Responsibility for Slave trade is African?

Naima

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
2,323
Venice
The whole world is always blaming the west for the slave trade by major european powers like England , holland, France , Spain and Portugal, for creeating the slave trade.
But nothing is told of the responsibility of the very same Africans and the role that they had in the slave trade
...And that role, it turns out, was a considerable one, especially for the slave-trading kingdoms of western and central Africa. These included the Akan of the kingdom of Asante in what is now Ghana, the Fon of Dahomey (now Benin), the Mbundu of Ndongo in modern Angola and the Kongo of today’s Congo, among several others.For centuries, Europeans in Africa kept close to their military and trading posts on the coast. Exploration of the interior, home to the bulk of Africans sold into bondage at the height of the slave trade, came only during the colonial conquests, which is why Henry Morton Stanley’s pursuit of Dr. David Livingstone in 1871 made for such compelling press: he was going where no (white) man had gone before.
How did slaves make it to these coastal forts? The historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University estimate that 90 percent of those shipped to the New World were enslaved by Africans and then sold to European traders. The sad truth is that without complex business partnerships between African elites and European traders and commercial agents, the slave trade to the New World would have been impossible, at least on the scale it occurred.
Slave trade is still occurring today in some Islamic countries...

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,627
Benin City, Nigeria
The whole world is always blaming the west for the slave trade by major european powers like England , holland, France , Spain and Portugal, for creeating the slave trade.
But nothing is told of the responsibility of the very same Africans and the role that they had in the slave trade
Slave trade is still occurring today in some Islamic countries...

https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/23/opinion/23gates.html

I don't think only "major European powers" are blamed at all. I'm guessing you have only read accounts blaming Europeans, because, as a European, that's what you would focus on. Whereas, my experience has been quite different. . .
 

Dan Howard

Ad Honorem
Aug 2014
4,754
Australia
Slavery in Africa was completely different to slavery in the west. Apparently, at the time, slaves in Africa were more like indentured servants. When Africans gave slaves to westerners they thought that they would be treated the same as they were in Africa.
 
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kandal

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,781
USA
Slavery in Africa was completely different to slavery in the west. Apparently, at the time, slaves in Africa were more like indentured servants. When Africans gave slaves to westerners they thought that they would be treated the same as they were in Africa.
Weren't Africans aware of the existing Arab slave trading, which was pretty cruel too?

Also weren't Africans aware of the deplorable conditions in which slaves were held at the ports before shipment?
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,627
Benin City, Nigeria
Slavery in Africa was completely different to slavery in the west. Apparently, at the time, slaves in Africa were more like indentured servants. When Africans gave slaves to westerners they thought that they would be treated the same as they were in Africa.
This is very true in some cases, but not true in others. An example of a case where this is true is the Mandinka/Malinke area of west Africa. When Mungo Park visited the Mandinka area of west Africa, he found that the masters there worked alongside their slaves in all labor that was performed, and that they did this "without any distinction of superiority" between masters and slaves. A similar situation existed in Aboh (in what is now Nigeria), where slaves were often more like servants, and where slaves could in fact own property and land or become effectively independent, despite their originally foreign (to Aboh) origin.

But there were some other areas of west or central Africa where this sort of thing was not true at all. A good example is Dahomey, where the slaves were definitely not just all servants, and where treatment for slaves that were not domestic slaves (household help) could be harsh.
 

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,351
Slavery in Africa was completely different to slavery in the west. Apparently, at the time, slaves in Africa were more like indentured servants. When Africans gave slaves to westerners they thought that they would be treated the same as they were in Africa.
We have to be honest that this kind of nonsense is the African equivalent of whites blaming Africans for slavery. It is a defense mechanism. Africa is a very big continet and slavery took many forms, some benign, some unimaginably cruel.

1. There was mass human sacrifice of slaves amongst people such as the Dahomey and Asante, sometimes in very cruel ways such as burning alive.

2. There are accounts of attempts to create eunic slaves by mass castrations. 99% of those castrated bled to death to make the one eunich.

3. Ibn Battuta describes a slave girl being given to cannibals as a meal.

4. Sexual slavery was common, and the slave women were sometimes prostituted out until they died of injuries.

5. The Asante employed an army of conscripted slaves with swordsmen at their backs to force them to fight.

6. In Kanem, the average life span of a slave was 7 years. So much for "12 years a slave."

We have to be honest about everything. Chattel slavery was uniquely evil in its own way, and so were many other forms of slavery in African and elsewhere in the world.
 

