(AFRICA, EMPIRES and SLAVERY – continued)
Freetown had been a British colony since 1808. The British navy was using it as a base for their patrols along Africa's coastline, and there the freed slaves from British territory in the Caribbean were settled. The first of them – around 400 – had arrived in 1787, and they had been expected to support themselves by farming, but many had turned to trade. Since1815, Freetown was a center for slaves rescued from slave ships by the British navy. 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 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, the latter harvested on African-owned plantations using slave labor. Palm oil was Africa's foremost export to the Europeans, the oil used by the 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. The refugees were put ashore at a spot named Liberia – associated with the word liberty. 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 U.S. 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 with people around Liberia had taken place, with the original migrants from the United States and their descendants dominating 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 to acquire French culture, including liberalism of the Enlightenment tradition. France tried to exploit its colony by encouraging the growth of agricultural products desired in France, but its agricultural program in Senegal failed – a failure that has been blamed on mismanagement. France monopolized trade into and out of Senegal, and until 1817 slaves were openly shipped from Senegal across the Atlantic. And from Yao traders on Africa's east coast the French were acquiring slaves 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, to eliminate the Ijo middlemen in palm oil trade and to trade directly with the Igbo. And in 1851 the British navy occupied Lagos in an effort to shut down the slave market there.
From the Portuguese controlled west coast of southern 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 from 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 many Ovimbundu readily acquired aspects of western culture, while keeping their religious traditions.
The Chokwe 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, who were taxing villages heavily and taking as taxes a quota in slaves. The Chokwe absorbed the western portion of the crumbling Lunda empire.
Back toward the center-south of Africa in the mid-1800s, those called Bisa became participants in the trading of goods that passed through the Lunda people at Bunkeya and then to the east coast. Lunda chieftains took a cut in the Bisa trader's profits by 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.
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, through Ujiji and Tabora, to Zanzibar. Tippu Tip did much to destroy the Songye towns of the upper Lualaba River, and 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 © 2002-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.