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Mechanisms of Enslavement  

Daniel B. Domingues da Silva

The transatlantic slave trade involved the capture and transportation of millions of Africans across the Atlantic for a period of approximately four hundred years. European and New World merchants, traders, and ship captains were behind much of the organization of this huge forced migration. They also captured and loaded Africans onto slave ships themselves via raids, warfare, or trade. However, the traffic would not have evolved as it did had they failed to rely on a series of mechanisms of enslavement indigenous to Africa. Some of these mechanisms included judicial proceedings, debts, pawning, trickery, kidnapping, and, of course, warfare. Each of them had an impact on Africa and her children, both those who stayed behind and those scattered across the Atlantic. Nevertheless, these mechanisms helped sustain the traffic as a long-lasting and complex historical event.

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Middle Passage  

Anita Rupprecht

The term “Middle Passage” invokes the unparalleled experience of dispossession, suffering, community, and resistance associated with the global and globalizing history of forced African transportation and racial enslavement between the 16th and 19th centuries. Over nearly four centuries, an estimated 12.5 million Africans endured this sea passage, and nearly two million Africans died. “Middle Passage” is freighted with multiple allusions, however, having been first popularized in the late 18th century by European abolitionists campaigning against the horrors of the slave trade and latterly appropriated as a powerful political and cultural symbol for the historical travails of African diasporic peoples. It still carries older Eurocentric meanings, even as Black Atlantic cultural memory and Africanist scholars have shifted its historical and cultural references.

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Migration History and Historiography  

Benedetta Rossi

Migration has been a central factor in African history. It is likely that the human species started spreading on the planet within and outside of Africa between 2 and 2.5 million years ago. Although the earliest stages of human migrations are the subject of intense debate, most hypotheses concentrate on movements that occurred in the African continent. In historical times, African migrations can be divided into two broad sub-fields looking at, respectively: people moving because they were forced to and people choosing to move on their own free will. Africa has been the source of the largest forced migrations in history. The trans-Atlantic slave trade was the largest long-distance forced migration of people, even though it happened over a shorter period than the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean slave trades. Within Africa, trade across complementary ecological zones and the seasonality of production propelled free migrations of traders and workers involved in long distance trade. Following the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, free labor migrations rose in importance. European colonialism introduced the need for cash that was often only accessible in cities and areas of cash crop production. It was also responsible for the introduction of new forms of forced labor required for the building and maintenance of colonial infrastructure. The rise of development as a rationale for the government of African societies influenced migrations in multiple ways through national and international policies aimed at channeling people’s mobility. In the last two centuries, African migrants have been unfolding projects of self-development by traveling to places where they hoped to find better opportunities. Yet contemporary trafficking and displacements caused by wars, intolerance, and natural catastrophes attest to the continuing relevance of violence as a key aspect of the experience of African migrants.

Article

Muhammad ‘Ali of Egypt and Sudan  

George Michael La Rue

Muhammad ‘Ali ruled Egypt from 1805 to 1848. Long perceived as a reforming modernizer and founder of modern Egypt, historians have more recently reconsidered the impact of his economic and social policies on Egypt’s ordinary people. To determine his place in African history (and in the history of slavery and abolition) requires a broad reexamination of his policies and Egypt’s actions, and their consequences in Egypt, Sudan, within the Ottoman Empire, and in the 19th-century balance of power. After arriving in Egypt in 1801, Muhammad ‘Ali emerged from a complex political field as the Ottoman Pasha of Egypt by 1805. He overpowered the remnants of the old Mamluk regime, pushed them to Egypt’s southern boundaries, allied with key Egyptian elites, helped to suppress the Wahhabi revolt in the Hijaz for his Ottoman overlord, and strove to reduce the power of his Albanian troops. He reestablished trade (including the slave trade) with Sudan, and planned a new army of enslaved Sudanese. Between 1820 and 1835, Muhammad ‘Ali made a series of bold moves. The invasion of Sudan (1820–1821) and its occupation caused great political, social, and economic devastation there. Egypt toppled or threatened many Sudanese rulers, redirected Sudanese-Egyptian trade, and reshaped Sudan’s urban centers. The invaders attacked Sudanese and other African populations, conducted ongoing slave raids, enslaved thousands, and destroyed their homes. Egyptians and Sudanese found challenges and opportunities within these broader patterns. Enslaved Sudanese became soldiers in the nizam al-jadid, laborers in Muhammad ‘Ali’s new industries, diplomatic gifts, and taxable trade commodities. Newly formed elites bought African slaves for domestic tasks in Sudan and Egypt. Egypt’s new medical establishment treated Sudanese slave soldiers for guinea-worm, vaccinated incoming slaves for smallpox, and purchased Sudanese and Ethiopian women to train as hakimas—fully trained nurse-midwives. Initially, Muhammad ‘Ali sent his new army to fight in Greece on behalf of the Ottoman Empire. Later, his challenges to Ottoman supremacy drew the attention of European powers, who feared any disruption to the delicate balance of power. The demographic impact of the bubonic plague epidemic of 1834–1835 on Egypt’s black slave population was notable, and led to increased demand for replacement slaves. This drew attention from European observers and added an abolitionist dimension to diplomatic pressure on Muhammad ‘Ali. By 1841, he gained Ottoman recognition as hereditary ruler of Egypt and parts of Sudan, his army’s size was capped, and he made trade concessions to Europe. With his imperial ambitions now limited to Africa, Muhammad ‘Ali renewed his interest in controlling more of Sudan and adjacent regions, and deflected abolitionist criticism by blaming supplying regions for continuing to raid and trade in slaves.

