Caribbean Economy and Slavery: the West African Coast Was the Source of the Caribbean’s Labour from the 1500s to the 1800s Much to the Detriment of Africa’s Development and Progress. Justify This Statement Outlining

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Theme 2 – Caribbean Economy and Slavery

The West African Coast was the source of the Caribbean’s labour from the 1500s to the 1800s much to the detriment of Africa’s Development and Progress. Justify this statement outlining and assessing the way(s) in which the slave trade impacted West African societies. (35 marks)

Slavery is commonly defined as “the condition in which one human being owns another”. A slave is consequently considered the property of that person and is thus deprived of rights which are commonly held by free persons.[1]

Slavery has existed on almost all continents throughout recorded history. The Chinese and Egyptians were some of the earliest known examples of institutionalized slavery, as were the Greeks and Romans, the Maya, Inca and Aztecs. Prior to African enslavement, Europe practiced slavery for centuries (for example, the enslavement of the Slavs, from which the word “slave” is derived, in the Middle Ages).[2] New World Europeans began importing slaves from Africa in the 16th Century (continuing a process of slave trade begun in ancient Egypt[3]).

In this slave trade, people were taken from great population reservoirs. Population shifts would occur and the population of a place would be depleted by the trade of slaves. Other goods and commodities would come into that country in exchange for the people taken.[4]

The capture and enslavement of Africans had a massive impact on both West Africa and Africa as a continent. The removal of people en masse had a huge social impact on the entire Western region of Africa. The introduction of goods and services not existing prior to that time created new economic patterns of demand. Some of these goods, particularly European weapons, made intra-African wars more frequent and intense in parts of African society, creating new political patterns of dominance. As a result, the thinking of certain West African societies was changed, and those societies began to develop new ways of dealing with themselves and one another.

Several reasons caused a massive population depletion in West Africa. According to Kevin Shillington, author of ‘History of Africa’, numbers increased from a few thousand West Africans captured and transported annually in the 16th century, to 20,000 per annum in the 17th, rising to approximately 50,000 to 100,000 yearly in the 18th century. However, numbers fell sharply in the 19th century, and the trade completely abated by the 1880s[5]. It is estimated that at least 7 million (though some sources, such as Hugh Thomas would estimate at least 11 to 15 million[6]) Africans were enslaved and sold in the New World from the 1500s to the 1800s. A further 2 million Africans are estimated to have died over the Middle Passage[7]. This excludes the number of people who died in holding pens; or those who died in the raids. Since the statistics were largely unrecorded and are thus unknown, it has been argued that the real scale could have been double that amount.[8] To whatever degree, it is still obvious that the slave trade removed a significant number of people, over a significant period of time, to the detriment of West Africa.

The numbers of Africans taken varied from region to region, with Senegal being a major source of human trade in the early 16th century and the Angolan coastline a critical source from the 16th to 18th century. The Slave Coast[9] was an important source of Africans, with the greatest concentration being the Gold Coast[10]. From the 18th century onwards, virtually the entire Atlantic coastline from Senegal to southern Angola became more actively involved in the trade, causing a constant drain in those, and surrounding, regions of West Africa.[11]

The remaining population would be either those too young or too old to provide a proper labour force, thus depleting West Africa of its skilled and physically strong labour force in activities such as agriculture, metalwork, woodwork and medicine.[12] In time,...
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