did the west african kingdoms like Dahomey or Asante know of the slaves' conditions?

Jun 2015
5,734
UK
#1
It's often said that the kings of Asante (in modern Ghana) and Dahomey (modern Benin) didn't know of how barbaric the conditions in the slave forts and ships were. And if they did, then they wouldn't have conquered other tribes and sold the PoWs as slaves.

to me this is nonsense. PoWs are not friends nor allies, and if it meant a neighbouring tribe was gone forever, and you could get more guns to sustain and grow your kingdom, then fine how they're treated in slave forts or slave ships is immaterial. Plus all kings have contacts from whom they get info/intel from. This is one reason why medieval Europe was feudal, so a local lord who had the ear of the King could relay information on various stuff from military to economic matters. There is no reason why they couldn't at any time tap into this network.

So is it rubbish to say the kingdoms didn't know, and would have stopped gathering PoWs of friendly tribes whom they respected to sell to Europeans as slaves?
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,594
Benin City, Nigeria
#3
It's often said that the kings of Asante (in modern Ghana) and Dahomey (modern Benin) didn't know of how barbaric the conditions in the slave forts and ships were. And if they did, then they wouldn't have conquered other tribes and sold the PoWs as slaves.

to me this is nonsense. PoWs are not friends nor allies, and if it meant a neighbouring tribe was gone forever, and you could get more guns to sustain and grow your kingdom, then fine how they're treated in slave forts or slave ships is immaterial. Plus all kings have contacts from whom they get info/intel from. This is one reason why medieval Europe was feudal, so a local lord who had the ear of the King could relay information on various stuff from military to economic matters. There is no reason why they couldn't at any time tap into this network.

So is it rubbish to say the kingdoms didn't know, and would have stopped gathering PoWs of friendly tribes whom they respected to sell to Europeans as slaves?
In the case of Dahomey, there were "creole" slave traders that eventually started living in the kingdom, who were familiar with how the Atlantic slave trade worked, and in all likelihood they might have shared some information with the native Dahomeans about how bad the conditions in the ships and forts were. Though it wouldn't be in those traders economic interests to emphasize that aspect of it, if the Dahomeans somehow thought that treatment too cruel. I say somehow because the Dahomeans themselves were capable of causing great devastation, suffering and cruelty during their invasions of other areas, so I can't see why the suffering of slaves would suddenly melt their hearts and make them consider stopping that trade.

For Asante, I cannot see why they would need to know exactly how the slaves were treated. I do not see what real relevance it would have to the Asante making a sale of slaves to other coastal Africans who sold these slaves to Europeans (most of the slaves sold by the Asante were sold to other Africans in the coastal part of the Gold Coast region, who sold these slaves to Europeans; the Asante sold only a few slaves directly to Europeans themselves). So it is difficult to see why they would gather information about that aspect of it when it was not too relevant to the issue of whether a sale could be made. In Asante, and in the Gold Coast region in general, slaves were supposedly treated mildly according to some European accounts, and Bowdich claims that some Asante nobles would give their daughters in marriage to their most favored slaves, so their slavery, although still unjust exploitation was a bit distinct from the practices in the Americas of course.
 
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Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
#4
The native African kingdoms could see how the slaves were treated in the holding pens while waiting for shipment, so they knew the conditions for the slaves were not good. They knew when they sold slave to the Europeans the slaves' fates would be bad, they could see how the slaves were treated before they were shipped off.

The slaves themselves imaged a dire fate, some thought they would be eaten, and if the slaves were thinking that, similar thoughts must have also been going through the minds of the Asante and Dahomey's who sold the slaves. Regarless of whether the Asante sold the slaves directly to the Europeans or not, knowledge of the appalling conditions of the slaves waiting shipment would have gotten back them.

The claim that slavery was all that benign in African itself is debatable, and irrevelant in any case. Anyone with eyes could see the terrible conditions of the slaves while they were waiting for shipment, and selling people to those of a completely alien appearance, none whon ever returned, the Africans who sold the slaves to the Europeans knew that the conditions and live for the slaves would be terrible. This is an attempt to absolve the Africans of their own responsibility for the horrors of the slave trade, that somehow the African slave traders were not guilty, which is bunk. The Africans who sold othdr Africans to the Europeans knew that a dire fate awaited the slaves they sold, and didn't care.


Even in the best case scenario, the slaves were being permantly sent away to a completely alien land, away from all they knew and loved, never to returnm which is a pretty terrible thing in and of itself. Even before the slaves were shipped to the Americas, wives were permantly separated from husbands, children from their mothers and fathers.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,594
Benin City, Nigeria
#5
The native African kingdoms could see how the slaves were treated in the holding pens while waiting for shipment, so they knew the conditions for the slaves were not good. They knew when they sold slave to the Europeans the slaves' fates would be bad, they could see how the slaves were treated before they were shipped off.
Apart from Dahomey, where the contact with the European forts would be more direct, and where there were even non-Dahomean slave traders familiar with the details of the Atlantic slave trade that had settled in Dahomey, the people who might see this (I say might because not all of them would), would be some coastal groups, not people from inland states (like Asante). But as I said, in the case of Dahomey, I do not think it would make any difference anyway. If they were ruthless to their enemies already, I do not see them being so sympathetic to the situation of the slaves that were being sold.

The slaves themselves imaged a dire fate, some thought they would be eaten, and if the slaves were thinking that, similar thoughts must have also been going through the minds of the Asante and Dahomey's who sold the slaves. Regarless of whether the Asante sold the slaves directly to the Europeans or not, knowledge of the appalling conditions of the slaves waiting shipment would have gotten back them.
I am not really sure why they (Asante officials) would care enough to inquire. The issue of treatment or fate doesn't have much relevance to the issue of making a sale.


The claim that slavery was all that benign in African itself is debatable, and irrevelant in any case.
And it is also an incorrect claim, since slavery wasn't all "benign" in Africa, as has been noted elsewhere on the forum. Some forms of slavery in Africa were more mild than others, but some were more harsh.

Anyone with eyes could see the terrible conditions of the slaves while they were waiting for shipment,
The terrible conditions while waiting for shipment while in the hands of Africans would have been terrible, yes, just from the fact of being restrained, chained or restricted in any other way from escaping alone. But those are the conditions the Africans would know about. Apart from some coastal groups, how would they know about the conditions that Europeans kept them in or about any treatment further on?

and selling people to those of a completely alien appearance,
This was of no great relevance. If Africans had thought or viewed the world in racial terms it might have been.

none whon ever returned, the Africans who sold the slaves to the Europeans knew that the conditions and live for the slaves would be terrible.
Well I have actually read more than one quote (from European sources) giving statements which indicate that some members of a group actually thought those sold into slavery to Europeans would somehow fare better in another land than where they were. So it is actually plausible to me that there was ignorance from some Africans that sold slaves about the treatment they would receive or about how those slaves would fare, having read accounts basically revealing that ignorance.
 
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