For many years in its history, humanity has not opposed slavery and human trafficking. Slavery has not always been economically effective, but it has always been beneficial to slaveholders and slave traders – that is why it has existed for so many centuries and exists to this day. The struggle against this phenomenon began only in the 19th century, and, unfortunately, continues even now. It would seem that the problem of slavery has lost its relevance, as today it is generally accepted that there is no cases of it in the world. However, claiming that bondage is impossible in modern liberal society is just a myth. By law, slavery was abolished in most countries at the end of the 19th century, but in fact, it did not disappear anywhere.
In today’s world, the scale and forms of slavery are frighteningly broad and global. Such types of modern serfdom are distinguished as labor, debt, contract slavery, physical, military, religious, and sexual. It is present in various forms wherever there is a need for cheap and socially unprotected labor. Modern slaveholders profit from people who have neither social nor legal protection. The victims of modern slavery may be people of all nationalities and cultures. This work presents three stories that occur at different times but together tell the modern history of slavery.
Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis
Slavery arose and developed in America through the “triangular trade” – the transatlantic trade exchange that took place between Africa, Europe, and the New World. Europeans carried fabrics, weapons, and metals to Africa, selling or exchanging them for captives, which were then sent as “live goods” from West African ports to North and South America. Many slaves worked in American plantations, growing sugarcane, rice, cotton, and tobacco – valuable goods that were always in demand in Europe.
One of the last survivors of this path was Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, who arrived in America in 1860. The transatlantic slave trade has been banned in the United States since the beginning of the 19th century. Brining the cargo of captives into the United States has become a crime punishable by death. However, this law was not applied too vigorously, and a lot of new bondmen came in America. In most cases, slave traders only paid fines or avoided punishment altogether.
Cudjo Lewes travelled on a ship called Clotilda, which belonged to Timothy Meaher. By the time the authorities decided to do something, all the evidence of the merchants’ guilt was hidden – the captives were distributed for work, and the ship was sunk (Hurston et al.). Although officially prisoners could not be recognized as slaves, they still worked on plantations and other enterprises of Meaher and his two brothers until the end of the Civil War. After that, the Africans who arrived on the ship sought to save money and return to their homeland but realized that they would not succeed and bought some land. They founded a settlement, calling it Africatown to be independent. For several decades, they continued to speak their languages, and only their children gradually became integrated. Africatown still exists like the historic district.
Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
Houseboy is a novel presented by a writer in the form of an African boy diary who was a retainer in Cameroon’s French colony. Although officially the main character named Toundi was not a slave, but a servant, the French did not treat him in the best way (Oyono and Reed). The book is designed to reflect the attitude towards the colonies’ inhabitants after World War II when the world was already approaching their liberation.
Through the use of various artistic techniques, the writer demonstrates the relationship between the colonists and the inhabitants of the colonies. White people show more respect and love for animals and plants than for black people. Being a servant, the main character asked many questions, which caused discontent for people around. Other domestic workers tried to reason him – they said that the colonies’ inhabitants were alive and needed by whites only to do their work. Thus, the history of slavery and human rights violations continued. Almost a century after the end of the American Civil War and the history of Cudjo Lewis at another place in the world, white people felt like masters. The black inhabitants of the colonies were not considered full-fledged people.
Significant story of modern slavery is told by Mende Nazer and is depicted in her book, Slave: My True Story. This woman has experienced a lot in her life and remains strong to continue to fight for freedom. She spent a happy childhood in her native Nuba village, where the girl was born. However, in 1993, when the Nazer was 12 years old, Arab raiders attacked the village, captured the children, and killed their parents (Nazer and Lewis). In the Sudanese capital Khartoum, Mende was bought by a wealthy Arab family, where she became a slave.
She was horribly treated by masters making her sleep in the barn, eating what was left of the owners, and subjecting her to violence – physical, sexual, and psychological. In this way, Mende spent seven years, after which she was sent to serve a diplomat who lived in London. After some time there, she managed to find support from other Sudanese who were able to help the girl achieve freedom.
Reading a book and realizing that someone can be enslaved very nearby in cities like London is very difficult. However, such a shock of understanding what is happening in the world is necessary to solve the issue. Slavery did not end with the US civil war or with the adoption of international laws. Things that happen are not a mere violation of human rights – it is the loss of freedom. People need to know about Nazer Mende’s story and support her struggle defending the right to be free for everybody in a similar situation.
Summing up, today, slavery is still one of the unresolved problems in society. Among the causes of modern slavery, socio-political, socio-economic, and socio-legal reasons remain the most relevant. Slavery arose in ancient times and did not stop even in the contemporary world. Due to the gap between the poor and the rich, some people are forced to go even into voluntary slavery. Facing with the issues of poverty, as well as the social and legal protection of the population, can minimize this problem.
The work presents three stories from various time periods and multiple places on the planet, but they are common in the fact that, due to greed, some people are ready to sacrifice all human qualities. Stories demonstrate a problem that still cannot be solved despite the efforts of international organizations, governments, and activists. The struggle for freedom is an ongoing work that requires considerable attention and energy.
Hurston, Zora Neale, et al. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”. HarperCollins, 2018.
Nazer, Mende, and Damien Lewis. Slave: My True Story. PublicAffairs, 2009.
Oyono, Ferdinand, and John Reed. Houseboy (African Writers). Pearson Education, 1991.