Part III: African Slave Trade
& European Imperialism

AD / CE 15th - early 19th centuries
African Timelines Table of Contents History, Orature, Literature, & Film
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Short Cuts on this web page to brief Discussions on:
Height of Atlantic Slave Trade | Black Holocaust & "Middle Passage"|
  Resistance | Diaspora & Survival of African Cultural & Oral Traditions|
Olaudah Equiano| African Oral Traditions & Early Europeans|
Dynamics of Changing Cultures & Human Consciousness| Shaka Zulu |
Amistad Revolt

See also Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism [in the U.S.A.], Eddie Becker, 1999:
1830-the end: 

late 15th c. Kingdom of Kongo flourished on the Congo River (modern Zaire, now Republic of Congo), a confederation of provinces under the manikongo (the king; "mani" means blacksmith, denoting the early importance and spiritual power of iron working).
From Symbols of Royal Power: Stool (Detroit Institute of Arts' African, Oceanic, and New World Cultures: African Art)
ca. 1500 Benin at height of its power. City-states, like Ife-Ife and Oyo, are ruled by obas (kings) with court societies supporting celebrated arts. Benin city (Edo) was founded around the 12th century and had ongoing political and cultural ties with Ife and other urban centers in the area; a second Benin dynasty began in the 16th century. "Dahomey, with its capital at Abomey, was the most important kingdom in Benin's history. A major exporter of slaves to the New World during the triangular trade between Africa, Europe, and the New World during the 16-18th centuries, it was a military empire feared by all its neighbors" (Kings of Dahomey, Tony Huchinson, ). The power of the Benin empire ended in the late 19th century when British troops destroyed Benin's capital city.) The Edo of Benin and the Akan of Ghana built underground tunnels that connected villages.


  • Salomon Igbinoghodua, [modern] Oba Erediauwa of Bénin, Nigeria (Daniel Lainé, Kings of Africa, Tamarin):
    [Sorry! - Link broken as of Dec. 2001]
After 1550 Portuguese trade in Africa increasingly attracts rival European traders who, in the 16th century, created competing stations or attempted to capture the existing trade.

In western Africa the new trade had profound effects. Earlier trade routes were now reoriented from the Sahara to the seacoast, and as the states of the savanna declined in economic importance, states along the coast increased their wealth and power. Struggles developed among coastal peoples for control over trade routes and access to new European firearms.

African royalty valued European-imported beads and incorporated them into art.

  • Dutch-rendered Map of Africa, 1663 ~ Click Image: Le Grand Atlas ou Cosmographie Blaviane, en laquelle est exactement descritte la Terre, la Mer et le Ciel, J Blaeu, Amsterdam, 1663, Volume 10 : Africa. British Library Maps C.5.b.1 (1997): 
  • Map Gallery (American Museum of Natural History, 2002): Maps reproduced from the New York Public Library and British Library "reflect the development of European knowledge of African geography from 1562 through 1940":
  • Symbols of Royal Power: Throne - Lavish beaded leopard throne of a 19th c. Bamenda king of Cameroon, from Detroit Institute of Arts' African Art collection:
1562 Britain begins its slave trade in Africa. Slave Trade increases significantly with development of plantation colonies of the Americas, especially in Brazil. Other countries involved in the European slave trade included Spain (from 1479); North America (from 1619); Holland (from 1625); France (from 1642); Sweden (from 1647); and Denmark (from 1697).
1570 Portuguese establish colony in Angola.

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Late 15th c. to mid- 16th c. Nomadic Kunta Arabs began to preach and spread mystic Sufi Islam throughout the western Sudan. The Fulani, a nomadic pastoral people, moving slowly eastward from Senegal, also gain converts for Islam through mid-16th century. During this period, Islam became a personal religion among many Africans rather than merely a religion of state. In fact, Islam appears to have declined among the ruling classes, and non-Muslim dynasties ruled in old Muslim strongholds until the 18th century, when Islamic reform and revival movements began.
1591 Fall of Songhai Empire: Attracted by its wealth, the armies of al-Mansur of Morocco overran the Songhai capital of Gao. Following the collapse of Songhai, a number of small kingdoms strove to dominate the western Sudan, instigating continual strife and economic decline. During the breakup of the Songhai empire, an intense period of slave activity occurred in west Africa at the hands of Arab Islamic missionaries and European traders.
16th c. Sudanese Islamic scholars like Abd al-Rahman al-Sadi, author of Tarikh as-Sudan (History of the Sudan), set down the oral traditions of the western Sudanic empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai in the style of Arabic histories.
Late 1500s To the east of Songhai, between the Niger River and Lake Chad, the Hausa city-states and the Kanem-Bornu Empire had been established since the 10th century. After the fall of Songhai, the trans-Saharan trade moved eastward, where centers of flourishing commerce and urban life developed. Islam appears to have been introduced into the Hausa states from 11th to 14th centuries.
The best known Bornu ruler, Mai Idris Alooma, introduced firearms purchased from the Ottoman Turks. At its pinnacle, Kanem-Bornu controlled the eastern Saharan routes to Egypt, but by the middle of the 17th century, began a slow decline.


