Slavery in Africa - Transformations of Slavery in Africa - Trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean Trade

Trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean Trade

The Arab slave trade, established in the 8th and 9th centuries AD involved a small-scale movement of people largely from East Africa and the Sahel. Islamic law allowed slavery but prohibited slavery if it involved other pre-existing Muslims; as a result, the main target for slavery were the people who lived in the frontier areas of Islam in Africa. The trade of slaves across the Sahara and across the Indian Ocean also has a long history beginning with the control of sea routes by Afro-Arab traders in the ninth century. It is estimated that only a few thousand enslaved people were taken each year from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean coast. They were sold throughout the Middle East. This trade accelerated as superior ships led to more trade and greater demand for labour on plantations in the region. Eventually, tens of thousands per year were being taken. In East Africa the main slave trade involved Arabized East Africans

This changed the slave relationships by creating new forms of employment by slaves (as eunuchs to guard harems and in military units) and creating conditions for freedom (namely conversion—although it would only free a slave's children). Although the level of the trade remained small, the size of total slaves traded grew to a large number of the multiple centuries of its existence. Because of its small and gradual nature, the impact on slavery practices in communities that did not convert to Islam was relatively small. However, in the 1800s, the slave trade from Africa to the Islamic countries picked up significantly. When the European slave trade ended around the 1850s, the slave trade to the east picked up significantly only to be ended with European colonization of Africa around 1900.

In 1814, Swiss explorer Johann Burckhardt wrote of his travels in Egypt and Nubia, where he saw the practice of slave trading: "I frequently witnessed scenes of the most shameless indecency, which the traders, who were the principal actors, only laughed at. I may venture to state, that very few female slaves who have passed their tenth year, reach Egypt or Arabia in a state of virginity."

David Livingstone wrote of the slave trade: "To overdraw its evils is a simple impossibility ... We passed a slave woman shot or stabbed through the body and lying on the path. said an Arab who passed early that morning had done it in anger at losing the price he had given for her, because she was unable to walk any longer. We passed a woman tied by the neck to a tree and dead ... We came upon a man dead from starvation ... The strangest disease I have seen in this country seems really to be broken heartedness, and it attacks free men who have been captured and made slaves." Livingstone estimated that 80,000 Africans died each year before ever reaching the slave markets of Zanzibar. Zanzibar was once East Africa's main slave-trading port, and under Omani Arabs in the 19th century as many as 50,000 slaves were passing through the city each year.

Read more about this topic:  Slavery In Africa, Transformations of Slavery in Africa

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