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Kidnapping: An Underreported Aspect of African Agency During the Slave Trade Era (1440-1886)


This article addresses the issue of African agency—that is, the active involvement by some of continental Africa’s indigenous inhabitants, i.e., members of various ethnic, religious, and cultural communities—in aiding and abetting the European slave traders during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade era (1440-1886). They committed innumerable acts of kidnapping on their neighbors with whom they cohabited the sub-Saharan regions of the African continent: western, central, and to a lesser extent, eastern. There exist in some current societies memories of their past enslaving activities for which they have created various ceremonies to atone for their ancestors' predacious practices.

Many of the abducted unfortunates, besides being incorporated into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, were sold into other slavery systems as well, i.e., the Trans-Saharan, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, and the ubiquitous internal networks for which there is a dearth of verifiable documentation translated into English.

This lack of written records reflecting the numbers of humans absorbed into these systems means that there will never be an accurate accounting; however the European slave-ship captains maintained fairly good ship -logs of their slave purchases for the duration of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade system era, deficient in some aspects, they nevertheless provide a general picture of the enterprise from the mid-fifteenth century to the end of the nineteenth century.

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