1652 Dutch establish colony at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa; and colonizing Boers ("farmers"), or Afrikaners, begin settling large farms at the expense of San and Khoikhoi, non-Bantu speakers of the region.


Asante (or Ashante) Empire of Akan peoples is unified under Osei Tutu on the "Gold Coast"; dominates with control of gold-producing zones and supplying slaves in exchange for firearms (to 1820s).
1720s Rise of Kingdom of Dahomey of Fon (or Aja) peoples, on the "Slave Coast" in the Bight of Benin, based on slaving and firearms (into the 19th c.). The Abomey plateau, an early center of Aja and Yoruba populations, became the capital of the Dahomey monarchy beginning in the 17th century.
th c.
West African religious poetry of Abdullah ibn Muhammed Fudi, emir of Gwandu, reflects familiarity with pre-Islamic Arabic poetry as well as North African religious writing.

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18th c Height of Atlantic SlaveTrade: Between the years 1650 and 1900, historians estimate that at least 28 million Africans were forcibly removed from central and western Africa as slaves (but the numbers involved are controversial). A human catastrophe for Africa, the world African Slave Trade was truly a "Holocaust."

"(hol e kost), n. 1a. a great or complete slaughter or reckless destruction of life.
"The Black Holocaust is one of the more underreported events in the annals of human history. The Black Holocaust makes reference to the millions of African lives which have been lost during the centuries to slavery, colonization and oppression. The Black Holocaust makes reference to the horrors endured by millions of men, women, and children throughout the African Diaspora. In sheer numbers, depth and brutality, it is a testimony to the worst elements of human behavior and the strongest elements of survival." 

Source: The Black Holocaust: From Maafa to Colonization
KAMMAASI / Sankofa Project Guide, 1999: 

Muslim traders exported as many as 17 million slaves to the coast of the Indian Ocean, to the Middle East, and to North Africa. African slave exports via the Red Sea, trans-Sahara, and East Africa/Indian Ocean to other parts of the world between 1500-1900 totaled at least 5 million Africans sent into bondage.

Between 1450 and 1850, at least 12 million Africans were shipped from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean--the notorious "Middle Passage"--to colonies in South America, the West Indies, and North America.  80% of these kidnapped Africans (or at least 7 million) were exported during the 18th century, with a mortality rate of probably 10-20% on the ships enroute for the Americas.

Unknown numbers (probably at least 4 million) of Africans died in slave wars and forced marches before being shipped. Within central Africa itself, the slave trade precipitated migrations: coastal tribes fled slave-raiding parties and captured slaves were redistributed to different regions in Africa.

African slave trade and slave labor transformed the world. In Africa, slave trade stimulated the expansion of powerful West African kingdoms. In the Islamic world, African slave labor on plantations, in seaports, and within families expanded the commerce and trade of the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. In the Americas, slave labor became the key component in trans-Atlantic agriculture and commerce supporting the booming capitalist economy of the 17th and 18th centuries, with the greatest demand in the Americas coming from Brazil and the sugar plantations of the Caribbean.

THE RESISTANCE: Many Africans, like Queen Nzingha of Angola and King Maremba of the Congo, fought valiantly, if vainly, against the European slavers and their African collaborators.
  • Image of Queen Mother Nana Yaa Asantewa [18??-1921?] , who "rallied the Asante
    against the British in 1900; the Anglo-Asante war of that year is named after her"
    --Encyclopedia Africana: Dictionary of African Biography, v. 1: Ethiopia & Ghana, p. 204 (The Encyclopaedia Africana Project [EAP], Ghana, West Africa):

Others resisted their captors by creating mutinies or jumping overboard from slave ships during the horrendous "Middle Passage" across the Atlantic Ocean. Enslaved Africans that were destined for the Americas would be subject to a "breaking in" process which often took place in the West Indies. Many resisted having their spirits broken and managed to escape, eventually forming independent communities such as that of the Maroons in the West Indies. Some of these Maroon communities numbered in the 1000s in South American and the Caribbean, , waging guerilla warfare against slave hunters, and brutally executed if caught.

