Reflections on World History

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Ch 14: Documents on the Slave Trade, Images on Material Culture and Status



These documents have left me reflecting on the consequences of the slave trade for African populations and rulers. How did African political elites understand its significance? What were the social and economic consequences for African populations more generally? As for the images, it is interesting to think about how objects and commodities can come to serve as status symbols.  Rare, exotic goods and objects were more likely to take on that function because of their expense.

Feel free to respond to these questions, or any others you find interesting. I look forward to reading your posts! – Dr. Davidson



  1. Simbuilder5 says:

    The Journey to Slavery was amazing in the amount of detail Olaudah put into his experience. It baffles me that some historians won’t consider his story to be accurate. It must have been heart-breaking to have found good masters with reasonable ethics and then to be sold to a merchant that hands you off to a random master. The experience on the ship was horrible. He couldn’t even get over the stinch enough to consume food. There was not even enough room to turn around without risking suffocation. The air was thick and there were moans of dying people. It is devastating to hear how people were treated then. The slave owners were not just careless, they were also forcibly brutal and violent. It must be conflicting to end up in the hands of a semi-ethical master without knowing how long the lifestyle will last. That is crazy.

    – Winston S.

    • Samuel says:

      How did African political elites understand its significance?
      The African elites were fascinated by the European commodities in general during the height of the slave trade. Therefore many Africans were sold to the Europeans for those commodities. Never-the-less the slave conditions that would eventually encompass the elites country men could not have been imagine. Slavery existed in Africa long before the arrival of the European but the conditions there-of and the relationships there-in between slave and master were quite dissimilar in comparison. I am sure many African societies benefited economically from the slave trade with little guilt at the time.

    • Simbuilder5 says:

      The Sketch of the Progress of the Human Mind by Marquis De Condorcet provides an insight into the future of what mankind should be. He stated that “Each individual will work less but more productively and will be able to better satisfy his needs.” (757). He also proclaimed that inequality should be erased, equality should be preached, and that we should have an improvement on humanity. His predictions are those of many today. Everyone believes the world is getting better. There will always be this inequality and we all are aware of this. It really provides a duplicity where we wish for these things, yet we know they won’t come true. I really like his optimism and he even speaks about how we need to reestablish human intelligence and break down long-held prejudices that have been instilled from birth. A lot of what he was speaking of pertained to religion. It teaches things with a sort of finality that causes people to become ignorant of change or as he states “…something he does not understand.” (757). Marquis really broke the world’s viewpoints down in this document and I really enjoyed his point of view? What do you guys think?

      Winston S.

  2. Matthew C. says:

    The Kingdom of Kongo had a very drastic change in their state and social life. In the beginning, the ruler of Kongo welcomed the Portuguese men and then a few years later, the Portuguese merchants started forcing their religion on to the people of Kongo. The Kongo had been converted to Christianity because of Portugal. Unfortunately, the Kongo did not realize soon enough that the Portugal men had been taking the Kongo sons as slaves to their country. Kongo had paid the price of religion and people in order to set up a “friendship” with Portugal. Sadly, Portugal had different plans for them and wanted to colonize Kongo to their own territory and enslave their people. I honestly feel bad for Kongo, because they were to naive to see that Portugal wanted to enslave their people, change their religion, and takeover their land.

    – Matthew C.

  3. Kendall K. says:

    In document 14.1, a woman and her child are seen drinking tea. They are drinking tea from China, in porcelain cups made in China. There is a European house on one of the cups, suggesting that the Chinese were very willing to cater to European customers. This woman and her child appear to be of high social status. This woman and her child may be in this picture because it was thought that to be worldly, one had to be wealthy and important. The picture suggests that, during that time, wealthy people drank tea.
    – Kendall K.

  4. Kameron H says:

    In visual source 14.2 a painting (by Guillem Fernandez-Huerta) brings a viewer to the ancient tradition known as the chocolatada or chocolate party.
    This event was a high class occasion seeing as how chocolate was a very expensive import. One can the observe high social class of the individuals in the painting through the their expensive luxurious looking garments and fine dining utensils being used to make the chocolate. This event is actually pretty ironic seeing as how the Europeans got this from the so called savages or natives which leads one to ask are the natives really savage animals if they can create events that europeans consider to be high class?

