African History

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The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade (TAST) was a component of the larger and older system of plantation slavery. Plantation slavery, which was begun by Italian speaking merchants on the island of Cyprus in the Levant (Eastern Mediterranean) in the thirteenth century, was the driving force in the establishment and growth of the TAST.

It is important to remember that the system of plantation slavery was first and foremost a system of production. The establishment of the system of plantation slavery by private individuals in the 13th century signaled the rise of the free enterprise system and global market economy that we know today. It marked the start of the shift from feudal economies, where basically self-sufficient societies produced what they consumed and consumed what they produced, to the production of commodities for sale and export. It marked the separation of the direct producers from the fruits of their labor.

The system of plantation slavery, based on mass production and enslaved labor, also created the world’s first global commodity: sugar. The drive for profits was the central dynamic that fuelled the system. Mass production of sugar dramatically lowered the price of sugar and spectacularly increased the demand for sugar, which in turn produced an insatiable demand for labor and land. The plantation became the model for the modern business enterprise. As the center of sugar production migrated from the Mediterranean into the Atlantic and then to the Americas, plantation slavery would completely transform Europe, Africa and the Americas, destroying societies in its wake, overturning the old ways of doing business and bringing to the forefront new forces and social groups.

The TAST, which some have called ‘the Middle Passage,’ was itself a very profitable outcome of the system of plantation slavery. The TAST, which historian Colin Palmer has called the fourth stream of the African Diaspora, lasted from the late fifteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth century and involved the forcible removal of at least 12 million West Africans from their homes and communities to work on plantations in the Americas.

But the TAST did not merely result in the forcible removal of millions of West Africans to the new world. It also had a horrific effect on the people and civilizations of West Africa. Walter Rodney, one of the most influential scholars of African history, has made several arguments regarding the causes and impact of the TAST on West African societies. In the excerpt that you are reading, Professor Walter Rodney provides his perspectives on this topic. Your task is to be prepared to answer the following questions, based on your reading of the Rodney material, in order to demonstrate your understanding of his arguments.

THESE ARE THE QUESTIONS

The historian Walter Rodney posits several factors in the development of the European run Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (TAST). The development and growth of the TAST was a slow process that went through several stages. What began as a trickle at the end of the fifteenth century became a flood by the middle of the eighteenth century. According to Walter Rodney:

(1) Why does Rodney object to the use of the term “slave trade?” What is the significance of his objection? In other words, what difference does it make in today’s understanding of the TAST to call it a trade or not to call it a trade?

(2) Rodney identifies a shift in how European ships obtained slaves? Describe the shift. Give examples.

(3) How did constant warfare fueled by the TAST contribute to the process of enslavement?

(4) Did the slave trade affect all regions in West Africa the same way? How and where were the outcomes different?

(5) Rodney speaks of changes in West African societies and argues that the African allies of European slavers were not always the same in every period. How did the appearance and rise of a new class of elites in West African coastal communities allied to the European slave trade change the process of enslavement? And what name did Rodney give this new group of elites?

(6) How did the corruption of the old African systems of government by the new breed of local African entrepreneurs (businessmen) tied to and working on behalf of the global market contribute to the process of enslavement? Your answer must provide examples.

(7) How did the structure and size of many West African societies contribute to the process of enslavement? Your answer must provide examples from the reading.

(8) How did the growth in the influence of European slave traders and European slave trading companies like the Royal Africa Company and the Dutch West India Company contribute to the process of enslavement?

(9) What are some of the ways the internal class structure, economy and culture of West African societies was transformed by the TAST?

(10) What is the impact of the Portuguese shift from a search for gold to a search for labor? What specifically did European capitalism need African labor for?

