By M.S.N. Menon
REVENGE and reparation?this is what Africa wants from the West. And it has an account to settle with the Christian church.
On the wall of the Elmina Castle in Ghana is a plaque. It proclaims: ?In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors. May those who died rest in peace. May those who return find their roots. May humanity never again perpetrate such injustices.? Pious wish, you might say.
Slave forts like Elmina are to be found all along the western coast of Africa. At the end of the 18th century, there were 14 English forts, 15 Dutch, four Portuguese, four Dutch, three French and six Spanish, where slaves were interned before they were shipped out to the plantations of the New World.
The Christian church was a party to the slave trade. Did it not consider the black man as the son of the devil? Even the Reformation made no impact on the slave trade. Inequality, said Martin Luther, the leader of the Reformation, is embedded in the natural order.
For over three centuries men of the Christian faith perpetrated the most horrendous crime against the Africans. Islam was not far behind, for it was engaged in slave trade all along the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
This is no reflection on Jesus Christ. He was the embodiment of compassion. But the church was the legatee of the Roman empire and its brutalities. How else could the European Christians hunt down other human beings with net and rope as animals are hunted? It is estimated that in all about 40 million Africans were captured during the three centuries of the slave trade. About half of them perished on the way and in the plantations.
The Spanish and the Portuguese were the most brutal. This is what the British statesman, Lord Palmerston had to say: ?The plain truth is that the Portuguese are, of all European nations, the lowest in the moral scale.? We Hindus should know, for the Portuguese were no less cruel to the Goans.
Who were the main cultprits? Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Protugal, Spain and the USA. Albert Schweitzer, an eminent church leader, confessed: ?We and our civilisation are burdened with a great debt… Anything we give them (Africans) is not benevolence, but atonement.? He supported the African demand for reparations.
It was in 1481 that the Portuguese set up the first slave fort on the west coast of Africa. England entered the trade in 1562. And the last slave ship sailed out from the west coast in 1807, though the trade continued for another half a century clandestinely. For over three centuries, men of the Christian faith perpetrated the most horrendous crime against the Africans. Islam was not far behind, for it was engaged in slave trade all along the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Says Sir Reginald Coupland: ?It is difficult not to regard this treatment of Africa by Christian Europe…as the greatest crime in history.?
Nudity was the rule in the ships for both males and females. The slaves ate from a common bucket. Sharks infested the trade route, scavenging for carcasses. In 1827 Commodore Bullen informed the British Admiralty that in a ship he had captured, there were 525 slaves ?crowded together in a solid mass of filth and corruption?. According to him, many had gone blind. They were simply tossed to the sharks. What awaited the slaves at the plantations was even worse, for they were yoked to ploughs like animals in the absence of horses.
The slave trade was highly profitable. The traders bought the Africans at ?2 per slave and sold them at $325 per male in 1840 and at $500 in 1860. It is said that a round trip gave a profit of ? 60,000 to the shipping companies. America, too, was a major beneficiary, for it had almost a monopoly in shipbuilding in those days.
England was perhaps the greatest beneficiary of the slave trade. But let it be said to the credit of England and its people that they were the first to initiate a ban on slave trade. Denouncing the trade, Lord Palmerston said in 1844: ?If all crimes committed from creation down to the present day were added together, they would not exceed, I am sure, the guilt of the diabolic slave trade.?
It was no easy matter to abolish the slave trade. It was resisted. President Lincoln had to fight a civil war to stop it in America.
It is the claim of the Christian church, more so of the Baptists of America, that the Hindus are living in darkness, that they need the Christian light. One can only laugh at these presumptions. Europe and America had bloodied Christianity with horrendous crimes. No confession can wash off these sins. As Herzen said of the European nations: ?We are not the doctors. We are the disease.?
My plea to those who want to bring light to us Hindus: Please, do not infect us with your diseases.