>>566972 Generally, it's considered that the Western and Arab demand for slaves whipped the local slavery markets into a continent-destroying fever and African societies deformed under those pressures. David Graeber gives a fairly good account of this in Debt.
>>568288 In most of West Africa, the trade ran through major kingdoms such as Dahomey or Asante to make wars and impose draconian punishments—one very common expedient for rulers was to manipulate the justice system, so that almost any crime came to be punishable by enslavement, or by death with the enslavement of one’s wife and children, or by outrageously high fines which, if one could not pay them, would cause the defaulter and his family to be sold as slaves. In another way, it is unusually revealing, since the lack of any larger government structures made it easier to see what was really happening. The pervasive climate of violence led to the systematic perversion of all the institutions of existing human economies, which were transformed into a gigantic apparatus of dehumanization and destruction.
>>568305 In the Cross River region, the trade seems to have seen two phases. The first was a period of absolute terror and utter chaos, in which raids were frequent, and anyone traveling alone risked being kidnapped by roving gangs of thugs and sold to Calabar. Before long, villages lay abandoned; many people fled into the forest; men would have to form armed parties to work the fields.64 This period was relatively brief. The second began when representatives of local merchant societies began to establish themselves in communities up and down the region, offering to restore order. The most famous of these was the Aro Confederacy, who called themselves “Children of God.”65 Backed by heavily armed mercenaries and the prestige of their famous Oracle at Arochukwu, they established a new and notoriously harsh justice system.66 Kidnappers were hunted down and themselves sold as slaves. Safety was restored to roads and farmsteads. At the same time, Aro collaborated with local elders to create a code of ritual laws and penalties so comprehensive and severe that everyone was at constant risk of falling afoul of them.67 Anyone who violated even the most apparently trivial of these laws and could not pay the fine would be turned over to the Aro for transport to the coast, with their accuser receiving their price in copper bars.68 According to some contemporary accounts, a man who simply disliked his wife and was in need of brass rods could always come up with some reason to sell her, and the village elders—who received a share of the profits—would almost invariably concur.
>>568307 The most ingenious trick of the merchant societies, though, was to assist in the dissemination of a secret society, called Ekpe, which made its members complicit in their own potential enslavement. Ekpe was most famous for sponsoring magnificent masquerades and for initiating its members into arcane mysteries, but it also acted as a secret mechanism for the enforcement of debts.70 In Calabar itself, for example, the Ekpe society had access to a whole range of sanctions, starting with boycotts (all members were forbidden to conduct trade with a defaulting debtor), fines, seizure of property, arrest, and finally, execution—with the most hapless victims left tied to trees, their lower jaws removed, as a warning to others.71 It was ingenious, particularly, because such societies always allowed anyone to buy in, rising though the nine initiatory grades if they could pay the fee—these also exacted, of course, in the brass rods the merchants themselves supplied.
it was quite expensive. But membership quickly became the chief mark of honor and distinction everywhere. Entry fees were no doubt less exorbitant in small, distant communities, but the effect was still the same: thousands ended up in debt to the merchants, whether for the fees required for joining, or for the trade goods they supplied (mostly cloth and metal put to use creating the gear and costumes for the Ekpe performances—debts that they thus themselves became responsible for enforcing on themselves. These debts, too, were regularly paid in people, ostensibly yielded up as pawns.)
>>568316 [...] "In the old days, if anybody got into trouble or debt in the upper parts of the Cross River, and wanted ready money, he used generally to “pledge” one or more of his children, or some other members of his family or household, to one of the Akunakuna traders who paid periodical visits to his village. Or he would make a raid on some neighboring village, seize a child, and sell him or her to the same willing purchaser.74" The passage only makes sense if one recognizes that debtors were also, owing to their membership in the secret societies, collectors. The seizing of a child is a reference to the local practice of “panyarring,” current throughout West Africa, by which creditors despairing of repayment would simply sweep into the debtor’s community with a group of armed men and seize anything—people, goods, domestic animals—that could be easily carried off, then hold it hostage as security.75 It didn’t matter if the people or goods had belonged to the debtor, or even the debtor’s relatives. A neighbor’s goats or children would do just as well, since the whole point was to bring social pressure on whoever owed the money.
>>568322 It was actually a quite sensible expedient in an environment with no central authority, where people tended to feel an enormous sense of responsibility toward other members of their community and very little responsibility toward anyone else. In the case of the secret society cited above, the debtor would, presumably, be calling in his own debts—real or imagined—to those outside the organization, in order not to have to send off members of his own family.77
Such expedients were not always effective. Often debtors would be forced to pawn more and more of their own children or dependents, until finally there was no recourse but to pawn themselves.78 And of course, at the height of the slave trade, “pawning” had become little more than a euphemism. The distinction between pawns and slaves had largely disappeared. Debtors, like their families before them, ended up turned over to the Aro, then to the British, and finally, shackled and chained, crowded into tiny slaving vessels and sent off to be sold on plantations across the sea.79 [...]
What is remarkable is that all this was done, the bodies extracted, through the very mechanisms of the human economy, premised on the principle that human lives are the ultimate value, to which nothing could possibly compare. Instead, all the same institutions—fees for initiations, means of calculating guilt and compensation, social currencies, debt pawnship—were turned into their opposite; the machinery was, as it were, thrown into reverse; and, as the Tiv also perceived, the gears and mechanisms designed for the creation of human beings collapsed on themselves and became the means for their destruction.
By the time the Dutch were fully in control in Java, Bali had been turned largely into a reservoir for the export of human beings—young Balinese women in particular being in great demand in cities through the region as both prostitutes and concubines.83 As the island was drawn into the slave trade, almost the entire social and political system of the island was transformed into an apparatus for the forcible extraction of women. Even within villages, ordinary marriages took the form of “marriage by capture”—sometimes staged elopements, sometimes real forcible kidnappings, after which the kidnappers would pay a woman’s family to let the matter drop.84 Even in the 1960s, elders recalled how attractive young women used to be hidden away by their parents "lest they be espied by a royal scout and hustled into the closely protected female quarters of the palace. There was slim chance a girl would become a legitimate low-caste wife (penawing) of the raja … More likely after affording a few years’ licentious satisfaction, she would degenerate into a slave-like servant." Or, if she did rise to such a position that the high-caste wives began to see her as a rival, she might be either poisoned or shipped off overseas to end up servicing soldiers at some Chinese-run bordello in Jogjakarta, or changing bedpans in the house of a French plantation-owner in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.86 Meanwhile, royal law codes were rewritten in all the usual ways, with the exception that here, the force of law was directed above all and explicitly against women. Not only were criminals and debtors to be enslaved and deported, but any married man was granted the power to renounce his wife, and by doing so to render her, automatically, property of the local ruler, to be disposed of as he wished. Even a woman whose husband died before she had produced male offspring could be handed over to the palace to be sold abroad.
>>568341 As Adrian Vickers explains, even Bali’s famous cockfights—so familiar to any first-year anthropology student—were originally promoted by royal courts as a way of recruiting human merchandise:
"Kings even helped put people into debt by staging large cockfights in their capitals. The passion and extravagance encouraged by this exciting sport led many peasants to bet more than they could afford. As with any gambling, the hope of great wealth and the drama of a contest fueled ambitions which few could afford and at the end of the day, when the last spur had sunk into the chest of the last rooster, many peasants had no home and family to return to. They, and their wives and children, would be sold to Java."
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