A Scholarly Discussion of
African Involvement in the Slave Trade
on H-Slavery (1997)


Author's Subject: Query: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Mon, 17 Feb 1997 11:59:06 -0600

A friend and I have been discussing the slave trade and the role of
our African brothers in the tragedy of American slavery. My contention is
that they had a different concept of slavery than that practiced in America.
She believes that while that was true in the beginning, that it was not true
after a while because slave trading went on for so long that some Africans
had to know what was really going on. Since I can't imagine American slave
traders openly sharing this information with African Chiefs, I have trouble
imagining the information route that would have enlightened them. However,
I have read articles which state that at some point, tribes would raid other
tribes for the sole purpose of selling their captives to slave traders. It
was because of this aggressive entrepreneurial spirit in and around Dahomey
that it became the major place of export (and that the people/chiefs of
Dahomy became rich). So our questions are:

1. Were Africans ever aware of the conditions to which they sent their
brothers and sisters?

2. If so, when, and how were they made aware?

3. If so, what documentation verifies that they knew?

Thanks in advance for your responses.

Debbie


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Mon, 17 Feb 1997 17:03:12 -0600

> 1. Were Africans ever aware of the conditions to which they sent their
> brothers and sisters?
> 2. If so, when, and how were they made aware?
> 3. If so, what documentation verifies that they knew?

These questions deserve a longer answer than I will be able to give. In
brief, I don't think that Africans ever knowingly sent their "brothers
and sisters" into the conditions of American slavery. But that is
because they did not see all Africans as "brothers and sisters." Rather,
they saw them as enemies and strangers. The notion of a pan-African
identity is a relatively modern phenomonenon and results from
anti-imperial movements of the 20th century, rather than anti-slavery
ideas from the transatlantic slave period.

We know that many Africans and their descendents became slave owners in
the new world and even ran New World-style plantations in Africa in the 19th
century with black laborers. See, for a primary source, Equiano's
Travels (who, after purchasing his own freedom, bought slaves to set up
an agricultural settlement on the Mosquito Coast) and the several books
reviewed in the April 1992 issue of the American Historical Review by
Janet Ewald: "Slavery in Africa and the Slave Trades from Africa" for
further reading on the subject. Much of John Thornton's work is also
illuminating for giving insight into the cultural and political views of
Africans, especially those of Kongo and Angola.

In short, for "race conciousness" to develop among Africans, they needed
to see themselves as oppressed as a racial group. This did not occur
during the period of the transatlantic slave system because Africans were
largely in control of the slave trade in Africa. (Some exceptions:
self-sale or pawnship during times of famine.)

Sue Peabody
Asst. Prof. of History
Washington State University Vancouver


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 05:35:07 -0600

I would amend the first response to this query by noting that current
African "memory" of slave-trading, much of which is coded as beliefs about
witchcraft (i.e. becoming rich through appropriating other people's life
forces) indicates a strong sense of identity (human, if not racial) between
slavers and their victims, even if it did not inhibit slaving.

Ralph A. Austen
Professor of African History
University of Chicago


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Tue, 18 Feb 1997 11:58:45 -0600

There are a host of issues here that are not easily untangled in a short
message. Here I take a very cursory stab at some problems raised by the
recent discussion of what I call "moralities of enslavement."

1. Perhaps a majority of the Africans exported across the Atlantic were
enslaved within the continent as war captives. (This is the general
conclusion of scholars who work on the northern part of the West African
coast--eg. Lovejoy, Manning, Law, Inikori, Curtin). The captors in such
cases tended to be those well placed socially and politically to control
and benefit from the institutions of conflict. Because war generated so
many captives, there is a degree of validity to the claim that enslavers
were not selling kin (but see #6 below).

