For the longest time in history, the slave trade was one of the largest activities in America and Europe. Thousands of enslaved Africans were being ferried across the sea, seemingly aware of the hardships and torture that awaited them. Fortunately, by the beginning of 1800, several moral crusades against slavery and the slave trade had been lobbied by various abolitionists across Europe. Although it took several decades to fully abolish the slave trade and declare it an illegal trade globally, the end of slavery marked the beginning of humanity. The scars, however, will forever remain, and if history serves us right, many generations to come will be reminded of the harsh consequences of slavery through tales and stories.
Pascoe G. Hill in his book Fifty Days on Board a Slave-Vessel provides an unforgettable and chilling account of the lives of slaves on a slave ship and the despicable and inhuman treatment of African slaves. It is through his eyes that the suffering of African slaves comes to light, a revelation and narration that cannot be ignored. He reveals the brutal and bitter truth of slavery, locking it into a narrative of personal experiences and observations. Through Fifty Days on Board a Slave-Vessel, fear of the known rather than fear of the unknown becomes clearer as well as the truth that will haunt mankind forever into existence. Today, people understand the magnitude of suffering that befell African slaves during the period of the slave trade through the eyes of Hill. Far away from the slave trade, over more than a hundred years now, the slave trade from a safer distance in time is examined. However, as Hill experienced real-time suffering of human beings, together readers feel the same suffering and pain of the enslaved Africans through his book. The author’s testimony has no probable agenda; it is simply a narration of what he witnessed aboard the slave ship, hopeful that keeping an account of such dehumanizing and brutal treatment will be a constant reminder that the slave trade is intolerable evil and beyond any level of human understanding.
These were the sounds of anguish and shrieks of the agony of the suffering enslaved Africans at the gloom of night, towering above the sounds of waves and the wind that gave Hill endless and countless nights without sleep. Pascoe G. Hill was serving aboard a slave ship as a doctor. It was during this service that he witnessed the brutal and terrifying suffering of Africans in slavery. Although during this period, several nations such as Britain and America had taken significant steps to prohibit the slave trade, slavery was still a booming activity along the African coast. Often, suspected slave ships along the African coast that were tempting to cross over to America or Britain were seized, and the ships were confiscated. The human cargo found would then be sent back to its original destination in Africa. This did much to pull down the curtain over the overseas commercial trade of slaves to some extent.
Hill was aboard a slave ship on a voyage from Brazil in Rio Jenero to South Africa en route Mozambique. In his narration, he describes most of his experiences in Mozambique and aboard the ship. Hill describes the slave ship as overly crowded by slaves who were crammed into all available spaces and corners. With little space to share, most slaves sat close to each other, while some were sitting between each other’s legs making it impossible to lie down or shift positions all day and night. The conditions were wretched and inhuman; men, women and even children were unfed, denied freedom of movement and greatly overworked within the slave ship. The inhuman treatment was quite sickening for all conscious, but Hill admits that slave traders were far from being conscious as the drive for greed and money certainly flashed out any humanity they had.
How does Hill Portray Africans in Africa?
Hill gives a portrait of people who were in dire need of civilization. Africans seemed to lag behind in every aspect of development compared with the Americans or even the Brazilians. This aspect largely influenced the growth of African slavery by the time the White men came to Africa. The value of life was also poorly regarded by Africans during this period. Most of the black merchants enslaved their fellow men, bidding them to the highest bidder without an ounce of guilt. Additionally, Africans were poor and uneducated. They lacked any sort of skills and expertise to march with the white men who were assumed to be better off in terms of social status and power. Poverty was especially widespread among many African homes. Food was scarce and with an increasing population, hardships became a reality for many Africans.
Nevertheless, Hill also portrays Africans as a hard-working community of people who endured more than they deserved. Africans are seen from the book to be tough; they survived the harshest living and working conditions and showed exemplary zeal to get through every situation. For some Africans such as the black merchants, who were largely engrossed in the slave trade, greed for money and power was evident, and slavery became their means of prosperity. Moreover, Africans were considered to lack a definite culture, and there was little written history that could define the African community and give them an identity. Lack of this essential element of life left many Africans with no sense of identity or principles to stand their ground and easily fell into the trap of slavery out of desperation.
