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Feb. 7th, 2017

From the Slave Trade to Colonial Rule

Africa in the world

We know quite well by now that the idea of "Africa" did not quite exist before the Europeans' interaction since ~500 years ago - but that's not to say that Africa lacked interaction with the world before hand, being the birthplace of humanity, Africa was anything but disconnected from the world. Not to mention the concepts of different societies in the Africa continent, and exported to the rest of the world. It is incorrect, consequently, that one would say "Africa was isolated from the world for hundreds of years".

The Atlantic Slave Trade, with no exception, was a product from African interaction with the world - with its ancient system of enslaving the "outsiders" - and thus applied at larger scales, (however, admittedly) and sometimes, in more crurel ways. Not only this, biological interaction has been discovered in the case of Madacasgar, where scientists found that there are up to 25% similarity in the X and Y chromosomes between the Madacasgans and the people from now Indonesia.

In the case of Egypt, whose interaction with the rest of the world began some 5,000 years ago, with the invasion of the Roman Empire - but given that, Egypt's language and cultural records could date back much longer than this event - its artwork and records of the dynasties were essential aspects of its significance. At a larger scale, North Africa was the agricultural center of the Roman Empire.

The spread of Christianity to North Africa was also self-evident in the question of intercontinental connection and interactions - Christianity, some 2,000 years ago effectively wiped out the majority of a (very much varying) belief systems in North Africa with Christianity - dating back far before its adaptation in Europe. Many empires in this region would find their religion taken over with Islam, but Ethiopia was a distinct example in which they retained the Christian faith. Islam arose from contemporary Saudi in the 7th century, it was taken from the Middle East to Egypt, and to the rest of North Africa. The religion was taken across the Sahara Desert to the empires of Ghana and Mali. Meanwhile, traders on the Indian Ocean came to the Indian Ocean coast of the Africa continent, also brought by a strong religious influence of Islam.

With religious ideas, comes goods from the rest of the world - gold, salt, dates, and of all other things, slaves - and later coming in, and also out of the Africa continent.

The point is, the Africa continent was connected to the world since a very long time ago.

The slave trades of Africa

Early slave trades before the Atlantic Slave Trade was found usually across the Sahara, and the Gulf between Africa and the Arabic peninsula (Gulf of Aden). The Atlantic Slave Trades was known for the "trade of death", one that taken ~13 millions from their homes to the Americas - where nearly the equivalent in amount died before, or during the Middle Passage.

Slavery was a feature from virtually all pre-modern societies as an accepted component. Those cultures such as Greece, Roman, and of course, in Africa itself. The world slave came from the word slav, referring to those speaking Slavic languages. During the 900s and the 1600s, some 8 to 10 million people were sold into slavery, from sub-Saharan Africa to the Northern coast, and the Middle East. In contrast with the Atlantic Slave Trade, the trans-Saharan Slave Trade favoured women and girls, as servants and as pleasure to those male in prominent positions. Slaves often went further out, to Portugal, Spain, and even parts of now Parkistan and India. Unlike the slaves sent to the Americas, the slaves transported across the Sahara Desert was not kept economically and physically - as a result, people around the Mediterrainian and Southern Europe, in large parts, contained some African genetic features.

Many African cultures by the time practiced domestic slavery, those captured in war, those in debt, those of social outcast, or if your parents were in any of these condition - one shall be enslaved, assigned to a variety of labour - but not closely guarded, showing a more social status than a economical status (and chattel slaves opposed this property). Domestic slaves in Africa lacked full rights, and had to work for a protector - but not as property, or being bought or sold. Within a single lifetime, those captured as slaves could transform into free people by integration with a family or kinship - marriage between slaves and free people were common. The status of being enslaved does not mean a permanent status.

This form of slavery was often regarded as a humane way of treating captives of war, and those in marginalised situations. This is unlike chattel slavery found in the Atlantic Slaves, it is very important to contrast between chattel and domestic fashions of slavery. But this is not to say that chattel slavery was never found in pre-colonial Africa, but needless to say, not a common practice. The impact of chattel slavery was not felt by many until Africans were captured and sent off to be owned by non-Africans.

With the involvement of Europeans in the Atlantic Slave Trades, those captured as domestic slaves began to be sold out to non-Africans (Europeans, essentially) as chattel slaves for exchange of goods. By the height of Atlantic Slave Trades, chains of slave dealers linked interior slave traders with coastal traders. It is also important that Europeans only bought slaves from the coast, and not likely to had travelled to the inlands - with that said, Europeans only dealt with those trade terminals at the coast - those from the inlands, initially only thought of themselves "getting rid of" undesirable slaves to other areas of the continent, without noticing the stark difference in locale (western hemisphere) and treatments.

