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African Sailors in the Atlantic World  

Emma Christopher

African sailors changed the world. West African Lébou, Kru, Fante, and many others were highly skilled at crossing the rough surf of the Atlantic seaboard and had elaborate trading networks along the coast. When Europeans began visiting the continent, they lacked the same skills and so hired these canoe men to carry them safely to shore and load and unload their cargo. African mariners were employed by slave ships to convey captives out to the deep water. Appropriating their skills, Europeans also engaged such men to go on longer voyages as deep-sea sailors, cooks, and translators. Many other Africans carried boating experience with them into slavery, knowledge that could later help them to escape and make lives for themselves in one of the most egalitarian professions of the time. African sailors served in navies around the Atlantic world; they became pirates and privateers, hunted whales, and made voyages of discovery. The African diaspora, born on the rolling waves of the Atlantic, became closely tied to the sea as both the scene of slavery and its fight for liberation.