Section continent. The removal of people en masse
Section A Theme 2 – Caribbean Economy and Slavery The West African Coast was the source of the Caribbean’s labour from the 1500s to the 1800s much to the detriment of Africa’s Development and Progress. Justify this statement outlining and assessing the way(s) in which the slave trade impacted West African societies. (35 marks) Slavery is commonly defined as “the condition in which one human being owns another”. A slave is consequently considered the property of that person and is thus deprived of rights which are commonly held by free persons.
1 Slavery has existed on almost all continents throughout recorded history. The Chinese and Egyptians were some of the earliest known examples of institutionalized slavery, as were the Greeks and Romans, the Maya, Inca and Aztecs. Prior to African enslavement, Europe practiced slavery for centuries (for example, the enslavement of the Slavs, from which the word “slave” is derived, in the Middle Ages). 2 New World Europeans began importing slaves from Africa in the 16th Century (continuing a process of slave trade begun in ancient Egypt3).
In this slave trade, people were taken from great population reservoirs. Population shifts would occur and the population of a place would be depleted by the trade of slaves. Other goods and commodities would come into that country in exchange for the people taken.
4 The capture and enslavement of Africans had a massive impact on both West Africa and Africa as a continent. The removal of people en masse had a huge social impact on the entire Western region of Africa.The introduction of goods and services not existing prior to that time created new economic patterns of demand.
Some of these goods, particularly European weapons, made intra-African wars more frequent and intense in parts of African society, creating new political patterns of dominance. As a result, the thinking of certain West African societies was changed, and those societies began to develop new ways of dealing with themselves and one another. Several reasons caused a massive population depletion in West Africa.According to Kevin Shillington, author of ‘History of Africa’, numbers increased from a few thousand West Africans captured and transported annually in the 16th century, to 20,000 per annum in the 17th, rising to approximately 50,000 to 100,000 yearly in the 18th century. However, numbers fell sharply in the 19th century, and the trade completely abated by the 1880s5. It is estimated that at least 7 million (though some sources, such as Hugh Thomas would estimate at least 11 to 15 million6) Africans were enslaved and sold in the New World from the 1500s to the 1800s.A further 2 million Africans are estimated to have died over the Middle Passage7.
This excludes the number of people who died in holding pens; or those who died in the raids. Since the statistics were largely unrecorded and are thus unknown, it has been argued that the real scale could have been double that amount. 8 To whatever degree, it is still obvious that the slave trade removed a significant number of people, over a significant period of time, to the detriment of West Africa.The numbers of Africans taken varied from region to region, with Senegal being a major source of human trade in the early 16th century and the Angolan coastline a critical source from the 16th to 18th century.
The Slave Coast9 was an important source of Africans, with the greatest concentration being the Gold Coast10. From the 18th century onwards, virtually the entire Atlantic coastline from Senegal to southern Angola became more actively involved in the trade, causing a constant drain in those, and surrounding, regions of West Africa. 11The remaining population would be either those too young or too old to provide a proper labour force, thus depleting West Africa of its skilled and physically strong labour force in activities such as agriculture, metalwork, woodwork and medicine.
12 In time, the young would grow older and probably be captured, causing increasing depopulation of Africa’s most fit members of the populace. It is arguable that this by itself would mean little on a larger scale. If it happened in quick succession from area to area before the population could be replenished, communities would be depleted.In addition, each small population decline would eventually create a tipping point from which it would be difficult to recover. In the longer-term, however, there was a far greater effect. Although Europeans orchestrated the raids on African settlements, it was Africans who carried out the raids. European traders lacked the military power to command raiding excursions, and could more cheaply buy captives at the coast, particularly since they either suffered military defeat or succumbed to disease upon entering Africa’s interior.
European activity was generally limited to their trading posts along the coast. African rulers provided captives, and specialist African or Afro-European slave dealers transferred captured Africans to the coast for sale. 13 Though probably neither Europeans nor African raiders realized it at the time, this was a more subtle, insidious way in which Africa was damaged, as it caused the self-brutalization of Africans. In the early period of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, research suggests that many Africans, who became enslaved in the New World, were captured during local wars.For example, the Mane overtook the highlands of Sierra Leone and sold the locals captured to Europeans along the coast during the early to mid-16th century.
Later in the early 18th century, the Muslim Fulbe of Futa Jalon opposed their neighbours in a holy war, causing human exports along the coastline of modern-day Guinea to dramatically increase. Powerful African rulers supplied African captives when it was in their best interests, but they usually only sold smaller states or ‘stateless’ villages and only sold the criminals and outcasts of their own societies. 14 This in turn caused them to become more suspicious of being overrun and it coarsened them and warped their societies.
