Friday, June 3, 2011

Angola Slavery Museum: A Monument to a Painful Past of Trade Activity

Situated some 18 kilometers south of the capital city Luanda,  sits the National Museum of Slavery; a monument using the original building that processed the transferral of thousands of slaves.

The Museum consists of the Chapel and adjacent rooms; it is a tiny two-story building that sits on a beautiful cliff facing the ocean and Mussulo Island. The Museum itself is relatively modest, but in spite of its size and simplicity, the message is big: “it is a testament and a reminder of the history of the Angolan people who lived in the day of slavery and it stands as a monument to those who suffered and were affected by slavery.

This little museum is of great importance in the history of slavery because over a period of two centuries, through its doors, millions of slaves entered it to be baptized before being sent off on their arduous journey to the colonies in the Americas. The bulk of the slaves exported to the new world departed the shores of Luanda and were sent to Bahia, Brazil, with a good number sent directly to the North America and the Caribbean islands.

According to historians, slavery in Angola existed since the early times. But starting in the 16th century the conquest of Portugal's explorers began the founding of settlements and trade ports which mitigated and expanded the major trading activities with the Imbangala and Mbundu tribes.  These tribes were inherently involved in an internal 'African slave trade' and the arrival of the Portuguese precipitated the beginning of the 'Atlantic Slave Trade'.

For several decades, slave trade with the Portuguese colony of Brazil was an important trade avenue in Portuguese Angola, and also an important supplier of workers for the emerging Brazilian agricultural sector.   Historians note that besides the benefit of two Portuguese colonies, the slave trade also benefited the local black merchants and warriors who profited from the trade. In the 17th century, the  Imbangala tribe became the main rivals of the Mbundu in supplying slaves to the Luanda slave processing market. In the 1750's the Portuguese sold 5,000 to 10,000 slaves annually, devastating the Mbundu

economy and population. The Portuguese gave guns to the Imbangala soldiers in exchange for slaves.. Armed with superior weapons, the Imbangala soldiers captured and sold natives at a far larger scale. 

Historians note that Portugal had the monopoly on the export of slaves from West Africa for at least two centuries, exporting at least five million slaves; 40% of the total slaves found in the new world.

The Museum curators emphasized that although Portugal tends to be blamed for the fate of slavery in Angola and other parts of West Africa, various individuals such as African kings, African merchants, and local Angolans of mixed color were notorious slave traders. He mentioned that the the greatest organizer of the slave trade in 19th century Angola, was the infamous Dohna Ana Joaquina, a woman of mixed color, and she betrayed her people. ( Review, Wikipedia)

No comments: