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The Legacy of Slavery

Aired March 3, 2007 - 12:30:00   ET


FEMI OKE, HOST: Hello, I'm Femi Oke. This is INSIDE AFRICA, your weekly look at life and news on the continent. I should really say "Jambo," or hello from Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya. Our show this week is all about slavery, both past and present.
We'll come back to the Mombasa connection later in the program. But first, it's been 200 years since Britain abolished its Atlantic slave trade. During the 18th century, when slave trading was at its peak, British ships and merchants accounted for about 2.5 million African slaves. The country and especially ports like Liverpool and Bristol grew rich off the back of slave trading.

And now the anniversary of Britain Slave Trade Act is sparking national debate about how to commemorate it. Alphonso Van Marsh has more from Bristol.


ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For more than 150 years, Bristol's docks launched the ships that brought more than a half a million African slaves to the Americas. Today, the port city that got rich off slavery is trying to commemorate the 200th anniversary of British legislation outlawing the slave trade. But some Bristolians say the celebrations are offensive and too Euro-centric.

HILARY BANKS, CONSORTIUM OF BLACK GROUPS: They would have us singing and dancing on the ships.

VAN MARSH: Hilary Banks heads a coalition of black community groups boycotting Bristol's Abolition 200 program. They say city council organizers are failing to address what they call slavery's legacy -- a lack of education, opportunity and services for Bristol's black community, which numbers more than 10,000.

BANKS: The approach that the City Council has taken in developing their program for this year has largely excluded African-descent people.

VAN MARSH: The mayor of Bristol's response to that: "My door has always been opened to talk about the schedule," but Banks' concerns run deeper. She says the City Council has a track record of downplaying African contributions to Bristol's wealth and prosperity. Aside from a bridge dedicated to a slave here, a plaque for slaves there, there is little visible recognition of African struggles to be free.

BANKS: It's not spoken of, it's written out of the script.

RT. HON. LORD MAYOR PETER ABRAHAM, BRISTOL, ENGLAND: They protested before we'd even started the planning. That says volumes. Are they just trying to make a point, or are they really trying to do something to create better harmony and understanding in this city?

VAN MARSH: Bristol Lord Mayor Peter Abraham says the past is one thing. He says it's more important to stamp out modern forms of enslavement, like human trafficking. His city's Abolition 200 schedule makes an interesting effort to include black perspectives -- for example, promoting American jazz musician Wynton Marsalis, booked to perform at a concert hall named after a white investor in the slave trade. For those boycotting that event, the mayor's words may be as frustrating as the City Council's actions. For example, when he talks about conditions on British slave ships to America.

ABRAHAM: We sort of have images of people in manacles and that's it. They were the lucky ones, they made it.

VAN MARSH: When asked to clarify his remarks, the mayor said ...

ABRAHAM: It was a horrible, dreadful, disgraceful trade.

VAN MARSH: Bristol is a city trying to reconcile with an ugly past. How to best acknowledge Britain's role in the slave trade -- well, that's a debate simmering not just here, but across the country.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is expressing, quote, "deep sorrow" over Britain's slaving past. British antislavery groups want an apology or reparations.

Lord Mayor Abraham pushed for a similar motion of regret for slavery here. It passed. He says an apology is pointless.

ABRAHAM: And we regret that. And we see our way forward, but I'm not ashamed of it.


VAN MARSH: Bristol resident Richard Hope-Hawkins says he's a descendant of Britain's first major slave trader, Sir John Hawkins. Sir John made the transatlantic slave trade so profitable, historians estimate British ships carried more than 2.5 million Africans into slavery.

HOPE-HAWKINS: And I'm ashamed that they did things like that, but it wasn't only Sir John Hawkins. There was a whole host of businessmen behind these -- these pirates and these sailors.

VAN MARSH: Businessmen like Bristol benefactor Edward Colston. He financed the ships and sailors who traded guns and goods for African human cargo, beaten, raped, forcibly transported to and sold in the new world. The ships returned with tobacco, cotton and profit. Despite Colston's trade and human misery, Bristol still honors him with a statue. There are also streets and schools and buildings named after him.