THE DIASPORA: The forced and brutal dispersal of millions of Africans into foreign lands created the Black Diaspora. African slaves and their descendants carried skills and communitarian values, rich cultural traditions, resiliency, and resistance ethos that transformed and enriched the cultures they entered around the world. Thus, as African peoples are globally dispersed, they carried their traditions of cultural creativity and oral arts with them, such as "common musical rhythms, exploration of multicolors…and diverse textures, play on repetition, and call-and-response modes of verbal activity" (Asante and Abarry 111). African folktales, often featuring the tortoise, hare, and spider, are widespread on the African continent and were carried from Africa to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States.
African cultural & oral traditions survived and flourished "despite the concerted efforts made by Europeans, which were often justified by their Christian ethic, to destroy African cultural forms both on the continent and in the Diaspora. In the Diaspora this process included attempts to alienate enslaved Africans from their natal context by such means as separating those from the same ethnic groups, renaming them with slave names, and removing African instruments such as drums from their midst for fear that they would be used to communicate. Nevertheless Africa’s indigenous personality has managed to remain intact and continues to maintain a considerable sphere of influence on the global stage, particularly in its orally-based forms of cultural expression." --Prof. Malaika Mutere, Howard Univ., African Culture & Aesthetics, for Kennedy Center's African Odyssey Interactive:
[Thank you, Lisa, for repairing this link!! ~ Cora]
1789 The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustava Vassa, one of the first slave narratives published in English. Kidnapped as a child from the Benin region of Nigeria and shipped to the United States as a slave, Olaudah Equiano (Igbo) wrote his autobiography, as a free man in Great Britain under the pseudonym of Gustavus Vassa. Equiano offers a defense of Africa from an African perspective on cross-cultural relations with Europe, explaining how African systems of servitude differ from the chattel slavery of the Europeans. These and other slave narratives fuel the growing Abolitionist movement in Europe and the U.S.
1790s Abolitionist movement [to abolish slavery] gains strength in England, and later in the U.S.
1792 Slave uprising in Haiti (called Saint-Domingue by the French) involving 1,000s of slaves, is led by Toussant L'Ouverture (1743-1803). His army, eventually numbering 55,000 blacks, waged guerrilla and frontal war against the British for years.
1804 Creation of the Black Republic of Haiti.

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Late 18th - mid-19th c. European political, economic, and scientific interests stimulate a search for new markets and another era of exploration. British explorer James Bruce reached the source of the Blue Nile in 1770; Scottish explorer Mungo Park explored (1795 and 1805) the course of the Niger River; Scottish missionary David Livingstone explored the Zambezi River and in 1855 named Victoria Falls; British explorers John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant, traveling downstream, and Sir Samuel White Baker, working upstream, locate the sources of the Nile in 1863. Following the explorers (and sometimes preceding them) were Christian missionaries and European merchants
AFRICAN ORAL TRADITIONS & EARLY EUROPEANS: Most early European missionaries and anthropologists "had little understanding and much less appreciation of the principles that characterize and inform African life. For instance African dance would be described in pejorative terms such as ‘lewd ambling’ or ‘imitative fornication,’ while oral tradition as a whole would be looked upon as ‘pre-logical’ or ‘pre-rational.’ Implied in such statements are the related assumptions of a European ‘high art’ or haute-couture ([high culture] such as ballet), and that logic and rationalism belong solely in the domain of a European writing technology. In other words, according to these and later scholars who made their ‘universal’ observations from a specifically European center, Africa doesn’t measure up on the evolutionary scale of civilized culture" (Mutere). However, African-centered and oral arts scholars like Mutere reject the premise that African oral cultures and arts are "primitive," "pre-literate," or "undeveloped according to a Eurocentric theory of evolution of civilized culture. Far from representing an evolutionary step in a world full of cultures, Africa’s own modes of [oral] expression provide a vehicle for holistic participation, exploration, and discovery of the dimensions of the inner and outer mysteries of our collective humanity"—a sophisticated and rich oral aesthetic Mutere calls "art for life’s sake," based on "the traditional knowledge, commitment, and skills of her artisans." Western scholars like Walter Ong (Orality & Literacy: the Technologizing of the Word. London/NY: Routledge, 1982) point to the persistence or development of new oral traditions even in "literate" (writing-based) cultures like the U.S. today.

