Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua (1830? – 1860s?), originally from the village of Djougou in present-day Benin, was captured and exported to the Brazilian state of Pernambuco in the first half of the nineteenth century. “Slave narratives” about bonded life in colonial Brazil are indeed rare, and thus Mahommah’s account takes on added significance. Ultimately, he was able to travel from Brazil to New York, Haiti, and finally Canada, where he related his account less than a decade after he was exported from his homeland.
Toward the end of the seventeenth century, marabout Nasir al-Din launched a religious movement against transatlantic slaving but for the Islamization of the Senegal valley. French colonial official Louis Chambonneau, stationed at the French outpost of St. Louis at the mouth of the Senegal river, was an eyewitness whose reporting of the events to his superiors remains one of the best first-hand accounts Nasir al-Din’s movement. Nasir al-Din was born in the southern Sahara to an elite family of the Traza Moors (so-called “Berbers”). Chambonneau referred to the movement as Toubenan (from the Wolof tuub, “conversion”). Chambonneau and many after him agreed the success of the Toubenan religious movement, though Nasir al-Din was killed, was due to the negative effects wrought by transatlantic slaving.
The rise and expansion of Dahomey since the mid-seventeenth century coheres with the rise of transatlantic slaving and the extensive availability of firearms. On several occasions, however, the Yoruba-controlled Oyo state would reinforce its hegemony over Dahomey’s foreign affairs throughout the eighteenth century.
After the international ban on transatlantic slaving, Cuba was second only to Brazil in the thousands of Africans illegally brought to its ports in the abolitionist period, during which Dr. Richard Robert Madden (1798 – 1886), physician, writer, and abolitionist, spent a year in colonial Cuba. In the selection, Madden examines the subject of Cuban slavery, at a time when Cuban beet sugar was cheaper to produce and thus created a greater demand for enslaved African labor.
German botanist and colonial administrator Paul Erdmann Isert (ca. 1756 – 89) arrived in November 1783 at a time when the Danish forts at Ada, Keta, and at Teshi were being built on the Gold Coast. Isert stayed on the Gold Coast for three years, leaving in October 1786 by way of a slave ship bound eventually for Copenhagen. After two days at sea, the Gold Coast captives onboard revolted.
The invasion of “Angola” brought Njinga Mbande (ca. 1583 – December 17, 1663), ruler of the kingdom of Ndongo and Matamba, into the political picture. Born around 1582 in the Kingdom of Ndongo, Njinga was the eldest child of the kingdom’s ruler, Mbandi Ngola—“Ngola” became the source of the territory called “Angola.”
The modern world owes its origin to transatlantic slaving, otherwise known as the transatlantic slave trade. If this seems surprising, it is because the overall significance of transatlantic slaving in the creation of the Americas and the modern world more broadly is not a celebratory history. It is a history of greed, immeasurable misery, and more importantly denial. To say slavery created the modern world is to say the historical obvious. But to accept this statement is to confront its denied cruciality, to bypass the idyllic scenes of picking cotton, and to come to terms with the barbarity and systemic humiliation of millions, the societies ruined, their lost possibilities, and the psychological if not financial debt owed to the collective skilled labor force that produced the opulence “modern” people enjoy or envy.
Though I am aware of Coates’s new book, We Were Eight Years in Power, released today, what follows is a condensed version of my views, stirred principally by BWM but also by the repurposed essays and anecdotes that form the contents of Eight Years in Power. More importantly, there has been insufficient consideration of what BWM’s argument portends for the fate of “black” people—a race identifier used grudgingly but in no way do I subscribe to it. My concern is the defective premise, a story if you will, anchoring Coates’s argument and its dead-end implication if we were to follow that argument to its logical conclusion. I offer another way to think about the fate of black people in the United States and in white societies more broadly.