The African Slave Trader Empires

In Part 2 of the Slavery series we explore the African Slave Trader Empires that were involved in and benefited from the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Its estimated that close to 11 Million Africans were sent from the African Continent to the New World as a result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

The sheer scale of the Trade poses the question of how this was achieved.

In particular, whether Europeans alone were responsible for the capture, storage and export of Slaves or whether there was any African complicity or involvement.

What was the African response to the mass capture and forced exile that was happening in their midst?

Were Africans simply overwhelmed by European Military force to the extent that they failed to make known and enforce their opposition to the Slave Trade happening within their own territorry?    

Were Africans even opposed to the Slave Trade?

Origins and Development Of The Slave Trade

When Europeans arrived in Africa in the 15th Century, they found an African interior already dominated by powerful African States with well developed Political, Military and Economic systems.

These African States exercised total control over the African hinterland all the way to the Coastline.

For this reason Europeans could not act outside the authority of these well established African States.

For instance, the construction of Slave Forts like the infamous Elmina Castle was undertaken after consultation and agreement with local Chiefs with pre-existing authority over the area.

European partnerships and alliances with African Rulers were therefore fundamental to the success of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Slave empires

In addition, Europeans were confined to the Coastal areas where the Slave Forts were located and did not enter the African interior to raid and capture Slaves on their own.

They remained dependant on African Kings and Traders who would capture Slaves in the African interior and transport them to Coastal Slave Forts where they would be sold to Europeans and kept until they were shipped to the New World. 

Why Africans Were Involved In The Slave Trade

The fact that Africans enslaved Africans has been explained with reference to the fact that there was no universal African identity at the time of the Slave Trade because African Society was organised along Tribal and Ethnic lines.

In addition, Slavery was not completely foreign to Africa because the insitution already existed prior to the arrival of Europeans.

For instance, Wars between African Kingdoms such as the Asante and Fante produced captives and prisoners of War that were treated as Slaves within African Society.

Africans were also attracted to the consumer goods Europeans would exchange for Slaves, and whilst the Transatlantic Slave tried greatly increased the demand for Slaves, it was not responsible for introducing the concept of Slavery to Africa.

Kingdoms such as the Ashanti and Dahomey Empires waged Wars to capture more Slaves and they grew enormous wealth and power from their involvement in the Slave Trade.

Ultimately, it does not seem possible that the Transatlantic Slave Trade would have existed on such a large scale without the complicity of the powerful African Nations that dominated the African interior and benefitted from the Trade.

As such, in considering the History of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, its also important to acknowledge the role played by Africans in the trade because ascribing the entire Transatlantic Slave Trade to Europeans would amount to a denial not only of African involvement, but it would also suggest that African States were powerless to prevent the Trade in circumstances where the Historical power and development of Pre-Colonial African States at the time of European arrival demonstrates that this simply could not be the case because of the total dominance Africans held over the African interior.

This dominance was not affected by the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and was only swept away with the arrival of Colonialism, another Chapter in the continuing encounters between Africa and Europe.

For more Black History entries you can check out the Black History Archives:

Black History Archive

Black Struggle and resistance

In the Documentary, The Slave Kingdoms, the history and legacy of Africa’s Slave Trading Kingdoms is explored.

Enjoy…One!