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Key points west-central Africa in the nineteenth century

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  • West-central Africa in the nineteenth century

Slave trade and slavery



  • Kingdom of the floodplain

Origins and rise of the Lozi state

The Kololo conquest

The Lozi kingdom in the later nineteenth century

  • The development of long-distance trade in east-central Africa

Kazembe’s Lunda

Bisa and Bemba

Prazeros and Chikunda

Nyamwezi and kamba

  • Invasion from the south: the Ngoni

  • The trade in ivory and slaves in the interior of central Africa

Swahili traders in the east African interior

Msiri and the Yeke

Tippu Tip and the eastern Congo basin

Swahili penetration of the lake regions of eastern Africa

  • Madagascar: the rise of the Merina kingdom

West-central Africa in the nineteenth century

    • British abolition enforcement did not apply south of the Equator

    • Slave trade from Angola to Brazil continued to dominate region

    • Even after ending of export trade, internal slavery continued and expanded

    • Growing population needed greater food production

    • Ivory and beeswax became major alternative exports


  • Hunters of Angolan highlands

  • Specialised in ivory and beeswax, exchanged for firearms and luxuries

  • Villages of armed huntsmen and local women pressed into cultivation and processing wax

  • Series of armed groups, expanding north and east [see Map 17.1]

  • Decline of ivory, 1870s-80s – Chokwe turned to latex (rubber) from wild vines


  • Specialist long-distance traders, provided trading link between Chokwe and coast

  • Slaves, no longer for export, used as porters

Kingdom of the floodplain

Origins and rise of the Lozi state

  • Luyana of upper Zambezi adapted lifestyle to opportunities of floodplain

  • Built artificial mounds on plain while grazing cattle and planting crops after floods receded

  • On return of floods (Feb-May), moved to higher dry land on edge of plain

  • Organised kingship developed in 17th century – possible Lunda influence

  • Expanded kingdom during 18th century

  • Litunga (king) and aristocracy used forced labour to build mounds and cut canals

  • Commoners also pressed into labour and military service

  • Annual move to dryland winter quarters became elaborate procession (still followed today)

The Kololo conquest

  • 1830s invasion by Kololo: Sotho-speaking armed military migrant band led by Sebetwane

  • Conquered southern part of kingdom

  • Became new aristocracy, otherwise leaving state intact

  • Introduced Se-Sotho language

  • Harsh rule by Sebetwane’s successor, Sekeletu: sold some people as slaves to Ovimbundu

The Lozi kingdom in the later nineteenth century

  • 1864: Kololo overthrown by surviving Lozi royals

  • Influenced by Kololo: greater emphasis upon cattle and raiding cattle-keeping Ila of Kafue valley

  • 1870s Lozi military hunting elephants for ivory

  • Lozi aristocracy firmly re-established in luxury (long fingernails)

  • Late 19th century: one-third population were serfs or slaves – especially digging irrigation canals

The development of long-distance trade in east-central Africa

Kazembe’s Lunda

  • 1800: Kazembe’s Lunda – central pivot of long-distance trading across continent

  • Copper: currency

  • Exports: copper, ivory, salt, and captives

  • Imports: firearms, European woollens and other manufactures, Indian cotton, shells, beads

Bisa and Bemba

  • Bisa, professional traders – link between K’s Lunda and Zambezi valley prazeros, though subject to Kazembe customs dues and tribute

  • Bemba: military, stockaded villages – raided Bisa caravans and others


  • S. & E. of Lake Malawi: professional ivory hunters and long-distance traders:

  • Shire valley to Portuguese Mozambique Island and Swahili Kilwa

  • Kilwa revival from 19th century ivory and slave trade, Yao linking directly with Bisa to west of Lake

Prazeros and Chikunda

  • Prazeros: Portuguese and Afro-Portuguese hunter/traders of Zambezi valley

  • Chikunda: slave armies in employ of prazeros – taxing, hunting and raiding

  • Prazeros behaved as dictatorial ‘chiefs’ over local African farmers, taxing them heavily to feed themselves and their Chikunda armies

  • Dominate Zambezi valley hunting/trading after 18th century decline of Maravi empire

  • Slaves: porters and soldiers + traded to coast

  • 1860s: independent Chikunda hunting/raiding for ivory and slaves up middle Zambezi

Nyamwezi and Kamba

  • Tanzanian plateau: long-distance trade pioneered by Nyamwezi: Zanzibar-Tabora-Ujiji

  • Nyamwezi – north to Buganda and south to Kazembe’s via Bemba

  • 19th century: much of former Bisa trade now north-east by Nyamwezi

  • Kamba linked Kikuyu trade to coast, but Maasai blocked their access to Buganda

Invasion from the south: the Ngoni

  • From 1830s: Ngoni, like Kololo: product of turmoil in the south [see pp. 2635-5]

  • Centralised military raiding bands: incorporated outsiders through military age-regiments

