Showing posts from 2018

Kongo Slaves: Angola Coast


4. Angola Coast

The latter part of the 1600s can be overlooked as an 'interim' period, when slave numbers transported over the Atlantic reduced from the asiento peak. A time when Africa and the Americas 'drew breath' before the mighty, manic surge of slave trading resumed in the 1700s. In this frame of mind it is easy to miss the fundamental changes that occurred from 1650 to 1700, changes that defined the possibilities and set the pattern for much of what would follow in the next century.

In the previous study on the Portuguese-Spanish asiento, the politics of the slave trade regions were fairly stable. West Central Africa, the 'Angola Coast', was a 'private pool' of slave supply for the Portuguese. In Central America, the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico formed a virtual Spanish lake of slave demand. 

In the period of this next study, these two complementary, imperial monopolies were challenged by competitors from the Netherlands, England, and Fr…

Kongo Slaves: Spanish Americas


4:  Spanish Americas

In the decades between 1580 and 1650, an estimated total of 289,531 slaves departed West Central Africa on board 820 ships. The great majority of these captives, 207,843, were intended for the Spanish Americas. A minor portion, 81,688, were bound for other destinations such as Portuguese Brazil. But an astonishing one fifth of them, 57,763, did not arrive anywhere at all, having died during the passage and their bodies flung overboard.(1)

In the late 1580s the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns were combined, a political union that lasted until they split again in 1640. Having a ruler in common opened up opportunities for commercial cooperation between the two nations and their overseas interests. Spain claimed enormous territories in America but lacked a 'disciplined' labour force to exploit them. Portugal on the other hand had established trading posts along the African coast with access to an apparently limitless supply of 'enslavable' peop…

Kongo Slaves: African Traders


3. African Traders

Four main 'staples' traded in the hinterland of Angola Coast were salt, copper, cloth, and slaves. In the 1500s these goods, and foodstuffs sold locally, were paid for in nzimbu shells (kingdom of Kongo) or nkudimba cloth (colony of Angola). By the 1600s most prices, including tolls and taxes, were calculated according the dominant unit of value - 'a piece of Indies', equivalent to one male adult slave.

In the relatively balanced economy of the seventeenth century, 'commodities' produced in one area, near the sea, next to ore deposits, where raffia palms grew, or from expansionary wars, were marketed in areas that did not have those 'natural' advantages. Growing reliance by ruling African elites on European 'luxury' imports, like muskets, powder and shot, wines and spirits, education (in Portugal), or religion (in Kongo), seriously altered this balance. In the seventeenth century, the Portuguese desire for slaves had…

Kongo Slaves: West-Central Africa


2. West-Central Africa

In 1441 two Portuguese captains sailed their small ships down the Atlantic coast of West Africa to Cabo Branco, which they named for the whiteness of its sand. Antonio Goncalves and Nuno Tristao returned from this 'voyage of discovery' with a small quantity of gold dust, some ostrich eggs, and 12 'black' Africans. In 1442 Goncalves sailed south again, back to Cabo Branco and on to the Bay of Anguin, this time returning to Portugal with some gold dust, some fine white salt, a few ostrich eggs, and 10 'black' Africans. In 1443 it was Tristao's turn to venture back to the Bay of Anguin. He returned home to his home port with a total of 29 slaves, 14 of whom he had captured from their canoes and the rest from raiding fishing villages. (1)

So it all began. Portugal, the first (1441) and the last (1866) of the 'great' European slaver nations had embarked on its African destiny.

In subsequent decades a series of navigators e…