Historically, the practice of slavery in Africa was widespread, especially in the Central and Western regions of Africa. Slavery involved the torture and suffering of many Africans, and it took various forms.
Forms of Slavery
There were about 6 forms of slavery, namely chattel slavery, domestic service, pawnship, military slavery, slave for sacrifice, and the local slave trade.
Chattel slavery is a relationship whereby the slave is the property of the owner. The owner has rights over the slave in that he can sell or trade the slave as he would do to a particular good or property. The children of the slave are also the property of the slave master.
Under the domestic service, the slaves would work in the house of the slave master and have some freedoms. The domestic slaves were a part of the owner’s household, and the master would not sell or trade his or her slave to other people. Domestic slaves had several privileges, and among them was that they could possess the profits from their work. Besides, they could marry and pass the property (land) on to their offsprings in several instances.
Pawnship is also called debt bondage slavery. It involved the use of a person as a security to protect or secure the repayment of a certain debt. The debtor does the slave work or anyone of his blood. Debt bondage slavery was a popular form of security in the Western region of the African continent.
Military slavery involved the gaining and training of recruited military units that would keep the identity of army slaves even after their use.
Background of African Slavery
Before we talk about the reasons the Europeans enslaved the Africans, it is important to know where the story began. There once was a time whereby the European region was very broke and there was a risk of diseases wiping them. Therefore, their rulers sent them all over the world to go out and look for solutions to their problems.
This comes with the Europeans wanting to colonize nations around the globe. For example, the Europeans set out to colonize the Americas. It is from this point that the evil practice of slavery will begin in the new world.
According to history, the Europeans ventured out in search of capital and conquest. Wealth was their sole driver of exploration to the Americas. The Europeans’ driving incentive for exploration was to add European power. Before we discuss slavery starting in the Americas and eventually becoming the source of European wealth, it is important to note that initially, it was not the source of wealth.
Initially, the early Spanish colonists to Central and South America took control of gold and silver mines that the Aztec Kingdom controlled. They forced the local people to extract silver and gold from the mines. Here, we see the colonists could meet their desires for high margins that were creating the wealth they needed.
As natives were laboring to extract the precious metals, the colonists were brutal to them. They cut their limbs if they failed to get more gold and silver at a faster pace. Despite the European expectations of other regions (the Caribbean and North America), there weren’t vast repositories of the precious metals to send back to their land.
Due to this situation, they turned to crops like tobacco that would yield them higher profits at a lower cost. This is when they opted for cheap slavery, where they will realize high profits without paying laborers. The Europeans did not consider their laborers because they needed protection and compensation for their work.
From the above, we can conclude that the labor of enslaved Africans powered slavery in the new world. In addition, we can also say that the need for more Africans to work in the Americas was the reason behind a large number of African slaves in the new world.
When did Colonists Turn to Africa as a site for Extracting Slaves?
In 1619, the 1st enslaved Africans reached the North American territories under the British’s control. On the other hand, the 1st enslaved Africans had arrived in the Caribbean and Latin America beginning as early as the 1st decade of the 16th century.
The Portuguese started enslaving Africans in the 15th century when they arrived in the African region for trade purposes.
Why did Europeans Exclusively opt for West Africa?
This question will give us an answer to why the Europeans enslaved the Africans. The Europeans were interested in the Western region of Africa because it was their primary source of slaves. So, why did they need slaves so much that they had to come to the African continent to get them?
First of all, the primary reason why the Europeans established their colonies was to make money for the royal families. Some wealthy colonists in those territories or colonies had large plantations that needed laborers at a low cost. Hence, African slaves would be the best option when it comes to getting high profits at no cost.
The Europeans decided to choose West Africa as their origin of slaves due to its proximity to seaports that made interaction between Africa, Europe, and Americas territories more achievable. The other reason why Europeans opted for West Africa was that laborers from that region were familiar with the agricultural ways that the Europeans needed for crop cultivation.
The final reason why Europeans opted for West Africa as their source of slavery was due to issues with the familiarity of terrain.
Initially, when the Europeans arrived in the Americas, they found that the earlier system that depended on enslaving conquered foes was ineffective due to various reasons. One of the reasons was that the native Americans that foreigners attempted to enslave escaped because they were familiar with their land.
Therefore, by the Europeans choosing slaves from West Africa, who had no familiarity with the new regions, they made escaping a challenge. By making an escape a hard task, they could control a large black slave population. However, their calculation was not all right because some African slaves rebelled and even escaped.
In conclusion, the main reason why the Europeans enslaved Africans was due to their labor. Even though the slave trade brought more than 10 million people from Africa, the foreigners resorted to reproduction within the territories as a way of keeping slavery. Slavery was hereditary in that the slave status of a mother could pass down to a child and become a slave too.