Dutch West India Company, United East India Company or the East India Company are a few examples of the company owners of the securities exhibited in the permanent exhibition. Trade networks emerged across oceans and expanded in the 16th and 17th centuries. In addition to the shipment and trade of raw materials and spices, the transport of people, the slave trade, is an elementary part of the activities of many of the maritime trading companies. The so-called transatlantic slave trade is one of the largest forced migrations in world history. From the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 19th century , people were sold, shipped and enslaved. The slave trade and slavery are characterized by a permanent physical relationship of violence. We are talking about more than 12 million people from the African continent.
Definition of slavery:
«... the body of a person, man, woman or child, is under the control of a holder (hence "slave-holder"), who forcibly deprives him of his mobility and self-determination and forces from him the services of the body (labor, work, sex, reproduction, protection), parts of the body (eunuchs) or even life itself (sacrificial slaves, slave-soldiers, symbolic killing in succession of death or for the prevention of rebellion)…" (own translation)
Zeuske Michael: Sklavenhändler, Negreros und Atlantikkreolen. Eine Weltgeschichte des Sklavenhandels im atlantischen Raum, Berlin 2015, p. 6.
For European traders involved in the slave trade, transport is only one part of a much larger trading system. A single ship launching in Europe completes three main stages, each with separate cargo. The name "triangular trade" is also derived from this route. At each station, the European traders make a profit, with which they in turn finance the whole business.
The start of the ships and thus of the trade is Europe: Manufactured goods are transported from the European to the African continent. From the 17th century onwards, European imports were mostly cheap goods, such as cotton fabric, alcohol, metal or weapons. In return, Europeans receive slaves. The imported weapons make wars more frequent in the affected African countries, which in turn maintains the supply of slaves.
The enslaved humans are then shipped on ships to various ports of the second station, the so-called "Middle Passage" to Brazil, the Caribbean or North America. The "Middle Passage" is one of the most brutal stations that many of the slaves do not survive. The cover of this blog gives an impression of the inhuman conditions (Source: Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons, via Wikimedia Commons). Once there, sold to the the owners of, the slaves usually toil until the end of their lives. The products that are exhausted from the plantations then come back to Europe by ship – as the last part of the trade: sugar cane, cotton, tobacco, coffee and cocoa.
To be continued...
Although Switzerland itself did not have a fleet at the time, there are demonstrably concrete examples of participation in colonialism. In addition to the Swiss mercenaries overseas, or Protestant missionary services, current research reports provide clear insights into the investing of cities such as Zurich or Bern into transatlantic slavery. The next two parts of this blog series will deal with the securities of the English "South Sea Company" and the French "Companie des Indes orientales" exhibited in the collection and in the museum. These exemplify how Swiss institutes or cities were involved in transatlantic trade.