What were the reasons behind forced migration and slavery?

The Europeans generated search for labour for working in the estates, plantations and mines. They imitated the cultivation and consumption of sugar from the Arabs. Columbus introduced sugar in West Indies in 1493.

Very soon sugar plantations became common in Brazil. Slaves were required for the collection of cacao and other forest products in Amazon. Virginia and Maryland required slaves for working in the tobacco cultivation.

The resulting slave trade altered the demography by initiating a major movement of the Africans from Africa to South America, West Indies and the southern states of North America. Between 1680 and 1860, the loss of population due to slavery from West Africa was a little over 10%. Slaves were acquired from Africa either by raiding or through contacts with the African rulers. Prisoners in inter-tribal wars within Africa were enslaved.

Africans Thrown Overboard from a Slave Ship | African American ...

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At times the African rulers engaged in wars which could be categorized as slave hunts. The slaves were sold to the European traders in return for guns, gunpowder and European clothes. And the African potentates used the guns for acquiring more slaves for selling to the Europeans.

Thus, a vicious ‘gun-slave’ cycle developed. Trade and slavery at different moments of history had been common in other regions also. To bridge over the unfavorable trade balance, Charlemagne’s Empire exported white women who became slaves in the households of the Muslims in the Arab Empire. And Akbar sold prisoners of war to Kabul for buying horses.

During the fifteenth century, African slaves were transported to Lisbon for sale. Founded in 1575, Luanda in Angola became the leading port through which slaves were shipped to Brazil. Congo was a vital source of slaves. In 1515, Spain sent the African slaves to Hispaniola in the Caribbean and started receiving slave grown American sugar.

Direct large scale trans-Atlantic traffic in slaves started from 1532. The British transported more slaves than the French. Between 1691 and 1779, British ships transported 2,300,000 slaves from the African ports.


The slave ships used to sail from London, Bristol and Liverpool. The British slave ships supplied slaves to the British possessions in North America and in the Caribbean colonies. The British also supplied slaves to the colonies of the other powers.

The extensive scale of slavery in the New World becomes clear when compared with the extent in the ancient world. Brazil between 1800 and 1850 had between 1,000,000 to 2,500,000 slaves.

Between 1820 and 1860 the number of slaves rose from 1,500,000 to 4,000,000 in the states of USA. In Cuba between 1807 and 1861 processed about 80,000 to 400,000 slaves who amounted to about 28% to 30% of the total population.

Statistics does not give any glimpse of the picture at the micro level especially when emotions and sentiments of the slaves were concerned. Individuals were taken away from their communities and families in Africa.


Many died while being captured. In the port towns and in the ships while being transported across the Atlantic, they were crowded together in hazardous circumstances. About 10% of the slaves died while being transported across the Atlantic.

Hacking down sugarcane was a backbreaking task. Slaves lived in deplorable conditions. They were less well fed, housed and clothed than the white population. As a result, the slaves were more vulnerable to disease. Uncle Tom’s Cabin remains the best description of a black’s life in the New World.

The slaves migrated to the towns where control over them was weaker. Some of the skilled slaves in the towns enjoyed a life style which was higher than the European peasants. So, the foundation of colonies is the main reason in rise of slavery.

To sum up, the European expansion in the extra-European world was sustained due to the enslavement of the indigenous population. And when they died their place was taken over by the African slaves.

Compared to the ‘natives’ of the western hemisphere, the indigenous population of the eastern hemisphere was demographically more numerous and possessed more stable state systems. So, they were able to offer stronger resistance to the Europeans.

Moreover the hot climate of the tropics and extreme cold of Siberia did not suit large scale settlement of the West Europeans. Thus, European settlement in the eastern hemisphere of the world was not as effective as migration and settlement of the white people in the New World.

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