There are two sides to people who blame Europeans for introducing regimes of labor exploitation and markets for enslaved persons from the fifteenth century to the nineteenth century, which devastated African societies and those who argue Europeans that had extended older social, economic and political arrangements that already existed in most of Africa. From the class discussions and reading my opinion of the issue is Europeans Just commercialized and exploited the slave trading business, so Europeans should not be at fault for starting the slave trade.
Slavery has een practiced for almost the all of recorded history; the African slave trade has left a legacy which cannot be ignored. Slavery existed within sub-Saharan African societies before the arrival of Europeans. The internal trade was conducted within the African continent itself. It involved trade between North Africa and West Africa. Africans were exposed to several forms of slavery over the centuries, including slavery under both the Muslims with the sub-Saharan slave trade slave trade, and Europeans through the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
For my research topic I will explore he sub-Saharan slave trade though western African kingdoms of the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, and Songhai Empire and how the Europeans effected and expanded slavery in western Africa to the newly founded America. This topic means a great deal to me because in the past I was unaware of the details of the sub-Saharan slave trade and what exactly went on in these early African Kingdoms before the Europeans arrived. Trans-Saharan trade, between Mediterranean countries and West Africa, was an important trade route from the eighth century until the late sixteenth century.
The owerful kingdoms in West Africa great wealth is based on trade rather than conquest. Much warfare goes on between them; this permits the ruler of the most powerful state to demand the submission of the others. The main business was the controlling of the caravans, merchants and camels . These routes run north and south through the Sahara. And the most precious of the commodities moving north is African gold. Camels were the key to the Trans Sahara trade, because camels were adapted to the dessert climate and needed less water and rest.
The trade was conducted by caravans of Arabian camels. These camels would be fattened for a number of months before being assembled into a caravan. According to Ibn Battuta, the explorer who accompanied one of the caravans, the average size was a thousand camels per caravan, with some being as large as 12,000 . The caravans would be guided by highly paid Berber guides who knew the desert and could ensure safe passage from their fellow desert nomads. Due to the Trans-Sahara trade Timbuktu was founded and established, Islamic religion prospered, internal trade arose all through western Africa.
This trade route opened a new gateway for southern Africa nd northern Africa and the Middle East to began to trade good and slaves which exposed a new trade partner to acquire more wealth. There were various forms of slavery that existed in Africa such as Chattel Slavery which is the servitude relationship where the slave is treated as the property of the owner . As such, the owner is free to sell, trade, or treat the slave as they would other pieces of property, Domestic service while slaves would work primarily in the house of the master but retain some freedoms.
Pawnship is the use of people as collateral to secure the repayment of debt. Military slavery was the acquisition and training of conscripted military units which would retain the identity of military slaves even after their service . Some countries in the African continent had their own systems of slavery. People were enslaved as punishment for a crime, payment for a debt or as a prisoner of war. However, African slavery was different from what was to come later. Most enslaved people were captured in battle. In some kingdoms, temporary slavery was a punishment for some crimes.
In some cases, enslaved people could work to buy their freedom. Children of enslaved people did not automatically become slaves ut had a chance to be free. Women made up the majority of early African slaves. In addition to agricultural work, female slaves carried out other economic functions, such as trading and cotton spinning and dyeing. They also performed domestic chores, such as preparing food, washing clothes, and cleaning . Powerful African men kept female slaves as wives or concubines, and in many societies these women stood as symbols of male wealth.
Male slaves typically farmed and herded animals . Those who belonged to wealthy families and especially of ruling lineages of states also orked as porters and rowers, and learned crafts such as weaving, construction, and metalwork. New slaves were sometimes given menial tasks while experienced slaves did the more difficult and dangerous work, such as mining and quarrying. The main industries in pre-colonial Africa were gold mining, iron working, salt making, cloth weaving and other art and craft industries. The Akan people of Ghana for example employed hundreds of slaves in the gold mining industry. The Etsi and the Borbor Fante of Ghana used slaves in the salt making industry In West Africa, historians know about slavery from about 900 AD . But the lives of African slaves in West Africa slaves were extremely different. In many West African societies, land was owned by communities, not by individuals. Social status and class could not be based on land ownership. Instead, they were based on one’s place in the social environment.
In Africa, many societies recognized slaves as property, but others saw them as dependents that eventually might be integrated into the families of slave owners. Slaves were part of the family as well as private property. Slavery was not a lifetime status, someone might be born free, made a slave for a few years, nd then be free again for the rest of their life. Slaves also had rights; they could marry, own property, and inherit significant goods from their owner. Slaves could even own slaves themselves. Some West African Societies allowed slaves to attain positions of military or administrative power.