DYNAMICS OF CHANGING CULTURES AND HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS: Cultures are not static, but dynamic: they constantly change in response to changing situations. But "change" and "evolution" should not be confused. The Western concept of physical or social "evolution" often implies "progress" toward an increasingly better and improved end, the basis of some Eurocentric and racist views of white Euro-American civilizations and peoples as the height of human evolution. Yet study of the human history of cultural change certainly cannot assume things are "evolving" constantly toward perfection. Ong also argues that the development of the technology of writing in Western cultures not only made previously oral-based cultures "literate" or writing-based, but fundamentally changed. Western modes of human consciousness and our ways of knowing (epistemology) are different--but not necessarily inherently better than oral-based human cultures and their modes of consciousness and ways of knowing. More recently, scholars argue that the development of photography, film, and television has produced an "image-based culture," and with it new modes of consciousness and ways of knowing (ie. television-based or "teleconsciousness"), for good or ill.




British seize control of Cape Colony, South Africa, from Dutch

British declare formal control of Cape Colony and increase British immigration in South Africa. Despite government resistance, Boers began to move inland in search of better land and, after 1815, to escape control by the British government.

1818 –1828 Shaka, Zulu chief, unifies Nguni peoples and forges an impressive fighting force, launching the mfecane (wars of crushing and wandering) against neighboring black Africans and white Europeans throughout southern Africa. Shaka was assassinated in 1828, but Zulu power continued to rise
1822 "The American Colonization Society (ACS) was formed . . . to send free African-Americans to Africa as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. In 1822, the society established on the west coast of Africa a colony that in 1847 became the independent nation of Liberia. By 1867, the society had sent more than 13,000 emigrants."  Colonization: African-American Mosaic Exhibition (Library of Congress): < >


1830 –1834 "Great Trek" of Dutch-descent Boers north to lands across Orange River into Natal, South Africa, occupied by southern Nguni peoples in midst of the mfecane; white Boer republics of Orange Free State and Transvaal established in 1850s.
Amistad Revolt (on which the 1997 Steven Spielberg film was based) was"a shipboard uprising off the coast of Cuba that carried itself, inadvertently but fatefully, to the United States--where the Amistad Captives set off an intense legal, political, and popular debate over the slave trade, slavery, race, Africa, and ultimately America itself"
Source: Amistad site (Mystic Seaport—The Museum of America and the Sea):
Sorry this link is now broken ~ C. Agatucci, 1 Jan. 2010.
The Amistad Revolt was an important episode in the interlocked histories of . . .
  • West Africa, in 1839 its peoples and states challenged by the dislocations of the Atlantic Slave Trade;
  • Cuba, in 1839 a Spanish colony, one of the world’s largest producers of sugar, and the last major slave society in the West Indies;
  • United States, in 1839 a growing nation on the threshold of becoming a world power but also a divided nation, half slave and half free.

(Source: "Exploring Amistad: Race and the Boundaries of Freedom in Antebellum Maritime America," - Sorry this link is now broken ~ C. Agatucci, 1 Jan. 2010.

From British Library Website, Africa Collections: Prints, Drawings, & Photographs: 
  • Color Drawing by Johann Martin Bernatz (1802-1878), of the annual procession of clergy carrying traditional Ethiopian crosses, at the Church of St Michael, Ankobar, Ethiopia, where the Ark of the Covenant is reputed to be kept. Bernatz was the official artist to an embassy to Sahela Selassie, King of Shoa, led by Capt William Cornwallis Harris, Bombay Engineers, 1842. 
  • Front page of New Era, Issue no. Vol.3, no.14, 29 June, 1857 (British Library Website: Africa Collection): The New Era, established in 1855, was the "first newspaper in Sierra Leone to be owned by a private individual." The independent African newspaper press was "used as a means of expressing opposition to various of the local governors."

From Internet Library of Early Journals (Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, & Oxford), read "Ethiopia," by Major W. Cornwall Harris.  Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine Vol. 55 (Mar 1844): beginning on Page 269
  Browse>Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine>Volume 55 1844>No. CCCXLI March 1844>Page 269

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African Timelines Table of Contents History, Orature, Literature, & Film
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Last updated: 01 January 2010

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