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Slaving in Bantu-Speaking Regions  

Joseph C. Miller

Small communities of Bantu-language-speaking cultivators, and eventually also cattle herders, settled and thrived during the last three millennia throughout nearly the entire African continent east and south of Cameroon. They mobilized the people who did so in many ways, transferring many of them among the groups they formed. Mobility was assumed to be normative. Most they repositioned by mutual agreements protecting the daughters or others they moved as wives, some sought new places voluntarily as clients, and others found themselves involuntarily abandoned, captured, or otherwise isolated and vulnerable to the strangers who took them in. The last group most resembled the people who, in modern societies, we recognize as “enslaved.” However, those who acquired these vulnerable people used them for purposes very different from the plantations and backbreaking labor associated with African “slavery” in the Americas. And they faced futures more varied than the permanently and inheritably enslaved Africans in the New World. This essay sketches these varied purposes and outcomes of enslavement in the context of Bantu speakers’ worlds built around premises that often contrasted with the modern world we take for granted. It adds a historical argument that Bantu-speaking communities met the major challenges in their three-thousand-year history by mobilizing personnel through slaving. This essay follows three broadly defined eras in which Bantu speakers over more than a hundred generations used strategies of slaving to create historical changes. The earliest slaving moved people who were unwanted in their home communities, or destitute survivors of communities that had failed and dispersed, into vulnerable places among the communities of others. As early Bantu speakers gradually grew in number, they intensified collective local strategies to create diverse communities in which they ultimately valued obligating relationships with one another more than they accumulated personal material wealth. Prizing people more than property, they saw themselves as perpetually short of personnel, particularly of women as wives to bear succeeding generations. Politics more than production motivated their quests for males, often clients but also opportunistically supplemented with the destitute and their neighbors’ cast-offs. Dependency was the norm and not a violation of individual freedom, since everyone was beholden to others. Since residential groups and neighborhoods routinely circulated their members in several ways, the distinctions between those moved involuntarily as slaves and others who moved in protected conditions as wives or clients were much subtler than our familiar (though unrealistic) dichotomy of mutually exclusive “slavery” and “freedom.” Despite modern searches for Bantu speakers’ terms cognate with “slavery,” they created no discrete, permanent social condition similar to the institutionalized commercial slavery of the Atlantic. The acquiring groups treated slaves better than the abandoned, isolated, displaced outsiders whom we treated as little more than inanimate “property,” always vulnerable to further removals by sale. To the contrary, the early Bantu-speaking groups tended to find places for the people they acquired and treated them as human resources of significant value in the complex politics of their neighborhoods and communities. In the second phase, from roughly 500 to 1500 ce, trading opportunities tended to promote connections over greater distances, among strangers. These opportunities supplemented the small scales of the earlier personal networks of kinship, affinity, guilds of skilled hunters and healers, and clientage. Communities in propitious locations recruited isolated outsiders to sustain local production, while insiders moved out with their products. Some networks of more regular interactions among otherwise unfamiliar contacts at greater distances consolidated into political systems distinguishable from the balanced communities of familiarity composing them. They kept the peace among themselves by recognizing neutral central authorities among the components, and the central figures who gained significant independent power recruited kinless outsiders to build retinues of their own. Some of these central political authorities eventually obtained commercial resources from Indian and later also Atlantic Ocean merchant networks. They used these imported goods, bought or borrowed on terms of commercial credit, as working capital to consolidate their positions locally. At first, they paid for what they had borrowed with low-investment exports of extracted commodities (ivory, gold, and other natural resources). Increasing extraction depleted resources and provoked greater borrowing to seek resources farther afield. Growing commercial credit soon inflated local competition and accelerated the needs for additional personnel to protect the initial windfall gains they had made. By the end of the 17th century, Atlantic merchants attempting to serve vast markets for captive Africans in American mines and plantations introduced goods in quantities that exceeded the capacities of African domestic economies to pay for them without resorting to raiding for captives to sell abroad to pay their debts. So long as populations farther from the sea remained undisturbed and vulnerable to violent seizure and sale, Africans financed by growing Atlantic credit tended to retain more people than they had to sell off into the maritime trade. They were the profits from people kept in Africa and who increasingly populated expanding trading networks. As European investment grew, so did African indebtedness. For more than three centuries from the late 1500s until the second half of the 19th century, the resulting Atlantic “frontier of slaving violence” moved haltingly inland. The circumstances of the captives kept in regions closer to the coast grew correspondingly more contingent and abusive, vulnerable to being sold abroad, and the means of acquiring them became more violent. An Indian Ocean counterpart took shape in the later 1700s, and eastern and south-central Africa sank into violent displacements of whole populations. Commercial credit and slaving had enabled Bantu-speaking Africans to transform their world from communities dedicated to reproducing their members to warlords and bands of enslaved mercenaries that thrived by capturing people whom others had reproduced. Commercialized slaving in Bantu-speaking Africa produced more captives for the export trades of both the Atlantic and Indian Oceans than from any other region of the continent, but slaving within the continent was also the principal strategy that people used there, over more than two thousand years, to create the major historical changes in their lives. Each succeeding historical context on growing geographical scales—increasingly politicized, and eventually commercialized—had been an outcome accomplished by the slaving developed in its predecessor.


The Soninke in Ancient West African History  

Kassim Kone

The Soninke are an ancient West African ethnicity that probably gave rise to the much larger group that is called the Mande of which the Soninke are part. The Soninke language belongs to the northwestern Mande group but through the dynamism of its speakers has loaned many words and concepts to distant ethnic groups throughout the West African ecological zones. Mande groups such as the Malinke and Bambara may be descendants of the Soninke or a Proto-Soninke group. The Soninke are the founder of the first West African empire, Ghana, which they themselves call Wagadu, from the 6th to the 12th centuries ad Ghana was wealthy and powerful due to its access to gold, its geographic location between the Sahara and the Sahel, and its opening of trade routes from these ecological zones into the West African forest. Long distance trade contributed to the development of an ethos of migration among the Soninke, arguably making them the most traveled people of the whole continent. As they embraced Islam, some Soninke clans became clerics and proselytizers and followed the trade routes, sometimes becoming advisers to kings and chiefs. By the time of Ghana’s fall, the Soninke diaspora and trade networks were found all over West Africa. At present, pockets of Soninke, small and large, are found on all continents.


Southern Sudanese Systems of Slavery  

Scopas Poggo

Prior to arrival of the Turco-Egyptian officials, Europeans, Egyptians, Syrians, Sudanese, and ivory and slave traders to the Southern Sudan, the Indigenous people of this region engaged in slave trade and had their own systems of slavery. The abundance of ivory in Southern Sudan, attracted a large number of Khartoum-based merchants into the South. As ivory depleted, these merchants shifted to trading African slaves throughout Southern Sudan and beyond. In 1805, Muhammad Ali became the ruler of Egypt, and in 1821, he sent military expeditions to the Sudan to colonize it. Because Ali came to power without any funds, ivory and slaves became the main source of revenue for his government, which led to the huge expansion of the slave trade throughout the Turkiyya. Due to the corruption, violence, and injustice that existed throughout the Turkiyya, the Mahdist Movement emerged in 1881 to destroy this alien government. In 1898, an Anglo-Egyptian military force invaded the Sudan with the primary aim of destroying the Mahdist State and abolishing the slave trade and slavery. However, in the mid-1980s, during the Second Civil War in the Sudan between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and Sudan Armed Forces (1983–2005), the slave trade in South Sudan resurged under the direction of the government of the national Islamic front and Northern Sudanese ethnic groups such as the Baqqara and Rizeiqat.


Sugar Plantation Slavery  

Klas Rönnbäck

Sugar and slavery became intimately connected in the Americas during the early modern era. Once the cultivation of sugar cane had been transplanted to the Americas in the early 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese planters turned to exploiting slaves as laborers on the plantations. The first slaves were taken from among Indigenous populations in the Americas. In the 17th century, English and French planters tried to recruit indentured servants from Europe. Both these sources of labor would, for several reasons, turn out to be insufficient to meet the great demand for laborers on the American sugar plantations. Planters throughout the Americas therefore came to import slaves from Africa, particularly following the so-called “sugar revolution” during the late 17th century. As sugar henceforth became the preferred crop of cultivation throughout most of the Caribbean and Brazil, it also became the main driver of the transatlantic slave trade. The particular demography of sugar planting—with a natural population decline as a consequence of hard labor, a brutal labor regime, and insufficient diet—did furthermore exacerbate the demand for slave imports even further. The cultivation of sugar, and all economic activities associated with the slave plantation complex, would be of great economic importance for investors, merchants and producers in Europe. The political decision to abolish the slave trade would therefore have large economic consequences both in the Americas, Africa, and Europe.


