Those who grew rich on slavery and the slave trade were not neutral and no achievement or act of philanthropy justifies airbrushing their involvement from history. This is because forgetting slavery means forgetting its victims. As a nation, we still have only a dim understanding of the slave system that funded Sloane’s collecting. Ironically, one of the sources we can turn to in order to learn more is his own accounts of late 17th-century Jamaica.
The system he witnessed and wrote about was one in which human beings were worked to death. One in which enslaved people suffered and even died from malnutrition, as the economics of the slave trade meant that it was cheaper, at times, to starve people and then replace them than it was to provide them with food.
Sloane witnessed and later became part of a system ruled by terror. He saw how enslaved people who had risen up were burnt to death, castrated or mutilated, punishments he regarded as “merited”. In the system that made Sloane wealthy, black women sought out herbs, plant species that he carefully identified and categorised, and used them to induce abortions, determined as many were not to bring into the world children who would be born items of property and destined to live short, brutalised lives.
Olusoga is of – half – Nigerian descent. Various among the societies that were agglomerated into Nigeria were more or less involved in that slave trade from the supply end. Which of those societies does Olusoga’s ancestry come from?
Reasonable estimates have some 50% of the inhabitants of the Sokoto Caliphate – as late as the late 19th cent – being slaves….
This is indeed tu quoque. But it is Olusoga who keeps insisting that it’s the Brits who are uniquely responsible…..