Sample History Paper on Slavery



The concept of slavery and slave trade has been considered as one of the oldest institutions in the history of humanity. This is because it has been practiced for many years in every continent in the world. This means that there is nothing peculiar about the institution of slavery because it has been in existence since the dawn of human history until laws were passed in the 20th century to ensure its abolition. According to Colson (35), the prevalence of slavery throughout history can be supported by the assumption that the earliest legal document to ever exist was concerned with the sale of slaves.

There are numerous explanations among scholars from the rise of slavery. There are those who hold the belief that it was due to the need for labor in agricultural fields. Others believe that slavery rose for political reasons while others believe that it was due to commercial reasons (Vansina 362).

Throughout history, the African continent has been linked with slavery, as one of the areas in the world where slavery was common and was a major source of slaves. This explains why the greatest African population is believed to be in Brazil, the Caribbean and the Unites States. This population arrived in these countries due to slavery and slave trade.

The main objective of this research paper is to understand the effects of slavery and slave trade in pre-colonial Africa. This will be through deliberations of the dimensions of slavery, nature of slave trade, and the abolition of slavery and slave trade.

The dimensions of Slavery and Slave trade in Pre-colonial Africa

Pre-colonial African operated on two dimensions of slavery and slave trade. These were external and the internal dimensions. The external dimensions of this slavery and slave trade involved trade in the Indian Ocean worlds, Mediterranean, the Arabic world, and the Red Sea. The Egyptian and the Greek used African saves as labor in different areas of work. other areas of the world that were involved in massive trading of slaves included Medieval Europe, Arab, and Islamic worlds among other areas (Colson 44). Slaves from Africa were viewed as the prime source of labor considering the need to operationalize different sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, building, and construction. In some areas, slaves were charged with the responsibility of executing house chores for their masters and in some areas slaves served as concubines. The master in these areas exercised complete ownership of the slaves (Vansina 362).

From the internal perspective, slavery and save trade was conducted within Africa. This involved trade between north and west Africa as one side of the transaction and East South and Central Africa as the other side of the transaction. Counters in West Africa, such as Ghana (Gold Coast) were important to the trade within the African continent due to richness in Gold (Klein 54). This gave them leverage over other societies hence a sustainable competitive advantage in the market (Colson 50). Traders from Ghana exchanged different goods, such as gold, slaves, millet. sorghum, livestock, and wheat among other goods. In addition, other goods from the Mediterranean world, such as writing paper, tea, spices, jeweler and beads among other goods also characterized internal trade among Africans until the late 16th century.

The arrival of Portuguese in the 15th century (1471) led to the introduction of the European societies into the brisk trade. For more than 100 years, Portugal was the only country that could engage in direct trade with Ghana and other West African countries. The Portuguese brought cotton, palm oil, and clothing to countries like Benin in exchange for gold and slaves (Vansina 364).

The Means of Acquiring Slaves

Since the beginning of slave trade, there were five ways by which slaves were acquired for both internal and an external business transactions. They included pawning, raising and kidnapping, warfare, market supply, and tribute (Klein 54). Warfare, for instance, resulted in the capture of prisoners of war. This means constituted the largest portion of slaves. Warfare was a common practice in East, West, South, and North Africa (Colson 55). Religious wars, that resulted from Islamic jihads in 19th century, led to the capture and enslaving of thousands of people from the west to the Red Sea in the East (Lovejoy 159). Following the war, numerous markets were established to allow royal families and free members of the public to engage in purchase and sale of slaves. In West and North Africa, for example, all market that were established along the Tran-Saharan route were essential n the supply of slave (Vansina 364).

The practice of raiding and kidnapping people into slavery was also a common practice among Africans. The Tuaregs and the Berbers, for instance, were popular for the raiding and kidnapping of their southern neighbors (Piot 34). The prevalence of this practice led to its institutionalization in Bambara Society. In Eastern Africa, the Amharas from Ethiopia were popular for trading and kidnapping people from east and Central Africa (Colson 58)

Paying tribute was a common practice in Africa. Different communities, such as the Yoruba of Nigeria obtained slaves through this practice. Paying of tribute was majorly done by minor communities to major communities as a way of obtaining favors. For instance, from the beginning of the 18th century until late 19th century, all the communities conquered by the Asante in west Africa were expected to pay annual tribute, which came in the form of slaves and goods. This was a relatively peaceful way through which different communities obtained slaves (Lovejoy 170)

Pawning was practiced within the African continent where people gave salves as security for money borrowed. The spawn was expected to work for the creditor, who fed and clothed him until the debt was fully paid. Pawning was not a form of slavery, but pawns who were never redeemed found themselves into slavery (Vansina 365).

