Slavery, Colonialism, and the Church

EDITORIAL, 4 Feb 2013

#257 | Johan Galtung - TRANSCEND Media Service

From Liverpool-UK, 31 Jan 2013

The uncontested center of the world slave trade, 40%, well documented in the International Slavery Museum in the port where slave ships docked.  The trade was triangular: from Liverpool (Bristol, London) with Manchester textiles, metals, beads, alcohol and guns for slave traders in the Bay of Guinea; with slaves from there to the Caribbean, the Middle Passage; and from there with sugar, coffee and cotton grown by slaves back to England.  To stealing people, 2/3 young men ages 15-25, killing their societies, they added stealing raw materials in return for cheap manufactures.  Hand in hand they went; from the beginning by the Portuguese in 1502 till the slave trade was forbidden in England in 1807–continued in other ways, also today.

We talk about millions of slaves landed in the arch from Rio to Washington with the point of gravity in the Caribbean, and some south of Rio, north of Washington and around the coast to the Pacific side of Latin America.  An unspeakable crime against humanity.

Another unspeakable crime to remember, the shoa, has its Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January; but somebody else’s, Germany’s, enemy of England, comes easier.  No Slavery Memorial Day, no Colonialism Memorial Day.  Nor any memorial to the 10 million killed in King Leopold’s Congo, in Antwerp, the port for shipping guns to Africa in return for rubber.  More easily understood than manufactured goods converted into slaves converted into commodities.  Maybe one day all three memorial days will come.  And for the Firs Nations, slavery and imperialism in the USA, with museums, next to the Holocaust museum in Washington DC.  In no way diminishing the enormity of the shoa, but for perspective, for better understanding, for learning how to avoid genocide.

All entirely intended, justified by seeing the victims as subhuman or worse.  Like Stalin’s murder of kulaks.  Mass famines in China under Mao in 1958-62, or in North Korea, were hardly intended, however.

Back to slavery.  Points worth remembering, from the catalogue:

  • Sir Francis Drake, an English history hero, for raiding the Spanish, getting the gold, navigating the world; was among the first slavers in the early years of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, and knighted by her;
  • Liverpool ships carried around 1.5 million slaves, 45,000 in the peak year, 1799;
  • Liverpool still has streets with the names of slave traders;
  • Between 10 and 25% died during the Middle Passage transportation under atrocious conditions;
  • Only 5% of the enslaved Africans who survived ended up in British North America, lasting close to 250 years in the USA Anglo South;
  • When 131 Africans were thrown overboard from a Liverpool slave ship the case was treated as an insurance dispute, not as a murder trial;
  • Sold, branded–with hot iron, like cattle–issued with a new name, the Africans were separated from families and friends and stripped of their identities in a deliberate process which aimed to break their willpower and leave them passive and subservient, enslaved Africans were ‘seasoned’.  For a period of two or three years they were ‘trained’ to obey or receive the lash, and acclimatized to their work and conditions.  Here was mental and physical torture“.  Justified by “seeing them as closer to animals than to white people”;
  • Europeans considered the achievements of their own civilization as paramount, and used their own rigid ideas of civilization to justify the enslavement and abuse of Africans;
  • After emancipation in 1863 came Ku Klux Klan in 1866 by Confederate Army veterans (kuklos, circle, brotherhood), and more than 3,000 lynching of Blacks in 1882-1951–before Civil Rights in, say, 1962.

And this torture lasted throughout their lives, passed on to the offspring, for centuries.  Carefully, cleverly planed, based on cost-benefit analysis of resources, African humans, and commodities.

Liverpool, however, has more to offer, like the remarkable Catholic Cathedral, modern, circular, no ship; the priests officiate in the center not at the end.  With a circular tower.  Very beautiful.

Stained glass windows with the occasional sun enhancing the Christian message.  What message?  How beautiful had it been Jesus living with the poor, Jesus with other women than his mother-as baby, Jesus comforting and nursing the ill, feeding the hungry, cleansing the temple for the cult of Mammon, now adding to dictatorship with guns and democracy with words corruptocracy with money.  Mammon rule.

Jesus turning the other cheek, not resisting evil; Jesus giving the cloak to whoever steals the coat–.

Nothing of the kind.  Birth and death only, nothing in-between. The Cross indeed, the suffering, the sadomasochism of the Father sacrificing His Son, giving us human sinners new hope.  And the Son resurrected on the third day joining Father; the Christ of the Church.

Deep down we sense a connection.  Merchants of Liverpool, with their relatives and friends as rich planters “over there”, are the stern Fathers, sacrificing the sons, the Negroes from Negroland in Africa, for the benefit of us all, ultimately also for the slaves: If or when they turn to Christ they will be resurrected and end up in Paradise, by all the criteria of the Sermon on the Mount.

Living among the poor?  Only with a whip and a gun.  Nursing the sick? Just to restore them to more suffering on their cross, the torture of slavery. Feeding the hungry?  For more suffering.  Women?  Split families, sell them separately, even “down the river” (Mississippi).  Turning the other cheek? No, but most brutal revenge.  Abraham Lincoln:

“My paramount object is to save the Union–not either to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it” (letter to the editor New York Tribune, 22 August 1862).

Ultimately, on January 1 1863 he went for both.  Better than union with slavery (1850 “compromise”).  Still better: neither slavery, nor union.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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