  5. Shamira says:

    The Slave trade had some tremendous economic consequences on Africa. With the bulk of their working population being taken away to work in the Americas with no payment, the African economy became stagnant while other countries flourished. Kingdoms such as the Kongo and Oyo fell apart only adding to the disintegration of the country’s economy piece by piece. Up until this day Africa is still recovering from this and the presence of the large gap of stagnation is very visible in some countries. Some social consequences were the tearing apart of families and the constant fear some lived in that any given day, their lives could be turned upside down.


  6. Daisha B. says:

    On page 691, there is a mid-nineteenth-century painting of slave trade. I found it interesting because in class it was stated that this portrait was a false depiction of how it really was. In the painting the slaves seem relaxed and almost as though they are gathered in a conversational manner. When you showed the chart of how they really packed them in there, it made me question the painter. Were they unaware of the real conditions of the ships that were shipping slaves?
    They tried to fit as many of them as they could on the ships because they had a lot of labor that needed to be accomplished. This painting, in a way, upsets me because it feels as though they are trying to downplay the truth. Correct me if I am wrong myself…

  7. marcusmvg says:

    In document 14.1, upon reading “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano”, he describes his time on the ship and brutal and heartbreaking. He describes the ship as being crowed and overheated from the numbers of people on board the ship. He says the at one point in time on the ship that the smell became unbearable and the air was unfit for respiration, from the consist smell of feces and death that consumed the ship. This made the living conditions sicking and ultimatly contributided to the slaves’ despire.

    – Marcus G.

  8. Sidney N. says:

    In Document 14.1, it explains which aspects of the shipboard experience contributed to the slaves’ despair. The slaves were already terrifed for their lives because they were kidnapped and had no idea of where they were going. However, the conditions on the ship made the experience even more horrifying. The ship was very crowded, which added on to the overwhelming heat of the atmosphere. In addition, the air made it hard for many to breathe, which was the cause of some deaths. The irritating sounds of the chains, as well as the shrieks from the women and the groans of the dying children made the ship even more unbearable. The tubs in which they were to shower in were very filthy, and even caused some kids to fall and almost suffocate.

    – Sidney N.

  9. G. Readdy says:

    As I’m looking through these documents and images, I find them all intriguing. However, I feel the most drawn to Image 14.2, the one called “A Chocolate Party in Spain.” Its significant in the fact that it truly shows the changing of the times. Once an afterthought among the world’s elite like the Ottoman Empire and Xing Dynasty, exploration brought Europe power. As the book states, Europe was now becoming the center of the world’s economy. You can tell the men depicted in the painting are wealthy because of their fancy clothing and also their detailed process of preparing the drink. Europe invented their own saucer for drinking the luxurious chocolate. It just really shows Europe’s rising dominance and nobility.

  10. Jessica says:

    Document 14.1 The Journey to Slavery

    Out of all the documents and visuals, the one that stood out to me the most was definitely the narrative about the slave, Olaudah Equiano. I distinctly remember reading about his stories when I was in high school which was why this particular document caught my eye. Equiano recounts his childhood routine starting from “shooting and throwing javelins” to getting “washed and perfumed” (pg. 702). Equiano tells the reader such intense portrayals that it clearly shows how repulsive the conditions were to him. The way he shares and describes the experience on the ship seemed so vivid as if I could picture (almost if not exactly) what he saw before his eyes.

    -Jessica H

  11. Garrett Mitchell says:

    Document 14.4 showed the concept that was discussed in class on tuesday of how the African kings and slave traders had a much different idea of the kind of slavery that the europeans were subjecting their slaves to. Osei Bonsu seems eager to give some of his subjects to the “white kings”. I think it is easy to argue, had the African kings and traders known the conditions they were sending their people into history would have taken a different path. A path that likely would have resulted in the Europeans invading and colonizing the African people into submission.