Menshevik

Ad Honorem
Dec 2012
9,279
here
We have to be honest that this kind of nonsense is the African equivalent of whites blaming Africans for slavery. It is a defense mechanism. Africa is a very big continet and slavery took many forms, some benign, some unimaginably cruel.

1. There was mass human sacrifice of slaves amongst people such as the Dahomey and Asante, sometimes in very cruel ways such as burning alive.

2. There are accounts of attempts to create eunic slaves by mass castrations. 99% of those castrated bled to death to make the one eunich.

3. Ibn Battuta describes a slave girl being given to cannibals as a meal.

4. Sexual slavery was common, and the slave women were sometimes prostituted out until they died of injuries.

5. The Asante employed an army of conscripted slaves with swordsmen at their backs to force them to fight.

6. In Kanem, the average life span of a slave was 7 years. So much for "12 years a slave."

We have to be honest about everything. Chattel slavery was uniquely evil in its own way, and so were many other forms of slavery in African and elsewhere in the world.
Pretty grim stuff. Are you aware of any single all encompassing book and/or source that touch on all of these events?
 

cachibatches

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,351
Pretty grim stuff. Are you aware of any single all encompassing book and/or source that touch on all of these events?
No. This was all stuff I learned piecemeal.

The episode about the slave being fed to cannibals was in Ibn Battuta TRAVELS IN BLACK AFRICA. You can find out everything you want about human sacrifice of slaves by googling "The annual Rites" or "Festival of the Yams" and using those as springboards. The business about castration was amongst the Ashanti and there is a long quote from an eyewitness in the book LOST WORLDS OF AFRICA. There is another book out, available at Barnes and Nobles, where I got the lifespan of a slave of Kanem, but I didn't buy it and can't name it at the moment. The business about the sex slaves I read in a book about sexual slavery years ago, and can't name it. The Slave army of the Ashanti is common knowledge- wiki will suffice.

The point is, I am sure that there is a lot more to the story than even this, because there was no standardized slavery in Africa. The idea of slavery being a benign institution in which slaves were treated as junior family members is a, pardon the phrase, whitewash, just the same as when white people try to blame slavery on the Africans themselves. If we are not telling the truth about history, then we are not historians. We are fiction writers.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,627
Benin City, Nigeria
We have to be honest that this kind of nonsense is the African equivalent of whites blaming Africans for slavery. It is a defense mechanism. Africa is a very big continet and slavery took many forms, some benign, some unimaginably cruel.
While I agree with the overall logic of your argument that it was not the case that all slaves were treated well throughout Africa (a point I also made above), I see some problems with the sort of interpretation or slant that you have put forward here. So I'll just make some points and ask some very basic questions here about what I see some issues with.


1. There was mass human sacrifice of slaves amongst people such as the Dahomey and Asante, sometimes in very cruel ways such as burning alive.
Dahomey was a ruthless and somewhat brutal state in my opinion, but not for the reasons you have put forward here. I have mentioned the ruthlessness of Dahomey once before on this forum, but I did not have what you have suggested here in mind at all, because what you have mentioned is really a myth. I am no fan of Dahomey, for reasons I do not intend to elaborate on at any great length, but this claim isn't really a particularly valid one about that state.

Sacrifices of slaves seem to have actually been very rare in Dahomey. No one has seen the evidence that the "mass sacrifices" you refer to were really of slaves. What we see mentioned by those who actually went there, saw them, and inquired about them, is that they were killings of criminals, with a few war prisoners - recent captives, not people already owned by someone who were just randomly being executed - included on occasion. It is not as if anyone actually saw mass sacrifices of people that were specifically slaves actually being carried out. If one were to read on the internet that, for example, "4000 slaves" (or some similar number) were sacrificed at one of the "annual customs" of Dahomey, shouldn't one be able to point to the person who really saw this happening (how did they get that number, for example? What is the credibility of that account? etc.) and also provide evidence that these people were slaves?

