Chapter 8: The Merging of African & European Slavery

(You can read the complete pdf of this chapter here: Blumenbach Ch8vW. The first few paragraphs of this chapter, without the footnotes, is presented below.)

When the Portuguese first arrived in West Africa, they had no major concerned with who was a Hottentot, a Negro, or a Kaffir. Furthermore the Portuguese did not really care who was or was not Portuguese. The crewmen on ships flying the Portuguese flag were staffed by Italians, Frenchmen, Normans or anyone else willing to risk dying at sea. Poor conditions and tropical diseases could kill off 15 to 45 percent of the whites who docked in African ports. All that mattered to the Portuguese mariners was gold, at least initially. There were productive “gold fields” in parts of West Africa which Europeans had known about since the Byzantine era. In the late Medieval Era, Mansa Musa (1312-1337), the celebrated king (or mansa) of Mali, went on pilgrimage to Mecca. While passing through the Nile Valley, he greatly impressed the Egyptians with his wealth. The reports of his immense treasury of gold even spread into Europe. In 1375, a map from Catalan Spain included the image of Mansa Musa bedecked with a crown and scepter, and holding a nugget of gold. Figure 8.1 (See pdf of this Chapter) shows a close up of this map with Mansa Musa siting in the lower right corner. This black and white image does not show how his face is colored brown in the original.

For centuries before the Portuguese arrived in Africa, gold from the inland mines of West Africa had been loaded onto caravans heading east, or onto boats rowed downriver to cities on the Atlantic coast. It was at these coastal trading posts that the Portuguese came to acquire African gold through mercantile exchange rather than invasion. And so it came to pass that during the 15th century, decades before Columbus arrived in the New World, the Portuguese were establishing trading colonies in West Africa. These were staffed by men – economic conquistadors if you will – including a fair number of converso Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. Through sex with mistresses, prostitutes, or concubines, a population of West African mulattos came into being. In the mid-17th century, one Dutch mariner would report that trade in the vicinity of Sierra Leone was completely dominated by this new Portuguese mulatto population. Some Portuguese even settled down permanently, taking local wives and becoming somewhat Africanized, adopting the way of the indigenous culture. They carried themselves like local men of wealth which meant that they owned slaves. However, they owned these slaves according to the West Africa system of slavery, which was quite different from that which would later develop in Brazil or North America.

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