A good friend of mine, who is a well-known agitator, asked a question about Africans role in facilitating the transatlantic slave trade. I guess some people weren’t too clear on what happened. So based on the history classes I’ve taken and books I’ve read, I tried to answer as best I could. Of course, it turned into a book.
Ugh… I wish it was easy to deconstruct but I’ll try.
Most European countries were not able to build solid enough networks to acquire slaves without the help of a network of African leaders and traders who had struck commerce agreement with each other. It started off as raw materials exchange but slavery became one of the main requests after a while. You’ve probably heard that most slaves were captured as a result of wars.
What people don’t understand is how this scaled. At the time, there was no collective identity and Africa as it is now with countries and nationalities. It was mostly tribal (for some exemptions like certain empires that did exist) and fragmented. As Europeans started to see how profitable the slave trade was, they started to encourage conflict among tribes. They signed military agreements with opposing tribes, armed others and leveraged conflicts to accelerate the number of slaves that would be taken as a result of wars.
People also fail to understand that many groups we’re not going. There were certain villages that build fortifications, came up with tactics to make it not worth their while to take slaves from that area. For example, collective hunger strikes, actually going to war with traders, Killing them, “special ops” teams that would sell slaves to see where they went and would set them free after. Europeans, over time, saw these groups as “not profitable” to engage and stayed away.
There are so much context and fragmented narratives here… but from this, you can take away three things.
1. Yes, there were people who collaborated with the European traders to facilitate commerce in which slavery became a big driver. There are Africans who benefited from this.
2. The only way chattel slavery scaled is by European intervention. By supplying guns and protection to specific groups, the Europeans increased their supply of slavery and manipulated political and economic realities in West Africa.
3. A lot more folks in Africa were not going than people give credit.
I decided to give a long answer because the relationship between Africa and the African diaspora has been on my mind for the last couple of days. I’ll probably follow this up with a longer post on what I’m thinking.