Effects of the Slave Trade on West Africa
1135 WordsApr 22nd, 20135 Pages
Topic: Examine the social, economic and political effects of the slave trade on West Africa
The trans- Atlantic slave trade was a system developed in the late 15th century which exploited and brought the African people into enslavement by transporting them to the colonies of the new world where they served their purpose as a ‘’cheap’’ labour force . As a result of this, the slave trade brought about many social, economic and political effects on West Africa.
Firstly, the population in West Africa decreased significantly in order to meet the great demand for…show more content…
Great fear of being enslaved developed among many Africans who even abandoned their homes for safety. This gave rise to distrust and divided communities as aggressive tribalism increased and in some cases entire tribes and nations were virtually destroyed. Another effect of the slave trade on West Africa was that it led to cultural diversity. As Europeans (such as the Dutch and Portuguese) began to settle in African states they spread their cultural practices such as language; many African tribes and European languages were mixed thereby forming new languages like ‘swahili’. The slave trade also contributed to spiritual erasure. Certain religious institutions were so focused on meeting the needs of the trade and consequently, became depraved. They developed a deep desire for Europeans goods and this also resulted in a new class of African entrepreneurs. The Europeans traded goods such as firearms, iron, horses, cloth and tobacco in return for slaves. And with the supply of these goods, the Africans created businesses by selling the valuable products to the public and received great profits.
The trans-Atlantic trade also had several effects on the economy of West Africa. The slave trade resulted in West Africa being robbed of its most valuable raw material, which was its human resource. The economic development of the nation was therefore hindered by exporting and exploiting its human labor force. Additionally, they neglected their
From the seventeenth century on, slaves became the focus of trade between Europe and Africa. Europe’s conquest and colonization of North and South America and the Caribbean islands from the fifteenth century onward created an insatiable demand for African laborers, who were deemed more fit to work in the tropical conditions of the New World. The numbers of slaves imported across the Atlantic Ocean steadily increased, from approximately 5,000 slaves a year in the sixteenth century to over 100,000 slaves a year by the end of the eighteenth century.
Evolving political circumstances and trade alliances in Africa led to shifts in the geographic origins of slaves throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Slaves were generally the unfortunate victims of territorial expansion by imperialist African states or of raids led by predatory local strongmen, and various populations found themselves captured and sold as different regional powers came to prominence. Firearms, which were often exchanged for slaves, generally increased the level of fighting by lending military strength to previously marginal polities. A nineteenth-century tobacco pipe (1977.462.1) from the Democratic Republic of the Congo or Angola demonstrates the degree to which warfare, the slave trade, and elite arts were intertwined at this time. The pipe itself was the prerogative of wealthy and powerful individuals who could afford expensive imported tobacco, generally by trading slaves, while the rifle form makes clear how such slaves were acquired in the first place. Because of its deadly power, the rifle was added to the repertory of motifs drawn upon in many regional depictions of rulers and culture heroes as emblematic of power along with the leopard, elephant, and python.
The institution of slavery existed in Africa long before the arrival of Europeans and was widespread at the period of economic contact. Private land ownership was largely absent from precolonial African societies, and slaves were one of the few forms of wealth-producing property an individual could possess. Additionally, rulers often maintained corps of loyal, foreign-born slaves to guarantee their political security, and would encourage political centralization by appointing slaves from the imperial hinterlands to positions within the royal capital. Slaves were also exported across the desert to North Africa and to western Asia, Arabia, and India.
It would be impossible to argue, however, that transatlantic trade did not have a major effect upon the development and scale of slavery in Africa. As the demand for slaves increased with European colonial expansion in the New World, rising prices made the slave trade increasingly lucrative. African states eager to augment their treasuries in some instances even preyed upon their own peoples by manipulating their judicial systems, condemning individuals and their families to slavery in order to reap the rewards of their sale to European traders. Slave exports were responsible for the emergence of a number of large and powerful kingdoms that relied on a militaristic culture of constant warfare to generate the great numbers of human captives required for trade with the Europeans. The Yoruba kingdom of Oyo on the Guinea coast, founded sometime before 1500, expanded rapidly in the eighteenth century as a result of this commerce. Its formidable army, aided by advanced iron technology, captured immense numbers of slaves that were profitably sold to traders. In the nineteenth century, the aggressive pursuit of slaves through warfare and raiding led to the ascent of the kingdom of Dahomey, in what is now the Republic of Benin, and prompted the emergence of the Chokwe chiefdoms from under the shadow of their Lunda overlords in present-day Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Asante kingdom on the Gold Coast of West Africa also became a major slave exporter in the eighteenth century.
Ultimately, the international slave trade had lasting effects upon the African cultural landscape. Areas that were hit hardest by endemic warfare and slave raids suffered from general population decline, and it is believed that the shortage of men in particular may have changed the structure of many societies by thrusting women into roles previously occupied by their husbands and brothers. Additionally, some scholars have argued that images stemming from this era of constant violence and banditry have survived to the present day in the form of metaphysical fears and beliefs concerning witchcraft. In many cultures of West and Central Africa, witches are thought to kidnap solitary individuals to enslave or consume them. Finally, the increased exchange with Europeans and the fabulous wealth it brought enabled many states to cultivate sophisticated artistic traditions employing expensive and luxurious materials. From the fine silver- and goldwork of Dahomey and the Asante court to the virtuoso wood carving of the Chokwe chiefdoms, these treasures are a vivid testimony of this turbulent period in African history.
Alexander Ives Bortolot
Department of Art History and Archaeology, Columbia University