The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

By Iyunolu Folayan Osagie | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Amistad Returnees and the Mende Mission

The contact between Europe and Africa, established through peaceful patterns of trade from West Africa to North Africa to the Mediterranean and European worlds, dated back to at least the eighth century. These patterns dramatically changed around the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when explorers, seeking a trade route to India, made direct contact with Africans on the west coast of Africa. Needing watering places en route to the East, the Europeans developed ties with the indigenous coastal peoples, ties which seemed limited to peaceful transactions of legitimate trade. European goods, such as textiles, beads, and durable metal wares, were exchanged for prized articles such as ivory, gold, wood, and beeswax. It was not long before the indigenous peoples themselves became the most desirable goods—as slaves—in this enterprise. Slaves were highly valued in the European market as a labor force in the New World territorial expansion and as viable “currency” in the circulation of manufactured goods.

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, then, Africa increasingly became an international commercial center in which the slave trade was the most profitable venture. While the western and southwestern coasts of Africa were the sites of procured slaves bound for Europe and the Americas, the central and eastern regions of Africa had their own complex arrangements that supplied slaves to the Arab world and to Europe. The plunder of Africa and Africa’s resistances and collusions generated specific and varied historical impulses in the many cultural and geopolitical groupings and regions of the continent.1

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