Article

Nampula  

Daria Trentini

The city of Nampula is the capital of Nampula Province, an agricultural region situated in the Nacala Development Corridor connecting Malawi and Zambia to the coastal port of Nacala. Founded at the beginning of the 20th century by the Portuguese army, Nampula was located at the crossroads of trading and migration routes that had connected the interior of Southern Africa to the Indian Ocean for centuries. Under colonial occupation, Nampula served as a military garrison for launching military operations to subdue and occupy the interior of northern Mozambique, the last undefeated region of the Portuguese empire. The subsequent construction of infrastructure and the advent of commercial agriculture transformed Nampula into the main economic and administrative hub of the northern region of Mozambique. Following independence in 1975, the demographic and territorial expansion of Nampula was informed by socialist governance as well as by a prolonged civil war that brought thousands of refugees from the surrounding rural areas. The economic liberalizations in the 1990s and the mineral discoveries in the northern region of Cabo Delgado in the 2010s consolidated the role of Nampula as a commercial and trade center for national and international capital. The economic boom—alongside increasing rural poverty and ongoing internal and external conflicts—has continued to attract migrants from the rural regions, as well as from across the country and continent, making Nampula the third-largest city in Mozambique, with a population of 743,125 and an area of 404 square kilometers.

Article

Nicholas Said  

Mohammed Bashir Salau

The two versions of the autobiography that Nicholas Said published offer insight into 19th-century conditions in five continents as well as insight into life as a child, slave, manservant, and teacher. As a child in the 1830s, Said was enslaved in Borno, marched across the Sahara Desert, and passed from hand to hand in North Africa and the Middle East. After serving as a slave in various societies, Said was freed by a Russian aristocrat in the late 1850s after accompanying the aristocrat in question to various parts of Europe. In the 1850s, Said also traveled as a manservant for a European traveler to South and North America. Ultimately he settled in the United States, where he authored two versions of his autobiography, served as a teacher and soldier, got married, and disappeared from sight. This article compares the two versions of the autobiography that Said published, provides an overview of Said’s life, charts the development of scholarly works on Said, and draws attention to the primary sources related to the study of Said and his autobiography.

Article

Numerical Data and Statistical Sources  

Leigh Gardner

The use of numerical data and statistical sources in African history has expanded in recent decades, facilitated by technological advances and the digitization of primary sources. This expansion has included new analysis of traditional measures (population, government, and trade) as well as new sources of individual-level data such as census returns, marriage registers, and military and police records. Overall, this work has allowed for a more comprehensive quantitative picture of Africa’s history, and in particular facilitated comparisons within Africa and between African countries and other parts of the world. However, there remain misunderstandings about the collection, use, and interpretation of these data. Increasingly sophisticated methods of quantitative analysis can alienate scholars who have an intimate knowledge of the data and how they are produced, but lack specialist methodological training. At the same time, limited understanding of the origins and reliability of quantitative data can lead to misinterpretation.