The question of extraversion also started to come in, the question of advantage and disadvantage - and thus active and passive roles in an event of trade - the relationship between the Africans and the Europeans were often debated among scholars.

In particular: Atlantic Slave Trades

By the time the Atlantic Slave Trades began, in the 1500s, European maritime technologies were rudimentary - and thus, it began as a "seek" of what was on offer in Africa. The trade of slavery was still very limmited around this time - they were mots interested in gold - mined in the interior, and brought to the coast line; being relatively close to Europe, this became a convenient location to import gold from.

What changed in the 1500s, then? Merchants in Spain, Portugal, England, Netherlands, Denmark... The governments of these countries recognised that there was a large amount of profit to be made on the plantations (crop productions) of the New World - sugar, cotton, tobacco, etc. were found to be lucrative. Back then, sugar was an incredible luxury in Europe, but now, these crops were easily grown and produced in the Americas.

The problem however, is that the fact that the cultivation of sugar could be very labour-intensive - labour hired for this purpose got in the way of further increase in production and further drop in prices. While Native Americans could have been used, the new diseases brought by the Europeans effectively wiped out the population around the sites of plantations. Without the will to produce sugar plants themselves, the Europeans looked to the Africans, forming a triangular trade (map):

  • Europeans come in to Africa with luxurious goods, watches, jewelry, etc.
  • In exchange, slaves were bought from Africa and transported to the Americas.
  • Rum, coffee, sugar, etc. were brought back to Europeans (and of course, grown and produced by African slaves).

With a seemingly viable profit, the triangular trades went on in a circular fashion, for several centuries until the mid-19th century. However, 1650, ~150 years since the beginning of the triangular trades, the slave trades began to boom from 1650 to the mid-18th century. In consecutive events, the trading of African slaves were banned since the end of 18th century, and all the way along to the mid-19th century.

  • 1792, Denmark.
  • 1807, The United States of America.
  • 1808, Great Britain.
  • 1814, Netherlands.
  • 1848, France.

Who were the shippers?

Slave trading companies were usually funded by major corporations, with the blessing of the government - providing conveniences in questions involving finances.

Recent researches made it simpler for digitizing slave trading records, the concept of "Trade of Death" seemed ever more prevalent: from horrible ship and transport environment, and of course, diseases infested from these conditions - nearly as much died during the Middle Passage and initial transportation as the amount successfully reached the Americas. In the interior of Africa, a commerce developed in people - who were destined to become chattel slaves - and carry on with the old concept of enslaving captives, refugees, and destitutes - were sold into the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Into unknown

Nobody from the inland knew the destination of the slaves sold, and never did they know about the condition and suffering on the Middle Passage - including most of those those trading the slaves from the inland to the coastal regions - granted, those with extensive interaction with sea captains would have known from their conversations. And consequently, no one would have known about the lives after they reached the destination, and their short lifespan in their brutal labour regimes.

Where in the Americas did the slaves end up?

Of all those sold to the New World, "only" ~500,000 ended up at ports of the United States, nearly ten times as much went to the Carribean islands, and many more countries in South America (the list below is approximated):

  • 45% ended up in Brazil.
  • 40% ended up in the Carribean islands.
  • 12% ended up in South American countries.
  • 3% ended up in the United States of America.

What if the Atlantic Slave Trades never happened?

While it is widely argued that the population lost in the Atlantic Slave Trades, the ~25 millions sent off or died during transport was merely a fraction of the population in Africa. Another theory used to support this assertion is that the economic tension led to increased violence and warfare in Africa - and those otherwise would not have been waged.

Another idea suggests that the lucrative feature of the slave trades shifted popular ideas of economics in Africa - many chose to get into slave trading businesses. And going back to the idea of warfare, the economical potential led to a shift in goods exchange to Africa - demand of firearms skyrocketed as people involved wished for higher chances in victories, which brings more slave supplies.

The slave trades also led to distrust in governments in the regions, which is nonetheless an interesting point.

Demographics of slaves in the Atlantic Slave Trades

Unlike the African slave trades involving domestic slavery, the Atlantic Slave Trades mainly favoured male slaves - resulting in great loss in strong male population in Africa.

Shifting in geographical power distribution

With the development of Euro-centric slave trades, those involved in coastal tradings of chattel slaves, the centers of power tended to shift down to the western/Atlantic coast of the Africa continent.