(on camera): When you see these kind of statues and streets and signs, how does that make you feel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, well, I think on a day-to-day basis, you don't really think about it. You know, a lot -- in school, they really don't educate you on, you know, the history of Bristol that much, and you have, like, you know, morning session on slavery, but they don't really go into depth, how Bristol became what it is today. So a lot of people are ignorant to the fact that this city was built on the backs of slaves.

VAN MARSH: Slavery not only built this city, Hilary Banks says, but other former British Empire slaving centers like Liverpool, London, and beyond.

BANKS: This is not just local politics playing itself out, but it connects to national and international movements for justice and for change.

VAN MARSH: If not justice, then in this British abolition anniversary year, more recognition. Recognition of African struggles for emancipation in this country that was a cornerstone of slavery's triangle trade from docks like these, to Africa, to the new world.

Alphonso Van Marsh, CNN, Bristol, England.


OKE: Britain was not the only country to bank on the slave trade. From the 15th to the 17th centuries, Portugal held a near monopoly on the export of slaves from Africa. From the time it abolished slavery in 1869, they've moved an estimated 4.5 million slaves. Spain, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and North America were also players in the slave trade, as were local rulers in West Africa, from where many slaves were abducted.

While the European and American slave trade originated on the West Coast of Africa, over on the East Coast, Arab traders were also dealing in slaves. For instance, this area in Mombasa is now full of markets, but at one time you could pick yourself up a man, woman or child as a slave. Christian Purefoy has more from Mombasa.


CHRISTIAN PUREFOY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Searching for the light in the history of Kenya's slavery. Tony Salim (ph) says we're retracing the footsteps of slaves, fleeing the East African Arab slave trade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This (inaudible) was (inaudible) because of that. Arabs. (inaudible) because the Arabs, they come here and pick them to (ph) their land, to sell them as a slave.

PUREFOY: There is nothing left now except bats and broken pottery, Salim says was used by the slaves. Some argue that these replica chains are gimmicks for tourists, and that lack of tangible evidence is proof there was very little slavery in Kenya.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Much of the history of slavery and slave trade has kind of been submerged in Kenya.

PUREFOY: What we do know is that East Africa's Arab slave trade was well established before Europeans entered the scene. Beginning as early as the 8th century, and lasting until the 19th, some 14 to 20 million Africans were moved from East Africa's coast throughout the Muslim world and beyond. And they were at times assisted by other Africans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To a greater extent, slavery and slave trade would not have succeeded without the complicity from the local people.

PUREFOY: Today, many of the descendants of Africa's slaves are still looking to the past for answers.

PAUL HUNNINGTON NGOZO, DESCENDENT OF SLAVES: We are the great grandchildren, or we are the children of slavery. So I'm taking all this time to go through books, to ask about all the people who are still living who can give me more ideas on how I can reach to era (ph) (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no way we can actually wish away the issue of slavery and slave trade. It is part of our history, it is part of our heritage, and however painful it is, we should be actually proud of -- of our heritage.

PUREFOY: Christian Purefoy, CNN, Mombasa, Kenya.


OKE: Coming up on INSIDE AFRICA, South America and the Caribbean, including Cuba, were the largest consumers of slave labor. After the break, we'll take you to Cuba, to find out just how much influence the slaves had on the island, then and now. See you soon.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: South Africa says the tourist industry should focus its attention on business tourism, a sector that's steadily growing. It says business travelers spend three times more than other visitors.

Tanzania's business community is split on whether the country should rejoin the common market for the eastern and Southern Africa. Business leaders fear subsidized goods will undercut their product, but supporters say their fears are unfounded.

And Nigerian doctors are threatening a full-on strike if the government fails to meet their demands on a new welfare package.


OKE: Welcome back to Fort Jesus, Mombasa, Kenya. You're watching INSIDE AFRICA. Our show today is taking a look at slavery.

