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The African Slave Trade

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Published on Dec 13, 2012

Slavery in Africa


According to David Stannard's American Holocaust, 50% of African deaths occurred in Africa as a result of wars between native kingdoms, which produced the majority of slaves. This includes not only those who died in battles, but also those who died as a result of forced marches from inland areas to slave ports on the various coasts. The practice of enslaving enemy combatants and their villages was widespread throughout Western and West Central Africa, although wars were rarely started to procure slaves. The slave trade was largely a by-product of tribal and state warfare as a way of removing potential dissidents after victory or financing future wars.

However, some African groups proved particularly adept and brutal at the practice of enslaving others, such as Oyo, Benin, Igala, Kaabu, Asanteman, Dahomey, the Aro Confederacy and the Imbangala war bands. By the end of this process, no fewer than 18.3 million people would be herded into "factories" to await shipment to the New World.

The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery, who otherwise would have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. As one of West Africa's principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighbouring peoples.

King Gezo of Dahomey said in the 1840s:
The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth...the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery...

Like the Bambara Empire to the east, the Khasso kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade for their economy. A family's status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned, leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. This trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa's west coast, particularly the French.

Benin grew increasingly rich during the 16th and 17th centuries on the slave trade with Europe; slaves from enemy states of the interior were sold, and carried to the Americas in Dutch and Portuguese ships. The Bight of Benin's shore soon came to be known as the "Slave Coast". In 1807, the UK Parliament passed the Bill that abolished the trading of slaves. The King of Bonny (now in Nigeria) was horrified at the conclusion of the practice:

We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.

The Atlantic slave trade peaked in the late 18th century, when the largest number of slaves were captured on raiding expeditions into the interior of West Africa. Obviously, Europeans did not TAKE Slaves in Africa, they BOUGHT Slaves in Africa. These expeditions were typically carried out by African kingdoms, such as the Oyo empire (Yoruba), Kong Empire, Kingdom of Benin, Kingdom of Fouta Djallon, Kingdom of Fouta Tooro, Kingdom of Koya, Kingdom of Khasso, Kingdom of Kaabu, Fante Confederacy, Ashanti Confederacy, Aro Confederacy and the kingdom of Dahomey. Europeans rarely entered the interior of Africa, due to fear of disease and moreover fierce African resistance. The slaves were brought to coastal outposts where they were traded for goods.

Distribution of slaves in the Americas (1519--1867)

Destination - Percentage
Brazil (Portuguese) 38.5%
British America (West Indies) 18.4%
Spanish Empire 17.5%
French Americas 13.6%
British North America 6.45%
English Americas 3.25%
Dutch West Indies 2.0%
Danish West Indies 0.3%

July 10, 2003: Benin (formerly Dahomey) Apologizes for it's Role in the Slave Trade.
Ambassador Cyrille Oguin of Benin said:

Benin President Mattieu Kerekou has made reconciliation a priority, Oguin says. "The president of Benin, the people of Benin have asked me to come here and apologize for the government, for the Benin people and for Africa for what we all know happened," Oguin says. "Where our parents were involved in this awful, this terrible, trade."

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