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Becoming enslaved in West Africa

This video introduces the circumstances in which people were enslaved in West Africa. Watch Professor Olatunji Ojo explain more.

This video introduces the circumstances in which people were enslaved in West Africa. Watch Professor Olatunji Ojo explain more.

When reading histories of slavery, enslaved people are sometimes referred to as ‘slaves’. This language is now changing in academic literature, and in the media. The reason for this change is a growing awareness that the language we use to describe slavery may have harmful effects. In the case of ‘slave’, the problem is that using this word suggests that this is all the person is or was. It also hides the act of enslaving someone from the reader’s attention. When we say ‘enslaved people’, instead of slaves, it draws attention to the fact that enslaving another person was an active choice. Even in cases where enslaved people had children, and those babies were enslaved from birth, we can say ‘assigned slave status at birth’, because slave status is something imposed upon a child, not something with which a child is born.

Illustration of Moors Plundering a Village for Slaves, Senegal, 1780sMoors Plundering a Village for Slaves, Senegal, 1780s. Public domain

With that in mind, this video discusses the circumstances in which people were enslaved in West Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the previous article, Hawkins and his forces launched a violent assault on an African town in order to enslave its inhabitants. This was one way that people were enslaved by others, through being taken captive in conflict or as a ‘prisoner-of-war’. But people were enslaved through a variety of ways, and not all enslaved people ended up being transported, some remained in West Africa.

Professor Olatunji Ojo is an Associate Professor of African History at Brock University. His research interests, which include slavery, ethnicity and identity formation, religion and gender, center on the history of social and economic change.

His recent publications include:

  • “Èmú (Àmúyá): The Yoruba Institution of Panyarring or Seizure for Debt,” African Economic History 35 (2007) : 31-62;
  • “The Organization of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Yorubaland, 1777 to 1856,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 48.1 (2008): 77-100
  • “Beyond Diversity: Women, Scarification, and Yoruba Identity,” History in Africa 35 (2008).

Find out more about how the slave trade is remembered in West Africa

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History of Slavery in the British Caribbean

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