Slaves who farmed for their owners were also given plots of land on which to farm and enjoy its proceeds. Slaves could inherit property as well as hold property of their own. Slavery was practiced in diverse ways in the different communities of West Africa prior to European trade. With the development of the trans-Saharan slave trade and the economies of gold in the Western Sahel, a number of the major states became organized around the slave trade, including the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire, and Songhai Empire.
However, other communities in West Africa largely resisted the slave trade. For example the Mossi Kingdoms tried to take over key sites in the sub-Saharan trade and, when these efforts failed, the Mossi became defenders against slave raiding by the powerful states of the Western Sahel. The Mossi were a warlike nation with ormidable cavalry, who had successfully resisted all past invaders. The Mossi would eventually enter the slave trade in the 1800s with the Atlantic slave trade being the main market.
Walter Rodney identified “no slavery or significant domestic servitude in early European accounts on the Upper Guinea region” and I. A. AkinJogbin contends that “European accounts reveal that the slave trade was not a major activity along the coast controlled by the Yoruba people and Aja people before Europeans arrived. ” With the beginning of the Atlantic slave trade, demand for slavery in West Africa ncreased and a number of states became centered on the slave trade and domestic slavery increased dramatically.
The Songhai Empire was located more to the east, including areas of Niger (cl 375-1591) . The Songhai Empire was the largest and last of the three major West African empires. The capital was Gao on the Niger River. Songhai expanded in all directions from Gao. It eventully extended from the Atlantic Ocean to what is now Northwest Nigeria and western Niger. The Empire became rich from the trade routes it controlled and slaves were one of the important commodities. Gao tiday is a small Niger River trading center, but in its time was one of the most important trading centers in Africa.
From 1450-1550, the Songhay kingdom grew very powerful and prosperous. It had a well organized system of government, a developed currency and it imported fabrics from Europe. In most African societies, there was very little difference between the free peasants and the feudal peasants. The loyal peasants of the Songhay Muslim Empire were used primarily in agriculture; for example they paid tribute to their masters in crop and service but they were slightly restricted in custom and convenience. In the Kanem Bornu Empire, loyal peasants were three classes beneath the nobles.
Slavery in African cultures was like indentured servitude, although in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, slaves were used for human sacrifices in annual rituals, such as those rituals practiced by the people of Dahomey. In many African communities, where land could not be owned, enslavement of individuals was used as a means to increase the influence a person had and expand connections, such as the Songhay Empire. The Songhay Empire was a pre-colonial West African trading state centered on the middle reaches of the Niger River in what s now central Mali.
The empire extended west to the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, and east into present-day Nigeria and Burkina Faso. Considered one of the greatest African empires, from the early fifteenth to the late sixteenth century, Songhay was also one of the largest empires in West Africa, stretching all the way to present-day Cameroon. With several thousand cultures under its control, Songhay was the largest empire in African history. The slave trade was also important for the economic development of West Africa . For a very long time, West African kingdoms had relied n slaves to carry out heavy work.
In the Niger Valley many slave communities produced agricultural surpluses for the rulers and nobles of Songhay The Songhai kingdom under the rule of Askia Mohammed used slaves as soldiers. Slaves were trusted not to overthrow their rulers. Slaves were also given important positions as royal advisers. Songhai rulers believed that slaves could be trusted to provide unbiased advice unlike other citizens who held a personal stake in the outcome of decisions . Another group of slaves was known as palace slaves or the Arbi. The Arbi laves served mainly as craftsperson’s, potters, woodworkers, and musician.
Slaves also worked on village farms to help produce enough food to supply the growing population in towns. The empire of Songhay controlled a vast region of the western savanna until its defeat by a Moroccan invasion in 1591 . The west of Africa, the kingdom of Ghana was a vast Empire that spread across an area the size of Western Europe. Between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, it traded in gold, salt and copper. It was like a medieval European empire, with a collection of powerful local rulers, controlled by one king or emperor.
Ghana was highly advanced and prosperous. It is said that the Ghanaian ruler had an army of 200,000 men. Ghana was known to have supplied gold, kola nuts and ivory. All the West African states along the Atlantic coast were linked by a southern trade route covering modern Senegal to modern Nigeria. Ghana because of its wealth in gold, exchanged gold for slaves. The treatment of slaves in Ghana was regulated by customary rules. In the event of a slaves master being cruel towards the slave, a slave in Ghana had the options to wait for the opportunity to runaway.
