America, Africa and Oceania, 1500 - 1750
Part I: the Americas
Until 1492 the peoples of the eastern and western hemispheres had almost no dealings with each other. It is probable that the Iberian Celts made sporadic voyages to North America before the Common Era. About 1,000 CE, Viking explorers established a short lived colony in modern Newfoundland and sporadic encounters between European fisherman and the indigenous peoples of North America were likely before Christopher Columbus made his first journey across the Atlantic. After 1492, however, the voyages of European mariners led to permanent and sustained contact with peoples of the “New World”, South and East Asia, and Oceania.
The Spanish Caribbean
The first site of sustained interaction between the Spanish and indigenous American peoples was in the Caribbean. The natives in that area were called Tainos (Teye-noh) who lived in small villages under authority of chiefs who allocated land to families and supervised community affairs. Their diet consisted mainly of vegetables, fruits and manioc (a root that could be dried and made into flour high in protein); they also hunted and fished. They were naively friendly to the Spanish and enjoyed the glass, beads and metals tools the Spanish traded, and offered little resistance to their invaders.
Christopher Columbus and his immediate followers made the island of Hispaniola (today Haiti and Dominican Republic) their headquarters. They established the town of Santo Domingo, which quickly became the capital of the Spanish Caribbean. Columbus’ original plan was to build forts and trading posts where merchants could trade with local peoples for products desired by European consumers. However, it soon became clear that there were no silks or spices, so the Spanish began to look for some other way to turn a profit.
To turn that profit the Spanish began to look for gold. They forcibly recruited the Tainos for mining the gold. Recruitment of labor came through an institution known as the Encomienda, which was first established on Hispaniola in the mid 1490s while Columbus was still exploring. Encomienda gave the Spanish settlers (Encomenderos) the right to compel the Tainos to work in their mines or fields. In theory, the encomeneros assumed responsibility to look after the workers’ health and welfare and to encourage their conversion to Christianity. In reality, the encomienda system was forced labor (almost slavery) conscription of brutal proportions. The Indians were severely treated. If they refused or rebelled, they were crushed by superior Spanish technology.
By 1515, the encomienda system was operating efficiently and sending large amounts of gold to Spain. Then in 1518, smallpox hit the islands. The Tainos’ population was devastated. Therefore, the Spanish resorted to raiding parties to kidnap and enslave Indians on other islands. By the 1540s, the native population of the Caribbean had declined from about six million to only a few thousand. Moreover, Tainos society was absorbed into Spanish Colonial society, but has left some interesting traces. The words canoe, hammock, hurricane, barbecue, maize, and tobacco all derive from Tainos words. Their only survivors are in the mestizo (mixed race) population to this day, most notably in Cuba.
After 1550 the Spanish Caribbean ceased to be a major center of wealth production. During the 1600s French, English and Dutch settlers also flocked to the Caribbean, established sugar plantation and imported African slaves to work them. By the mid 1700s the Caribbean was a prime producer of sugar and tobacco. The population consisted of a small number of European planters and administrators, some mestizos and large numbers of African slaves.
The Conquest of Mexico and Peru
The Spanish soon moved from the Caribbean to the mainland, where they hoped to find more resources to exploit. During the 16th century, Spanish Conquistadores (conquerors) moved into Mexico, Panama and Peru. Theirs was a freelance operation and laid the foundation for the Spanish empire in the Americas.
In 1519, Hernan Cortes landed 450 men in Veracruz and traveled overland to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital on the island in Lake Texcoco. They seized the Aztec Emperor, Montecuzoma II, but were soon driven from the island by the Aztecs. Cortes then built a small fleet and besieged the city until he starved it into surrender in 1521. However, the question begs to be asked: how could 450 Spanish soldiers conquer twenty-one million Aztecs? There were four good reasons:
Cortes had superior technology (swords, muskets, canons and horses).
He had superior intelligence (remember the story of Dona Marina, the Aztec woman who worked as a translator for Cortes and is credited with providing the Spanish conquistadores with much of the intelligence and diplomatic information they needed to defeat of the Aztecs.
Because of resentment on the part of subject peoples, Cortes was able to make alliance with them, which provided his Spanish soldiers with thousands more soldiers.
During the siege, smallpox broke out and killed thousands of Aztecs: so many Aztecs died that not only was their military strength compromised, but also Aztec society ceased to function.
A similar story is told in Peru. Francisco Pizarro invaded Peru with a small band of Spanish soldiers in 1530. He too had superior technology and was – like Cortes - helped by resentful subject people and smallpox. Moreover, he had the unexpected good fortune to arrive in Peru at a moment when there was severe Incan infighting over leadership. Pizarro, a master of treachery, came to Cuzco and, under the pretext of a conference invited all the Incan leaders together, seized them and killed most of them. He spared the Emperor, Atahualpa, and held him for ransom. When the gold was paid, he baptized him a Christian, garroted him and had his head removed. Pizarro was soon master of Incan Peru. In fact, the greatest threat to his new conquest was other Spanish freelance forces.
By 1540, the Conquistadores had absorbed other Native American states like the Maya in the Yucatan and made themselves masters of a large portion of the Americas from Mexico to Peru. But the day of the Conquistadores was short lived. Gradually the Spanish Crown expanded their own power in the Americas so that by 1570 all Spanish-held America had come under the control of the Spanish crown.
It is important to understand that the in building their empire, the Spanish operated in the same way as they had in the Reconquista. Just as they had militantly imposed their religion and culture upon the conquered Muslims, so in like manner the Spanish imposed their religion and culture on the conquered native peoples. As the Spanish colonies grew in the 16th century, two principal centers of authority arose: Mexico and Peru. The king appointed administrators called Viceroys (meaning, in place of the king) who were responsible to the king and made policy in the king’s name. This Viceroy system eventually expanded into four areas: New Spain (Mexico and Central America), New Granada (Panama, Colombia and Venezuela), New Castile (Peru, Ecuador and Northern Chile) and Rio de la Plata (Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and much of modern Argentina).
