How Europe Pulled Ahead

What caused Europe to develop faster than the rest of the world? That’s my main question. I’m reading about the emergence of international trade and its impact on international stratification. Essentially, Europe seems to be the first area that moved towards capitalism and focused on subjugating a sector of the population for the benefit of the decision-makers. However, I think some very natural trade patterns emerged. Everyone wanted what the others had. Europeans wanted gold from Africa, Asians wanted European goods, and Africans wanted Asian spices, etc. That part makes sense. Also, apparently Europeans had better naval capacities both for exploration and for military conquest. Once Europeans realized that they had to figure out a way to get more gold, they started bulldozing their way into the African coast and then re-focused their energy on exploiting the Americas.

It’s still crazy to me that in some parts of the Americas, the entire population of indigenous people were wiped out. And we’re supposed to be okay with that? So Europeans wanted to get all the minerals and produce from the Americas to take back to Europe but they didn’t have the labor to do it. So where do they turn? Africa. Folks started trading African captives for consumer goods. Can you imagine your mom getting traded for a bottle of liquor? Crazy right? But folks were doing it! Africans were enticed by the foreign luxuries (which a lot of times were actually the leftover hand-me-downs from European society) (and we still obsess over luxuries) and would do anything to get their hands on them, including selling their brothers and sisters (cough cough). They would also sell captives and prisoners of war. But, next thing I read is that folks actually started fighting just to get prisoners to trade with the Europeans. Can you believe that? Well, I guess I can see how it makes logical sense. They wanted more stuff, and to get more stuff they had to trade something of value. The Europeans wanted more people so they had to get more people. Makes sense. It’s still frustrating to think about. Books like this can be quite deflating. šŸ˜¦

What it means is that some Africa rulers found European goods sufficiently desirable to hand over captives which they had taken in warfare. Soon, war began to be fought between one community and another for the sole purpose of getting prisoners for sale to Europeans, and even inside a given community a ruler might be tempted to exploit his own subjects and capture them for sale. A chain reaction was started by European demand for slaves (and only slaves) and by their offer of consumer goods- this process being connected with divisions within African society. p. 91

And these are some of the things that unfortunately we can’t argue with.

National unification was a product of mature feudalism and of capitalism. Inside of Europe, there were far fewer political divisions than in Africa where communalism meant political fragmentation with the family as the nucleus, and there were only a few states that had real territorial solidity. p. 92

Any European trader could arrive on the coast of West Africa and exploit the political differences which he found there. For example, in the small territory that the Portuguese later claimed as Guinea-Bissau, there were more than a dozen ethnic groups. It was so easy to set one off against another that Europeans called it a ‘slave trader’s paradise.’ p. 92

In the simplest of societies where there were no kings, it proved impossible for Europeans to strike up the alliance which was necessary to carry on a trade in captives on the coast. p 92

It’s good to read that some of the leaders did resist the slave trade, at least at first. For instance, one of the kings of the Kongo wanted to establish a mutually beneficial trading relationship with Europe, exchanging the best of both worlds instead of being exploited and forced into submission through the exporting of people. However, the Europeans forced one king of the Kongo to fight the other, thus allowing their slave trade to continue. I wonder if this is still happening today. We fight each other, end up in jail, or dead, and then are forced into slave labor. I need to pick up the books “40-Million Dollar Slave” and “The New Jim Crow.”

I have to be careful reading this kind of stuff because it surely lights a fire in me. At least there was some resistance!

Once trade in slaves had been started in any given part of Africa, it soon became clear that it was beyond the capacity of any single African state to change the situation. In Angola, the Portuguese employed an unusual number of their own troops and tried to seize political power from Africans. The Angolan state of Matamba on the river Kwango was founded around 1630 as a direct reaction against the Portuguese. With Queen Nzinga at its head, Matamba tried to co-ordinate resistance against the Portuguese in Angola. However, Portugal gained the upper hand in 1648, and this left Matamba isolated. Matamba could not forever stand aside. So long as it opposed trade with the Portuguese, it was an object of hostility from neighboring African states which had compromised with Europeans and slave trading. So in 1656 Queen Nzinga resumed business with the Portuguese- a major concession to the decision-making role of Europeans within the Angolan economy. p. 93

Dang! I was rooting for Queen Nzinga! We’re going to study specific kings and queens throughout history that stood up for what they believed and for the betterment of their people. Queen Nzinga, we salute you for trying! There was another king of Dahomey named Agaja Trudo who also resisted the Europeans. He attacked slave-friendly entities and successfully retarded the slave trade in his region for quite a while. However, he didn’t address his country’s newly formed dependence on European goods and thus a vacuum was created that eventually led to the re-establishment of the slave trade in exchange for firearms and cowries. See that? The point is that they couldn’t do it themselves and they didn’t come up with another economic system to replace that which they were trying to eradicate.

I’m going to pause there and resume reading later. This book will just get you going. It makes me critically aware of how things came to be. I never used to be a huge fan of history, but it’s so important for understanding how things are and how things can be in the future. Knowledge is potential. Action is power.


About Ernest Levert Jr.

Aspiring Servant-Leader studying engineering principles, financial stewardship, business management, and psychology fundamentals in order to cultivate passionate leadership, disseminate positive energy, uplift the community and ultimately create a brighter future for generations to come.
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