Another consequence of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and slavery was an increase in the general level of war within the West African interior, as the European presence on the coast offered apparently high prices for war captives, and so war became increasingly profitable in the short-term. In the long-term, it caused a great economic loss in the region’s production, as it sowed the seeds of self-destruction in the region and led to communities ‘eating their own children’. 15 In addition, within the tribes (e. . the Yoruba or Hausa) there would be a change from male hereditary rule to a system whereby the strongest person would rule. Competition for leadership would prompt civil war among the tribes and increased political instability would occur.
16 Some would feel that each new ‘alpha male’ leader would lack the legitimacy found in a hereditary leader, which would only further encourage civil war. As the Africans continued to fight amongst themselves in their tribes, they became more susceptible to war against other societies and generated feelings of resentment and hatred towards their kinsmen. 17 This made them almost addicted to war and made them unable to sustain themselves economically, politically and socially. The presence of Europeans in West Africa prompted deculturalization18, as thousands of people were captured and sent to the New World to be enslaved. Those who remained, aiding in the Europeans’ exploitation and conquest, relinquished their traditions and religions, believing the practices of foreigners to be superior. As the Europeans’ cultural conquest spread further across the continent in the 19th Century, deculturalization further spread as Europeans competed for the ownership of various territories. 19 For example, the spread of the European presence in the continent, combined with the slave trade, led to the destruction of many traditional stories that had evolved over centuries and much of Africa’s cultural heritage is lost forever, as there are few remaining documents or books to enlighten us and to enrich our access to cultural diversity.
20 Indeed, the effects of the slave trade on West Africa can still be seen today. There are still rivalries, feuds and prejudices among the modern-day remains of tribes that were started as a secondary effect of the slave trade.Colonization further split up the continent into countries using boundaries created for European convenience as the Europeans (be they English, French, Portuguese, Dutch or Spanish) were not content to be itinerant traders. They sought and won political footholds across the continent. These colonies now separated Africa into mutually exclusive states that ignored traditions of living that had been there from time immemorial. 21 There is much information to support the detrimental effect of the slave trade on Africa, but how the continent would have developed otherwise is unknown.This enables us to form a judgement based only on the few known facts.
The balance of historical evidence, the horror of the slave trade and the Middle Passage, and the sheer number of lives stolen provides adequate support to contend that the slave trade has damaged Africa’s progress. The second and trickier contention is the degree of hindrance that Africa’s Development and Progress underwent. Different people measure detriment differently. The degree of detriment hinges on how an individual defines and understands development and progress.
Facts can provide an historical perspective, although it is not always possible to form conclusive judgements from them. In this specific instance, we can use the ‘lens of history’ to compare Africa’s development and progress before and after the period of the slave trade. Prior to the slave trade, communities were self-sustaining with admirable practices in agriculture, medicine and craft. After the slave trade this was less so. Furthermore, the development and progress of Africa, specifically West Africa, can be legitimately compared with other regions over the same period.When this comparison is made, Africa’s rate and scale of development seems to have lagged behind many other regions which started in roughly the same place. It can therefore be affirmed that the slave trade hindered Africa’s development and progress.
———————– 1 Merriam-Webster Inc. , Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopaedia 2000. 2 “slave: Definition, Synonyms from Answers. com”, Answers. com, Answers.
com. 14 Sept. 2010 3 Thomas, The Slave Trade:The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870, 1997 4 Shillington, History of Africa, 1995. 5 Though the abolition of the English slave trade had taken place in 1807, non-English shipping interests and smuggler still continued the trade.
6 Thomas op. cit. 7 The Middle Passage was the second and most infamous leg of the Triangular Slave Tradesee appendix b. (the trade that ran from Europe to West Africa to the New World and then back to Europe).
It refers to the passage taken from West Africa to the New World over the Atlantic Ocean and is notably know for the horrendous living conditions the captured Africans were kept in over the 6 week or more period of the journey. appendix c. 8 Shillington op.
cit. 9 Now the western coast of modern-day Guinea 10 Now Ghana’s coastline 11 Shillington ibid. 12 Claypole, Caribbean Story: Book 1, 2001. 13 Shillington, op.
cit. 14 Shillington, ibid. 15 Shillington, ibid.
16 Claypole, op. cit. 17 Claypole, ibid. 18 Deculturalization – the loss of one’s tradition and culture 19 Claypole ibid.
20 Duane, Myths & Legends, 1998. 21 Thomas op. cit.