Systems of Slavery Review for AP World History (page 2)
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The Beginnings of the Atlantic Slave Trade
Portugal's quest for gold and pepper from African kingdoms brought it into contact with systems of slave trade already in existence in Africa. The subsequent development of the trans-Atlantic slave trade was an extension of trade in human beings already carried out by Africans enslaving fellow Africans. The slave trade within Africa especially valued women slaves for use as household servants or as members of the harem.
The long-existent trans-Saharan trade had already brought some African slaves to the Mediterranean world. In the mid-fifteenth century, Portugal opened up direct trade with sub-Saharan Africa. Portuguese and Spanish interests in the slave trade increased when they set up sugar plantations on the Madeira and Canary Islands and on São Tomé. The first slaves from Africa arrived in Portugal in the mid-1400s. Europeans tended to use Africans as household servants.
Trade in gold, spices, and slaves brought the Portuguese into contact with prosperous and powerful African kingdoms, among them Kongo, Benin, Mali, and Songhay. Mali and Songhay had already become wealthy Muslim kingdoms enriched by the trans-Saharan gold–salt trade that had been in existence for centuries. In Kongo and Benin, Portugal was interested in Christianizing the inhabitants in addition to establishing trade relations. In the late fifteenth century, the rulers of Kongo had converted to Christianity; a few years later the nonruling classes were also converted.
Characteristics of African Kingdoms
Many of the African kingdoms encountered by the Portuguese had developed their own political and court traditions. African monarchs often ruled with the assistance of governing councils and had centralized governments with armies that carried out the state's expansionist policies. Artisans produced works in ivory and ebony and, in Benin, also in bronze. Active trade existed not only in slaves but also in spices, ivory, and textiles. Slaves usually were prisoners of war or captives from African slave raids that were carried out against neighboring kingdoms and villages.
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
After Native Americans died in phenomenal numbers from European diseases, European colonists in the Americas turned to Africans as forced labor. West Africans, already skilled in agricultural techniques, especially were sought by Europeans for labor on the sugar plantations of Brazil and the Caribbean and in the rice fields of the southern colonies of British North America. The trans-Atlantic slave trade reached its peak during the eighteenth century. The slave trade was part of a triangular trade that involved three segments:
- European guns and other manufactured goods were traded to Africans for slaves. (Guns were then used by Africans to capture more slaves.)
- Slaves were transported from Africa to South America or the West Indies. This Middle Passage across the Atlantic placed the slaves in shackles in overcrowded and unsanitary slave ships.
- Sugar, molasses, and rum produced by slave labor were traded to Europe for manufactured goods, and the cycle resumed.
Slaves who crossed the Atlantic came from western and central Africa, particularly from Senegambia, Dahomey, Benin, and Kongo. As many as 25 percent of the slaves who came from central Africa died on the long march to the coast to be loaded onto slave ships. Perhaps 20 percent of slaves died on the Middle Passage from illness or suicide. If supplies ran low aboard ship, some slaves were thrown overboard.
Of the approximately 9 to 11 million slaves who crossed the Atlantic, only about 5 percent reached the colonies of British North America. Most of the slaves who eventually reached North America did not arrive directly from Africa, but first spent some time in the West Indies in the Caribbean Sea. The rigors of sugar production in the Caribbean islands and in Brazil required especially large numbers of slaves.
Slavery in Eastern and Southern Africa
Not all slave routes originating in Africa crossed the Atlantic or led to Europe. The cities of eastern Africa traded with the interior of the continent for gold, ivory, and slaves. Many of these slaves were transported to the Middle East, where they became household servants or members of harems. Other slaves in the Indian Ocean system were used on European plantations on islands in the Indian Ocean. Africans from the Swahili coast, Arabs, and Indians also set up plantation colonies along the eastern coast of Africa and on the islands of the Indian Ocean.
In southern Africa, the Cape Colony established by the Dutch in 1652 depended on slave labor. The first slaves arrived from Indonesia and Asia, but later the Dutch enslaved Africans.
Effects of the Slave Trade on Africa
The African slave trade profoundly altered the demographics of Africa. Family life was disrupted as more males than females were transported across the Atlantic for the heavy work required on plantations. In some areas of Africa, populations were reduced by one half. The slave trade increased African dependency on the importation of European technology, lessening the technological development of African kingdoms.
Europeans did not initiate the African slave trade but tapped into slave trade systems already in place. Europeans involved in the slave trade encountered wealthy and powerful African kingdoms. Although the main focus of the African slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries occurred across the Atlantic, there also was an active slave trade in the Indian Ocean. The slave trade significantly reduced the populations of some areas of Africa and created a dependence on European goods.
Review questions for this study guide can be found at:
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