However, as in any empire, there was a danger that the viceroy – like a Chinese Mandarin or a Persian Satrap - might try to build his own personal power base. So viceroys were kept in check by a unique institution called Audiencias, which were review courts. These courts heard legal cases which were really petitions to the king in Spain who could affirm the viceroy’s decisions or change them. These courts even reviewed a viceroy’s conduct of office at the end of his term - and a negative review by an Audiencias could lead to severe punishment.
The Portuguese came late to the Americas partly due to their lucrative Trading Post Empire in the Indian Ocean and partly due to the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494, by which Spain and Portugal agreed to divide the New World along an imaginary line 370 leagues (a league was a measurement that varied among countries, but 3 miles is a good approximation) west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands. According to this agreement, Spain could claim any land west of that line and Portugal any land east. Thus Portugal gained territory along the northeastern part of South America, which came to be called Brazil, for a type of tree (Brazilian wood), which grew along the coast.
The Portuguese sailor Pero Alvares Cabral sighted Brazil and stopped there briefly in 1500. Portugal did not display much interest until French and Dutch mariners began to visit Brazil and so the Portuguese king decided to consolidate his claims and colonize Brazil. The Portuguese king assigned the land to his nobles with a governor to oversee affairs. Soon sugar plantations were founded and their profits stimulated royal interest.
Iberian Colonial Society
Colonial Society in Spanish and Portuguese colonies was patterned after European society. The migrants from the Iberian Peninsula had no desire whatsoever to create a new society and so they tried to make their new world society as much like the old as possible. Thus, Spanish migrants wanted to live in cities that modeled the ones they knew in Spain. Mexico City, built on top of Tenochtitlan, quickly became the European style capital of New Spain. In Peru, Cuzco was the first choice for a capital, but it was too high and remote, so in 1535 the Spanish founded Lima, nearer to the coast and shipping. Other cities of the modern age were also founded at this time: Panama City (in modern Panama) in 1519, Buenos Aries (in Argentina) in 1536, Concepcion (in Paraguay) in 1550 and St. Augustine (in Florida) in 1565. These cities became centers of European style public buildings, churches, government, business and society.
However, beyond the cities the indigenous lifestyles persisted. Spanish and Portuguese were the languages of the cities, but beyond native peoples continued to live, with the addition of new masters and a new religion (Roman Catholic) imposed on them, much as they always had, including their native languages. In fact the Spanish spoken in the New World today contains Native American vocabulary varying by region. There were few minerals to attract Europeans to the hinterlands, but sizeable numbers of European migrants settled permanently in the cities. In the hinterland there was much more interaction between cultures, than in the cities.
It is very important to understand that the Spanish and Portuguese both saw the Americas more as lands to exploit, rather than as lands to colonize. Nevertheless, the foundations of new cultures, European mixed with Native American, were slowly being established – as the groundwork was being laid for the modern nations of Central and South America. To the Encomenderos, the Americas were a “gold mine.”
Nevertheless, it was more than literal gold. These migrants mined other precious metals especially silver, but they also grew numerous cash crops like sugar and tobacco; they trapped fur-bearing animals, established farms and brought their religion, culture and politics with them. The result was mixed or mestizo populations and multicultural societies.
The Spanish were thorough hunters of gold and silver. When they overthrew the Aztec and Incan states, they simply melted down all gold (including art works) into ingots to be sent to Spain. When that was exhausted, mining for precious minerals began in earnest. Gold was highly prized but silver was much more plentiful. Silver production was concentrated at two major sites: in Mexico, especially around the region of Zacatecas and the fabulously wealthy mines at Potosi in Peru, high in the Andes Mountains.
The Indians were usually drafted as the Incans and Aztecs had done before and millions of Indians worked the mines for almost nothing. The Spanish monarchy encouraged mining for silver because it received a fifth (or Quinto) of all the silver mined which helped them to finance a powerful army in Europe and a loyal bureaucracy in Spain. American-mined silver wound up all over Europe and Asia, especially the Philippines via the Manila Galleons, on the Free Market and powerfully stimulated world trades. European merchants traded silver for silk, spices and porcelain in Asia.
Farming and Slavery in the Iberian Empires
Apart from mining the principal occupations in Spanish America were farming, stock raising and craft production. By the 17th century the prominent site of agricultural and craft production was the hacienda, which was self sufficient but also designed to produce cash crops to sell in nearby towns and cities.
The Portuguese did not have the mineral or agricultural opportunities the Spanish enjoyed with one big exception. Brazil was favorable to the production of sugar cane on plantations called Engenhos, which combined agriculture and industry. Instead of using indigenous peoples as laborers (whom they considered unsuited for agriculture and who had been decimated by European diseases), the Portuguese imported African slaves. The conditions on these Engenhos were too terrible to describe. Slaves were treated worse than cattle with no families or prospects for happiness. Life expectancy was short, but slaves were cheap and plentiful. The bottom line was that profit was the only goal of the owners. It was said that every ton of sugar, cost one human life. But a permanent, unintended result was that African slaves and their descendents became the majority population in Brazil to this day.
Slowly the brutal Encomienda system was replaced by the Repartimento system. The repartimentosystem still compelled Native Americans to supply workers, but made a more sincere attempt to provide protection by limiting working hours and requiring fair wages. Predictably, both systems resulted in produced low productivity and worker unrest. The workers fought back as best they could: sometimes rebellion, half hearted work and sometimes flight into mountains or jungles. In 1680, a shaman named Popé led a huge uprising in Northern Mexico called the Pueblo Revolt. An even larger rebellion occurred a century later in 1780 in Peru where over sixty thousand Inca tried to throw off Spanish tyranny and restore the last bloodline Incan ruler Tupac Amaru. Both rebellions were viciously put down and thousands were executed (code for massacred) including the beheading of Tupac Amaru.