Article

Omar ibn Said  

Mbaye Lo

Omar ibn Sayyid (Said is the more prevalent Anglicized version of his name; 1770–1863), a West African Muslim scholar, was enslaved in North Carolina from 1810 until his death in 1863. Omar was captured in Futa Toro, modern-day Senegal in 1807 and transported to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1808, and he spent the first two years of his American life enslaved on a plantation there. He left behind a body of Arabic writings including his 1831 autobiography, which was the subject of two limited translations in the 19th century by Alexander Cotheal in 1848 and Isaac Bird in 1863; a more elaborated translation was produced by John Franklin Jameson in 1925. Since the 1980s, Omar has attracted scholarly interest as a striking example of the presence of enslaved Muslim scholars in the antebellum United States. The Library of Congress has created an Omar ibn Said Collection of documents in English and Arabic to serve as a resource for research on slavery and Islam in America. North Carolina governor Roy Cooper declared May 23, 2019, Omar ibn Said Day.

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The Origins of Slavery in Cabo Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe  

Filipa Ribeiro da Silva

Enslaved Africans and the institution of slavery were part of the societies of Cabo Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe from their onset in the 15th century. In both archipelagos, enslaved Africans were regarded as manpower, either to supply the international labor markets, to be employed locally in the production of foodstuffs and export crops, or as soldiers organized into state sponsored militias or masters’ private armies. Within this social group there was a clear distinction between enslaved domestic servants, artisans, traders, and commercial agents or representatives living mainly in urban areas, rural workers employed on farms, plantations, and sugar mills, and enslaved people to be traded and transported elsewhere. The latter group was part of the local societies only temporarily, since their stay was limited to the time required to board the vessels sailing to Europe, the other Atlantic islands, Brazil, and Spanish America. Many enslaved people escaped from the farms and plantations or from the warehouses where they awaited embarkation and were forced to hide in the hills or the bush. This was a common situation in Santiago, Fogo, São Tomé, and Príncipe. However, it was only in São Tomé that marronage became a widespread phenomenon in the 16th and 17th centuries. There, marronage was, to a great extent, a consequence of the fear enslaved Africans had of being embarked and displaced to other territories and of the harsh living and working conditions. However, in Cabo Verde and São Tomé and Príncipe, as later in other colonial slave societies, enslaved Africans were sometimes manumitted by their masters in their wills. In general, most of them stayed under the protection of their previous masters’ households. Hence, enslaved and manumitted Africans were essential for populating, promoting the economic development, and guaranteeing the military defense of Cabo Verde and São Tomé. In both archipelagos, Africans played a key role in the formation and development of the first Creole societies in the Atlantic world with distinct languages and cultures with implications until the present day (21st century). But, in the long-term the trajectory of slavery in the two archipelagos followed different paths. While Cabo Verdean society witnessed a gradual demise due to droughts and the difficulties of developing a plantation economy, in São Tomé and Príncipe, this institution stayed alive, flourished until its abolition, and gave place to other oppressive and coercive forms of labor extraction in the 19th and 20th centuries. These two different paths were, to a great extent, a consequence of the differences between the two archipelagos in terms of climate, soil, patterns of settlement, and economic activities developed. By the early 16th century, São Tomé had become the world’s largest sugar producer relying on enslaved labor and the plantation system, and therefore, the first plantation slave society in the tropics; conversely, Cabo Verde had emerged mainly as an entrepot for transatlantic slave and commodity trades, relying on a rather close relationship with the Luso-African communities in Senegambia and the Upper Guinea.

Article

Ozurumba Mbanaso or King Jaja of Opobo  

Joseph Davey

Between 1800 and 1900, West Africa’s coastal states struggled to maintain autonomy in the face of imperial overtures from European trade partners. Simultaneously, these states coped with an overwhelming buildup of domestic slaves, some of whom rose to unprecedented higher political and economic positions. One particular individual, King Jaja of Opobo, came to the fore as an extreme example of how slaves became more capable of taking advantage of the changing political, religious, and economic landscape of the Eastern Niger Delta during this period. Born Mbanaso Ozurumba in the Igboland village of Umuduruoha in 1821, Jaja, as he would become known to his European trading partners, traversed the domestic slave systems of Southeastern Nigeria and arrived in the Delta trading state of Bonny in 1833. He obtained tremendous wealth and political influence through the burgeoning palm oil trade, ultimately becoming the head of one of Bonny’s most influential canoe-houses. Due to an internal dispute with a rival canoe-house in the late 1860s, Jaja removed his followers to a previously uninhabited island and cut off Bonny’s access to the lucrative interior oil markets. From 1871 on, Jaja monopolized the palm oil trade in the region to become the most influential trader from his new position as king of the island community, which he would name Opobo. However, by 1884, the relationship between Jaja and his British trade partners deteriorated, leading to Jaja’s exile in the West Indies. Political pressure forced the British to return Jaja to Opobo. Unfortunately, the once-powerful slave-turned-king died while trying to return home in 1891.

