African participation in the slave trade
See also: Atlantic slave trade and Sara Forbes Bonetta
Gezo, King of Dahomey
African states played a role in the slave trade, and slavery was a common practice among Sub Saharan Africans before the involvement of the Arabs, Berbers and Europeans. There were three types: those who were slaves through conquest, those who were slaves due to unpaid debts, or those whose parents gave them as slaves to tribal chiefs. Chieftains would barter their slaves to Arab, Berber, Ottoman or European buyers for rum, spices, cloth or other goods. Selling captives or prisoners was commonly practiced among Africans, Turks, Berbers and Arabs during that era. However, as the Atlantic slave trade increased its demand, local systems which primarily serviced indentured servitude expanded. European slave trading, as a result, was the most pivotal change in the social, economic, cultural, spiritual, religious, political dynamics of the concept of slave trading. It ultimately undermined local economies and political stability as villages' vital labour forces were shipped overseas as slave raids and civil wars became commonplace. Crimes which were previously punishable by some other means became punishable by enslavement.
The inspection and sale of a slave.
Before the arrival of the Portuguese, slavery pre-existed in Kingdom of Kongo. Despite its establishment within his kingdom, Afonso I of Kongo believed that the slave trade should be subject to Kongo law. When he suspected the Portuguese of receiving illegally enslaved persons to sell, he wrote letters to the King João III of Portugal in 1526 imploring him to put a stop to the practice.
The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery, who otherwise may have been killed in a ceremony known as the Annual Customs. As one of West Africa's principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighbouring peoples. Like the Bambara Empire to the east, the Khasso kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade for their economy. A family's status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned, leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. This trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa's west coast, particularly the French. Benin grew increasingly rich during the 16th and 17th centuries on the slave trade with Europe; slaves from enemy states of the interior were sold, and carried to the Americas in Dutch and Portuguese ships. The Bight of Benin's shore soon came to be known as the "Slave Coast".
In the 1840s, King Gezo of Dahomey said:
The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery…
200th anniversary of the British act of parliament abolishing slave trading, commemorated on a British two pound coin.
In 1807, under internal and external pressures, the United Kingdom made illegal the international trade in slaves. The Royal Navy was deployed to prevent slavers from the United States, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, West Africa and Arabia. The King of Bonny (now in Nigeria) allegedly became dissatisfied of the British intervention in stopping slave trading.
We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.
Joseph Miller states that African buyers would prefer males, but in reality, women and children would be more easily captured as men fled. Those captured would be sold for various reasons such as food, debts, or servitude. Once captured, the journey to the coast killed many and weakened others. Disease engulfed many, and insufficient food damaged those who made it to the coasts. Scurvy was so common that it was known as mal de Luanda (Luanda sickness). The assumption for those who died on the journey died from malnutrition. As food was limited, water may have been just as bad. Dysentery was widespread and poor sanitary conditions at ports did not help. Since supplies were poor, slaves were not equipped with the best clothing that further exposed to more diseases.
If the fear of disease caused terror, the psyche of slaves for being captured was just as terrifying. The most popular assumption for being captured was Europeans were cannibals. Stories and rumours spread that whites captured Africans to eat them. Olaudah Equiano accounts his experience about the sorrow slaves encountered at the ports. He talks about his first moment on a slave ship and asked if he was going to be eaten. Yet, the worst for slaves has only begun, and the journey on the water proved to be more terrifying. For every 100 Africans captured, only 64 would reach the coast, and only about 50 would reach the New World.
Others believe that slavers had a vested interest in capturing rather than killing, and in keeping their captives alive; and that this coupled with the disproportionate removal of males and the introduction of new crops from the Americas (cassava, maize) would have limited general population decline to particular regions of western Africa around 1760–1810, and in Mozambique and neighbouring areas half a century later. There has also been speculation that within Africa, females were most often captured as brides, with their male protectors being a "bycatch" who would have been killed if there had not been an export market for them.
British explorer Mungo Park encountered a group of slaves when traveling through Mandinka country:
They were all very inquisitive, but they viewed me at first with looks of horror, and repeatedly asked if my countrymen were cannibals. They were very desirous to know what became of the slaves after they had crossed the salt water. I told them that they were employed in cultivation the land; but they would not believe me ... A deeply-rooted idea that the whites purchase negroes for the purpose of devouring them, or of selling them to others that they may be devoured hereafter, naturally makes the slaves contemplate a journey towards the coast with great terror, insomuch that the slatees are forced to keep them constantly in irons, and watch them very closely, to prevent their escape.
During the period from the late 19th century and early 20th century, demand for the labour-intensive harvesting of rubber drove frontier expansion and forced labour. The personal monarchy of Belgian King Leopold II in the Congo Free State saw mass killings and slavery to extract rubber.