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Igbo People and the Atlantic Slave Trade

 

 

The Igbo in the Atlantic slave trade became one of the main ethnic groups enslaved in the era lasting between the 16th and late 19th century. Located near indigenous Igbo territory, the Bight of Biafra (also known as the Bight of Bonny), became the principal area in obtaining Igbo slaves. The Bight’s major slave trading ports were located in Bonny and Calabar; a large number of these slaves Igbo. Slaves, kidnapped or bought from fellow Igbos, were taken to Europe and the Americas by European slave traders. An estimated 14.6% of slaves were taken from the Bight of Biafra between 1650 and 1900, the third greatest percentage in the era of the transatlantic slave trade.

 


Ethnic groups were fairly saturated in certain parts of the Americas because of planters preferences for certain African peoples. The Igbo were dispersed to colonies such as Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti,Barbados, the colonies in the future United States, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago among others. Elements of Igbo culture can still be found in these places. In the United States the Igbo were commonly found in the states of Maryland and Virginia.


How slaves were acquired

The slave trade in this region really started to take off with the appearance of the first Portuguese Ships. There were multiple different ways that people were gathered or taken to be sold off to the Europeans. Most of the slaves that were taken were from the Igbo and the Ibibio peoples, as well as some of the smaller groups in the surrounding area. While some people were taken during raids and wars, it was not the most common way for people to become enslaves, contrary to popular belief. One of the more common ways for people to become enslaved were to be sold off. For example, if a thief was caught in a village, the person would be sold to the slave traders by the elders. The elders would then use the money for the betterment of the community. Another example is for people who were unfaithful to their spouse. Women who had committed adultery could be sold off by their husbands. Another common way to be brought into slavery was to be sold, or "pawned" to settle debts. Children were often used to settle these debts.

Kidnapping is also a common way to be forced into slavery. Slave traders would often seek out children who were alone, or small groups of people who were traveling and ambush them. This forced people to have to travel in rather large, armed, groups to protect themselves. Although this is similar to war and raiding, it is at a much smaller scale. Children who were home alone while their parents were working were especially easy targets for the slave traders.

Adults were the most common ones taken, amounting to roughly 85% of the total slave trade from this region, children only made up about 15%. The main reason for this was because adults were already capable of performing hard labor, and had better chances of surviving the grueling journey across the sea.

Effects

It is estimated that a total of 1.4 million Igbo people were transported (via European ships) across the Atlantic in the era of Atlantic slave trade. Most of these ships were British.

Dispersal

Some recorded populations of people of African descent on Caribbean islands recorded 2,863 Igbo on Trinidad and Tobago in an 1813 census; 894 in Saint Lucia in an 1815 census; 440 on Saint Kitts and Nevis in an 1817 census; and 111 in Guayana in an 1819 census.

Barbados


The Igbo were dispersed to Barbados in large numbers. Olaudah Equiano, a famous Igbo author, abolitionist and ex-slave, was dropped off there after being kidnapped from his hometown near the Bight of Biafra. After arriving in Barbados he was promptly shipped to Virginia. At his time, 44 percent of the 90,000 Africans disembarking on the island (between 1751 and 1775) were from the bight. These Africans were therefore mainly of Igbo origin. The links between Barbados and the Bight of Biafra had begun in the mid-seventeenth century, with half of the African captives arriving on the island originating from there.

Haiti

Some slaves arriving in Haiti included Igbo people who were considered suicidal and therefore unwanted by plantation owners. According to Adiele Afigbo there is still the Creole saying of Ibos pend'cor'a yo (the Ibo hang themselves). Aspects of Haitian culture that exhibit this can be seen in the Ibo loa, a Haitian

 
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