Lesson 5) Depths of Despair – African Slave Trade

What is this? You are all much quieter than usual today. I suppose that is appropriate given the nature of our topic today. We will be covering the African Slave Trade, the historical aspects of both the Muggles and wizardkind. Before I begin, there is one thing I wish to make extremely clear. This will be difficult for some of you. Others may not find it as difficult to sit through this lesson, but if you need to excuse yourself for any reason, please get up quietly and leave the room. I will not hold it against you and we can discuss an alternative method to help you learn the material. I want you all to be comfortable, even when discussing disheartening history.

With that said, it is time to begin.

History of Slavery in Africa

Before we begin discussing the transatlantic African slave trade, I believe it is necessary to bring to your attention that slavery was not a new concept at the start of the African Slave Trade. It had existed in Africa since ancient times, being most prominent in some of the kingdoms we learned about in Lesson Two. In Africa, an individual could become a slave to pay off a debt or pay for a crime. Once an individual was enslaved, they lost the protection of their family and their place in society.

The treatment of slaves in Africa varied widely. We have accounts from Ottobah Cuguano, a former slave, who remembers being well fed and treated well. However, other slaves, such as Olaudah Equiana reported of situations in which slaves were treated as little more than animals. In larger and more civilized areas of Africa, some slaves worked in government administration, with royal officials, as domestic servants, or agricultural labourers. Even more were sent to the gold mines in West Africa, where they were used to mine and weigh gold dust -- processes that killed over 2000 people.

I’m sure you can imagine from previous discussions in this class that the slaves used in African societies were not often from the same ethnical or cultural background as their owners. Slaves were taken as prisoners of war, primarily, or were enslaved in payment for a debt, or even as punishment for a crime they had committed. Out of all these reasons for enslavement, prisoners of war were the most common slaves seen. African slavery existed on a relatively small scale, enough to supply the demands of the continent itself, but it wasn’t long before demands began to come from the outside, demands that if they tried to resist, resulted in more death.

Triangular Trade

You should already have a good idea of how important trade is and has been to a number of countries, including Europe, Asia (the Silk Road), and to the ancient Kingdoms of Africa. However, while trade amongst individual countries and continents is effective, the trade routes known for their involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade are known as a triangular trading system. This term indicates trade among three ports or general regions and evolves when one particular region has exports that another region wishes to import. It is an effective method for rectifying trade imbalances. Sadly, the best known triangular trading system is the transatlantic slave trade, which operated at its peak from the 16th to 19th centuries, though the trade of African slaves to other countries had truly begun in 1430 with the Dutch. This trading system carried slaves, cash crops, and other manufactured goods between West Africa, the Caribbean, the American colonies, and Europe. Originally, the African Slave Trade revolved around the use of slaves to grow the cash crops, which were then exported to Europe. Then Europe used the funds they made from the cash crops to purchase more slaves who were brought back to America through the Middle Passage, the stage in which millions of African slaves were shipped to the Americas.

Accumulation of Slaves

We cannot blame the Europeans and Portuguese alone for the transatlantic slave trade. While there was significant fear of being taken away by foreigners, one of the most common occurrences of slave accumulation came from fellow Africans. Slaves were taken from their homes in a number of ways. As we’ve mentioned earlier, it wasn’t uncommon for the losing village of a tribal raid or war to be taken as slaves and forced to serve their new masters. As the transatlantic slave trade grew, many of the defeated villagers were walked to the western coast of Africa where they were shipped to the Americas for manual labor. This act caused the destruction of thousands of families, as the men and boys would be sent to America while their wives and daughters were left behind for a life of servitude.

However, military and politico-religious struggles also accounted for a vast number of Africans who were deported to the Americas. Several important wars resulted in massive enslavement, both in the export to other nations, but also the continuous enslavement within Africa itself.  The Akan wars occurred in the late seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century. They consisted of a struggle for power among the states in the Gold Coast. The Akwamu, Akyem, Denkyira, Fante, and Asante tribes battled for more than half a century for this region and the richness of resources that it contained, but eventually, the Asante emerged victorious.  Having defeated a number of surrounding tribes, the Asante villagers had more slaves than they did their own people and quickly began to sell their fellow countrymen to European slave traders to take through the Middle Passage.

At the time, there was an imperial power that had developed during the early fifteenth century by defeating the Bariba and Nupe tribes in the north in addition to other states in the south. By 1650, the Oyo Empire had expanded southwest to the Atlantic coast and become part of the Atlantic Coast’s triangular trade system. Dealing primarily with slave exchange, Oyo was able to acquire much-needed foreign exchange. However, like many kingdoms, Oyo fell under attack by those it had conquered. In the sixteenth century, this empire became more militarized, which became the foundation of their army. Of course, one of the many ways for the Oyo to obtain horses was from Europe. This once again increased the amount of slave trading along the western coast of Africa, focused specifically around Benin. Oyo became wealthy from the slave trade, but it did not last long, ending in the late seventeenth century due to civil wars within the empire over the vast treasury.  

