“Dancing The Slaves” – A Look Into The Inhumane Treatment Of Africans Aboard Slave Ships

4 Posted by - June 19, 2021 - LATEST POSTS

Daily routines aboard the slave ships

In periods with good weather, the slaves on most slave ships would be brought up on deck in the mornings. Normally the women and children would be allowed to move freely around the deck. The men would be chained together, because it was commonly believed that they would be the ones that would cause violence and resistance.

 During the day the slaves received two meals – the first one was generally early in the mornings. The slaves were normally fed differently depending on where in Africa they had been taken aboard the slave ship. The slave traders believed that the slaves would stay healthier and that they would avoid rebellions if the slaves were given food they were familiar with. Some slaves would be fed boiled rice, millet or cornmeal, others stewed yams, while others again would be fed manic, cassava flour or banana-like fruits. On rare occasion a few pieces of meat would be thrown into the slaves` food, to keep them healthy.

In the afternoons the slaves would be given their second meal of the day. This meal normally differed from and was often worse than the first one. The meal usually consisted of horse bean, which are large beans which were used to feed horses. The beans were boiled and served with a mixture of flour, water and palm oil, and Cayenne pepper or other spices were added to conceal the taste of the horse beans. 


To ensure a good price for the slaves upon arrival in the Caribbean the captain had to keep the slaves in relatively good physical condition, so to achieve this the slaves were “danced” every morning on deck. The slaves were forced to jump up and down and dance, something which were extremely painful for the men who were still chained together. The “dancing” was normally accompanied by poundings on an African drum or iron kettle, and sometimes by a fiddle or an African banjo. 


On ships carrying a large number of slaves, however, it was unlikely that all the slaves would be taken up on deck at the same time, and the crew would probably select the ones who were in most need of exercise. 


Slaves who refused to “dance” would be punished in different ways. The most common method of punishment aboard the slave ships was whipping. Though most whips were made only of simple rope, the crew sometimes used the cat-o-nine-tails which could slash the skin on a slave`s back to ribbons in only a few lashes. It consisted of nine ropes, each coated with tar and with a knot at the end. Whipping could in some cases,  when used in the most brutal manner be fatal. However, despite the risk of being punished, the slaves generally enjoyed the time they spent on deck, because this was the only time during the day they were allowed to move “freely” and breathe some fresh air. It was a more than welcomed break from the dark and filthy gloom below deck.    


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