What is the worth of a man’s life?
Two guns and a 5 bales of woven cotton?
A bag of cowries?
For the better part of 400 years, the greatest forced migration in human history transported approximately 13 million people from the western coasts of Africa to European colonies in the New World.They made that most arduous and torturous journey for the sole purpose of working everyday of the rest of their lives as slave laborers. Untold numbers perished on ships as they made the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. The few who
were lucky(or unlucky) to survive would later go on to die after years of harsh, wretched toil in the mines and on the plantations of their new masters. Shall we blame the white man because they had a demand for slaves due to the thriving trade in gold, sugar, coffee and other commodities? Or the African rulers who readily provided a steady supply of their subjects for sale in exchange for guns and cowries? The contemporary wars against sex slavery and narcotics faces the same dilemma. If there were no sick, twisted people looking to satisfy their dark urges with illicit sex, would there be sex slavery? And if there was no one looking to get high on cocaine, would there be so much murder in Colombia and Mexico? On the other hand, if there was no supply of girls and heroin, would there be anyone shopping for them? Apportioning blame for this great tragedy is not my aim in this piece but rather to examine the ideological roots of slavery and subservience. It’s a demand versus supply problem. I will attempt to examine the supply side.
I believe it cannot be denied that one of the reasons the white man was able to perpetrate the slave trade for so long was because slavery was already an established tradition in Africa. We were already enslaving ourselves before anyone had the temerity to follow suit. Our kings could use any reason they deemed fit to enslave anyone, all in the name of the gods and tradition. Would colonization have been possible if we had not sold off a large percentage of our population, leaving us defenseless? What if we had thrown off our own shackles of internal imperialism before the slave traders arrived? It is this imperialism that
entrenched the idea that one man is greater than the rest of us, that some men and women are less valuable than others, and that it is acceptable to exchange a human being (that complex amalgam of the mundane and the sublime, the corporeal and the ethereal) for sea-shells and silk. I ask you, what is the worth of a man’s life?
One of my passions is comparing culture globally because even though each race is unique, there is a certain universality to mankind and ideals.
The challenge is always applicability of lessons. Imperialism and monarchies have existed throughout history and on every continent. However, virtually every monarchy in the world has collapsed today, even though they still exist in the form of dictatorships. The decline of the power wielded by the English monarchy began with the issuance of the Magna Carta in 1215 and culminated in the victory of the parliamentarians at the end of the English Civil War in 1651. King James I of England had even once declared that kings were little Gods on earth. Of course the English would have none of that divine intrusion. The French revolution and subsequent beheadings of 1789 – 1799 would bring an end to their monarchy. The establishment of a republic in China began with a revolution in 1911 after the people got fed up with the corruption of their Emperor.
These violent revolutions were preceded by ideological revolutions and were inevitable placed in the context of those turbulent times. The only way the world knew how to effect change was through war and violence. Democracy was mostly non-existent. Things have changed since then, and now we have the ballot-box to effect change. But while we employ our votes in these coming days, we need to embark on a journey of ideological transformation. We have been independent for 50 years but we have not completely shaken off the culture of slavery. We still sell ourselves and each other for material gains. But all hope is not lost. Our political dialogue has been robust but it needs to be deeper still. We must not let up even after the elections because one election is not going to solve all our challenges, even if your dream candidate wins.
We need to build a nation that ascribes to greater ideals and principles, with an emphasis of the dignity of the human being, regardless of background. It took the will and force of a William Wilberforce, a religious man who believed in the equality of all God’s children, to put a stop to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We are a very religious people and speak a lot of “enemies” and “evil spirits”. When will we realize that the evil spirits are the inept leaders and looters of the treasury? That the weapons of our warfare are tough love, unyielding justice, righteous indignation and equity and not prayers on the express roads? Instead of naming and claiming, should we not seek to materialize intangible concepts such as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility? I speak of ideals even though I know that they are not always attainable but what makes nations great is not that they are perfect or that they are ideal, but that they strive for perfection and are idealistic. it is our struggle against evil and injustice that defines us. We may not win all the battles, but in the big picture, we win the war for the soul of our nation.
Again I ask, what is the measure of a man? What is his worth? Another life? Ten thousand lives? A deity’s life? I tell you, a man’s life is priceless.