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The Slave Ship

September 27, 2012

Below please find a new set of web questions from your classmate, Shira Benyaminy, on the excerpts we read from Marcus Rediker’s book, The Slave Ship: A Human History.

When we hear about “slave ships,” we have a vague idea of Africans being carried to the New World by ship and turned into slaves. Many of us don’t realize how horrifying and deadly the voyage actually was, and the physical torture the slaves endured. There were many aspects of the voyage that are shocking, but which parts were most horrifying to you? Do you think the Africans had an idea of what was awaiting them after they landed? Why did so many slaves to attempt suicide?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Shayna Wolf permalink
    September 27, 2012 9:04 pm

    The most gruesome part of the stories was the account of how a people would be tied to ropes and put part way into the ocean and sharks would eat the people as if biting a lollipop off a stick. I don’t think the Africans had any idea what was awaiting for them. They lived in a small community, usually inland and weren’t aware of anything happening outside the few places that they’ve ever been to. The story mentioned how many of them were even surprised that white men existed! Had they known, maybe they would’ve gathered together and overthrown the few white men that were there before being able to get captured. Once they were on the ships, I think that they knew their life wasn’t getting any better. From the way they were being treaten, the African knew only hardship was in their future. Knowing this, many must have committed suicide so not to be tortured the rest of their lives and nor eventually have kids who would be in their bad position. Also, I suppose a few wanted to be examples that not everyone has to submit to the control of another man; that no other being can treat them so badly.

  2. Joseph DeAngelo permalink
    September 27, 2012 9:20 pm

    To me, the most horrifying part of the slave trades were the sharks. They started to follow the ships back and forth to the Americas to Africa. It reads, “no effort was made to protect or bury the bodies of the African captives…” (38). I think this is the worst part for the following reasons: (1) Due to many of the African’s contemplating suicide, given the inhumane standards of living on the ships (let alone their destination), they would jump off the ship. So, if they did this, the sharks would feast on the body; thus, their “only escape” of the boat was in fact worse than if they stayed. (2) Very many of the Africans died in the middle passage and as the prior quote says, the sailors did not respect the bodies. They would simply throw them off the boat to the feed the sharks. This is terrible because there i absolutely no respect for the human in that case–granted there wasn’t much when there was breath in it. Putting myself in that position, seeing others commit suicide, due to the terrible circumstances (e.g., chains, lack of freedom and food, hygienic/sanitary issues, etc.) or dead bodies being thrown off as food for the sharks, the feelings that would follow would be inexplicable. Furthermore, I believe the Africans didn’t have a clear understanding as to what was on the departing side of the middle passage; however, given the insanely inhumane circumstances just on the way there, they had to view the place as a hell.

  3. Vera Orlando permalink
    September 30, 2012 2:27 pm

    I strongly believe all the occurances on the slave ships were extremely terrifying and things no human should ever have had to endure. Conditions on the ships were very unsanitary and people were treated as animals and possessions- being tied to chains and beaten up. It was gruesome to read about how slaves were shot for participating in hunger strikes, and how they were threatened to be fed to sharks following the ships. Another horrifying thing that took place that stood out to me was that the men and women were stripped of their clothing completely against their will, to make sure they weren’t hiding any weapons to protect themselves. Women were mortified, covering themselves when undressed. I’m not sure if the slaves knew exactly they were in store for in the new land, but knew it wasn’t gonna get any better and that the middle passage voyage was only the beginning to their torture. If the voyage alone was this horrifying, imagine what they had in mind once they reached their destination. Many of them attempted and succeeded in suicide as a form of rebellion, but also as a way to put and end to all the torture they had to endure so far. It was the only way out for them.

  4. Fabiola Ramos permalink
    September 30, 2012 2:50 pm

    I am certain that the Afrcians had no idea what to expect during the slave trade. Throught the slave trade Africans were treated like animals. Every single aspect of the trade was simply inhumane and terrifying. African males were tide up the entire travel and their wrist became severely cut with the movement of the ships. The conditions in the ships were horrifying. People puked and peed onthemselves which caused unsanitary conditions and spread disease. I think once the Africans realized how severe the situation was in the ships, they decided to commit suicided fearing what would await them when they arrived. Before the traders decided to put nets around the ships to prevent the slaves from jumping off, the slaves would fall into the ocean where they would be killed by sharks. I find the entire journey to be absolutely shocking and horrifying.

