299 West Africa


A horribly brief introduction to the West African kingdoms with which the Portuguese started to trade and a smidge of their backstory, before the English began to arrive in the 16th century.

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This week then I am going to start on a sort of mini series about that most notable of Elizabethan activities – the expansion of international trade, the entry of England into exploration, and the development of an English navy. One of the parts of the world we shall be talking about is Africa, specifically West Africa. So I thought I’d start this little suite by talking a very little about African history, or more specifically West African really, to give a bit of background, but also because it’s a shiny new thing for me and shiny new things are always more interesting. I have to say, there is little in here that is specifically about this history of England, which could get me thrown off my own Facebook group. Mea Culpa.

The last time we discussed this we talked a little about how Portuguese mariners and traders in the 15th century inched down the West Coast of Africa, agonizingly slowly. What’s difficult to grasp is just how little Europeans knew about Africa, and more importantly, just how little they knew about the winds and currents, and how to navigate what for them was an unknown land. For example, in 1434, the Portuguese rounded Cape Bojador on the western coast of the Sahara. This was a major obstacle, and had been for centuries. The steady flow of currents from north to south along the coast of North Africa meant that Mediterranean sailors were able to reach that point relatively easily by hugging the coast; once beyond it there was no way of getting back without risking the high seas, an insurmountable challenge; there were a couple of documented trips by Arabic traders in the 12th century who went beyond the cape by accident – both forced to return by overland routes[1]. But by 1434 the Portuguese had settled the Azores and the Spanish the Canary Islands; so now sailors were able to return safely via those islands. This is the manner of exploration; baby steps, bit by bit, slowly acquiring a piece of knowledge helping them to move to the next step.

European Ignorance about sub saharan Africa was almost total as the process started; the texts written about Africa did more harm than good, drawing a veil of the fantastic and bizarre across European minds. In the 1550s a popular edition of Pliny’s 1st century ‘Summary of the Antique Wonders of the world’ was published in England. It catalogued a bizarre collection of men. For example

‘Towards the west there is a people called Arimaspi, that hath but one eye in their foreheads…the people called Anthropophagi, which we call cannibals, live with human flesh. The Cinamolgi, their heads are almost like to the head of dogs’[2]

Not necessarily that helpful, which is reflected in the other book that mariners carried with them. Written in French and translated all over Europe, this was Mandeville’s travels, written in the mid 14th century. The compiler of the work identifies himself as from St Albans, so one of our own, but Mandeville probably never existed. Similar to Pliny, it’s a collection of the weird and wonderful – diamonds of massive sizes littered the earth for example; the waters of the rivers were flavoured and spiced, and none of them were Marmite flavoured – or not that Mandeville mentions. And if you happen to go to Hereford and take a gander at the Mappa Mundi you can see just how little was known of the geography of the continent. So, imagine facing the enormous challenges of carving out new trading routes with this level of misinformation. The curious thing is that many of these myths remained remarkably robust in the face of experience, which might be due to the way that trade developed, as we’ll come on to. But take the legend of Prester John for example, which may well be a name you know – a legend perpetuated by adventure writers in the modern age like Rider Haggard. The idea was that there was a lost African and Christian kingdom ruled by Prester John, a legend that probably flourished from the memory of the Coptic Christians of Ethiopia. The legend persisted even after a delegation of Copts reached Florence in 1441 and were quite clear they knew nothing of this kingdom.

Now I know what you are going to ask me now; so, if not massive weird humans with a single foot, if not lands of such plenty that no one was rich and nobody poor, what kind of kingdoms or countries did Europeans find? It is a good question, and I am glad that you have asked me. Thank you. The first thing to say is that the European levels of ignorance were not shared by North Africa and the Islamic world; despite the barrier of the Sahara and Sahel, there was a long standing trade with the major kingdoms and empires of west Africa, and these could be substantial. The empire of Wagadou, often called Ghana because that was the title of its king, and was centred on modern day Mauretania, and therefore not to be confused with modern day Ghana. In common with many of the larger African kingdoms and empires, Ghana was a collection of smaller states, and the relationship of those states might relate to the manner of their original  affiliation; a state conquered by war might have much less autonomy that others that joined by treaty. According to Islamic writers, especially Al Bakri, Ghana grew rich on trade, and its government monitored and managed that trade closely, charging customs taxes on both import and export. That trade was based on Copper, Salt – and most importantly, on Gold. It would be gold that drew the Europeans in later centuries. Al Bakri wrote of a king of Ghana that he

…led a praiseworthy life on account of his love of justice and friendship for the Muslims…The city of Ghana consists of two towns situated on a plain. One of these towns, inhabited by Muslims, is large and possesses twelve mosques, in one of which they assemble for the Friday prayer.