Role of slaves in pre-colonial Africa

Agriculture and commerce

The most prevalent economic activities in pre-colonial Africa included farming, animal rearing, fishing, and hunting. These activities were labor intensive hence the need for slaves. Slaves provided labor in farmlands, and were sent in hunting and fishing expeditions. In addition, slaves played the role of porters in trade (Lovejoy 172). In some situations, trusted slaves engaged in business transactions on behalf of their masters. In pre-colonial Africa, the main industries were iron working, gold mining, clothe weaving, and salt making. Thousands of slaves were employed in these industries to provide labor and fasten the process of producing gold and other minerals within the commercial industry (Vansina 366)

Administration and Military

Slaves were considerd important in the execution of different military responsibilities. There were those who were recruited as soldiers in the military, some served as bodyguards for the chiefs and kings (Klein 51). In palaces, they were allocated the music role as drummers and horn blowers to entertaining the king and his visitors. Slaves also played a role in religious activities as caretakers of places of worship. In households, both male and female slaves provided labor in the execution of domestic chores (Colson 59)


There were those who acquired slaves for individual reasons. These included the need to procreate, exercise power and prestige. The number of slaves was a reflection of prestige and power in pre-colonial Africa. Throughout the period of slave trade, female slaves were highly priced compared to their male counterparts. This was because of the possibility that female salves would become wives or concubines of individual chiefs and kings within the society (Vansina 366)

Abolition of slavery and slave trade

In 1807, Britain, which was an important player in slavery and slave trade, introduced a law abolishing the Atlantic slave trade. This law meant that in Britain and in all its colonies there was need to end slavery and this had an effect on the way of life in different countries in the African continent. The law by British was presumed to affect external dimension of slavery and slave trade and this explains why different countries had a different date passed by the colonial masters (Colson 60). In Ghana for instance, internal slavery and slave trade was completely abolished in 1874. In some countries within Africa, slavery was persistent until early 20th century. There were immediate and long-term effect of abolition of slavery and slave trade in African counters. The immediate effect was that there was difficulty among freed slaves to trace their families considering that some of these slaves had been bought from trans-Saharan trade (Robinson 518). There was also an increase in economic dependency considering that some slaves settled in mission institutions established by the missionaries hence the need to feed and clothe them. There were also slaves who were industrious and cable to leave their former masters to begin individual lives (Lovejoy 166). There were also slaves who settled with their former masters under new terms and conditions. The long-term effect of abolition of slave trade was that there were those who were assimilated into families that were largely foreign. Their decision to settle in these families can be used in explaining racial differences indifferent African countries (Klein 53).

Majority of slaves in the US and the Caribbean were largely drawn from West Africa during the Trans-Atlantic trade. This was because the British held the assumption that purchasing slaves from the West African coast was relatively cheaper. In the 19th century, the advocacy for abolition of slavery and slave trade characterized different American societies (Colson 63). The distance and years of separation from their African countries meant that slaves in America had to be integrated into the American system as part of American citizens. This meant that upon realization of emancipation from slavery African Americans would enjoy and exercise rights and freedoms just as their colonial masters. The end of the American civil war in 1865 marked the beginning of freedom for slaves and the abolition of slavery in the United States (Lovejoy 171).

Effect of slavery and slave trade in Pre-colonial Africa

Slavery and slave trade led to ethnic fractionalization of the African continent. This is because the capture of slaves was facilitating by African raiding and kidnapping Africans. In other situations, it was facilitated by the warfare that had characterized the different practices among Africans. Prior to the rise and popularity of slave trade, African communities were organized in larger villages united by different cultural practices and languages (Colson 64). However, the rise of hostilities between different villages led to warfare as villages began raiding each other hence destroying the norms and values that defined peace and mutual relationships. The destruction of boundaries and an increase in banditry was an essential aspect in explaining the suspicions that arose with the advent of slave trade in Africa (Klein 55). Slave trade weakened community ties and this discouraged the formation of larger communities characterized by broader ethnic identities. It is therefore possible to use slave trade as an explanation for the ethnic fractionalizes that continues to characterize communities in Africa (Robinson 512).