The Archaeology of Slavery in Atlantic West Africa, 1450–1900  

Sean H. Reid

Archaeological examination of the transatlantic slave trade in West Africa largely began with investigations of European trade posts and forts on the coast and on major West African rivers. The predominant focus of subsequent work has been on African states and societies affected by or involved in Atlantic commerce and the slave trade. Major themes of research include African–European interactions and trade, political and economic effects in African societies, and the integration and consumption of Atlantic goods in daily life. Work has also expanded geographically beyond West African towns and states into hinterland and frontier landscapes far from the coast. Archaeological investigations of Atlantic era slavery developed in dialogue with the archaeology of the African diaspora in the Americas, yet their foci and objectives have not always been completely aligned. Slavery is more of a central theme in African diaspora archaeology—being the primary formative historical force in the creation of the diaspora—than it is in West African archaeology, where it is more often examined as a major feature of social, political, and economic life with uneven regional and societal effects. Archaeologists are also involved in the study, interpretation, and politics of African diaspora heritage tourism. Emerging approaches to the archaeology of Atlantic era slavery in West Africa include maritime archaeology and the archaeology of the formerly enslaved that returned to West Africa.


The History of Islam in Mauritania  

Erin Pettigrew

The study of the long-term history of what has been known since 1960 as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is possible largely because of inhabitants’ early embrace of Islam in the 8th century. While research on the early pre-Islamic history of the region is limited by the availability of sources to primarily the archaeological, the arrival of Islam through trade networks crossing the Sahara from North Africa meant that Arab merchants and explorers supplied and produced knowledge about the region’s inhabitants, polities, and natural resources that was then written down in Arabic by Muslim chroniclers and historians. Early Muslims were largely Kharijite and Ibadi but the 11th-century Almoravid reformist and educational movement ensured that the region’s Muslims would predominantly follow Sunni Islam as defined by the Maliki school of law and ʿAshari theology. By the time the Almohad empire succeeded the Almoravid in the 12th century, important centers of Islamic scholarship were emerging in major trading towns in the Sahara and along the Senegal River. The expansion of Sufi thought and practice, the arrival of the Arabic-speaking Banu Hassan, and the subsequent development of political entities known as emirates occurred in ensuing centuries and played a part in the genesis of a social structure that valorized the Arabic language, the study of Islam, and claims of descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The arrival of European merchants in the 15th century and the subsequent colonization of the region by the French led to rapid changes in the economic and cultural bases of political authority and social hierarchy, with colonial policy largely valorizing Sufi leaders as political interlocutors and community representatives. Independence from France in 1960 meant the establishment of an Islamic Republic whose laws are based on a mixed legal system of Maliki Islamic and French civil law. The basis of presidential rule is not religious in nature, though presidents have increasingly used a discourse of religion to legitimize their rule in the face of internal political opposition and external threats from extremist groups such as al-Qaʿeda.


The History of Sierra Leone  

Gibril R. Cole

The geographical boundaries of contemporary Sierra Leone resulted from the intense quest for imperial domains by European powers, specifically by Britain and France, during the 19th-century scramble for colonies. However, the country’s history runs deep into the past. While the peoples of the present-day republic did not have a history of large polities, there were, nonetheless, organized states with social, political, and economic structures, some of them based on conventional understandings of relations between the rulers and their peoples. Agricultural production, local, regional, and long-distance commerce facilitated not just economic exchanges, but also cross-cultural encounters between peoples from near and far. This engendered an integrative process that allowed for population growth and state expansion prior to the arrival of Europeans in the region of West Africa in the 15th century and the subsequent rise of the Atlantic slave trade. While the transatlantic system disrupted the existing political, economic, and social systems, the remarkable resilience of the peoples enabled them to rebound, only to be later subjugated to British colonial rule from 1808 to 1961. British colonialism encountered resistance in one form or another from its initial establishment until 1896, when a civil uprising devolved into a war of attrition between the people of the interior of Sierra Leone and the British colonial state. British rule and control of the colonial economy continued until the post-World War II period, when educated Africans across the continent sought to attain their independence. Sierra Leone’s educated elite organized, albeit along ethno-regional lines, to demand independence, which was granted in 1961. The post-independence experiment in democracy was subverted by political megalomania, the entrenchment of ethno-regionalism, corruption, and frequent military interventions in the state. The use of subaltern youth in the politics of the country by the state ultimately had the effect of producing a group of youths who sought to transform themselves from foot soldiers of the political groups to a military junta through violence, which engulfed the country in a decade-long civil war from 1991 to 2002.