There are salaried imams and muezzins, as well as jurists and scholars.”

He sits in audience…in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials. Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold

By the time of its 12th century wars with the Almoravids, Ghana was substantially muslim, though traditional animist religions remained strong. The attack by the Almoravid was the beginning of the end for Ghana, finally taken over by the Sosso and extinguished, probably early 13th century.

As Ghana declined, a new west African empire of Mali was growing, out from a small kingdom of the Maninka on the Niger river. Mali would grow to be a large and wealthy kingdom, once again described by Islamic traders and chroniclers from North Africa, but also in local oral tradition. The mansa, or imperial ruler of Mali was supported by the Great Assembly, a deliberative body of the empire’s great men. It was also greatly decentralised, with greater autonomy the further away you lived from the centre. But there was a clear regional and provincial structure and officials, at village level, to a group of villages and provincial level. Only at the level of the province did central control become active.

Possibly the most famous of the Mansa, was Musa, who came to the throne in 1307 after a series of wars. It was again the trade in Gold that made Mansa Musa enormously wealthy, produced from mines in the west of Mali. The gold drew Islamic traders in particular, to a trade centred on Timbuktu, a substantial city of maybe 50,000 by the 16th century. Musa made his name famous throughout north Africa not least because in 1324-5 he went on Haji. He took with him a massive entourage of wives, soldiers, slaves and servants. And he took with him his empire’s richest commodity, gold. When he reached Cairo, he distributed over a thousand pounds of the stuff, scattering gold along the route to the poor with such liberality that the reputation of Mali as the wealthiest kingdom in west Africa was secure; and indeed it’s possible that the gold mines were the largest producers in Africa and Europe. So much gold did he distribute that the gold markets were affected and the price of gold fell, so maybe he was a sort of 14th century George Soros. I think I recognise myself trying hard to make a snarky joke, but honestly, I don’t really know who George Soros is. Just that he’s not on my daughter’s Christmas card list.

The Empire of Mali survived well into the period of trade and contact with Europe in 15th to 16th centuries, but from the later 15th century it was challenged by the growth of the 3rd west Africa Empire of today’s episode, that of the Songhai, named after the Songhai people with whom it originated. Under Sunni Ali who ruled from 1468 to 1492, the Songhai expanded rapidly and aggressively from their existing borders, and captured two of the principal Malian centres of Timbuktu and Djenne, centres of the trade routes to and from North Africa in gold, salt and the enslaved. Sunni Ali reputedly fought a war in every year of his reign. His successor Askia the Great built Timbuktu as a great centre of learning as well as trade; just like Musa, he also went on Haj, and astounded the Islamic world with his wealth. Askia was more of an administrator, ordering canals be built to improve trade, standardising weights and measures, and appointing inspectors for each trading centre. Songhay power was finally broken at the battle of Tondibi in 1591 by an invading army from Morroco.

Now, I’ve given you a frankly inadequate fly by of three West African kingdoms for a few reasons really, mainly under the heading of trying to wash the slate of my own mind clean from some basic assumptions. Because at school, in defiance of those who claim the British Empire isn’t taught in English schools, I spent 4 years on the history of the 19th century. I believe this is me being snarky again, or maybe just defensive. Anyway, part of that was the rather hideous Scramble for Africa which built the assumption that European contact with Africa was about military and technical superiority, about conquest, and superior European wealth. The situation in the 15th to 17th centuries, the first period of growing contact and trade was not like that at all. The conspicuous success of the 3 empires, built on trade, developing large and successful cities and centres of learning hopefully just re-inforces that point, and banishes the idea of inevitable victimhood. You, of course, may not be prey to the sort of prejudices that have made nests in my mind. The other prejudice which lies in the nest is that of the slave trade, a part of the NC and also well covered in the vast majority of schools by the way, that all contact with Africa was necessarily about the enslavement and selling of human beings. Of course, that is the story whose horror quite rightly ensures it dominates. But it was not the original lure for European traders; they originally came for gold, and also for dyewood, ivory and a particular pepper found in Sierra Leone, called at the time ‘grains of paradise’.