Article

Plantation Economy and Slavery in the Mascarene Islands (Indian Ocean)  

Richard B. Allen

The social and economic history of the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues must be viewed in the context of regional and global developments including the African diaspora of slave origin and European colonialism in both the Indian Ocean and Atlantic worlds. Mauritius and Réunion’s transformation into plantation colonies during the 18th and early 19th centuries was a complex process shaped by the cultivation of coffee, cloves, cotton, indigo, and sugar; Anglo-French rivalry for domination in the Indian Ocean; a reliance upon domestically generated and controlled capital; the importation of hundreds of thousands of African and Asian slaves from a global catchment area that stretched from West Africa eastward to Southeast Asia; and the increasing socioeconomic importance of the local free population of color during the early 19th century.

Article

Political Economy of Textiles in the Atlantic Slave Trade  

Kazuo Kobayashi

Textile production was among the most important manufacturing sectors in precolonial West and West-Central Africa, enabled by the availability of local sources of fibers. Although the origins of this manufacturing are difficult to trace, the spread of cloth production was linked to Islam and consumer politics, followed by specialization of cloth production within the region over time. Textile production was usually based on the household division of labor: women were responsible for the primary activities of carding and spinning in cotton textile production, while men were in charge of weaving and finishing processes, such as embroidery. Male weavers used narrow strip (or band) horizontal looms to manufacture textiles, but in some areas, female weavers used vertical looms to produce textiles from cotton or raffia mixed with cotton. Some weavers were professional, full-time workers, whereas part-time weavers engaged in cloth production in the non-agricultural, dry season. Cloth strips served not only as material for clothing and interior decorations of houses and palaces but also as a currency in the regional economy. From the 15th century, the Portuguese came to West Africa and joined the coastal trade as middlemen who would be trading locally woven textiles from one place to another along the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic slave trade brought in increasing amounts of textiles from overseas, and in the 18th century, Indian cotton textiles became the flagship commodity whose quality met consumer preference. The impact of the influx of textiles from overseas on local cloth production remains a topic of debate. Although the dependency theorists claimed a negative impact, there is no evidence to support such a claim.

Article

Post-Slavery  

Baz Lecocq and Lotte Pelckmans

Post-slavery is an academic analytical concept that signifies the fragmented legacies and continuities of past slavery and slave trade in contemporary societies after its formal legal abolition, and beyond emancipation processes. Legacies can take the form of discourses based in collective memories and ideologies of past slavery, while continuities can take the shape of continued relations of social hierarchy and dependency between people of slave descent and the descendants of slaveholders and other people of free descent, to the disadvantage of the formerly enslaved and their descendants. The social mechanisms of exclusion that uphold post-slavery situations include the invisibility of such situations to outsiders; structural racism and other forms of stigmatization; struggles surrounding gender relations; the social importance of genealogy, marriage, and family formation across the historical free-unfree divide; uneven access to physical and social capital, such as land and positions of authority; and the politics of history and memory. Post-slavery legacies and continuities form points on a continuum, ranging from explicit forms of exploitation that could qualify as slavery outside the law (de facto, but not de jure slavery), via structural racism and other forms of structural exclusion in society (post-slavery continuities), to the residual histories and memories that can continue to mark differences between the descendants of slave and free today (post-slavery legacies).

Article

Prisoners, Ransoms, and Slavery in the Maghrib  

Russell Hopley

The topic of prisoners, ransoms, and slavery in the Maghrib (that is, the lands of the Islamic west—the area that today encompasses North Africa, and historically, also the regions of Iberia and Sicily that came under Muslim rule) is of considerable chronological and geographical scope extending from the earliest establishment of Islamic rule in the region during the second half of the 7th century, persisting to the final decades of the 20th century, and enslaving or otherwise taking prisoner peoples from areas as geographically diverse as West Africa, the southern coastal regions of Europe, and as far north as Ireland and Iceland. The practice of slavery and the taking of prisoners in the Maghrib are thus of substantial historical significance. Yet, it is only in comparatively recent times that this complex topic has drawn the attention of scholars. Therefore, our understanding of slavery and the taking of prisoners in the Maghrib, especially during the medieval period, remains in its incipience.

