Geography

  1. Enslaved Africans came primarily from a region stretching from the Senegal River in northern Africa to Angola in the south.
  2. Europeans divided this stretch of land into five coasts:
    • Upper Guinea Coast: The area delineated by the Senegal and Gambia Rivers
    • Ivory (or Kwa Kwa or Windward) Coast: Central Liberia
    • Lower Guinea Coast: Divided into the Gold Coast on the west (Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana), the Slave Coast (Togo, Benin, and western Nigeria), and the Bight of Benin (Nigeria and Cameroon)
    • Gabon
    • Angola
  3. The Angolan coast supplied nearly half the slaves sent to the Americas.

Religion

  1. Unlike European religions, most African religions were not based on sacred texts or scriptures, but rather on continuous revelation.
  2. Most areas did not create a religious orthodoxy or have an entrenched priesthood.
  3. Most African religions recognized a variety of supernatural beings.
  4. Religious practice focused on contact between this world and the other world, typically through augury, divination, prophecy, and spirit mediumship.

Organization

  1. The notion of tribes, combining a common language and customs with a political structure, is mistaken. Atlantic Africa was divided into states (political units) and nations (cultural units).
  2. While some states were quite large, others were quite modest in size and many were tiny, consisting of a capital town of a few thousand people and a dozen villages under its control.
  3. In the seventeenth century, 70 percent of the people lived in states with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants.
  4. Unlike the rich and powerful of Europe and Asia, the people were not landowners, since African law did not recognize the right to own, sell, or rent land as property.
  5. Private wealth usually derived from control of dependents—clients, pawns, wives in polygynous households, and slaves.

African Slavery

  1. African law recognized slavery and the right of owners to alienate slaves.
  2. A relatively low population density and an absence of the concept of property in land encouraged the development of slavery in West and Central Africa.
  3. Slavery had been important in the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai, and slave exports had supplemented the export of gold.
  4. Although African slavery was not a benign institution, slaves in Africa were used in a wider variety of ways than in the New World: they were employed as agricultural workers, soldiers, servants, and officials.
  5. The great majority of slaves sold to Europeans were not slaves in Africa; they were usually recent war captives or victims of banditry and judicial proceedings.
  6. Even under harsh chattel slavery, manumission was possible for a significant number of slaves and slaves usually had a right to keep any monetary earnings and buy their freedom.
  7. Multi-generational slavery was uncommon; in part this reflected the fact that most African slaves were women.
  8. During the early years of enslavement, African slaves usually worked under supervision. Then many became “allotment slaves,” who worked five or six days until about 2 p.m. on the master’s lands and in the evenings and on their days off worked their own plots. In the third stage settled slaves spent most of their time working their land in exchange for a fixed obligation, usually what it took to feed an adult male for a year.

Slave Trade

  1. During the era of the Atlantic slave trade, many of those enslaved, perhaps a majority, were kept in Africa.
  2. The Atlantic slave trade carried about two to three men for every woman.
  3. The slave trade reduced the adult male population by about 20 percent, dramatically altering the ratio of working adults to dependents and of adult men to adult women.
  4. One result of unbalanced sex ratios was to encourage polygyny.
  5. Another result was to reduce traditional male forms of work, such as hunting, fishing, livestock rearing, clearing of fields, chopping down trees, and digging up roots. The result was a less protein-rich diet and a reduction in agricultural productivity.
  6. About 14 percent of slaves sent to the New World were children under 14; 56 percent were male adults; and 30 percent were female adults.

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