  5. Fuad Hamid permalink
    September 30, 2012 4:41 pm

    The Africans may have had some idea that they were going to be slaves because slavery did exist in in Africa but it was only for criminals or people in debt. The Africans were being taken prisoner so they may have known that they would become slaves but i don’t think they understood the concept of the slave trade where they would be publicly auctioned off. I believed that the slaves might have been completely confused when they put on display in front a large unusual looking crowd. However, the Africans most likely did not expect how horrible the voyage would be. They were shackled together and on top of each in a small crowded room, where they suffocated or passed diseases on to each other. Many slaves attempted suicide because they were suffering on ships. The slave traders intentionally attracted sharks so that if the slaves attempted to jump ship, they would be killed by sharks, leaving them with absolutely no other options.

  6. Jotty T. Francois Fils permalink
    October 1, 2012 10:24 pm

    The trading slaves has always been a very horrible activity . During the voyage to the New Land, Africans have been carried by ship and have suffered bad treatments that are inhuman: unhealthy, asphyxia, physical torture, martyr…The most cruel aspect of this passage is that slaving captains consciously not only used sharks to make fears and terror to the slave throughout the trip, but they also made demonstrations by trowing slaves bodies in the sea where hungry sharks was waiting for them to devour. It is horrible to see how they treated human body. At the beginning of the transportation, many of Africans slaves had no idea of what was waiting for them. Some was curious to see the white skin and some thought that European were Cannibals and that they were transported to be eat by them But as soon as the slaves ship made its way to the New world, Africans lives were so ruthless that they started to be aware of how their life would be. Therefore many slaves attempted suicide rather than live a life of hell.

  7. Winine Fu permalink
    October 6, 2012 12:14 pm

    The most horrifying part is when you finally fall into the sea and stare into the pitch dark eyes of a shark and knowing they will never leave the side of the ship before it comes to land. The Africans probably did not know the process of branding, or even losing their own identity but I believe they knew that once they landed nothing good would come of them. The actions of captains attempting to keep their slaves alive while other are there to witness makes people think what do these white men really want. I believe that most of the slaves attempted suicide because of the torture they were put through on the ship. I mean if I was in that situation not being able to move and chains were the only thing i could feel to my skin and soul, I wouldn’t want to live. From being able to roam freely on their land to total constrained and restricted areas is a means of life being taken away.

  8. Syed permalink
    October 8, 2012 11:37 am

    In the reading,there are many incident that are horrifying. The most horrifying incident i felt was when a slave was hanged by the feet and dropped into the water. the slave was eaten alive by the shark. The captains used to feed the shark just to follow the ship.captains used the sharks to scare the slaves.The slaves had no burial right which was also an awful behavior by the captains.There was a incident when slave disagree to take foot and wanted to die captain of the ship, captain Tucker beat the man from head to toe and after that he shot the slave in the forehead. Then he shot the slave in his ear by following a shot in his heart. Another terrifying behavior of the captain was that they made symbol in slaves body by burning symbol in their flesh. The slaves wanted to commit suicide because they believed if they die they can go back to their families,friends and country.

  9. Andrew Laperuta permalink
    October 16, 2012 7:17 pm

    the most horrifying part of the slave ships to me would be that there is no escapeing it. even if people jumped into the water from the ships they would be eaten by sharks. and the amount of people that would be dying around you on the ship because of the lack of food, and or nutrition. just the feeling of not being able to help yourself or to do anything to save yourself is the most horrifying part of the slave ships. i couldnt imagine not being able to be free to do what i want when i want. the slaves must have had a great deal of isolation. i dont think the slaves had any idea of what would happen to them when they hit land. i guess they figured that it could not get much worse then what they went through on the slave ship. but i think that some of the slaves did not want to find out what was waiting for them when they hit land this is why many slaves attempted suicide. they must have gone through alot of suffering on the ship that they decided it would have been worse if they stayed alive and got to there destination.

  10. Omar Algamoos permalink
    December 10, 2012 5:22 am

    I think the worst part of the voyage was probably the terrible smell. The smell was said to have attracted lots of sharks and could be smelt miles away. Excrements of the slaves were everywhere and it was said that a whole layer formed on the floor which was made up of excrements, sweat and puke. I believe this terrible smell was defiantly deadly if inhaled for a long period of time and the attempted and successful suicides proved the smells extent as well. I think the slaves on the ship had a general sense of what awaited them after they land. I think they probably thought it was only going to get worst from now on and I think if all the people had the strength to suicide they would have done so immediately. To think what would drive a person to the verge of suicide always overwhelms me. The feeling of desperateness to the extent where death is better off than living is something I believe no man can ever fully grasp.

