Geopolitics of Black African Slave Trade

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Dr. Gladstone H. Atwell Middle School61k Name: ________________________

Class: 851,852,853,854 Date: January 5, 2012

Geopolitics of Black African Slave Trade

(Global History and Geography)

1. The All-Important Sahara Desert Effect. Ancient civilizations began to flourish around the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea between 3000 BC and 1000 BC, as the geography creates a confluence of diverse cultures and continents. Plus, these lands were fertile, supporting larger populations and prosperity. Interaction among large groups of diverse peoples is a key to the progression of society, as it facilitates the free flow of information and ideas, while opening economic opportunities.

Thus, the most advanced ancient cultures are those that were in proximity to this convergence, such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Phoenicia and Greece. From this base, technological and sociological advances spread through Europe, Asia and North Africa throughout the centuries. However, the vast and inhospitable Sahara Desert, stretching across the northern portion of Africa from east coast to west coast, impeded this process of conductivity into most of Africa. South of the Sahara Desert, Africa also features dense jungles, rugged mountain ranges, the treacherous Conge River Basin, the untamable Serengeti and expansive deserts. So, not only is Sub-Saharan Africa unable to easily connect to the world beyond Africa, but its inhabitants were essentially compartmentalized from one another due to the many natural barriers. This segregation is conducive to tribal societies, lower populations (especially since farming is difficult) and consequently a lower rate of progression. Consequently, Sub-Saharan Africans were largely at the mercy of technologically-superior European slave traders when they began to arrive in the 1400s.

2. Proximity to Europe. Despite the Dark Ages, Europe becomes much more advanced than Sub-Saharan Africa, due to a more favorable geopolitical position, as explained above. As the Asian powers (such as the Ottoman Empire) hem Europeans within their own continent, an advancing Europe naturally develops naval capability to circumvent West Asians in order to reach the riches of South Asia in particular. In doing so, they discover a large continent just south of them in the 15th century. Before naval advances, Europe would have had to pass through hostile Muslim empires/kingdoms and the daunting Sahara Desert to reach such a place, which is why it was never even attempted. Now, Sub-Saharan Africa is a fairly pedestrian boat-ride away. Naval advances along with superior weaponry (much of it learned from the Asians) give the Europeans a decisive advantage over the tribal peoples found throughout Africa, south of the Sahara Desert. Thus, the close proximity and the technological/organizational advantages made the Europeans easily capable of exploiting the natives they encounter. Europe was not able to exploit North Africa, as they were too powerful to be so easily enslaved.

3. Profit Motive. When Europeans begin settling the Americas, they found the climate and land to be well-suited for agriculture, resulting in spacious plantations. A need then arose for cheap labor. The native populations were difficult to submit (since it was their homeland), and susceptible to European disease. Neither problem was an issue with Sub-Saharan Black Africans. Plus, the Europeans did not have to capture slaves themselves. They were able to establish fortified slave-trading posts along the coast, and purchase prisoners of war from local tribal chiefs.

4. Justification. Slavery is clearly a morally abhorrent practice. To overcome this, those being enslaved must be dehumanized in the minds of the captors. For Europeans, this came in the form of an endorsement from the pope, who declared that pagan heathens in Africa and Asia could be enslaved, as long as they were Christianized while in bondage. The Biblical Curse of Canaan served as the justification for the white Christian Europeans, which insinuated that the descendants of Canaan were cursed to be servants to their brethren on earth. It was mistakenly believed that the Black Africans were descendants of Canaan, and even that the dark skin of Africans was a God-given mark. As we now know, humans originated out of Africa with brown skin, and those that eventually settled in the northern lands, such as Europe, gradually developed lighter skin due to a lowered biological need for skin pigmentation as a result of less sunlight and UV exposure.

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