The Slavery Encounter

 Posted by Matthew Cutler at 8:37 am  Ghana
Feb 102013

3 hours west of Accra, that is 5 hours from PramPram, is a series of buildings doting Ghana’s coast.They are old– some almost 500 years old and they are refered to as the castles. On the Cape Coast region, there are 3 prominent ones, but there were many more. Time has taken them down, but not their impact nor their pain. Built by Colonial empires of Portugal, Denmark, Sweden, the Dutch and England– these places helped unload the products of West Africa on to ships that went abroad– to Europe and the Americas. The main product was human beings, though those Europeans would never refer to the slaves as such. The Africans that were brought to the castles where shackled, treated with such disregard to any sense of humanity, abused/raped and separated from their kin and sent on boats, never to return.

Let me preface this by saying, that Ghana was originally known as the Gold Coast. It wa sknown as such when it received independence from ten British in 1957. That was the main export, originally– just like Ivory Coast was known for its transport of Ivory and Liberia which was known as the Grain Coast was known for its product. But slavery quickly became the major export. Slavery was brought to the area by the white Europeans. A variation was known thru the tribal system for centuries– variation because it was not harsh inhumanity that we know of slavery but rather a type of indebted servitude– still harsh but nowhere as inhuman as what American slavery was known to be. The Muslims brought the idea of transporting slavery to the region and were ten first to transport them to the Mediterranean coast for European transport. But the colonial powers brought it to a new level as a business and as a form of inhumanity that is painful to admit.

Note that Europeans usually didn’t hunt for their slaves. African tribal leaders brought them to the area for trade, not knowing the fate that awaited their subjects. In return for these people, tribal leaders got European goods.

The slaves were shackled and placed in dungeons that lacked ventilation, light, food, water and toilet facilities. They slept in their own feces and vomit as they waited for up to 3months for transport. Women and men separated.. Women faced rape and sexual abuse. If they became pregnant– their fate after they delivered was to be separated from their child and if they we lucky, these mothers could see them from afar as they became domestics. Some were shipped off. And God forbid, if a women was pregnant when she was enslaved. She was seen as dmaged goods and usually thrown into the sea as fish food. When ships arrived, they we branded by companies, separated by the administrators and walked thru an underground walk way– to the door of no return. Then they shifted sideways as they walked thru a narrow door onto small boats that took them to large ships. The door of no return– they were not going to return to their land or their families.

As a Jew this was especially painful– humanity seems to have a way of repeated it’s ugliest moments. The Holocaust was our variation of this theme of degradation that treated us as less than human beings. While there should never be a comparison between atrocities, we must remember Ellie Wiesel who has made it is his life mission to remind us: “never again!”

Slavery didn’t end in 1837 when the British closed the castles to slave traffic. Nor did they end in 1865 when the Civil War ended. Human trafficking still exists and is thriving. So let me ask you to make this pledge with me: Never again will we allow people to treat others created in God’s image as anything less than human beings. Never again will we turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the plight of workers who are slaved by cruel bosses who grow rich off their work. Never again will we turn the TV channel when we hear of human trafficking being the source of the underground sex industry… Never again, never again, never again….


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