The Story of Africa


- Roots of slavery


- African slave owners


- The East African slave trade


- The Atlantic Slave trade


- The middle passage


- Africa's losses


- African resistence


- The end of slavery

The East African slave trade


J Roberts, first President of Liberia
In East Africa a slave trade was well established before the Europeans arrived on the scene. It was driven by the sultanates of the Middle East. African slaves ended up as sailors in Persia, pearl divers in the Gulf, soldiers in the Omani army and workers on the salt pans of Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). Many people were domestic slaves, working in rich households. Women were taken as sex slaves.

Arab traders began to settle among the Africans of the coast, resulting in the emergence of a people and culture known as Swahili. In the second half of the 18th century, the slave trade expanded and became more organised. There was also a huge demand for ivory, and slaves were used as porters to carry it.


There were three main reasons why more slaves were required:

1. The clove plantations on Zanzibar and Pemba set up by Sultan Seyyid Said, needed labour.

2. Brazilian traders were finding it difficult to operate in West Africa because the British navy was intercepting slave ships. The Brazilians made the journey round the Cape of Good Hope, taking slaves from the Zambezi valley and Mozambique.

3. The French had started up sugar and coffee plantations in Mauritius and Reunion.

A number of different people - Arabs and Africans - were involved in supplying slaves from the interior, as well as transporting ivory. They included:

- The prazeros, descendants of Portuguese and Africans, operating along the Zambezi

- The Yao working North East of the Zambezi

- The Makua operating East of the Yao, closer to the coast

- The Nyamwezi (or Yeke) operating further north around Lake Tanganyika under the leadership of Msiri and Mirambo, who established a trading and raiding state in the 1850s which linked up with the Ovimbundu in what is now modern Angola

The most famous trader of all was Tippu Tip, (Hamed bin Mohammed) a Swahili Arab son of a trader, and grandson of an African slave. He was born in Zanzibar of African Arab parentage and went on to establish a base West of Lake Tanganyika, linking up with Msiri. He and his men operated in an area stretching over a thousand miles from inland to the coast.

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