Afua Hirsch is continuing with that idea that it’s the Northern Europeans who did all the slavery business. It was something imposed upon Africa from outside.
For to fully comprehend such deportations one needs an understanding of how black people came to be in Jamaica in the first place, (clue: it doesn’t involve everyone’s favourite abolitionist, William Wilberforce) and how Jamaicans were later encouraged to move to Britain and become part of it. Our education system may deem such information irrelevant, yet it is always in the news. Lisa Nandy’s pledge to remove the word empire from the honours system was but the latest example. The Labour leadership candidate said that she wants the E in OBE to become “excellence”, in recognition of the fact that the empire left, for many people, a painful legacy.
Well, yes, the history of slavery is an interesting thing to study. Just one little note about Afua Hirsch:
Afua Hirsch was born in Stavanger, Norway, to a British father and an Akan mother from Ghana, and was raised in Wimbledon, south London. Her paternal grandfather, Hans (later John), who was Jewish, had fled Berlin in 1938.
Pointing out the extensive mentions of slavery in the Old Testament might be thought to be digging a little too deep. But the Akan:
During the heyday of early European competition, slavery was an accepted social institution, and the slave trade overshadowed all other commercial activities on the West African coast. To be sure, slavery and slave trading were already firmly entrenched in many African societies before their contact with Europe. In most situations, men as well as women captured in local warfare became slaves.
Another aspect of the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on Africa concerns the role of African chiefs, Muslim traders, and merchant princes in the trade. Although there is no doubt that local rulers in West Africa engaged in slaving and received certain advantages from it, some scholars have challenged the premise that traditional chiefs in the vicinity of the Gold Coast engaged in wars of expansion for the sole purpose of acquiring slaves for the export market. In the case of Asante, for example, rulers of that kingdom are known to have supplied slaves to both Muslim traders in the north and to Europeans on the coast. Even so, the Asante waged war for purposes other than simply to secure slaves. They also fought to pacify territories that in theory were under Asante control, to exact tribute payments from subordinate kingdoms, and to secure access to trade routes–particularly those that connected the interior with the coast.
It is important to mention, however, that the supply of slaves to the Gold Coast was entirely in African hands. Although powerful traditional chiefs, such as the rulers of Asante, Fante, and Ahanta, were known to have engaged in the slave trade, individual African merchants such as John Kabes, John Konny, Thomas Ewusi, and a broker known only as Noi commanded large bands of armed men, many of them slaves, and engaged in various forms of commercial activities with the Europeans on the coast.
The Akan are usually thought of as a subgroup within the Asante. And those slave trading routes north to the Muslim lands long predate Europeans appearing off the coast.
In fact, the earliest European involvement in that West African slave trade had the Akan as the buyers:
While we are all familiar with the role played by the United States and the European colonial powers like Britain, France, Holland, Portugal and Spain, there is very little discussion of the role Africans themselves played. And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.
At which point I’ve got to – remarkable though it may seem – agree with Afua Hirsch. History is important, history is interesting and that of slavery very much both. And if we all learnt more about it it would aid in wiping that damn smugness off her face. An Akan from Ghana in this past generation has rather more contact, connection, with those who perpetrated slavery that the average pale-ish Northern European.