2. In certain demographically significant areas, however, the pattern of
enslavements exterior to polities (kingdoms, chiefdoms, kin groups,
etc.) did not hold so well. This was clearly the case in parts of
Angola that Joseph Miller describes in his unparalleled *Way of Death*
and in central Madagascar (a trade to the Indian Ocean plantation
islands of Mauritius and Réunion--the subject of my own work). Much the
same pattern of enslavement within moral communities can be extended to
East Africa during the nineteenth century (trade primarily to the east
African coast and into the Indian Ocean). When kings/chiefs/elites
turned inward on their subjects to generate slaves they were selling
people with whom they had moral relationships of various sorts. Selling
into the Atlantic system usually meant a "conversion" (read, perhaps,
"perversion") of social institutions and re-definitions of civic virtue
around which there were all kinds of struggles that still have to be
properly studied (limitations of data make it very difficult to get at
these struggles, especially because most enslavements took place on the
inward moving "frontier" of violence and enslavement where Europeans and
their contemporary documentation seldom reached or learned about).

3. When elites enslaved within their own moral communities (at whatever
level these are defined: lineage, extended family, chiefdom, kingdom)
people were suddenly at risk of enslavement in a host of more or less
unpredictable ways tied to their bundle of various (usually unequal)
social relationships. The greatest security tended to derive from close
kin at times like these. For example, when an individual was enslaved
by someone else within a moral community, it was often possible to
attempt either to redeem that individual or to exchange him or her with
another slave. When slaves were created within moral communities,
common people faced pressures to get involved in enslavements to protect
themselves and their closest communities. These are the situations in
which kidnapping flourished. The perpetrators were less socially well
placed, and the victims ever closer to home. To me, this is the key
tragedy of the slave trade: in order to save themselves many had to turn
to enslavement. This cycle led to quick political disintegration and
reductions in the size of communities of social security.

4. Questions about whether Africans who enslaved others knew about the
living conditions of their victims on the other side of the Atlantic
presuppose a sort of "free market in enslavement" reasoning. The
reasoning is that people enslaved because certain inhibitions were
overweighed by the monetary gain possible, but if enslavers only knew
what their victims were going through in the Americas their inhibitions
would be raised and they would no longer make slaves. This reasoning
fails to take into account the long and complicated chain of debt and
coercion that often led to enslavements and assumes that Africans who
enslaved made their calculations based upon a liberal economic set of
values. Put simply, it is unlikely that enslavers' behavior would have
changed whatever the nature of their information about the fate of their
captives across the ocean. To claim otherwise, we would be making of
enslavers super humans who, unlike virtually the rest of humanity, were
concerned to think globally and act locally. Acting locally on global
information is quite virtuous and, I should think, we would expect
enslavers to be the least virtuous in this respect.

5. Some very interesting research concerning Africans moving about the
Atlantic world in the 17th-19th centuries is currently being conducted.
I believe we will learn that a great deal more information crisscrossed
the Atlantic than we have heretofore thought. Certainly research in the
Americas has taught us that slave owners were often very conscious about
the origins of their African slaves and the kinds of skills they brought
with them. The questioner is correct, however, that with the state of
the available documentation it is very difficult to follow the path and
content of information traveling eastward Across the Atlantic and into
the African interior.

6. True, inhabitants of Africa did not really develop a continental
identity until the end of the slave trade, but the argument that they
were not selling kin, brothers & sisters, or members of their moral
communities is popular but not entirely accurate. Even those who
created slaves from war captives faced certain responsibilities toward
their captives. Codes of war are human institutions of all times and
places. (Often, even the sale of a war captive into the Atlantic system
was a violation of civic virtues that governed the disposal of war
captives--a fact that has not been explored for Africa, in part because
Orlando Patterson in *Slavery and Social Death* has argued that
enslavement of captives was legitimate because it represented a
commutation of a death sentence. This is a post-fact justification by
enslavers, of course, and we should expect there to be other
interpretations of the act of enslaving captives for export sale). In
many ways, virtually all Africans who enslaved (vis-a-vis those who
transported) were selling people with whom they had moral relationships.

