2010 Question #3: Discuss the extent to which the transatlantic trade in Africans was a continuation of the social and economic structures that already existed in West Africa.
The people of West Africa had a rich and varied history and culture long before European slavers arrived. Art, learning and technology flourished and Africans were especially skilled in subjects like medicine, mathematics and astronomy. As well as domestic goods, they made fine luxury items in bronze, ivory, gold and terracotta for both local use and trade. African society was based on a hierarchy. They had a wide variety of political arrangements including kingdoms, city-states and other organisations, each with their own languages and culture. Chief’s or King’s held the highest position in society they maintained peace and order, assigned jobs, collected tax and led wars to protect their tribes. The empire of Songhai and the kingdoms of Mali, Benin and Kongo were large and powerful, with monarchs heading complex political structures governing hundreds of thousands of subjects. In other areas, political systems were smaller so they relied on agreements between Chiefs and kings. Men and women within African society had ascribed roles. Women nursed children, cooked and provided general household needs. (Ballard and Tighe 2005) “Women did most of the farming, especially during harvest time. They grew crops such as rice, millet, cotton, and yams. Women also made baskets and pots. They took care of the children, did the cooking, and kept the house in order.” At the same time men; practiced hunting, tended to agriculture farms, served in the king’s army, provided labour services in industries and managed the production and distribution of food. (Ballard and Tighe 2005) “The men did most of the hunting, and they served in the king’s army. Men made spears and bows and arrows. They hunted using these weapons. They...
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