Before the 16th century, the only source of sugar for the Europeans was bees. By the fourteenth century, the rapid demand for sugar had two impacts. Firstly, it led to vast cane sugar plantations on the Sicily islands, the Mediterranean coast, and Cyprus Islands. Secondly, by the fifteenth century, sugar plantations had expanded to the Portuguese and Spanish plantations on the Atlantic islands such as Sao Tome, Madeiras, and Principe where Africans were exploited through slave labour. Sugar being a rare commodity was sold at very high prices. Its generation and commerce rapidly became incredibly profitable (Diedrich, et al 6).
How Sugar Plantations Led to Slave Trade and its Eventual Impact
The rapid increase in sugar prices led to an expansion in its cultivation. Within no time, it dominated the list of profitable Portuguese investments in the Caribbean and Brazil. The rapid demand for sugar increased and as the producers started expanding its supplies, the consumers made more discoveries on how they could use it. The cultivation of sugar in the Americas necessitated both steady labour supply and large capital investments (Orlando 25).
Since neither the Europeans nor the Amerindians sufficiently met America’s plantations labour needs, the solution was found in Africans. The decade characterized by Columbus’ voyages triggered the capture and incorporation of many African slaves into the Atlantic. They were initially brought in small numbers, however, the numbers exponentially increased with time. The regular supply of slaves was guaranteed by astute traders who bought them from the African continent where they were held as captives of the wars stemming from conflicts between African tribes and kingdoms. The Americans discovered that even in the worst situations, the African slaves performed better than the Amerindian slaves (Walter 12).
The African slaves emerged from tropical environments that had a lot of similarities with the Caribbean for they had acclimatized to humidity and heat. Once they bore the brunt of childhood and infancy, they had developed resistance to the most lethal epidemics that included various tropical diseases. Ultimately, costs preferred the use of African slaves. The Africans lower death rates, as well as their technological and agricultural skills, weighed against European indentured and free labourers who knew their master’s weaknesses, language, and culture (Diedrich, et al 15).
Slave trade greatly affected African societies politically and economically. There was a gradual development of a vicious cycle of guns and slaves. The Europeans selectively supplied guns to African kingdoms that became their trading partners. The acquisition of guns completely altered the pattern of rivalry between African kingdoms and rapidly increased the violence in their warfare. Originating as prisoners of war, African slaves were sold to the Europeans in exchange for an assortment of manufactured goods and guns. These guns created more slaves who were traded for more guns. This exchange, in the end, made autonomous African kingdoms dependent to the European capitalist extension. Slaves were exchanged for imported goods such as guns, cloth, and metals that were considered prestigious by the African elite who used them to enhance their status (Orlando 30).
African leaders kept slaves, particularly females who were used to further their prestige and enhance productivity. African slavery, hitherto conceived on political and social terms, eventually created economic slavery where the creation of wealth relied on slavery. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade transformed many Africans into needy consumers of inexpensive European products and compelled them to live in extremely violent slave societies.
Diedrich, Maria., Henry Louis Gates., and Carl Pedersen. “The Middle Passage between History and Fiction: Introductory Remarks.” Black Imagination and the Middle Passage. Ed. New York: Oxford UP, (2010): 5-20. Print.
Orlando, Patterson. Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study. Cambridge: Harvard UP, (2009): 23-34. Print.
Walter, Rodney. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Washington, DC: Howard UP, (2008): 7-23. Print.
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