Course: African History from 1500 – present | Spring 2020 | Prof. Remi Alapo

Atlantic Slave Trade

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      Mohamed Sofaini

      The Atlantic slave trade also called the “triangular trade” , which lasted four and half centuries, started more earlier than we may think, because slavery had existed years before this trade commenced. In his famous book “The Description of Africa and of the Notable Things Therein Contained”, Leo Africanus said that “slaves are the next highest commodity in the marketplace. There is a place where they sell countless slaves on market days.”
      The Atlantic slave trade involved the forced enslavement of millions of African people transporting them to the Americas working in sugar cane, tobacco, coffee or cotton plantations and colonies in often inhuman conditions. This trade wasn’t always triangular as commonly thought. In fact, some of these trades were bilateral between the new world, especially Brazil and the Caribbean, and West Central Africa. Portuguese were the first Europeans to enter into this traffic and profit from captured war enemies, criminals or indebted ones sold or exchanged through goods and weapons by kings and merchants in the 1440s by transporting them to work in agriculture. The Portuguese were soon followed by the Dutch, the French, and the English.
      The number of slaves, most of them kidnapped, taken from Africa through enslavement remains unknown, because of inadequate records. Historians estimated that approximately 12 million Africans were captured, imprisoned and enslaved as a result of this Atlantic slave trade. However, an unknown number died resisting the capture either during the long forced march or while awaiting for their transport across the Atlantic ocean which the so-called middle passage took an average of seven weeks. The loss of life is estimated to be around 20 million people. Many slaves, through unsanitary conditions, attempted to starve themselves, became so depressed, and some of them tried to jump overboard. Others started protesting and revolting against this slave trade led by several slaves which led to the abolition and the bans of slavery in United Kingdom, United States, and others.

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