Slave Acculturation

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Slave Acculturation
The seasoning process, as applied to the treatment of plantation slaves, was designed to ensure not only that the slaves would become totally dependent upon the dictates of their owners but also to destroy the cultural links which the slaves had with their former homelands. In the West African kingdoms which provided one of the major source of slaves at the height of the triangle trade, slavery was part of the indigenous culture; however, the motivation behind African domestic slavery was for the main part political, and intricately bound up with the way in which the capture of those from neighbouring tribes would allocate bargaining power to the captors; it was not necessary to impose a process of acculturation on the slaves in order to ensure their total obedience. (Curtin p 63)

However, once slavery was extended to Europe and the Americas, there was a perception amongst the white slave-owners that to allow black slaves to maintain their cultural heritage would result in the fomentation of rebellion and invalidate the psychological and physical domination which was essential if small groups of whites were to successfully control large groups of slaves.(Inikori p 22) Depriving slaves of their physical strength, except when seen as necessary to set an example, would have been counter-productive. It was the potential for labour which was highly valued on the plantations; slaves cost money and it was in the interests of the plantation owners to maintain the physical health and strength of their slaves, even when they had established a breeding program which made the slave community essentially self-perpetuating.

Seasoning was therefore designed to establish the slavers’ psychological superiority over the newly arrived slaves, rather than to render them physically incapable of resistance: it was a matter of breaking the spirit rather than the body. As Burnard and Morgan (2001) point out, the value of a slave who was already acculturated was considerably greater than one who was a ‘new Negro’. There were a number of methods by which this was accomplished.

For example, since the newly arrived Africans had come from a social culture in which they had had position and status within the community, one of the priorities of the slave merchants was to make it evident that whatever their social position in their previous life, they were now accorded a status similar to that of draft animals, and their humanity disregarded.(William and Quarterly) The privations of the sea voyage, in which the slaves were crammed together in appalling conditions and suffered a high mortality rate despite the shippers’ vested interest in preserving at least some percentage of their cargo alive, had served to initiate this process of dehumanization.

At the markets, slaves were herded together with little regard for age or gender, and this denial of human rights and aspects of decency which were considered normal amongst the white population also served to ensure that the slaves were made aware of their inferior status. There was a deliberate effort to separate Africans who came from the same geographical region or who spoke the same language, since this had a double benefit for the slave-owners.

In the first place, it added to the feeling of displacement and the separation from their home culture which the prospective slaves were already suffering, and therefore contributed to their dependence on the situation in which they found themselves; this in itself rendered them more malleable to the domination of the slave-owners.(JSTOR) At the same time, it negated much of the potential for rebellion, since Africans from different regions and tribal cultures were grouped together and obliged to develop a new and synthesised culture which was, of necessity, articulated through the...
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