Slavery in Africa history study guide summary




Slavery in Africa history study guide summary


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Slavery in Africa history study guide summary

Slavery in Africa
(Directions:  Underline the key ideas that show how the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade developed.)

How did people become slaves in Africa before European merchants arrived?

  • If one were cut off from an African lineage one could be enslaved by another lineage. This could happen through war, through punishment for crime, or as a consequence of not being able to pay debts. Slaves were put to work in fields, mines, and on trading routes; their allocation was controlled by (and benefited) the elite.

Early trading posts

  • Europeans initially focused on gold, ivory, and wood products; later they began focusing more on slave trade, as opportunities expanded for plantation development.
  • Portuguese established trading posts (feitoria) at islands of São Tomé Principe (1470) and Fernando Po (1471) in Bight of Biafra, plus mainland posts on the "gold coast" of Ghana.
  • First region of slave derivation in 1400s was the western coast closest to the Cape Verde Islands: "Guinea of Cape Verde".

The 1500s: Focus on Central Africa

  • During the 1500s the Portuguese expanded slave exports from the Congo and the Ndongo Kingdom in Angola.
  • Kingdom of Kongo (Bakongo) included 60,000 square miles with 2.5 million people. The Kongo king was baptized by the Portuguese, but the kingdom collapsed as the king failed to monopolize the slave trade. Portuguese soldiers and mulattos moved into the interior, capturing slaves, imposing a slave tribute on local leaders, and purchasing slaves at markets. Eventually a series of kingdoms arose in central Africa that controlled the trade in slaves all the way to the eastern coast.

1600s and 1700s: West Africa

  • The Portuguese were replaced by the Dutch and later by British in slave trade.
  • The British influenced the growing importance of West Africa: the coast between Liberia (Grain Coast) and mouths of the Niger (slave coast).
  • Trade was often controlled by African "big men" who established city-states with the help of European firearms and supplied slaves to traders. During the 1700s the Asante expanded in Ghana on the basis of selling their military captives as slaves in exchange for guns and other resources. The state of Benin played a similar role in Nigeria. In the Niger delta, kinship lineages rather than states controlled the trade as kinds of corporations or mafias based on control of the slave trade, and cemented by elaborate religious beliefs (oracles which could determine guilt of witches, sorcerers, or ordinary criminals).
  • In 1800s, the British stopped most of the slave trade but Brazil continued to receive slaves from Congo and Angola
  • The result of massive slave trade was an implantation of African cultural influences, perhaps including cattle herding, agricultural items, religious practices, languages, and burial practices.


Comparing the African Diasporas:

1.  What is a broad generalization you can make about the impact of the African Diasporas in the different regions of the Americas?


2.  What is a more narrow generalization you can make about the impact of the African Diasporas in the different regions of the Americas? 


3.  What are some specific details that support your generalizations?

Africa’s Discovery of Europe: 1450-1850  by D.Northrup

Judging from the title, what might this book be about?


First Impressions

Black Africans were present and respected in Europe since at least the Crusades. 

  • Crusaders brought back news of black Kingdoms
  • Saint Maurice was a black African knight whose statue is in Chartres Cathedral
  • Recognition of black Christians in Ethiopia (increasing depiction of African princes as at least one of the Magi in the Nativity)


  • Increase of trade and cultural connections between the 14th and 15th century
  • Paintings showed recognition of African kings and African servants- diverse roles.
  • Ethiopia sent delegations to set up relations (often religious) with Rome, in part due to a common enemy (the emerging threat of the Ottomans).

What did Africans and Europeans think of each other around 1400?


After Portuguese arrival – 1400’s up to 1650:

  • Exchange of religious, technical knowledge as well as trade.
  • African kings and ambassadors traveled to Europe
  • Renaissance Europe employed Africans as servants, musicians, laborers and artisans—Africans retained culture.  Although instruments were European in origin, techniques and dances were from homelands.
  • White (Slavic and others) slaves (versus olive or black) were still more common in the Mediterranean region.
  • Slave supply from Northeast was interrupted with Ottoman conquests so European merchants increased purchases in the slave markets of North Africa.
  • Steady increase in enslaved persons in Spain, Portugal, and later the Netherlands and France.  (mark of distinction in England for families to have an African or two among their servants.)
  • Africans living in Europe adopted the local culture:         Christianity and languages (becoming trade intermediaries).
  • This did not happen without resistance—fleeing and purchasing of freedom common (legal manumission).
  • Marriage between races was not banned though not too common, mostly due to class barriers than racial barriers.


First impressions of Africans in coastal and later interior Africa who did not travel to Europe (strange physical appearance and unfamiliar material possessions):  In 1455 one Portuguese explorer remembered, “some touched my hands and limbs, and rubbed me with their spittle to discover whether my whiteness was dye or flesh.” In commenting on the potential death toll of a mortar, some Africans came to the conclusion that “it was an invention of the devil’s.”

African way of thinking:

These impressions led to two contradictory conclusions that dictated how they chose to interact with Europeans for the next four hundred years:

  1. Appearance was so different that they believed that the Europeans must be sorcerers and should be avoided.
  2. Good idea to befriend these visitors from afar to acquire goods and access knowledge and power they possessed. (including military alliances and weapons to give them an edge in local power struggles as well as superficial religious – Christian- conversions to gain a good relationship with the Europeans.)