Some Encomenderos, however, learned the lesson that a happy work force is a more productive work force and by the mid 17th century both systems were on the decline and were beginning to be replaced by a market system – still unfair - but in which laborers more freely competed for wages. Indigenous peoples also began to turn to the law courts for redress (appeal) and sometimes it worked.
Sometimes the indigenous peoples found advocates (usually but not always) in the lower clergy of the Roman Catholic Church; these good men would seek legal redress against the harshness of Spanish and Portuguese colonists. In 1615, Guaman Poma, for example, a native Peruvian authored a letter to King Philip III of Spain that has survived and serves as a record of the Indians' grievances against the Spanish colonists and the greedy clergy. His letter was lost for a long time and never read by the king but it eloquently complained about oppressive taxation, women driven to prostitution, and corrupt clergy.
The Formation of Multicultural Societies
Although their influence reached the American interior only gradually, European migrants radically transformed the social order in the regions where they established their colonies. In both Spanish and Portuguese countries large mestizo societies emerged. But these mestizos, like the pure-Europeans, lived under European social dominance and tried to be as European as possible. One of the reasons was that 85% of all immigrants to Iberian colonies were male. Only in Peru was there a higher percentage of female emigrants. In Brazil there was even a more complete mixture of races.
Iberian Social Structure
Peninsulares (those born in Spain) at the top of the social hierarchy
Criollos, or Creoles, individuals born of European parents in
America, were slightly lower in the social hierarchy
Third were the Mestizos (European and Indian parents). At first, they lived on the fringes of society until their numbers became so great that they integrated into all but the uppermost levels of society.
Fourth came Zambos (or as called in other countries Mulattos), persons of African and White parents
Lastly came imported Amerindians (indigenous conquered peoples) and African slaves
North American Settlements
North American settlement by the FEDs (French, English, Dutch) came a century later than Iberian Settlement (Seventeenth Century as opposed to the Sixteenth Century). North America’s first exploited resource was fish. Then, as the English and especially the French explored North America, the fur trade became incredibly profitable. Explorers, traders, government agents and trappers began to connect North America with a chain of forts and trading posts. Indians trapped for the traders in exchange for manufactured goods such as wool blankets, iron pots and tools, firearms, and distilled spirits. Indian tribes often fought each other and made alliances with and fought for the Dutch, English and French. The hides went mostly to Europe where they were in high demand.
As the colonies in North America grew, the Native Americans were driven west and the Europeans began serious cultivation of cash crops: tobacco, rice, indigo and later cotton. Because of labor shortage indentured servants flocked to North America and became the first plentiful labor force; later slaves were imported, especially in the south where slave labor was more profitable for plantations raising tobacco, rice and cotton. Plantation labor was not profitable in the North. Nevertheless, slavery did exist as well in early Northern colonies.
All these factors brought inevitable conflict between Native Americans and European migrants. The Indians did not understand land ownership by private individuals. The FEDs, who unlike the Spanish, had tried to buy the land, did not want it encroached upon. The Indians won many skirmishes but European technology, organization and numbers were simply too overwhelming. Conflict and disease greatly reduced the Native American population. In 1492, the Indian population of North America was around 5 to 10 million. By 1800, there were only about 600,000. The Europeans also started migrating in larger numbers. Between 1700 and 1800 over a million English, French, German, Dutch, Irish and Scottish immigrants came to North America. In addition by 1800 there were already 1,000,000 African slaves working mostly in plantations. The Native American was facing extinction.
In North America, the blending of races was less than in Iberian America. The best three reasons are:
that migrants to North America tended to come as families (not as single males), thus creating a more equal gender balance of male to female.
that whites in North America tended to marry in their own groups and distained marriage to Indians. This was less so among the French who more often than the English married Indians, called Metis (the French for mestizo). It is interesting to note that recent scholarship of the last decade has found much evidence suggesting that there was much more marriage between Indians and whites, especially Indian women marrying into white culture. The “moving frontier” and isolation of many farms and settlements made such liaisons easier to hide.
that colonists looked down upon native peoples and especially Africans (slave or free) which in turn fueled a virulent racism that would plague the future America to our times.
This all smells very strongly of racial and social superiority among the European migrants towards the Native Americans. And yet, in spite of obvious racism, English settlers interacted with Native American and African peoples. Europeans learned about native North American animals and plants and called them by their Indian names: raccoons, opossums, hickory and pecan. Europeans adapted to moccasins and wore deerskin clothing, and gave up European military tactics of marching in open formations into battle, as they learned to use the “hit and run,” “guerrilla-warfare” tactics of the Native Americans.
George Washington was young lieutenant on the famous Braddock Expedition during the French and Indian War (Seven Years War) whose objective was to try to capture Fort Pitt (Pittsburg today) and, after the “hit and run” tactics decimated the British ranks, young Washington became a hero as he rallied the troops and helped lead them back to eastern Pennsylvania. Later, in the Revolutionary War, Washington would use these “hit and run” tactics to confound and even defeat the greatly larger British forces.
From their slaves, European migrants borrowed food crops such as rice and bananas. And we must never forget the musical tunes brought to America and have become part of American culture.
The Contrast of North American Exploration and Settlement
The colonization by European nations in Americas provides some striking contrasts. Spain explored and conquered an empire a century before the FEDs. By the mid 1500s, FED mariners regularly sailed to North America in search of fish, furs and a Northwest Passage to Asia. They spent much effort in the search for a Northwest Passage – and failed; but they did harvest huge quantities of fish off the North American shores.