Now, most of Africa's enslaved people ended up in South or Central America, or in the Caribbean. As Shasta Darlington reports from Cuba, the slaves there left an indelible mark.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's the sound of history remembered. Not in Africa, but during carnival on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in Cuba. A walk through Havana shows Africa's enduring influence on almost every aspect of life here, especially religion.

People dressed all in white are wearing multi-colored beads. That's how you know they're followers of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria.

At this street party, the singers chant in the Yoruba language, invoking African gods. Another man shops for religious objects.

"Ochun is the god that wears yellow and lives in the rivers," he says. "This is the only religion that tells you the present, the past and the future."

Cuba was colonized by Spain in the 1500s, but centuries of slave trade mean that today, more than two-thirds of Cubans have African blood, and African traditions are thriving. But demographics are only part of the reason.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): In the United States, even if the slaves arrived in families, they were separated, so that nothing of their culture survived. In Cuba, slave owners kept tribal groups together.

DARLINGTON: It's estimated that more than 600,000 slaves were uprooted from western Africa and shipped to Cuba over three centuries, more than to all of North America. The slaves were packed onto ships, and chained together for up to 30 days during the Atlantic crossing. Tens of thousands died along the way.

Once in Cuba, the African slaves were put to work on coffee and sugar plantations, like this one outside of Havana. Dozens of workers were crammed into tiny rooms, where they had to sleep and cook.

This bell rang out before dawn, calling the slaves into the sugar fields for 16-hour workdays. Slaves who refused to work were whipped and chained. The relics of that dark period are displayed in museums like the House of Africa in Old Havana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We have to show them in our museum, because we cannot lose our historic memory.

DARLINGTON: In their misery, slaves took comfort from Santeria deities, or orishas. Since their religion was forbidden, slaves disguised the images as Catholic saints.

The fusion of those two religions is what we see today. Cubans of all colors and faiths converge on this street in downtown Havana, where they buy beads and herbs and roots used in Santeria to secure husbands, get a job, or simply ward off evil.

Afro-Cuban religions weren't always so widely accepted. But Reynaldo Esquirdo (ph), a Santeria high priest, says they appeal to the unique Cuban character.

"I ask my orishas for health, opportunities, world peace and tranquility, and I see results," he says. "The Catholic Church wouldn't give me results until I die."

And Santeria certainly provides plenty of reasons to celebrate the present.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Havana.


OKE: If you head outside of Angola's capital Luanda, drive south for about 40 minutes, you get to a white chapel that sits right by the water. It's what's left of an old Portuguese merchant's home who used to deal in slaves. Now, it's the National Slavery Museum of Angola. I dropped by a couple of weeks ago for a visit.


OKE: It's simple and low key. The National Slavery Museum of Angola is surprisingly small. During the peak of the Portuguese slaves trade, millions of Angolans were shipped out to South America. Today, just a few stark rooms commemorate their fate.

Simao Souindoula is the museum director.

SIMAO SOUINDOULA, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL SLAVERY MUSEUM, ANGOLA (through translator): People get very emotional when they visit the museum, and there's a big interest to learn of our work.

OKE: Portugal colonized Angola. It took Angolans to the Gulf of Guinea, San Tome Islands, the Caribbean, and the Americas. There are even parts of Brazil that looked just like villages in southern Africa.

SOUINDOULA: Actually, in Brazil, (inaudible). You can say that the body is in America, and the soul is in Angola.

OKE: The Portuguese insisted that slaves should be baptized. The Slavery Museum is housed in a chapel, where in the 19th century, thousands of slaves were baptized. Outside still sit food and water bowls, the last meal Angolans got to eat before leaving their home forever.

It does not take long to see all the museum exhibits, but there are plans to make the site much bigger and build a monument. For now, the little white chapel is all there is to remember the Angolans who were enslaved.


OKE: There's more to come on INSIDE AFRICA. Just ahead, a cinematic tribute to an anti-slavery pioneer. We'll take a look at the film "Amazing Grace."