One of the darkest times for wizardkind in Africa was the Oyo empire's dealing in the slave trade. For those who remember, Bohicon, Benin housed perhaps the smallest wizarding community in Africa. The slave trade was right on their front door and they were far from safe. While the foreign slave traders may not have realized that they were receiving witches and wizards with incredible powers, the magical African slave traders did. One such man, by the name of Cakaza Ncelebana worked his way up into the Oyo Empire due to his alleged ability to track down large numbers of slaves in very short amounts of time. Of the two wizarding villages in Bohicon, Fikka was the one affected most. In 1647, Fikka was attacked by a group of rogue wizards, led by Ncelebana, who set numerous homes alight. Many witches and wizards at this time had plenty of experience in protecting themselves from something so silly as fire, but what they didn’t know was that there were approximately 30 wizards waiting outside to remove their wands and take them as slaves. If you’ll recall, Aboikouma, the other wizarding village, was not too far away and hearing the ruckus, the other witches and wizards of that village came to offer their assistance. There was a great duel that night, known as the Night of Suiv, or Night of the Traitors Peak.  Accordings to records found by magical historians, nearly one-fourth of the Bohicon wizarding community died that night, and two-thirds were captured and taken as slaves back to a ship on the western port.

This band of rogue wizards, known as the Olamilekin, a name we now know translates roughly to “my wealth is beginning,” were magical African slave traders. They traversed the continent of Africa searching for the wizarding communities that had formed at the time. Ouagadougou, the wizarding community in Burkina Faso, was another city that underwent utter devastation when it came to the slave trade. Although the city itself was not destroyed, many in the city named the period between sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Depths of Despair due to magical families vanishing in the night, never to be seen or heard from again. We don’t have any record of how this happened, but most historians believe that it was the work of the Olamilekin.

Africans were also enslaved through non-military means. Judicial and religious sanctions and punishments removed alleged criminals, people accused of witchcraft (many Muggles, some wizardkind), and social misfits through enslavement and banishment. Rebellious family members were expelled from their homes and sold into slavery sometimes by their own families, specifically children, were even sold to pay for collateral debt. However, most children were kept in Africa, not sold to the Europeans because they had a lower chance of enduring the grueling conditions of travel.

As the slave trade destroyed families and communities, people tried to protect their loved ones. Various governments and communal institutions developed policies that limited the trade’s impact. Although this worked for a short time, man’s greed is difficult to stop in such massive amounts. People were not taken without a fight, however. Many smaller villages or towns offered to exchange themselves for their loved ones while others tried to have their family freed even after the ship had left port. Resistance took a number of forms including attacks on slave ships, ports, and forts where the slaves were held. Resistance was also formed at higher levels as many small centralized states attempted to resist the slave trade by creating secret societies, much like the Underground Railroad that was seen in America. Unfortunately, it did not do as much as they had hoped since Asante and Oyo were small, even by modern standards, when compared to Europe and the American colonies. 

Journey Through the Middle Passage

There is one more topic I would like to cover before we end today. Generally, slave ships spent several months traveling to different parts of the coast to buy their cargo.  Luckily for the magical slavers, but unfortunate for our magical slaves, the ships used to transport our fellow wizardkind often moved at a rate faster than that of normal ones. Magical slave ships could reach their destination within three months, maybe less. The captives who were being sold from the mainland were hardly in good shape before they boarded, often suffering from both physical and mental abuse. This did not stop the slave traders -- who saw the individuals as nothing more than an object -- from stripping them naked to “inspect” from head to toe by the captain or other members of the crew.

Aside from being forced to be on a ship for months, naked and surrounded by others, the conditions aboard the ship fell far beyond being inhumane. Men were packed together below the decks, secured by leg irons so they couldn’t crouch, lie down properly, or move.  If you had to go to the restroom, you went where you were lying. If you became seasick, you would try to turn on your side so as to not choke on your own vomit. Women and children were kept separately but endured months of sexual abuse and violence from the crew. The air was foul, the heat was oppressive, and conditions left slaves open to the risk of numerous diseases. Epidemics flooding the ships were frequent and led to the death of millions of slaves. It is estimated that approximately one in five Africans died per day in one slave ship.

Unfortunately for wizardkind, conditions upon magical slave ships were not much better. In fact, some magical historians believe it was much worse. Magical slave traders were aware of the power of those they carried aboard their ships and for this reason, there were a number of magical precautions set in place, but what they didn’t account for was the brokenness of the slaves. You may be wondering...why not fight? They had magic, surely they could have done something! At the time of their capture, many witches and wizards had their wands not only seized but completely destroyed. Containment devices were often charmed with script-based charming, an effective and very difficult type of magic to break. Also, remember that these slave traders were not amateurs. Many magical historians believe that they used Confusing Concoctions and some even believe that one of the ways slave traders were able to keep wizarding beings at rest in such large groups during the journey was by prescribing the Draught of Living Death, putting them into such deep sleep that they couldn’t have escaped even if they had wanted to.

With that, students, I will end even though there is plenty of history to continue to cover on this topic. You have my apologies for ending class before the midterm with such terrible information. If you require some time to process, please do so until you are ready. The midterm consists of 30 questions. I wish you the best of luck. 

Original lesson written by Professor Samuel Becker
Image credits here, here, and here

Join us as we continue our journey, exploring the various magical histories and cultures across the world! In Year Five of History of Magic, we will dive into the rich magical culture of Africa, most of which has been kept secret for many years. We will be exploring the Ancient Kingdoms, Wizarding Communities, learn about the horrors of the African slave trade in addition to the schools and government of Africa. I look forward to traveling alongside you this term!
Course Prerequisites:
  • HOM-401

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