In the early 1600s (17th century) permanent settlements were founded by the English, French and Dutch. French settlers established colonies at Port Royal (Nova Scotia) in 1604 and Quebec in 1608. The English founded Jamestown in 1607 and Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630. The Dutch founded New Amsterdam in 1623 but did not keep it long. The English seized it in 1644 and renamed it New York. For the next 100 years the French would send migrants to settle in Eastern Canada as well as trap and explore along the Major North American Rivers: the St. Lawrence, the Ohio and the Mississippi. Although the French did not sent migrants to these areas, as they did in Eastern Canada, they did establish a string of forts and trading posts from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. The English established numerous and populous colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America from New Brunswick to Florida.
Settlement begins in the early 17th century. Settlers came in large numbers, some traders, but most wanting farmland or religious freedom.
Settlement begins in the 17th century. Settlers were few and mostly traders and fur trappers.
Settlement begins early in the early 16th century. Settlers or encomenderos were more interested in exploitation and live in cities made to look and feel as much like Iberia as possible.
North American indigenous peoples had distinct societies, but were mostly hunter/gatherers with very little agriculture. Moreover the North American Indians did not claim ownership of land, but migrated according to well defined and regular, seasonal patterns.
Indigenous peoples were densely populated with urban centers and established agricultural societies which made them more efficient
Relations with Indigenous Peoples
When Europeans saw so much forested land not bearing crops, they staked out farms and began to cut down the forestlands. They also began to exclude the indigenous Indians who were in the habit of passing through these lands. This brought inevitable stress between cultures. The English, French and Dutch went to great pains to negotiate treaties and pay for their new lands. (which also helps to explain why they resented the Indians moving through their lands) The French and English also justified their occupation of the land because they made use of otherwise unused land. They did not understand the Indian hunter/gatherer system. To them hunters were rich European nobility who hunted for recreation (i.e. the elites/nobility)
Many came as Conquistadors to find riches like Cortes and Pizarro. Within a few decades, the Spanish had conquered several Indian civilizations. Spain used the encomienda system to justify their occupation of land, setting up plantations, haciendas and mining operations, importing African slaves when the Indian population dwindled The Portuguese settled Brazil primarily to build engenhos, sugar plantations, and imported uncounted thousands of African slaves to labor on them
Climate was harsher for colonists in N. America: dense forests, little agricultural land unless forest was cut down; winters were severe and growing seasons shorter than in Hispanic colonies
Except for high Andean areas, Iberian colonies generally enjoyed warmer climates and longer growing seasons
Protestant majority with Catholic and Jewish minorities. Natives not particularly encouraged to convert
Catholic majority. Natives actively recruited by French missionaries, who were a beneficent factor in French – Indian relations.
Catholic majority. Natives compelled to convert. Church helped administer the colonial government and often tried to ameliorate the plight of the Indians.
Private investors and joint stock companies played major roles. British king chose some colonial officials, but colonists also chose some officials and their own legislatures. They had a long tradition of self government
Private investors and joint stock companies played major roles. The French king chose all colonial officials and the colonies were strictly controlled by France.
Iberian colonies had from “the top down” administration with the colony strictly controlled by the crown and its viceroys. The colonists had almost no tradition of self-government. Sets a pattern for political instability for centuries to follow.
Christianity and Native Religions in North and South America
Like Buddhists and Muslims, European conquerors, explorers, merchants and settlers took their religious traditions with them to their new lands. Remember the crusading ideal and the admonition for Christians to spread the gospel.
In Spanish lands Franciscan, Dominican and Jesuit missionaries accompanied the Spanish. They learned native languages; worked hard to convert the Indians, built missions and schools and often championed the Indians against the encomienda and repartimento systems. They preserved much of Native American culture, especially Bernardino de Sahagun who wrote volumes about pre Spanish era Mexican language, customs, beliefs, literature and history. Keep in mind that the Spanish government officially forced Catholicism on the Indians, native religions nevertheless survived on the fringes of society to our day. Yet all the modern countries, settled by the Spanish, are Roman Catholic countries to this day.
Our Lady of Guadalupe. The story is that the Virgin Mary appeared to a peasant farmer (of Aztec origin) named Juan Diego near Mexico City in 1531. She told the 57-year-old peasant who she was and that she wanted a church built on the site. To make a long story short, the bishop did not believe him. So Mary gave him some roses in the middle of winter to give to the bishop. When Juan brought the roses, wrapped in his tilma or pancho like cape, he dropped the roses before the astonished bishop. But what most astonished the bishop was that on the inside of the tilma was an image of the Virgin Mary, exactly as Juan Diego had described her. Whether or not part or all of the story is true or false is not the purview of this course but the bottom line was that six million Aztecs did believe in the Miracle of Our Lady of Guadalupe and became Roman Catholics. Soon a church dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe’s was built over the site of the miracle and has become a great shine of the Catholic religion in North America.
French and English missionaries did not attract as many converts in North America, probably because in North America colonists did not rule over conquered populations of sedentary farmers. Rather, they came as farmers and lived alongside hunter/gatherer peoples. The French with their Jesuits missionaries had the most success whereas the English had almost no interest in missionary work.
Part II Africa
Before the Early Modern Era, much of Africa developed very little, if any European interference. But with the rise of the West and its powerful, profit driven economies, more and more parts of Africa (especially along the coastlines) began to feel forced European interaction, when first the Portuguese, then the FEDs began trading, building outposts (forts) and expanding incipient colonies. This forced interaction continued on a relatively moderate scale from the late 15th century until the last quarter of the nineteenth century when Europe (in a sort of an imperialist “feeding frenzy”) divided Africa into colonies.