The Indian Ocean and Africa  

Edward A. Alpers

The Indian Ocean has occupied an important place in the history of Africa for millennia, linking the continental land mass to the peoples, products, and ideas of the wider Indian Ocean world (IOW). Central to this relationship are environmental factors, including the biannual operation of monsoon winds, which determined the maritime movement of people, things, and ideas. The earliest of these connections involve the movement of food crops, domestic animals, and commensals both from and into Africa and its offshore islands. From the beginnings of the Current Era, Africa was an important Indian Ocean source of valuable commodities, such as ivory and gold; in more recent times, hardwood products like mangrove poles, and agricultural products like cloves, coconuts, and copra gained economic prominence. Enslaved African labor also had a long history in the IOW, the sources and destinations for the export trade varying over time. In addition, for centuries many different Indian Ocean immigrant communities played important roles as settlers, merchants, sailors, and soldiers. In the realm of culture and ideas, African music, dance, and spiritual concepts accompanied those Africans who were forcibly removed from the continent to the different Indian Ocean lands where they were enslaved. A further indicator of Indian Ocean connectivity is Islam, the introduction of which marks an important watershed in African history. The human settlement of Madagascar marks another significant Indian Ocean connection for Africa. At different times and in different ways, colonial rule—Portuguese, Dutch, Omani, French, and British—tied eastern African territories to India, Arabia, and Southeast Asia. Since regaining independence, African nation-states have established a variety of new linkages to other Indian Ocean states.


The League of Nations, the International Labour Organization, and Slavery in Africa  

Kevin Grant

The League of Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO) turned to the problems of slavery and forced labor in the context of a general program to promote welfare and social justice as the foundations of a lasting peace after World War I. Their initiatives for abolition and labor regulation, global in scope but focused mainly on Africa, were driven forward by humanitarians and defined ultimately by colonial interests. While the colonial powers attempted to induce the League and the ILO to accommodate their coercive labor systems in Africa, they also proved positively responsive to critical international oversight and especially to the charge of slavery. Humanitarianism and imperialism intersected most clearly in the case of Ethiopia, with which the League’s work on slavery effectively began and ended. Although the League’s Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1926, and the ILO’s Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, 1930, had limited constructive effects on colonial labor systems in Africa between the wars, they laid important groundwork in international law for the long-term development of new norms in the rights of labor worldwide.


The Portuguese Slave Trade  

Arlindo Caldeira

Between 1441 and 1444, Portuguese navigators exploring the west coast of Africa captured the first contingents of Africans on the Mauritanian coast and subsequently shipped them to Portugal. Most of them were Muslim Berbers, but there were also individuals among them from sub-Saharan Africa who had been brought to the Barbary Coast by way of the caravan routes. These first slave-raiding expeditions fueled a plan to divert one of the trans-Saharan routes to the coast, which the Portuguese successfully accomplished when trade relations with the Berbers became regular. They built a fortified outpost in the Bay of Arguin, in Mauritania, from where several thousand slaves were sent to Europe between 1448 and the early 16th century. In the meantime, the Portuguese had continued to advance down the coast of Africa and had established commercial relations with the local authorities and merchants in sub-Saharan Africa who were inclined to sell captives, as was the case of the Wolof people in the Senegambia region. The Portuguese monarchy secured monopoly over the slave trade along the African coast with the promulgation of the Papal Bulls (1452–1456). They gave the Portuguese crown authorization to raid and trade exclusively, unlike other European powers that did not enjoy the same privilege. One of King João II of Portugal’s (1481–1495) projects was to establish several trading posts along the African coast, following the example of the fort of Arguin, intended for the trade of slaves. However, this project proved unsuccessful, whereupon the archipelagos of Cabo Verde and São Tomé and Principe assumed a prominent role as entrepot in the trade between Africa and Europe. When the Spanish king authorized a direct connection between the markets of Africa and Central America from 1518 onward, the Cabo Verde and São Tomé islands became the main suppliers of captive labor for the New World throughout most of the 16th century. In the early 17th century, the already very vulnerable Portuguese monopoly collapsed, and the other European monarchies began to compete directly with the Portuguese in the transatlantic trade of human beings. Portuguese slave traders, who had previously preferred the ports between the Senegal River and the Bight of Biafra for captive acquisition during the 17th and 18th centuries, turned their attention to West Central Africa, mainly to what became known as Angola. A bilateral and direct route was established between the port of Luanda (and later, Benguela) and Brazil, to where approximately 10,000 enslaved people were sent every year. After the second half of the 18th century, East African markets also began to supply enslaved Africans to the transatlantic trade. Whereas in Northern Europe, abolitionist movements had been gaining momentum by the turn of the 19th century, both Portugal and Brazil (which became independent in 1822) resisted ending their involvement on the slave trade. Several laws were promulgated during the early 19th century; however, a total ban on the slave trade was only achieved after a series of laws enacted in Portugal between 1836 and 1842 and in Brazil in 1850. Until then, partial restrictions had little effect, resulting only in an intensification of the very lucrative clandestine slave trade.


