Everything You Must Know About African Slave Trade


Slave trade involves the sale of a person so that he or she can serve as an unpaid servant to provide labor. In Africa, the issue of when slave trade began is controversial. Some scholars argue that Africans practised slave trade even before the arrival of Europeans whereas others argue that it was the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century that triggered it.

The bottom line is however that slave trade affected African countries negatively depriving them of strong people who could grow their economy while the European countries as well as America have the slave trade to thank for how  far they have come in terms of economic growth. The slaves provided the much labor required in the farms which were the backbone of economic growth back then.

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Who Were Enslaved?

People of all ages could be captured and placed on sale. The social misfits are the ones initially sold as their punishment. This later changed with the boom in the trade and it became discriminative with brokers taking even innocent people for sale. They would raid a village and take all the capable people they could find and lead them to sale grounds.

The elderly and really small children were the only ones spared in these raids since they were considered as useless in terms of labor and they would fetch too low a price at the trading area if any. Mainly young men and women, teenagers and youths were taken because of their strong bodies and health.

The Actual Slave Trade

The viable candidates were captured from different areas of the African inland and led to the coastal area on foot. At the coast, there were various trading areas established. There, the African slave traders would meet with the captains and doctors from ships sailing from America. 

The captain’s responsibility was to manage the sale of slaves at the trading areas. The doctor’s work was to examine the slaves’ health state and remove any that were unfit for labor. Those fit for the voyage and the job ahead, were then packed into the ships and their payments made. Those that were not fit enough would then be returned to the inland by the traders who held slave fairs inland. At these fairs, they were sold to Africans who required slave workers. Other rejected slaves were put to death by the traders though!

The Exchanges

Portugal and Spain were the most common European customers for the slavery. This is because they had acquired colonies in American continent countries in which there were big farms requiring labor. The sugar plantations in Brazil owned by Portugal needed a lot of labor force and so did Spain’s sugar plantations in West Indies. England, Netherlands and France soon joined in the trade.

The black traders were in dire need for warfare ammunitions and these European countries had guns in plenty. They were the payments for the slaves as well as other substances like rum and clothes. The Africans needed the guns to help in their constant fights with neighbouring communities.

Triangular Trade

The Slave trade triangle

African slave trade took a triangular shape in terms of routes travelled. At one vertex is the African trading areas, at the other is the European countries and the last is the American colonies. During these times, one ship sailed from the European countries carrying clothes, ram, guns and any other materials they would need for the exchange. Another sailed from African coasts to America to deliver slaves to the plantations. Yet another ship set sail from the American coast loaded with sugarcane and molasses to Europe to be used in making ram.

Voyage of the Slaves

The number of slaves needed to be transported was quite high and some captains preferred to transport a few so as to reduce the number of deaths and infection during the journey. Others preferred to transport many claiming that deaths will occur either way and to increase the number of survival having many is the only way.

Once onboard, the slaves were fastened together two-by-two using wrist iron cuffs. They were then sent down the deck and placed in different compartments for men and women separately. The conditions in the slave ships were deplorable with insufficient health care, sanitation, food, water and lack of fresh air. Deaths were frequent and those able to reach the destination were many at times almost half those that began the journey.

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