Posts Tagged ‘Henry the Navigator’

History Debunked on Black African Complicity at the Beginning of the European Slave Trade

September 7, 2021

This is another provocative video from History Debunked’s Simon Webb. In it he describes how the modern European trade in African slaves began in 1442 with the Portuguese explorer, Antao Goncalves and a Black slave, Adahu. Goncalves, whom Webb calls Anton, had been commissioned by the Portuguese king, Prince Henry ‘the Navigator’ to acquire seal skins and oil. Eager to ingratiate himself with his royal master, Goncalves raided west Africa for slaves. One of those captured was Adahu, who spoke Arabic. Adahu explained that he was a chief and if he was set free, he would help the Portuguese acquire as many slaves as they wanted as he knew the local slave markets. Goncalves took him back to Portugal, where he impressed the king, and he and Goncalves went into partnership slaving. Although the Portuguese had acquired slaves through seizing foreign vessels before, and the Arabs had imported Black slaves into the Iberian peninsula for centuries before the beginning of the European trade in Black slaves, this marked the beginning of the modern slave trade.

Webb also points out that both Europeans and Africans attempted to cheat each other. Europeans attempted to pass off broken or substandard goods, like broken muskets to their African partners, while Africans adulterated the gold they used to purchase goods from the Europeans. Webb points out that this isn’t a popular view now, as it conflicts with the image of Africans as helpless victims. But he argues that the simple logistics of operating a mass slave trade means that Europeans had to have African assistance. They simply couldn’t have enslaved and carried off the large numbers they did if they had carried on capturing them directly, as they earlier had done. He also states that it is similarly mistaken that it was Europeans who brought slavery to America. Both the Aztecs and Maya enslaved their enemies, while in modern Alaska the Haida and Tlingit did the same so that about a quarter of the indigenous population may have been slaves.

I’ve said before that Webb is a man of the right, and that some of his facts may need to be checked. But as far as I can tell, he is correct. Hugh Thomas describes how Goncalves captured Adahu in his The Slave Trade, who says on page 55:

“These new captives included a local chief, Adahu, who spoke Arabic. He negotiated his own release, and that of a boy from his own family, on the understanding that if he were taken back to where he had been found he would deliver some black slaves in exchange.”

Black African involvement in the transatlantic slave trade has been mentioned in museums and documentaries. The exhibition on the city’s involvement in the slave trade at Bristol’s city museum in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, included it, and there was a documentary about it in the same decade on Channel 4. More recently a programme on the history of that part of Canada and America also discussed slaving by the Tlingit and gave the same proportion of the enslaved indigenous population in that part of north America at the time.

However, I do think there is a very strong drive to place the blame for slavery solely on White Europeans. I don’t think many Black Brits are now aware how their ancestors were enslaved by other Africans and there does seem to be a reluctance to state just how massively some African princes did profit from the trade.