The Suppression of the Transoceanic Slave Trade  

Hideaki Suzuki

Since the last quarter of the 18th century, the suppression of the transoceanic slave trade had been under way. A popular movement became active in Britain, while a number of US states abolished the trade in the last quarter of the 18th century. Denmark abolished the trade completely in 1803, Britain in 1807, and the United States in 1808. After the Congress of Vienna, the British took the initiative in creating a network of bilateral and multilateral treaties to legalize naval suppression of the slave trade in the Atlantic, and, accordingly, Britain, the United States, France, and Portugal stationed naval squadrons off the African coast. From the 1840s onwards, another network to suppress slave supply was formed with African rulers, those agreements providing in some cases both justification and the practical basis for European territorial expansion in Atlantic Africa. The Europeans’ antislave-trade activity caused the Atlantic African economy to shift toward so-called legitimate commerce, and, since the 1960s, evaluation of that economic transition has been at the core of debate among historians of West Africa. In the 1810s in the Indian Ocean, similar progress toward suppression of the slave trade took place almost simultaneously with that of its Atlantic counterpart, although progress was much quicker in the Atlantic. In fact, the suppression campaign in the Indian Ocean, which began with various treaties concluded by the British with local polities, gathered full force only from the 1860s. Interestingly, in Indian Ocean Africa the relationship between the suppression of the slave trade and imperial territorial occupation was more distant than on Africa’s Atlantic rim. The suppression of the transoceanic slave trade cannot be understood without a multifaceted perspective, because this subject is connected to and so must be integrated with various fields, including naval, political, economic, legal, and social history. The transoceanic slave trade must therefore be located within a much wider context.


The Wisconsin School of African History  

Joseph C. Miller

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been a prominent producer of doctorates in African history since 1963. As of 2017 the institution had granted more than 110 degrees. Philip D. Curtin and Jan Vansina, both pioneers in launching the field, led the program until 1975 and were joined in 1969 by Steven Feierman. Together, they supervised an initial cohort of graduates, several of whom became leaders of the then still-formative field, particularly in its methodological infrastructure, as well as in economic and demographic history, slavery in Africa and the Atlantic slave trade, and medical history. The distinguishing features qualifying a diverse array of individual intellectual trajectories as a coherent “school” include a focus on epistemologically historical approaches anchored in the intellectual perspectives of Africans as historical actors and often also as they engaged broader commercial Atlantic and Indian Ocean and world contexts; smaller numbers of more recent doctorates had subsequently sustained these orientations. Former graduates of the program, William W. Brown, David Henige, and Thomas T. Spear, returned after 1975 to update this framework by bringing social theory and cultural history to bear on the African historical actors at the program’s core. Since 2005, a third generation of faculty members, Neil Kodesh, James Sweet, and Emily Colacci (all students of Wisconsin PhDs teaching at other institutions), have added contemporary approaches to the Wisconsin school’s continuing commitment to Africans’ distinctive epistemologies as they engaged the flows of modern global history. Professionally, Madison graduates have, accordingly, led the ongoing effort to bring Africa in from its initial marginality—as the continent seen as uniquely without a history—into the historical discipline’s core. An aphoristic summary of the Wisconsin legacy might be “Africans’ worlds and Africans in the world.”