  • Short stabbing-spear and surprise tactics

  • Cattle-keepers rather than cultivators – got grain food from raid or tribute

  • Destroyed remnants of Mutapa and Rozvi states

  • One Ngoni band, led by woman, Nyamazana, killed last Rozvi king

  • After 1840, she married newly arrived [p. 271] Ndebele king Mzilikazi

  • Other Ngoni formed raiding states up both sides of Lake Malawi and east of Lake Tanganyika

  • These small but powerful new African states formed basis of resistance to European conquest at end of century

  • Some others adopted similar military structures, e.g. Hehe of southern Tanzania

The east African slave trade

  • Small but persistent slave trade from east African coast from ancient times, mostly to Arabia and Persian Gulf

  • From c.1750s: expansion of trade to French Indian Ocean colonies (Mauritius, Réunion, Seychelles), captives from southern coastline (Zambezi valley, Quelimane, Mozambique Island)

  • 1770s: expansion of French island sugar plantations – rise in slave trade from northern coastline (Kilwa, Zanzibar)

  • Yao became major suppliers

  • Early 19th century, decline of west African slave exports, rise of slave prices in Americas: Brazilians enter Indian Ocean for slaves from southern coastal region

  • Mid-19th century: Zanzibar clove plantations – Arabs dominate coastal slave trade

  • Sutlan of Oman moved capital to Zanzibar (1840) – largest slave market on east coast

  • 1860s: 70 000 slave exports a year

  • British Anti-Slavery Squadron active in Indian Ocean

  • 1873 British pressured Zanzibar to close slave market

  • 1870s: huge British demand for ivory (piano keys, billiard balls, cutlery handles) from new industrial middle class

  • Fewer captives exported; but more used for transportation of ivory to coast

The trade in ivory and slaves in the interior of central Africa

  • 1860s-80s – violence of slave and ivory trade pushed into central Africa

  • Chikunda armies very active

  • Huge supraprazos – now thoroughly Africanised, offered strong opposition to Portuguese conquest 1880s-90s

  • British missionaries attracted to region by David Livingstone’s anti-slavery appeals for ‘Christianity and commerce’

Swahili traders in the east African interior

  • Terminology: contemporary writers referred to coastal Muslim leaders of interior trading/raiding caravans as ‘Moors’ or ‘Arabs’. Most were primarily Swahili and so ‘Swahili’ rather than Arab used in this book

  • Swahili and Nyamwezi caravaneers extended ivory/slave raids deep into interior – west of Lake Tanganyika from 1840s

Msiri and the Yeke

  • 1850s: Msiri (Nyamwezi trader) set up trading/raiding state in ‘copperbelt’ west of Kazembe’s Lunda (weakened by civil war)

  • Msiri absorbed local people, now known as ba-Yeke

  • Took over tribute collection and western trading connections of K’s Lunda

  • Exported ivory and copper east and west, importing firearms

  • The copper attracted the Belgians and the British in 1890-91 [p. 323]

Tippu Tip and the eastern Congo basin

  • Hamed bin Muhammed (‘Tippu Tip’): large Swahili/Nyamwezi hunting/raiding state west of Lake Tanganyika from 1860s

  • Raided down upper Congo (Lualaba) and deep into forest

  • Direct trading link with Zanzibar (via Ujiji, Tabora) [Map 17.3], ivory for firearms

  • Raided and weakened old Luba empire

  • By 1880s he was effective ruler of eastern Congo basin

  • Captive women for concubines and forced cultivation; men for porters to Zanzibar

  • [Stanley quote: p. 260]

Swahili penetration of the lake regions of eastern Africa

  • 1870s-80s: Swahili taking over Nyamwezi trading capital of Tabora

  • Swahili reaching north of Maasai-dominated rift to west of Lake Turkana

  • From 1860s Swahili settled at Buganda capital, under control of kabaka Mutesi I

  • Baganda exported ivory and captives for cotton cloth and guns

  • Nyamwezi established powerful trading empires north-west of Tabora, to resist Swahili competition

  • The violence and dislocation of people from late-nineteenth century unwittingly prepared the ground for European conquest at the end of the century

Madagascar: the rise of the Merina kingdom

  • Europeans in Indian Ocean from 16th century stimulated growth of southern Malagasy kingdoms, supplying ships with food and slaves

  • Late-18th century: French island sugar plantations – slave exports from southern Madagascar

  • This trading stimulated growth of Merina kingdom in central plateau

  • Merina use of forced labour: state-controlled agricultural and industrial production

  • Firearms industry, built with forced labour + 5000 permanent workforce

  • By c.1850: Merina controlled whole of plateau and eastern Madagascar

  • Christianity: state religion since 1869

  • Church and schools recruited forced labour for the state

  • Direct French trading competition weakened Merina state

  • French military incursions from north from 1870s bankrupted state

  • Malagasy rebellions against Merina forced labour policies

  • French entry into capital (1895) unopposed: Merina ruling elite not supported by Malagasy population

  • French proposed to maintain Merina force-labour system

  • Menalamba revolt [See Additional Debate for Chapter 17, p.262 for MENALAMBA REVOLT]:

  • Attacks on Church, schools and forced-labour administrators

© Kevin Shillington, 2012

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