In fact, some European visitors (people from Europe who actually went to Dahomey, not people who merely wrote about it, without actually going there) who actually bothered to find out about these "customs" firsthand or who witnessed them had a very different point of view from the mythical version that is usually claimed:

"On the raised floor of the tower six victims were seated in the long basketwork frames that are used to carry loads on the head. They were pseud-gagged, and their hands and ankles bound together; while the whole compound of man and basket was securely lashed to the rafters. Beneath these wretched beings a further group of six were bound to the supporting posts of the roof. In the long barn were twenty-two condemned, bound similarly to the others, but not gagged. Those in the tower had blue patches on their gowns, while the shed-victims had square ornaments of chequered cotton-like bed-ticking; otherwise their dress was similar to that of the victims in the "Elephant shed." The sacrifices in the tower were appropriated to the Bush king, Addokpon; while those in the long barn-like structure were national property. These unfortunate beings, who were fated to perform such a fearful part in the national drama, were all criminals, having been guilty of crimes, the punishment of which, according to the national code, was death. A serious misconception has arisen with respect to these victims; some reports having gone so far as to say that the king picks out the required number from his subjects haphazard, or at the best chooses those whose influence might be supposed to be getting too great to be permitted in the country of a despotic tyrant. Other accounts state that the victims are prisoners of war. That some of them may be such is very probable, and indeed whenever any enemy who has been particularly obnoxious has the ill-luck to fall into the hands of the monarch, he is generally made a public example of; but with these few exceptions the victims sacrificed at the Customs are criminals. Special messengers to the dead are often captives; but these ghostly postmen are liable to be dispatched at any times of the year; though of course so important an occasion as the Customs demands a more frequent correspondence with Kutomen, the Dahoman spirit world, than at other times. Much of the horror of this barbarous practice is therefore taken off when we consider that nearly all the capital punishments inflicted in a year are carried out during the Customs; and I doubt not that if we were to hang all our murderers at one period of the year - say at Christmas - the list would be as long a one as that of Dahomey. How long has it been since human crania were actually to be seen on Temple Bar?" - J. Alfred Skertchly - Dahomey As It Is; Being a Narrative of Eight Months Residence in That Country (1874), pp. 192-193

Skertchly noted other instances of criminals being executed besides those "annual customs", but I am just quoting this part about the "annual customs" because it discusses the supposed "mass sacrifice of slaves" that you seem to be alluding to.

Another European visitor to Dahomey, Richard Burton, repeatedly stressed that the numbers of those said to have been killed by earlier writers in those "annual customs" had been greatly exaggerated. He notes that one European who had lived in Dahomey for three years had seen 65 people killed at these events over a period of three years, while another saw no more than 36 killed in the later years of the reign of a different king of Dahomey. Burton stated that around 80 were killed at a "custom" when he was there, but he states that they were criminals and prisoners of war. It should be noted that Richard Burton had a fairly strong hatred of black Africans. Out of all the European writers on Africa, excepting pretty much no one, no other writer had so much animosity and dislike of black Africans. In fact, the extent of his bias was so great that it was considered noteworthy even in his time and he was criticized for it even in an era where some degree of racial bias was generally acceptable. So he would not go out of his way to defend black Africans just out of charitableness. There must have been a fairly great discrepancy between what was being reported about Dahomey and what he observed to be the reality. Burton's defense of Dahomey against this particular charge is all the more unusual because, in fact, he did not write his book about his visit to Dahomey to defend the place at all, but if anything, to specifically criticize and strongly condemn Dahomey and more generally to advance his particular agenda about black Africans.




I agree that there were occasional sacrifices in Asante, but these could not be called "mass" sacrifices, and they consisted of mostly of criminals and some people who were considered rebels against the central government. Besides this, occasionally "retainers" of nobles or the king volunteered for self-sacrifice, thinking it some great honor. But the numbers involved were small, but I can understand if the numbers you have read have been swelled to enormous proportions due to the vivid imaginations of some writers. Asante is a bit different from Dahomey and some other places in Africa in that one of the Asante kings actually got wind of what some Europeans were writing about what was supposedly being carried out in his kingdom, by his order, and he took umbrage at it and complained to a British visitor about some of the slander that the British were writing, basically around the time it was actually being written:

"In 1848, when Governor Winniett went up to Kumasi, as the first European of his rank to pay a formal visit, he found the Asantehene incensed at the false reports about Ashanti recently published in Britain." - Philip D. Curtin - The Image of Africa: British Ideas and Action, 1780-1850, Volume 2 (1973), p. 337

So there was always the issue of bias and distortion at work with Asante, particularly in British accounts, and especially in those British accounts from the mid to late 19th century. But even the accounts from those who actually visited or who actually saw anything do not generally note some mass sacrifice of "slaves" (there were executions of criminals, but the numbers involved wouldn't justify the use of the word "mass" there either.)