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MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY HISTORY 350: INTRODUCTION TO THE AFRICAN DIASPORA The Impact of the Atlantic Slave Trade on West Africa* By Walter Rodney1 Many historians have written about the Atlantic slave trade before and, compared with the mass of work on this subject, what I am attempting here can only be a brief summary. But in the past most writers have tended to concentrate on the effect of the slave trade on Europe and the Americas and on the details of how the slaves were actually transported across the Atlantic. More recently research workers have started to look at the available evidence from the point of view of how the slave trade affected Africa. New work on the documents of the period, particularly in Portuguese and Dutch documents, has given us a much fuller picture of the impact of the Atlantic save trade on well known centers such as Angola and the Gold Coast. It has also been found that we have to take into account other regions which were previously neglected by students of the slave trade, such as the Upper Guinea Coast. West African society was not uniform before the coming of Europeans. However, there were fundamental similarities in the patterns of life found in the area bounded by the River Senegal to the north and southern Angola to the south; that is the area which was the principal resort of the European slave ships. In this region society was based on family and kinship networks, though the basic social unit was the family; and in some cases there existed what we call ‘stateless societies’ where there was no political superstructure at all. But for the most part the West African communities constituted states with governments, with territorial boundaries and a ruling class of kings, nobles, elders, priests, guilds, and leaders of secret societies. The rulers were responsible for the order and stability which allowed citizens to get on with their day-to-day lives in peace; the rulers were the guardians of the law and the authorities who decided how land should be used and distributed. In turn, the rulers were supported by the agricultural labor of the majority of the inhabitants. There was also some manufacturing activity, exchange by barter and long distance trade in a variety of items from metals to salt. These then were the essentials of the West African cultures which were brought into contact with European traders and raiders with the coming of the Atlantic slave trade. What the West African peoples had in common was even more marked in contrast with the newly expanding world of mercantile capitalism which had its center in Western Europe. Given this contrast between West Africa and Western Europe, it was inevitable that when the two cultures were brought together through trade over a period of several centuries, the impact on West African society would be considerable. This would have been true regardless of whatever commodities West Africa supplied to Europe. But the fact was that what European capitalism consistently demanded from Africa were human beings for slaves. The number of Africans exported from West Africa as slaves has been variously estimated at five million, twelve million, fourteen million and more. Whichever of these figures is nearer the truth, no one would deny that several million West Africans were placed on European slave ships or met their deaths as a result of attempts to procure victims for export. This notion of magnitude is a good enough starting point, when we try to pick out those changes in West African society which came about because it was human beings who were the object of trade on such a major scale. Europeans obtained enslaved Africans in Africa, on the one hand, by stimulating an African demand for the manufactured goods the Europeans had to offer, and, on the other hand, by exploiting the political and social divisions and the incipient class contradictions within African societies. These features were all involved in the partnership and alliances which European traders established with the ruling hierarchies in the various West African coastal communities. *Source: The Middle Age of African History, (ed.) Roland Oliver. New York: Oxford University Press, 1967: 34-40 1 Walter Rodney (1942-1980) was the leading black historian of his day. Born and raised in Guyana, South America, he studied at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London where he received his PhD in African history. His first book, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, was based on his dissertation research in the archives of Portugal, where he pieced together the origins of the Atlantic slave trade. The book led to a general reassessment of African history by historians of all stripes. His other important publications include A History of the Guyanese Working People, and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. That last book was, and remains, an influential best-seller that challenged racist interpretations about the deep rooted causes of poverty in Africa. After completing university, Rodney returned to Jamaica to teach history at the University of the West Indies. However, his political activism led the Jamaican government to deport him from that country. A collection of his history lectures to groups of young unemployed and poor Jamaicans has been collected and published under the title Groundings with My Brothers. After leaving Jamaica, Rodney went to Tanzania in East Africa where he taught history at the University of Dar-es-Salam. Unable to get his visa renewed he returned to his native Guyana and helped to form a new political party, the Working Peoples’ Alliance. He was assassinated by Guyanese government agents in 1980. He was only 38 years old at the time. 1 MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY HISTORY 350: INTRODUCTION TO THE AFRICAN DIASPORA The consequences of the slave trade for African inter-community and interstate relations have often been discussed by historians in terms of whether wars in the normal course of African affairs readily provided the Europeans with slaves, or whether those wars were not themselves set in motion by the Atlantic slave trade. The fact is that both these interpretations have some truth in them. There were instances where European ships obtained slaves as an incidental by-product of wars fought by the Africans, particularly during the early years of the slave trade. There were occasions when the outbreak of hostilities could be attributed to nothing but the presence of slave buying Europeans and the lure of European manufactures. In general however, it seems clear that the prospects of profit from the slave trade became so attractive that old rivalries were either revived or smoothed over, according to which was the most profitable. By the height of the Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth century the procurement of captives for sale had become the principal motivation for an endless succession of regional conflicts on the West African coast. Occasionally the pattern of political power in an area was decisively affected by the influence of the slave trade. The kingdom of Kongo-Angola is the classic example of a West African state whose structure and