1902 Encyclopedia > Slavery > Slave Trade in Africa.

(Part 23)


Slave Trade in Africa.

In the days of the colonial slave trade its African centre was the region about the months of the rivers Calabar and Bonny, whither the captive negroes were brought from great distances in the interior. As many slaves, Clarkson tells us, came annually from this part of the coast as from all the rest of Africa besides. At present, it is commonly said,—though Cameron in 1875 was otherwise informed,—no slaves are exported from the western side of the continent. The principal centres from which the supply is now furnished to Egypt, Turkey, Arabia, and Persia are three in number. (1) The Soudan, south of the Great Sahara, appears to be one vast hunting-ground. Captives are brought thence to the slave market of Kuka in Bornu, where, after being bought by dealers, they are, to the number of about 10,000 annually, marched over and desert tracks under a burning sun to Murzuk in Fezzan, from which place they are distributed to the northern and eastern Mediterranean coasts. Their sufferings on the route are dreadful; many succumb and are abandoned. Rohlfs informs us that "any one who did not know the way" by which the caravans pass "would only have to follow the bones which lie right and left of the track." Negroes are also brought to Morocco from the Western Soudan and from Timbuktu. The centre of the traffic in Morocco is Sidi Hamed ibn Musa, seven days’ journey south of Mogador, where a great yearlyfair is held. The slaves are forwarded thence in gangs to different towns, especially to Morocco city, Fez, and Mequinez. About 4000 are thus annually imported, and an ad valorem duty is levied by the sultan, which produces about £94,800 of annual revenue. The total number of negro slaves in Morocco appears to be about 50,000. (2) The basin of the Nile, extending to the great lakes, is another region infested by the slave trade ; the slaves are either smuggled into Egypt or sent by the Red Sea to Turkey. The khedive Ismail in 1869 appointed Sir Samuel Baker to the command of a large force with which he was "to strike a direct blow at the slave trade in its distant nest." The instructions in the firman issued to him were as follows :—"To subdue to our authority the countries situated to the south of Gondokoro, to suppress the slave trade, to introduce a system of regular commerce, to open to navigation the great lakes of the equator, and to establish a chain of military stations and commercial depôts throughout Central Africa." The work energetically commenced by him was continued by Colonel C. G. Gordon (1874 to 1879), but since the revolt of the Soudan, it is to be feared, no trace of his or of Baker’s work remains in the scene of their labours. The most effectual direct methods of dealing with the slave trade in the present territories of Egypt seem to be those suggested by the Anti-Slavery Society to Mr Gladstone’s Government in 1881—extended consular supervision, and a com-pulsory registration of all existing slaves. (3) There has long been a slave trade from the Portuguese possessions on the East African coast. The stream of supply came mainly from the southern Nyassa districts by three or four routes to Ibo, Mozambique, Angoche, and Kilimane. Madagascar and the Comoro Islands obtained most of their slaves from the Mozambique coast. It was believed in 1862 that about 19,000 passed every year from the Nyassa regions to Zanzibar, whence large supplies were drawn for the markets of Arabia and Persia up to 1873. The mission of Sir Bartle Frere to the sultan of Zanzibar in 1873 brought about a treaty for the suppression of the slave trade, but it is to be feared that the cessation of the traffic from that port has not extinguished the traffic but has in part only given it a different direction, through Somali markets. In Madagascar, which had been supplied from the Mozambique coast, the import and sale of slaves were prohibited within the Hova dominions by Queen Ranavalona, 11. in June 1877. The rulers of the Comoro Islands, Mohilea and Anjuan (or Johanna), have signed treaties for the abolition of the status of slavery in their dominions after 1890, the fulfilment of which, however, it will probably be difficult to enforce. The stations established b the English universities in the valley of the Rovuma and by the establisbed and Free Churches of Scotland on Lake Nyassa doubtless contributed much to the diminution of the traffic in those parts. It is said that, whereas no less than 10,000 slaves formerly passed the southern end of the Nyassa every year, in 1876 not more than 38 were known to have been conveyed by that route. Lieutenant O’Neill, British consul at Mozambique, writing in 1880, fixed at about 3000 the number then annually exported from the coast between the rivers Rovuma and Zambesi. But since that date the traffic seems to have received a fresh impetus from an increased demand for ivory, the slave and ivory trades being "hand and glove." The Portuguese appear to be the most determined upholders of the evil system, and in consequence are everywhere detested by the natives.

