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The Idea Of A Humane Slave Master


Slave MasterTHERE is no doubt that the work of Henry ‘Skip’ Gates Jnr. and others in the African American Studies programme has added an important area of reading and research into the literature of the United States of America. One speaks here of Slave Narratives.

Many titles in biography, autobiography, fiction and non-fiction have been published in this series. For those interested in the subject t of Slavery, it is a sobering read all together whichever of the genres you touch.

What they all tell you is that Slavery and slave holding achieved what it achieved through CRUELTY in capital letters. The use of cruelty through floggings and separations of families took away the humanity of the slave.

The floggings dammed the mouth of the slave and stopped him or her from proclaiming his freedom to the slave holder and the world at large.

The separation of the families dammed the humane emotion of mother and child, husband and wife, lover and beloved. What options are left are suicide or escape from the slave bondage. Many times, slaves especially female ones have been more prepared to kill their children and themselves than go on in slavery.

It is against this background that one wonders from whence cometh the idea of a human slave master? The slave master kills the human in the slave person in order to hold whatever is left of the person in bondage.

The slave holder is inhumane. How can he also be humane to his slaves? When the chiefs of Ibadan in the colonial south west of Nigeria objected to the British colonial government allowing their slaves to escape and seek the protection of the colonial officers, the British colonial government was quick in re-assuring the chiefs thus:

“The Officer placed in charge in Ibadan will be instructed that it is not the intention of the British colonial Lagos government to interfere with the domestic slavery so long as it is conducted on humane principles, . . . Slaves will not obtain their freedom by running to the Resident.”

It is in reading some of the Slave Narratives that one is confronted full glare with statements of humane slave masters. Here is a quote from 12 Years A Slave: In many northern minds, perhaps, the idea of a man holding his brother man in servitude, and the traffic in human flesh, may seem altogether incompatible with their conception of a moral or religious life.

From descriptions of such men as Burch and Freeman, and others hereinafter mentioned, they are led to despise and execrate the whole class of slave holders, indiscriminately.

But I was sometime his slave, and had an opportunity of learning well his character and disposition, and it is but simple justice to him when I say, in my opinion, there never was a more kind, noble, candid, Christian man than William Ford.

“The influences and associations that had always surrounded him, blinded him to the inherent wrong at the bottom of the system of Slavery.

He never doubted the moral right of one man holding another in subjection. Looking through the same medium with his fathers before him, he saw things in the same light.

Brought up under other circumstances and other influences, his notions would undoubtedly have been different. Nevertheless, he was a model master, walking uprightly, according to the light of his understanding, and fortunate was the slave who came to his possession.

Were all men such as he, Slavery would be deprived of more than half its bitterness.” Take a deep breath and read the above quote again.

It is an unbelievable statement from one who has gone through the process of enslavement. The two immediate rationalisations that can be found for the statement are, one, that whatever life one has led one tends to find justification for it because one has not led another type of life.

After all, it is the only life that one has led. There is no other one. Somehow, there has to be something positive about it and that is that it is not all as bad as those who have not had the privilege of leading such a life – think of it.

The second rationalisation derives from this first one. This rationalisation says that somehow, Slavery can be carried out humanely.

Only those who have been through the system can perform this miracle of making slavery humane. This is the reason why there have been cases of former slaves going into slave trading and slave holding.

The slaves who took over that slave ship murdered the slave traders and liberated themselves only to go into slave trading in their turn is a sobering example.

What we still do not have and what these narratives have not turned up is a narrative by a former slave who became a successful slave trader.

Given the circumstances in which these narratives were written and published it is unlikely that we would discover a manuscript of this nature sooner or later. The anti-slavery movement needed texts to fight the fight against the slave trade, slave traders, slave holding and Slavery.

To look for and publish the memoirs of a former slave who became a successful slave trader and slave holder would have been a contradiction of the aims and objectives of the anti-slavery movement.

But it is from this sentiment of the possibility of a humane slave trader and slave holder that one can then understand the campaign of the leaders who were involved in the organisation of the first recorded successful revolt of slaves generally referred to in the Arabic scripts as the Revolt of the Zanj.

This took place in 9th Century Arabia when the area between the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris were used for planting sugar cane. Black slaves and other slaves had been used in the Arab world to dive for pearls in the Arabian Sea.

But it was between the two rivers that plantation slavery took place. In calling for the revolt of the slaves here, the organisers of the revolt promised that the slaves would own slaves in their turn when they were free. Never again indeed!

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