What strategies and resources did enslaved Africans draw upon to endure the traumas of capture, the Middle Passage across the Atlantic, and sale in the New World and European colonies?

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African people drew on the complete range of resources available to them. Both active and passive forms of resistance were practiced. “Capture” often resulted from battle between rival societies, so military skills were involved in resistance. During the transport to slave-trade centers, many individuals actively resisted and escaped. In places such as the Cape Coast Colony in Ghana, where captives were imprisoned and boarded onto ships, they used intellectual and cultural resources and employed passive and active resistance.

Because the prisoners were from so many different societies, communication was one priority, and they learned enough of each other’s languages to communicate. Other means of communication were oral codes, sometimes expressed through drumming or other musical practices. They also drew on their faith; while many practiced traditional religions, others were Muslims or Christians. In many cases, non-Christians were forced to convert to Christianity, but they maintained clandestine practice of their original faiths, often combined with Christian elements. The combination of diverse resources into new American cultures is called syncretism.

African people in the countries where slavery was legal worked toward reform through the legal systems, forming abolitionist societies and working with white abolitionists, with the related goals of ending the slave trade and slavery. Passive resistance included work slow-downs or stoppages, while active resistance included insurrections at every stage. During the Middle Passage, many people died from disease or the guards’ physical violence. Some chose death over enslavement and died by suicide; on the ships, people jumped overboard, both as individuals and in chained groups. There remains considerable debate as to whether suicide constitutes resistance.

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