The Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the Trans-Sahara slave trade were the horrific human trafficking of Africans as slaves by slave traders to Europe, America, North Africa and the Middle East. Despite the prices that could be earned, there were many African nations which did not take part in the slave trade and resisted these abhorrent practices.
There is a myth that Europeans sat on the coast of West Africa and Central Africa while Africans brought them 15 million fellow Africans to buy and transport to the Americas. In reality Europeans built forts on the coasts. Forts are defensive military constructions. The slave trade was done by force and it needs it be clear that while some African Kingdoms took part in and profited from the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Sahara slave trade, some African kingdoms resisted slavery, resisted the slave trade and nations trying to slave raid. In some cases they also offered refuge to run away slaves.
Here are 10 of the nations that did not take part.
The Fante are a people found in West Africa in Ghana that refused to take part in the slave trade. When the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century with a view to capturing slaves, King Ansah had his people on high alert. They looked for ships and preventing them from coming ashore and eventually expelled the Portuguese from their region after a few battles and skirmishes. In the early 18th century, the Fante Confederacy was formed by the people of Fante to deal with European nations on an even footing. The confederacy was ruled by the Chief of Mankessim. The elites of the Confederacy were against slave trade and fought against the Dutch to stop them controlling some forts. The forts could have enabled them greater control over the slave trade.
However, in the end, the Fante Confederacy was amalgamated by the British who succeeded in using their strategy of “divide and conquer” on the chiefs of the Fante and managed to make them a part of their Empire.
Ambundu Kingdoms of Ndongo
The Queen of Ambundu, Nzingha Mbande, ruled what is now Angola from 1624 to 1663. It was at this time that the Portuguese tried to expand their slave trade, and declared war on her after the death of her brother. In 1641, the Dutch seized Luanda, and Queen Nzingha saw an opportunity for an alliance to beat back the Portuguese. In 1644, and then 1646, she fought huge battles against the Portuguese in which she personally led the troops and in both cases, she beat them back. The Dutch then sent her reinforcements as she again routed the Portuguese army in 1647.
However, eventually, she was forced to retreat but then shifted to guerilla tactics to cause the Portuguese and their slave traders more and more losses for the next 20 years. For the rest of her life, she devoted her efforts to resettling former slaves and allowing the slave women to bear children. Even after her death, the Kingdoms survived for another century, before eventually falling to the Portuguese in the 17th century.
Imamate of Futa Toro
The Imamate of Futa Tora was a theocratic state located in present day Senegal. It resisted slavery and slave trading from the start. Abdul Kader was the first ruler of the Imamate and he banned the trading of slaves under the instructions of the clerics at the time. In 1785, the French kidnapped three children with the intention of trading them on. Abdul Kader wrote a threatening letter to them and eventually succeeded in getting a deal which prohibited the trading of slaves from his Kingdom and Muslim slaves in general. Thus both Muslims and non-Muslims of Futa Tora were saved from the curse of slavery. The transport of slaves through the Kingdom was also banned, and any slaves were released when the enemy was defeated in war.
Futa Toro and West African kingdoms, c. 18th century.
The Kikuyu are a Bantu speaking tribe that live in Kenya. Before the arrival of the British in 1895, the Kikuyu had never been subdued or beaten. Arabs tried to establish land routes through the lands of the Kikuyu for their slave trades. However, slavery was never an institution in the Kikuyu and they never raided lands for slaves. They beat the Arabs back and any Arab slave trader who tried to venture into the lands of the Kikuyu met with instant death. Relying on their military strength and bonds with other tribes, the Kikuyu safeguarded their land and resisted any attempt of the slave trade to enter their lands. When the British arrived in 1888, the Kikuyu initially were non-hostile, but seeing the intentions of the British, the relations soon turned violent. However, the Kikuyu had inferior weaponry to the British. They were eventually beaten, but fought valiantly against slavery as long as they were able to.
The Benin Kingdom first came into contact with the Portuguese in the 15th century AD. Portugal and Benin went on to have good relations for a while, with the representatives of the King of Portugal visiting the Oba of Benin at the time. Benin became a trade hub for the Portuguese, but in the reign of Oba Esigie in 1530 Benin began an embargo – a total ban – of the export of all slaves from its port. In this way, they refused to participate in the transatlantic slave trade. However, in the 18th century, under a new king (Oba) Akenzua I, the slave trade restarted again.
Extent of Benin in 1625
The Mossi Kingdom
The Mossi Kingdom was located in present day Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso means land of the upright people. In the 1700’s, the Mossi were one of the main defenders against slave trade and slave capturing by the neighboring Ghana, Songhai and Mali Empires. They fought wars against these Kingdoms to protect West Africa from slavery. At the time, there was the Trans-Sahara slave trade which fed North African demand for slaves over a period of 13 centuries and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade which fed European demand for slaves for 4 centuries. In this way, they resisted the transatlantic slave trading that was going on in West Africa at the time. However, in the 1800’s, they too joined the slave trade
The Jola lived near Senegal and were a tribe that did not keep slaves and were against slavery and the slave trade, and refused to participate in it. They came into contact with the Portuguese in the 1400’s but refused to take part in the slave trade. However, the Europeans came on medium sized boats and captured Jola who then tried to resist. Many Jola were lost to slave traders in this way, but the Jola still refused to take part in the slave trade.
The Baga are a Western African tribe that live near the Guinea Atlantic coastline. The Baga had relations with the Portuguese but did not take part in the slave trade, and organized defense units in many villages against slave traders. One of the chiefs of the Baga, Chief Tomba led one of these defense units and when captured, incited a rebellion of slaves on the ship and paid for this with his life. The Baga generally were hostile when captured and refused to give in to slave traders.
The Kru people are a people indigenous to Western Africa. They were known for their navigation skills and for this reason were sought after by slave traders. The Kru resisted militarily though and fought against the slave traders. They were known as difficult by slave traders because even when captured, they refused to surrender and they would rather take their own lives rather than serve in slavery. They fought bravely and suffered greatly under the slave trade.
The Balanta are a people that lived in Guinea. The Portuguese laid claim to Guinea in the 15th century and occupied it, and then used it to further the slave trade. The Balanta resisted against the Portuguese and the imposition of colonial rule. They fought a long guerrilla war against the Portuguese. The Balanta stood up against the slave trade, fighting hard against the Portuguese and suffering heavy losses as Portugal tried to enslave more and more of them. They never gave up and eventually managed to finally gain independence in the 20th century.
Slavery was a stain on the human race and a huge ordeal for the African people. Countless tribes and people resisted and their sacrifices and struggles should never be forgotten. Although there were some African kingdoms that profited from the slave trade, we set out to increase awareness about the nations which opposed the Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Sahara slave trade, so that accurate African History is taught, not just a simplified or misleading high-level summary of the past.