Tippu Tip in the Late 19th-Century East and Central Africa  

Stuart Laing

Hamad bin Muhammad al-Murjabi, usually known by his nickname Tippu Tip, was an ivory and slave trader based in Zanzibar, who in the second half of the 19th century, built up wide influence and a strong trading empire in the “Arab Zone” west of Lake Tanganyika. He accompanied and assisted a number of European explorers in the region and was recruited by Leopold II, king of the Belgians, to be governor of Stanley Falls, supervising the area that became the eastern province of the Congo Free State. He was contracted by Stanley to supply men and guns for the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition but had a falling out with him when the expedition ran into difficulties. In his closing years, having accumulated wealth from his ivory trading, he lived in comfort in Zanzibar but had to watch from the sidelines in retirement, as the sultan was deprived of his mainland possessions by the British and the Germans, Zanzibar itself became a British protectorate, and the Arabs were ejected from their Zone by the acquisitive (Belgian) Congo Free State. Tippu Tip’s life covered a period witnessing huge changes in East and Central Africa, as well as touching on aspects of East African and Indian ocean trading (notably, the ivory, slave, and cloves trades), and of exploration and discovery.


Trans-Atlantic Trade in African Captives, Enslaved Africans in the Americas, and the Industrial Revolution in England  

Joseph Inikori

The Industrial Revolution in England has remained the most debated subject in economic history. The debate has moved in a circle—the growth of trade (the “commercial revolution”), especially overseas trade, occupied the center stage of explanations from the nineteenth century to World War II; the pendulum shifted to inward-looking explanations between 1950 and the mid-1980s; the circle was completed in the late 1980s, when overseas trade began to be the dominant causal factor, once again. There was hardly any room for the contribution of the trans-Atlantic trade in African captives and the enslavement of Africans in the Americas in inward-looking explanations. Once it was convincingly demonstrated that inward-looking explanations are not consistent with historical reality, the contribution of enslaved Africans in the Americas to the growth of the Atlantic economy and the central role of the latter in the Industrial Revolution became realistically demonstrable. However, more recently, a fascinating argument based on British high wages and cheap energy (coal) appears to bring in a variant of the inward-looking arguments of decades ago through the back door. Comparative study of the evidence from England’s counties makes it abundantly clear the counties where the Industrial Revolution occurred (Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire, in particular) exploited their general poverty and initial low wages to capture the rapidly growing slave-based Atlantic economy (initially secured by British naval power and protected with mercantilist policies) at the expense of the erstwhile more developed southern counties, whose initial high wages may have worked against them. Cheap energy was not important in the eighteenth-century developments in the leading counties; its importance was to help sustain continuing growth in the nineteenth century.