The Islamic States of West Africa
We have seen that between the eighth and sixteenth centuries, powerful kingdoms ruled the savannas of West Africa. The earliest of these kingdoms was Ghana (the land of gold), which reached its peak of power and prestige in the eighth century. By controlling and taxing the trans-Saharan gold (and salt) trade, the kings of Ghana became wealthy and maintained their strong state. In the thirteenth century the Mali Empire and its Lion Prince Sundiata replaced Ghana as the preeminent power in West Africa and also kept control of the trans-Saharan gold trade. We saw how Sundiata’s grandnephew Mansa Musa made his famous pilgrimage (hajj) to Mecca in 1324-1325, and that by the early fifteenth century how the Mali Empire had begun to decline, and the Songhay state emerged as the dominant power.
In 1464 the Songhay ruler Sunni Ali began the conquest of most of his neighboring states creating the Songhay Empire. Sunni Ali established an efficient, centralized bureaucracy, a powerful army and even a navy that was used to patrol the Niger River. He and his successors presided over a prosperous land and, like Ghana and Mali before him, kept tight control of the trans-Saharan gold trade. He incorporated the important trading cities of Timbuktu and Jenne into his empire and his capital at Gao had a population of about 75,000 inhabitants. Sunni Ali and his successors were Muslims who supported mosques, built schools to teach the Quran, and maintain an Islamic university at Timbuktu. But although the Songhay rulers were deeply and personally committed to Islam and helped Muslim merchants and other Islamic states, their brand of Islam was syncretic because they did not abandon traditional African religious beliefs and practices. Sunni Ali himself often consulted shamans and magicians.
The most famous of all the Songhay emperors was Askia Muhammed who ruled the Songhay from 1493 to 1528. Askia Muhammed came to power by killing his uncle, the successor of Sunni Ali. But like so many rulers who come to power by violence, Askia, once in power, ruled wisely. He was a superior general who greatly enlarged his empire. He was a good administrator and divided his empire into provinces. He encouraged trade and supported the arts and education. He was a devout Muslim, supported the Islamic University at Timbuktu and made his Hajj to Mecca around 1495. A fictionalized account of his reign, The Epic of Askia Muhammed, is one of the classics of African oral literature.
The Songhay dominated West Africa for 130 years until 1591, when a musket armed Moroccan army crossed the Sahara and routed the Songhay army. Their subject peoples rebelled; their empire collapsed and was replaced by regional, small kingdoms and city-states. The Kingdom of Kanem-Bornu controlled much Saharan trade and dominated the area around Lake Chad (Modern Chad). The Hausa established commercial city states to the west of Kanem-Bornu; the Fulani dominated a pastoral society in the grasslands to the south west, and the Oyo and the Asante built powerful kingdoms in the forests further southwest above the Gulf of Guinea.
The Kingdoms of Central and South Africa
In central Africa the principal states were the kingdoms of Kongo, Ndongo, Luba and Lunda, all located in the Congo River Basin. The best known and most organized of all of these was the Kingdom of Kongo, about which we know the most because so many of its written records have survived.
Kongo: the Kingdom of Kongo emerged in the 14th century when its rulers built a centralized state with officials overseeing military, judicial and financial affairs. By the late 15th century, Kongo embraced much of the modern-day Republic of Congo. Unlike East Africa, which resisted foreign domination, the Kongolese naively chose to establish close political and diplomatic relations with the Portuguese. The Portuguese supplied Kongo with advisors, troops and craftsmen such as tailors, shoemakers, masons, and miners to the Kongo.
In a short time the kings converted to Roman Catholic Christianity. Although his father, Joao I had partially converted to Christianity, his son, Affonso I (reigned 1506-1543), became a devout Roman Catholic and sought earnestly to convert all his people – and had much success. It is said that the Kongo Capital of Mbanza (or Sao Salvador) had so many churches during the 16th century that it was called “Kongo of the Bell.”
But in reality, the Portuguese were looking to carve out their own economic opportunities. In exchange for textiles, weapons, advisors and craftsman, Portuguese merchants wanted high value commodities: gold, silver, ivory, and most of all slaves. And when they did not get the profits they wanted, they began to undermine their good relations with Kongo. Sometimes the Portuguese went their own slaving expeditions or made alliances with traditional enemies of Kongo such as the Luba and Lunda. By the late 16th century, Kongo was being torn apart both internally and by foreign invasion. Although Kongo remained strong until the mid 1600s and tried to westernize, war finally broke out with the Portuguese who defeated the Kongolese army and killed their king, Antonio I, in 1665. There was, however, little left to exploit, and so the Portuguese left to concentrate often the Kingdom of Ndongo further south. By the Eighteenth Century the Kingdom of Kongo itself was in disarray and confusion.
Angola: the Portuguese referred to Ndongo as Angola from the title of the king, ngola. During the 16th century, Ndongo had grown from a small chiefdom to a powerful regional kingdom. It attracted the Portuguese who hoped to find gold and silver. None was found, but slaves were to be had in great numbers. So they began the conquest of Angola, but they underestimated one of the greatest women in history. For 40 years Queen Nzinga, pronounced ginga – Her name was Anna Ginga - (reigned 1623 – 1663) led a determined fight against the invaders. She dressed as a man and led her troops into battle. She insisted on being called king, not queen. She even had a retinue of male concubines. She was able to mobilize the tribes of Central Africa against the Portuguese, although she could never defeat them or drive them out. After her death, lesser leaders were unable to resist the Portuguese and by 1700 Angola was a Portuguese Colony.
South Africa: when it comes to the Southern part of Africa we know very little because the historical records are just not there. We know, however, that trade played a major role in the development of the growth of regional kingdoms, as stateless societies began evolve into complex societies and chiefs began to control trade passing through their territories. By 1300, the rulers of one such regional kingdom built a massive stone-fortified city known as Great Zimbabwe, near the city of Nyanda in modern Zimbabwe. Great Zimbabwe dominated the gold-bearing plain between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers until the end of the fifteenth century.
