African Slavery Term Paper

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African Slavery

Slavery has existed since the beginning history, and references can be found throughout the Old Testament and other ancient writings from around the globe. Slaves were often the spoils of wars and battles for the victors, and usually were a different ethnicity, nationality, religion, or race from those who enslaved them (Slavery pp). In the majority of cases, intermarriage, granting of liberty, and the right to buy one's own freedom have caused slave and slave-owning populations to merge throughout the world (Slavery pp). Slavery is almost always practiced for the purpose of securing labor and in the strictest sense, slaves have no rights (Slavery pp). The 1926 Slavery Convention described slavery as "the status or condition of a person over whom any or all of the powers attaching to the right of ownership are exercised," thus, a slave is someone who cannot leave an owner, master, overseer, controller, or employer without explicit permission and will be returned if they escape (Slavery pp). Although, slavery is outlawed in all countries by United Nations conventions, there are still some states today, such as Myanmar and Sudan that facilitate the institution of slavery (Slavery pp). These "unfree laborers" are usually told that they are working off a debt, however they have no access to an accounting of the debt and no right to take any higher[paying or less supervised employment (Slavery pp). Societies suffering from poverty, population pressures, and cultural and technological backwardness are often exporters of slaves to more developed nations (Slavery pp). Today, most slaves are rural people forced to move to cities, or they are purchased in rural areas and sold into slavery in cities, and these moves occur due to loss of subsistence agriculture, thefts of land, and population increases (Slavery pp).

The African-European slave trade dates back more than five hundred years, when Portuguese seamen first landed in Africa around 1441 (Obadina pp).

From the beginning, they seized Africans and shipped them to Europe to be sold as servants and objects of curiosity to households (Obadina pp). Today, in the Portuguese port of Lagos, where the first African slaves landed in 1442, the old slave market now serves as an art gallery (Obadina pp). In 1472, the Portuguese sailed southeast along the Gulf of Guinea and landed on the coast of what became Nigeria, then other Europeans followed (Obadina pp). These Europeans found people of varying cultures, some lived in villages, others lived in towns ruled by kings with nobility and courtiers, similar to their own medieval societies (Obadina pp). Relations between Europe and Africa were economic, and European merchants traded with Africans from trading posts established along the coast, exchanging items such as brass and copper bracelets for products such as pepper, cloth, beads, and slaves -- "all part of an existing internal African trade" (Obadina pp). Long before European slave buyers arrived, domestic slavery and trading in humans was common in Africa (Obadina pp). Black slaves were captured or bought by Arabs and then exported across the Saharan desert to the Mediterranean and Near East (Obadina pp).

When Spaniard Christopher Columbus discovered for a New World for Europe, the find proved disastrous for both the "discovered" people but also for Africans, and marked the beginning of a triangular trade between Africa, Europe and the New World (Obadina pp). As slave ships, mainly British and French, took native Africans to the New World, they were initially taken to the West Indies to supplement the local Indians who had been all but exterminated by the Spanish Conquistadors (Obadina pp). Beginning as a trickle, the slave trade grew to a flood from the seventeenth century onwards, and Portugal's monopoly was broken during the sixteenth century when England, France and other European nation entered the trade (Obadina pp). England, however, led in the business of transporting young Africans from their homeland to work in mines and till lands in the Americas (Obadina pp).

The loss of human population to Africa was staggering, with estimates over the four centuries of transatlantic slave trade ranging from thirty to two hundred million (Obadina pp). Initially, Eruopean trade parties captured Africans in raids on coastal communities, however, soon they were buying slaves from African rulers and traders (Obadina pp). In fact, the majority of slaves taken out of Africa were sold by African rulers, traders, and military aristocracy, all of whom grew wealthy from the business (Obadina pp). Most of these slaves were acquired through wars or by kidnapping, and then sold for European wares such as copper and brass bracelets (Obadina pp). Although European slave buyers made the greater profit, the African traders also prospered and many grew very wealthy (Obadina pp). Tinubu square, a commercial center in Lagos and home to Nigeria's Central Bank, is named after a major nineteenth century slave trader, Madam Tinubu, who rose from rags to riches by trading in slaves, salt and tobacco, and became one of Nigeria's pioneering nationalists (Obadina pp).

African rulers, traders and military aristocracy protected their interest in the slave trade and discouraged Europeans from venturing into the interior of the continent (Obadina pp). And due to the expense of expeditions into the interior, European traders realized the benefit of dealing directly with African suppliers (Obadina pp). Moreover, the slave trade with Europe "opened new images of the world for the African elite and presented them with products of a civilization ... And whetted their appetite for the products of a changing world" (Obadina pp). Thus, the main reason African rulers and traders participated in the slave trade was their desire for the material rewards and the power it brought (Obadina pp). They became obsessed with the variety of goods available through trade, even though there were locally produced equivalents of many of the items, such as cloth and jewelry, however, "the man with a warehouse full with goods from abroad was a powerful figure in the community, able to buy favors and influence with his wealth" (Obadina pp).

When Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807, it was not only the white slavers who opposed, but the African rulers as well, for they had become accustomed to wealth gained from selling slaves or from taxes collected on slaves that passed through their domain (Obadina pp). Although African traders were greatly distressed by the news, as long as there was demand from the Americas for slaves, the lucrative business continued, and did so for many decades after the British abolished it (Obadina pp). The British set up naval blockades to stop the slave ships, but it had very little effect in suppressing the trade, and actually made it even more profitable because the price of slaves rose in the Americas (Obadina pp). Moreover, the demand for slaves was largely responsible for the numerous wars that plagued Yorubaland for half a century following the fall of the Oyo empire, and took the intervention of British colonialism to impose peace in Yorubaland in 1893 (Obadina pp).

When slavery ended in the Spanish colonies of Brazil and Cuba in 1880, slave trading for export ended in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa, however, the ending of the slave trade simply led to the expansion of domestic slavery as African businessmen replaced trade in human chattel with increased export of primary commodities (Obadina pp). Labor was needed to cultivate the new source of wealth for the African elites, and if slavery had not ended in other parts of the world, the transatlantic trade would most likely still be rolling today (Obadina pp).

The triangular slave trade was a major part in the early stages of the emergence of the international market, and the role of Africa's ruling classes then is not that much different from the position of the African elite in today's global economy, both traded the resources of their people for their own gratification and prosperity and in the process helped weaken their nations and dim the prospects for economic and social development (Obadina pp). Tunde Obadina writes, "The slave trade had a profound economic, social, cultural and psychological impact on African societies and peoples ... It did more to undermine African development than the colonialism that followed it" (Obadina pp). The African continent lost a large proportion of its young and able bodied population, rising only twenty percent between 1650 and 1900, while Europe's population more than quadruped for the same period (Obadina pp). Aside from the loss of workforce, the damage to the social and economic fabric of the society and the undermined confidence of Africans in their historical evolution was perhaps far more serious (Obadina pp).

The transatlantic slave trade and slavery were key elements in the emergence of capitalism in the West, "as pivotal to Western industrialization as the new machinery and financial systems ... slavery gave value to the colonies in the New World which were crucial in the development of international trade" (Obadina pp). The slave trade and slavery helped to make England the workshop of…[continue]

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