The infamous Middle Passage refers to the period of the slave trade where many unwilling Africans were forcibly transported across the Atlantic. This period marked numerous enslavement, torture, displacement and murder as they were chained and slammed in small spaces during the voyage. The Middle Passage marked the brutal and cruel phase of the trade marking a dark chapter in both American and African history.
Slavery in Africa
Similar to the other continents, African had their own form of slavery, even before the intercontinental slavery began. This was one part of the society’s economic structure, but the extent and treatment of the slaves varied. For instance, in sub-Saharan Africa, the slave relationships were mostly complex with the rights and freedoms accorded to individuals held in slavery and limitations on sale and treatment by their masters. In addition, many communities ranked their slaves differently, including, differentiating amongst those who had been born into slavery against those who had been seized through war.
The most pronounced form of traditional slavery practiced in Africa was in the debt bondage. This type of slavery involves the use of people as surety against debt. Thus, the debt would be repaid through by the person owing the debt either in person or through a relative (normally a child). Thus, even though there existed traditional slavery in Africa, the role played by the slaves were limited since most societies still lived under traditional economic activity namely; hunters and gatherers. Therefore, there was minimal use of slaves because there were limited labor intensive activities. Slaves would be needed for the war and other social activities, making the severity of the activity minimal.
The Trans-Saharan slave trade
The trans-Saharan slave trade began late in the seventh century, when Islamized Egyptian, King Abdallah Ben Said, seized through Jihad the Sudan, commonly referred to as the land of infidels. Similarly, another significant stamp for the initiation of the Trans-Sahara slave trade was through the treaty known as Bakht. A clause in this treaty justified and pronounced a compulsory annual supply by the Sudanese king African slaves to the Muslim king of Egypt.
One of the leading factors that instigated the start of the Trans-Sahara slave trade was the labor requirement in the Mediterranean. Equally, with the expansion of the Ghana Empire, trade between the Mediterranean economies intensified. For instance, the Ghana Empire had plenty of gold, whereas the Mediterranean region had plenty of salt. Likewise, the trans-Saharan slave trade was also significant since large numbers of West Africans were sent north, to work as domestic slaves or slave concubines.
Therefore, numerous differences emerge when the two types of slavery are compared. First, the traditional African slavery was not meant for the trade but to serve as servants. However, in the trans-Saharan slavery, its main influence was trade between the two trading blocks. Secondly, in the traditional African slavery, the slaves or servants had a fraction of rights and they would even own property. However, under the trans-Saharan slavery the slaves did not have such pronounced rights, in fact, their masters counted them as part of their property. Thirdly, the Trans-African trade was more of a religious practice since the Arabs- Islamic faith allowed slavery- this can be justified through both the Qur'an (the sacred scripture of Islam) and Islamic religious law served to codify and validate the practice of slavery.
Generally, imperial conflicts are known only to be resolved through bloody wars. However, the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas is a significant rivalry conflict that was resolved without fighting; hence it was able to demarcate land between Spain and Portugal, and it was overseen by the Catholic Church. During these times, the Spanish and Portuguese explorers were travelling all over the world exploring and mapping out as well claiming ownership of the territories. However, the Catholic Church was equally penetrating these territories and won the confidence of the society.
Therefore, when the conflict arose after the discovery of the "New World" amongst the Spanish and the Portuguese, an intervention was needed. During these days, land demarcation was hard since there was no universal measure of land and this was one of the major causes of the conflict. However, with the intervention of Pope Alexander VI, the two warring sides arrived at a compromise and the treaty was signed ending the stalemate. Secondly, after the treaty was signed, there arose other conflicts between the Catholics and Protestants. Nonetheless, under the stewardship of Pope Julius II ratification was made to the treaty thus peace was again attained. Lastly, when the reformation started, owing to the biases of the treaty, more negotiations again set boundaries for the Catholics and Protestants enhancing the peace that was prevailing.
Consequently, the effects of the treaty were diverse. For example, under the reign of Pope Alexander VI, Spain had an advantage owing to the fact that he was a Spaniard. Nevertheless, since the Portuguese had enough knowledge about the pope they did not resist even after the boundary was set at a hundred leagues to the west of Cape Verde. In the end, the Portuguese prevailed, and the boundary was set at 270 leagues to the west of the Cape Verde after the signing of the 1494 at Tordesillas a bilateral treaty. Another notable effect of the treaty is the emergence of the Jesuits, which became a very powerful religion. Most Jesuits were teachers and philosophers. This made them very powerful, and they became a confident and influential arm of the papacy. They structured themselves distinctively with their bishopric located in Rome, and they had a head of the Order whom they referred to as The Black Pope. This challenge to the Catholic Church was prolonged since over time they started to move to other locations such as South America and other Catholic territories where they quickly developed organized and far-reaching educational organizations to support the colonists as, they had done in Spain (Guvendiren and Simon-Pearson 9).
Therefore, the treaty of Tordesillas had both positive and negative effects on the dominant practitioner at the time. Attainment of peace or rather solving conflicts with compromise was the most notable positive effects. However, the treaty proved that compromise is only short lived hence the immediate experience of new challenges such as, the rivalry between religions and its climax being Reformation and long run the expulsion of Jesuits from both the Portuguese territories as well as in the Spanish territories.
Famiglietti, Caroline and Suraiya Luecke. Compromise Leads to Conflict: The Treaty of Tordesillas. 2008. 21 Feb 2014 <http://history.ocde.us/historyday/2008/2706/index.html>.
Guvendiren, Joseph and Wendy Simon-Pearson. Treaty of Tordesillas. 2012. 21 Feb 2014 <http://d284f45nftegze.cloudfront.net/simon20l/Treaty%20of%20Tordesillas%20(1).pdf>.
Wright, Donald R. "Slavery in Africa." 2000. 21 Feb 2014 <http://autocww.colorado.edu/~blackmon/E64ContentFiles/AfricanHistory/SlaveryInAfrica.html>.
Wright, John. History and society in the Islamic world. London: Routledge, 2007.