coherence were destroyed by the intensity of the slave trade as pursued by the Portuguese and their local mulatto mercenaries. The Yoruba political federation also disintegrated in the face of slave raiding by neighboring countries. On the other hand, kingdoms like Dahomey, Asante and Futa Djalon increased their power while acting as agents of the Atlantic slave trade. In this way then, the slave trade influenced different areas in different ways. It is equally important to assess the manner in which slave raiding affected people at different social levels within the hierarchical societies of West Africa. For the vast majority it brought insecurity and fear, whether or not they were lucky enough to escape sale into slavery, because the slave trade meant violence in the form of skirmishes, ambushes and kidnapping – often carried out by professional kidnappers, under the supervision of the ruling elites. This atmosphere of fear caused people to flee from their towns and villages into the forests or remove their homes and farms to places which were difficult to get to and agriculturally inhospitable. Alternatively, as was noticeable on the waterside, many West Africans walked in armed expectation of being attacked. But there was one section of the West African community which was, to a large extent, immune from the perils of the slave trade. This was the ruling class. For many members of the ruling class were engaged in a partnership of exploitation with the Europeans and, by a variety of devices, they protected themselves from being captured, sold to the slavers and exported. Furthermore, the ruling class took advantage of their legal authority to classify people as ‘criminals’ and have them sentenced to being sold. For instance, it was easy enough to bring trumped up charges of adultery against perfectly innocent people. Not only had the ruling classes ceased to administer the customary laws in a spirit of justice, but the law itself became thoroughly debased and corrupted. Reports on West African penal codes in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries show that there was a system of mild penalties, usually involving the payment of damages to the aggrieved party. And yet in the period of the Atlantic slave trade a punishment as drastic as sale into slavery was introduced for a larger and larger number of offences, descending right down to the most trivial. In effect, the common people had lost the security of person which the customary law had guaranteed them in the past; while once more the ruling classes were well protected. However, the African allies of the Europeans in any given society were not necessarily the same throughout the period of the Atlantic slave trade. This was because the traditional ruling classes did not always escape the upheavals which they themselves had set in motion. Possibly because they were not sufficiently ruthless, and certainly because they were not commercially equipped to meet the requirements of the slave ships, many of the old ruling groups found themselves overthrown and replaced. And they were replaced by a new class of men who owed their strength to the skill and devotion with which they served the new capitalist system. Sometimes as on the old Gold Coast and around the Niger Delta, the new elites were drawn from within local society. But more often, as on the Upper Guinea Coast and in nineteenth-century Dahomey, they were professional slave traders of part-European origin: Afro-Portuguese, Afro-English and Afro-Brazilian. Apart from these changes at the leadership level, the status of many common people became depressed and the division of society into different classes became even more rigid. Even at the time when the first Europeans arrived, certain members of the communities on the West African coast had only limited freedom. In the fifteenth century, particularly in the larger kingdoms and more complex societies which had arisen outside the forest belt, numbers of domestic servants without privileges, serfs and chattel slaves were found. Active involvement in the Atlantic slave trade invariably meant the increase of such servile categories in the societies where they existed, and their creation where they had not previously existed. Thus it was that by the end of the eighteenth century a sizable proportion of the inhabitants of West Africa found themselves under some sort of servitude. Indeed well into the twentieth century major communities like the Fulani of the Futa Djalon and the Nike in what is today Eastern Nigeria, still kept a large labor force in conditions of bondage. When we move from political and social structure to other spheres of West African life, it is rather more difficult to pin down the effects of the Atlantic slave trade. As far as religion is concerned, for instance, the most that can be said with assurance is that the priests were usually involved on the side of the slave traders, along with powerful spiritual institutions such 2 MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY HISTORY 350: INTRODUCTION TO THE AFRICAN DIASPORA as secret societies. Religious authorities were adept at uncovering instances of ‘witchcraft’ which meant that the accused were sold to the Europeans. There was obvious chicanery in these procedures, although the practice of ‘witchcraft’ may have increased under the disturbed social conditions of the slave trade era. Another area requiring more research is that of moral values. *************************************************** How Europe Underdeveloped Africa** by Walter Rodney …Undoubtedly, with few exceptions, European buyers purchased African captives on the coasts of Africa and the transactions between themselves and Africans was a form of trade. It is also true that very often a captive was sold and resold as he or she made his or her way from the interior to the port of embarkation – and that too was a form of trade. However, on the whole, the process by which captives were obtained on African soil was not trade at all. It was through warfare, trickery, banditry, and kidnapping. When one tries to measure the effect of European slave trading on the African continent, it is essential to realize that one is measuring the effect of social violence rather than trade in any normal sense of the word. Many things remain uncertain about the slave trade and its consequences for Africa, but the general picture of destructiveness is clear, and that destructiveness can be shown to be the logical consequence of the manner of recruitment of captives in Africa… African economic activity was affected both directly and indirectly by population loss. For instance, when the inhabitants of a given area were reduced below a certain number in an environment where for example the tsetse fly was present, the remaining few had to abandon the area. In effect, enslavement was causing these people to lose their battle to tame and harness nature – a battle which is at the basis of development. The opportunity presented by European slave dealers became the major (though not the only) stimulus for a great deal of social violence between different African communities and even within any given community. It took the form more of raiding and kidnapping than of regular conventional warfare, and that fact