Africa and the Slave Trade

Belinda’s Account

“The Petition of Belinda an Affrican, humbly shews: that seventy years have rolled away, since she on the banks of the Rio de Valta, received her existence–the mountains Covered with spicy forests, the valleys loaded with the richest fruits, spontaneously produced; joined to that happy temperature of air to exclude excess; would have yielded her the most compleat felicity, had not her mind received early impressions of the cruelty of men, whose faces were like the moon, and whose Bows and Arrows were like the thunder and the lightning of the Clouds….”

Role of Music

Rich music and dance traditions often provide important insight into African history. Some songs and rhythms crossed the ocean with the slaves, and the African-originated musical forms can be heard in some Caribbean music and in early Blues and Jazz. This Ewe music of the Akosombo/Ho area from which Belinda may have come is known as “Bobobo.”

At the Savage Captain’s beck,
Now like brutes they make us prance,
Smack the Cat about the Deck,
And in scorn they bid us dance.

This rhyme illustrates the contempt that Africans felt regarding the behavior of their captors.

Quoted in Maria Diedrich, Henry Louis Gates and Carl Pedersen (eds.), Black Imagination and the Middle Passage.


While many African rulers accumulated wealth and power from the slave trade, life for thousands of ordinary Africans was often severely dislocated. In many areas wars and raids made farming and travel insecure, agriculture was disrupted by the loss of young men’s labor, and legal systems were sometimes distorted by the practice of selling those convicted of witchcraft, poisoning, adultery, and indebtedness into the slave trade. In some areas, war and famine forced poorer families to sell their children into slavery for the survival of the remaining family.