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Ransoming of Captives and Redemption of Slaves in sub-Saharan Africa  

Jennifer Lofkrantz

The ransoming of captives and the redemption of slaves in precolonial and early colonial sub-Saharan Africa refer to two distinct practices. The ransoming of captives refers to the practice of paying for the release of a captive at the time of capture or soon afterwards and where the freed captive usually returns to their own society with their social status intact. In contrast, the redemption of slaves refers to the practice of the purchasing of the freedom of an enslaved person who then usually remains in a subservient status in their owner’s society. The redemption of slaves has been a well-studied subject throughout sub-Saharan Africa as both a form of indigenous African and colonial manumission policies as well as part of the growing field of social abolition of slavery. The ransoming of captives in precolonial sub-Saharan Africa, unlike in North Africa, is a more recent area of research, with most research concentrated on West Africa. The existence of both ransoming and redemption practices demonstrate that people and their family and friends valued freedom and used a myriad of strategies to achieve and maintain it.

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Rice Cultivation in the History of Slavery  

Judith Carney

There are many wild rice species, but only two are domesticated. The most widely known is Asian rice, Oryza sativa. Domesticated in China approximately 10,000 years ago, it has been a primary staple in Asia for millennia, becoming by the 20th century one of the world’s most consumed cereals. Less known is Oryza glaberrima, or African rice, which was not recognized as a unique species until the mid-20th century. Glaberrima’s history begins not in Asia, but in the inland delta of West Africa’s Niger River, where it was domesticated some 3,500 years ago. Africans adapted glaberrima to a variety of landscapes and developed specialized farming practices that advanced its diffusion elsewhere in the continent, notably to wetland swamps and the tropical coastal region between Senegal and Cameroon. Cultivated there for millennia, African rice became (and still is) a principal dietary staple of West Africa. Women play a major role in rice cultivation. They plant, harvested, mill, and cook this important food crop. Since the so-called Age of Discovery, Oryza glaberrima has been entwined with the history of transatlantic slavery, which lasted from the mid-15th century to the last quarter of the 19th century. Over 400 years, nearly 13 million Africans were kidnapped and imprisoned on European slave ships bound for the Americas. Once landed, the survivors were sold as chattel labor to work colonial mines and plantations. Many had experience growing rice. African rice often accompanied slave voyages. As slave ships plied the West African coast, their captains purchased it in bulk to feed their captives during the weeks-long Middle Passage. Eventually, unmilled seed rice found its way from ships’ larders into the hands of New World Africans, who planted it in their provision gardens or maroon hideaways. By the end of the 17th century, plantation owners in Carolina (and later Brazil) were beginning to cultivate rice in response to rising demand from Europe. They very likely grew glaberrima at first—acquired as leftover slave ship provisions—and were almost certainly tutored by slaves already proficient at growing it. The development of rice as a lucrative export crop, cultivated on a massive scale in the tropical and semi-tropical swamps and tidewater estuaries of the Americas, is also a story of African agency and know-how. Nearly all the technologies employed on New World rice plantations bear African antecedents, from the irrigation systems that made fields productive, to the milling and winnowing of grain by African female labor wielding traditional African tools. The recovery of African rice history dispels long-held beliefs that Africans contributed little to the global table and added nothing more than muscle to the agricultural history of the Americas. It upends the myth that they only provided labor, existing as less-than-human “hands” that uncomprehendingly carried out slaveholder directives. Rice history has directed scholars to new geographical spaces, such as the provision gardens of the enslaved, while integrating contributions from archaeology, botany, geography, linguistics, and genomics. Not least, it gives to slavery’s victims a voice rarely heard in traditional sources.

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Ritual Enslavement in West Africa  

Michael Odijie

Ritual slavery occurs when humans become properties of deities. Ritual slaves fulfill religious purposes for their deity owners, although they may also serve as slaves to a deity’s representative, such as a shrine priest. The transatlantic slave trade altered the ritual slavery practices of communities that were influenced by the slave trade. The abolition of the slave trade also affected the trajectory of ritual slavery. Ritual slavery generally escaped colonial emancipation and the abolition of domestic slavery. As a result, ritual enslavement presents an opportunity to study African indigenous movements for abolition and emancipation, as the colonial administration was typically unconcerned with it and local abolition groups emerged to combat it. The study of ritual enslavement in West Africa mostly focuses on two cases where a domestic campaign evolved. The first is trokosi, which is practiced by the Ga-Adangbe, Fon, and Ewe ethnic groups on Africa’s west coast. Trokosi is the practice of sacrificing young girls to local deities as a means of atonement for misdeeds done by family members. Once dedicated, the girls become slaves of the deity and are typically placed in the custody of the shrine priest, who represents the deity on earth. The second instance is Osu, which is practiced by the Igbo ethnic group in contemporary Nigeria. Osu are people dedicated to becoming properties of the deities. While the majority of the literature has concentrated on trokosi and Osu, owing to the campaign against them, there are other cases for scholars to examine.

