Slave Coast of West Africa
The Slave Coast is a historical name formerly used for that part of coastal West Africa along the Bight of Benin that is located between the Volta River and the Lagos Lagoon. The name is derived from the region's history as a major source of African people taken into slavery during the Atlantic slave trade from the early 16th century to the late 19th century.
European sources began documenting the development of trade in this region and its integration into the trans-Atlantic slave trade around 1670. The slave trade became so extensive in the 18th and 19th centuries that an "Atlantic community" was formed. The slave trade was facilitated on the European end by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and the British. Slaves went to the New World, mostly to Brazil and the Caribbean. Ports that exported these enslaved people from Africa include Ouidah, Lagos, Aného (Little Popo), Grand-Popo, Agoué, Jakin, Porto-Novo, and Badagry. These ports traded in slaves who were supplied from African communities, tribes and kingdoms, including the Alladah and Ouidah, which were later taken over by the Dahomey kingdom.
Researchers estimate that between two and three million people were stolen out of this region and traded for goods like alcohol and tobacco from the Americas and textiles from Europe. Current estimates are that about 12 million African people were shipped across the Atlantic from West Africa, although the number purchased by traders was considerably higher.
The coast was also called "the White man's grave" due to the mass amount of death from illnesses such as yellow fever, malaria, heat exhaustion, and many gastro-entero sicknesses. In 1841, 80% of British sailors on expeditions up the Niger River were infected with fevers. Between 1844 and 1854, 20 of the 74 French missionaries in Senegal died from local illnesses and 19 more died shortly after arriving back to France.
Intermarriage has been documented in ports like Ouidah where Europeans were permanently stationed. Communication was quite extensive between all three areas of trade, to the point where even individual enslaved people could be tracked.
This complex exchange fostered political and cultural as well as commercial connections between these three regions. Religions, architectural styles, languages, knowledge, and other new goods were mingled at this time. In addition to the enslaved people, free men used the exchange routes to travel to new places, and both slaves and free travellers aided in blending European and African cultures.
After the institution of slavery was abolished by European countries, the slave trade continued for a time with independent traders instead of government agents.
The trans-Atlantic slave trade resulted in a vast and as yet unknown loss of life for African captives both in and outside the Americas. Over a million people are thought to have died during their transport to the New World. More died soon after their arrival. The number of lives lost in the procurement of slaves remains a mystery, but may equal or exceed the number of people who survived to be enslaved.
The savage nature of the trade led to the destruction of individuals and cultures. Historian Ana Lucia Araujo has noted that the process of enslavement did not end with arrival on Western Hemisphere shores; the different paths taken by the individuals and groups who were victims of the trans-Atlantic slave trade were influenced by different factors—including the disembarking region, the ability to be sold on the market, the kind of work performed, gender, age, religion, and language.
Patrick Manning estimates that about 12 million enslaved people were victims of the Atlantic trade between the 16th and 19th century, but about 1.5 million people died on board ships. About 10.5 million slaves arrived in the Americas. Besides the enslaved people who died on the Middle Passage, more African people likely died during the slave raids in Africa and forced marches to ports. Manning estimates that 4 million people died inside Africa after capture, and many more died young. Manning's estimate covers the 12 million people who were originally destined for the Atlantic, as well as the 6 million people destined for Asian slave markets and the 8 million people destined for African markets. Of the slaves shipped to The Americas, the largest share went to Brazil and the Caribbean.
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