However, it is worth noting that Empires such as Ghana, Mali and Songhay were not particularly typical of the sort of kingdom that traders found in Africa. Africa was largely very fragmented with a large number of relatively small kingdoms[3]. Just to give a point of reference, contemporary Moghul India controlled around 2m km, Phillip II’s European possessions around 1m Sq KM, and France about 550,000 sq km. The largest of the empires in Africa we have spoken of, probably Songhay, amounted to somewhere between 500,000-1m KM. A more standard size for African states were more on the scale of England at 150,000 km or Portugal at 90,000; only about 30 percent of African states on the Atlantic coast were larger than 50,000 sq KM, and half of these were in the mid range like England or Portugal. A few states like Benin and later Dahomey occupied areas like 5,000 sq km, but about half the states of west and Atlantic Africa were in the order of 500-1000 square kilometres. Sort of somewhere between Rutland and Bedfordshire, if that helps. Possibly it doesn’t. Population density varied, but west and Atlantic Africa would have been relatively densely populated; so a small state of 1,500 sq Km might have averaged around 3,000 people in central Africa, 20-30,000 of the Gold coast. These are all figures that appear in Thornton’s book Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world 1400-1800’ and you have to think they are estimates and extrapolations, so I suggest we don’t take them as gospel; but they give an idea of scale I think, and the principal of fragmentation seems to be well accepted by other historians such as Paul Lovejoy.

I think there is probably another prejudice hiding away in the increasingly bulging nest of my mind, that consolidation and centralisation is an inevitable process of the state; it’s kind of the story of early modern Europe, warfare leading to increasing taxation, centralisation and state bureaucracy to improve efficiency and harvest the wealth of the kingdom to feed those wars. So why does this happen but rarely in Atlantic Africa? One reason lies in a fascinating legal wrinkle which had entirely escaped me for the last 56 years. Once again, with my shamelessly Anglocentric view of life, I have not only assumed that cricket is the greatest game invented by man, but have also assumed that landownership is one of the engines of society. Throughout the last 298 episodes of this podcast, it is a common and constant factor; you rewarded your followers with land, land ownership was major factor in status and wealth. Well, it transpires that this was not the case in pre-colonial West and Central Africa, nor in the Americas.

Well good golly miss molly. European commentators of the time tried to describe the situation by placing ownership of land into the hands of the king, but its probably more accurate to say that land was corporately owned by the people and its kinships, and managed by the king. This did not mean that people who worked the land and made their living from it, that is most people, were insecure; law usually assured security of tenure as long as the inhabitants could work the land, but there’s no concept of the small holder who can then pass on their land to their children by inheritance. Usually there was limited population pressure, and therefore anybody wanting land and with the capability to work it could usually be accommodated.

This is a concept which has a significant impact on wealth and trade. If property and its productive capability are not tradeable, how to accumulate and demonstrate wealth? The answer is in labour – labour could be owned and traded. It means that ownership of enslaved people has a particular significance in African history, because it was integral to the accumulation of wealth. This might not be only significant in the trade of enslaved people; so for example in the gold coast region, the rise and success of several merchants has been mapped, and depended on the accumulation of the enslaved to carry goods, work the land, protect the household. In the 1620s an English gold trader noted that the Djulas along the Gambia had constructed a chain of villages with land worked by the enslaved, who then produced provisions and transport for commercial expeditions. The ownership of the enslaved also formed an important part of centralising states – the growth of the Songhay empire, for example, relied on the work of the enslaved in the army, in administration as well as in rice production. The use of slaves in bureaucracy was particularly important in that it allowed rulers to bypass the influence of the local nobility[4].

However, the trade in the enslaved was a central part in the African economy. The enslaved might be acquired in a number of ways including perverting the judicial process for example, but the primary method was probably warfare. For a small kingdom, warfare to acquire slaves rather than land removed all the complications of the following need to then administer and manage land acquired by conquest. The trade in enslaved people was a well established process well before Europeans arrived, both within Africa and particularly into North Africa across the Sahara from West Africa.