7. Slavery and morality is tough territory. Clearly African moralities
of enslavement during the era of the slave trade differ from modern
categorical notions of the immorality of slavery. Some kinds of slavery
and enslavement were considered legitimate, others illigitimate. There
was also clearly a great deal of fluidity in where the line between
legitimacy and illigitimacy was drawn, and clearly, too, the line moved
in favor of enslavers and against the vulnerable over the some 400 years
of the trade. When thinking about the moralities of enslavement we must
also distinguish between the views of the slaves themselves (which
tended to be more categorical against the legitimacy of enslavement) and
those of the communities from which they came. The two cannot be
merged, for while many conditions of enslavement and slavery were
considered legitimate in many African societies, slaves themselves
rarely saw the matter in the same light as their non-slave compatriots.

8. Slavery and the trade were tragedies of astronomical proportions.
Mostly because when we start looking closely, a whole lot of people get
implicated. The tragedy would, perhaps, be less of a burden if the
issues were, literally, black and white. Likewise, the tragedy would be
less of a burden if those who enslaved did so out of "free" choice
because they wanted money and that desire overcame inhibitions. The
fact of the matter is that a lot of people were involved and the reasons
they were involved had a lot to do and the one hand with desire for
power and wealth, and on the other with coercive and unfree social
relationships. To me as a person, that deepens the tragedy to almost
unbearable proportions.

9. To try and understand slavery & the slave trade on African terms and
yet feel through one's own modern sense of morality is a constant
tension. For me, peering into the slave trade cuts to some of my worst
fears about life because I know that such things can happen, and many of
us tend to live with a false sense of security.

Pier M. Larson
Department of History
Penn State University


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 06:51:16 -0600

I have never been sure how best to respond to African-American students
troubled by the fact that Africans sold other Africans into the slave
trade. My colleagues have pointed out that these Africans did not see
themselves as Africans any more than European have ever seen themselves as
Europeans. Europeans have for over a thousand years regularly massacred
each other with increasingly horrible military technologies. Brutality has
been at its worst when people were commmiting atrocties on people like
themselves, i.e. during the wars of religion. How do we explain Ruanda,
where people of the same culture massacred each with incredible brutality
at a time when division between the Hutu and Tutsi were beginning to
breakdown. Or is Ruanda any worse than the former Yugoslavia. Ethnic
cleansing, rape camps, systemtic murder were committed by people whose
families had intermarried, who spoke the same language, were similar
physically, who played football against each other, who went to school
together. Even with the Holocaust, few people comment on the fact that it
took place at a time when most Jews had cut their beards and integrated
themselves into European life, i.e., they were demonized at a time when
they had become almost like everyone else.

Evil is disturbing. A capacity for evil exists in all communities, in
fact, we all possess dark corners in the heart of being. That being said,
in all of the societies mentioned above there were people who at great
risk to themselves, provided refuge for those being victimized or who
simply refused to kill. And there were Africans who refused to sell other
people into slavery. They did not always do well. Those who sold their
neighbours into slavery profitted from their acts more than the murderers
of Bosnia, Ruanda or Nazi Germany.

Martin A. Klein
Department of History
University of Toronto


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Written: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 08:53:16 -0600
Date Posted: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 08:53:16 -0600


> Evil is disturbing. A capacity for evil exists in all communities, in
> fact, we all possess dark corners in the heart of being....
> And there were Africans who refused to sell other
> people into slavery.

There is still a piece missing here. That is, the notion that slavery as
a social institution was "evil" was pretty much the product of the Age of
Enlightenment, and especially the decades of the 1770s and 1780s. As
Orlando Patterson and others have noted, slavery as a SOCIAL INSTITUTION
has existed in a great many societies throughout history. While one
certainly did not relish the status of slaveship, the basic social
legitimacy of that status was rarely questioned in the "pre-modern" world.
One of my goals in my comparative slavery class is to explore the ways in
which New World Slavery differed markedly from Old World Slavery. NWS was
at root an economic institution designed to extract labor, while OWS was a
social institutions designed (often) to enhance the size and strength of
kin networks. As many scholars have noted, the "personhood" of the slave
in NWS was seldom acknowledged (vestiges of Roman law notwithstanding).

This is NOT, by the way, a statement [a la Dinesh D'Souza] that the
European invention of slavery as a "sin" in any way compensates for
Europe's horrendous crime in enslaving Africans in the first place. Yet
it is endlessly ironic that the part of the world which created the most
destructive form of slavery ever known also managed to create the ideology
which led to its demise.

