Introduction of African Slaves
Cardinal Cisneros died in 1517 and the new king Charles I of Spain and V of Germany, was the heir of the Houses of Aragon, Austria, Burgundy and Castile. In that moment, as chosen emperor in 1519, he was the most powerful ruler in all of Europe, counting with a steady source of riches in raw goods and precious metals from the American Continent.
From early in the century, Santo Domingo held the important position as the administrative center of Colonial Spain, until around 1530 when the Royal Justice Palace was transferred to Mexico. Every day ships from Spain arrived in port of Santo Domingo with basic European products like flour, iron, steel, shoes, fabrics, paper, soaps, combs, perfumes, etc., and here they would pick up provisions for the expeditions and conquests of the mainland. Traders from the other colonies traveled to Santo Domingo to buy European and local products, specially, cattle and casabe, of which Hispaniola was a large supplier.
With a growing demand in its colonies, as well as in Europe, and after the weakening of the mining economy in the island, the investment in agricultural products for export was a much more sustainable option for the Spanish Crown, which provided the perfect situation for plantations, specially, sugar, going as far as financing personal loans to folks wishing to engage in the business of sugar production. After the Jeronimos government, who initiated the transition to this economy, the magistrate Rodrigo de Figueroa quoted that by 1520 there were already processing sugar cane in three presses and three sugar mills, with 30 more under construction.
Santo Domingo occupied the leading role in exports of tropical agricultural goods in all of the 16th century, and to grow and maintain production levels within the mercantile system, this production would have to be based on slave labor, specially, black Africans, whose import officially started in 1518 with a special license granted by the Dutch emperor to Laurent de Gouvenot, governor of Bresse. This license authorized the introduction of 4,000 slaves (women and men) into the Indies, extent from import duties or taxes on merchandise, during an 8 year period.
The slaves came from Spain and Portugal, who already sported small quantities that understood their master's language and were called ladinos, or from Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea, from groups sold by the Portuguese in their possession, with no familiarity with Iberian cultures and language were called bozales.
Laurent de Gouvenot sold his licenses to Genovese merchants in Seville for 25,000 ducats, causing the first slave shipments to be sold in Santo Domingo for exorbitant prices. This forced the colonial authorities to complain repeatedly about the slowness of production and the high cost of the slaves. But, the juicy Genovese monopoly lasted until 1527, even though the emperor granted other licenses to a few functionaries so they could import directly quantities of 100 and 50 slaves, as well as another specific license so they could import an additional 1,500.
In 1528 the slave traffic was restructured with a license issued to the creditors of the emperor, German bankers Welser, to whom was also granted the right of conquest and colonization of present day Venezuela. The licenses ensued one another, but the Antillean authorities continued complaining and purchasing a great number of slaves from smugglers that became regulars from the start.
The slaves were captured in many areas of the northwest part of the African continent, from tribes with different customs and dialects, shipped primarily from Portuguese ports in the Gulf of Guinea, specifically, the kingdoms of Akan and Benin, whose monarchs based their economies on the slave trade. Another zone exploited by the Portuguese was the kingdom of Mali, between the Senegal river and Gambia, where they also exported slaves and spices.
As they were shipped to America, the slaves were assigned the name of the shipping port, which has represented an obstacle in establishing their exact point of origin, many times being further inland from the African coast. A large part of the initial groups originated from the regions from the Kaedi river in Diara to the Senegal river, or from Rey in the Adamawa mountains. Some scholars suggest the high index of individuals from west Sudan tribes (African Muslims), others claim a large amount from Nigerian origins shipped to the Caribbean: primarily from the Yoruba culture with Bantu influences.
In order to get an idea of the origin of early African groups in Santo Domingo, we have reproduced the names of a list of slaves that formed part of the inventory of Hernando Gorjon's property in 1547, and that was presented by historian Carlos F. Deive in 1980.1
We have also annexed the geographic location and possible ascent, according to this author's references, as well as other investigators.
Francisco Calabar-Calabar, Carabi, Carabali – from the region of Calabar or Calabares between the delta of the Niger and Senegal rivers or from Rey. According to Deive, in the early days of slavery, the greatest origin of slaves was one of theses regions. It was a zone densely populated by various tribes. Four principal groups stand out: the Ibo, Ijaw, Semibantus (Ibios and Ekoi), and the Bantu tribes located between the Cross and Sanaga rivers or Rey. The Bantu in general were nomad tribes and many other Bantu groups originated in the Congo, Angola, Sao Paulo of Luanda, São Jorge da Mina (Benguela) and eastern Africa (Mozambique)
Pedro Zape-Juan Francisco Zape – Originated in present day Sierra Leone, near Sherbro. Some authors consider Kpwesi or Kpelle and others in the Mande-fu group. It was the largest tribe in Liberia, occupying the area from Saint Paul river to Saint John. Present in Santo Domingo only in the 16th century.
