The slave trade

By and Published July 15, 2020

The shocking video of George Floyd being killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis earlier this year provoked a wave of protests in the United States and around the world. Several countries have been forced to reckon with issues of systemic racism and injustice, as well as the ugliest aspects of colonialism, including slavery, which brought millions of Africans to the New World, enduring inhuman conditions both in transit and on arrival.

The Middle Passage
The crossing from Africa to the Americas took between one and five months depending on wind and weather conditions.

During the colonial slave era, some 12.5 million Africans were taken to the New World as trade. That’s more than the population of Belgium today
It is estimated that almost 2 million Africans died during the infamous “Middle Passage” across the Atlantic

Estimated number of slaves transported from Africa to the Americas
(1400 to 1900, by current country name)

French slave ship l’Aurore, 1784

Body position of slaves inside the ship
The slaves were forced to lie spoon-like to occupy less space and maximise profits.

The death rate on these slave ships was very high, reaching 25 per cent in the 17th and early 18th centuries and remaining around 10 per cent in the 19th century, as a result of malnutrition and such diseases as dysentery, measles, scurvy and smallpox.

Shackles made it harder for slaves to revolt or commit suicide. Any uprising would endanger the crew and reduce profits.

A whip named for the way it scratched the skin like the claws of a cat. Made up of nine lengths of knotted cord attached to a handle, it would lash the back of the slave, tearing the skin and causing intense pain.

Creative Director Darren Long.
Illustrations by Marcelo Duhalde and Brian Wang.
Additional Web development by Brian Wang and Dennis Wong

Sources: Graphic News, “Traite et navires négriers: Monographie de l’Aurore, Sidney Living Museum, Shackled to the Past: The Causes and Consequences of Africa’s Slave Trade by Nathan Nunn,

View the print version here

Hi, Internet Explorer user!

This site has some features that may not be compatlibe with your browser. Should you wish to view content, switch browsers to either Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox to get an awesome experience