Most Africans were sold into slavery by other Africans

How true is the thread title.

I’ve heard from several sources (National Geographic afair among them) whcih have said that slavery was rife throughout Africa, and that most African slaves were captured by Africans, then sold to the traders.

Seems common sense.

Those that were sold into slavery had to have first been captured by someone, and nearly all the someones in Africa to do the capturing were other dark-skinned Africans. And there were a lot of warring tribes in Africa, who captured members of enemy tribes.

Those that were captured by raiders from a ship along the shore of Africa, however, were likely to have been captured by white-skinned crewmen from that ship. But they weren’t sold into slavery. I’d think this would be a smaller number, since Africans would soon learn to run away and hide when they see a ship along shore.

That statement makes a whole lot more sense once one stops considering Africa as a homogeneous ethnic and political entity. It is a large land mass. With lots of very different peoples.

African tribes sold off their own population plus went out capturing slaves and brought them to the the people that exported them. The Portuguese were heavily into the trade. It was a mix of how slaves were collected and who did the collecting.

I can’t really add more and be sure of the facts unless I read up on it again. Three or four years is too long for my memory to keep details straight.

Remember, the countries of modern Africa are a 19th century European construction, designed for the convenience of colonial administrators. Prior to European settlement, you had small, warring tribes filling any one of those countries you see today.

Some of these captured their enemies in battle and sold them for trade goods to Europeans. While Europeans certainly captured their own slaves when they could, it was far easier to set up trading posts and have the tribes bring slaves to them.

The statement is techncally true, although it conveys an erroneous impression of what happened.

Prior to the advent of European and Arabian slavers in sub-Saharan Africa, Africans behaved the same way that Europeans, Asians, and (pre-Columbian) Americans behaved. Individual tribes or nations would get into a war over the usual quests for power or resources and would capture their hostile neighbors during the conflict. Those captives would then be brought back to provide labor to make up for the labor lost with the deaths of fighters from the capturing group.

However, once Arabs and Europeans introduced chattel slavery to Africa, the new (to the region) notion of capturing and selling slaves created a new market for a new industry and led to wars and raids being initiated for the purpose of gathering slaves for sales. Those Africans who engaged in slave-catching were responding to a new phenomenon that had been created by outsiders, then embraced by locals.

I am unaware of prisoners taken in European war since the modern period (let’s say the Thirty Years War) being held as slaves.

(I would have to admit the exception of the Nazis. But they were nuts.)

The definition of a slave as chattel to be used for a person’s lifetime for individual gain changed in the 20th century.

Governments institutionalized slavery into the war effort and - later in totalitarian countries - into helping the country as a whole. Lots of prisoners in lots of countries were used as slave labor in factories, in road building, and much else.

Yes, the nature of slavery evolved. But the nature of war itself also evolved. It’s not surprising that the two merged.

Broadly speaking, Europeans stopped practising slavery within Europe when the economic development of Europe made it unprofitable. Basically, with sufficient investment in the economy and a sufficient population, labour becomes productive enough that men of no property can command a wage that makes it more attractive for them to work for pay than to follow any other occupation open to them, and it is more economically attractive for employers to employ willing paid workers than unwilling and sullen slaves. European continued to practice slaver (or convict labour, which serves much the same function) in the those places which they colonised which were both underpopulated and underdeveloped (America, Australia) but not in, e.g, India . Near-slavery, in the form of serfdom, continued to be an important source of agricultural labour in Eastern Europe, but the supply of serfs was adequate and the agricultural sector was not growing at a rate which made further enslavement possible.

I suspect that the slavery practiced by warring African tribes (before European demand created such a thriving market) wasn’t so much to replace lost labour as to express conquest and subjection – a form of tribute exacted from a defeated people. Europeans stopped doing this when it became more trouble than it was worth.

There were several competing empires on the West Coast of Africa at about the same time as the slave trade took off (could people actually stop saying “warring tribes”, W Africa was extremely organised, settled, civilised and had advanced political entities) and they did most of the enslaving. Quite a few of the captured slaves were prisoners of war at least initially.


Did anyone really sell off their own population? I can’t imagine anyone but the (post-Shaka) Zulus had the kind of iron-fisted domination over people’s minds and hearts this would require, and the Zulus didn’t acquire this kind of ruthlessness themselves during the slave era (Shaka’s changes came later).

Can you cite someone selling his (I’d be even more shocked if a matriarch did this) own population into slavery?

Slightly too early a cutoff: I can’t find an unbiased site, but Cromwell apparently sent tens of thousands of Irish to the Caribbean as slaves, post Confederate War, between 1651 and 1660, whereas the Thirty Years War ended in 1648. Best cite I can find.

No I can’t. It was in the reading I did years ago. It was people like criminals or someone that pissed off the tribal chief.

Depends what you mean by own. During civil strife the Kongo state at least was the source of slaves taken from either rebels against the state or from rival factions jockeying for power. This became particularly extreme during the most prolonged civil war. So in one sense it was the old strategy of taking slaves in war, but said slaves were of their “own” people.

Nothing so unusual about that, however. Europeans did the same thing with their own rebels and “criminals” ( loosely defined ) as with jjimm’s cite above.

Japan did it – there were American POW’s laboring in Hiroshima who were killed when the atomic bomb was dropped there.

Heck, America did it, sort-of. I had relatives out in farm country who had a German POW from a POW camp as a farm laborer during WWII. He wasn’t treated like a slave – he basically replaced their hired man, lived in the same room as he had, ate meals with the family, etc. – but then he didn’t get paid for his labor, either.

Was it Wisconsin? I just wonder as it was only a few years ago that somebody found the forgotten history that Wisconsin had POW camps with Germans that worked as day labor on private farms.

No, far western Minnesota, almost into South Dakota. I think it was said that he had come from a camp in Iowa.

No, we paid German POW’s.

Here’s an article showing that the British paid theirs, and we worked under a similar system.
*Every prisoner could work if he so wished and would usually be detailed to do farm work, which would involve hedging, ditching and harvesting, construction work or clearing bomb damage etc. During their working hours they would (if working on farms) be under the direct command of the farmer to whom they were employed. Construction work was also carried out by the prisoners as within their ranks were tradesmen who before the war worked in the construction industry. In Britain at the time there was something of a housing crisis due to the recent bombing campaign by the Germans and it was estimated that 4 million homes were destroyed which would have to be replaced.
The German prisoners were put to work on the construction of new homes within the localities of their camps and they were paid the current union rates of pay which worked out at around between three and six shillings for a 48 hour week.

Note also that the work was voluntary. Now, the prisoners could be made to maintain their own camp without pay.

Slavery is still practiced in sub Saharan Africa with Black African slaves enslaved by Black Africans,in the west and the east but not as far as I know in the south.

That sort of slavery is more like indentured servitude, afaik. Still, a clear human rights violation.