Before we turn to the arrival of Europeans into African trade, it’s worth noting that enslavement in Africa is difficult to characterise; as Sean Stillwell described[5], the enslaved experienced life in very different ways according to their situation, with varying degrees of 3 factors; enslaved as kinless outsiders, the enslaved as property, and the enslaved as violently dominated and powerless. I don’t think here is the place to go into the various forms of enslavement, but the point is not to take the chattel slavery of the Caribbean and the plantation as the model for the experience of the enslaved; enslavement was not hereditary in many parts of Africa for example, many of the enslaved in Africa would lead lives of considerable influence and power. In some cases, enslavement formed a process for the adoption of outsiders into new kinship groups – since one common factor of enslavement was the absence of a kinship group powerful enough to protect or sustain the individual. That’s not to say that there were none of the enslaved that suffered high density enslavement common to parts of Europe or the Americas; it’s just that the experience was far more varied.

One more thing though; while it was not slaves that brought Europeans to Africa it did become an increasingly important part of the trading relationship. Early trade with the Portuguese was absorbed either within Southern Europe, or in the colonies established in the islands such as the Canaries, Azores and San Tome; here sugar and planation economies were established, and absorbed significant quantities of the enslaved. Just to make sure we keep remembering the suffering of the people concerned, here’s an extract from an account of a sale of the enslaved at Lagos in Portugal in 1444

…what heart could be so hard as not to be pierced with piteous feeling to see that company? For some kept their heads low and their faces bathed in tears, looking one upon one another; others stood very dolorously … crying out loudly…others struck their faces with the palms of their hands, throwing themselves full length on the ground

…there now arrived those who had charge of the division of the captives…and then it was needful to part fathers from sons, husbands from wives, brothers from brothers. No respect was shewn either to friends or relations, but each fell where his lot took him…

…And you who are so busy making that division of the captives, look with pity upon so much misery; and see how they cling one to the other, so that you can hardly separate them

The trade to Brazil and Spanish Americas also grew, until in 1513, the Spanish crown through the Asientos system licenced the Portuguese to transport African enslaved people to the Spanish colonies of the Americas and increase the trade. By 1600 perhaps 200,000 Africans had been shipped from West Africa, and by 1650 over 800,000[6]. The question then, and one of major dispute and debate, is how far European entry into slavery perverted and diverted African economies and society before the entry of Britain and France in the 18th century, and the explosion of the trade with the British plantation systems in the Caribbean and North America.

The transformation thesis holds that from an early stage the slave trade was damaging to African economies. Demographers have made the point that there was a significant loss of people, with other damaging effects such as gender imbalances in areas such as Angola. Historians such as Walter Rodney and Paul Lovejoy have argued that European demand also had impacts on social and political structures and activity; that wars increased to satisfy demand; that judicial systems were perverted to allow more to be enslaved; and that the numbers of the enslaved being held within Africa increased, and their exploitation became harsher. Given all these negative impacts, the argument follows that the slave trade must have been forced on African kingdoms. The counter argument points out that slavery was widespread and endemic in African society, as was therefore trade in the enslaved; Europeans tapped into this trade, and Africans increased supply; that the demographic impact is difficult to disentangle from warfare and internal African trade. Possibly the key point is that the negative impacts didn’t really impact on the African decision makers in the process, the rulers who instigated wars, enslaved the inhabitants of other states, and sold the enslaved to the traders. The point is also made that the existence of slavery in Africa was not something alien and imposed; as discussed above, it was rooted in the legal framework, and the enslaved carried out a wide range of functions and roles in both high density and low density enslavement.

The debate is unsurprisingly at some points very bad tempered, especially when it touches on the impact of questions like reparations; I read one article saying that look African nations are just as complicit in this as everyone else so there, and a response to this kind of argument making the point that ordinary Africans rarely had any choice; and that Europeans anyway had a much broader control of the whole process from production and transport than did African states. I would hate to get involved in an argument here about reparations, but I would just make the point that in my humble opinion the debate has nothing to say at all about mitigating moral responsibilities of the English, Scottish and Welsh in the abominable busines of trading in people. Either way though, John Thornton’s conclusion is that

‘the slave trade (and the Atlantic trade in general) should not be seen as an “impact” brought in from outside and functioning as some sort of autonomous factor in African history. Instead, it grew out of and was rationalized by the African societies who participated in it and had complete control over it until the slaves were loaded onto European ships for transfer to Atlantic societies[7].

