Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World: Angola and Brazil during the Era of the Slave Trade
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Forced marches of the captives over long distances claimed many lives. A large number of the enslaved were destined to remain in Africa - many were transported across the Sahara to the north - which heightened the impact of the slave trade on the continent. It is estimated that the population of Africa remained stagnant until the end of the nineteenth century.
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Besides its demographic toll, the slave trade, and the Africans' resistance to it, led to profound social and political changes. Social relations were restructured and traditional values were subverted. The slave trade resulted in the development of predatory regimes, as well as stagnation or regression. Many communities relocated as far from the slavers' route as possible. In the process, their technological and economic development was hindered as they devoted their energy to hiding and defending themselves.
The disruption was immense: the relationships between kingdoms, ethnic groups, religious communities, castes, rulers and subjects, peasants and soldiers, the enslaved and the free, were transformed. In some decentralized societies, people evolved new styles of leadership that led to more rigid, hierarchical structures, thought to better ensure protection.
In addition, European powers intervened in the political process to prevent the rise of the African centralized states that would have hampered their operations. In the end, the slave trade left the continent underdeveloped, disorganized, and vulnerable to the next phase of European hegemony: colonialism. The slave trade and slavery left a legacy of violence. Brutality, often of near-bestial proportions, was the principal condition shaping the character of the enforced migration, whether along a trade route, on board ship, or laboring on an American plantation.
The degree of power concentrated in the hands of North American slave owners, interested only in maximizing their profits, allowed excessive levels of physical punishment and the perpetuation of sexual abuse and exploitation that have marked in many ways the development of the African-American community. There was a marked sexual component to the assaults: rape was common. Kinship was disregarded, particularly the paternity of children. Their status reflected the enslaved status of their mothers, no matter who their father might have been.
Slave owners treated their unpaid, overworked labor forces as mere chattel. Avoiding and resisting violence were determining characteristics of the responses of the Africans to their forced migration experience.
Individuals attempted to evade physical abuse through strategies of accommodation, escape, and on several occasions, violent rebellion. The preservation and adaptation of African cultural forms to respond to the new needs of the enslaved population was also an act of resistance to the imposition of European norms.
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Unlike earlier slave systems, in the Americas racial distinctions were used to keep the enslaved population in bondage. Contrary to what happened in Latin America, where racial stratification was more complex, in North America, any person of identifiable African descent, no matter the degree of "white" ancestry, was classified as colored, Negro, or black. A racial caste system was established, and as a result racialized attitudes and racism became an inherent and lasting part of North American culture. Though enslaved individuals came from widely different backgrounds and the number of ethnic groups and markers of identity were extensive, certain ethnicities, cultural forms, and languages - usually in pidgin and creolized forms - as well as religions proved sustainable and were maintained, sometimes exaggerated and manipulated during the process of adjusting to enslavement in the Americas.
The overarching result of African migration during the slavery era was an "American" culture, neither "European" nor "African," created in a political and economic context of inequality and oppression.
The African contribution to this new culture was a towering legacy, hugely impacting on language, religion, music, dance, art, and cuisine. Most importantly, an enduring sense of African-American community developed in the face of white racism. Gemery and J. Hogendorn eds. Curtin, Philip D. Diouf, Sylviane.
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The South Atlantic and Transatlantic Slave Trade: Review Essay
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Cross-Cultural Exchange in the Atlantic World
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