The Dutch: during the 16th century Dutch mariners began to interact with the inhabitants at tip of South Africa. Like the Portuguese, they were always looking for commercial gain, they began trading and forcing interaction, making alliances and intervening in local disputes. In 1652 the Dutch built a trading post at Cape Town. They soon began to displace the local hunter/gatherer peoples called Khoikhoi or (whom they pejoratively called Hottentots.) The Dutch then began to develop large estates worked by slaves and by 1700 large numbers of Dutch colonists called Boers had begun to arrive in South Africa and settled the lands bounded by the Orange and Great Fish rivers. The land was rich and as a result the Dutch holdings in South Africa eventually became the most prosperous European possession in Sub Saharan Africa and helped to make the Netherlands the wealthiest European nation in the Seventeenth Century.
The Fate of East Africa
The peoples of the city states along the East Coast of Africa were much older culturally than the peoples of Central or South Africa and as a result were not as easily impressed by Europeans, even with their technological superiority. It should be remembered that these Swahili city states had been importing ceramics, manufactured goods and textiles from India, China and the Mediterranean Basin for more than a millennium and had a thriving export trade in ivory, gold and slaves, especially with the Middle East.
However, with the advent (coming) of the Portuguese the Swahili city-states were easy prey for the Portuguese who possessed vastly superior military technology. We saw how Vasco de Gama bombarded Kilwa in 1505 and other Portuguese commanders did likewise forcing tribute from most of the Swahili city states. All these disruptions (forced interaction) caused the Swahili states to slide into decline from which they never fully recovered. We saw how Alfonso d’Alboquerque implemented the Portuguese plan was to control all the coastal cities and all the trade along the East African Coast. Nevertheless, in spite of their military superiority, the Portuguese were only able to colonize the coastal areas around the mouth of the Zambezi River in modern Mozambique. They remained (entrenched and defiant) until 1975 when Mozambique finally won independence. The bottom line was that the Portuguese were too small to completely control trading or colonize the east coast of Africa.
African Religion and Social Structure
It is important to understand that indigenous African religions remained influential throughout sub-Saharan Africa in early modern times. We have seen that most African peoples recognized a supreme but remote creator god and that they devoted much attention to powerful spirits whom they thought intervened directly in human affairs. They associated many of these spirits with geographical features such as mountains, waters, or forests. They thought others to be the spirits of the “living dead” – that is, spirits of their ancestors who roamed the world, distributing rewards to descendants who led worthy lives and honored their ancestors, but meting out punishments to those who did not.
Islam took root and remained popular in both West Africa and in the city-states of East Africa. But it is important to remember that most Islamic states had a syncretic form of Islam. One state in West Africa, however, the Fulani, observed a strict, non-syncretic Islam. Moreover, they tried to impose that strict Islam on their less-strict neighbors and although they did not stamp out syncretic Islam, they did
strengthen Islam in Sub Saharan Africa;
promote the spread of Islam from urban areas into the countryside;
established schools to teach the Quran in even small villages;
and thus laid the foundation for the later growth of Islam in more modern times
Christianity (except for Ethiopia) was brought into Africa almost exclusively by the Portuguese and almost always resulted in syncretic beliefs. The best known was the Antonian Movement in Kongo, a country which was strongly supportive of Roman Catholic Christianity. The movement began in 1704 when an aristocratic woman named Dona Beatriz, formerly a priestess of an native African native religion, claimed to have received communications from St. Anthony of Padua, a 13th century Franciscan priest from Italy. Dona Beatriz soon gained a reputation for working miracles and curing diseases. Her core doctrine was that Jesus of Nazareth was a black African man; that Kongo was the true Holy Land of Christianity and that heaven was reserved for Africans. She urged her followers to ignore European missionaries and follow her teachings. She was arrested, condemned for heresy and rebellion and burned at the stake. Her movement did not die causing unrest for years. The Antonian Movement was classic syncretism illustrating how the sub Saharan Africans wanted a faith to fit their needs.
Social Changes: forced interaction with Europeans also brought about many changes in African social structures, but did not erase the clan and kinship loyalties embedded in African culture. The Colombian Exchange brought new access to textiles and manufactured goods. American food crops such as manioc, maize and peanuts not only supplemented bananas, yams and millet, but also with their high nutrition increased the food supply with the bonus of adding variation of taste. The result was a dramatic increase in population. In 1500, the population of sub-Saharan Africa was 34 million; by 1600, 44 million, by 1700, 52 million and by 1800, African populations had grown to 60 million. This was all the more remarkable when we consider the huge numbers of slaves exported from Africa in early modern times.
Part III: The Atlantic Slave Trade
Of all the processes that linked Africa to the larger Atlantic world in early modern times, the most important (and terrible) was the Atlantic Slave Trade. From the 15th to the 19th centuries, many European peoples looked to Africa as a source of cheap labor for massive, profit driven plantations in the New World. The institution of slavery appeared as early as Neolithic societies formed (and probably much earlier), and until the 19th century many agricultural peoples made some place for slaves in their societies. Slavery was common throughout Africa, especially after the Bantu migrations. Slaves came mostly from war captives, although criminals and individuals expelled from their clans often fell into slave status.
Once enslaved, (and this is the pattern throughout World History) an individual had no personal or civil rights. They were property who could be ordered to perform any kind of work, and be given any punishment and be bought and sold. In Africa, slaves usually worked as cultivators, usually far from their homes. Sometimes they worked as administrators, soldiers or even highly placed advisors. We saw that because of the absence of the concept of private property, owning slaves became a means of measuring power and wealth. Moreover, slaves were often assimilated into their masters’ kinship groups, becoming free persons sometimes within a generation.
