Remembering the transatlantic Slave Trade

The United Nations (UN) International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition is annually observed on August 23 to remind people of the tragedy of the transatlantic slave trade. It gives people a chance to think about the historic causes, the methods, and the consequences of the slave trade, which thrived from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries.

The remembrance day was first recognised on 23 August 1998.

Each year the UN invites people all over the world, including educators, students, and artists, to organise events that centre on the theme of the day. Theatre companies, cultural organisations, musicians and artists take part by expressing their resistance against slavery through performances that involve music, dance, and drama.

Educators promote the day by informing people about the historical events associated with slave trade, the consequences of the slave trade, and to promote tolerance and human rights. Many organisations, including youth associations, government agencies, and non-governmental organisations, actively take part in events to educate society about the negative consequences of the slave trade.

Although it is internationally recognised, it is not yet a public holiday.

Background

The transatlantic slave trade was a classic example of “triangle trade.” In the first leg of the deadly triangle, wealthy nations and empires of western Europe (primarily Spain, Portugal, and France) sent ships to Africa to supply local ports and collect slaves. Most people who were enslaved came from central and western Africa, and were forced into slavery by local dealers employed by European agents. 

The second leg of the triangle was the harrowing “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic Ocean. Slave ships departed from ports on Africa’s west coast, such as Luanda, Angola; and Badagry, Nigeria. About one out of every eight slaves died on board cramped ships on the Middle Passage.

Slaves were sold at markets throughout the Americas. The sugar plantations and gold mines of Brazil were the leading destination for slaves. Other slaves worked on sugar plantations and rum factories in the Caribbean. 

The final leg of the triangle trade was completed by ships carrying goods produced by slave labour back to Europe and urban areas in North America. Goods included sugar and its products, such as rum and syrup; coffee; tobacco; and precious metals such as gold and silver. 

The date of the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition recognises the slave uprising that started in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, in what is today Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The slave rebellion weakened the Caribbean colonial system, sparking an uprising that led to abolishing slavery and giving the island its independence. It marked the beginning of the destruction of the slavery system, the slave trade and colonialism.

In 1888, nearly 85 years later, Brazil became the last nation in the Americas to abolish slavery.

The International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition also pays tribute to those who worked hard to abolish slave trade and slavery throughout the world. This commitment and the actions used to fight against the system of slavery had a huge impact on the human rights movement across the world.

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