How are these two reactions contradictory?  Which one do you think will win out?


Range of reactions:

    • Initial suspicion, fear and curiosity, wonder and disgust
    • Hospitality and compassion (ship wrecked Europeans as well as traders)
    • Utility and celebration

Commerce- Slavery Case Study

As you read this case study, think about how it compares to the general story you remember of the Atlantic slave trade:

In February 1730, an African Muslim cleric dispatched his son, Ayuba Suleiman to an English ship that had come 110 miles up the Gambia River to trade. The father instructed him “to buy paper, and some other necessities” and sent along two slaves to be exchanged for the purchases. Ayuba Suleiman did not reach an agreement with captain pike over the price of the slaves, but instead sold them to Africans south of the river in exchange for some cows, On the way back home, Ayuba Suleiman and his interpreter had the misfortune to be seized by Mandingo brigands and sold into slavery to the very same Captain Pike. The Englishman agreed to release Ayuba if his father would refund his purchase price, but his ship sailed before the ransom arrived. At the end of the voyage, Pike sold Ayuba to a Maryland tobacco cultivator for 45 pounds. Ayuba Suleiman’s story is remarkable in that he was not only redeemed from a life of slavery but also received with gracious hospitality in England (including a reception by the reigning monarchs) and loaded with rich presents before being returned to his homeland in 1735—all through the aid of some English sympathizers in the Royal African Company who believed his literacy in Arabic and his intelligence might be of use to their commercial ventures. Despite the exceptional aspects of Ayuba’s case, it illustrates some common themes in Africans’ commercial and cultural relations with Europeans during the centuries before 1850. First, his life shows how the Atlantic trade was partly driven by African demand for specific goods that European traders made available. Second, it links the external trade in slaves to an existing internal slave trade and to acts of violence used in enslaving people. Third, the twists of Ayuba’s fate illustrate how varied Africans personal relations with Europeans might be: Ayuba was first welcomed as a valued trading partner, then cruelly treated as a commodity, then later feted as an honored guest. Finally the fate of Ayuba’s interpreter, who died in slavery in Maryland despite Ayuba’s efforts to free him, suggests the essential importance of cultural and linguistic intermediaries in these exchanges.” (Northrup. 50)
How does the story compare to what you already knew about the Atlantic Slave Trade?  What was similar and what was different? 



Changing Nature of Relations Between Africans and Europeans

  • Africans became linguistic and cultural brokers as translators and intermediaries in order to take advantage of potential material wealth and power gains. 
  • Africans often were bi-cultural being fluent in the customs and traditions of both their own local culture as well as the European one in terms of fashion, manner and food.
  • Africans’ knowledge of European languages and customs gave them an additional advantage. For European traders, success required accommodating African customs and desires.
  • Although fair trade prospered between both, there were instances of cheating. One African accused of dishonesty retorted indignantly, “What! Do you think I am a white man?”
  • Atlantic trade included exports of enslaved persons, ivory, gold and forest products as well as imports. Imports initially included: woolen goods, textiles, copper and brass, from Europe as well as goods from N. Africa such as horses, grain and clothing, beads, skins, textiles from other parts of Africa, cotton from India, and later tobacco and rum from the Americas.   (In other words, Africans were not duped into trading people for worthless trinkets such as cheap gin and cheap gunpowder, shoddy pots, and other rubbish.) The conclusion is that Africans got what they wanted including with varying effects textiles, alcohol and weapons increasingly overtime.
  • Beginning during the Middle Passage and continuing under plantation life enslaved persons went through Africanization (the forming of a common identity that had not existed before).


Africans in Europe 1650- 1850

Racism was present and increasing, becoming worst after 1850. (Still most often based on class in Europe not on skin color).

Several groups of Africans (predominately male):

  1. African Delegates and students- chose to come to Europe to expand trade relations with home countries, pursue education, and /or continue a study of Christianity.
  2. Servants—increasingly fashionable to have black servants well fed rare and exotic “pets”: musicians, court officials, ambassadors and tutors. For ex. Angelo Soliman, in Moorish dress as a court African in Hapsburg Vienna. (Well-educated, tutor for emperor’s son, ambassador, married a Viennese noblewoman and was a fellow Mason with Mozart.)
  3. Anglo-Africans—Many freed Africans created new identities in Europe despite increasing racial stereotypes.  Their scholarship, writing of autobiographical accounts and efforts paved the way for abolitionist movements in Europe and the Americas. For ex. Phillis Wheatley, Oloudah Equianno and Ignatiou Sancho.
  4. Scholars and Churchmen—African missionaries studying in Europe who sometimes saw the superiority of western civilization over African but usually tried to hold onto local culture while trying to spread Christianity at home.


 How did these individuals influence people back home about Europeans?


Frederick Douglas (African American abolitionist), born into slavery, spent four months in the British Isles in 1845 and remarked, “The truth is the people here measure and esteem men according to their moral and intellectual worth, and not according to the color of their skin.”

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