Slavery was widespread throughout Africa as tribes would fight other tribes and take prisoners of war turning them into slavery. Slavery did not originate in the same tribe. In other words, one tribe did not make slaves of their own unless they were criminals. Slaves came from opposing tribes and were the result of war. Slavery was not seen as a business in Africa. It was a part of life and accepted. The need for slavery increased as the demand for African resources stretched beyond the continent and touched Europe starting with the Portuguese sailors. As gold began to be in demand, kingdoms such as the Ashanti increased the number of slaves they possessed as “slave labour remained the basis of most gold-production.” (1) Slave labor was the support of many of the African tribes as they did the menial work and helped the tribes to survive. It is when Europeans came on the scene that slavery took on a whole new aspect and became a trade itself. The Africans provided the slaves for the Europeans but did so when they had the slaves to sell. As war continued throughout the land, it became evident that the source of slaves would not end. Africans used other Africans as slaves. These slaves had a chance for freedom as they could be ransomed back to their tribes or be integrated into the new society they found themselves in. (2) It was only when they left under European dominance did they lose all chance of returning home or becoming a part of the new society. African slavery kept the people in the land they were familiar with and a culture that would accept them. European slavery kept the people separate and created a new class that many would look at as less than human. Slavery could be viewed as being more humane under African tradition as it gave the slaves hope and chance. Slavery under European tradition more than likely led to death and a permanent fixture in society that would take centuries to begin to overcome. The biggest problem that would impact Africa as it moved into the European slave economy was the loss of the slaves. Ironically, it was the slaves that African tribes took that helped developed various African tribes and gave them the chance to be self-sufficient. (3) As slaves were sold instead of used, the African tribes began the process of weakening leading to easy domination by European powers.
(1) Kevin Shillington, History of Africa, 2nd edition, (Oxford: Macmillan, 3005), 194.
(2) Ibid, 173.
(3) Ibid, 174.