increased the element of fear and uncertainty. European powers were aware that the activities connected with producing captives were inconsistent with their other economic pursuits. For example, in the early seventeenth century, the Portuguese and Dutch actually discouraged the slave trade on the Gold Coast, for they recognized that the slave trade would be incompatible with the gold trade. However, by the end of that century, gold had been discovered in Brazil and the importance of gold supplies from West Africa had lessened. West African captives for the new world sugar plantations therefore became more important and valuable than gold from West Africa. At that point, slaving undermined the Gold Coast economy and destroyed the gold trade in West Africa. Slave raiding and kidnapping made it unsafe to mine and to travel; and raiding for captives simply proved more profitable than gold mining. One European participant on the scene noted that “as one fortunate marauding [successful raid] makes a native rich in a day, they therefore exert themselves rather in war, robbery and plunder than in their old business of digging and collecting gold.” The above changeover from gold mining to slave raiding took place within a period of a few years between 1700 and 1710, when the Gold Coast came to supply about five thousand to six thousand captives a year. By the end of the eighteenth century, a smaller number of captives were exported from the Gold Coast but the damage had been done. It is worth noting that Europeans sought out different parts of West Africa at different times to play the role of major suppliers of captured Africans to the Americas. This meant that virtually every section of the long western coastline of Africa between the Senegal River in the north and the Cunene River in southern Angola had at least a few years’ experience of intensive trade in captives – with all the consequences. Besides, in the history of what is now eastern Nigeria, the Congo, northern Angola, and Dahomey, there were periods extending over decades when exports remained at an average of many thousands per year. Most of those areas were also relatively highly developed within the African context. They were the leading countries inside Africa, whose energies would otherwise have gone towards their own self-improvement and the betterment of the continent as a whole. The changeover to warlike activities and kidnapping must have affected all branches of economic activity, and agriculture in particular. Occasionally, in certain localities food production was increased to provide supplies for slave ships, but the overall consequences of slaving on agricultural activities in Western Africa was negative. Labor was drawn off from agriculture and conditions became unsettled. The present generation of Africans will readily recall that in the colonial period when able-bodied men left their homes as migrant laborers, it upset the farming routine in the home districts and often caused famines. Slave trading after all meant migration of labor in a manner one hundred times more brutal and disruptive. **Excerpted from Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, rev. ed., Washington DC: Howard University Press 1981 3 MORGAN STATE UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY AND GEOGRAPHY HISTORY 350: INTRODUCTION TO THE AFRICAN DIASPORA To achieve economic development, one essential condition is to make the maximum use of the country’s labor and natural resources. Usually, that demands peaceful conditions. Slaving in Africa did not have any redeeming value. Captives were shipped outside instead of being utilized within any given African community. Slaving prevented the remaining population from effectively engaging in agriculture and industry, and the system employed professional slave-hunters and mercenaries to destroy rather than build. Quite apart from the moral aspect and the immense suffering it caused, the European slave trade was economically totally irrational from the viewpoint of African development… One tactic that is now being employed by certain European (including American) scholars is to say that the European slave trade was undoubtedly a moral evil, but it was economically good for Africa. Here attention will be drawn only very briefly to a few of those arguments to indicate how ridiculous they can be. An argument that receives much emphasis is the one that African rulers and the new African elites obtained European commodities in exchange for their captives and this was how Africans gained “wealth.” This suggestion fails to take into account the fact that several European imports were competing with and strangling African products; it fails to take into account the fact that none of the long list of European articles were of the type which entered into the productive process, but were rather at times to be rapidly consumed or stowed away uselessly; and it incredibly overlooks the fact that the majority of imports were of the worst quality even as consumer goods – cheap gin, cheap gunpowder, pots and kettles full of holes, beads, and other assorted rubbish. Following from the above, it is suggested that certain African kingdoms grew strong economically and politically as a consequence of the trade with Europeans. The greatest of the West African kingdoms at the start of the Atlantic slav ...
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Running Head: TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
Institutional Affiliation
Date

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TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

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(1) Why does Rodney object to the use of the term “slave trade?” What is the
significance of his objection? In other words, what difference does it make in today’s
understanding of the TAST to call it a trade or not to call it a trade?

According to Walter Rodney, the term slave trade was completely non-promising, non-ethical
and actually not satisfying to use. African rulers misused their fellows by selling them to the
Europeans. The attention will be drawn only by arguments on how Africans could be ridiculous.
By using terms such as human trafficking makes a better sense than just slave trade. Nowadays,
different people believe that the so-called slave trade opened Africa to other parts of the world
and that exploitation of different resources was made which otherwise Africans couldn’t have
done themselves. The rulers of Africa used to exchange commodities for slaves and this brought
wealth to Africans.

(2) Rodney identifies a shift in how European ships obtained slaves? Describe the shift.
Give examples.

During the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Europeans obtained African slave through different
ways. There were instances where their ships obtain the slaves from the region during the
wars fought by Africans. During this time of war the Africans were ununited hence the
Europeans would explore this kind of weakness to obtain slaves. There are different
occasions where the Europeans could encourage nothing else but completely buying of slaves
of manufactures in Europe. The consequences of the war were completely o...

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