Sunday, August 28, 2011

Black African Kings Marketed Slaves To The Europeans

If only African kings had refused to sell their own people . . .

Urbanism on West Africa's Slave Coast
Archaeology sheds new light on cities in the era of the Atlantic slave trade
By J. Cameron Monroe
American Scientist
September-October 2011
For much of the 17th and early 18th centuries, successive kings of Allada sought to monopolize access to the goods, largely through royal- sponsored slave-raiding campaigns against weaker neighbors. Fearing competition from rivals, kings went so far as to require European merchants to trade directly with them at their palaces before trading with others in the kingdom. However, as demand for slaves in the New World picked up toward the end of the century, Allada found it difficult to maintain a trading monopoly, and secondary polities began to get in on the action. The rise of Hueda was a product of Allada’s declining authority. Proximity to coastal ports in an era of expanding demand for human cargo granted the Huedan elite access to vast quantities of Atlantic wealth, resulting in the emergence of a powerful palace-centric polity, which often worked against the interests of its political overlord, Allada.
As demand for humans as commodities was replaced by the demand for labor to produce commodities in Dahomey, the nature of political and economic organization transformed dramatically. Dahomey continued to wage military campaigns and take captives from neighboring polities, but those captives were put to work in large-scale agricultural production. In addition to increasing the domestic slave population, this economic transition expanded local markets and the relative wealth held by rural communities. The outcome was the overall ruralization of the Dahomean political economy.
UNTIL recently, sub-Saharan Africa was viewed as a place lacking a deeply rooted urban history. Because many African communities did not fit models of the city that scholars embraced in the early 20th century, the impressive scale of precolonial African towns was attributed to intrusive Middle Eastern or European influences in the second millennium A.D. Those models defined cities in terms of specific traits: large populations, monumental architecture and a literate class that fostered religion, the arts and government. African communities without these requisites were viewed as mere extensions of a rural countryside, part of a peasant way of life. African communities that had such traits were deemed beneficiaries of cultural stimulus from afar.

Despite the tenacious grip that this model held on our understanding of the sub-Saharan African past, archaeological evidence accumulated in recent decades is dispelling the myth of a cityless precolonial Africa. Research adopting a functional model of the city has forced us to see cities as more than a simple collection of traits. According to this model, urban centers are differentiated from, but closely integrated with, their rural communities. Cities are thus settlements that provide specialized services to a broader hinterland. The key issue, therefore, is not what a city is, but what a city does for rural communities within its sphere of influence.

This functional model has cast valuable light on the evolution of urban settlements across the continent. Research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s by Susan and Roderick McIntosh, of Rice University and Yale University respectively, has revealed that communities in the Inland Niger Delta region of Mali began to pass the urban threshold during the first millennium A.D., long before Near Eastern or European influence was a factor.
Related information about Dahomey and it's kings on Wikipedia:

Economy and politics

Based in his capital of Agbome, Wegbaja and his successors established a highly centralized state with a deep-rooted kingship cult of sacrificial offerings. These included an emphasis on human sacrifices in large numbers, to the ancestors of the monarch. Human sacrifices were not only made in time of war, pestilence, calamity, and on the death of kings and chiefs, they were also made regularly in the Annual Customs, believed to supply deceased kings with a fresh group of servants.

Four thousand Whydahs, for example, were sacrificed when Dahomey conquered the Kingdom of Whydah in 1727. Five hundred were sacrificed for Adanzu II in 1791. Sacrifices for Gezo went on for days. Human sacrifice was usually by beheading, except in the case of the king's wives, who were buried alive. The king directly owned all land and collected taxes from all crops.

Economically, however, Wegbaja and his successors profited mainly from the slave trade and relations with slavers along the coast. As Dahomey's kings embarked on wars to expand their territory, they began using muskets and other firearms traded with French and Spanish slave traders for young men captured in battle, who fetched a very high price from the European slave merchants.

Under King Agadja (ruled 1708-1732), the kingdom conquered Allada, where the ruling family originated. They thus gained direct contact with European slave traders on the coast. Nevertheless, Agadja was unable to defeat the neighbouring kingdom of Oyo, Dahomey's chief rival in the slave trade. By 1730, he became a tributary of Oyo. This required that Dahomey pay heavy taxes, but it otherwise remained mostly independent.

Even as a tributary state, Dahomey continued to expand and flourish because of the slave trade, and later through the export of palm oil from large plantations that emerged. The king's ownership of all land gave him a virtual monopoly on all trade.

As one of West Africa's principal slave states, Dahomey became extremely unpopular with neighboring peoples. The kings of Dahomey sold their war captives into the Transatlantic slave trade, rather than kill them in the Annual Customs.

Historian Walter Rodney estimates that by c.1770, the King of Dahomey earned around £250,000 per year by selling captive Africans to the European slave traders. He spent most of the money on British-made firearms (of poor quality) and industrial-grade alcohol.

Female soldiers

The women reportedly behaved so courageously they became a permanent corps. In the beginning the soldiers were criminals pressed into service rather than being executed. Eventually, however, the corps became respected enough that King Ghezo ordered every family to send him their daughters, with the most fit being chosen as soldiers. Richard Francis Burton commented on the "masculine physique of the women, enabling them to compete with men in enduring toil, hardship and privations," and Alfred Ellis concurred that the female soldiers, "endured all the toil and performed all the hard labour."[3] 

The women seem to have in fact considered themselves transformed into men, socially if not physically. At a parade in 1850, in which over 2,000 female soldiers participated, one of them began a speech by saying, "As the blacksmith takes an iron bar and by fire changes its fashion, so we have changed our nature. We are no longer women, we are men."[4] About two-thirds of the soldiers were unmarried, and Burton noted a "...corps of prostitutes kept for the use of the Amazon-soldieresses."[5]

A similar gender switch occurred among some men close to the royal court. Referred to as lagredis, the boys were chosen from among high ranking families and either castrated or given "potions" to feminize them.

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