Bibliographic data

Fomenky, Robert; Gwanfogbe, Mathew: Histoire du Cameroun, Cours moyen. Vol. 5/6. Yaoundé: Centre d'Édition et de Production pour l'Enseignement et de la Recherche (CEPER), 1989, 28–31.

"The slavetrade"

[p. 28]

7. The Slave Trade

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A slave is a person who is the private property another person and who is forced to serve him. Slavery is the condition of a slave, and slave trade signifies the entire process, capture, transport and sale that produce slaves. It is a commercial activity that dates back a very long time, that was practiced in ancient Egypt and also in Europe during the Greek and Roman period. It was a common practice all over the world before the 16th century. The slave trade dealt with in this chapter is that which affected the Blacks of Africa and which lasted from the 16th century to the end of the 19th century.

Causes of the Slave Trade

The need for domestic servants

The Europeans and the Arabs bought slaves in Africa to do domestic work because they refused to use people of their own religion as slaves, and it was the case that a great majority of Africans were neither Christians nor Muslims. From the 16th century onwards, people used domestic slaves in North and South America.

Commerce and the Portuguese explorations

When they started to establish themselves along the coast of Guinee in West Africa,

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the Portuguese began to use the people of that country as slaves, either on site at the plantations or in Europe, where they used them as domestics.

The need for workers on the plantations of America

Beginning in the 16th century, the Europeans established vast plantations and mines in America for which the local workforce was not sufficient. Thus, they went searching for Africans, for whom they thought the climate in their place of origin was comparable to that in the Americas, and they appeared to be more robust.

The Procedure of Slave Trade

The main slave traders were the Portuguese, the Spanish, the English, the Dutch and the French. They found many kings and chiefs in Africa who were willing to provide them with slaves in exchange for European goods. At the same time, there were owners of plantations, mines and manufactories in North and South America who were important buyers of slaves due to the enormous profits that this cheap workforce assured them.

Certain African chiefs organized capture expeditions in order to provide themselves with slaves, or they consi-

[p. 29]

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[Source, map: The illustration shows a section of a world map in black-and-white. Arrows point from Western Europe towards Africa, from Africa to America and back to Western Europe. According to the caption metal wares, textiles, firearms and alcohol were transported from Europe to Africa. Slaves were taken to America from Africa and then sugar, tobacco, rice and cotton were brought back to Europe from America.]

[Caption:] Triangular commerce

dered prisoners captured from tribal wars as such. All were chained and brought to the coast in order to be sold to the Europeans.

The Europeans brought manufactured goods to Africa, such as clothing, shoes, guns, powder, alcohol and jewelry, which they exchanged for slaves.

The slaves were then sent to America, where they were sold for gold, silver, diamonds, cotton, sugar, tobacco or various other products of commercial interest. These products were then loaded on board the ships that returned to Europe, where their freight was sold. This traffic from Europe to Africa and on to America, returning to Europa, and so forth, formed a triangle, hence the name triangular commerce.

It was an extremely cruel trade. Families were ruthlessly separated, millions of people met

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their deaths during the capture expeditions or in the camps where they were imprisoned on the coast while waiting to embark, or on board the vessels where they were herded together under atrocious conditions.

Once in America, the slaves had no rights at all as human beings. They had to work for their masters, either in their personal service as domestics or on the plantations, in mines or in manufactories.

Consequences of the Trade

  • The slave trade was inhuman because the people taken as slaves were deprived of all rights, separated from their families and their cultures, and most often treated in a brutal and cruel manner.
  • The slave trade dramatically increased the hatred among Africans and triggered many wars, with the chiefs often looking to procure slaves whom they could sell.

[p. 30]

[Source, Image: The illustration shows several sketches and a cross-section of a slave ship. The sketches show a great many people laying very closely together.]

[Caption] This is how the slaves were packed onto the ships.

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  • The trade resulted in a huge decrease in the population of Africa. Just to give the example of Brazil, in 1800 there were more than 600,000 black miners, almost one million black slaves worked on the sugar plantations and 250,000 on the coffee plantations, without counting those who were employed in the harvest of bananas, cotton etc. One can estimate

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the number of slaves who debarked on the American continent at a dozen million, not to mention all who died before arriving.

  • The loss of such a large portion of the population, of which some were qualified workers, caused a serious slowdown in the growth of the African economy. The commerce, craftwork and agriculture found itself in a state of slum-

[p. 31]

[Source, Image: The black-and-white photograph shows eight people chained together and carrying large packages on their heads. A soldier stands in front of them.]

[Caption:] Chained slaves

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ber. The slave trade and the imports that served as payment dominated economic life.

  • Life in America became more dangerous and more violent.
  • Because it was a given that the slave owners were white and the slaves black, the Blacks came to be considered an inferior people, not possessing the same rights as Whites in the society. This is a problem that, in many societies, is still not solved today.

The Abolition of Slavery

Many people raised their voices against slavery, judging it to be criminal. Among the vivid protests, we note that of Pope Leo X, who, in 1514, denounced slavery and the slave trade. In 1526, King NzingaMbemba of Congo wrote to the king of Portugal asking him to prohibit the Portuguese from buying slaves in the territory of his kingdom. This letter was, of course, without effect. It was not until 1772 when Lord Mansfield, chief magistrate of England, granted liberty to an English slave named James Somerset. From that time onwards, every slave who reached the English coast was a free man.

An anti-slavery committee was formed with William Wilberforce, Granville Sharpe and Thomas Clarkson at the head. With their pressure they contributed to

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the adoption of the law of 1807, which rendered slave trade illegal on the territory of England. Other European countries adopted comparable laws over time, and in 1833 a new British law assured freedom to all slaves on all territories of His Highest Majesty. In the United States of America, numerous slaves were liberated after the Civil War.

In 1787, following Lord Mansfield’s verdict, numerous liberated English slaves were brought to Freetown in Sierra Leone, where the first settlement was established. After that, others had to be established in Liberia (for the former slaves of North America) and in the current Bioko (Fernando Poo).


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