Outside looking in

May 12, 2019

Nothing can be changed if it is not faced

Slave trade

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots—Marcus Garvey

By Denrele Animasaun

The call for restitution and reparation has grown louder for western institutions built on slavery proceeds. Of course, those that benefit from the most heinous crime against humanity would say let bygones be bygones. That it is all in the past, let sleeping dogs lie. The trouble with this sleeping dogs is, it refuses to lie and continues not only to bark but bite as well.

It would be convenient if those people that suffered and continue to suffer from the institution and the systems of slavery and oppression can just not keep opening up old wounds and live their lives while there is an obvious elephant in the room that serves as a reminder of the past, present and the future.

Or can’t they see that ‘mistakes’ have been learnt and why people can’t just forgive and forget. It is not that simple, as these institutions and its peoples continue to benefit from its proceeds while perpetuating the system of oppression to suppress generations.

Over the couple of years, people of colour and all those who would like to redress the injustices and crimes of slavery petitioned and lobbied for the removal of statues and street names of those strongly connected to slave trades and its riches.

These also include prestigious seats of  learning such as Cambridge and Oxbridge, institutions that benefitted greatly from the grizzly trade.

“The Centre for the Study of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership at UCL has created a vast database that shows just how profoundly slavery shaped modern Britain – well beyond its two best-known universities. Among the institutions with a history of slavery connections are the Bank of England, high-street banks (RBS, Barclays and Lloyds), railway companies, insurance companies and even the Royal Mail. And as these organisations flourished through their use of forced labour, their owners bequeathed part of their huge wealth to some of the UK’s leading cultural institutions, including the National Gallery, the Royal Academy, the Tate, the Victoria & Albert and the British Museum. Visitors to these galleries today are given little or no indication of their murky histories”.

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It is the profits of slavery that drove the industrial revolution and the riches of Britain going forward.  So, wherever there is Tate library or museums it was built from the proceeds of slavery.

Ten years ago, marked the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery.  This heinous chapter in human history should never be forgotten and of course one would wish the lesson learnt, would mean that never again should this despicable time be repeated anywhere in the world. It should serve a deterrent.  This sadly is not the case. Time and again, the reminders and the proceeds of slave trade aggrandise big cities and towns in the West.

Slave owners were compensated for the loss of goods and business prior to the abolition of slave trades and the slaves, well they received nothing most were promised their freedom but worked for no pay to be released from slavery.

After freedom, most were promised a mile and piece of land, instead, they received serfdom and tiered to the slave masters.

The British government paid out today’s equivalent of £16bn to former slave owners to “compensate” them for their loss of “property”, a national debt that took until 2015 to be paid off. Yes, that means the descendants of slaves here in the UK were, until just four years ago, paying off slave owners for their ancestors’ freedom. The notion of supremacy pervades western society more so now with the resumption of nationalist and racist movement across Europe and the Americas.

My dad, Kola Animasaun wrote in 2009: “Should such reminders indicate and direct our gaze to the future occurrence?

The future must be preceded by our knowledge of where we were coming from. The ongoing celebration has furnished us with those who have made the preservation of our agonies, their duty. Among them are the museums and art galleries in the UK; the British Parliament’s show at Westminster; the Church (St Paul Exhibition),the working papers of Thomas Mills and his son, John Mill ,big plantation owner. They have sorrowfully enriched themselves.  Nigerians felt the full being of this enslavement, kidnapping and whole sale of the young and able and the potential of a continent stolen for generations. In Nigeria, the Badagry slave museum is a constant reminder of the dehumanization of our people. At the museum are chains and other accoutrements by which those captured  from the comfort  of their homes and divested of the lives of their families were tethered  like livestock before they were shipped across the ocean’s inhumane  conditions, suffering sickness and uncertain death on the journey.

No one is sure  of how many were shipped to plantations but glimpses have been given.Lindon merchants between 1802 and 1807, period  of five years brought  and enslaved 20,000 Africans of which about 85%  arrived at their destinations.  Before then between 1618 and 1730, about one million enslaved Africans were taken to plantations and we will never know the figures in between. Slavery is as old as the ages and predicated on the exploitation of the weak for the benefit or agreement of the rich, the powerful or the elite. The  wonders of the world may be marvels but they were built on sweats of the slaves or by whatever names they were called. He could have been a prince or a princess, a king or a chief; an upstanding member of his society. However, with his owner, he was nothing. This was copiously illustrated with Kunta Kinte in Alex Haley’s Roots. And there is a body of literature detailing his sufferings. Which became his inner strength manifesting in spiritual songs ( this has nothing to do with the slave’s religion which could have been  Christianity, Islam, voodoo) in literature and in art. The pains of slave trade should be getting duller and should be consigned to academic and historical interest. I do not want to be pessimistic, but slavery and slaving continues because of economic  necessity to exploit one another.

African are flocking the countries in the west and are suffering humiliation in different hues because of the need for survival. This is the first law. All sorts of impediments are being put in their path to restrict their immigration. Strict Visa regulations  and discriminatory wages being just two of them. Yet against all odds, Africans are struggling to leave their  countries. Many die illegally-drowned or killed. Many die in the desert either  from exhaustion or fringe desert marauders.

Yes, slave trade has ended formally but its variants persists. I want however to look on the brighter side. Here in Lagos we have events that remind us of the ugly past but which also gives us pleasure. We have the Fanti festival, which may not compare  to its forebearers ,the Rio de Janeiro carnival in Brazil or Notting Hill carnival in London . Tapioca, a meal made from cassava starch and coconut milk and Frejon,a bean and fish dish by returning free slaves from Cuba and Brazil. Architecture from Cuba and thereabouts sits on  the Lagos landscape and still a beauty to behold.