The idea and horrendous act of one human owning another is a plague etched in history from the colonization of the New World to its abolishment during the Civil War. The exemplification being referenced is slavery. Slavery placed man-kind in a position of power where the depravity of personal liberties and rights were not only apparent but generally accepted. There was an ideology that slaves were less than human; their species classified as property and could be treated as such. Slaves were bred as selectively as animals, tamed, disciplined, transported, and exploited in the same manner.
There are two individual perspectives of slavery from varying timelines, races, and backgrounds where the atrocities of slavery are parallel. They are the observations and writings of Bartolome De Las Casas and Olaudah Equiano. Although their perceptions are from different points in time, the themes of injustice, brutality, and heinous treatment of slaves are not only realized but became a defining moment in their lives where their agenda developed into one of change, culminating into a fight for protection from inhumane treatment, equality and abolishment of this cancerous tort.
The inaugural application of slavery in the New World as recalled by Bartolome De Las Casas was presented in conjunction with Christopher Columbus’ return to Spain where seven Taino Indians were seized from the island of Guanahani and exploited. Casas stated that this instance was “the first injustice committed in the Indies” (Baym 38). There was a period of time when Casas was absorbed with the progressive nature of exploration and occupation that he was unconscious of the moral implications regarding his participation in the exploitation of the natives after his initial voyage and settlement in Hispaniola (Baym 38).
The negative moral and ethical undertones were not apparent until he became a priest and realized the ownership and unequal treatment of the natives were contrary to Christian teachings. This idea was reinforced due to continued violence and brutality toward the natives. This was a turning point in his life where renouncing the encomienda, or legal system justifying the occupation of natives under Spanish rule (Encomienda) became paramount.
His political ventures began in the year 1515 where the Spanish government allocated him authority to establish a colony off the Venezuelan coast where the alleviation of the natives suffering and exploitation could begin (Baym 39). At this juncture in his fight to end slavery, some countermeasures were presented. One of which was the importation of African slaves to ease Indian suffering. This idea was not conducive to Casas’ cause and he soon redacted it. As stated in Casas History of the Indies, “black slavery was as unjust as Indian slavery, and was no remedy at all” (Las Casas).
In this instance, Casas was aware of the injustice of slavery no matter the person. He constant debates and attempted compromises culminated in the failure of the Venezuelan venture. The continued violence and brutal acts toward slaves discouraged Casas into anonymity until he decided that if he cannot end slavery, he could at least become an advocate against the cruel and inhumane treatment of slaves. He continued this endeavor while combating allegations of treason and heresy until his death.
Las Casas perspective of slavery was one of participation, observation, morality, realization, and change. Olaudah Equino’s perspective, on the other hand, is a firsthand account of an African man experiencing a myriad of staggering aspects of slavery but utilized his intelligence, adaptability, and morality to ascend to a level in society that for a man of a lesser caliber would be difficult to emulate. This ascension ultimately resulted in his ability to buy his freedom and involvement in the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.
Olaudah Equino’s story is told from a first person narrative written by him explaining how he was taken from his family and transported, sold, and resold to masters throughout Africa until he was sold to British slavers and put on a slave ship (Baym 690-695). The cruelty the occupants had to endure was horrific. The ship was over maximum occupancy and they were chained close together with other slaves under the ship’s deck in the most unsanitary conditions.
He is quoted as saying, “I was put under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had ever experienced in my life” (Equino 46). The conditions were so terrible that although he was hungry, the thought of food was retching. Due to the slaves refusing or being unable to eat, they were beat mercilessly. Overpopulation also accounted for the spread of disease through sickness and infection. Upon his ultimate arrival to the colonies