Patrick Rael
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Bowdoin College


Editor's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Mon, 24 Feb 1997 10:19:55 -0600

I am replying to Patrick Rael's statement that "the notion that slavery
as a social institution was "evil" was pretty much the product of the
Age of Enlightenment, and especially the decades of the 1770s and
1780s."

I don't think this is accurate, but the problem is partially one of
language. "Evil" is a very blunt conceptual instrument with which to
dissect the notions of legitimacy and illegitimacy that have surrounded
enslavement in various times and places. What is characteristic about
Enlightenment philosophy is that enslavement came to be seen as
categorically illegitimate under any circumstances, because humans were
believed to be endowed by God, the state, the UN etc. with inalienable
rights to life and liberty ("human" rights).

Yet, every enslaving society maintained a sense of difference among
social categories of persons, and therefore also maintained concepts of
legitimate and illegitimate movement among those categories. Some
enslavements were considered legitimate and others not. It is
demonstrable that considerable numbers of enslavements for the
trans-Atlantic slave trade were the result of behavior communally
considered illegitimate (I am working on this, stay tuned). To claim
that the notion that slavery was "evil" or illegitimate originated only
with the Enlightenment is to remove large parts of humanity from their
own moral universes (very different from Englightenment morality, to be
sure) and to disregard the very real conflicts at points of enslavement
over whether making slaves of particular individuals in particular
circumstances and ways was legitimate or not. For a very generalized
example: when African leaders enslaved their "subjects" they usually
undercut their legitimacy as rulers for violating communal moral codes,
and many of them lost their political support thereby. The successful
enslaving kings were those who could make money off the trade and yet
manage the social conflicts generated by their slaving activities. This
usually meant shifting enslvements from within their own dominions to
making slaves from without.

Finally, Rael's statement also disregards the ideas of slaves
themselves. Should one have the ability to conduct a survey of the some
10 million African persons enslaved for export from Africa what they
thought about their social condiditon, I would be surprised if the great
majority huddled in ships did not find what was happening to them an
illegitimacy, and so because they were operating by their own moral
codes. These moral codes may have suggested to them that their
enslavement in certain African communities was acceptable, but not their
shoving into ships and permanent alienation from kin. We must always
distinguish between the ideas of slaves and non-slaves. Social position
exerts very real influences on philosophy.

I think in the appropriate endeavor of eschewing the projection of
Enlightenment morality into the African past, we must be equally careful
not to suggest that Africans were a moral tabula rasa. To have accepted
slavery under certain circumstances (and in some places in Africa today,
to still continue to accept it) does not mean that very definable and
contested concepts of legitimacy and illigitimacy in enslavement
reigned, and these are manifestations of Africans' own highly developed
and complex moral systems. (A parallel on the other side of the
Atlantic: Because espousers of Enlightenment philosophy such as early
American Presidents held slaves does not at the same time render them
moral tabula rasas, they navigated clear and socially
established/contested moral codes. We now find fault with them, but
they were highly idealistic and moralizing all the same).

Moralities of enslavement are not unique to Enlightenment philosophy; it
is just that Enlightenment philosophy has come to define the dominant
morality of enslavement espoused by international institutions and most
members of this listserv, including myself. Because Africans did not
adhere to Enlightenment concepts of morality does not mean they had none
of their own. This reality is forgotten again and again in the pat
answers to persons struggling with the painful realities of the history
of enslavement. The subtext to these answers reads loud and clear (I
believe very unintentially): we should not worry ourselves now over
enslavements of Africans in times past (i.e. "brothers" selling
"brothers") because Africans had no sense of morality, it meant nothing
to enslave, persons enslaved were "others" with whom enslavers had no
moral relationships or obligations. It is not true; the case is much
more complex than that and is so because, as humans, Afrians are and
were complex and moral beings and capable of violating their own codes,
just like early Enlightment slaveowners.