I’m going to leave Thornton with the last word, given I doubt my ability to argue on this topic with the professionals, but Thornton’s view seems reasonable and well argued to me. However, the quote does raise another question – it quite clearly supposes complete control of the African kingdoms over the trading process. I must return once more to my nest of prejudices. Surely, as I think I said earlier in the light of the 19th century scramble for African and colonisation, we should assume that Europeans possessed superior military and productive technology, imposed trade and colonies and thereby dominated and controlled the process? Well, let us discuss how that all progressed.

Initially at least, it seems that violent conquest or coercion was the favoured Portuguese modus operandum. In 1444, an expedition brutally seized some small islands and the inhabitants, though fighting back with some success were forced to flee. After that, Africans began to fight back rather more effectively. A Portuguese expedition in 1446 attempted to land an armed force in the Senegambia region; they were attacked and most of them killed. Another similar incident occurred the following year.

The thing is that Europeans faced a number of disadvantages. The coastline was foreign territory for them, and it was often tricky; powerful surf tides, quickly sloping beaches, hidden sandbanks. There were few natural harbours for large stretches of coastline, and the caravel, while beautifully designed for trade and sailing, was poorly designed for the tricky coastal waters. African vessels of course, which varied up and down the coast, were designed specifically for their environment, even if they could not compete with the caravel on the high seas. African coastal boats were low sided, often powered by oars, very shallow draughted which allowed them to operate also on inland waters and lagoons, and were highly manoeuvrable. They presented very little target for European guns. Meanwhile armed with arrows and javelins, the African boats had considerable firepower, though they struggled to board the high sided caravels. But Europeans quickly found they were struggling to raid effectively; in 1456, a Portuguese raid was attacked by an African force of 150, until both parties eventually agreed to a cease fire. Furthermore, much of the interior was impenetrable to Europeans; one of the surprisingly few buildings built by the Europeans on African soil was the fort Sao Jorge de Mina, named for the all-important gold mines the Portuguese hoped to capture. To their disappointment, they had no success penetrating the heavily forested coastal belt[8].

Another part of the argument was that the Europeans had superiority in military technology, but even this is not clear. It is true that African kingdoms did on occasion ask for European military help, and Europeans were keen to give it, in the name of gaining influence. There’s a theory also that military technology encouraged the development of African slavery with the so called Gun-slave and gun-horse slave cycle, the idea that African rulers increased their sale of slaves in return for getting hold of guns or horses. For none of these does there seem to be a lot of evidence. Portuguese records don’t show any great dominance of horse trading, and anyway Sudanese regions were themselves able to supply horses in large numbers. Nor do the type of European fire arms appear to be particularly effective in the African context at this stage; European firearms were designed to be armour penetrating, armour not used in Africa and therefore offering fewer advantages over traditional weaponry, especially in the light of the greater rate of fire of archers more than compensated. Even European artillery was pretty useless against many African defences, constructed as they were from earthworks, and finally European naval support was of limited use since they could not come close into shore. A good test case might have been 1575, when Portugal fought numerous wars in Angola, specifically on the model of enslaving by military force. They did manage to establish a small colony there, and there were indeed increases in slave trade during times of war like this. However, Portuguese arms were rarely decisive on their own; on several occasions, when the Portuguese intervened with out local allies, they met with military disaster. As late as 1675, Portuguese forces would meet with military defeat at the battle of Kitombo in the kingdom of Kongo. Essentially, European military technology did not offer decisive advantage, and they were inferior in terms of numbers[9].

