W African Culture

W. African Culture




This is a museum not just about the slave trade but also the history of slavery, contemporary slavery and the affect on human rights issues today. The Portuguese were the first to engage in the New World slave trade in the 16th century. Between 1418 and the 1470s, the Portuguese launched a series of exploratory expeditions that remapped the oceans south of Portugal, charting new territories that one explorer described as "oceans where none have ever sailed before." In 1526, the Portuguese completed the first transatlantic slave voyage from Africa to the Americas, and other countries soon followed. Ship owners considered the slaves as cargo to be transported to the Americas as quickly and cheaply as possible, there to be sold to labour in coffee, tobacco, cocoa, sugar and cotton plantations, gold and silver mines, rice fields, construction industry, cutting timber for ships, in skilled labour, and as domestic servants. The first Africans imported to the English colonies were classified as "indentured servants", like workers coming from England, and also as "apprentices for life". By the middle of the 17th century, slavery had hardened as a racial caste; they and their offspring were legally the property of their owners, and children born to slave mothers were slaves. As property, the people were considered merchandise or units of labour, and were sold at markets with other goods and services.


The process became known as the Triangular Trade. The first side of the triangle was the export of goods from Europe to Africa. A number of African kings and merchants took part in the trading of enslaved people from 1440 to about 1833. For each captive, the African rulers would receive a variety of goods from Europe. These included guns, ammunition and other factory made goods. The second leg of the triangle exported enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. The third and final part of the triangle was the return of goods to Europe from the Americas. The goods were the products of slave-labour plantations and included cotton, sugar, tobacco, molasses and rum. Sir John Hawkins, considered the pioneer of the British slave trade, was the first to run the Triangular trade, making a profit at every stop. As of 1778, Thomas Kitchin estimated that Europeans were bringing an estimated 52,000 slaves to the Caribbean alone each year, with the French bringing the most Africans to the French West Indies (13,000 out of the yearly estimate). In total some 11,000,000 slaves were transported across the Atlantic. The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the last two decades of the 18th century, during and following the Kongo Civil War. Wars among tiny states along the Niger River's Igbo-inhabited region and the accompanying banditry also spiked in this period. Another reason for surplus supply of enslaved people was major warfare conducted by expanding states, such as the kingdom of Dahomey, the Oyo Empire, and the Asante Empire.


Slave ships spent several months travelling to different parts of the coast, buying their cargo. The captives were often in poor health from the physical and mental abuse they had suffered. They were taken on board, stripped naked and examined from head to toe by the captain or surgeon. Conditions on board ship during the Middle Passage were appalling. The men were packed together below deck and were secured by leg irons. The space was so cramped they were forced to crouch or lie down. Women and children were kept in separate quarters, sometimes on deck, allowing them limited freedom of movement, but this also exposed them to violence and sexual abuse from the crew. The air in the hold was foul and putrid. Seasickness was common and the heat was oppressive. The lack of sanitation and suffocating conditions meant there was a constant threat of disease. Epidemics of fever, dysentery (the 'flux') and smallpox were frequent. Captives endured these conditions for about two months, sometimes longer. In good weather the captives were brought on deck in midmorning and forced to exercise. They were fed twice a day and those refusing to eat were force-fed. Those who died were thrown overboard. The combination of disease, inadequate food, rebellion and punishment took a heavy toll on captives and crew alike. Surviving records suggest that until the 1750s one in five Africans on board ship died. Some European governments, such as the British and French, introduced laws to control conditions on board. They reduced the numbers of people allowed on board and required a surgeon to be carried. The principal reason for taking action was concern for the crew and not the captives. The surgeons, though often unqualified, were paid head-money to keep captives alive. By about 1800 records show that the number of Africans who died had declined to about one in eighteen.


Audio/Video with BSL on access. Videos and interactives throughout the International Slavery Museum have subtitles and British Sign Language on demand, and removable stools where necessary. There is a raised orientation map in the gallery with braille, and audio guides in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. The Merseyside Maritime Museum (in the same building) has adapted toilet facilities. Light levels in some parts of the museum are low because of the sensitivity of objects. Guide and hearing dogs welcome. Table service is available in the ground floor café and the Maritime Dining Room on the top floor. Seating is available in the galleries. If you would like to visit the museum and have specific access requirements for your group, please contact Joyce Parr joyce.parr@liverpoolmuseums.org.uk to discuss these. They offer a range of tactile sessions using our handling collections, including Life in West Africa and Understanding transatlantic slavery. There are two ramped accesses (gradients 1:12 and 1:15) and a lift to all floors. There is access to every floor but due to evacuation procedures they have to restrict the number of wheelchair users on each floor at any one time; as follows: Ground floor and 4th floor: 8 persons per floor. Basement and 1st to 3rd floors: 2 persons per floor. The Merseyside Maritime Museum is in the same building. The Beatles Story is close by. The Museum of Liverpool is close by. A wealth of choice.


Location : International Slavery Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool Waterfront, Liverpool L3 4AQ

Transport: Lime Street (National Rail) 20 min. James Street (Wirral Line) 5 min. Bus routes C4 stops outside; 10, 10A, 10B, 12, 13, 18, 26, 27, 30, 30A, 52, 52A, 56, 75 and 76 stop nearby. Merseylink Service.

Opening Times: Daily 10:00 to 17:00

Tickets: Free

Tel: 0151 478 4499