The fact that by the mid-eighteenth century, European involvement on the West African coast had given rise to an expanding trade in enslaved people to Atlantic world sugar colonies, like Jamaica, meant that there was a ready supply of these ‘slaves’ for transportation to Caribbean plantations. However, the destructive mode of chattel slavery that dominated the Caribbean was in sharp contrast to traditional forms of African labour that respected the personhood and offered lineage rights to its participants. Set against this background, West African ‘slaves’ forcibly transported to the Caribbean arrived with tried and proven bargaining and resistance strategies.6 As a result, when they arrived on Caribbean plantations, they did so as sensible people capable of understanding the value of their labour within the plantation mode of production. While it was true that through English laws that controlled chattels, the planter had control of their bodies through the slave mode of production, the enslaved West Africans were determined that the planter would never be able to control their minds and, even further, that they would carve out free spaces on Atlantic World plantations reminiscent of their own West African labour systems.7 To this end, the individuals who were brought from the coast of West Africa did not need to be taught, or given an idea of, the importance of their role in the plantation economies.8

     As Thornton argued, the nature and tone of traditional West African slavery differed markedly from the slave system propagated by the British West Indian plantocracy.9 To this end, West African ‘slaves’ conformed to the European concept of ‘slave’ in name only. While this view lies on one extreme end of the continuum, it is crucial for our discussion to note the comparatively different ideological underpinnings that underlay African slavery and how it contributed to the intellectual calibre and expectations of the traditional African ‘slave’. There are two schools of thought on the origins, and thereby the political characteristics, of West African systems of slavery. One school stresses the origins of the system of slavery as an indigenous development within African society itself. The other emphasizes the introduction of slavery into Africa by outsiders, either by Muslims in the medieval periods or by Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.10

     The Islamic influences in West Africa were established by the year 1000, and some scholars have argued that this early influence coloured indigenous slavery and "altered prior practices of slavery as well." In these early times enslaved Africans were traded for horses, and a flourishing commerce was established between the Sudanic Kingdoms and the horse-trading centres of North Africa.


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August 2000