Why Did Black Africans Invent Slavery?

BBC: Black on Black Slavery

Human slavery originated as a by-product of tribal warfare in ancient Africa.

Tens of thousands of years ago in ancient Africa, tribal warfare was a way of life. The biggest problem for the conquering tribe was what to do with the conquered people who survived the conquest. Human sacrifice and a number of “killing games” were always big hits with the warriors and their families, but over the years clever tribal entrepreneurs among the victors began to perceive that some of these conquered peoples could be put to productive uses. Young women were kept as concubines or house servants, strong men were used for hard labor or as herders, and older/stronger children were used for a wide range of uses.

Women constituted the majority of early African slaves. In addition to agricultural work, female slaves carried out other economic functions, such as trading and cotton spinning and dyeing. They also performed domestic chores, such as preparing food, washing clothes, and cleaning. Powerful African men kept female slaves as wives or concubines, and in many societies these women stood as symbols of male wealth. Male slaves typically farmed and herded animals. Those who belonged to wealthy families and especially of ruling lineages of states also worked as porters and rowers, and learned crafts such as weaving, construction, and metalwork. New slaves were sometimes given menial tasks while experienced slaves did the more difficult and dangerous work, such as mining and quarrying.

Slavery in Ancient Africa

In historical times, the practice of slavery was recorded on clay tablets in economic records discovered in ancient ruins of Sumeria and referred to in the Epic of Gilgamesh and in the Hammurabi Code of Laws. In ancient cultures such as Sumer and Egypt, slavery became just another economic activity and slaves became just another property like goats or wheat.

The practice of slavery thrived in ancient Greece, ancient Rome, China, the Muslim conquests, and in many of the European colonies of the 16th through the 19th centuries. When slavery was finally abolished by European and North American nations, many of the high chiefs of black Africa were angry at the “albinos” for abolishing the trade.

King Gezo of Dahomey said in the 1840s:

The slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth…the mother lulls the child to sleep with notes of triumph over an enemy reduced to slavery…

Like the Bambara Empire to the east, the Khasso kingdoms depended heavily on the slave trade for their economy. A family’s status was indicated by the number of slaves it owned, leading to wars for the sole purpose of taking more captives. This trade led the Khasso into increasing contact with the European settlements of Africa’s west coast, particularly the French.

Benin grew increasingly rich during the 16th and 17th centuries on the slave trade with Europe; slaves from enemy states of the interior were sold, and carried to the Americas in Dutch and Portuguese ships. The Bight of Benin’s shore soon came to be known as the “Slave Coast”. In 1807, the UK Parliament passed the Bill that abolished the trading of slaves.

The King of Bonny (now in Nigeria) was horrified at the conclusion of the practice:

We think this trade must go on. That is the verdict of our oracle and the priests. They say that your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.

History of Slavery

Black African nations relied on profits from European buyers of slaves in order to finance much of their personal and tribal consumption. After Europeans and Americans abandoned the African slave trade, the economies of many African nations suffered.

Buying and selling of human beings among the Igbo had been going on long before the Europeans arrived. People became slaves as punishment for crime, payment for debts, or prisoners of war.

The successful sale of adults was considered an exploit for which a man was hailed by praise singers, akin to exploits in wrestling, war, or in hunting animals like the lion.

Nigerian Traditions of Slavery

Why the African Invention of Slavery Was Better Than Some Other Practices

In Pre-Columbian America, the treatment of war captives was worse than the African practice of slavery. Before Europeans came to America, captives were either murdered, sacrificed to the gods, or eaten as meat. It seems an odd thing to say, but the introduction of African-style slavery to the new world was an improvement over the native American way of treating captives — at least for most of the populations.

Of course, in ancient Africa before black Africans invented slavery, similar barbaric ways of treating war captives were common. The Africans were able to invent slavery for themselves, most native Americans had to have the concept of slavery — as a replacement for human sacrifice, mass murder, and cannibalism — introduced to them by outsiders.

The Shameful Historical Ignorance of the Woke

The post-modern neo-Marxist rabble known as “the Woke” make a great caterwauling over the historical fact of white Europeans overseeing the use of black slaves in their colonies and new countries — although such practices were abolished 150 years ago or longer. This same vocal rabble seems ignorant of the fact that black Africans invented slavery of other black Africans many tens of thousands of years ago — and the practice of black-on-black enslavement continues in many African nations to this day.

A thorough reading of history demonstrates that people of virtually all social and ethnic groups have been enslaved by a wide range of other groups, at one time or another. But there can be no doubt that black Africans were first to the party, and that it was their fellow blacks — although members of other tribal groups — who were (and still are) the primary victims.

Anyone who is truly concerned about the fate of human slaves, would first of all pursue justice for those who are currently enslaved. Next they would pursue justice for living survivors of slavery. Finally, they would pursue steps to ensure that more humane alternatives to slavery were made available in every country for those who might otherwise find themselves in servitude.

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3 Responses to Why Did Black Africans Invent Slavery?

  1. bob sykes says:

    Hunter gatherers also kept slaves. The plains Indians and the Yanomami are the best recorded examples, but slavery must go back tens of thousands of years.

    Do chimps keep slaves?

    • bob sykes says:

      PS. The term “servant” in the Old and New Testament means “slave.” The Iron Age and Hellenistic Age Jews were slave owners, at least the rich were. Most of the slaves were non-Jews.

      • alfin2101 says:

        Hebrews, not Jews. The term “Jews” did not find wide use until the 18th century AD/CE. And the numbers of Hebrews that might have been affluent enough to own slaves was tiny to the point of insignificance, compared to the numbers of slaves in Africa, China, Greece, Rome, Carthage, and the later Muslim caliphates.

        As for “Jews,” that is a term without a clear meaning and a mix of peoples without a clear origin.

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