The Rise of the West and the Western Dominated Economy: The Atlantic Slave Trade

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Much of Africa followed its own lines of development between the beginning of the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries. The rise of the West and the Western-dominated economy, however, was a powerful force in influencing the course of African history. The Atlantic slave trade predominated in economic affairs after the middle of the seventeenth century. The forced removal of Africans had a major effect in some African regions and was a primary factor contributing to the nature of New World populations. African culture became one of the important strands in the development of American civilizations. Despite the rise of the West and the slave trade, nearly all of Africa remained politically independent and culturally autonomous. Among the important trends, Islam consolidated its position in sub-Saharan and East Africa, while in many parts of Africa, independent states formed and expanded.The Atlantic Slave Trade. The Portuguese inaugurated the pattern for contacts along the African coast. They established trading forts (factories); the most important, El Mina, received gold from the interior. Most forts were established with the approval of African authorities desiring trade benefits. Some of the forts allowed trade to interior states. Portuguese and Afro-Portuguese traders (lançados) followed routes to the interior to open new markets. Missionary efforts followed, particularly to the powerful states of Benin and the Kongo. King Nzinga Mvemba of the Kongo accepted Christianity and, with Portuguese assistance, sought to introduce European influences to his state. The ravages of the slave trade were a major reason for the limited success of the policies. Africa, in general, tried to fit the European concepts they found useful into their belief structures. The Europeans regarded Africans as pagan savages who could adopt civilized behavior and convert to Christianity. The Portuguese continued their southward ventures, in the 1570s establishing Luanda on the Angolan coast among the Mbundu. In the Indian Ocean, they established bases on Mozambique Island and other towns in an effort to control the gold trade coming from Monomotapa. On both coasts, few Portuguese settled permanently. Other Europeans followed Portuguese patterns by creating trading stations through agreement with Africans. In almost all instances, slavery eventually became the principal focus of relationships. Added impetus came from the development of sugar plantations on Portuguese and Spanish Atlantic islands and their subsequent extension to the Americas.

Trend Toward Expansion. Between 1450 and 1850, about 12 million Africans were shipped across the Atlantic; about 10 or 11 million arrived alive. A number equal to one third of those shipped might have died in the initial raiding or march to the coast. The volume of the trade increased from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, with 80% of the total coming in the latter century. Brazil received more than 40% of all slaves reaching the Americas. The continued high volume was necessary because of high slave mortality and low fertility. Only in the southern United States did slaves have a positive growth rate. Other slave trades—trans-Saharan, Red Sea, and East African—under Muslim control, added another 3 million individuals to the total.

Demographic Patterns. The Saharan slave trade to the Islamic world carried mostly women for sexual and domestic employment. The Atlantic trade concentrated on young men fit for hard labor in the Americas. African societies who sold slaves might keep women and children for their own uses. The Atlantic trade had an important demographic effect on parts of western and central Africa; the population there in 1850 might have been one half of what it would have been without the trade. The women and children not exported skewed the balance of the sexes in African-enslaving societies. The introduction of American crops, such as maize and manioc, helped suffering regions to recover...
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