YOUSSOU N'DOUR, ACTOR, "AMAZING GRACE": When you reach the plantation, they put irons to the fire.



OKE: Because the slave trade was basically a business, there are numerous documents and records telling us about the movements and sale of slaves. Now, a group of researchers from a U.S. university are taking on the enormous task of gathering all the information together and making it available to the world online. Here's a look at the (inaudible) project.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the project is an attempt to bring together as many voyages as possible that sailed across the Atlantic carrying slaves. The commodities that were being carried were actually human, but of course they were also commodities and they were property. The log books are actually pretty chilling documents. They keep careful records of the slaves. Their profits depend on them getting to the Americas. But they don't have any names, they -- as soon as a slave comes on board, they have to strip naked. They are also given a number. If the slave gets sick, it's recorded. If the slave dies, that's recorded as well. It's exactly as though you're dealing with a sack of flour.

It was indescribable. You have people put on board naked. You have the sexes separated. You have the kind of crowding together which I have never seen in any other kind of business. You have on average 13 percent mortality. That's only 87 percent of the people that have left Africa actually made it to the Americas.

The average crossing was actually, I think, two and a half -- actually, two months and one week.

The slave trade was considered to be absolutely mainstream business until the late 18th century, or certainly the second half of the 18th century. There was no attempt to disguise anything.

And then there's a change. And that's I guess what first attracted me to the subject, the fact that human beings could accept something as perfectly normal, which 50 years later they would see as totally inhuman.


OKE: He was the driving force behind the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire, and now the 18th century politician William Wilberforce is the subject of a new film. Isha Sesay has more.


ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was described by its supporters as the lifeblood of the British Empire. The slave trade was the cornerstone of British foreign trade, and in the 18th and 19th century, an estimated 3 million black Africans were transported by British merchants.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That smell is the smell of death.

SESAY: Now, a new movie is telling the story of William Wilberforce, an 18th century politician, who fought to bring an end to slavery in the British Empire. Until now, Wilberforce has not been a global household name, but "Amazing Grace," directed by veteran director Michael Apted, may soon change that.

MICHAEL APTED, DIRECTOR: I mean, I think it's an interesting story that not many people know about. So if you could open people's eyes to that story, that would be great.

SESAY: This historical epic brings to life one man's battle against the establishment. The eloquent pioneer is played by Welshman Ioan Gruffudd.

IOAN GRUFFUDD, ACTOR, "AMAZING GRACE": I had to read up on his background, and discovered that he was an extraordinary man, and accompanied by extraordinary people who were fighting for this cause against the whole nation.

SESAY: The film takes its name from Wilberforce's friendship with John Newton, author of the hymn "Amazing Grace." Albert Finney fills the role of Newton, a former slave trader who, following his conversion to Christianity, inspires Wilberforce to commit himself to the fight against slavery.

ALBERT FINNEY, ACTOR: Blow their dirty, filthy ships out of the water!

N'DOUR: They put irons to the fire.

SESAY: And the film also introduces Senegalese singer Youssou N'Dour to the big screen. The Grammy Award winner plays ex-slave Oloudaqh Equiano, who wrote a best-selling autobiography about the horrors of the middle passage across the Atlantic.

The road to abolition was a long and tortuous one. Many argued that the task was unachievable. Over the course of two decades, Wilberforce challenged the established order, and finally, in 1807, persuaded those in power to end the slave trade. Slavery wasn't abolished until 1833.

But the battle still continues. Today, there is an estimated 27 million slaves in the world. So the filmmakers have launched a campaign to encourage people around the global to finish what William Wilberforce started all those years ago, and end this inhumane practice once and for all.

Isha Sesay, CNN, Atlanta.


OKE: "Amazing Grace" has just been released in the U.S. and is due out in the U.K. later this month.

And that's it from Fort Jesus, Mombasa, Kenya. Hope to see you again soon, when I hope you'll let INSIDE AFRICA be your window to the continent.

I'm Femi Oke. Until the next time, take care.



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