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Free «Adapting to New Surroundings in Bondage» Essay Sample

The emergence of global trade networks from the sixteenth century brought individuals from different cultures and economic systems into contact with one another. It is quite easy to assume that ancient trade and interaction between continents and people was as it is now. However, that was not the case. For international trade to grow and flourish, cooperation with outsiders (mostly those outside the inner circle of the family and close friends) was necessary. International trade by itself (which is the exchange of products from a different geographic provenance) implies contacts between different traders and merchants who did not share any kinship, nationality or the same cultural beliefs. Global trade was simple and involved only a chosen few who carried out the activities. The system was not as complicated and well coordinated as it is today. It is also easy to assume that since countries with very large GDPs control today's international trade they must always have control global trade even in the ancient world. These assumptions are false and it is good to understand that the world was not what it is now centuries ago. Most of the superpowers today were colonies of other countries that can be considered weak today. Since these impressions are not true, it is important to have an understanding of the evolution of global trade so one can have a proper context for the politics of it. How it happened, its adverse effects and how the world became how it is today. The whole concept is large and may not be exhausted in a single paper. However, through history and written records of some persons for example using the Chronicle of the Narváez Expedition and the documents on Olaudah Equiano and Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, this paper can be able to compare the ways in which both Cabeza de Vaca and the African slaves related to their new surroundings. The paper will make a comparison of the 3 individuals and show how their paths are similar in their bid to stay alive amidst the situation of slavery.

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The Journey of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca: and His Companions is a narration by Cabeza de Vaca written shortly after the journey they endured for a couple of years in unknown territories and ended in 1536. His work, the Relación, published in 1542 in Spain, is a detailed account of his 8 year (1528-1536) tribulation to arrive at Spanish settlements (Alvar, 2002). Cabeza de Vaca’s voyage began with Pánfilo de Narváez’s journey to travel around and investgate Florida. He left Spain in mid June in 1527, spent the winter in Cuba, and ended up close to Tampa Bay with around three hundred people in the spring of 1528. There were plans to move inland to the deeper parts of the country despite Cabeza de Vaca’s objections. This was to turn sore as Narváez and the crew promptly became lost and was alienated from their support vessels, stranded on the coast of Florida. Later on, one problem kicked in after another. They faced brutal attacks by people from the Indian tribes who inhabited he southern American sides. Starvation loomed as they run out of food, and suffered from diseases and viruses. At this juncture, Narváez resolved to try a sea voyage (Alvar, 2002). Later on that year, the men set sail on five spontaneous barges. Within a period of about one month, the small convoy passed the mouth of the Mississippi River and arrived off the coast of Texas, where they were caught under a violent hurricane. The only two surviving vessels crashed at the present Follets Island, near Galveston previously called San Luis Island. The survivors decided to name the island Malhando, a word literally translating to misfortune. They became the first non-Indians to land on Texas soil. With strong determination and will to go on, Cabeza de Vaca and other survivors re-launched their barge. It later capsized and killed 3 members of the crew. Without much of clothing, hungry and miserably cold, they presented such a bad spectacle to the perplexed Indians that they sat with them and wept. Of all the 80 survivors, only 4 lived to tell tales and also make their way overland to New Spain. The group led by Cabeza de Vaca's group was under severe suffering from cold, potential diseases, hunger and psychological torment and quite probably could not have survived on their own was it not for the Indians. Without any other alternatives, Cabeza de Vaca made a decision that they were to go to the village of the natives as this was their only hope to survive the ordeal despite the risk of being chosen as sacrifice to the native people’s gods. The natives agreed to take them. After a number of experiences and disgraces, the expedition members lost their way somewhere they were not familiar with. Having lost any form of contact with their ships and without any likelihood of survival or escape by any means, they were forced to become slaves to the Indians so as to survive. In the villages, they received kind treatment and recovered from the shock, weakness and near starvation. It was clear that they were not going to be sacrificed as they had feared. The only means to survive for this group was to fit in to the system and live as slaves with the hope that one day they would be strong enough to leave and return home (Alvar, 2002).

 
 
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As seen above, the Spaniards became members of another society through travel and misfortune. They had to cope with harsh and unpleasant situations in order to survive. Similarly, between the early 1500s and the late 1860s, an estimated 12000000 Africans; men, women, and children were by force shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. About 7000000 were relocated through the Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean, in a movement that started in the seventh century and lasted until the twentieth. This had become the best and most profitable business in the European sphere of the wealthy few. A slave owner was wealthy as he received wages from the labour done by the slaves. Slaves had to learn to be slaves in order to survive the inhumane treatment rendered to them by their masters. Violence was an intrinsic—but not exclusive—component of these survival strategies, whether on the part of the direct victims or of the larger population. It was common knowledge that only the fittest would survive beyond the chains, whips, shackles, guns and hostility. Cabeza de Vaca's copious shifts in identity from conquistador to an Indian captive to a missionary and his conversion into an Indian Spaniard takes place over a wide terrain in the New World. This can be compared to a life of a black slave shipped from Africa where he leaves the life he knew as his to being a different individual who only does what he is ordered to do. This transformation may be hard to understand in the current world where such acts are unheard of and a lost stranger would be helped by the nearest police officer. Even the high and mighty individuals are brought to their knees as it is the case with the Spaniards. Cabeza de Vaca possesses all of the Eurocentric and racist attitudes of that time even before he becomes an ethnographer. While he occasionally notes the positive physical characteristics of the native Indians, "admirable proportions, very spare and of great activity and strength," and even goes ahead to comment on their physical prowess, "the power and skill" with which they aim and shoot their arrows and other crude weapons, he however perceives them as odd, something less of, or conceivably more than a human being. He refers to them as creatures who are "naked" and are "large of body" and who "appear at a distance like giants".

Somewhat similar to Cabeza de Vaca’s predicament is Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua’s slavery story. The story describes how a man of good status in the ancient village in Africa gained enemies due to his attachment to the king and ended up being sold as a slave to America. His story is horrifying and how he managed to survive is a mystery. At one point he narrates how a boat capsized and only one man survived owing to his great physique. In the ship, Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua (1854) and his fellow slaves face hardship, torture and inhumane conditions but manage to hang on.

Olaudah Equiano in his life history describes the horror he underwent and how he wished death upon himself rather than “be sold from lord to lord” (Olaudah, 1814). This showed just how miserable his life was and how he had even given up life. Slavery was not an easy profession and many times he wished to act against the brutality inflicted on the Negroes on their numerous voyages ferrying slaves. However, he knew better if he was to survive. The position given to him was a better chance of survival than if he would be demoted to a common slave and therefore silence and pretending not to see things was his tactic (Olaudah, 1814). As it turns out, slavery was later abolished. Olaudah Equiano was a free man and Cabeza de Vaca and other 3 survivors were free to go home to New Spain. It all came to an end but they would not have survived if they did not learn to survive both Cabeza de Vaca and his men and the African slaves working in plantations and other places full of human brutality and hostile environments. Physically, the slaves (Cabeza de Vaca plus his crew and the Africans) had to adapt to the new cultures, physical and geographical locations.

Comparing the three individuals above, one thing is clear. They underwent almost the same hostile treatment and ultimately slavery. In order to stay alive, Cabeza de Vaca had to change his own character greatly. According to the records he made, he underwent a great change in attitude for the person who viewed himself as superior over other people of other races. Situations forced Cabeza de Vaca to accept living as a slave so as to survive. Similarly, Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua narrates how him and his fellow slaves face hardship, torture and inhumane conditions but manage to hang on.

   

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