Nearly 1 in 6 (14% – 7% sold by family, 7% sold to pay debts) were slaves due to their own family or society. This to me suggests a significant degree of internal instability and mistrust within families and societies in addition to the overall chaos.

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