Who initiated the African slave trade

5.3.1.1.2.3 Slave trade and world market


Slaves on their way to the New World. Source: Assogba (1990: 29).

Eric Wolf arranges that Slave trade in the course of the aggressive expansion of Europe as an essential component in the constitution of the international trade network and the Europe's rise to world power a.

Even though slavery and the slave trade were not new historical phenomena (Wolf 1991: 286; furthermore e.g. Patterson 1982) and, for example, an established slave trade network between Europe and the Islamic world had extended across the Mediterranean as a hub for a long time, it developed with the colonization of America a completely new dynamic. With the 15th century the need for human labor in the Americas increased rapidly and this was mainly imported from Africa: "Black ivory" - enslaved people, became Africa's most important export.

The Portuguese initiated the transatlantic slave trade In the course of their exploratory trips and colonization along the African coasts, they soon faced competition from the Dutch, then the British and French followed as main international suppliers and consumers. All African coastal regions and most of the inland societies were affected by trade - for example, numerous states in West Africa received their founding impetus from the slave trade, such as Ashanti, Oyo or Dahomey, while in the Congo area already existing states were weakened or destroyed.

Originally, European traders primarily looked for precious metals and woods, spices, rubber and tobacco and only secondarily for slaves. But since the profit margins were four to sometimes twenty times higher than that of the other commodities, slaves soon became the main commodity, which had direct and indirect economic effects on all participating countries and their internal and external markets. Wolf explains why Africa in particular became the main supplier of human goods for the Europeans, using numerous historical examples and existing socio-political and economic interrelationships such as kinship structures, war technologies and forms of production in Europe, Africa and the Americas as well as the Pacific region.

The transatlantic slave trade went through several phases:

in the 15th and 16th centuries the slaves in the New World were mainly used for mining silver, gold and other metals; from the 17th century onwards, sugar cane cultivation dominated on the Caribbean islands and tobacco cultivation in North America, making plantation slavery the central mode of production in the New World. The 18th century describes Wolf as the "Golden Age of Slavery", with Jamaica and Haiti as economic centers. Although slavery was officially abolished around the turn of the century by most of the powers involved in transatlantic trade, it did happen, according to Wolf by 1870 there were still over 2 million African slaves on the market, 80% of which was imported into the New World, a large part of it to Cuba as the central sugar producer of the 19th century.

Wolf deals with that historical course of the involvement of the European and African powers and regions, with his main interest in the politico-economic motivations and effects of trade. As one of the first in the field of social anthropology, Wolf addresses the resulting international division of labor as well as the local-regional effects on everyone involved:

"The task of seizing the slaves, supplying them and transporting them within Africa was in African hands; the Europeans, on the other hand, then made sure that they were shipped overseas, acclimatized there or 'broken' and finally sold to the slave owners. In order to meet American demand, the slave trade relied on buyers and suppliers to work together, and that these activities were subtly coordinated on both sides. ". (Wolf 1991: 322f)

In dealing with the theses of Eric Williams on early capitalism and industrialization of Europe (Williams 1996), in which he explains that England, due to its dominance in transatlantic trade, assumed the leading position in economic and technological development, Wolf sees the slave trade not as the only element, but as the "decisive dynamic factor" of economic transformations and the rise of Europe.

The transatlantic slave trade had profound effects of global dimensions on everyone involved, whether profiteers, agents, organizers or victims.