Slavery refers to a condition in which individuals are owned by others who control the general conditions of their lives, including where they live, what they eat, their work, movements, etc. Slavery has been in existence throughout history, spreading through almost every culture, nationality and religion, from ancient times to the present day. The ancient Greeks, Romans, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Incas, Aztecs, and so on, were all involved in the slave trade in one form or the other.
Slave trade is one of the social phenomena in history that is associated with the cruellest and dehumanizing treatments. Since the enslaved people are nothing less than properties in the custody of their masters, they are treated in the most bizarre manners that have no human consideration attached. Here are the 10 most gruesome ways slaves were punished by their master – They are really heartbreaking!
The use of shackles and handcuffs in slave markets had always been one of the most shocking aspects of slavery throughout history. Slave shackles were common items used as early as the 15th century to chain slaves, either on the wrists, ankles or neck. This particular artefact was created, according to records between 1780-1804 and made of wrought iron. This artefact was used to shackle a slave’s wrists and depending on the situation, their ankles on the occasion of a slave being transported. The use of shackles to enslave Africans was prevalent and in use until the 1860’s. In slave ships, the slaves were harshly boarded on to ships and packed into tight spaces, one on top of another and restrained by shackles- unable to move or breathe.
Made of heavy iron, these shackles were not only used as a means to keep slaves grounded but it was also a way to humiliate defiant slaves who tried to escape. Such use of restraints served as an effective way for plantation owners to physically and psychologically control their slaves. These restraints used on slaves were similar to those used on prisoners at the time, giving the implication that slaves were nothing better than criminals.
Branding irons were sometimes used to mark all captives routinely during slave trade for identification purposes or as a punishment but more often, they were used to single out runaway-slaves to ensure their return if they should escape again. The body part to be branded varied in location, such as the palm, back, shoulder, buttocks or abdomen, with the face being a favourite site for punishment and is determined by the slave master.
6. Brutal Whipping
The main method used to control the behaviour of slaves was the threat of having them whipped. The whippings and beatings were usually so horrific and as bad as you could ever imagine. The number of lashes which were always many depended on the seriousness of the offence. Slaves were whipped daily; it must not necessarily be when they have committed a serious offence, rather, beatings, whippings and other torture acts were a form of mind and body control; a way to re-assert the dominance of their masters and also demoralize the slaves, keeping them bent on their labour. No condition makes an exception for any slave: the young, old, male, female, including pregnant women where lashed whenever the occasion calls for such. In the case of pregnancy, a hole might be dug for the pregnant woman to rest her belly while being whipped. Whipping grew so common during slavery that it became a business, whereby there are hard-heartened, commercial and professional whippers to whom offending slaves were sent to receive as many strokes as instructed by their holders.
5. Rubbing Pepper, Salt or other Hard Substances on Wounds
As a mode of punishment, a slave is whipped with such inhuman severity, as to lacerate and mangle his or her flesh in the most shocking manner, leaving permanent scars and ridges; then, hurting substances such as salt pickle, lime juice, hot brine, turpentine or bird pepper would be rubbed into his or her open wounds. Sometimes, the slave is bound hand and foot so as to “enjoy” the pains to the fullest and also not to be able to relieve him or herself in any way.
4. Torture Instruments
The torture instruments come in different forms and severity. They are used to punish slaves by subjecting them to very uncomfortable and brutal conditions. Some of them are worn, whereas some are constructed and the slave confined to a particular killer-fixed position by the instrument. When worn, the slave is forced to continue his daily task with the discomforting instrument and is also expected to work at same speed and productivity level as when free. He may also be given a task to accomplish which they know will be very difficult to go about with the torture instrument intact.
A black slave once told how he was tortured in this manner with his neck snugly encased by an iron band, an instrument of such a peculiar shape so as to render his labour difficult to accomplish. The negro stated that he wore it for two good months! The form of the instrument prevented him from lying down and taking his rest at night; its weight and close fit rendered it very burdensome during the day. It consisted of a heavy iron ring, fitting closely around the neck, from which extended three prongs, each, two feet in length, with a ring on the end. Too horrible!
3. Sexual Assault
A certain group of enslaved women were labelled “Jezebels” by their owners. These women were alleged to be more promiscuous than their counterparts and were often subjected to sexual abuse several times throughout the day. While white men forced these “Jezebels” to have sex with them, they claimed that it was the enslaved woman’s fault for being so loose. Although female slaves are the ones that suffer this most, sometimes, males are also subjected to sexual abuse by promiscuous mistresses or forced to have sex with fellow slaves to produce children who’ll work for their masters. Slaves are raped without having anyone to report to, instead, the white slave owners expect them to be grateful for having sex with them, proudly saying that they are “doing them a favour.”
On several occasions, they may be impregnated and this will in no way exempt them from their normal daily routines and punishments as slaves, neither will their masters take ownership or responsibility of the child when born: instead, the children only increase the number of slaves and hands to work in the field which is to the advantage of the slave masters. Also, the mistresses transfer their anger and aggression for their husband’s infidelity to the abused slave woman by beating and maltreating them. Some of them are forced into marriages without being elevated to the normal position of a wife. Rather, in order for her husband to avoid witnessing when they are punished or tortured for one offence or another, he’ll send her to a distant plantation where she’ll continue her slavery practice.
2. Mutilation – Amputation, Genital Torture, Castration…
Slave punishment goes as extreme as cutting off or rendering useless, some body parts of the slave, such as the limbs, finger(s), palm, ears, genitals, etc. That of genital torture and castration were often used as a punishment and deterrent for sexual offences. But the gruelling cruelty in this is that most of the time, the slaves were wrongly accused. Also, castration is often done in the most beastly manner, (using gelding knives or local burdizzo), with no medical care given whatsoever. On the part of the women, they may be subjected to severe torture that at the end renders their genitals completely damaged. Most of the victims of this form of torture hardly survive as a result of the severity. I deem this act of punishment one of the most dismal and heartbreaking! Below, in the photo is a gelding knife in the merciless hand of a white master.
1. Cruel Executions – Lynching, Burning…
Most executions are done by hanging. If they want to make it more grisly, they may hang the person alive with a hook dug into one of his lungs. They may also decide to hang the slave upside down.
Moreover, in what the slave masters call very serious offences, which they feel has exceeded all other forms of punishments and the slave must need to be gotten rid of in the most bizarre way, they burn the slave alive, usually bound on a stake. This is the cruellest way anybody can think of dying!