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Modern Voices
Barry Unsworth on the slave crew
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Q: What was the relationship between the slave trader and the African?
Barry Unsworth

A: I remember being struck, when I was researching for my novel, to read about how, when food ran short, it was the crew who would be put on short rations, rather than the slaves, on the basis that slaves were worth money and seamen were not. In fact, once the slaves had been sold at auction, on the return trip the ship could be brought back by half the crew. So they were basically totally expendable. And of course, if they died, you saved on the wages, because the wages were always paid retrospectively. So this accounts for a lot of the mortality of the seamen.

I remember reading that there were times when the slaves gave to the crew some of the portions of their rice. Rice was the staple food that they were given. And there were cases in which the Africans would actually give some of their rice in charity to the very men who had enslaved them and, in some cases, beaten them and kicked them and brutalized them in all kinds of ways. Amazing sort of very touching kind of charity. I don't know, but I suppose there must have been, in many cases, some degree of reciprocal relations between the crew and the slaves. There was always fear. But they were in the same boat, literally.
Barry Unsworth
"The Sacred Hunger"

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