(AFRICA, EMPIRES and SLAVERY – continued)
Freetown in what today is Sierra Leone began as a British colony in 1808. The British navy was using it as a base for their patrols along Africa's coastline, and there they settled freed slaves from their territories in the Caribbean. The first of these freed slaves – numbering around 400 – arrived in 1787. They had been expected to support themselves by farming, but many turned to trade. After 1815, Freetown became a center for slaves rescued by the British navy from slave ships. Hundreds of ships hauling slaves were seized, while some got through, taking slaves to be sold to sugar planters in Cuba and Brazil.
British merchants during this time were pursuing legitimate trade along Africa's Atlantic Coast. From Senegal the British were acquiring a hardened resin of the Acacia tree, used for dyes in its textile factories. They were acquiring groundnuts from Guinea, gold from Asante and palm oil harvested on African-owned plantations using slave labor. Palm oil was Africa's foremost export to the Europeans, used by Europeans for lubricating their machines.
In 1824, forces from Asante overran a British force along the Gold Coast, putting Britain control of the forts in decline there for a few years. In 1827 the British took over administration of the island of Fernando Po (between the Niger River Delta and Spanish Guinea) with Spain's approval – a Spanish attempt to develop the island having failed.
In 1820 the United States dispatched four ships to patrol the coast of Africa in cooperation with the British.
In 1822, freed blacks from the United States arrived in western Africa, their voyage paid for by the American Colonization Society. The society's stated purpose was for the freed blacks to start a new life in Africa, safe from discrimination and persecution. In reality the society was created by racist Southern legislators wanting to be rid of blacks. The refugees were put ashore at a spot named Liberia – associated with the word liberty. Diplomatic relations had never been established with the local population. The new colony suffered from poor administration, and the refugees had to defend themselves from attacks by local people resenting their intrusion.
In 1824, a US Supreme Court ruling undercut efforts at intercepting slave ships, and the U.S. campaign off the coast of Africa ended.
In 1847 Liberia became an independent republic. The Liberians were trading in palm oil, coffee, ivory and camwood (used as a red dye). Some integration between local people and migrants from the United States had taken place, and the descendants of migrants from the United States dominated the economy and intellectual life of the new country.
In the 1700s, Britain and France had been in conflict over the coastal colony of Senegal, with British rule at the town of St. Louis a disturbance to Catholics there. Then in 1814 the Treaty of Paris returned Senegal to the French. Thereafter, the largely mixed-race people of the colony continued with French culture, including liberalism in the Enlightenment tradition. France tried to exploit its colony by encouraging the growth of agricultural products desired in France, but this program failed, a failure blamed on mismanagement. Until 1817 slaves were openly shipped from Senegal across the Atlantic. The French were acquiring slaves from Yao traders on Africa's east coast, the slaves destined for their plantations on the islands of Mauritius and Reunion (east of Madagascar). After 1817, when France joined other nations in abolishing international slave trading, slaves were sneaked out of Africa, including attempts to run past the British navy on the Atlantic coast.
France's government cooperated with the British in trying to suppress the slave trade. Slaves taken from a ship off the coast of Angola were given sanctuary on the coastal island of Gorée, formerly the largest slave trading post on the Atlantic, halfway between the mouth of the Senegal River and Gambia. After three years on Gorée, these freed slaves were settled at a French trading station that had been founded in 1843, just south of Spanish Guinea, at a timber exporting point, which, in 1848, was given the name Libreville (French for Freetown).
Across greater western Africa, slavery remained a major activity. The production of palm oil was rising, and the demand for palm oil was creating wars among Africans around the southern portion of the Niger River. The Oyo empire, weakened by civil wars, became a source of slaves for its neighbors, and slaves from Oyo and Igbo were exported from Bonny and Brass despite patrolling British gunships. The British began extending their power up the Niger River, amid the divided and warring peoples, in order to eliminate the Ijo middlemen in palm oil trade and to trade directly with the Igbo. In 1851 the British navy occupied Lagos, capital of modern-day Nigeria, in an effort to shut down the slave market there.
Along Portuguese controlled West Central Africa – Angola – the exportation of slaves ended around 1850. Inland from the coastal town of Benguela the Ovimbundu (Umbundu) people lost business with the decline in the slave trade, but they remained successful organizers of trading caravans and a link between the Portuguese on the coast and Chokwe suppliers of goods farther inland. Their success in trading and their possession of guns gave them economic superiority and prestige over some other tribes in the area. The Portuguese found them friendly – as good traders are – and the usual cultural diffusions across history continued. Many Ovimbundu readily acquired aspects of western culture, while keeping their religious traditions.
The Chokwe people in what today is eastern Angola had changed from full-time hunting for game to searching also for ivory and beeswax with which to trade. They had acquired firearms and had used their guns against those they had come across who were not so well armed. The Chokwe strengthened their communities by capturing women, whom they put to work growing food and processing beeswax. The Chokwe moved farther inland to the northeast, where they were able to take advantage of local displeasure with Lunda kings. These kings were taxing villages heavily and taking as taxes a quota in slaves, and the Chokwe were able to absorb the western portion of the crumbling Lunda empire.
Toward the center of southern Africa in the mid-1800s those called Bisa became participants in the trading of goods that passed through territory of the Lunda people at Bunkeya and then to the east coast. Lunda chieftains took a cut in Bisa trader's profits in the form of customs dues, and they obliged the Bisa to pay them tribute. The Bisa were also subjected to raids from the Bemba to their north, who had acquired firearms – more cultural diffusion.
With the newly acquired power that came with guns, a Bemba chieftain created a greater unity among the Bemba and, in 1856, he was able to fend off an attack by the Ngoni, from the south.
In the 1860s, on an extension of the Congo River called the Lubala, around Nyangwe and Kasongo, another trading power with guns arose. This was a federation ruled by Hamed bin Muhammed, commonly known as Tippu Tip, a man of mixed Arab and black African descent. The federation engaged in a variety of activities, including hunting in the forest and raiding surrounding villages. They captured women for concubines and men and women to work their plantations of sugar cane, rice and maize. And they used captives as porters in their trade eastward to Zanzibar, through Ujiji and Tabora. Tippu Tip did much to destroy the Songye towns of the upper Lualaba River. He weakened the Luba empire to his south. His empire stretched from the Luba, in the south, northward to where the Congo River turned westward.
Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.