Pier M. Larson
Department of History
Penn State University


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 09:49:48 -0600

In response to Pier Larson:

> It is demonstrable that considerable numbers of enslavements for the
> trans-Atlantic slave trade were the result of behavior communally
> considered illegitimate (I am working on this, stay tuned).

I would be very interested in this work. I clearly would have been more
accurate to not couch my statement in such general terms, and perhaps to
have posed them as questions rather than answers. And I admit ignorance
concerning the contested morality of enslavement in West Africa. I
mis-spoke when I implied that questioning the basic legitimacy of slavery
in such societies was impossible. I merely wished to highlight the
significance of Enlightenment thought in offering ideological ammunition
(to both whites and blacks alike) to those concerned with destroying the
institution.

> Finally, Rael's statement also disregards the ideas of slaves
> themselves. Should one have the ability to conduct a survey of the some
> 10 million African persons enslaved for export from Africa what they
> thought about their social condiditon, I would be surprised if the great
> majority huddled in ships did not find what was happening to them an
> illegitimacy, and so because they were operating by their own moral
> codes.

This is a point which has always fascinated me, and I clearly should have
raised it as a question rather than a statement of fact. Contestable as
they are, the ideas of scholars as diverse as Eugene Genovese and William
Piersen have suggested that the ideological apparatus helpful for
developing a systemic critique of slavery developed out of Enlightenment
thought. The point is *not* to undermine Africans' capacity for
resistance. Rather, it is to suggest the great power which lay in slaves'
appropriation of "the master's words" in constructing oppositional
critiques. I work on the antebellum North, where retentions of "African"
culture generally were among the lowest in the diaspora. In such a
climate, finding resistance generally means seeking for ways black people
constructed oppositional ideologies out of the cultural material around
them, rather than out of a retained African past. So, again, the point is
to stress the resilience of resistance in the face of tremendous cultural
forces which might have undermined it.

> I think in the appropriate endeavor of eschewing the projection of
> Enlightenment morality into the African past, we must be equally careful
> not to suggest that Africans were a moral tabula rasa.

The argument that Larson seems to reject here is: those who viewed
slavery as a legitimate social institution must not have had "highly
developed and complex moral systems." While I can imagine someone
claiming this, the argument is clearly nonsense. Who would consider
Aristotle, who endorsed the legitimacy of slavery, to be a moral tabula
rasa? I certainly never made such an argument, and upon re-reading my
words I do not believe anyone could legitimately infer it from my post.

> Because Africans did not
> adhere to Enlightenment concepts of morality does not mean they had none
> of their own. The subtext to these answers reads loud and clear (I
> believe very unintentially): we should not worry ourselves now over
> enslavements of Africans in times past (i.e. "brothers" selling
> "brothers") because Africans had no sense of morality, it meant nothing
> to enslave, persons enslaved were "others" with whom enslavers had no
> moral relationships or obligations. It is not true; the case is much
> more complex than that and is so because, as humans,

Larson worries that, in arguing that some societies viewed slavery as a
legitimate social institution, we threaten to present those societies as
moral tabula rasas. Yet this does not logically follow in the least, and
it certainly was not a "sub-text" of my post, intended or unintended. I
never made the dangerous, _a priori_ assumption that an endorsement of the
institution of slavery constitutes a lack of morals. In implying that in
order to be "moral" one must regard slavery as a social evil, such a view
in effect buttresses the very Englightenment values which Larson finds
pernicious. To argue that many societies accepted the basic legitimacy of
slavery (albeit with contestation), one need not argue that those
societies lacked morals. Cultural relativism and sound scholarship demand
that we understand such moral codes on their own terms, not through the
lens of an Enlightenment-inspired morality which assumes the illegitimacy
of slavery in all historical settings. To learn (though perhaps to our
dismay) that some societies viewed slavery as legitimate is not
necessarily to indict the morality of those cultures. (I do not, however,
choose to let American slaveholders off the hook in the same way, for I
think they practiced a radically different kind of slavery and with a
unique set of assumptions.)

> Afrians are and
> were complex and moral beings and capable of violating their own codes,
> just like early Enlightment slaveowners.