  12. Carina says:

    As trade became more popular, various commodities and goods became more spread out to other countries. The Spanish spread chocolate from the Aztecs to most of Europe, Chinese brought the tea, Ethiopia brought the coffee, etc. As shown in visual source 14.2 and 14.3, people would hold parties or meet in buildings made specifically for these goods. However, it is interesting how the people in these pictures are dressed in fine clothing and have special pots and pottery for the coffee and other goods. Because the products came from overseas, there was not an abundance of the goods causing them to be very pricey and therefore available only to the wealthy. This causes a rift between classes brandishing those who cannot afford the goods as lower class. It is similar to today’s society with the purchase of fancy cars and expensive bags, just back then it was with chocolate and coffee.

  13. Rashundra Martin says:

    According to Document 14.2, the slave trade was a horrific time period for the slaves being traded but for kings and the merchants both those from Europe and Africa is was a business trade. When the English merchant, Thomas Phillips, arrives in Africa he explains his experience. He states that the king sent two of his noblemen to show them where they would be stay for the night before they were to pay respects to the king himself. They presented their gifts to the king and in return the king ordered for people to bring their slaves so that they could be sold. The kings slaves, if he had any, were the first to be offered which could not be denied but those typically were the worse slaves that were being offered. After purchasing all of the slaves they wanted at the designated price they marked the slaves with a hot iron which labeled them for the boat that they would be getting on. The king made offers based on what the Europeans had on board. If they had brass the king wanted brass as an exchange for the slaves. The king wanted the best offer for the slaves; he was a businessman about selling and distributing slaves and the Europeans tried to buy the slaves for less by offering cheaper or less demanded items . -Rashundra M.

  14. Jonathan McKenley says:

    In order to truly understand the social and economic consequences of the slave trade on future African American populations, you must first understand the slave trade in it self. The Atlantic slave trade was the purchase and transport of black Africans into bondage and servitude into the New World. The first slave traders were the Portuguese, who wanted workers for their mines and sugar plantations in Brazil. When the Portuguese and Britian’s would go to the West African coast to take different tribes they left African colonies and kingdoms in shambles. With no more harvesters and sharecroppers, teachers, doctors, princes and leaders, the African economy immediately began to suffer. Then they brought the enslaved Africans to America and stripped them of their self-identity and history. To this day, racism still plays a major role in society. That came from the superiority/ inferiority ideas the white slave masters beat into enslaved Africans. Racism now affects every culture, every community, every race, and even education, sex, and religion. Unfortunately, it will never completely dissipate, however society can learn to just accept people based on their character instead of skin color and beliefs.

  15. JoslynP says:

    In Document 14.1, Olaudah Equiano explained the slave trading experience. As he got into detail about how he was separated from his sister, it reminded me of the story in Things Fall Apart. When he mentioned whites were also abused and killed, I did question what would have been the reason for that. But what did seem so ridiculous to me while reading was the items the African kings were actually trading their slaves for. In Document 14.2, it was stated that the African kings would demand coweries and brass for bracelets and collars. What!!? Was brass goods and coweries (which are basically shells) of so much importance that the king would sell his people to horrendous life conditions for them???
    -Joslyn P.

  16. Jazzmin says:

    African Slavery differed from European and West Indian slavery in that most slaves in Africa were slaves because the were prisoners of war or criminals. Slavery there was viewed as a punishment. Whereas in other parts of the world slavery was merely a trade in goods. And although slavery was viewed as a part of regular trade based on Equiano’s experiences it can be assumed that most men stole young children and forced them into slavery because they were probably easy targets. Based on the 14.1 Doc reading, it also seems that most of the slave owners in Africa wanted their slaves to be treated with great care. Unlike the West Indian environment where the slaves were treated like cattle “without regard to sex or age.”

  17. ajones188 says:

    Whereas scholars state that the slave trade tended to increase warfare throughout West Africa, Document 14.4 has made clear that the increasing warfare in West Africa was not due to the need of captives used to trade with Europeans. Osei Bonsu claimed that war was made for strong men and should they defeat their enemy, they are allowed to reap their reward (ex. captives, goods, gold, etc.). The slave trade depended on war but the war did not depend on slave trade.

