Over three decades ago, I lived in a Jesuit house in Ghana overlooking the Atlantic and the fishing port of Moree. From that house, I could see a 1612 Dutch trading post called Fort Nassau that takes its name from the House of Orange-Nassau, the royal family of the Netherlands. Portuguese merchants traded in gold and human beings on the coast of what is now Ghana from the late 15th century, but in the 17th century, the Dutch acquired by conquest those Portuguese holdings, continuing their involvement with gold and slaves until the 18th century, when they sold their interests to the British.
All three European powers traded with coastal and inland African populations who sold them human beings, often captives in war. Approximately 18 million Africans were taken from Africa between 1500 and 1900, but only 11 million crossed the Atlantic; others were taken across the Sahara to North Africa and the Middle East or across the Indian Ocean to slave markets in southwest Asia. One conclusion scholars have reached is that Brazil and the Caribbean received the most enslaved Africans in those centuries, but by 1860 nearly four million people of African descent lived in bondage in the United States.
Slavery is a reality almost as old as humanity, but it manifests itself in different forms. Jews, Christians and Muslims have known both sides of slavery, not only subjugation as slaves but also domination over slaves. What insights can we gather from these faith traditions to equip us to face up to the continuing phenomena of racism and inequality for people of enslaved African descent?