An honest question here: how does one begin to measure the degrees to
which the moral codes of diverse societies viewed slavery? What am I
missing here? What have we all missed? I would love to see evidence that
West African societies -- as Enlightenment notions of natural rights later
would -- viewed enslavement as a social evil. Excuse my bad pun, but
please enlighten me.

Thanks for the lively exchange.

Patrick Rael
Assistant Professor
Department of History
Bowdoin College


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 11:52:46 -0600

I think Patrick Rael profoundly misread my posting, as he attributes to
me in his response many ideas I did not develop. Rather than reply to
them point by point I refer readers back to my original posting.

Allow me to expand on my earlier posting and answer some of the points
Rael raises in his response.

My point about African moralities of enslavement is not that Africans in
societies involved in the export trade in slaves ever viewed slavery as
a practice, idea, or category immoral or illegitimate [that is the
enlightenment position]. It is that a very significant number of the
new enslavements made for the export trade were, communally defined,
illegitimate because they moved individuals of one social status (say a
pawn) to another (an export slave) without "due process" or in violation
of accepted procedure as defined by the communities from which slaves
were made or the persons with whom the enslaved had relationships. To
accept slavery as an institution is not to accept that anyone can
arbitrarily be made a slave. I am arguing that many enslavements were
arbitrary, or thought to be by the communities, kin groups, people from
which they were taken.

Kidnapping is the easiest example, although not the most important
numerically. I don't think kidnapping as a method of generating slaves
was anywhere considered legitimate. That is why kidnappinng was a
secretative activity and why kidnappers were punished, with execution
perhaps, but more likely with enslavement themselves. Consider what
Olaudah Equiano wrote about his natal community in what is now southeast
Nigeria:

"They [merchants] always carry slaves through our land, but the
strictest account is exacted of their manner of procuring them before
they are suffered to pass. Sometimes indeed we sold slaves to them, but
they were only prisoners of war, or such among us as had been convicted
of kidnapping, or adultery, and some other crimes which we esteemed
heinous. [Olaudah Equiano, Equiano's Travels: His Autobiography, The
Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa
the African Abridged and Edited by Paul Edwards (London: Heinemann,
1976), 7.]

In this passage we have an example of the point I am making. Slavery as
a category is not rejected, but clearly communities developed senses
that certain persons were illegitimately enslaved (those senses were
moral codes, often the subject of contestation between communities and
enslavers). Here Equiano assumes that criminals and prisoners of war
were legitimately enslaved, but not others. He himself was kidnapped,
and he considered that illegitimate, which in turn he found not
inconsistent with his own management of slaves on an American
plantation. It is important not to generalize this morality of
enslavement to the entire continent, for such moralities varied from
community to community, and over time.

All this was to respond to the rather popular idea that when Africans
sold slaves, they were not selling "brothers and sisters," they were
selling only individuals ("others") which whom they had no moral
relationships (the idea that Hausa merely sold Fulani, one ethnic group
another, etc). This simple answer dehumanizes Africans and disregards
their complex moral systems (it views them as moral tabula rasae). If
we take "brothers and sisters" as a metaphor for persons with whom
enslavers, merchants, etc. might have had some kind of moral obligation
or relationship (or who members of their societies felt they should),
many Africans did indeed sell "brothers and sisters." To argue
otherwise, as contradictory as it may seem, would be to claim that
Africans are inhuman.

The primary difference between African moralities of enslavement
generally and the Enlightenment morality of enslavement is that in
Enlightenment philosophy the category or idea of slavery itself is
rejected while in African philosopies of the era of the slave trade it
generally was not.

I hope this clarifies my points about African moralities of enslavement,
although I have written in a very abbreviated and simplified manner.

Pier M. Larson
Department of History
Penn State University


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 18:38:21 -0600

In response to Patrick Rael::

> There is still a piece missing here. That is, the notion that slavery as
> a social institution was "evil" was pretty much the product of the Age of
> Enlightenment, and especially the decades of the 1770s and 1780s. As
> Orlando Patterson and others have noted, slavery as a SOCIAL INSTITUTION
> has existed in a great many societies throughout history. While one
> certainly did not relish the status of slaveship, the basic social
> legitimacy of that status was rarely questioned in the "pre-modern" world.

