Slavery in Africa

E.S.D. Fomin

in African Studies

ISBN: 9780199846733
Published online October 2012 | | DOI:
Slavery in Africa

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Slavery in Africa is a very old institution with diverse origins, forms, and ramifications. It is therefore subject to different perceptions and definitions in different ex-slaving societies in the continent. Forms of servitude like polygyny, tribute payments, and retainership of royal households were practiced in Africa but were not slavery in the strict sense of the word, though they are known to have created enabling conditions for slavery. The history of slavery in the continent shows development from servitude to slavery, but large-scale outright enslavement and sales of captives were by-products of the external slave trades. The trans-Atlantic, trans–Red Sea/Indian Ocean, and trans-Saharan slave trades appear to have been largely responsible for introducing slavery and analogous practices among many African peoples. In this bibliography, slavery is defined as the subjugation of individuals to temporary or permanent involuntary servitude, including using such persons as chattels, as sex slaves, and in rituals. Slavery is not determined by the way an enslaved person is treated but by the fact that the function such a person performs is involuntary. Though slavery in Africa dates back to the periods of ancient Egypt, Roman imperialism in North Africa, and the epoch of ceremonial kingship of ancient empires of Sudan, it became a terrible experience only during the external slave trade. It was in this period that states whose rulers had not yet used retainers and who became involved in slave trade eventually practiced domestic slavery. As a rule, most polities that took part in the slave trade became slave users. The external slave trade is known also to have influenced development in the continent, albeit negatively, even after it fell. For instance, European colonization of Africa is linked to the trans-slave trade in that it weakened the continent so badly that it did not take much effort on the part of European imperialists to colonize it. It also exposed the rich resources of the continent, which the Europeans exploited with impunity through colonization. Recruitment and use of Africans in the exploitation of economic resources in the continent were involuntary; therefore, colonialism was another stage of European perpetration of slavery in Africa. While new forms of slavery are plaguing the continent every day, the legacy of past slave trading and slavery negatively pervades almost all aspects of African development. A good knowledge of sources on slavery in Africa is important in appreciating its role in the underdevelopment saga of this continent.

Article.  14134 words. 

Subjects: African History ; African Languages ; African Music ; African Philosophy ; African Studies

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