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Routes to Emancipation in East Africa  

Felicitas Becker and Michelle Liebst

Slaves, ex-slaves, and their descendants have taken multiple and complex routes toward emancipation in East Africa. Their experiences varied regionally, with status contests most clearly traceable in those areas where slavery had been most concentrated, especially on the coast. As scholars have established, the legal abolition of slavery did not lead directly to emancipation in East Africa, but it contributed to the quick erosion of slavery-based labor regimes around 1900. Ex-slaves pursued economic security and livelihoods through access to land and wage labor and sought to shed the stigma of slave origins by seeking religious affiliations, education, ethnic identities, and kinship ties. Routes to emancipation were highly gendered as female slaves within owners’ households lacked both political support and legal rights to their children. Moreover, male ex-slaves’ ambitions to assert their own patriarchal status by controlling women could be a major obstacle for ex-slave women’s search for emancipation. Although political independence in the 1960s encouraged the condemnation of slavery as an aberration from a different era, slavery-derived social differences linger, and people with a genealogy of slavery may face status implications in certain situations. Though East African societies, rural ones especially, are readily characterized as timelessly egalitarian, they struggle to this day with the legacy of slavery and incomplete emancipation.

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Routes to Emancipation in Egypt and the Sudan  

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

In addition to the fact that the Sudan was a major source of slaves for Egypt for several centuries, Ottoman Egypt conquered and ruled the Sudan from 1820 until 1884 when Egypt was expelled from the country by the Mahdist revolution, which established an independent state in Sudan. However, the Mahdist state was overthrown in 1898 by Britain and Egypt, who established a joint administration that ruled the Sudan until 1956. Although slavery and the slave trade existed in the Sudan for many centuries, they reached a peak during the 19th century due to the policies of the Ottoman-Egyptian government. Slavery continued to persist under the Mahdist state and for several decades after the establishment of the Anglo-Egyptian administration. British antislavery policies focused mainly on combating the slave trade but adopted a gradual approach to the abolition of slavery. However, the expansion of the colonial economy and the wage labor market, the actions of the slaves themselves, and international pressure prompted the colonial government to take active measures to emancipate the slaves during the interwar period. Slavery was also an ancient institution in Egypt, dating back to the pre-Islamic era. Slaves obtained from various locations, including Eastern Europe and Africa, played major roles under the successive Muslim dynasties that ruled Egypt. However, the growth of slave trade and the widespread use of slaves in the 19th century was a direct result of the Ottoman-Egyptian conquest of the Sudan. Slavery thrived in Egypt but changes in the Egyptian economy and the labor system, public opinion, and growing internal pressure led to its demise toward the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Routes to Emancipation in Ethiopia  

Alexander Meckelburg and Giulia Bonacci

Slavery and the trade in slaves are deeply rooted in the economic and cultural history of the Ethiopian–Eritrean region. Various polities and societies across the Christian, Semitic languages-speaking highlands, the Rift Valley, and its surrounding lowland regions—bordered by the Nile Valley on the west and the Red Sea coast to the east—engaged in practices of human bondage and trade. These societies practiced manumission culturally, while the legal abolition of slavery and the slave trade were lengthy processes lasting many decades. Abolitionism, as a political process, was influenced by domestic and international political bargaining among regional polities and Western imperial interests. As the leading force of abolition in the 19th century, Britain took relatively late interest in Ethiopia. British abolitionism emerged in the region in order to support colonial and imperial aspirations, which were attached to commercial treaties. Abolition thus looked like a Western import and is still often discussed from a singular Western perspective. The uneven production of knowledge by travelers, diplomats, or the British Anti-Slavery Society amplified the Western abolitionist ideologies and overshadowed the contemporary Ethiopian discourse on abolition. The abolition of slavery became a major bone of contention in Ethiopia’s attempt to become a member of the League of Nations in the 1920s. Eventually, it became a matter of state survival in the standoff between Ethiopia and the threat of an invasion by Italy, which used slavery as a pretext to justify its violent occupation. Despite a long period of abolitionist efforts, slavery died a slow death in Ethiopia and has left a durable imprint on the local societies. Emancipation was never achieved throughout Ethiopia. In some areas, people of slave descent suffer from exclusion and marginalization until the early 21st century.