Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Western Indian Ocean, c.1770–1890

Thursday, January 4, 2018: 8:20 PM
Palladian Ballroom (Omni Shoreham)
Janet J. Ewald, Duke University
Slavery and the slave trade in the western Indian Ocean peaked in the 19th century: an age of supposed abolition and very real industrialization, when Britannia dominated (if not ruled) the waves and some of the land. My presentation examines how slaving and the exploitation spread across the region. I argue that producing, exchanging, and using enslaved Africans was very much a modern phenomenon. It resulted from, and then reinforced, worldwide historical processes, filtered through the prism of the western Indian Ocean. Enslaved Africans labored on the coastal littoral and islands of the western Indian Ocean: in Christian and Muslim societies; on plantations, but also in cities, waterfronts, and ocean vessels. Freedman came to be recognized and named as a distinct part of a maritime proletariat. Bondspeople came from diverse communities in a huge swath of eastern Africa, from Madagascar in the southeast to the upper Nile Basin in the northwest. In the interior, people fell into slavery ultimately because of how worldwide commerce and U.S./European industrialization interacted with the political economies of hinterland African communities.