In our High School history syllabus, we are told that the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade in British empire in 1807 came largely as a sresult of the activism of humanitarians like William Wilberforce, Granville Sharpe, Thomas Clarkson, Hannah Moore who wrote and petitioned against the inhuman trade in Africans. In our history classes, such European activists are put at the centre of the struggle against the obnoxious slave trade. No Africans are mentioned as abolitionists. The only time Africans were mentioned in the fight against slave trade was during violence such as the Amistad Revolt of 1839 by 53 African slaves from The Gambia and Sierra Leone, so well rendered on celluloid by Steven Spielberg.
Well, from today we can teach our history students that Lourenco da Silva Mendonca, born in 1648, in present da Angola, in 1684 brought a criminal case against nations involved in the slave trade including Italy, Portugal, Spain before the Vatican Court, ‘for committing crimes against humanity’. Mendonca therefore used the law to fight the slave trade. He was therefore, an African abolitionist who started the legal fight against the slave trade nearly 100 years before Granville Shape or William Wilberforce.
In his case file against slave trading nations, Mendonca asked the Vatican court ‘to destroy or shatter the slave trade’. After a trial of two years, in 1686, the Vatican Court responded that the people involved in buying and selling enslaved Africans, particularly those found committing crimes against Christians, should be punished and the Vatican put pressure on Spain and Portugal, Catholic countries, to ‘stop such cruelty’ of slave trading.
This new historical evidence has come to us through a ground breaking scholarly work by our friend Guinea Bissau historian, Jose Ligna Nafefe, Professor of History at Bristol University, UK. His book titled: ‘Lourenco da Silva Mendonca, and the Black Atlantic Abolition Movement’ is published by Cambridge University Press, 2023.
I have just finished reading the 500-page tome, a magnum opus on the African agency in the abolition movement against the obnoxious trade in human beings. History teachers, please take note and revise your notes accordingly!