The Portuguese, therefore, quickly learned that for the most part trade would have to be carried on peacefully, and on African terms; in 1456 Diego Gomes was dispatched to negotiate trade agreements with African rulers. Every so often, violence did indeed rear it’s ugly head, and the English for example had to re-learn the lessons the Portuguese had discovered when they arrived in the 16th century, but by and large, trade then was conducted as I say on African terms, and Europeans quickly learned that resorting to violence might deliver some short term gain, but would queer the pitch for future trading, and so was rarely worth it. This was no example of Europeans marching in and demanding trade on cheap terms, or indeed of creating a dependence on European manufactured goods, not during this period. There are numerous examples which demonstrate the African kingdoms of all sorts controlled their trade – traders had to pay taxes, had to visit the local rulers to gain licences or agreements to trade. Nor were the goods which Europeans had to sell particularly impressive or unknown to Africa. So most of the goods Europeans came to sell, such Iron, or cloth were already produced within Africa; there was no dependence created by the trade. Often goods were bought to demonstrate wealth, and fashions sometimes changed rapidly, leaving Europeans with unsellable stock. As one Dutch trader lamented

At one moment they like this new fashion, at another moment that; and whatever appeals to them at a particular time they must have …. This is why so many goods remain unsold and are sent back to Europe at great loss

African traders well knew the value of what they were buying and selling. A Dutch trader, Pieter de Marees, in 1602 reported, obviously with his feelings a little bruised, that

When we have brought them things they did not like they have mocked us in a scandalous way

Presumably Pieter was also worried that they would taunt him some more. Another trader noted that they were dealing with professionals here; they used weights and measures to determine the exact value of the gold they traded, and were

Very aware in their bargenynge, and wyl not lose one sparke of gold of any value[10]

Nor were Africans averse to a bit of industrial espionage. As you’ll hear when I get to the topic of Black Tudors, hopefully next time, in the early 17th century an African called Coree visited England. Where he learned that in England Brass, much admired by African traders, was ‘but a base and cheap commodity’ The English trade complained that Coree passed this information back home, and the pitch was well and truly queered. John Milward the merchant concerned complained that

They demanded ably for their cattle, which we thought proceeded from Core who had been in England and (as we suppose) acquainted them with our little esteem of iron and copper’.

Benin was one of the kingdoms with which Europeans traded much in the early 16th century, and was a major source of slaves, but also had substantial trade in pepper, ivory and cotton goods. Benin was a powerful kingdom, which sent representatives to Lisbon from its ruler, or Oba. Benin city with its huge earthwork defences impressed European visitors, and with the famous brass reliefs lining the hallways in the Oba’s palace – later ripped out by the brits in 1897 as a result of a punitive expedition, and now the source of one of the many arguments with the British museum, where many of them are displayed. But in 1550, Benin decided that it wanted to sell no more of the enslaved to European traders, and so it did not – rather demonstrating the freedom of action and agency African nations had.

It is also worth mentioning that the trade was not one way in manufactured goods. African manufactured goods travelled back the other way into Europe. Cloth from Allada later fetched a good price in Barbados; woven mats were used as European bedcovers, one English factor being asked to source 1 million of the things. And wrought ivory was a high-end product for elite European customers.

The conclusion of all of this is that the disruptive nature of European trade, particularly before the 18th century, seems to have been overdone. At no point did any one nation control the European-African trade, neither any of the African kingdoms, nor the European. For a while, the Portuguese came close, along with the help of the pope and the treaty of Tordesillias of 1494 which carved the world up between Spain and Portugal. Competitors from England, the Netherlands and France managed to muscle their way it, and trade as individuals with individual African merchants with whom they made contact. As long as the European concerned behaved themselves, African traders welcomed them, and used them to keep their options open and maintain prices through competition. Neither African nor European nations were even able to control the trade or traders from their own kingdoms – but instead had to content themselves with taxing the individual merchants.

In conclusion, it appears that African kingdoms were not unsophisticated junior partners at the mercy of technically and commercially superior Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries. None of this makes the trade in enslaved people any less inhuman. But it is too easy to project backwards from later exploitation and see African and European contacts in that negative light.

OK, Next time, we will talk about how England begins to muscle in on the Africa trade, and I also have a great joke to share from the Two Ronnies. Sadly we will need also to talk about England’s first venture in the selling of the enslaved. Then in the episode after that we’ll talk about Black Tudors, the Africans that came to England, and the kind of lives they made there. By the way, if you are looking for reading suggestions, you should know that I have taken to including the transcripts of each episode on the website post, and I do include a few references, mainly now as an aide memoire for myself, but you can also use them a book recommendations; I have mentioned John Thornton’s book, then there’s David Olusaga’s Black and British, and Sean Stillwell’s Slavery and Slaving in African History.

