Slave Traders by Invitation
West Africa in the Era of Trans-Atlantic Slavery
A frank reassessment of agency in the West African slave trade, exposing how local polities, not Europeans, called the shots.
The Slave Coast, roughly the shores of present-day Benin and Togo, was the epicentre of the Atlantic Slave Trade. But it was also an inhospitable, surf-ridden coastline, subject to crashing breakers and devoid of permanent human settlement. Nor was it easily accessible from the interior due to a lagoon which ran parallel to the coast. The local inhabitants were not only sheltered against incursions from the sea, but were also locked off from it.
Yet, paradoxically, it was this coastline that witnessed a thriving long-term commercial relationship between Europeans and Africans, based on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. How did it come about? How was it all organised? And how did the locals react to the opportunities these new trading relations
The Kingdom of Dahomey is usually cited as the Slave Coast’s archetypical slave raiding and slave trading polity. An inland realm, it was a latecomer to the slave trade, and simply incorporated a pre-existing system by dint of military prowess, which ultimately was to prove radically counterproductive. Fuglestad’s book seeks to explain the Dahomean ‘anomaly’ and its impact on the Slave Coast’s societies and polities.
Finn Fuglestad is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Oslo. He is the author of eleven books including A History of Niger, 1850-1960.