Christobal Lucume-Hernando Lucume – Variation of Lucumi, as the Yoruba were called then, were abundant in the Caribbean islands and Brasil. The Yorubas or Nago came primarily from present day Nigeria, from the Oyo region, Ketu, where Ibadan, Yoruba's capital was located, and from Ijesha. Great numbers of Yorubas were shipped in Badagri and the present day Lagos, Nigeria, in the Bay of Benin.
Juan Bron-Gonzalo Bran-Brong-Cristobal Bran-Maria Bran-Leonor Bran – originally from Brong, were shipped in the factory of São Jorge da Mina. Fighting between the Akan tribes resulted in the Brongs being subjugated by the Ashanti.
Gonzalo Mandinga – Belonged to an dynasty south of Sudan with the same name. This dynasty was built over territories abandoned by the Almoravides (West African that ruled all of the Arabian Spain from 1093 to 1148. Their ethnicity included Fulas and Bereneres, they were feared because they had a reputation of witches and warriors. Some scholars believe that although they came in smaller numbers from Bantu, the conserved many Sudanese cultural traits.
Perico Maga – A people originating in a Sudanese tribe from the Bagumi region; Dr. Daive suggests there may be an error and that they are more likely the Mangas, Bantu tribe with the language of Ki-Mbundu from Ki-Manga, Lamba village between the Danee and Zwanza rivers.
Ambo – Tribe located between the Sanaga (or belonging to the King) and Camerun, across from Fernando Poo island in present day Republic of Cameroon.
Ana Olofa-Maria Olofa– Wolof or Gelofes, originating in Sudan.
The great diversity of African ethnicity was exploited by the slave traders and their future owners, facilitating the divisions within the Africans to avoid the development of a common conscience or the resulting burst of rebellion.
Although the Spanish slavery politics permitted the survival of some cultural manifestations, the majority of men and women arriving from Africa, as well as being very young (between 15 and 20 years), suffered the shock of the capture and the trip entering a process of de-culturalization. In other words, the loss of their cultural values, specially their myths and believes, due to the fact that generally, in the African tribes, many still illiterate, the formation and transformation of knowledge was still passed by word of mouth which was the responsibility of the elders.
These adolescents were brutally captured and shipped in the worse of overcrowded conditions, forced to work for very long hours and under a total prison like state of control within a single environment of interaction: the plantations and mines.
This great psychological shock would erase, bit by bit, the customs and cultural models of their original tribes, while forging a new cross-cultural process with the representation of many different tribes. In this manner and with the language and new customs imposed by the Europeans, there began to surface a new species of hybred of African cultures, immersed in a new slow process of transition full of difficulties and confusion; as German Carrera notes, "stripped of alternatives to satisfy the four primary biological needs: nourishment, sex, dress and shelter, that supply and conform fundamental cultural blocks."2
Many of the shipped to America died during the voyage or shortly after. Others lived 10 to 15 years and the initial reproduction was very slow, due to the difficulty in pairing men-women in the barracks or living quarters, as well as the deficient nutrition based only on beef, fruit juice, sugar cane juices and the eternal casave.
In the beginning, the high death rates began to worry the authorities and colonists who thought that the black slaves might not be able to withstand the hard work conditions; Bartholome de Las Casas, very impressed and very repentant about his mediation in favor of the importation of the Africans, got to believe that “nunca habíamos visto negro de su enfermedad muerto, porque, cierto, hallaron los negros, como los naranjos, su tierra, la cual es más natural que su guinea, pero después que los metieron en los ingenios, por grandes trabajos que padecían y por brebajes que de las mieles de caña hacen, y beben, hallaron su muerte y pestilencia... por esto huyen cuando pueden a cuadrillas, y se levantan y hacen muertes y crueldades a los españoles”.3 (Never had we seen blacks die from sickness, oc course, they found the blacks, like orange trees in their naative land, which is more natural that the guiney, but later they put them in the mills, with labor so har that killed them and with the drinks made of sugar juice and honey they find their death and sickness... because of this they flee when they see the slave chasers and revolt and do cruelties to the Spanish.)
The initial adaptation was very difficult, however, unlike the tame Antillean natives, squashed under the terrible treatment and their own inability to adapt to the European social order,the Africans stripped of their cultural and physical identities, began a constant resistance that would not only influence directly, their owners economies, but the formation of the Antillean modern culture as well.
It is estimated that, between the official entries with licenses and the smuggled, by the end of the late 1520s there were around 10,000 African slaves in the island. After their arrival at the port they were sold to authorities and colonists, and depending on their condition, distributed to diverse work destinations; the majority destined to work in sugar, cañafistola (Cassia fistula ) and ginger plantations and the mine, doing heavy work for which they were called felling slaves. The remaining would become domestic slaves, that attended their owner's estates and cattle farms. Later, there existed another kind of a laborer slave who could be rented out by his master to work elsewhere for a certain amount of time, or who possessed freedom of movement to work independently and bring back a daily income to his owner. These laborers included farm workers, artisans, street vendors and prostitutes.