There are other minor branches of the trade elsewhere in Africa. Thus from Harar in Somâliland caravans are sent to Berbera on the coast, where there is a great annual fair. The slaves are collected from the inland Galls. countries, from Gurâgwe, and from Abyssinia.

Clarkson first, and Buxton afterwards, whilst they urged all other means for the suppression or discouragement of the slave trade and slavery, saw clearly that the only thoroughly effectual method would be the development of legitimate commerce in Africa itself. When Buxton published in 1840 his book entitled The Slave Trade and its Remedy, this was the remedy he contemplated. The unfortunate Niger expedition of 1841 was directed to similar ends; and it has been more and more felt by all who were interested in the subject that here lies the radical solution of the great problem. It was for some time thought that from Sierra Leone as a centre industry and civilization might be diffused amongst the nations of the cintinent; and in 1822 the colony (which in 1847 became the independent republic) of Liberia had been founded by Americans with a similar object; but in neither case have these expectations been fulfilled. A new, and it would seem really hopeful, effort for the same great end has recently been undertaken.

Leopold II, king of the Belgians, invited in September 1876 representative geographers to a conference in his palace, to discuss the question of the exploration and civilization of Africa through the development of commerce and the abolition of the slave trade. Six European nations were represented, and an International African Association was formed. The central committee organized seven successive expeditions from the east coast to Lake Tanganyika. The exploration of the Congo by Stanley turned attention to the west coast, and he went out to'the Congo in 1879 as commander-in-chief of the association, to open up that river. The association obtained, by treaties with the native chiefs, the cession of certain territories. The recognition of its flag and its territorial rights by the European Powers has transformed the association into the Congo Free State. A conference was held at Berlin on 15th November 1884, attended by plenipotentiaries from all the European states, to regulate the position of the new state, and one of its declarations was that "these regions shall not be used as markets or routes of transit for the trade in slaves, no matter of what race ; each of these powers binds itself to use all the means at its disposal to put an end to this trade and to punish those engaged in it." The territory of the now state was fixed so as to comprise 1,065,200 square miles, with an estimated population of 42,608,000 souls. Stations have been built at points extending for nearly 1500 miles into the centre of Africa.

There are, it cannot be denied, real dangers connected with this great enterprise for the civilization of Africa. Disputes may arise between the powers having interests in the territories of the new state, and, still worse, the natives may be led to take sides in such disputes. That the African population should be sometimes oppressed, or have justice denied them, by European traders or official is by no means unlikely in the present state of opinion with respect to our duties towards the retarded races. Difficulties, too, may be created by the rivalries and mutual jealousies of the missionaries of the several Western communions. But, whilst foreseeing these possibilities and urging the necessity of guarding, as far as possible, against the evils referred to, we ought not to view in a grudging or suspicious spirit an enterprise which is begun with pure intentions, will probably do much to right the wrongs and improve the position of a deeply-injured portion of our race. The establishment of the state will be no reason for the cessation of any effort which Western Governments can make, by the exercise of influence and by remonstrance, to induce Turkey and Egypt to fulfil their engagements respecting the slave trade. The rulers of those states are well disposed to appropriate the results of more advanced civilization; and we need not despair of the disappearance in Mohammedan communities of slave-holding and its ally polygamy, since those practices are not enjoined, but only tolerated, by a religious code which social progress will inevitably lead its adherents to modify by interpretation.

Share this page:

Read the rest of this article:
"Slavery" Article - Table of Contents

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-23 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries