The Arabs were the first to establish the African slave trade as a major commercial activity. Arabs after their emergence from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century not only moved into Mesopotamia and North Africa, but also dominated the eastern Indin Ocean, Arabs traders gradually established trading posts along the African Indian Ocean ports. Slaves could be sold to the Arab traders operating from Indian Ocean ports. As the powers of the Arabs increased they began raids on villages to seizes blacks that could be sold in Middle Eastern slave markets. Much more is known about the European segment of the African slave trade, in part because records are much more readily available. And there is much more human evidence of the Atlantic slave trade--namely the large Afro-American populations in Brazil, the United States, and other Western Hemisphere countries. Much less is known about the Arab segment of the African slave trade. There were three major routes: across the Sahara, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. There are several important questions that need to be persued here, especially the dimensions of the Arab slave trade and how it compared to the European slave trade.
While the European Atlantic slave trade was conducted over four centuries, the Arab African slave trade was conducted over 12 centuries, and has not finally ended even in the 21st century. A factor here is that slavery is scationed in the Koran and many Arabs and othet Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God which can not be questioned by our more enlightened modern attitudes on social values and human rights.
One of the fascinating aspects of Islam is how the new religion of the Arab tribes so rapidly became one of the major religions of the world and the dominant religiom from North Africa west to central Asia. The common concept in the West is that Islam was spread by the sword. This certainly was an important element in the success of Islam, but it is hardly the only factor. There are a range of economic and social factors which contributed to the success of Islam. The weakness of Byzantine Christianity was a major factor. As was after the conquest, the obvious economic advantages of converting. There were other factors involved. And these factors varied over time and in the different areas in which Islam became the domininant or principal religion. Another interesting question is the strength of Islam in the modern world. Arabs after their emergence from the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century not only moved into Mesopotamia and North Africa, but also eastern Indian Oceaninto a virtual Arab lake until the arrival of the ortuguese (15th century).
While the European Atlantic slave trade was conducted over four centuries, the Arab African slave trade was conducted over 14 centuries, and has not finally ended even in the 21st century. A factor here is that slavery is scationed in the Koran and many Arabs and othet Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God which can not be questioned by our more enlightened modern attitudes on social values and human rights. There are many references to slavery in the Koran. Some authors desribe this as Mohammed's attitude toward slavery, but this is not how many Muslims view it. Remember that Mohammed was a prophet, God's messenger. More correctly, the Koranic verses to many Muslims provide a statement of God's views on slavery. The clear conclusion from all these passages is that God saw slavery as a natural aspect of human relations. This explains why there was been no abolitionist movement within Islam and wehy it was the Brirish Royal Navy that ended the slave trade in the Indian Ocean. The many passages in the Koran mentioning slavery are rather ambigious, not unlike the Bible. Often the point of the passage is not clear. We can offer some suggestions as to the meaning. But we certainly do not pretend to be Islamic scholars. Reader comments are invited to help us better understand these various passages.
Arab traders brought Islam to East Africa soon after the success of the religion in Arabia. Islam did not, however, at first penertate beyond coastal trading settlements. The Sudan and Somaliland did gradually become both Arabized and Islamized, primarily through the influence of Arab traders. At a much slower pace Islam entered West Africa. Here rather than maritime tradersas in East Africa, it was Arab merchants traveling with camel caravans that crossed the Sahara. Muslim sultanates were established in Mali and Timbuctu in the West and Harar in the East. These trading centers also became important centers of Islamic leaming. The Arabs were the first to enter the African slave trade. Arab traders gradually established trading posts along the African Indian Ocean ports. Slaves could be sold to the Arab traders operating from Indian Ocean ports. As the powers of the Arabs increased they began actual raids on villages to seize blacks that could be sold in Middle Eastern slave markets.
Much more is known about the European segment of the African slave trade, in part because records are much more readily available. And there is much more human evidence of the Atlantic slave trade--namely the large Afro-American populations in Brazil, the United States, and other Western Hemisphere countries. Much less is known about the Arab segment of the African slave trade.
The Arabs during the Islamic expansion began setting up trading posts along the Indian Ocean coast of Africa. One of the most prominant of these posts was Zanzibar. Zanzibar (including Pemba and othr small islands) wasttractive for a number of reasons. One it was an island and for Arab traders with naval vessels this provided an elment of security that no coastal port could offer. Two spices (especially cloves) flourished on the island and these spices were valuable trade goods. The history of Zanzibar is a major story in itself. It hasbeen controlled by Arab and Persina Muslims, Muslim Africans, and the Portugese. At the time the British began to move against the Indian Ocean slave trade, Zanzibar was controlled by an Arab sultan and ws the center of the Indian Ocean slave trade.
The slave trade in East Africa was carried out by agents of the Sultanate of Zanzibar in cooperation with some African tribes. The Arab slavers had various ways of obtaining Africans. Armed gangs of Arabs and Muslim Africans would conduct raids and simply seize Africans. This might be done surrepticiously or by outright attacks on villages. Slaversould often raid villages at night and simply killthose who resisted or tried to run away. The Arab slavers might also use trade goods such as cloth trinkets and metal goods to barter for captives from local chiefs. African tribes and kingdoms were not uncommonly involved in warfare with neighboring groups. Thus they often had captives taken in war. In some cases knowing that there was a eady market for these captives helped to promote raids and attacks among African groups. Arab slavers would play African tribes against each other. The tribal wars helped to weaken the Africans kindoms and made it asier for the slavers to operate.
The Arabs had three major routes for transporting their captive Africans to slave markets in Norh Africa and the Middle East: 1) across the Sahara, 2) the Red Sea, and 3) the Indian Ocean. There were two different routes in the Indian Ocean, anorthern route, part of he Arab slave trade, and a southern route dominated by the Portuguese in Mozambique. The importance and nature of these route varied over the 12 centuries during which the arab slave trade continued. We of course know most about the 19th century when the British began their effort to end he slave trade. The nature of the trade in the 19th century was significantly different because many of he captive Afriucans were employed in Africa itself rather than being transported to North Africa and the Mdle East.
The Indian Ocean from the early Islamic conquests (8th century) to the European voyages of discovery (15th century) was essentially an Arab lake dominatd by armed Arab traders, contested at times by the Persians. One of the important commodities transported over the Arab-controlled Indian Ocean was enslaved Africans. The principal port of embarcation for Afrians taken by Arab slavers was entrepôt Zanzibar. Not a lot is known about Zanzibar and the slave trade until the 19th century. By the time the Royal Navy moved against the Arab Indian Ocean slave trade, it wasargely in the hands of the Sultanate of Zanzibar. The Sultanate's expanding plantation operations in the early 19th century were worked mostly with slave labor. Theprofits fom the East African plantations induced the Sultan of Oman, Sayyid Said, to relocated his capital from Oman to the east African island of Zanzibar (1840). The Sultan's sovereignty at the time extended from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. One source estimates that 1850 when the British Royal Navy was just beginning to turn its attention to the Indian Ocean slave trade that Arab traders were shipping about 20,000 Africans to slave markets annually. An even larger number of Africans would have been killed in the attacks taking slaves and on the the sad columns of Africans that winded their way from the interior to the Indian Ocean coast. The mortalities in the Eastern slave trade were especally high because the Arabs wre primarily after women and children which meant the men had to be killed. This was not, however, a largely naval problem. The Arab slave trade had once been focused on bringing slaves to Middle Easten markets. Now with the growth of palm oil and spice plantations, there was a need for large number of slaves in East Africa itself.
The 19th century East African slave trade actually had two destinct parts. There was a northern slave trade discussed above and a southern trade. The southern trade centered on the Portuguese colony of Mozambique. [Beachey, p. 13.]
The Portuguee trade supplied sugar plantations in Brazil, Cuba and the French
Indian Ocean Islands (Reunion and Mauritius). Slavers would capture Africans in the interior of the colony and march them to ports like Quelimane. The French demand for slaves outstripped the supply available in Mozambique. This caused the French to move into th Arab northern trade. One source suggests tha the French needed about 3,000 slaves annually in the 1770s. A French slave trader, Morice, signed a treaty with the Sultan of Kilwa to obtain a 1,000 slaves annually (1776).
The French slave trade decined with the onset of the Napoleonic Wars because of the Royal Navy's control of the seas. After the Napoleoniv Wars ended, the French slave trade gradually revived. One estimate suggests that after the Napoleonic Wars about 10,000 Mozambique Africans were transported to Brazil and about 7,000 to French Indian ocean teritories (1815-30). [Beachy, p. 13.]
The Eastern slave trade differed from the Atlantic slave trade in that there were many more women involved. The reason for this was that the sex trade was an important part of the Muslim market for slaves. The use of slaves, however, depended upon the chronological era and the country wherethey were enslaved. They were also used for labor, largely agricultural labor.
The sex trade was an important part of the Muslim market for slaves. For that reason not only women were in large demand, but young girls as well. It is difficult to say just what proportion of women and girls were usd in the sex trade. Given the perpondarance of femnale slaves thatiseemso have been a very important part of the demand. There were other uses for female slaves, including domestic servants.
The African boys taken by the slavers were often castrated before puberty (at the ages of 8-12 years). Th purpose was to fill the demand for eunuchs. No one knows the numbers involved. Estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of boys suffered castration. It is believed that a very large number of those castrated bleed to death or died of infection because of the unsanitary conditions involved.
Men were involved in the Eastern Slave Trade to a much lesser degree than the Atlantic slave trade. There was not the demand for agricutural labor in the Middle East as was the case in the Western Hemishere. As a result, the Arab slavers seemed to have killed the men in large numbers, knowing that there was relatively little demand for them. The men had to be killed because otherwise they would attempt to free thier captive wives and children. This is not to say that men were not also enslaved. There were requirements for labor, especially agricultural labor. Many slaves never left Africa and were employed on date palm and spice plantations in East Africa, especially in Somalia and on Zanzibar. In the Persian Gulf region slaves were used as soldiers, concubines, pearl divers and domestic servants, and enuchs. Slaves in southern Iraq they worked mainly as farm laborers. [Ricks, p. 65.]
Arab slavers sold large numbers of Africans in markets located in North Africa, the Arab Middle East, and Persia. There were also sales to markets in the Ottoman Empire and even India before the British Raj. Muslim buyers (usually men) would inspect the human merchandise. African women and young girls were probed in a demeaning fashion by male buyers to determine the sexual worth of their potential purchases. Muslim women also had slaves. I believe the actual purchases, however, were usualy done by heir husbands or other male representative. But here we still have very limited information. Slave who did not sell were killed. African slaves by the 19th century were bing sold in large numbers in African markets (especially Zanzibar and Mombassa). Thisshift was the result of the development of plantations along the coast of what is now modern Somalia and Kenya and on Zanzibar and slave labor was needed for these plantations.
Quantifying the numbers involved is much more difficult than the Atlantic slave trade. This is because the Arab slave trade began much earlier, about the 8th century and few if any records exist for this early period. The slaves taken by the Arabs were for the most part not worked on plantations or other institutions for which records were kept. Estimating he dimensions ofthe Eastern slave trade is difficult because of thge scarcity of documentation. Some estimate of the Africans who were enslaved by Arab slavers could be as high as 14 million people.
Most historians of the slave trade believe that more Africans were captured and sent the Muslim world (primarily Arab countries and Persia) than were shipped to the entire Western Hemisphere by Europans. The Eastern Trade began earlier and lasted much longer than the Atlantic slave trade. Yet the human evidence of the slave trade is not readily apparent in Arab countries and Iran. Given the number enslaved one is attempted to ask what happened to these people. One assessment claims, "Yet the near east today has almost no descendants of these slaves. Their treatment – obviously so for the thousands who were made harem guards but apparently also for the rest – seems not to have been of a kind to favour it. The much greater ease of obtaining fresh slaves, relative to any part of the western hemisphere, seems highly pertinent to this." We know tha huge numbers of Africans were killed by Arab slavers in the process of obtaining and transporting slaves. The question now becomes what happened to the large number of slaves that reached the Arab slave markets. And also what hapened to their descendents.
The Arabs were not only involved with the Eastern Slave Trade, but also played an important role in the Atlantic Slave Trade.
There was a major difference between the European and African slave trade and that was the purposes for which the slaves were to be used. The Europeans did not bring the slaves back to Europe. There was no need for a working class in Europe. Europe had more than a sufficent population. In fact the European population at the time of the slave trade was emigrating to the Americas and other areas. What was needed was workers in the largely unpopulated New World. This was especially important after European diseases had dramatically reduced the Native American population. The Arabs on the other hasnd did bring Africa slaves back to their countries. Here there was a well established peasant class. As a result, the Africans brought to Arab countries were less intended for field labor. A major purpose was sexual pleasure which is why so many of the Africans taken by Arab slavers were women and children.
The evils of the Atlantic slave trade was well publicised by the work of Abolitionists in both Britain and America. And because of the work of the British Royal Navy and the Civil War in America, the Atlantic slave trade while not ended was dramatically reduced by the 1860s. Very little, however, was know about the Eastern or Arab slave trade. This changed with the reports submitted by Dr. David Livingstone from East Africa. The reports of Arab atrocities while enslaving Africans caused considerable revulsion among the British public. They helped enegize the abolitionist movement. Many abolitionist had thought that with the Royal Navy's success in the Atlantic and President Lincoln's Emacipation Proclamation (1862) that their job was done. Livingstone made it all too clear that this was not the case.
The Royal Navy's task in East Africa and the Indian Ocean was even more difficult than in the Atlantic. This was in part because of the support for slavery among Muslim powers (both Arabian and Persian). The Royal Navy for the first half of the 19th century focused its resources on the Alantic slave trade. This was the portion of he slave trade most known to Europeans. It was an enormous undertaking, taking the even subatantial resources of the Royal Navy. It was only after mid-century that the Royal Navy began to address the slave trad in the Indian Ocean. The Royal Navy at first focused its efforts in the Indian Ocean on Zanzibar (1870s). There were notable ahievements. The Royal Navy capturing Arab slave ships and liberating thei enslaved cargo. The Arab adjusted o the Royal Navy's operations around Zanzibar and bgan operating out of other ports. The Royal Navy's answer was set up a 'waiting net' along the northern coast of the Arabian Sea. The Royal Navy assessment that the bulk of the slavers were headed toward markets in Arabia. This also proved successful in capturing many Arab slavers and freeing those enslaved. The task of intercepting small, fast Arab dhows in the often short passages off of Africa’s Indian Ocean coast proved to be a more difficult task than stopping the Alantic trade.
As with operations in the Atlantic, the Royal Navy anti-slavery operations in the Indian Ocean ceated many diplomatic challenges which the Foreign Office had to address. Sir Bartle Frere headed a diplomatic mission to the area (1873). He succeeded in signing treaties with the sultans of Muscat and Zanzibar. These treaies considerably strengthened the Royal Navy's ability to persue its anti-slavery operations. Frere suggested that a Royal Navy guardship be permanently stationed along the Zanzibar coast.
I know of no abolitionist movement in the Arab or wider Muslim world. There is nothing in the Arab or Muslim world comparable to the largely Christan-based Abolitionist Movement in England and America that brought about an end to slave trade and slavery itself. I am not sure why there was no Islamic abolitionist movement. I assume it was because the Holy Koran clearly scantions slavery. Thus Islamic clerics and theologians, unlike their Christian counterparts, never challenged an institution so clearly scantioned by the Koran. Hopefully our Muslim readers can provide us more information about this. Slavery was gradually abolished in the Middle East although legal abolition was not always fully observed. Abolition in many countries was taken under pressure from European countries (mostly the British) or after the creation of European protecorates and colonies.
It was the European "Scramble for Africa" in the late 19th century that finally put an end to the Arab slave trade though vestages have persited in the Sudan and other Countries. The 19th century Indian Ocean slave trade had centered on the Sultan of Zanzibar. Briatain used both diplomacy and naval power. Eventuallu Zanzibar was made a protectorate. The British, French, and Italians seized the Somali coast. The Ehiopians managed to remain independent, defeating an Italian Army (1896). It was the only Europan army to be defeatd by Africans. Britain colonized Kenya and Tanganika. The French colonized Madagascar. The Portugese retained control of Mozamnbique. Actions against slavery varied from colony to colony.
There was never extensive slavery in Ethiopia. Slavery did exist, but was small-sacle and largely domestic. Slaves served in homes as domestic servants. There was no widespread use of slaves as work force for agricultural or other production. Slaves working in homes were thus were thus regarded as part of the family. They were thus fed, clothed and protected better than anonamous field slaves working on plantations. Domestic Ethiopian slaves had substantial freedom of movement. They reportedly had religious and cultural freedom. Slavery was baned by several different emperors, but they were unable to make the edict entirely affective, but some progress was made. The firt emperor to ban slavery was Tewodros II (1855-68). It was not finally eradicated until Ethiopia joined the League of Nations (1923).
Sultan Sayyid Said of Oman (1806-56) conquered all the coastal city-states along the Indian Ocean north of Cape Delgado in northern Mozambique (early 19th century). He established a thriving Indian Ocean commercial empire. He did not, however, move militarily against the Bantu clans in the interior. Controling the ports gave him a measure of influence and the abikity to profit economically fr trade. He moved his capital to Zanzibar, an island in present-day Tanzania. The clove plantations (Zanzibar) and the oil-palm groves (southern Somalia and Kenya) were major sources of the Sultan's income. They required a large labor force and this was met through the slave trade. The resulting slave trade was centered at Mombasa and Zanzibar. Captured Africans were brought from as far as Zaire. Swahili slavers would raid weak Bantu clans. They also traded for slaves from the stronger African states that were able to resist their deprdations. Reports of the cruelties involved brought the attention of the British whi after largely stopping the Atlantic slave trade began to move against the Eastern Slave Trade.
Several chiefs during the middle ages began to expand their power through maritime trade with East Africa, the Middle East and India. Some of the most important were the Sakalava and Boina. The Arab slave trade begame an important part of the economy. T Madagascar natives elected a king--Móric Beňovský (1776).
Merina rulers became increasingly dominant (1790s). The British efforts to end the Indian Ocean Arab slave trade in the 19th century adversely affected the Sakalava as the Merina expanded their influence. The Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius signed a treaty abolishing the slave trade (1817). The British helped replace income from the slave trade with military and financial assistance. British influence was important, but France invaded Madagascar in what historians call the first Franco-Hova War (1883).
David Livingstone was the first European to reach and report on the area that is now Malawi (1850s and 1860s). Cecil Rhodes's British South African Company was awarded a charter to develop the country (1884). His Compamy soon came into conflict with Arab slavers who continued to operate there (1887–89). Britain annexed what was then nammed Nyasaland (1891). It was made a protectorate (1892). Sir Harry Johnstone, the first high commissioner, employed Royal Navy gunboats to finally defeat the slavers.
Portuguese explorers reached Mozambique in the 15th century. Portuguese setlers began colonizing coastal areas and movng up the Zambezi River. ThPortuguese officially made Mozambique a colony (1752). Slaves became an important part of the Portuguese colonial econmy in Mozambique. Yao traders were active in developing slave networks. Africans were capture from the Marave area (tip of Lake Nyasa) Kilwa, and Mozambique Island. Prazo traders along the Zambezi River offered gold and slaves from obtained in Zumbo, Tete, and Manica. The slaves were purchased by Portuguese merchants in Quelima. A estimated 1 million slaves were transported from Mozambique. The Bantu tribes largely gained from the slave trade, other tribes were weakened or actually killed. Royal Navy patrolls in the Mozambique Channel attepted to supress the Portuguese slave tarade. [Barnard] Portugal officially abolished slavery (1869), but slave trading on a smaller scale continued into the 20th century.
Somalia with its large extensive coast juutting out into the Indian Ocean south of Arabia wasore exposed to Arab influence than any other sub-Saharan African country. It was thus more heavily Arabized than othr African countries. Islamic tradition did not allow Muslims to nslave other Muslims. Thus slaves to wotk coastal plantations had to be brought in from other areas of Africa. Africans captives were transported to the Somali port cities of Merka and Brava where they were forced to work on palm oil plantations along the coast and in the Shabelle River valley. Many of those enslaved were Bantus from northeast Tanzania and Mozambique. Few of these slaves ever returned. An influential female Zigua leader, Wanankhucha, led many of her people out of Arab slavery in Somalia (mid-19th century). They hoped to reach Tanzania. They made it to the lower Juba River valley. Here they not only were able to farm, but alsoprotect themselves from hostile Somalis. Wanankhucha took a recent earthquake in the valley as a sign that they should settle there permanently instead of continuing their journey back to Tanzania. Italian authorities after seizing control freed the first slaves (1895). It was a small group of 45 slaves. The chartered company, V. Filonardi, took the action. No further action was taken until an anti-slavery crusader, Robecchi Bricchetti, began publicizing the extent of slavey in Somalia and the failure of the Italian colonial authorities to take any action. Public opinion in Italy pressed for action. Italian authorities finally banned slavery in the early 20th century when they acted in accordance with the Belgium protocol. Some slaves in remote rural locations remained in bondage into the the 1930s. Fascist authorities soon moved to reintroduce a system of coerced labor that wasnot that different from slavery. Freed slaves were conscription by Italian authorities for the agricultural industry. Italian authorities had opened more than 100 plantations in the river valleys. The emancipated Bantu slaves were formed into labor brigades from vilages establishd near the plantations. They were forced to work as farm laborers on plantations owned and operated by the Italian colonial government. The Italians employed non-Bantu personnelto oversea the Bantu workers, in many cases former slave owners. The Bantus had to abandon their own farms and villages. A British official reported, "The conception of these agricultural enterprises as exploitation concessions engendered under the [Italian] fascist regime a labour policy of considerable severity in theory and actual brutality in practice. It was in fact indistinguishable from slavery."
Africans from what is now Tanzania was particularly affected by the slave trade. Zanzibar lies off of southern Tanzania and Arab slavers wee particularly active in this area. Written accounts from the 19th century describe how Aran slavers marched African captives 400 miles from the area around Lake Malawi in the interior of Tanzanian to the coastal city of Kilwa Kivinje. Many Somali Bantu refugees (Zigua and Zaramo) describe how their ancestors were transported by sea from the Tanzanian port of Bagamoyo to southern Somalia to work on palm oil plantations. Severe drought affected the area of current Tanzania (late 1830s). This caused crop failure resulting in starvation and death. Starving Africans accepted the Suktan's offer of wage labor in a foreign land. The Bantus transported to Somalia claim that were sold as slaves on the Benediri coast and, later, to nomadic Somalis.
It was apparent from an early point that the Sultan of Oman/Zanzibar was the key to ending the Arab slave trade in the Indian Ocean. The slave trade was largely overseen by the Sultan and allied African tribes. The British began using diplomacy even before he Royal Navy had an effective presence in th Indian Ocean. They largely imposed the the Moresby Treaty (1822) and the Hamerton Treaty (1845) on the Sultan to limit the slave trade. These treaties weee, however, onl partially effecive. The British consul on Zanzibar took the lead in the anti-slave-trade movement in East Africa. The British offered guarantees of continued protection to the the Sultan if he would limit the scope of the slave trade (1850s). Finally Said's son, Barghash (1870-88), fearing that the British might simply seize his Empire agreed to a limited form of abolition (1873).
Zanzibar became a British protectorate (1890) and after considerable agitation, authorities abolished slavery on the island. The slave owners, mostly Arabs operating spice plantations, were compensated.
Since World War II, quite a number of black Americans have embraced Islam. Many apparently do so because they associate slavery with white Christian Europe. As far as I can tell, many that do so are unaware of the nature and dimnsions of the Arab slave trade. It seems understandable that many African-Americans would want to shed their white Anglo-Saxon Protestant "slave" names. Yet what most seem to be doing is to adopt Arab names rather than actual African names. They are in effect giving up one set of slave names for another set. Embracing African names and culture seems unsderstandable. Many Americans of European ancestry are fascnated by their European heritage. What seems difficult to understand is why American blacks are so eager to embrace both the Arab names and the Islamic faith of the slavers who wreaked such havoc throughout Africa for 12 centuries and even today are involved in both slavery and a genocide against Africans in Darfur.
Barnard, Frederick Lamport. A three years cruize in the Mozambique Channel for the suppression of the slave trade(London: R.Bentley, 1848). Reprinted 1969.
Beachey, The Slave Trade of Eastern Africa.
Ricks, Thomas. “Slaves and Slave Traders in the Persian Gulf,” in William Gervase Clarence-Smith, ed., The Economic of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the 19th Century (London: Frank Cass, 1989).
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