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Before the 16th century, Europeans were not deeply involved in slave trading on the West African coast. However, there was some movement of African labour to Madeira and the Canary Islands by the early Portuguese explorers from onwards. These plantations became the model for future sugar estates in the West Indies. African exports at this time included gold, palm oil, nuts, yams, pepper, ivory, gum and cloth. There was intense rivalry for West Africa among Europeans.
With no interest in conquering the interior, they concentrated their efforts to obtain human cargo along the West African coast. During the s, the Dutch challenged the Portuguese monopoly to become the main slave trading nation. Later, Scottish, Swedish and Danish African companies registered their interest. With so many European powers on the coast, conflict was inevitable, culminating in the Anglo-Dutch war of West African rulers were instrumental in the slave trade.
They exchanged their prisoners of war rarely their own people for firearms manufactured in Birmingham and elsewhere in Britain. With their newly acquired weapons, kings and chiefs were able to expand their territories. The slave trade had a profound effect on the economy and politics of West Africa, leading, in many cases, to an increase in tension and violence.
In , for example, Dahomey, a small coastal state on the Atlantic, extended its borders into the interior of Africa. Half a century later, the Asante Empire under Osei Tutu forcibly united a number of small kingdoms into a strong federation. A large proportion of the prisoners of war were sold on as slaves. Other Africans captured during raids into the interior were exchanged for commodities. Europeans lacked the local knowledge to be able to negotiate the perils of the African interior, so they used middlemen for this task, according to Olaudah Equiano , who had himself been captured in this way.
European slaving ships waited at coastal ports to pick up their cargoes of slaves. Middlemen would attack Africans working in the fields and march them to the coast.
Children acting as lookouts for their parents might also be captured. The captured Africans were held in forts, sometimes called 'slave castles', along the coast. They remained there for months until finally leaving their homeland for an unknown destination on board European merchant ships, including those of the British Royal African Company.
Ships constructed in Britain carried the Africans to the West Indies. This human cargo of slaves was chained at the wrists and legs with irons, and stowed in the lower decks of the ships, like any other commodity. The slave trade developed into a complex system that included many different groups and interests. The actual number of Africans taken continues to be disputed, but it is somewhere in the range of 15 to 20 million people.
It has been suggested that a great many of those captured went unrecorded. Many died on the march to the coast, in the cellars of slave forts and on the ships. Great Britain , London, Slavery in the British Empire 2nd edn , London, About Feedback Glossary Copyright Sitemap. Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Europeans Before the 16th century, Europeans were not deeply involved in slave trading on the West African coast. During the 16th century the first foundations of globalisation were laid when African rulers forged relationships with European traders.
In the s, Hawkins made voyages to Guinea to obtain ivory, dyewoods and gold. At this stage the English seemed to have little interest in taking slaves.
This, however, was soon to change. Slaves for Guns West African rulers were instrumental in the slave trade. Kidnapped and Incarcerated Europeans lacked the local knowledge to be able to negotiate the perils of the African interior, so they used middlemen for this task, according to Olaudah Equiano , who had himself been captured in this way. The slave trade was responsible for major disruption to the people of Africa.
Women and men were taken young, in their most productive years, thus damaging African economies. The physical experience of slavery was painful, traumatic and long-lasting. We know this from the written evidence of several freed slaves. Captivity marked the beginning of a dehumanising process that affected British attitudes towards African people.
References and Further Reading Clarkson, T. Great Britain , London, Walvin, J.