Muslim merchants had a well-established slave trade with Africa and as many as 10 million slaves were shipped to Islamic countries between the eleventh and the twentieth centuries. The Islamic world was interested mostly (but not exclusively) in female slaves for sexual and domestic purposes. As Europeans became involved in slave trading, they too used Islamic established networks to procure slaves. In contrast to Islamic slave trading, the Atlantic slave trade wanted in young men fit for labor in plantations. In 1441 the Portuguese began to deliver about 500 slaves a year to Portugal and Spain. They used the slaves on sugar plantations on Atlantic islands and soon shipped slaves to plantations in Brazil and Spanish colonies. The English began to ship slaves to North America in the early 17th century.
In order to maximize profits, Europeans made use of Triangular Trade. The commodities involved were several, but principally they were manufactured goods, sugar, rum, and slaves. The idea was to make three trips across long distances of ocean instead of four. For example, an English ship might leave England for Africa with clothing, firearms and tools. In Africa these would be traded for slaves which would be transported to plantations in the West Indies. There, the slaves would be traded for sugar which would be taken back to England and sold for a handsome profit. Sometimes New England was a one of the points, but the important concept is that by using a triangle method of sailing, one trip out of four was avoided so that profits were maximized.
The exchange points for most slave purchases were along the coast of West Africa. As a result, two important African states developed and participated in the Atlantic Slave Trade. The first were the Asante, who gained access to firearms in the 1660s and used them to build a strong state. By 1700, they were trading slaves for goods with the Dutch and other Europeans. The Asante remained dominant until the 1820s. The second was located further south; the kingdom of Dahomey emerged also in the 1600s also due to the acquisition of firearms and wealth created by selling slaves. Two other African states in the area emerge at this time, Oyo and costal Benin. Both traded with the Europeans but for them the slave trade was never important and both were noted for their remarkable wood and ivory sculptures.
Slaves were brought to the Americas by the Middle Passage (so called because it formed the middle leg of Triangular Trade. The entire process is a blot on the human race: violent capture; forced march to coast; the dreadful passage aboard ship in which 25% of slaves died; and finally sale and a life of slave labor in and new and strange land.
The impact of the slave trade from Africa resulted about 2,000 slaves shipped to the Americas per year in the 16th and 17th centuries. By the 1780s, about 88,000 slaves were shipped to the Americas annually. From beginning to end, the Atlantic Slave Trade transported about 12,000,000 slaves to the Americas, not counting another 4,000,000 who died along the way.
In Africa: the kidnapping and removal of so many people had profound social effects. Some African societies escaped the slave trade; others had their population decimated; and still others flourished because they participated in the slave trade. The most tragic effects resulted in a distorted male to female sex ratios, as two-thirds of all slaves shipped were males. The result was that polygamy and females being forced to do men’s heavy work became very common. Politically, more firearms and more slave raids meant more conflict and violence, as with the Asante and in Dahomey where slave trading became a source of national wealth and power.
In the New World, some slaves worked as urban laborers or domestic servants and, in Mexico and Peru, many worked as miners, especially in the great silver mines at Potosi and Zacatecas. The vast majority, however, provided agricultural labor on plantations, where they cultivated cash crops: sugar, tobacco, indigo, rice, cotton and coffee. Plantations also grew agricultural crops for local communities, but their main purpose was to make $$$ for their owners.
The typical plantation community usually had a ratio of about a hundred slaves overseen (directed) by a handful of European or mestizo supervisors. In the Caribbean and Brazil, the high death rate from maltreatment and disease coupled with a low reproduction rate (because female slaves were rarely imported) created a constant demand for the importation of new slaves.
A curious but important fact or contrast is that North America which received only 5% of all slaves shipped and that the English colonists/plantation owners were gentler and less severe to their slaves; and the cooler climate caused fewer deaths from disease. Moreover, North American slave owners imported female slaves and encouraged family life and children, which created far more (relative) happiness than in Iberian plantations.
Slave resistance was far more common than once thought and resistance took many forms. Slow work and sabotage were the most common forms of resistance. Many slaves ran away and, if not caught, these runaways formed communities in mountains, forests or jungles. These escapees were called Maroons and they established many communities in the New World. Some even raided their former plantations for weapons, tools, and provisions - and even to free and recruit other slaves to strengthen their communities. In present day Suriname, for example, the Saramaka people maintain an elaborate oral tradition that traces their descent from 18th century maroons.
But the most dramatic form of resistance to slavery was revolt, which caused terror when both vengeful slaves lashed out and brutal reprisals when rebellions were suppressed. In a later chapter we will study the only successful slave revolt in world history, when, in 1793 in the French sugar colony of Saint-Dominique, a slave rebellion was successful and by 1803 became the Republic of Haiti.
The Making of African-American Cultural Traditions
Enslaved Africans found it very difficult to maintain of their inherited cultural traditions in the New World. They were thrust into a harsh life where European languages were spoken. Nevertheless, some were able to preserve their languages and religions. Many others lost their languages, but most began to speak Creole languages, which drew from African and European languages. Many became Christians, but, as in Africa, it was a syncretized Christianity. Sometimes, as in the Voodoo cult in Haiti or the Santeria in Cuba, their syncretized religions even developed an institutional structure.
Many slaves became Catholics in Spanish and Portuguese countries and many slaves became Protestants in North America. Yet, even here they preserved their own traditions in their interpretations of the Christian religions.
Culturally, the slaves introduced African foods to the Caribbean and American societies. They used African okra with European vegetables and American shellfish to produce magnificent gumbos. Okra and gumbo are both African words. African slaves and their descendents also built houses, fashioned clay pots and wove grass baskets in African style. Their musical melodies brought a powerful dimension to Christian music.