About "mass executions" in Asante in the 19th century:

"Asante thinking upon the matter of penal reform had been seemingly much affected by an event which had occurred when Wolseley's forces occupied Kumase. Early on the morning of 5 February 1874 the British Military Commandant Colonel M'Leod ordered the execution of a Fante policeman - a youth of seventeen or eighteen years - who had been caught looting. He was hanged from a tree 'in the most clumsy and barbarous manner', and died slowly. The matter did not go unnoticed by the Asante, that the British too practised 'human sacrifice'. Kofi Kakari was reported to have said subsequently,

that he did not slaughter innocent persons, but only those who had had sentence of death passed on them after a fair trial, these he reserved for such occasions as on which he had to make custom, or on which it was necessary to sacrifice to his fetish, when their sentences were executed, just in the same manner as Sir Garnet Wolseley had caused to be hanged at Coomassie this policeman for the crime he had committed." - Ivor Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century: The Structure and Evolution of a Political Order (1989), p. 627


But there is more information than this about Asante executions of criminals. You should read the section "The issue of capital punishment" in chapter 14 of Ivor Wilks' book Asante in the Nineteenth Century if you want to actually know what was going on in that state as far as executions. I cannot quote everything written there, especially not just to reply to this post, so that is why I am referring to that book - it goes into considerably more detail than just this one excerpt. Also read the article "The Panic Element in Nineteenth-century British Relations with Ashanti" (1962) by Edmund Collins, and "Asante: Human Sacrifice or Capital Punishment? A Rejoinder" (1988) by Ivor Wilks, to get a better understanding of such executions.

I've mentioned Wilks' most important book on this forum a number of times. It is not perfect (some later authors, notably T. C. McCaskie, have criticized a few aspects of it, but the criticism by McCaskie or certain other scholars are not substantial enough or important enough to significantly detract from the book's value). The book really is what its title presents it to be - an analysis of Asante in the 19th century. The difficulty I think you might have is that the book is 800 pages long, and you only seem to have a minor interest - if even that - in west African history, so you probably will never read it. At the same time, however, you do seem to want to write about what Asante was or was not like, without having read the seminal work on what Asante was like in the century for which there is the most information about the state. Do you see how this could be a problem?

2. There are accounts of attempts to create eunic slaves by mass castrations. 99% of those castrated bled to death to make the one eunich.
Could you elaborate on the "mass castration" idea? I mean by that, could you point to a specific place? I know that in Kanem-Bornu, there were always eunuchs, so they must have had a longstanding practice of castration, but I haven't seen anything about it being performed on a "mass" scale, and I know that in Asante, criminals were castrated as an occasional punishment, but once again, I haven't seen this happening on a "mass scale". It was, as far as I know, just a punishment for certain specific crimes committed by certain people, whether slave or free:

"Castration is not practiced among the Negroes who live on the coasts of Africa. There exist, however, in the kingdom of Ashantee - which carries on a great deal of trade with the Danish forts - both total and partial eunuchs. Those who have indulged in forbidden intimacy with the king's wives - or those of other prominent men - are sometimes punished by total castration. Otherwise, for this crime the usual punishment is said to be live burial. The partial eunuchs are employed as servants. It is also said, in the case of the intimacy with the king's wives, that they are punished much more severely than the paramour, since it is assumed that the latter would not dare to act unsolicited." - H.C. Monrad - A description of the Guinea coast and its inhabitants (1822), translated by Selena A. Winsnes, published in Two Views from Christiansborg Castle, Vol. 2

So nothing to do with slave or non-slave status, and nothing on a mass scale. Where in Africa was this "mass castration of slaves" carried out?

3. Ibn Battuta describes a slave girl being given to cannibals as a meal.
I've read the account, and it's an interesting story, but he didn't actually see it happen. He literally says "I was told after I left this place that this is what had happened". Curiously, unlike with most parts of his account where he is relating something to the reader that he did not actually see himself, he does not say who told him this. Not that it is impossible, it is just curious that for this one story he finally has no source at all. . .when he did not have such a lack of a source for other things he had not seen that he was relating (including other things that were not exactly benign). An interesting sort of story. Something very "unusual" and "out of the ordinary" etc.

4. Sexual slavery was common, and the slave women were sometimes prostituted out until they died of injuries.
Please define "common". Just how much sexual slavery do you think was going on exactly and how widespread do you think this was? And where was it exactly that they were "prostituted out until they died of injuries"?