Women in the Gambia  

Catherine Cymone Fourshey

A predominantly rural territory with few urban centers historically, the Gambia holds little in the way of well-known luxury resources commonly discussed in studies of western Africa. People of the region, in particular women, have exploited both riverine and oceanic food and material resources. The limited scholarship available on Gambian women reveals they have been essential to those endeavors contributing to economy, politics, society, and family institutions. Often by pursuing seemingly less-lucrative endeavors, women have been prominent actors innovating production and acquisition techniques as well as product uses in this mixed agricultural and aquatic economy, from precolonial to contemporary times. Despite few raw materials or luxury resources, and in certain contexts great limits on their authority, women of the Gambia River region were central to economic life historically, developing household food production and trading their surplus agricultural, aquatic, and manufactured goods. In different eras and contexts, Gambian women have been agricultural innovators and technologists; catchers, processors, and traders of aquatic resources; merchants of manufactured and crafted items; and educators. In essence, they created intellectual, economic, and artisanal opportunities for themselves and others in their communities. These activities allowed women to influence and propel economic and political agendas over time. In particular, women have been credited with critical developments in rice production technologies going back at least to the 16th century, though women’s expertise in this realm likely has much deeper historical roots. This knowledge and set of skills related to rice agriculture made Mandinka women of the Gambia River region critical to West Africa’s Upper Guinea coast and also to life in the Americas as enslaved producers. Mandinka women and men became a large demographic represented in southeastern US plantations and communities because of their well-developed techniques in rice cultivation. Gambian women significantly influenced the eastern and western Atlantic worlds. The modern-day nation of The Gambia, which achieved independence in 1965, is a relatively small territory hugging the banks of Gambia River for a narrow fifteen miles from the north and south banks. Starting 300 miles inland to the east (upriver), the river flows west into the Atlantic Ocean (downriver). Looking back in time at this region bordering the river, it is important to consider Gambian women’s lives over time in the context of both centralized and non-centralized political units. In the orbit of centralized states such as Ghana (4th–13th centuries), Takrur (9th–14th centuries), Mali (13th–15th centuries), and Jolof (14th–16th centuries), women (and men) negotiated shifting expectations over time. Certainly Gambian women have been born into, circulated among, or married within several local cultural and linguistic traditions that include Aku, Bambara, Fula, Jola, Mandinka, Manjago, Serahulle, Serer, and Wollof. However, scholars have written more about women and gender for these groups in neighboring countries. Non-centralized political and social affiliations typically provided women a great deal of authority and autonomy. However, most positions and statuses women were privy to historically were reshaped and often greatly diminished from the 19th century onward due to processes of the slave trade, Islamization, and European colonialization. With the rise of Atlantic-world trade small numbers of coastal Gambian River women expanded their spheres of influence and wealth by forming both marital and economic alliances with Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British men. By the 20th century a number of women pursued various forms and levels of education in efforts to increase their opportunities in the social, political, and economic arenas. In essence, in each historical era women of the Gambia River have sought out knowledge, expertise, and skills in order to achieve their ambitions regardless of the political, religious, or social order dominant at the time.


Women in West African History  

Barbara Cooper

Across West Africa up to the 19th century, titled positions for women ensured that women’s interests could be voiced and their disputes regulated. Women often had major roles as brokers and intermediaries in trade centers along the Saharan and Atlantic littorals, contributing to the emergence of powerful Euro-African families. Nevertheless, women were particularly vulnerable to the depredations of the trans-Saharan and Atlantic slave trades. Because female labor was so highly valued, female slaves were more expensive than male slaves. The history of women in West Africa has been characterized by marked differences by ecological zone. Those differences have been deepened by Islamic influences in the North and by different experiences under French, British, and Portuguese rule. With the decline in the Atlantic trade and the growing emphasis upon commodity production, the demand for female labor in agriculture and in processing rose. Under colonial rule, the loss of slave labor was partially offset by increasing demands upon the labor of wives. Women mediated demands upon their labor through colonial courts, with some success in the early decades of the 20th century. Later courts and administrators supported patriarchal controls upon women in the interests of order and a smoothly running economy. Women’s control over their traditional means of accumulating wealth through farming, cloth production, and specialized crafts was typically undermined as economies shifted to emphasize cash crop production and tree crops in particular. Women nevertheless could flourish in market trade and could sometimes gain control over new niches in the economy. The growth of colonial infrastructure had contradictory implications. Women’s traditionally important roles as queens, priestesses, and ritual specialists declined in importance. At the same time, schooling gave some women access to new means of gaining income and prestige as teachers and medical practitioners.


Women’s Emancipation from Slavery in Africa in the 19th and 20th Centuries  

Patricia van der Spuy

Women were the majority of enslaved people in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries. Slavery was transformed and expanded in the context of so-called “legitimate commerce” that followed the abolition of oceanic slave trading. Abolition proclamations followed, in British colonies in the 1830s, and elsewhere from the 1870s through much of the 20th century, but abolition did not equate to freedom. Gender was at the heart of emancipation everywhere. Colonial merchants and officials colluded with local male elites to ensure the least disruption possible to the status quo. For these male allies, emancipation was a contradiction in terms for women, because masculine authority and control over women was assumed. In many regions, it was difficult for Europeans to distinguish between marriage, pawnship, and slavery. Women engaged strategically with colonial institutions like the courts over such distinctions to assert some form of control over their own lives, labor, and bodies. Where slavery and marriage were categorically distinct, again women might engage with Western gender stereotypes of marriage to extricate themselves from the authority of former slaveholders, or they might withdraw their labor by fleeing from the farms. Whereas for Europeans women were ideally defined as subservient wives within nuclear families, for many women themselves motherhood and access to their children were key to struggles toward emancipation. Women’s decisions about their emancipation were influenced by many factors, including whether or not they were mothers, if they were born into slavery or enslaved as children or adults, their experiences of coercion and cruelty including sexual violence, their status within the slaveholding, and their relationships of dependency and support. Topography and location mattered; urban contexts offered different kinds of post-slavery opportunity for many, and access to land and other economic opportunities and limitations were critical. The abolition of slavery by European colonial officials did not emancipate women, but it did provide the context in which some women might negotiate or claim their own rights to freedom as they defined it—which in some cases meant walking away from systems of involuntary servitude. Some women engaged colonial officers and institutions directly to demand a change in status, whereas others decided to stay in relationships that, in many cases, were subtly redefined.


