Thursday, March 2, 2017

The East Africa Slave Trade

The passage in the Queen's Speech relating to the Slave Trade from Eastern Africa is a remarkable proof of the interest which Dr. Livingstone’s adventures and sufferings have awakened. That great traveller has in fact revolutionized our notions of the races inhabiting the greatest part of the African continent almost as much as he and his compeers have altered our ideas of its physical character. Except perhaps the youngest generation among them, Englishmen have had to obliterate from their minds the rather dim picture of Africa which they formed in their childhood, and to conceive as a land of humid air and great waters the country which they had vaguely associated with sand and drought. Concurrently with this change of view they have had to modify their notions of the state of human society in this vast and populous continent. Until quite recently, if the Englishman of ordinary information had been asked to say how African society was organized, he would have replied that it consisted in mixed hordes of barbarians under bloody and fantastic tyrannies. Body-guards of Amazons, man-hunts and massacres, State ceremonies which took the form of wholesale executions, might have seemed mere hideous inventions, if undoubtedly trustworthy writers had not described them from personal observation. But Dr. Livingstone, penetrating farther into the interior, has shown that all this tissue of sanguinary monstrosities is the mere fringe of African society. The multitudinous negroes of the inland countries he finds to be a very simple people, living under patriarchal governments in communities so small as hardly to amount to tribes. According to the accounts he has given of them they quarrel singularly little, shed very little blood, and lead a peaceable and contented life, troubled only by the perpetual fear of witchcraft. The sanguinary monarchies near the coast do really exist, but they are the corruption of native African society. They seem, in fact, to be exclusively the creation of slave-hunting. What Dr. Livingstone seems to have proved is that the trade in slaves so breaks up the primitive communities of negroes that they have no power of reorganizing themselves except in such abnormal kingdoms as Dahomey and Ashantee. The demand for the negro as servant or slave, on the score of his physical strength, powers of endurance, and docility, is older than Christianity so far as some parts of Africa are concerned; and it is hardly matter for wonder that profound modifications have been produced both of society and of the individual. Dr. Livingstone, indeed, would seem nearly to have persuaded himself that the flat-nosed and prognathous negro who is almost exclusively known to Europeans is a degeneration from a higher physical type which has been produced by the slave-trade. It seems at any rate certain that, though through great distances from both the African coasts "the blacks for ever weep," there are vast populations in the interior who are still in the enjoyment of much simple happiness. The justification, therefore, for stopping the East African maritime slave trade, if we are able to do it, is that it is one stage of a process which is turning Societies of simple and contented cultivators into miscellaneous hordes of brutalized savages under cruel and bloody oppressors. A great mass of human happiness is yearly collapsing; a vast amount of human misery is yearly forming itself; and this transformation of the negro populations affords a far better excuse for forcibly putting down the traffic than the mere sufferings of the passage from Africa to the Arabian slave marts.

There seems little doubt that the trade can be put down, even without the establishment of a free negro community on the eastern coast as proposed by Dr. Livingstone and Sir Bartle Frere. The only lucrative markets for slaves are now the over-sea markets of the Eastern Mahommedan States, and, if the access to these can be prevented, there is every reason to believe that slave-dealing and slave-hunting in Africa will dwindle to insignificant dimensions. Great Britain has long been accustomed to treat the maritime slave trade as piracy, and the only Government which once strenuously resisted this principle-- the United States of America -- now publicly patronizes it. If all the waters on the East African coast were open to the British cruisers of the squadron ordinarily Stationed at Trincomalee, they would probably make short work of the maritime trade; but unfortunately this does not seem to be the case, and there appear to be certain waters under the sovereignty of the Sultan of Zanzibar into which British ships are prevented from entering under the provisions of a treaty to which the English Government is a party. It thus happens that Zanzibar has become the chief, if not the exclusive, headquarters of a tolerably secure traffic in negroes from the East Coast of Africa. At first sight there would seem to be no difficulty in putting an end to this Treaty; but we believe that a further hitch arises through engagements with the Sultan which belong to the intricacies of Anglo-Indian diplomacy. The Sultan, as has been explained at some length in Captain Burton’s recent publication, represents a younger branch of the Sultans or Imams of Muscat in Eastern Arabia, who have long been under the special protection of the British Government, and whose authority is the keystone of British ascendency in the Persian Gulf. Muscat and Zanzibar, though divided by so many miles of stormy sea, were once under the same dynasty, but there was a quarrel about the succession, as is usual in such States, and this dispute Lord Canning, when Governor-General of India, is understood to have appeased by assigning Muscat to one pretender and Zanzibar to the other. Unfortunately, as it now turns out, the Governor-General decided that Zanzibar should every year pay to Muscat a tribute or subsidy as a mark of semi-feudal dependence, and this payment appears to be the real source of the present difficulty. The Sultan of Zanzibar practically maintains his right to license the maritime traffic in slaves on the plea that the export duty merely reimburses him for the tribute which he has to make good under the diplomatic arrangements of the British Government, and he alleges that he simply cannot afford for this reason to open the waters of Zanzibar to British ships of war. In order therefore to put down the trade, England must apparently not only employ her own vessels, but must buy up the vested interests of the ruler from whose harbours the exportation takes place.

On the whole, if the suppression of the trade is a mere matter of money, this country may be reasonably expected to make some sacrifice for it. We have waged war too long, too publicly, and too earnestly on the slave trade to be able to withdraw with honour from our campaign against it. At the same time, if the arguments for the moral defensibility for our policy had to be restated, we do not think they would be altogether the same as those which were so passionately urged by the adversaries of the trade from the Western coast. Slavery is not in the Eastern Mahommedan countries a mere system of oppression practised by speculators for commercial gain. It is an institution coeval with Oriental society, of which the history has never been interrupted. There is little or no prejudice against the colour of the negro in those regions, the treatment he receives is not materially different from that of the freeman, and on his emancipation he may rise to such honour and dignity as are attainable by Orientals. But the sufferings of the maritime transit are only less than those of the famous Middle Passage, because the former is shorter, and the demoralization, debasement, and disorganization of the African communities are, on the evidence of Dr. Livingstone, as certainly and as extensively produced by the trade on one coast as on the other. Here lies our true justification for intervention.

Pall Mall Gazette, August 12, 1872.

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