The Most Enslaved African Tribes

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade displaced millions of Africans from their native motherland and began a legacy of oppression for the descendants of generations to come.

Across the African Continent people from different African Nations and Ethnic groups became both victims and agents of the Trade.

Whilst its not an exact science, but based on the most active regions, below is a list of some of the 10 African Nations whose Citizens were enslaved during the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Number 1

The Mbundu people from Angola were amongst the most enslaved Africans according to the Atlas Of The Transatlantic Slave Trade with most being transported to Brazil.

It was during this period that the legend of Queen Nzinga the Mbundu Queen who led a rebellion against Portuguese Slave Traders was born.

Eventually the Mbundu presence in Brazil was was so high that they began to influence Brazilian culture including the popular martial arts technique Capoeira which is one of Brazil’s most recognisable cultural symbols that shows its strong connections to the Mbundu people and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. 

Number 2

The Yoruba are an ethnic group of Southwestern and Northcentral Nigeria, and they also are one of Africa’s largest ethnic groups. 

Going back as far as the 11th Century, the Yoruba were the dominant cultural force in Southern Nigeria and they were heavily engaged in the Palm Oil Trade which went hand in hand with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

However, the Yoruba were both victims and beneficiaries of the Trade as many Yoruba were dispersed  to the Americas.

Nevertheless, the Yoruba left an indelible mark on the culture wherever they landed as Yoruba culture became so prominent that the Yoruba Orisha Cult Pantheon began to be worshiped in North and South America where its still venerated today.  

Number 3

At number 3 we have the Igbo, an ethnic group native to present-day South Central and Southeastern Nigeria.

The Igbo are another one of Africa’s largest Nations which was also affected by the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

Due to the Aro Confederacy, the Aro people, a subgroup of the Igbo had migrated to Igboland creating a demand for slaves and palm oil.

The Aro Confederacy captured and enslaved Igbos, selling them to Europeans with many of the slaves taken from the Biafran Coastline being Igbos who accounted for approximately 13% of all Slaves taken to the Americas.

Number 4

The Bakongo people lived along the Atlantic coasts of Central Africa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Just like the Mandinka in Upper West Africa, they created one of the most prominent empires in their region of Central Africa called the Congo Empire. 

The Bakongo got involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade largely due to Portuguese intrusion which saw the  Portuguese sieze citizens of the Congo Empire, enslaving them illegally on a mass scale with the situation becoming so dire that the Bakongo King wrote a letter to the Portuguese King complaining about the Slave kidnappings.

Eventually the Grandson of the Bakongo King was taken into slavery, and he would enter history as one of Brazil’s most prominent Slaves, Ganga Zumba who would go on to build a big Slave Compound in Brazil under his own independent administration where he lived like a King at one of Slavery’s main Ports of entry.

Number 5

The Fon are the largest ethnic group in Benin, and can also be found in parts of Southern Nigeria.

During the 17th Century the Fon Kingdom had become well established and it was famous for its Dahomey Amazon female warriors, the inspiration for Black Panther’s Dora Milaje all Female Royal Guard. 

The Fon were both victims and beneficiaries of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and they eventually became a significant population amongst the enslaved peoples of Haiti and Trinidad.

In-fact, the new Voodoo Slave Religion that would emerge out of Haiti was directly influenced by Fon Religion leading to the first successful Black Revolution in History with the success of the Haitian Revolution.

Number 6

The Mende people are a collection of ethnic groups all over West Africa that speak the Mende language with the the most widely recognised Mende speaking Nation being the Mandinka Nation.

The Mandinka built one of the largest empires in West Africa, becoming so prominent that the term Mandingo was coined in reference to their reputation as strong black men.

Mandinka culture was the most dominant in West Africa from around 1100BC all the way to 1600AD when the Mandinka Kingdoms around the Coastline of West Africa fell victim to the Slave Trade.

Today, the memory of the Mandinka and their history in the Transatlantic Slave Trade has been immortalised in the story of the Amistad Slave Ship.

Number 7

The Fulani are one of the largest if not the largest ethnic group in West Africa from Senegal all the way up to the Central African Republic.

The Fulani converted to Islam very early in their history and were the primary Slave Raiders in West Africa responsible for selling many African ethnic groups into Slavery as they waged Jihad accompanied by Slave raiding missions. 

In as much as the Fulani were very active as Slave Traders, they were also amongst the most enslaved groups as various Fulani groups would enslave others in the name of Religion, particularly if they did not ascribe to Islam so Fulani groups that were not Islamic were also victims of the Slave Trade.

Number 8

The Abron people the borderlands of Cote d’ivoire, Ghana and Burkina Faso were in the center of the Gold Coast slave region.

As a result, many Abron fell victim to the very active Slave Trade in their area simply because they were located in a region in which the Slave Trade was intense. 

Number 9

Coming in at number 9 are the Wolof People of Senegal and Gambia. 

The Wolof were made up of a variety of separate Kingdoms and constant Wars between them led to enslavement amongst the Wolof particularly with the arrival of Islam in Senegal which was accompanied by Jihad.

Internal Wolof Jihads resulted in internal displacement and prisoners of War who were then traded as Slaves.

Number 10

Last but not least are the Chamba people of Northern Nigeria and parts of Cameroon.

The Chamba were constantly raised by Fulani Slave Traders during the Jihads of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Eventually in order to prevent themselves from being taken as Slaves, the Chamba resorted to a resistance campaign in which they retreated to the mountains and attacked Slave Trading Caravns.

This had the desired effect, and led to less people amongst the Chamba being taken in as Slaves. 

Conclusion

All in all, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade resulted in massive Social upheaval which had a dramatic impact on the African Contnient.

For those that were enslaved, it would mark the beginning of a journey to an Alien world and completely new way of life if they managed to survive the horrors of the Middle Passage.

Today, the legacy of Slavery resonates around the world in the descendants whose forebears were enslaved and transported to their new homes on the Sugar and Cotton Plantations of the Americas.

For a detailed discussion on how Slavery affected Africa, you can check out Walter Rodney’s classic book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.