Wednesday, December 30, 2015

REVIEW: Five Thousand Years of Slavery by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen


When they were too impoverished to raise their families, ancient Sumerians sold their children into bondage. Slave women in Rome faced never-ending household drudgery. The ninth-century Zanj were transported from East Africa to work the salt marshes of Iraq. Cotton pickers worked under terrible duress in the American South.

Ancient history? Tragically, no. In our time, slavery wears many faces. James Kofi Annan's parents in Ghana sold him because they could not feed him. Beatrice Fernando had to work almost around the clock in Lebanon. Julia Gabriel was trafficked from Arizona to the cucumber fields of South Carolina.

Five Thousand Years of Slavery provides the suspense and emotional engagement of a great novel. It is an excellent resource with its comprehensive historical narrative, firsthand accounts, maps, archival photos, paintings and posters, an index, and suggestions for further reading. Much more than a reference work, it is a brilliant exploration of the worst - and the best - in human society.

Paperback, 176 pages
Published September 8th 2015 by Tundra Books (first published January 11th 2011)
ISBN 110191792X (ISBN13: 9781101917923)


About the Authors

MARJORIE GANN, an educator for thirty years, has written language arts curricula, review articles on children's literature, and sat on the jury for the Canadian Jewish Book Awards. She lives in Toronto with her husband and has two grown children.

JANET WILLEN has been a writer and editor for more than thirty years, working on publications ranging from remedial writing curricula to articles on health and safety. She holds a master's degree in political philosophy from the New School for Social Research. Janet Willen lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with her husband.

My Thoughts
Francis felt honored and excited. His mother was sending him to the marketplace to sell hard-cooked eggs and peanuts, with only the older village children to watch out for him. Francis was seven years old, but he knew his mother was giving him a big responsibility...
This book explores the long and dreary, yet fascinating, history of slavery. It begins in biblical times and continues through to present day.

There are interesting tidbits and stories, like the fact that the infamous Julius Caesar was once captured at 25 years of age by pirates. His captors demanded money for his freedom, and he laughingly offered even more money than demanded, and sent his men to obtain the funds. While waiting for his men to return, he partied and socialized with the pirates, and when things got tense and he was ridiculed by the pirates, he would threaten them with hanging when he was released. And, true to his word, once his ransom was paid and he was released, he captured the pirates and had them crucified.

Slavery has existed for five thousand years. It existed in Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike. The impact of the slave industry on Africa is staggering.
From 1450 to 1900 the slave trade robbed Africa of its workers, warfare and slave raids accelerated, and at least twelve million human beings were shipped away to the Americas.
And while white American men wrote of equality for all, they still supported slavery.
He [Patrick Henry] said that every thinking honest man opposed slavery in principle, but not in practice. When colonists spoke about the equality of men, they were not thinking of blacks or of women. They meant that they wanted the same rights as men of their rank in Britain.
This book is filled with fascinating details, such as the fact that thousands of years ago, slavers were required to list character flaws that would indicate "passion" in a slave, such as "an extreme interest in religion, the arts, or love".

And some slavers went beyond common cruelty. The Tupinamba people were a contradictory people. While treating their slaves well and even making them part of the family, there was always a cloud of doom hanging over the slaves head:
Even though some slaves lived with their masters for years, every slave knew what was coming: death in a horrible religious ritual.

Until that day, the Tupinamba tried to keep their slaves healthy and happy, and at times even found wives for the men. But they could also be very cruel: they tied ropes around their slave's necks, decorated with one bead for each month the slaves had left to live.

The sacrifice ritual lasted several days. First, they teased the slave by letting him or her try to escape. When they caught the victims, which they always did, they performed an elaborate ritual that included dancing and singing. They decorated the slave and chose one Tupinamba to club the slave to death. Afterward, the body was dismembered and roasted, and the victim's flesh was eaten. The heads of the victims were displayed on poles.
You may think that slavery ended long ago in the US with the Emancipation Proclamation, but that would be quite far from the truth. Sharecroppers were often little more than glorified slaves, and even in the 1920s, our own US government practiced a form of slavery with the Aleut people in Alaska.
We take it for granted that government employees get paid in money, and that they have other benefits too. But the Aleuts were not paid in cash, and they certainly didn’t receive benefits. Instead, they were given credit at the government store-- the only place to buy food-- and not only was the food expensive, but the shelves were often nearly empty, so there was hardly anything to buy.

From offices in faraway Washington, D.C., the government controlled the Aleuts’ daily lives. They were not allowed to leave the islands without permission. They were not allowed to speak their native language. Their chiefs were not allowed to have any say in how they were governed. Men were told when they could marry. Until 1924, they were not even allowed US citizenship.
And even today, products listed “Made in China” are often created in forced-labor camps in China, where those suffering religious persecution are being imprisoned.

My final word: This was a rather fascinating read about the history of slavery, in all its shameful truth. Fairly and honestly presented, it's a concise and very readable accounting, filled with photography and stories. Disturbing and strangely alluring, I would recommend this book for anyone wishing to have a better grasp of slavery and its impact on the world.

Buy Now:
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My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

I received a copy of this book to review through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.

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