Zanj Revolt in the Abbasid Caliphate (Iraq)  

Adam Ali

In 869, slaves, mostly of African origin, revolted in Southern Iraq against their masters, living mainly in the city of Basra, and against the Abbasid caliphate. The slaves, referred to as Zanj in the sources, rebelled due to the harsh conditions under which they lived. They worked on large plantations where they were primarily employed in reclaiming land by removing the nitrous topsoil to make it arable. They toiled under terrible working conditions, received little sustenance, and suffered cruel and harsh treatment at the hands of their overseers. The rebellion was incited and led by Ali ibn Muhammad, a mysterious charismatic leader who was neither a slave nor a native of the marshy regions where he launched the movement that would cause the central authorities so much trouble for a period of 15 years. Ali ibn Muhammad and his band of followers attacked the plantations where the slaves worked and freed thousands of them. He promised the slaves that he would lead them to victory, wealth, and power. He also promised that he would treat them with respect and dignity and that he would never betray them. Ali ibn Muhammad and his followers established a polity in Southern Iraq and the region of Ahwaz (in Southwestern Iran). They constructed their capital, al-Mukhtara, deep in the marshes. The rebels utilized the marshes to conduct a guerilla war against their enemies. They defeated several armies sent by the local authorities in Basra and drove back caliphal forces sent to subdue them from Samarra and Baghdad. The Zanj were only crushed when the caliphate focused a considerable amount of its military and resources on subduing the revolt, eventually pushing the rebels back to their capital. Even after the rebel capital was besieged, it took the caliphal armies 2 years to capture al-Mukhtara. The rebellion took a heavy toll on the caliphate. The damage done to the economy, agriculture, and trade was devastating. Thousands lost their lives, irrigation systems were destroyed, and countless villages were abandoned. Even major cities such as Basra and Wasit were taken and sacked by the rebels, leaving much of the region devastated and depopulated. The caliphate suffered from losses of revenue and prestige and became further fragmented with regional dynasties and a rival caliphate rising to control much of its territory, leaving the Abbasid caliphs with little actual power beyond the capital.


Zubair Pasha  

Scopas Poggo

Zubair Pasha, also known as Zubair Rahma al-Mansur, was a Ja’aliyin: descendants of the Arabs from Arabia who immigrated to Egypt in the 13th century and settled along the Nile in Nubia. The Ja’aliyin and their Nubian counterparts, the Danaqla and Shayqiyya, engaged in agriculture along the Nile before the Turco-Egyptian invasion of Bilad al-Sudan (land of the blacks) in 1820. Equipped with European weapons, the Egyptians imposed their hegemony on Arab, Nubian, and black people who inhabited regions along the Blue and White Niles. Muhammad Ali, the new viceroy of Egypt, wanted to declare independence from the Turkish Ottoman Empire and establish a modern government in Egypt using a European system of government, economy, and military technology. This could only be realized by having access to mineral, human, and animal resources in the Sudan. Thus, Turco-Egyptian soldiers and officials and various European, Egyptian, Syrian, and northern Sudanese Arabs and Nubians ventured to southern Sudan in the period 1839–1885. Sailing boats, steamers, camels, and horses gave these foreigners access to various parts of southern Sudan: Upper Nile, Equatoria, and Bahr al-Ghazal Provinces. The early search for slaves gave way to the acquisition of ivory, which was abundant and fetched lucrative profits in Egypt. As numerous elephants were hunted, the amount of ivory dwindled. Hence, these wealthy merchants together with the jellaba (Arab petty merchants) resorted to the massive enslavement of the African people in southern Sudan and beyond.