Second, the slave could seek rotection by throwing themselves on the mercy of a god at the traditional grove or on an ancestral spirit. Third, the slave could swear an oath on another person to adopt them, in which case that person paid compensation to the owner. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the kingdom of Mali spread across much of West and North-East Africa. At its largest, the kingdom had an organized trading system, with gold dust and agricultural produce being exported north. Mali reached its height in the 14th century. Cowrie shells were used as a form of currency and gold, salt and copper were traded.
Timbuktu became the most important city on the trans- Saharan caravan routes. Unlike most of the trading cities, Timbuktu became known in Europe for its great wealth, even entering the English vernacular. Important but smaller and less known trading centers developed in southern West Africa at the transitional zone between the tropical forest and the savanna. The expansive Mali Empire seized control of important trade routes to the west and east. The rulers of Mali also honored Islam and provided accommodations for Muslim merchants; and encouraged but did not force their subjects to convert.
Under the reign of Sundiata’s grand nephew Mansa Musa, trade increased respectively. Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage to Mecca in a gigantic caravan comprised of slaves, soldiers, gold, and many attendants . He presented lavish gifts to those who accommodated him on the way. While staying in Cairo for three months, he distributed so much gold that its value declined by as much as 25 per cent in local markets . His trip to Mecca caused him to take his Islamic belief much more seriously than before, and he built a number of Mosques for Muslim merchants .
When Europeans came to West Africa hey broadened and expanded the African slave trade to a brand new world thanks to the Trans Atlantic Slave trade. European trader’s established new trade routes in Africa, this brought power and wealth to the coast and new nations and states emerged. As the Trans Atlantic trade became more and more lucrative, the new kingdoms on the western coast of Africa that emerged traded gold, ivory, and slaves for firearms. With weapons and wealth, the rulers of the Guinea coast expanded their lands in an effort to gain acquire more slaves.
In West African, the Tran-Atlantic slave rade increased due to the European powers beginning to ship slaves to Americas to work on plantations. Africa’s rulers, traders and military aristocracy protected their interest in the slave trade. They discouraged Europeans from leaving the coastal areas to explore the interior of the continent. European trading companies realized the benefit of dealing with African suppliers. The companies could not have gathered the necessary resources it would have taken to directly capture the tens of millions of people shipped out of Africa.
It was safer to give Africans guns to fight the many wars hat yielded captives for the trade. The slave trading network stretched deep into the Africa’s interior. Trade was not accepted with completely open arms in this region however, The Kingdom of Benin initially restricted European slave trade and in other parts of the region At the same time, trans-Saharan trade began to lose its relevance, sending powerful empires on the interior of Africa, such as the Kingdom of Mali, into decline As the kingdoms of Africa’s interior diverted trade toward the coast in an effort to enlarge their power and dominion.
Europeans also established colonies on African coasts, further shifting the balance of power . Europeans goods drove Africans to greed, because Africans were extremely far behind in science and technology compared to the Europeans. Europeans were fueled by the agenda to make money from capitalism because they wanted maximum profit which lead to more demands of slaves. Trade with the wealthier Europeans became of prime interest to the Africa’s. Which lead to the slave trade moving from trans-Saharan trade routes to the much shorter south. The Africans only had to bring the captives to the coastal trading posts.
The existence of slavery in Africa and the preexisting trade in people allowed Europeans to mobilize the commerce in slaves relatively quickly by tapping existing routes and supplies. In this trade the Europeans were aided by the rulers of certain African states who were anxious to acquire more slaves for them and to supply slaves to the Europeans in exchange for aid and goods. The importation of slaves into the United States was outlawed in 1807 . In the same year, Britain used its naval power and its diplomatic muscle to outlaw trade in slaves by its citizens and to begin a campaign to stop the international trade in slaves.
These attempts were not successful until the 1860s because of the continued demand for plantation labor in the New World. In conclusion the effects of the slave trade on West African societies are best seen in the great West African Empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhai. These empires were developed in West Africa during the slave trade era. The economies of these West African Empires were dependent on slave trading. Neighboring states competed with one another for trade, leading to wars, which in turn led to the capture of more slaves. Slave raiding in West, Africa became more common.
The Atlantic slave trade overshadowed the Sub-Saharan slave trade in terms of number of export, impact on African practices of slavery, and lasting effect on Africa in general. These great kingdoms of the West African society before Europeans arrived were highly sophisticated trade routes and well established means of free labor where the slaves were treated with dignity and respect not tortured, raped, beaten and striped of all human rights. Europeans corrupted slavery to the point where slaves were viewed as animals that were not entitled to anything but hard labor.