  11. Peter Fiorentino permalink
    December 12, 2012 10:23 am

    The part that was most disturbing to me is how many people they would fit in such a small space. I have pretty bad claustrophobia and I could not imagine traveling for months being packed in with all those other people. I also found it disturbing that they would tie them up, but perhaps the most disturbing was how if one got sick they would throw the whole group of them over board because that would show how little the slave owners actually valued human life. That they would throw away all those human beings because they would not be able to be workers for them,

  12. Seon Samuel permalink
    December 17, 2012 3:21 am

    Given my background and where I came from, the Slave stories were not that surprising to me. This is what I was thought as history, growing up as a child in the caribbean. To identify one aspect of the Slave ships that was most disturbing to me would be extremely hard, because every step of the way was disturbing to the highest degree. The over crowding, the fact that if the person next to me threw up, that vomit would stay there until the voyage was over or even worse, if the person next to me died, I had to wait until the ship’s crew found it time enough for them to throw the body off the ship. Also the way in which they deterred slaves from revolting by killing fellow slaves was horrific in its own sense. The Africans had no idea what was going on, much less to what was going to happen, if they even thought for one moment that they were going to see land again. Then this lead to thoughts being stirred up inside of the slaves, like is it really worth it, is life worth waiting for this whole journey. Many would have seen death as the only way out resulting in high suicide rates.

  13. Victoria Karcz permalink
    December 18, 2012 9:43 am

    First off, I would like to express my belief that the African American’s did have somewhat of an understanding as to what was awaiting them. The inhumane conditions that these innocent individuals faced merely on the voyage to the New World was a clear indication of what was awaiting them. These individuals were captured; pulled away from their families by random white men who believed they had authority over the lives of these people. If this does not imply that they will have to face a turbulent life in the New World, then nothing does, only the facts do. The fact is that these lives were destroyed for the white man’s benefit, can that be rationalized? No. Besides the horror awaiting them at the New World, I believe the most horrifying part of the voyage was the understanding of what these people were going to be subject to. Thus, that understanding has provoked these individuals to rebel and commit suicide. Suicide was directly correlated with the torture that the African Americans had to bear; the casting of chains, scarcity of food, absurd unhygienic conditions, and the physical abuse. It is absolutely terrifying to know that at this point you with either die, or that you will face a miserable life. Hence, life at this point was better ended than continued, the reason behind numerous suicides.

  14. Richard Cabral permalink
    December 18, 2012 1:48 pm

    In my opinion i believe that the worst part was the way how it he people were chained together. Because for weeks if not months one could lie there chained to hundreds of people trapped in the middle of the ocean. If the person next to you died you could remained chained to them for an undisclosed period of time. Diseases running rampant, sickness spreading like wildfire. There is no possibility of a private moment between you and any of these strangers. I believe the Africans had no idea what there were getting themselves into. As they spent their time on the vessels i believe they gained some understanding for what might become of them. I believe some committed suicide because they were unwilling to find out what was in store for them, some just to defy their fates, others probably wanted to die of their own accord.

  15. Anastasia Davidyants permalink
    December 19, 2012 12:57 am

    The most horrifying aspects of the slave ship was that all of those people had to lie chained together, covered in feces, urine, and vomit. Those are the epitome of inhumane conditions. They were forced to eat whatever they were being fed, and those who refused to eat because they would rather die than suffer were force fed through a tube. These were people who were pulled from their lives and treated like they are not human beings. It is a great tragedy of this world to realize that a human being is capable of treating another human being in such a way. The Africans had no idea what was awaiting them, besides knowing that it is most surely impending doom. They had to have realized that no good can come from such a voyage and they must have thought that they are being taken to hell and beyond. So many tried to commit suicide because they would rather die than live a life like that. Such a life can’t even being called living, I wouldn’t even know what to call it. Unfortunately, many of those who attempted suicide were stopped and force fed so that they wouldn’t die. They wouldn’t even allow them to be put out of their misery through death.

  16. Xiarra-Diamond Nimrod permalink
    December 19, 2012 1:57 am

    The overall thought of slave ships in general is one of the most gruesome parts of the African American Slave History period. Its disgusting , but the most explicit imagery visually and mentally are the slaves being chained together. If someone your chained to dies , your stuck until their body is disposed of. If someone defecates, your stuck. A life changing experience was in 5th grade going to the Black Wax Slave Museum. They have actual ships where you can walk through showing you how the slaves were chained together, what instruments were used and much more. I don’t think that many African Americans knew what was in store for them because then taking their own lives wouldnt have been an option. Attempting suicide was more suffice for the slaves due to the fact that it would have been easier to just take their own life in comparison to lasting and suffering through the harsh abuse they were unfortunately going through.

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