National Geographic : 1992 Sep
African, or all of these? "I am a Senega lese," I told him jokingly. "No, you no look African," he chided. I recognized in that exchange our mutual curiosity, our need as children of Africa to reestablish connections. But I also sensed, with some sadness, that history had made us strangers, and there was no need to pretend otherwise. T RADERS on the African coast acquired their slaves in various ways. Most of them, perhaps as many as 80 percent, were captives taken in wars. African states fought frequently over territory, suc cession, and commerce. Some nations, such as the Asante, extended their power over neighboring states on the Gold Coast during the 18th century and took captives in the process. As one trader observed, "Most of the Slaves that are offered to us are Prisoners of War, which are sold by the Victors as their Booty." Others likely to be sold into slavery includ ed debtors and those convicted of such crimes as homicide, treason, and theft. Still others were simply unfortunate enough to be abducted and swiftly sold to traders. Indi viduals who engaged in this practice faced severe penalties from their own people if they were caught, since their atrocities could lead to war between the victim's home terri tory and that of the kidnapper. "Not a few in our Country fondly imagine that Parents here sell their Children, Men their Wives, and one Brother the other," wrote a Dutch trader. "But," he added, "those who think so deceive themselves." Most of the persons placed on the slave market were men. Women and young chil dren were less likely to be offered for sale. Females were highly valued as workers in African societies; they bore the brunt of the productive labor as well as fulfilling repro ductive functions. African traders brought their slaves to the coastal markets fettered in groups, or coffles. As one purchaser in the Gambia described it, "Their Way of bringing them is, tying them by the Neck with Leather Thongs, at about a Yard distance from each other, 30 or 40 in a String, having generally a Bundle of Corn, or an Elephant's Tooth [tusk] upon each of their Heads. In their Way from the Mountains, they travel thro'