The aim of this essay is to discuss the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The paper supports and provides evidence supporting the argument that the slave trade was based on a pre-existing slavery institution in Africa.
The transfer of Africans to the New World between the 17th and 19th centuries might be referred to as the second largest transoceanic migration of humankind (Ball, 5). Critics of this slave trade, mostly black historians, often lament on its inhumane nature. The reality that the slave trade was based on a pre-existing slavery institution IS oft given scant credence, yet, there’s substantial literature showing that Africans subjected their fellow Africans to a form of slavery. It was thus a surprise to historians studying slavery that slaves in Africa and African slave plantations surpassed those in the Americas
The native-born, captured or bought servile cultivators. According to Inikori (49), geographical studies in Western Sudan, the Sokoto Caliphate in the Central Sudan, and East Africa show evidence. In the Zaria emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, in modern-day Nigeria, the populations either lived in walled urban centers or agricultural villages (rumada). In the walled towns, comprising of Zaria, the administrative center, lived the fief-holding administrators. In the agricultural villages, lived the servile cultivators—either native-born (dimajai) or those captured or bought; their lords allotted lands to them which they had to till from 9.30 am, had midday lunch breaks to eat food sent to them by their lords, and went home at 2.30pm.
The Bida emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate, started by a rich Fulani family and increased between 1857 and 1901, resulted to the subjugation of an indigenous populous called the Nupe. The emirate’s military raided the nearby territories and took with them Yoruba, Afenmai, Igbirra, Hausa and Fulani captives. These captives lived in slave villages called tungazi and produced their own farm products, however, they had to pay two forms of tributes to their lords: money (cowries) and in kind (a portion of their farm produce). These servile populous, native-born, captives or bought, “lived and worked under conditions that approximated those of slavery.” There were also unmarried serviles who completely depended on their lords for upkeep. These slaves were household servants and though lived in their parental homes, were fed by their lords (Inikori, 51 & 52).
During the 19th century, there was rational exploitation the labor of servile populations in Western Sudan and Niger Bend. In the region, slaves were concentrated in villages or quarters and their labor, feeding and dues were increasingly controlled (Inikori 54). In the Niger Bend, a Muslim teacher started the state of Masina in early 19th century. Its creation led to the subjugation of populations locally referred to as rimaibe; they were given land to till from which they paid a sixth of their harvest as rent and gave a particular amount of their grains, named diamgal, as dues.
In the region of Fouta-Djallon, present day Republic of Guinea, there was a jihad led by the Fulani in 1727. The local tribes of Diallonke, Susu and Poullis were not only triumphed over but made slaves. They were allotted land from which a tenth of its harvest was rent and offered dues to their masters by working for them “from early morning until early afternoon” (Inikori, 55).
Servile labor was used to produce farm products in East African coast by Arabs, Swahili and migrant Africans. The Omani Arabs, in Pemba and Zanzibar, used servile labor to plant, tend and harvest cloves. When harvesting, they “worked eight or nine hours a day, seven days a week” or five or six days, weekly. Slaves in Malindi worked in grain plantations in groups ranging from five to twenty, weekly working hours ranging between forty and fifty. Slave villages in Mombasa held up to three hundred slaves, some paying ijara, monthly or yearly payments to their masters.
In conclusion, just like the slavery in Medieval Europe and Russia, slavery existed in Africa and provided the basis for the Atlantic slave trade. Others have claimed it started much later (Lovejoy, 7). African slavery was different: sometimes benign and not directly referred to as slavery. However, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet and a gutter by another name as foul.
Ball, Jeremy. The Atlantic Slave Trade. California: University of California, 2000
Inikori, Joseph, “Slavery in Africa and the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” in Alusibe Jalloh and Stephen E. Maizlish (eds.), The African Diaspora (College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1996, 40-65.
Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, 7.