  18. Arian Amiri says:

    In visual source 14.3, an image of an Ottoman Coffeehouse is displayed. Making it’s way in the sixteenth century from Ethiopia and Yemen it was a new social activity for these people. People gathered in places called “Coffeehouses” and social drank coffee. Many were against this and believed it was a “refuse of Satan”. HIgher ranked officials believed that it was a place of political intrigue. However, this did not stop the people from continuing to drink their coffee. It eventually became part of culture as the higher ranked officials began to frown less upon these people. In the image captured, many well-dressed people are sitting down socially drinking coffee, later becoming a part of their culture. A servant stands in the middle as people order or ask for more coffee. To me this looks like a social gathering rather than a place of political intrigue. -Ari

  19. Shanakay W says:

    In document 14.1 The Journey to slavery, Olaudah Equiano description about his experience as a slave and his vivid imagery was very interesting. What was shocking to me was that in Equiano country they too had slavery, but with further and careful reading, it became clear that slavery in Equiano’s country was different from the slavery he experienced. The kind of slavery that Equiano was exposed to in Africa was a sort of punishment to those who did wrong or those who were convicted of heinous. Only “prisoners of war” (pg. 701), were enslaves as well as those who were convicted of crimes such as kidnapping, and adultery. Being enslave in Africa was just a way for those who did wrong to paying their debt to society. As well as a way for justice to be served to those who were impacted or affect by that person actions. The slavery that Equiano described was beyond comparison. Equiano was innocent when he kidnapped and sold into slavery. The experience he suffered was horrendous. He was instantly sickened by the stench that came from the deck. The stench was so bad that it prevented him from eating, which resulted in him being beaten. The ship was so unsanitary that people got sick and some people even died. The interesting part about reading this document was learning about the harsh condition and the harsh treatment that these slaves as well as Equiano had to experience.

    – Shanakay W.

  20. Jamison H says:

    In document 14.1 A Chocolate Party in Spain, four wealthy Spanish men are preparing and eating/drinking chocolate, which we know to have came from the Aztecs. The Aztecs have clearly taught the Spaniards how to turn cocoa into chocolate and how to “drink” it. I find very interesting due to the fact that the Spanish often regard the Aztecs as savages and don’t respect their practices, but somehow when it came to chocolate the Spanish actually adopted the Aztecs way of preparing and using it and even regarded it very highly in their own society.

  21. Denny says:

    On the document 14.1 the journey to slavery of Equiano was definitely a unique experience. Althought, he was kidnaped and carried away from his family and sister he had a couple encounter with masters that were treating him right. He also was very surprised that he was being treated that way. Equiano, even if he wasn’t with his family he felt so comfortable that he started to feel as part of the family. But after being in such as good hands he was sold to a merchant that was the completely opposite and then he began to experience some hard times as a any other slave. The slave trade transformed the lives of all the people that was involved in it, but Africans had the worse results out of this.

  22. dzdavidson says:

    The document that seemed to attract a lot of interest was the excerpt from Equiano’s Interesting Narrative. It is certainly a very moving story that helps us to connect on a human level with the boy we read about. But no one in our class drew any attention to the context in which it was written and for what audience. Those sorts of questions help us take a more analytical approach to this text (and others like it). We’ll definitely discuss those issues in class. And remember that being analytical, i.e., thinking critically, is not the same as being disrespectful.

    The documents that pertain to the African king’s perspectives also inspired some comments perhaps because they draw to attention to unexpected aspects of the slave trade. We will continue that discussion in class, too.

  23. Levon Austin (Jay-T) says:

    Of the 14.5 document I realized many of the people did not like the intendants. No one wanted the intendants to be around especially when it came to taxes. The people were already frustrated having to pay them and the intendants put more of a burden on the people. I also understand the king may have been trying to look out for his people but by making a requirement for the intendants to get into people’s business I’m sure made him seem more of a disappointment to those under his rule.

