Published On: Wed, Jun 28th, 2017

De servitude, libertati christianae noncontraria

dekker_0Dear friends and especially my stowaways, Anansi and Hendrik van der Decken, before we are heading east, towards the Lesser Antilles, we need to have a serious tête-à-tête about the Afro-Caribbean population and the history that brought them to the Caribbean.

The Transatlantic slave trade started early 16th century with transports by interlopers and privateers, all of the European and even African nations. After 1510, King Ferdinand V of Castile, who married Isabella I of Aragon and united the Iberian Peninsula (1497), gave his consent to what became the Asiento, the right to transport and sell African slaves to the Spanish colonies. Slavery was a widely accepted system to treat prisoners of war and convicts. Driving the Moors of the Umayyad out of Andalusia produced thousands of slaves, and by 1500 the European market was saturated. A new impulse to the trade came with the demand from the New World, and the failure to employ the indigenous population.

The Vatican not only consented but also participated in the trade. The Pope insisted that all captives would be baptized and given Christian names, for which service the Vatican collected enormous fees. That is why USA black activist Malcolm X--- his given name was Little after the ship captain’s name---preferred an  X.

The Portuguese and British became serious players towards the end of the 16th century. The Dutch were still excluded until after the Peace of Westfalen (Munster) of 1648, which settled the 80-year war between Spain and rebels of the Low Lands. United States of America, USA,  only imported directly 388,000 of the 10,7 million Africans who made it across (see Henri Gates, Black Studies Harvard). Of the 12,5 million shipped across, 10,7 arrived alive. Most of them finished up in Brazil. The Caribbean absorbed millions for “seasoning,” a training period, which could last as long as two years, before passing them on to other destinations.

The entire slave trading period lasted about 250-300 years and on average, 30-40,000 people per year were transported from Africa to the rest of the world. By today’ statistics of Forced Migrants, these numbers are small. The United Nations reported that 2014 had the highest level of forced migration on record: 59.5 million individuals, caused by "persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations," as compared with 51.2 million in 2013 (an increase of 8.3 million) and with 37.5 million a decade prior.

The transatlantic slave trade was brutal and inhumane and rears deep emotions with many blacks as well as whites in the West.  Some of the small Caribbean islands are even seeking reparations from those who supposedly benefitted from the trade. The international lawsuits will write history, since laws apply to the time they were issued, seldom retroactively. Slavery and slave trade were legal by law in the participating countries.  The moral and ethical aspects at the time are interesting to study.  Learned, emotional and political publications with pro-and-con arguments fill libraries around the world.

The Dutch WIC featured a unique case. Jacobus Josias Capitein ( 1717-1747), African by birth and enslaved as a child in the Ashanti Kingdom ( Ghana), became a free man in Vlissingen, Holland, studied Theology at Leiden University and became the first black ordained Protestant Minister. He defended his thesis in academic settings and churches and his book ran through five Latin and Dutch editions within one year.  It was a huge best seller.

“De servitude, libertati christianae noncontraria," on March 10, 1742, How slavery is not in conflict with Christian freedom.”

Jacobus was awarded by the WIC with an appointment as missionary minister at the Dutch slave-trading Castle, St. George d’ Elmina, where he arrived on 8 October 1742 at the age of 25. It was Jacobus’ dream and wish to convert the locals in his home country of Ghana to Christianity. When he failed after five years, he committed suicide.

A foregone conclusion is that in the 17th and 18th century, slavery and slave trade were condoned if not morally supported by Catholics as well as Protestants. In the second half of the 18th century, the new Protestants led the abolition movement in the 18th century and after that.  Quakers, Hernhutters, Baptists, and Presbyterians prevailed, but slavery and slave trade were abandoned more for economic reason than anything else.

By Jacob Gelt Dekker
Columnist for Curaçao Chronicle

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