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The Transatlantic Slave Trade

Many people state quite correctly that slavery was common in Africa before the transatlantic trade began. However the transportation of millions to a different continent was a new phenomenon which caused deep psychic trauma. Olaudah Equiano was a former slave who wrote a vivid description of his experiences and he was not alone in expressing this opinion:

“...if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with the meanest slave in my own country.”8

Equiano was completely unhinged by his first encounter with Europeans – the different skin colour, strange language and long hair. As they handled him roughly to see if he was healthy and stuffed him into the stinking holds, he thought they were some kind of evil spirits. This dreadful experience, and many of like kind which followed, are still deeply embedded in the consciousness of slave descendants today. 

Further evidence of the extent of psychological damage was that of “dirt eating”, also known as “mal d’estomac” or “cachexia african”9 The craving to eat dirt was a frequent occurrence throughout the Caribbean islands even amongst children. One deterrent was clamping an iron mask over the slave’s head. It is significant that this illness disappeared as soon as slavery was abolished.

If some Muslims today still feel resentment at what happened in the Crusades, it is not surprising that anger is still felt by some Africans of the Diaspora today. That anger is not only felt against white people, but also against West Africans whose ancestors traded in slaves.

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