What were conditions like for those in servitude in Africa?

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akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that the condition of forced servitude and enslavement carries with it a set of uniquely harsh, yet sadly universal conditions. The primary characteristic of such a life was the denial of human freedom and autonomy.  The idea of servitude is rarely one filled with choice.  Rather, it is a condition of physical, mental, or sometimes both dimensions which help to detract from the ability to envision a life of what can be, but rather keep it as one of what is.  The life of someone in servitude usually involves a great level of cruelty and disrespect at the hands of another person or group of people.  Finally, this life is one marked with the scars of dehumanization, the perception that one is not or less than a human being.

brettd's profile pic

brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

Depends who you mean, those enslaved by other Africans or those enslaved by the European slave traders.

Slavery was a widespread and common practice between African tribes, although this was less ruthless than what we know as European slavery.  Africans from neighboring tribes were used as simple day laborers and house servants.

In Olaudah Equiano's "A Slave Story", circa 1750, he talks of being enslaved by a neighboring tribe.  His job was working the bellows (air pump) of a blacksmith - not exactly horrible work for a slave.  he also speaks of being well treated, and even after he attempted escape, being dealt with leniently.

Europeans were much more brutal, as the slaves were merely commodities.  They used scientific business practices for seeing how many slaves would survive the Middle Passage, and held them in putrid slave pens on the African coast while they were sold into slavery.  Equiano discusses his journey across the middle passage in stark detail.  Link provided below.

mkcapen1's profile pic

mkcapen1 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Slavery in Africa originated initially from waring tribes taking captives to be used as servants in their communities.  Africans also were captured into slavery by including chattel slavery  both the Muslims (trans-Saharan slave trade) and the European slave trade.

Hereditary slavery was rare.  Women were often chosen to serve over slaves than men because they could bear children for their captor.

Some slaves were chattel  slaves which are considered to be property and can be traded as property or sold.  They had no rights and served the people who owned them. 

Another type of slavery was debt bondage, or peonage, which meant that the person was serving as a slave to pay a debt off that he could not pay in any other manner.  Sometimes a father's children were forced to serve in this capacity.

There was also a condition known as free labor.  It meant that a person worked free for another person due to being afaraid of the person harming him or his family.

"Another type of slavery was called "clientage," slaves owed a share of their crop or their labor to an owner or a lineage. Yet they owned the bulk of their crop and were allowed to participate in the society's political activities. These slaves were often treated no differently than other peasant or tenant farmers."

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