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Saeed Ahktar Rizvi

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The Origin of Negro Slavery


Now that we have seen the attitude of Islam towards slavery, let us
have a look at Christianity and its followers, and see what they did in this respect.

It is surprising to see that Christians, who for the reasons of
their own, now-a-days pose themselves as champions of human freedom, were the most
outspoken advocates of the system of slavery. They invented philosophical and moral
justifications for enslaving the "uncivilised" people. One of their arguments
was they were saving them from their cannibal neighbours in this world, and from eternal
disgrace in the life hereafter.

Islam and its followers never thought on these lines. The vast
multitude of Islamic literature is empty from this kind of pathetic effort at
moralisation. But the Christian writers always mention slave-trade as though they had
nothing to do with it and that it was Islam which "encouraged and legalised
slavery" while they, the Christians, had always tried to abolish this nefarious
system!

It is interesting to note that when speaking about the West African
totally Christian slave-trade, the Christian writers and historians call it "West
African slave-trade" or "Atlantic slave-trade"; but when they turn to
Eastern Africa, the term changes to "Arab slave-trade".

Christianity, by such false propaganda, has succeeded to a great
extent in extending its influence among those Africans whom its propaganda machinery has
kept blissfully unaware of the fact that all Christian churches were active participants
in African slave-trade. The following chapters will present the true picture for the
readers.

"When in 1492 Columbus, representing the Spanish monarchy,
discovered the New World, he sent in train the long and bitter international rivalry over
colonial possessions for which, after four and a half centuries, no solution has yet been
found. Portugal, which had initiated the movement of international expansion, claimed the
new territories on the ground that they fell within the scope of a papal bull of 1455
authorising her to reduce to servitude all infidel people. The two powers, to avoid
controversy, sought arbitration and, as Catholics, turned to the Pope - a natural and
logical step in an age when the universal claims of the Papacy were still unchallenged by
individuals and governments. After carefully sifting the rival claims, the Pope issued in
1493, a series of papal bulls which established a line of demarcation between the colonial
possessions of the two states: the East went to Portugal and the West to Spain. The
partitions, however; failed to satisfy the Portuguese aspirations and in the subsequent
year the contending parties reached a more satisfactory compromise in the Treaty of
Tordesillas, which rectified the papal judgement to permit Portuguese ownership of
Brazil."

But this arbitration could not bind other powers aspiring to grab as
many countries as possible; England, France and even Holland began to claim their places
in the sun. The Negro, too, "was to have his place, though he did not ask for it: it
was the broiling sun of the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of the New World.

"According to Adam Smith, the prosperity of a new colony
depends upon one simple economic factor - 'plenty of good land.' The British colonial
possession up to 1776, however, can broadly be divided into two types. The first is the
self-sufficient and diversified economy of small farmers... The second type is the colony
which has facilities for the production of staple articles on a large scale for an export
market. In the first category fell the Northern colonies of the American mainland; in the
second, the tobacco colonies and sugar islands of the Caribbean. In colonies of the latter
type, as Merivale pointed out land and capital were both useless unless labour could be
commanded. Labour, that is, must be constant and must work, or be made to work, in
co-operation.. Without this compulsion, the labourer would otherwise exercise his natural
inclination to work his own land and toil on his own account. The story is frequently told
of the great English capitalist, Mr. Pell, who took 50,000 pounds and three hundred
labourers with him to the Swan River colony in Australia. His plan was that his labourers
would work for him, as in the old country. Arrived in Australia, however, where land was
plentiful - too plentiful - the labourers preferred to work for themselves as small
proprietors, rather than under the capitalist for wages. Australia was not England, and
the capitalist was left without a servant to make his bed or fetch him water."href="#r2" NAME="n2">

Thus the ideal solution was slavery.

"'Odious resource', though it might be, as Merivalle called it,
slavery was an economic institution of the first importance. It had been the basis of
Greek economy and had built up the Roman Empire. In modem times it provided the sugar for
the tea and the coffee cups of the Western world. It produced the cotton to serve as base
for modern capitalism. It made the American South and the Caribbean islands."href="#r3" NAME="n3">

"With the limited population of Europe in the sixteenth
century, the free labourers necessary to cultivate the staple cops of sugar, tobacco and
cotton in the New World could not have been supplied in quantities adequate to permit
large-scale production. Slavery was necessary for this and to get slaves the Europeans
turned first to the aborigines."

"But Indian slavery never was extensive in the British
dominions... In the case of the Indian ... slavery was viewed as of an occasional nature,
a preventive penalty and not as normal and permanent condition. In the New England
colonies Indian slavery was unprofitable, for slavery of any kind was unprofitable because
it was unsuited to the diversified agriculture of these colonies. In addition the Indian
slave was inefficient. The Spaniards discovered that one Negro was worth four Indians. A
prominent official in Hispanolia insisted in 1581 that 'permission be given to bring
Negroes, a race robust for labour instead of natives so weak that they can only be
employed in tasks requiring little endurance such as taking care of maize fields or
farms.... The future staples of the New World, sugar and cotton, required strength which
the Indians lacked, and demanded the robust 'cotton nigger' as sugar's need of strong
mules produced in Louisiana the epithet 'sugar mules.' According to Lauber, 'when compared
with sums paid for Negroes at the same time and place the prices of Indian slaves are
found to have been considerably lower.'

"The Indian reservoir, too, was limited, the African
inexhaustible. Negroes therefore were stolen in Africa to work the lands stolen from the
Indians in America. The voyages of Prince Henry the Navigator complemented those of
Columbus, West African history became the complement of West Indians."NAME="n5">


. Williams, Dr. Eric, Capitalism
and Slavery (London, 1964) p. 4.

. Ibid, pp. 4-5.

. Ibid, p. 5.

. Ibid, p. 6.

. Ibid, pp. 8-9.

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