The Differences and Similarities Between the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Saharan Slave Trade on the West Coast of Africa

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The African Slave Trade has affected a very large part of the world. This phenomenon has been described in many different ways, such as slave trade, forced migration and genocide. When people today think of slavery, many envision the form in which it existed in the United States before the American Civil War (1861-1865): one racially identifiable group owning and exploiting another. However, in other parts of the world, slavery has taken many different forms. In Africa, many societies recognized slaves merely as property, but others saw them as dependents whom, eventually might be integrated into the families of slave owners. Still other societies allowed slaves to attain positions of military or administrative power. Most often, both slave owners and slaves were black Africans, although they were frequently of different ethnic groups. Traditionally, African slaves were bought to perform basic or domestic labour, to serve as wives or concubines, or to enhance the status of the slave owner. Traditional African practices of slavery were altered to some extent beginning in the 7th century by two non-African groups of slave traders: Arab Muslims and Europeans. From the 7th to the 20th century, Arab Muslims raided and traded for black African slaves in West, Central, and East Africa, sending thousands of slaves each year to North Africa and parts of Asia. From the 15th to the 19th century, Europeans bought millions of slaves in West, Central, and East Africa and sent them to Europe; the Caribbean; and North, Central, and South America. These two overlapping waves of transcontinental slave trading made the slave trade central to the economies of many African states and threatened many more Africans with enslavement, and can to be known as the Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The merchants who traded slaves on the coast to European ship captains – for example the Vili traders north of the Congo, the Efik in the Bight of Biafra, and behind them the groups that supplied the slaves, such as the Kingdom of Dahomey, the Aro network, and further south, the Imbangala, all had strict conceptions of what made an individual eligible for enslavement. Among such criteria were constructions of gender, definitions of criminal behaviour, and conventions for dealing with prisoners of war. The make-up of slaves purchased on the Atlantic coast thus reflected who Africans were prepared to sell as much as whom Euro-American plantation owners wanted to buy. But the victims of the slave trade also had a major impact on the trade. Probably about one in ten slaving voyages experienced major rebellions, of which the attempts to control increased the costs of a slave voyage to the point where far fewer slaves entered the traffic than would have been the case without resistance. In addition, vessels from some regions on the coast appear to have been more prone to experience slave uprisings than those from other regions. The rebellion-prone areas were precisely those regions, broadly comprising Upper Guinea - Senegambia, Sierra Leone, and the Windward Coast, which had the least participation in the slave trade as they had a royal ban on the export of Benin slave men. In Africa, as in many places around the world, early slavery likely resulted from war groups taking captives. Such captives were of little use, and often some bother, when kept close to their homes because of the ease of escape. Therefore, they were often sold and transported to more distant places. Warfare was not the only reason for the practice of slavery in Africa, however. In many African societies, slavery represented one of the few methods of producing wealth available to common people. Throughout the African continent there was little recognition of rights to private landholding until colonial officials began imposing European law in the 19th century. Land was typically held communally by villages or large clans and was allotted to families according to their need. The...
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