  24. Anna B. says:

    Document 14.1 The Journey to Slavery. When reading this document, the conditions the slaves had to go through becomes very real and I can get a feeling of how miserable and hopeless it must have been to be there. The kind of slavery Equiano describes in Africa does not sound as severe as the plantation slavery in America. Similar to the plantation slavery, slaves could be sold rather quickly and to whomever presented the most suitable price. Although, his last family he was with before being kidnapped were very respectful of him and in a way seemed to treat him like family. I can imagined how disheartening the ship experience was for Equiano. After being in a location where he felt as family he was forced to be on this ship where blacks were not only mistreated, but the whites were treated poorly as well. One being flogged so severely he died as a result. This would have been the most contributing factor to the slaves despair. The slaves were packed in the ship like any other product worth a value in trade; with merchants who had no regard for human life. The only thing the merchants had in sight was profit; this is demonstrated in Equiano’s account of the merchants reaction when they reached landfall in Barbados.

  25. Grecia says:

    The visual source 14.1 was really interesting to me because like you said the fact that an object such as tea cups can make such a significant impact on someone’s social status. The fact that it was made by the Chinese made it very appealing to wealthy Europeans. The Chinese saw this as a opportunity to make money and they even designed some tea cups with European-style
    Houses which became very popular.

  26. DHarris says:

    Visual source 14.2 shows a painting done on tiles. The tile painting shows the ancient tradition known as a chocolate party. This was for higher class people because of how expensive chocolate was. The chocolate came from Meso-America. Another way of telling that these people were upper class was by looking at what they are wearing, their clothes are well made and use expensive dyes. the Tile painting also used inks and paint to create the color which would be very expensive.

  27. mina-s says:

    After reading Document 14.1, I learned something new. Something I should have considered before, but never really thought about. As Equiano was discussing his unfortunate journey into slavery, it hit me that it was not just from point A to point B. I originally thought when the African people were captured from their homes, I thought from there, they went to the slave ships.. which are, according to Equiano, horrific, which I wholeheartedly agree; I never considered multiple steps of the illegal buying/trading process. Even if the process stopped at the nice people’s homes, who treated Equiano as an equal, being a “slave” wouldn’t have been too unfortunate and dehumanizing (not that I’m arguing slavery is a good thing), but it just seems, even from this short perspective from Equiano, and not using any other documents for sources, that what the African political elites and what the American people used slavery for were completely on polar ends. I would think it’s even safe to argue that if the nice people’s homes who had taken in Equiano earlier knew of the nature they were re-selling Equiano into, they might have not sold/or traded him.

  28. Ashley McCall says:

    Document 14.1

    The Journey to Slavery it seems that Equiano went through some terrible treatment on the slave ships. Being terrified for his life because he was kidnapped at a young age the ships condition and smell was horrifying with the overbearing heat due to limited space on the ship, making it harder to breathe, being chained to people who were dead cause more deaths due to laying next to feces and vomit. Equaino at one point said that he wished for his last friend, death, to come relieve me, that to me means that the conditions and treatment was so horrible that the last thing on Equaino mind was to loose his life instead of living in these conditions.

  29. Jose F says:

    The African Slave trade created victims in every facet of its enterprise. The African elites and nobles who facilitated these trades were no exception as we see through King Affonso’s letter to King Jao of Portugal in Document 14.3. In this letter, the various injustices and disadvantages imposed on the African community of Kongo by the Portuguese slave trade are outlined. African nobles are kidnapped and branded as slaves, African rulers’ legitimacy is contested and questioned as various illegal practices and products are brought in, and Kongo’s population keeps to deteriorate and worsen. Kongo’s leader acknowledges and understand the power that King Jao has and consequently he attempts to reason with him directly attempting to achieve a better well-being for his subordinates.

  30. Krys M. says:

    Visual source 14.4 shows a happy interracial family portrait. Entitled “Clothing and Status in Colonial Mexico,” this painting was made in the 18th century in Mexico of an Indian woman and an African/Indian man with their Loba (or wolf) child as this baby was classified. The woman in the painting is dressed in what appears to be traditional Native attire while the man is in full European attire. The child appears to be wearing a mixture of both styles however. In the bottom left of the painting, there is an assortment of porcelain cups, plates and figurines. This was probably an expensive set of China directly imported from and Asian country at the time. The clothing worn by the man woman and child in the painting suggest that they are of the upper class or have a higher social status, after all such clothing would not be an affordable asset or necessity to anyone of a lower class during the 1700s. This painting is one of many created of interracial families during this time. I wonder why there was such interest in documenting the various mixtures in race and culture at this point in history?

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