What is “blackbirding”?

Elles Houwelingon, January 21, 2019, New Historian



Everyone has heard shocking stories about the transatlantic slave trade, but this was hardly the only type of slavery in which Europeans were engaged. The Pacific slave trade involved the forceful enslavement of Pacific islanders from the mid 19thcentury to the 20thcentury. This particular type of slavery is often referred to as “blackbirding”.

The primary focus of “blackbirding” was to supply cheap labor to sugar-cane plantations on Pacific plantations, particularly in Queensland, Fiji, New Caledonia, and the Samoan Islands. This was mainly achieved through trickery and kidnapping. They were frequently deceived about the length of time for which they were “contracted” and the nature of their “contract”. If all this failed, the islanders were simply loaded onto slave ships at gunpoint.

The captured islanders were collectively known as Kanakas, which means Person or Man in Hawaiian. These workers were essentially treated as slaves, but officially they were referred to as “indentured labourers”.

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“Politicians, Priests, and psychiatrists often face the same problem: how to find the most rapid and permanent means of changing a man’s belief…The problem of the doctor and his nervously ill patient, and that of the religious leader who sets out to gain and hold new converts, has now become the problem of whole groups of nations, who wish not only to confirm certain political beliefs within their boundaries, but to proselytize the outside world.” – William Sargant “Battle of the Mind”

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