Calculating the statistical dimensions
of the slave trade, whether in terms of deaths or number of slaves taken
from Africa since the 15th century is not easy. Figures for the Spanish
and Portuguese colonies are less reliable than those for North America.
The continuation of slavery within Africa in the 19th century after abolition
is also poorly documented.
ARAB SLAVE TRADE
documents containing statistics are not always very reliable. For example,
figures for Arab slavery produced by the British government after abolition
were inflated as part of the propaganda war against the Arabs in East
there remains a great deal of dispute over the figures for the Arab slave
trade. One historian produced a total of 17 million slaves, but this is
for a period spanning 13 centuries and encompassing trade in North Africa,
the North East and South Africa.
more helpful comparison can be made by looking at the figure for slaves
leaving Africa annually for Arab lands from East Africa in the first half
of the nineteenth century. This figure exceeds 3,000, compared with the
estimate for slaves crossing the Atlantic in the late 18th century at
an annual rate of 44,000.
recent years the slave trade has increasingly been referred to by African
Americans as a holocaust (wholesale destruction), and comparisons have
been made with the fate of Jews under Nazi rule, as well as the original
inhabitants of the Americas at the hands of the first Europeans.
are a number of movements calling for reparations (financial compensation)
to be made by the countries that used to be slave trading nations. These
movements are concerned with not just how many people made the journey,
but also the impact of the slave trade on population growth over the centuries.
THE NEAREST WE CAN GET
records are a central source; there are also documents relating to the
running of plantations and deeds of ownership. The numbers become clearer
in the late eighteenth century as the slave trade reaches its peak and
the movement for abolition begins to get under way.
as high as 50 million have been floated, and for a long time an accepted
figure was 15 million, although this has in recent years been revised
historians now agree that at least 12 million slaves left the continent
between the fifteenth and nineteenth century, but ten to twenty percent
died on board ships. Thus a figure of 11 million slaves transported to
the Americas is the nearest demonstrable figure historians can produce.
IMPACT ON POPULATION GROWTH
number of slaves would have died at the point of capture and more in course
of the journey to the coast. A merchant of Luanda in the late 18th century,
Raymond Jalama, observed that nearly half of those captured inland were
dead by the time they reached the coast.
vast majority taken were men and this must have had a huge effect on the
population they left behind particularly in a polygamous society.
has been calculated through computerised projections that the population
in Africa in the mid 19th century would have been double what it was had
the slave trade not happened - that means that if there had been no slave
trade the population of Africa in 1850 would have been 50 million instead
of 25 million.
AND HOW MANY PEOPLE WERE ENSLAVED?
often became slaves for reasons rooted in local disputes, and wars; or
they became slaves as a demonstration of wealth and power on the part
of a local ruler. However, enslavement at a local level could often lead
to a chain reaction of sales from merchant to merchant ending up at the
coast where the final sale resulted in being dispatched across the Ocean.
large number of people began the journey into slavery as prisoners of
war. The Baganda in East Africa, for example, often went to war with their
neighbours and took Bunyoro and Basoga people as slaves.
the rise of a large commercial slave trade, driven by European needs,
enslaving your enemy became less a consequence of war and more and more
a reason to go to war. This was particularly so in West Africa where,
for example, the conflict between the kingdoms of Oyo and Dahomey resulted
in prisoners of war being taken as slaves on both sides and then sold
on to the coast.
people were taken into slavery as a punishment. The crime might be witchcraft,
theft, or adultery.
trifling crime is punish'd in the same manner… They strain for crimes
very hard in order to sell into slavery."
Francis Moore, Royal Africa Company, writing in the 1730's.
someone into slavery could be a way of discharging a debt.
FEEDING THE ORACLE
Bonny, the largest slave market in the delta of the river Niger many slaves
were sold by order of the oracle, Chukwu. The slaves were then sold to
merchants, but the oracle was said to have eaten them.
the area of Senegal, in the 17th century, slaves were given to the king
as part of a village's tribute to him, along with brandy, tobacco and
large number of people were quite simply kidnapped while going about their
everyday tasks. Igbos were particularly wary of being kidnapped and always
fortified their houses if they left their villages; but some like Olaudah
Equiano were caught unawares.
in West Africa Savanna horsemen would sweep down from the north to launch
annual slave raids on agricultural people.
Occasionally Europeans would kidnap people and turn them into slaves,
although by doing this they ran the risk of annoying the chain of African
middlemen which extended from the interior to the coast.
was customary for parties of sailors and coast blacks to lie in wait near
the streams and little villages, and seize the stragglers by twos and
threes when they were fishing or cultivating their patches of corn."
Richard Drake, recalling life under the command
of Captain Fraley of Bristol, whom he served in 1805.
VULNERABLE & UNWANTED
times of famine children might be sold. Orphans, widows and poor relations
were equally vulnerable.
slaves were born into slavery in Africa. Traders and captains of slave
ships preferred these because they were less trouble, having never known
anything but slavery.