5. The Middle Passage

Installation shot of The Middle Passage.

The Middle Passage was a triangular trade route in which millions of Africans were shipped to other countries, including the New World, as part of the Atlantic slave trade. Ships departed from Europe with manufactured goods that were offered in exchange for slaves in Africa, which were then sold to others for raw materials during return trips back to Europe. This massive system was operated, and regulated, by a relatively small number of companies and groups of investors. There was no concern for human lives, only the money-making ventures that were quick and vastly profitable.

The conditions on those ships were horrible and the crews on board had complete authority over the slaves who were chained and barely fed. It is estimated that about two million Africans died during transportation. As Africans were forced into this horrifying situation, many of whom ended up in the Americas, their cultural and social practices traveled with them and were preserved through the vital art of expression. They began to interweave patterns of their native languages with the new English language when presenting their traditional stories. In this case, the stories not only preserved elements of the cultural heritage of their homelands, but also acted as a means to soothe and heal their minds during times of misfortune.