August 8 is an important date for understanding the roots of the recent commerce of people as slaves. It was on Augus 8, 1444, that the Portuguese made the first large delivery of kidnapped Africans in Europe. They disembarked 235 captives in the city of Lagos, Portugal. This was something new. Numerous people came to watch. Prince Henry who had authorized the voyage was also present in the receiving party. He received his share of 46 captives, as a fifth of the loot was owed to him as his royal fee.
The Portuguese slavers reported that they surprised their victims by ambushing a coastal African city at night, during the cover of darkness. They attacked the people while screaming Saint James, Saint James, Saint James. Some Africans ran to hide wherever they could. Some hid in the wilderness, others tried to disappear under the cover of floor mats. There were those who plunged in the ocean in an effort to swim away. Indeed, some did get away; others drowned.
The Portuguese called these kind of invasions "razzias" as if to say they scorched the earth of its inhabitants. The savage success of this undertaking gave them a taste for how profitable such missions could be. Prince Henry sold his portion to finance other such missions and capitalize on his gains
In the distribution and sell of these captives, some of the victims held their hands to their faces in absolute depression. Others looked to the sky while screaming incessantly. The Portuguese writers who documented this described their behavior as yearning for divine intervention. There were others who dropped themselves to the floor in total desperation.
This delivery of human cargo on Thursday August 8, 1444 was the first large disembarkment of people from boats specifically used to transport of people as slaves. But it was not the first kidnaping of Africans by Portuguese on the West Coast of Africa. That first kidnaping occurred in 1441. At that time, they had laid hands on 13 people whom they had also surprised on the coast during the dark of night. They had perfected that kind of attack in the Mediterranean where Christians used to do the same to Moslems whom they enslaved in Europe.
After the first 13 people were kidnapped from Mauritania, Africa, the Portuguese sent them to Portugal. Six of them were given to Pope Eugene IV to serve as his personal slaves. This gift was to ensure Papal support for the enslavement of Africans. The Pope appreciated the gesture. The Portuguese enslavers took care to explain to Pope Eugene IV that the victims resisted their capture and for that reason they had to kill some. In addition, they told the Pope that where they captured them, there are still many more as the population is dense. However, to apprehend them will require sinful activity, mistreatment, and other abuses. The Pope solved the matter and declared to the Portuguese enslavers: “ …With the power granted to me as God’s spokesperson, God will forgive all crimes committed in the process of enslaving Africans.”
These are some of the initial events during the first nights of kidnapping West Africans for enslavement overseas. As Africans responded to protect themselves, the kidnappings later gave way to commercial exchanges, safer for participants on either side. It is this disastrous collaboration that led to our presence in the Americas as second-class people, often deprived of citizenship. Fortunately, the organizers of Bwa Kayiman would help end this endless night and bring us to the dawn of a new day where “Black Lives Matter”.