The rise and popularity of slave trade and slavery in pre-colonial African can be said to have resulted in state fragmentation and weakening of states. This is because inter-community conflicts resulting from the external demand for slaves generated to high level of uncertainty and insecurity among communities (Colson 65). The situation was exacerbated by the involvement of the European communities who supplied African communities with different weapons to facilitate capturing and kidnapping of slaves. Slavery within the African continent was also propelled by the need by different African communities to enslave others as a way of ensuring their own security. In other extreme situations as in the case of northern Togo, communities were compelled to sell their own kin into slavery as a way of appeasing their masters (Klein 57). Political instability within Africa was therefore promoted by the European communities who provided weapons that created some form of enmity among African states hence limiting the possibility of the development of trust or metal relationships between rival communities (Robinson 516). At the end of the 19th century most political institutions had been weakened or had collapsed because of frequents conflicts for slaves. Larger kingdoms were replaced by ethic governments aimed at protection their own from slavery. The disintegration of the political stability in Africa can be used in explaining the prevalence of ethnic conflicts within the African continent. In addition, it can also be used in explaining the divisions among different ethnic communities government by a unitary of a democratic government (Colson 65).

Slavery and slave trade can also be associated with the deterioration of the legal institutions in Africa. This is because the ability of a community to circumvent the existing laws was used as a way of obtaining slaves. For instance, when a community was accused of witchcraft or other forms of crime led to the imprisonment of the accused and eventually their enslavement. Prior to the introduction of slavery, judicial penalties were in the form of beatings, compensations and exile (Robinson 515). However, the introduction of slavery allowed compensations and tribute to be offered in the form of slaves. In other situations as in the case of the Chief of Cassanga of modern day Guinea, those founded guilty of different crimes had their possessions seized and their families sold into slavery. This was an indication that slavery and slave trade was permitted as part of justice by the judicial system in Africa. In most countries within Africa, it is relatively difficult to establish functional and trustworthy judicial systems due to the favoritisms and injustices that this sector of the government propagated (Piot 48).

Inasmuch as slave trade contributed to massive loss of lives, generations, ethnic groups and institutional degradation, there is evidence that this practice may have also contributed to the strengthening and consolidation of networks of exchange and credit. The exportation of slaves into Britain and America helped in the establishment of strong trade ties between different communities (Lovejoy 168). In addition, slavery and slave trade between African and other regions of the world led to the introduction of high yielding varieties of crops such as groundnuts, beans and maize among other crops that have contributed to the food security situation in different African countries (Vansina 362).


The need for labor, power, prestige, and commercial benefits has contributed to the rise and prevalence of slavery and slave trade in pre-colonial Africa. Africa was used as the major supplier of slaves who were obtained through warfare, pawns, tributes, and kidnapping. Both internal and external dimensions of slavery contributed to the collapse of societies and languages, deterioration of political, economic, and socio-cultural institutions in Africa. Despite the negative effects that characterized slavery, trans-Atlantic and trans-Saharan slave trade also contributed to the establishment of important commercial ties among African countries and between Africa the international community. The abolition of slavery and slave trade by the British in 1807 marked the beginning of the collapse of practices that had characterized human activities for many years.





Works Cited

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Duignan, eds., Colonialism in Africa, 1870–1960. Volume 1: The History and Politics of Colonialism, 1870–1914. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (1996), pp.9, 27–65.

Klein, Martin, “The Slave Trade and Decentralized Societies,” Journal of African History, 42.01(2001): 49–65.

Lovejoy, Paul, E., “Background to Rebellion: The Origins of Muslim Slaves in Bahia,” Slavery

& Abolition, 15.2 (1994): 151–180.

Piot, Charles, “Of Slaves and the Gift: Kabre Sale of Kin during the Era of the Slave Trade,”

Journal of African History, 37.01 (1996): 31–49.

Robinson, James, A., “States and Power in Africa by Jeffrey I. Herbst: A Review Essay,”

Journal of Economic Literature, 40.2 (2002): 510–519.

Vansina, Jan, Kingdoms of the Savanna (University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1966), “Deep-

Down Time: Political Tradition in Central Africa,” History in Africa, 16 (1989): 341–362.