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Compare and Contrast Hill’s Observation about the System of Enslavement in Brazil with What You Know About American Slavery
America and Brazil are among two the most populous nations located in the Western hemisphere. The two countries undoubtedly provide detailed and reliable background similarities and contrast on the discussion of the slave trade. Hill in his book describes his observation of the Brazilian slavery system revealing a significant amount of similarities compared to the previous American slavery systems. According to Hill, the Brazilian slavery system was set aside for a section of a stable and well off the class of people in the society who were only allowed to trade in slavery. Similarly, slavery in America was categorized as a particular class of people in society. Despite the absence of extensive and large plantations in the Caribbean, slavery in both countries was carried out depending on social classes. Both countries experienced a vital increase in the population of African Americans. With the increased number of slaves that the Caribbean was shipping in, more and more people of the African descent seemed to be taking a larger percentage of the population. Although America only took 4% of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean took over 40 %, the number of African Americans that were in the United States also became a significant threat to the white people. Thus, in order to control the increased number of African slaves, both systems resolved to inhuman treatment of African slaves, underfeeding and overloading them with work to ensure that they were emaciated and too weak to rebel. In addition, family units were discouraged and torn apart as a way of preventing crowding of Africans that would lead to upheavals. Racial discrimination was also evident as a way of under grading Africans. Brazilians were more tolerant of blacks although skin color was an essential factor in terms of economic and social status. Such systems were generated as a way of keeping slaves at bay especially after both countries witnessed tremendous rebellion from slaves.
In contrast, the American system of slavery was abolished early enough, and the slave trade was declared illegal both within the United States and the regions surrounding the nation. Brazilians continued the slave trade for over twenty more years after it was abolished in America. The Caribbean slave trade focused on the African Coast and imported human cargo to Brazil to work on plantations and in emerging industries. Unlike the American system, the Caribbean system was evidently more inhuman especially considering that slavery had been abolished by most countries. Hill describes the treatment of Negros at the coast of Mozambique as horribly exaggerated and worse than anything he had seen before. Finally, in 1888, the Brazilian slave system was abolished, and it was the last country to do so in the western hemisphere.
How Do those who Are Enslaved Aboard the Progressa (the ship) Feel about Being Enslaved? How Can We Know?
In his testimony, Hill describes faces of the enslaved Africans as those of sheer anguish and sorrow. Many of the slaves seemed lifeless. Guilt and shame were visible among these slaves with many feeling lonely and unworthy. Hill confesses to having attended many of the auctions that took place, where slaves were traded off to the highest bidder. He describes ‘a sullenness of look’ on every slave’s face that stood to be viewed by their potential buyers. He terms it as a look of degradation and shame to be put up for sale and owned by another human being. Slaves were greatly affected by the inhuman treatment abroad in the Progressa. A great number of times that some staged rebellion against their masters is an indication of being tired of their suffering. Some slaves simply ran away once they got a certain chance to escape, and advertisements were all over for the capture of such slaves. Others committed suicide when the suffering became unbearable. This is enough evidence to prove that slaves wanted to be freed, and most of them just wanted to reunite with their families.
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What Challenges Do They Face once They Are Liberated by the British?
According to Hill, liberation from the Brazilian slave traders by the British was equally a challenging occasion for the freed slaves. Many of them had been long separated from their families especially the young ones and did not have anywhere to go. The freed slaves suffered from horrific illnesses such as smallpox and cholera and other rampant diseases that mainly affected them. A large number of them died from starvation since they did not have a source of income to survive. With the liberation of many slaves, unions that had been created to assist the slaves started pulling back for fear of a crisis due to the large number of slaves that needed help. This further increased the death of hundreds of slaves who had been liberated. Moreover, discrimination of the black people was rapid, and access to health care and other necessary amenities was virtually impossible. They were provided with overcrowded camps that were used by the British soldiers and were no better than the prison pens they had been kept in previously.
What Are the Obstacles, in Hill’s View, to Ending the Trade in African Slaves in 1843?
The curtains came down in 1843, and most slave traders were obliged to set the slaves free. However, several obstacles were present that Hill considered as significant enough to affect the successful abolition of the trade. The main obstacle was the level of impunity that permitted slave traders to carry on with their usual business of human trafficking. Slavery had been labeled as a crime; however, slave traders faced little or no penalties when committing this crime hence all efforts to abolish slavery were in vain. In addition, a far bigger problem laid in the motives of slave traders. The fact that they had little or no consideration for human life was a disturbing notion. Hill relates that lack of compassion for the life of the Negroes aboard the Progresso was a revelation that slave traders would only make a mockery of laws and treaties by other nations that aimed at ending the slave trade.
Hill brings out a whole new account of first-hand experiences aboard a slave ship. It is a testimony that gives readers a further confirmation of the suffering and horrific experiences of the African slaves in 1800 during slavery. The author has managed to capture the appalling and brutal conditions of slave ships and the lengths of inhumanity that the slave trade had become. In his own conclusion of the book, Hill remarks that although he has taken the first step in highlighting the suffering of the African slaves, the slave trade is a deeply rooted evil that only strictly enforced measures that could pull it out of the society. Fifty Days on Board a Slave-Vessel is a vital book that gives shape to the slave trade over a hundred years ago and various social dilemmas faced by society in today’s social relations.
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