The End of the Slave Trade and the Abolition of Slavery
The Portuguese and other European merchants and entrepreneurs have been painted in a harsh light, but it is very important to understand that many Europeans called abolitionists - from the very beginning of the Slave trade - called for its abolition as labeled both slavery and the slave trade as repugnant and the worst of evils. The American and French revolutions stimulated the Abolitionists’ cause. The American call for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and the French appeal for “liberty, equality and fraternity” caused many Europeans and Euro-Americans to see slavery as an evil that had to be abolished – that slavery was a violation of the universal human right to freedom and equality.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, an increasing number of slave revolts and unrest made slavery more expensive and a more dangerous business. Some freed slaves contributed to the abolitionist cause by writing books that exposed the brutality of institutional slavery. Most notable of them was Olaudah Equiano. Captured at the age of 10 in his native Benin (in modern Nigeria) Equiano worked as a slave in the West Indies, Virginia and Pennsylvania. He accompanied one of his masters on several campaigns in the Seven Year’s War (called the French and Indian War in North America) before purchasing his freedom in 1766. He then became a seaman and merchant, traveling widely over the world and finally settled in London where he became involved in the abolitionist movement, which led to him writing and publishing The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African (1789), a book that not only furthered the abolitionist cause, but also him a fortune. Equiano’s book became a best seller; he traveled throughout the British Isles till his death in 1797 giving speeches and denouncing slavery.
Economically slavery became expensive as slave labor did not come cheap, decline in sugar prices reduced profits in the late 18th century and entrepreneurs began to turn to more profitable manufacturing industries. This, as cynical as this sounds, as profitability declined, some Europeans found their moral consciences.
It is very important to understand that the rise of the Industrial Revolution parallels the decline of the profitability of slavery.
The slave trade ended in the 19th century. Denmark was the first European State to abolish the slave trade in 1803. Great Britain followed in 1807, the United States in 1808, France in 1814, the Netherlands in 1817 and Spain in 1845. British naval squadrons began to patrol the Atlantic to put a stop to illegal slave trading
Perhaps the best know abolitionist internationally was the British politician William Wilberforce. Born in 1759 in Hull, he was the son of a wealthy merchant who with his parents had made a fortune in the Baltic Sea Trade. Wilberforce became a Member of Parliament in 1780 and from 1788 repeatedly pushed the British government to abandon the slave trade and slavery. Wilberforce was hailed as the Hailed as a 'Renewer of Society', and until his death in 1833 was known as the conscience of Parliament. He lived to see the abolition of slavery in Great Britain in the year of his death. Great Britain’s example would soon be followed by France in 1848 and the United States in 1865.
It is also important to understand that the abolition of slavery was a long and more drawn out process. Cuba did not abolish slavery until 1886 and Brazil until 1888. Some nations kept slavery till the mid 20th century. Saudi Arabia and Angola did not abolish slavery until 1960. Although slavery is technically illegal almost everywhere in the world, the legacy of slavery remains a source of problems and frustrations to our very hour. Many forms of servitude such as debt bondage, debt marriages and “white” slaving thrive in many parts of the world.
Part IV Australia and the Pacific Islands
As the Sixteenth century unfolded Australia and the Pacific Islands experienced European visitation and exploitation just as in the Americas. They too suffered population losses from European diseases and some populations were almost wiped out. Except for Guam, the Marianas and the Philippines, serious European colonization did not begin until the late Eighteenth century.
Although the Portuguese visited Australia first, it was Dutch mariners who explored Australia in the 17th century and showed no interest because there were no spices or other valuable trading commodities. In 1606, the Dutch explorer Jan Carstenzs discovered the northern tip of Australia (Cape York Peninsula). He and subsequent Dutch mariners then charted the coasts of northern and western Australia and reported on how desolate and barren the land was. Had the Dutch found eastern Australia, World History might have been written differently.
It was Captain James Cook (whom we met in Chapter 9) who in 1770 first discovered and charted the eastern coast of Australia. Until Cook’s discovery, Britain and other European nations had not been especially interested in Australia because of the dry west desert and the fact that there were no trading opportunities available with the aboriginal inhabitants whom they considered Stone Age savages. But after Cook reported that the east coast was suitable for colonization, Great Britain came up with a unique method of populating Australia. In 1788, the British Crown Colony of New South Wales was established as a penal (prison colony) – mostly for poor people who could not pay their debts. In Australia, newly arrived immigrant lived mostly by herding sheep. Although “convicts” were still sent to Australia as late as the 1840s, free settlers also began to arrive and in 1803, Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, was settled and became a separate colony in 1825. In 1829, The United Kingdom formally claimed the western part of Australia.
The Pacific Islands
Europeans were slow to arrive in the Pacific Ocean Basin and - outside sharing communicable diseases - did not bring immediate change.
We saw how Ferdinand Magellan and his crew became the first Europeans to cross the Pacific Ocean in 1521. As they approached the Philippines, they encountered only one inhabited island group, the Marianas, dominated by Guam (which is currently an American Protectorate taken from Spain in the Spanish American War of 1898). We also saw how in 1565 the Spanish inaugurated the Manila galleon trade between Manila and Acapulco. The Spanish were more interested in the Philippines proper and trade across the Pacific than in exploration and colonization of the Pacific. Guam and the Marianas lay on the galleon’s route and so were of great interest to Spain. Sadly, the Spanish gave the deadly gift of smallpox to the Chamorro population of the islands, nearly wiping them out.
By the mid to late 1700s, European interest in the Pacific islands increased: whalers hunted the highly lucrative whale for its blubber and oil; missionaries were eager to convert native populations; merchants and planters all began to venture all over the Pacific in search of commercial opportunities. The French and English were both especially active. Tahiti was a common port of call and Cook’s ambush in Hawaii was in 1779. Most importantly, the stage was set for significant interaction between Pacific Islander peoples and Euro-Americans in the nineteenth century.
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