The Slave Ship by Marcus Rediker is a great fiction novel that describes the horrifying experiences of Africans, seamen, and captains on their Journey through the Middle Passage. The Middle Passage marked the water way in the Atlantic Ocean between Africa and the Americas. The use of slaves provided a great economy for the European countries due to the fact that these African slaves provided free labor while cultivating sugar cane in the Caribbean and America.
Rediker describes the slave migration by saying, “There exists no account of the mechanism for historys greatest forced migration, which was in many ways the key to an entire phase of lobalization” (10). This tells us that African enslavement to the Americas causes a complete shift in the balance of globalization. Africans who became enslaved were usually prisoners of war between tribes. Merchants would give goods to the chiefs of villages for these people. Men, women, and children were stripped away from their own homes by being kidnapped, as well.
These slaves would travel up to six months to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean to reach what is known as the “slave ship”. From here, they were abused by having to live in a harsh environment in the Journey hrough the Middle Passage. Many slaves would not even make it to their destination, but those who did were sold to spend the rest of their life cultivated mainly sugar cane. Rediker offers new insights to human history by researching many documents to find the hard truth in this novel to how slavery was introduced in the Americas.
Rediker uses his research to explain how difficult it was for Africans to be introduced to the harsh lifestyle of slavery. He uses many diaries of the slave ships captains, and even a few slaves, to bring to life the brutality that was inflicted to hese innocent people emotionally and physically on the slave ship. Africans rebelled constantly against the slave traders every chance they had. They’re very few slaves that would escape enslavement and live a free life, while many others perished into the horrific lifestyle of slavery. Some Africans did not go without putting up a fght.
For instance, Captain Tomba led many villagers “in burning huts and killing neighbors who cooperated with slave traders” (14). He was later captured and sent to the slave ship where he would be sold in the New World. The slaves also resisted by refusing to eat. Most of them decided they would rather have death than to live the lifestyle on the slave ships. The captains punished those who refused to eat by giving them lashes to the bare skin until they decided to eat. Olaudah Equiano could be considered one of the more fortunate Africans involved in the slave trade.
Rediker uses Equiano to show how Africans were kidnapped and brought to the slave ship. Equiano was home alone with his sister when he was snatched by a neighboring enemy tribe. Tribes were kidnapping each other to sell to the slave traders for goods and even weapons. Equiano was separated from his sister and sold off to merchants before actually boarding the slave ship. He mentioned several times how he would rather die than be on the slave ship. He noticed right away that “the slave ship was equipped with nettings to prevent precisely such desperate rebellion” (109).
Equiano went to the Americas and was left alone when none of the merchants purchased him. He was sold toa captain and He got to stay on the deck and eat better food than he had during the Middle Passage. He also befriended a young child who was one of the captain’s apprentices. Equiano lived a free life and became literate as he wrote his own autobiography. The fear that the seamen were cannibals was very common on the slave ships. Fear was enriched into the thoughts of these slaves because they had no idea where they were going and what was to become of them.
They also did not know what to expect from the captain along with his crew. The fear of being eaten by them and abused led them to wanting death. Communication was also a key to the slaves. Many of the slaves came from different tribes, so it was hard to communicate with each other since they had different languages. When they finally became a sort of “new tribe” on the slave ship, they reached the end of their Journey and lost the bonds that they made when being sold off. The Middle Passage was not only harsh for the slaves, but for the ship’s crew, as well.
James Field Stanfield was a seaman who participated in the slave trade. Like many of the crew, Stanfield occasionally boarded ships to work for cruel captains. Some captains punished his crew as often as they did the slaves. Stanfield accounts that even at one point he had to take over for the doctor and dress wounds from the ashes on slaves and even the crew. He describes the Journey through the Middle Passage as horrific. He describes the working environment by saying “seamen were also forced to work when sick, sometimes with fatal consequences” (148).
Stanfield is a living proof of the harsh conditions watching his crew members die and be tossed overboard. Sharks played a role in the Middle Passage. Sharks were known to follow ships because of the enormous amount of dead slaves and crew members being tossed over. John Newton was a rebellious crew member who turned into a good, “Christian” slave ship captain. He is portrayed of being extremely rebellious at first, and develops a heart and sincerity for the slaves. He improved the living quarters for the slaves by cleaning the small rooms below the decks to prevent disease and sickness from spreading.
Newton also provided better food to the slaves feeling as though he would make more money if they were in good health when reaching port. The start of abolishing slavery started and was growing rapidly in Europe due to the amount of deaths and harsh lifestyle along the Middle Passage. The relationship between shipmates and captives was also terrifying, as well. When the slaves were brought to the ships, they were stripped of their clothing. Women had to squat to hide their genital area. The ship had one “general rule” when keeping the slaves locked up.
Rediker says that “all men were manacled and shackled at the wrist and leg, women and children were left unconstrained” (267). The horrifying thing about these shackles was that they stripped the flesh off of the slaves. Ships were using “a significant number of the enslaved t work aboard the vessel, at a wide variety of tasks central to the shipboard economy’ (268). This helped he crew with the Journey and caused a lesser workload for them. Even women were used as cooks to feed the ships population.
This gave the slaves more interaction with the voyage. The mortality rate decreased since the slaves were not being constantly cooped up in the small living quarters that they were placed in at first. Rediker uses this human history to describe several things. He shows throughout the gathering forces that would bring it to an end” (352). This novel is portrayed as a great human history because of the way Rediker shows both sides of slavery and the Middle Passage. He shows the merchants who thought of the slaves as nothing but profit.
These merchants did not care what would happen to the slaves considering that it was no loss to them if one died. He also shows how abolitionists fight the horrific lifestyle on the slave ships. Although most do not want to end slavery all together until a later date, they desired a better living environment for the slaves while aboard the slave ships. Rediker efficiently uses his research to conduct this book in showing the terror and harsh lifestyle of a slave during the slave route from Africa to the Americas in what is known as the Middle Passage.