English scholar Ephraim Chambers and first published in 1728, confirms that the dancing and singing onboats was a general practice, and the book also explains the motivation:
“() the poor Wretches, while yet in sight of their Country, fall into Sickness, and die…Theonly sure means to preserve’em, is to have some Musical Instrument play to’em, be it ever so mean”.
By making his human cargo sing and dance, the captain of the ship tried to keep his ‘merchandise’ in goodshape, or at least to survive the crossing of the Atlantic. Each dead slave cut his profits.The following description of the conditions on board speaks for itself (1).
“…they sail cautiously yet boldly in, anchor, and in two or three hours arefilled with negroes, who are carried off to them in canoes. The refractory ones are clapped in irons, or made drunk with rum; and in this stupefied condition they are carried aboard, stowed in a sitting posture, with theknees drawn up so closely that they can scarcely breathe, much lessmove.Now their sufferings become dreadful – horrible; indeed, human languageis incapable of describing, or imagination of sketching even the faint outline of a dimly floating fancy of what their condition is – homesick, seasick, half starved, naked, crying for air, for water, the strong killing the weak or dying in order to make room, the hold becomes a perfect charnel house of death and misery – a misery and anguish only conceivable by those who have endured it.”
It was thus not out of amusement that slaves sang: most of the time they had the choice between makingmusic or being flogged. Dr Falconbridge, a British surgeon on four voyages in slave ships between 1780and 1787, wrote in 1788 in his “An Account of the Slave Trade on the Coast of Africa” :
“Exercise being deemed necessary for the preservation of their health, the [slaves onboard] are sometimes obliged to dance, when the weather will permit their coming on deck.If they go about it reluctantly, or do not move with agility, they are flogged”.
He tells further, leaving nothing to the reader’s imagination : “a person [stands by them] all the time with acat-o’-nine-tails (2) in his hand for that purpose.” Other testimonies run along the same line : “The slaveswere kept in irons, and in the afternoon, after being fed, the boatswain and the mate make them dance;and if they do not, they had each of them a cat to flog them, and make them do it which I have seen
- Dancing to the rhythm of the cat | MyBlueshttp://www.myblues.eu/blog/?p=14302 van 512/09/2011 12:26