Africa and the Slave Trade. Objectives. Describe the development and cultural characteristics of West Africa in the fifteenth century. Summarize the events that led to contact between Europeans and West Africans. Explore the roots of the system of slavery practiced in the Americas.
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Africa and the Slave Trade
Terms and People
What was life like in West Africa before the age of European exploration?
The early civilizations of West Africa grew into great trading empires with rich and varied cultures.
Trade between West Africans and Europeans—including trade in slaves—would shape the future of both peoples for years to come.
West Africa is a land of varied geographic features.
A thriving trade in commodities such as gold and salt promoted the growth of trading towns.
Trading towns eventually grew into great and powerful empires.
These empires dominated trade routes that linked West Africa with North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Asia.
West African Kingdoms,
A.D. 800–A.D. 1600
Trade promoted rich and thriving cultures.
The earliest kingdom, Ghana, supplied much of the gold for the Mediterranean region by the eleventh century.
A thriving caravan trade with African peoples across the Sahara to Morocco resulted in extensive Muslim influence in North Africa.
Around 1200, Ghana was supplanted by a new kingdom, known as Mali.
This medieval map shows Mansa Musa on his throne.
West African Trade Routes, A.D. 800–A.D. 1600
Slavery was common in West Africa, and human beings were often used as items of trade.
West African rulers sold about1,000 slaves annually to Arab traders, who took them to the Mediterranean.
The slave trade was an important part of West Africa’s economy.
West African slavery had developed as a system with its own characteristics.
But African resistance soon forced the Portuguese to shift to trading.
Throughout the 1400s, the Portuguese explored farther south along the West African coast.
Initially, they acted as pirates, seizing gold, pepper, and slaves.
In time, the Portuguese established a profitable trade with the West Africans.
The Portuguese exported peppers, ivory, copper, and African slaves.
In this way, Europeans first became involved in the long-standing slave trade of Africa.
The Portuguese greatly expanded the slave trade.
By 1500, Europeans purchased about 1,800 African slaves a year, nearly doubling the trade between the West Africans and the Arabs.
Over the next centuries, more than one million men and women would be taken from West Africa and sold into slavery in the Americas.