[1] John Thornton Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world 1400-1800 pp15-16

[2] Olusaga, Black and British p35

[3]Thornton,  Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world 1400-1800, p 104

[4] Thornton, Africa and Africans in the making of the Atlantic world 1400-1800, p 93

[5] Stillwell, S Slavery and Slaving in African History, p4

[6] Walvin, J A Short History of Slavery pp42-3

[7] Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800, Cambridge University Press, 1994 p74

[8] Olusaga, Black and British p42

[9] Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400–1800, Cambridge University Press, 1994 p116

[10]   Olusaga, Black and British p49



11 thoughts on “299 West Africa

  1. A curate’s egg of a comment:
    You’re sounding better this week than any since you came back, I think. Are you feeling relatively good nowadays?

    I can predict that your daughter is fairly right-wing or has right-wing friends or has authoritarian friends or has anti-semitic friends or has Q-anon friends or is any of the above herself. She might need a talk on anti-semitism (George Soros is a left wing/pro-democracy billionaire who is hated by the above with barely disguised anti-semitic conspiracy often rolled in).

    1. Thank you! But oh my lord what did I say to bring you to that conclusion?! She’s very much the other way, a big advocate for Change in the way we run our world. Aargh!

      Gosh I must have misspoken as it happens I am back in hospital for a while, but am very curious to see how the episode goes down

      1. I’ve noticed you have a tendency to mix up your negatives and positives.
        Thanks for podcasting from the hospital. Good to hear you’re okay-ish-er than last time you were there.

      2. In my own comment i said i listened twice to this episode and I certainly heard it as your daughter being at the very least a little left of centre!

        1. Is that how it is in the UK?
          I was wondering if that was the case.
          George Soros is a favorite target of the right on this side of the Atlantic

      3. You simply said your daughter wasn’t on Soros’ Christmas Card list. But people need to leap to political assumptions immediately on today’s intertubes.

  2. Hi David,

    Enjoyed the detour to Africa, particularly the reference to Mansa Musa, reputably the richest person that ever lived. His Hajj was notable for not just its scale and magnificence but for the fact that the collapse in the price of gold wrecked the economy of Egypt for over a decade. It’s worth an episode of its own (but that may be a diversion too far!).

    The reference to Soros is going to get you into a bit of trouble – like the BBC he manages to be one of those rare people who enrages both the right (apparently he is part of the governing elite, who orchestrated and financed civic violence in order to tarnish the reputation of President Trump – see QAnon for further details (or rather don’t)) and the left (he represents unconstrained capitalism, often with an anti-Semitic taint).

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this episode, in fact I listened to it twice!
    The topic of slavery is a difficult one to cover and too many people seem to forget that slavery was perfectly normal throughout the world until relatively recently! That is why all the apologies people want for past events seem so silly!
    For example. My father was Southern Irish and emigrated here in the 1930’s and married an English lass from Grantham (no, not that one!), making me half Irish and half English.
    When Tony Blair made his apology on behalf of the English to the people of Ireland back in the 1990’s I received half an apology and gave half an apology. That made me apology neutral! All complete nonsense of course.
    Anyway enough of this, thank you for all your podcasts they are outstanding!

  4. Hi David
    This was a great podcast and as I rushed for my Wordsworth Kings & Queens of the world book, found that there was so much missing in the Africa scetion, I now need a new up to date copy of something similar for my birthday! So much of your podcast was news to me – such as ‘slavery of a kind was in Africa before Europeans arrived’ and ‘Europeans arrived with goods that were of such little interest to Africans as they were so self sufficient’. Will you do one on Zimbabwe of which I know a little?
    I particularly love your delivery, it’s oh so listenable.
    Some time ago enjoyed Lady Jane Grey
    Thanks so much – it’s really lovely after all this time ‘out of school’ to dip into History without having to write an essay of thesis afterwards.
    Keep at it – these are treasures ! All the very best Diana BFSS

    1. Hi Diana, and thank you! I was a bit nervous about the episode so really glad you liked it. Hope you are well!

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