Although slavery is an ancient practice
it has had its critics long before the 18th century. In West Africa there
were a number of people who kept out of the slave trade, refusing to negotiate
with Europeans at all, for example the Jola of Casamance and the Baga
(modern Guinea), the last renowned for being unbeatable in battle.
Paramount Chief Koro Liman IV of the Gwolu
Area, in the Sisala West District of Ghana, describes the fortifications
constructed to protect the people against the slave raiders.
standing in front of the inner wall of the Gwolu protective wall, which
protected the great Gwolu from slave raiders and encroachments into Gwolu
city in ancient times. We have two walls and this is the inner wall.
In ancient times when slavery was rampant, our great great ancestor King
Tanja Musa built the wall to ward away slave raiders and slave traders
from coming into Gwolu to enslave our people.
The reason we have the inner and outer wall is that between the two walls
we had ponds and farms, so that the inhabitants would be protected from
being kidnapped by slave raiders.
First, there was only the inner wall. Then they realised that people who
went to farm, find firewood and fetch water were kidnapped by slave raiders.
The king found it necessary to construct a second wall and that is why
it is a two-walled city. And I know that in the whole of Ghana there are
only two such walls."
to Paramount Chief Koro Liman IV, of the Gwolu Area, in the Sisala West
District of Ghana
CRITICS IN AFRICA
King of Benin (now part of Nigeria) had allowed major slave trafficking
in the early sixteenth century. After 1530 the king or Oba could see this
was draining the kingdom of male manpower and he banned the sale of slaves.
He did keep domestic slaves, but by 1550 there was no slave trade in Benin.
Pepper and elephant tusks became the main exports.
I, King of the Congo similarly saw the slave trade rapidly grow out of
control to the detriment of his authority and the wealth of his kingdom.
are many traders in all parts of the country. They bring ruin…Every day
people are kidnapped and enslaved, even members of the King's family."
Excerpt from letter from Afonso I, King of the Congo to King of Portugal
Joao III, 18th October 1526. Quoted by Hugh Thomas' The Slave Trade.
Muslim leader and reformer Nasr al-Din denounced slavery to the people
of Senegal in the 1670's and banned the sale of slaves to Christians there,
undermining the French trade in slaves. Even some of the captains in charge
of slave ships knew it was wrong.
can't think there is any intrinsic value in one colour more than another,
that white is better than black, only we think it so, because we are so,
and are prone to judge favourably in our own case…"
Captain Thomas Phillips, in his account of his life published in 1694.
1851, some 17 years after slave owning was declared illegal by the British,
locally owned slaves in Calabar (now Nigeria), rebelled against the practice
of being killed and buried when a king or chief died. The occasion for
the revolt was the illness of King Archibong I of Duke Town. Fearing his
imminent death, the slaves of Duke Town plantations got together and took
an oath never to allow themselves funeral sacrifices to happen again,
and then went on the rampage. King Eyo Honesty II of Creek Town (himself
the owner of thousands of slaves) then forbade any more killing and burying
of slaves when leaders died.
ABOLITIONISTS OF AFRICAN DESCENT
abolitionists were of African descent, campaigning in Britain or in the
Americas. As freed slaves, their personal experience leant poignancy to
their arguments. Quobna Ottobah Cugoano was born in Ghana and captured
at the age of 13. His "Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery",
published in 1787, argued eloquently and passionately for an immediate
end to slave-owning and trading.
are the minister of God, to do justice, and not to bear the sword in vain,
but revenge wrath upon them that do evil. But if they do not in such a
case as this, the cruel oppressions of thousands, and the blood of the
murdered Africans who are slain by the sword of cruel avarice, must rest
upon their own guilty heads…"
Olaudah Equiano (also known as Gustavus Vassa) offers a vivid and detailed account of his life from early childhood in what is now eastern
Nigeria through to enslavement. The Life of Olaudah Equiano, published
in 1789, was a bestseller.
I was the youngest of the sons, I became, of course, the greatest favourite
with my mother, and was always with her; and she used to take particular
pains to form my mind. I was trained up from my earliest years in the
art of war; my daily exercise was shooting and throwing javelins; and
my mother adorned me with emblems, after the manner of our greatest warriors.
In this way I grew up till I was turned the age of eleven, when an end
was put to my happiness…"
quarter of a century later the writer and journalist and former slave
Frederick Douglass published his Narrative of The Life of Frederick
Douglass in 1845.
whisper that my master was my father, may or may not be true; and, true
or false, it is of but little consequence to my purpose whilst the fact
remains, in all its glaring odiousness, that slaveholders have ordained,
and by law established, that the children of slave women shall in all
cases follow the condition of their mothers…"
Douglass travelled all of Europe campaigning for abolition.
the French Revolution in 1789, resulting in violence and executions of
the nobility, many abolitionists in Britain were suspected of agitation
and undermining the social order. In 1794 working class men in Sheffield
made common cause with slaves, calling for their emancipation: "We are
induced to be compassionate to those who groan also" (the cutlers of Sheffield
quoted by Peter Fryer in his book Staying Power). Similarly the London
Corresponding Society, campaigning for the working man's right to a vote,
under John Thelwall, saw the corrupt ruling class as both the root of
slavery as well as working class oppression.
August 1834, Parliament decreed all children under six free in the West
Indies. Remaining slaves were to become apprentices, labouring for six
years and receiving no wages. Planters, on the other hand, were given