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African Slave Traders: A History

During the era of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Europeans did not have the power to invade African states or kidnap African slaves at will. For the most part, the 12.5 million slaves transported across the Atlantic Ocean were purchased from African slave traders. It is a piece of the triangle trade about which there are still many critical misperceptions.

One question that many Westerners have about African slavers, is why were they willing to sell "their own people"?

Why would they sell Africans to Europeans? The simple answer to this question is that they did not see slaves as "their own people." Blackness (as an identity or marker of difference) was a preoccupation of Europeans, not Africans. There was also in this era no sense of being "African". (Indeed, to this day, individuals are more likely to identify as being African rather than, say, Kenyan only after leaving Africa.)

Some slaves were prisoners of war, and many of these may have been seen as enemies or rivals to those who sold them. Others were people who had fallen into debt. They were different by virtue of their status (what we might think of today as their class). Slavers also kidnapped people, but again, there was no reason they would inherently see slaves as "their own".

It might be tempting to think that African slave traders did not know how bad European plantation slavery was, but there was a lot of movement across the Atlantic.

Not all traders would have known about the horrors of the Middle Passage or what life awaited slaves, but others at least had an idea.

There are always people willing to ruthlessly exploit others in the quest for money and power, but the story of the African slave trade goes much further than a few bad people.

Slavery and the sale of slaves, though, were parts of life. The concept of not selling slaves to willing buyers would have seemed strange to many people up until the 1800s. The goal was not to protect slaves, but to ensure that oneself and one"s kin were not reduced to slaves.

As the slave trade

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