There are lots of horrible institutions that were or still are recognized
as legitimate, for example human sacrifice. I think that the world is
better off without them. I generally do not impose my reflections on evil
on my students, but this was in response to a communication from a young
woman who was disturbed about Africans selling other Africans. My response
was that it could have happened anywhere, and that equally horrible things
are happening every day in different parts of the world.

> One of my goals in my comparative slavery class is to explore the ways in
> which New World Slavery differed markedly from Old World Slavery. NWS was
> at root an economic institution designed to extract labor, while OWS was a
> social institutions designed (often) to enhance the size and strength of
> kin networks.

This is a rather simplistic generalization. A more accurate one would be
between societies where slavery was the basis of the economic system (Slave
MPA) and those where it was not. The former include many Old World
systems, for example, Greece, Rome, Hausa, Sahel, Zanzibar. The latter
include many "closed systems", for example, most Asian systems. The
enhancement of kin networks involved only a small percentage of slave
systems.

>As many scholars have noted, the "personhood" of the slave
> in NWS was seldom acknowledged (vestiges of Roman law notwithstanding).

Most societies with well-developed slave systems deny the slave a legal
personality, but are forced to recognize the slave's humanity in order to
more efficiently exploit him or her.

> This is NOT, by the way, a statement [a la Dinesh D'Souza] that the
> European invention of slavery as a "sin" in any way compensates for
> Europe's horrendous crime in enslaving Africans in the first place. Yet
> it is endlessly ironic that the part of the world which created the most
> destructive form of slavery ever known also managed to create the ideology
> which led to its demise.

This moral statement contradicts the statement Professor Rael started
with.

Martin A. Klein
Department of History
University of Toronto


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Tue, 25 Feb 1997 18:41:11 -0600

From: Obed Norman <norman@vancouver.wsu.edu>
To: Sue Peabody <peabody@vancouver.wsu.edu>
Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade (fwd)

i remain puzzled by the question of african involvement in the slave
trade. one thing that is certain is that the point of african involvement
in slavery has found its way into conservative rhetoric. i hope there are
african historians working on this issue. thanks for sharing.


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Wed, 26 Feb 1997 05:27:02 -0600

I have read with interest the discussion of the African involvement int he
slave trade. Since I am not an Africanist I have only been an observer
and reader; however, the comment [of] Obed Norman is important;
conservative rhetoric is indeed happy to sieze on African involvement in
the slave trade to argue that American slavery was not racist. I have
recently written about this in the _Yale Law & Police Review_ in an
article titled "The New Racism." The new rhetoric is to argue that
because Africans enslaved each otehr slavery in the U.S> was not racist.
This discussioncan be helpful in combating this new racism while at the
same time sharpening our understanding of the Africn roots of American
slavery; SO, thanks to all of you.

Paul Finkelman
Distinguished Visiting Professor
Hamline University School of Law


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Wed, 26 Feb 1997 14:59:39 -0600

>There is still a piece missing here. That is, the notion that slavery as
>a social institution was "evil" was pretty much the product of the Age of
> Enlightenment, and especially the decades of the 1770s and 1780s.

Was the anti-slavery movement primarily a product of the "Age of
Enlightenment?" While it is true that many Enlightenment philosophes
used "slavery" as a charged metaphor for political tyranny (which they
opposed), their primary concern was the limited rights of discourse of
the French intelligentsia. As Seymour Drescher and others have shown,
the French abolition movement was never as significant numerically (or as
effective, practically) as the English abolition movement, which drew
much of its strength (again, here following Drescher, building upon Davis
and Anstey) from religious evangelicalism.

While the Age of Enlightenment is generally credited with prompting
general enthusiasm for "liberty," I think we need to be careful about who
was using that discourse and to what ends.