I thought it was well known that polygamy was widespread in many parts of west and central Africa? These were actual wives, not prostitutes. So the widespread prevalence of sexual slavery and prostitution. . .in a place with widespread polygamy. It seems rather implausible.


In Benin (the kingdom), for example, prostitution was forbidden completely. Not that it didn't eventually happen in contravention of the law, but during the period of its greatest political centralization and power, they strove to forbid it completely (Olfert Dapper's account notes that prostitution was forbidden on pain of death, and as a result it was impossible to find a prostitute in the kingdom). I can't think of other places where it was deliberately encouraged or promoted or even prevalent as a practice.

Since you're stating that sexual slavery was common and also bringing up abuse of sex slave prostitutes as if it were on a notable scale rather than a rare thing, I hope you have something quite substantial to back this. It is very much at variance from the picture of Africa we get from most European and Middle Eastern visitors. Actually the biggest issue that the Europeans in particular seemed to have with the relations between men and women in the African societies they visited was the prevalence of polygamy. They didn't see this as a way to maximize the number of children born in those societies so much as they they saw it just as some inherent vice of those cultures. If they could repeatedly and strongly criticize widespread polygamy, I'm sure they would have wasted no time and spared no ink in also criticizing "common" sexual slavery and noteworthy prostitution and abuse of prostitutes at the same rate, were these things common and on a scale that was significant.

I really am having quite a bit of difficulty thinking of where it was that sexual slavery was common or where sexual slaves were prostituted out until they died of injuries, so I'm wondering if this isn't some special case.

5. The Asante employed an army of conscripted slaves with swordsmen at their backs to force them to fight.
Actually, this aspect of Asante society lines up fairly well with the notion of slaves not being treated much different from non-slaves. The group you are referring to that were conscripted and forced to fight were the ahiafo.

These ahiafo were basically lower class citizens than the "middle rank" citizens and the nobles. The ahiafo were lower class people, both free and unfree, that were frequently conscripted, and were forced to fight without the option of retreat (this is in theory - in reality the Asante did retreat from battles when they were losing badly or had already lost - this happened in some of the battles with the British of course, but also even earlier, such as when Asante was defeated in a battle by a combined army of soldiers from Oyo and Dahomey in the late 18th century). The Asante are not the only ones to place other soldiers at the back of a group of soldiers with weapons pointed to force the soldiers to fight without retreating of course. But they didn't reserve this practice strictly for the slave origin recruits, but instead just for those of the lower status people generally.

It is precisely because of the mass conscription from the lower classes and slaves that an anti-war group or faction eventually sprung up in Asante. This anti-war faction was very influential in the later part of the 19th century, during Asante's conflicts with the British. It was only natural that such a faction arose if one looks at Asante's history. If Asante - without the advantage of any cavalry - had already enlarged itself considerably after a century of warfare, it was not really necessary to keep fighting and fighting and fighting, and exploiting the lower classes as they were, just to continue this expansion.

But on the ahiafo generally, it is not as if the unfree people among the ahiafo were being forced to do something that the free lower class Asante citizens were not also being forced to do. There was not some real distinction in treatment (by the higher classes) of the ahiafo according to whether they were free or slave. Thomas Bowdich, in his description of Asanti, remarked, for example that the freeborn of the poorer class, which he called "nominally free" at one point, were often subjected to the same sort of exploitative treatment as the slaves. There was, however, lots of upward social mobility for these ahiafo, regardless of whether they were freeborn Asante citizens of low social class or slave origin ahiafo of non-Asante origin.

6. In Kanem, the average life span of a slave was 7 years. So much for "12 years a slave."
Could you provide me the source on the "average life span of a slave" claim for Kanem and the information that it is based on? The reason I am especially curious about this claim is that Kanem-Bornu is another one of those areas in Africa where many different sorts of slaves could hold important positions, carry out important duties, and play a vital role in the state beyond just basic labor. Not just slave soldiers and commanders, but palace functionaries, ministers, down to artisans, blacksmiths, and so on. Kanem wasn't much different from Mali in this respect. In Mali, slaves were appointed to important official positions from at least the 13th century onward. So to calculate the "average life of a slave" in Kanem, I am not quite sure how one would do that. Does whatever source you are citing have life expectancy statistics for all the slaves in Kanem at any period of time?