The Story of Africa
 

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- Roots of slavery

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- African slave owners

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- The East African slave trade

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- The Atlantic Slave trade

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- The middle passage

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- Africa's losses

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- African resistence

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- The end of slavery

African slave owners

 

A slave owner descendant
Many societies in Africa with kings and hierarchical forms of government traditionally kept slaves. But these were mostly used for domestic purposes. They were an indication of power and wealth and not used for commercial gain. However, with the appearance of Europeans desperate to buy slaves for use in the Americas, the character of African slave ownership changed.

Growing rich with slavery

 
In the early 18th century, Kings of Dahomey (known today as Benin) became big players in the slave trade, waging a bitter war on their neighbours, resulting in the capture of 10,000, including another important slave trader, the King of Whydah. King Tegbesu made £250,000 a year selling people into slavery in 1750. King Gezo said in the 1840s he would do anything the British wanted him to do apart from giving up slave trade:

"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."

Living witness

 
Some of the descendants of African traders are alive today. Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu is the great great grandson of Baba-ato (also known as Babatu), the famous Muslim slave trader, who was born in Niger and conducted his slave raids in Northern Ghana in the 1880s. Mohammed Ibrahim Babatu, the deputy head teacher of a Junior secondary school in Yendi, lives in Ghana.

"In our curriculum, we teach a little part of the history of our land. Because some of the children ask questions about the past history of our grandfather Babatu.

Babatu, and others, didn't see anything wrong with slavery. They didn't have any knowledge of what the people were used for. They were only aware that some of the slaves would serve others of the royal families within the sub-region.

He has done a great deal of harm to the people of Africa. I have studied history and I know the effect of slavery.

I have seen that the slave raids did harm to Africa, but some members of our family feel he was ignorant?we feel that what he did was fine, because it has given the family a great fame within the Dagomba society.

He gave some of the slaves to the Dagombas and then he sent the rest of the slaves to the Salaga market. He didn't know they were going to plantations... he was ignorant."


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Songhay

 
The young Moroccan traveler and commentator, Leo Africanus, was amazed at the wealth and quantity of slaves to be found in Gao, the capital of Songhay, which he visited in 1510 and 1513 when the empire was at the height of its power under Askiya Mohammed.

"...here there is a certain place where slaves are sold, especially on those days when the merchants are assembled. And a young slave of fifteen years of age is sold for six ducats, and children are also sold. The king of this region has a certain private palace where he maintains a great number of concubines and slaves."

Swahili

 
The ruling class of coastal Swahili society - Sultans, government officials and wealthy merchants - used non-Muslim slaves as domestic servants and to work on farms and estates. The craftsmen, artisans and clerks tended to by Muslim and freed men. But the divisions between the different classes were often very flexible. The powerful slave and ivory trader Tippu Tip was the grandson of a slave.

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The Omani Sultan, Seyyid Said, became immensely rich when he started up cloves plantations in 1820 with slave labour - so successful was he that he moved the Omani capital to Zanzibar in 1840.
Find out more about the Swahilis

Punished for keeping slaves

 
The Asanti (the capital, Kumasi, is in modern Ghana) had a long tradition of domestic slavery. But gold was the main commodity for selling. With the arrival of Europeans the slaves displaced gold as the main commodity for trade. As late as 1895 the British Colonial Office was not concerned by this.

"It would be a mistake to frighten the King of Kumasi and the Ashantis generally on the question of slavery. We cannot sweep away their customs and institutions all at once. Domestic slavery should not be troubled at present."

British attitudes changed when the King of the Asanti (the Asantehene) resisted British colonial authority. The suppression of the slave trade became a justification for the extension of European power. With the humiliation and exile of King Prempeh I in 1896, the Asanti were placed under the authority of the Governor of the Gold Coast and forced therefore to conform to British law and abolish the slave trade.

Slavery decreed by the gods

 
In 1807, Britain declared all slave trading illegal. The king of Bonny (in what is now the Nigerian delta) was dismayed 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."
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