Sue Peabody
Asst. Prof. of History
Washington State University Vancouver


Author's Subject: Re: African involvement in the slave trade
Date Posted: Fri, 28 Feb 1997 05:40:04 -0600

(Apologizing for my English,)
I want to make some comments on Sue Peabody's following remarks:

> Was the anti-slavery movement primarily a product of the "Age of
> Enlightenment?" While it is true that many Enlightenment philosophes
> used "slavery" as a charged metaphor for political tyranny (which they
> opposed), their primary concern was the limited rights of discourse of
> the French intelligentsia.

I agree with the statement that many French (!) philosophes used
"slavery" etc. But:

Peabody seems to define the Enlightenment as an exclusively French, or even
purely Parisian intellectual movement. In doing so she more or less
bars a more general debate, whether fruitful or not, on the relation between
Enlightenment and anti-slavery/abolition; a debate that is actually
going on for some years (and will be for years to come, I think).

I thought there existed a consensus on a broader 'definition' of (the)
Enlightenment, correct me if I'm wrong. The scope is European (or Atlantic)
rather than French, cultural rather than purely intellectual.
By focussing on France (the) Enlightenment became characterized as
anti-clerical and even secular. Enlightenment does not, in my opinion,
exclude religion, churches or beliefs. New enlightened ideas and
sensibilities, whether it be in science, philosophy or religion, were
expressed in eighteenth-century debates, including the anti-slavery debate.

As Seymour Drescher and others have shown,
> the French abolition movement was never as significant numerically (or as
> effective, practically) as the English abolition movement, which drew
> much of its strength (again, here following Drescher, building upon Davis
> and Anstey) from religious evangelicalism.

The religious evangelicalism was not only part of this new climate but even
helped it shape, as did the more radical ideas of the French philosophes.

The notion that slavery was 'evil' or not tolerable gained momentum in
the enlightened eighteenth century, as did the notion that it had to be
stopped one way or another. Making the step from having the notion that
slavery was bad to an organized movement, using all the means to put
pressure on the public and politicians, is another issue that has been
addressed by historians as Davis and Drescher.

> While the Age of Enlightenment is generally credited with prompting
> general enthusiasm for "liberty," I think we need to be careful about who
> was using that discourse and to what ends.

I couldn't agree more.

Angelie Sens
Universiteit Utrecht
Dpt. of History
The Netherlands


Author's Subject: The Enlightenment and slavery
Date Posted: Fri, 28 Feb 1997 13:13:33 -0600

In reply to Angelie Sens' contributions:
>
> I thought there existed a consensus on a broader 'definition' of (the)
> Enlightenment, correct me if I'm wrong. The scope is European (or
Atlantic)
> rather than French, cultural rather than purely intellectual.

The French case is the one I know best. But even with American
Enlightenment figures (Jefferson, surely -- I don't know much about
Franklin) did not figure prominently in the abolition movement.

> The notion that slavery was 'evil' or not tolerable gained momentum in
> the enlightened eighteenth century, as did the notion that it had to be
> stopped one way or another.

Just because the notion that the institution of slavery was evil occurred at
the same time as the Enlightenment does not mean that we can give credit
to Enlightenment thinkers for actively opposing the institution of
slavery as a whole. In my research I show that the French have had a
notion that slavery was incompatible with "Frenchness" that long
antedates the Enlightenment (this, by the way parallels an English belief
about their status as a "free" people). But there is a world
of difference between believing that the French nation has a special
relationship with "liberty" (that French people should not be enslaved) and
active political activity on behalf of enslaved Africans in the colonies.

Perhaps you are arguing that slaves, free people of color, and abolitionists
appropriated the Enlightenment rhetoric of universal rights and liberty to
argue for their own agendas and that, in this way, they participated in
a general "culture of Enlightenment." If this is what you mean, I agree.
I guess I think it's important to acknowledge that abolition was not, for
the most part, a central or even "legitimate" concern for most of the
figures we associate with Enlightenment thought of the 18th century.

By the way, I have been very interested in how such developments played
out in the Netherlands in the 18th century but I am inhibited by my
inability to read Dutch. If you would like to correspond with me (on or
off list) about this, I would like to know more.

Sue Peabody
Asst. Prof. of History
Washington State University Vancouver