Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Treatment of African Slaves


This paper hopes to illustrate the barbaric and inhumane treatment of Africans during slavery in contrast to the pro-slavery counter-claims of fair treatment towards slaves. There is a famous African proverb which states, “Until the lion writes its own history, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” Meaning until slaves themselves were able to document their treatment or until others on their behalf exposed the truth, the true nature of slavery would never be know, and the “happy slave” myth would continue to perpetuate. Mary Prince in her narrative declared, “All slaves want to be free” and states, “I can tell by myself what other slaves feel, and by what they have told me. The man that says slaves be quite happy in slavery – that they don’t want to be free – that man is either ignorant or a lying person. I never heard a slave say so.”

Mary Prince’s The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave, Related by Herself is the earliest know slave narrative by a woman, which highlights the treatment of slaves. It was published in 1831, almost 300 years after the first African slave was transported from the African coast. It is a saga of overwork, abuse and sexual violence that well over 10 million unnamed slaved had experienced during Colonial Slavery. She details horrific scenes of physical abuse inflicted upon her by her mistress. She says, “To stripe me naked – to hang me up by the wrists and lay my flesh open with the cow skin, was an ordinary punishment for a slight offense. However, she soon details a far worse scene of brutal treatment towards the slaves by describing what happened to a fellow slave of hers named Hetty after a cow she had tied up had gotten loose. She says, her “master flew into a terrible passion, and ordered the poor creature(Hetty) to be stripped naked, notwithstanding her pregnancy, and to be tied up to a tree in the yard. He then flogged her as hard as he could lick, both whip and cow skin, till she was all streaming with blood. He retired, and the hit her again and again. Her shrieks were terrible.” After the brutal beating, she was brought to bed where she give birth to a still born child. After seemingly recovering, she was again repeatedly beaten by the mistress and master and later died due to her injuries. Mary goes on to say that that day filled her with horror and could not bear to think of it, but it was always present in her head for a long time. This small statement showcases not only the physical trauma that the slaves suffered but also the emotional and psychological trauma they experience and developed due to inhumane treatment of themselves and other fellow slaves on the plantation.

Olaudah Equinao was a former slave who authored a slave narrative when freed. In the narrative he witnessed a horrific scene also. He says he saw, “a negro man staked to the ground and cut most shockingly, and then his ears cut off, bit, bit by bit, because he had been connected to a white woman, who was a common prostitute!” As if it were no crime in the whites to rob an innocent African girl of her virtue; but most heinous of a black man only to gratify a passion of nature, where the temptation was offered by one of a different color, though the most abandoned woman of her species.”

The act of raping an African slave was legal and a normal occurrence during slavery. Due to the fact that Africans where not thought of as humans, but as property, they did not have rights which whites enjoyed. Rape by nature is a violent act, whether the victim puts up a struggle or not. This is because rape is when a victim is forced into a sexual act against his or her will. The fact that it was legal to rape an African, because she was a slave, shows the barbaric and inhumane nature of slavery.

Rape is just many of the gruesome and violent acts committed against Africans during slavery. As noted in the slave narratives, many of the slaves were beaten so severe that their injuries were life threatening. The psychological effect of being beaten brutally or seeing someone else beaten could cause post traumatic syndrome. Showing that not only was slavery physically abusive but also mentally. The slave narratives stand in sharp contrast to the pro-slavery stories of a happy and well treated slave and also shows how important it is for the lion to write it’s own story.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

A GREEDY WHITE MAN MADE SOME INHUMANE DECISIONS TO GET AHEAD. WHY GIVE THEM SO MUCH POWER. THEY ARE ONLY EQUAL TO ANY OTHER MAN.

Anonymous said...

some people honestly treated their slaves very well. A lot of African Americans stayed on with their family even after they were free because they became so attached. These were usually house slaves, but they did exist.

Anonymous said...

As a African American these stories make me cringe. No one deserves this type of treatment not black or white etc.. But it happened and no one has the right to down play how bad the treatment of slaves was or how the(slaves) felt about the treatment. Slave stayed not because they wanted to but because they were in bondage more than physically, they were in bondage mentally so don't get it twisted.

C. said...

Anyone who would try to follow up this article with a comment about some slaves being treated fairly grossly misunderstands the significance of what has happened. Such a person is only trying to lessen said significance, which I find to be shameful.

Anonymous said...

That person who said some were treated right is probably on the right track, but they were trying to tell you that we dont always get the full story I understand where your coming from though. These terriable acts did happen and we can't and have chosen not to ignore it.

Anonymous said...

Tactics used to keep slaves from revolting or running away varied between each master. Some masters used to wound them until the blood that ran through the veins of the hard-working slave, who toiled and burned most of their waking days working relentlessly in no expectation of reciprocation in drudgery, was spilt in through the most unspeakable means. Some masters were somewhat smarter, yet it may seem more cruel, and used emotional manipulation, being nice was just another utensil that only ever benefitted the white men. THAT is why the slaves stayed with their masters.

Freedomgal said...

There is no good treatment for a slave. Slavery by its very nature is a violent, cruel, inhumane act, perpetrated none the less by a slave race. Only a slave would have a slave. Free people have no need for slaves. see The Nonviolent Right To Vote Movement People's Almanac, http://almanac.2freedom.com

RabbitHart said...

I don't care if there were nice stories about slaves that became emotionally attached to their families because they were 'nice' ti them. The fact is they were still their SLAVES.No dignity, no humanity, no self worth, their most base human rights violated by the fact that they were dehumanized and forced away from their former lives and families into a life of serving and objectification. DO NOT lose sight of the moral implications and the underlying assumptions colonialists had about people they saw fit to work under them like animals.

rivercitylady said...

Everyone should read a full volume of general Black history and a few volumes of Slave narratives at least once a year why not? if many of you make a special point to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation once a year why not remember and honor those who endured the brutal and inhumane system of slavery? Read about their lives and ordeals, That will be your way of saying "Thank you for being strong and surviving so I could be born and live." Never forget your ancestors never.