Essay: Slave Trade: Europe &amp Africa Before/After 1550

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¶ … Slave Trade in and Between Europe and Africa Before and After 1550

The objective of this work is to answer the questions of: (1) 'How was the slave trade practiced in Europe and Africa before 1550, in comparison to the slave trade in and between the two regions after 1550?' And (2) 'What were the main differences between the two periods in terms of their origins, motivations and effects on African society?' Toward this end, this work will conduct a review of literature in this area of study which is to follow.

Slave Trade Prior to 1550

Economic relations existed between Europe and Africa from the time of the landing of the Portuguese and in 1441 it is reported that ten Africans were kidnapped from the cost of Guinea and take to Prince Henry the Navigator as gifts. Expeditions following this one to the West African coast resulted in individuals being taken and sold as slaves. The Portuguese were the first European nation to make contact of a sustained nature with sub-Saharan Africa. Slaves taken from Africa in the beginning were taken to Europe and sold for use as domestic slaves however, during this period the demand for slaves was limited and was only a portion of the trade involving many other commodities. The indigenous population of Africa was initially used by the Spanish and Portuguese for purposes of manual labor. From the beginning of their relations those existing between Europe and African were economic in nature.

The early plans of Prince Henry for Africans was to provide them with education and to civilize them however, when Henry died in 1460, more than "eight hundred Africans were exported to Portugal annually and sold on arrival at the Lisbon dock as slaves." (Sesay, 1986) Prince Henry did not support such actions however successive kings and princes did support this practice.

It is reported that the 'brutality, overwork and imported European diseases…soon took their toll on the local population" of Africa and that "with the indigenous population seriously depleted and the economic imperative of indentured labor still strong it was not long before people like Bartolome de las Casas, who ironically was supposedly a Christian missionary, were advocating the use of African slave labor in the Americas." (Afrique Magazine, 2006)

Royal orders given in 1510 for "the importation of 50 slaves from Spain to the island of Hispanola and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade had begun.' (Afrique Magazine, 2006) What had been merely a "trickle of slaves" by 1530 'had now become and flood" and slaves have become the primary commodity that European traders sought.

II. Slave Trade After 1550

The work of Hugh Thomas (1999) entitled: "The Slave Trade: the story of the Atlantic slave trade, 1440-1870" states that the largest importer of African slaves until about 1550 was the 'Old World' however, the first market in the Atlantic slave trade was undoubtedly Spanish American -- an empire which, between 1550 and 1575 probably received twice what it took in the previous quarter-century, or 25,000."

It is reported that by the ending of the 16th century that approximately 13,000 slaves 'were being imported per annum." (Afrique Magazine, 2006) After 1550 it is reported by Emmer (2006) in the work entitled: "The Dutch Slave Trade, 1500-1850" that the demand for slaves "rocketed because of the development of Brazil, Portugal's colony in South America." By 1660 the British had joined in the slave trade business and the Company of Royal Adventurers to Africa was formed.

III. Commercial Motives of Europeans

Sesay (1986) writes in the work entitled: "Africa and Europe" that the "coming of these Europeans to various parts of Africa was occasioned by commercial motives. The whole idea behind the voyages of exploration that preceded the coming of the Europeans was to find an alternative sea route to India and to obtain luxury goods at the lowest possible prices." (Sesay, 1986) African land appealed to the Europeans due to goods such as "gold, ivory, grain, spices and sugar" all of which were in high demand in Europe at the time. However by the 1600s the slave trade "had begun to overshadow all other trades." (Sesay, 1986)

According to the report of Sesay the "…continued maintenance of European positions on the African coastline was occasioned by the fact that the forts also served as suppliers of African slaves to the western world. The era of European slavery and slave trade in African was a major phase in Afro-European relations prior to partition." (1986) In fact, the slave trade had been referred to as "the most iniquitous of transactions in human history" and was on that existed on a "rather low scale before the Europeans came, and, contrary to the much vaunted propaganda that slavery was an integral part of the African society, not every society had a place for slaves; this was especially the case among the Masai, who were mainly interested in capturing cattle." (Sesay, 1986)

Sesay states that the "emergence of the Europeans on the scene marked a new phase in the African slave trade." (1986) The number of slaves rose to 27,500 per annum during the seventeenth century and reach 70,000 per annum in the eighteenth century. By the 1830s 135,000 slaves per annum is reported.

IV. Who 'Really' Controlled the Slave Trade

It is reported in the work of Petre-Grenouilleau entitled: "From slave trade to empire: Europe and the colonization of Black Africa, 1780s-1880s" (2004) that West-central Africa was the location from which "45 per cent of all slaves left for the Americas between 1776 and 1850" and that this was the only region in African "where Europeans had some territorial presence during the slave-trade era and therefore some control over the routes by which slaves reached the coast." (Petre-Grenouilleau, 2004) It is reported that in the northern ports of Africa, "…slaves moved from African to European control on the coast…" (Petre-Grenouilleau, 2004) In contrast, in Portuguese Angola, "a limited European presence means that trade routes to the interior were more susceptible to European control." (Petre-Grenouilleau, 2004)

Petre-Grenouilleau states that slave trade thrived "….where African political conditions allowed it to thrive." (2004) The reason given is the "…centralized administrative structure and the inability of an imperial government to deal with outsiders on the basis of trade rather than force had the paradoxical effect of impeding the flow of slaves." (2004) It is difficult to understand how the growing demand for slaves or intervention on the part of Europeans alone could have resulted in the rise of the importation of slaves and therefore "…the shifting importance of particular embarkation points and changes in political structures are best explained by developments in Africa." (Petre-Grenouilleau, 2004)

V. How Patterns of Trade Were Set

It was, according to Petre-Grenouilleau "…the ebb and flow of political and judicial stability in western Africa" that assisted patterns of trade being set…" (2004) The influence of two primary groups of Africans on the trade patterns of the Atlantic world is noted and it is stated that these were:

(1) sellers of slaves; and (2) slaves themselves who resisted on both land and seas and thereby increased the price of labor and ultimately the price of cane sugar in the North Atlantic markets."(Petre-Grenouilleau, 2004)

This is because transportation costs were raised due to resistance on board ships and primarily due to the need of additional crewmen and these additional costs resulted in higher costs in the production of cane sugar. The Atlantic slave trade peaked around 1775 and while the states of African maintained their territorial integrity and political sovereignty slave-owners in Africa continued their trade with Europeans on an equal basis on the coast.

The work of Anne Caroline Bailey (2005) entitled: "African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame" notes that it is likely that one of the reason for the "silence on slavery on the African continent" is marked by the fifty slave forts and castles, dotting the Atlantic coast of Ghana." (Bailey, 2005) The purpose of these forts and castles is stated to have been twofold:

(1) to house up to one thousand slaves in holding pens on the Atlantic coast as they awaited European and American ships to take them on the dreaded Middle Passage to the Americas; and (2) to defend European interests on the coast by keeping competitors -- internal and external at bay. (Bailey, 2005)

It is related in the work of Thomas (1986) that conditions in the New World "were always harsher than those in Europe" and for example it is related that slaves in Europe were "proclaimed free to marry whom they liked" but that however "that generosity was not to be afforded to Africans in the New World." This resulted in a breakdown in the families and societies of the Africans who were sold into slavery above and beyond what had already been taken from them in removing their freedom as children were stripped from the arms of mothers and fathers… [END OF PREVIEW]

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