The Origins of the Minority Groups in America

Native Americans

–       As the settlers took over the land, the Natives went through back- breaking work done on farms

–       Conquistadors forced Natives to work for a tax

–       Slave-like existence

–       Working conditions in gold and silver mines were unsanitary, dark, cave-like

–       Diseases spread: small pox

–       Population decreased drastically

The Slave Trade

The Western African Kingdoms

–       In the late 1500s, around the time of Columbus’ voyages, the Kingdom of Kongo flourished on the Congo River. A confederation of provinces was ruled by a manikongo (king).

–       After being formed in the 12th Century, the Benin Empire, on the western coast, was at the height of its power in 1500. Dahomey was the most important kingdom within the Benin Empire.

–       Other city-states, like Ife and Oyo, were ruled by obas (kings), and had court-like governing systems.

–       In the 15th C, the Songhai Empire became the most powerful empire in the western Sudan (the interior) and established powerful trading routes.

European Traders

–       In the 16th C, Portuguese traders set up trading ports along the African coasts. Other Europeans soon arrived.

–       This new trade in Western Africa greatly changed trade routes in Africa. Trade routes now led to the western coast (rather than north to the Mediterranean), causing savanna (interior) regions to decline in economic importance. States along the coast increased in wealth and power. Struggles developed among coastal people for control over interior trade routes and access to new European firearms.

The Slave Trade Begins

–       Portuguese initiated the European phase of slave raiding in Africa by attacking a sleeping village in 1444 and carting away the survivors to work for free in Europe.

–       The growth of plantation colonies in the Americas created a demand for cheap labour that was supplied partly by indentured servitude, but mostly by African slave labour. European powers entered the slave trade in the following years: Spain (from 1479); Britain (from 1562); North America (from 1619); Holland (from 1625); France (from 1642); Sweden (from 1647); and Denmark (from 1697).

–       Bartolome de Las Casas – a Spanish priest devoted to rescuing Natives came up with an ill-fated solution:  to relieve stress from the Natives, bring over African slaves

–       Little relief given to the Natives and a further brutal exploitation of African people done

–       With Spain’s wealthy empire came a high amount of slave trade

Fall of the Songhai Empire

–       Up until 1591, the Songhai Empire dominated Western Sudan, until the Morroccan invaders.  The Moroccan hold weakened so smaller kingdoms tried to takeover

–       This created conditions of constant conflict, economic decline, and general instability in the region

–       During the breakup of the Songhai Empire, an intense period of slave activity occurred in West Africa at the hands of European and Arab traders.

–       European slave traders used these conditions of instability to their advantage.

–       Europeans chose a favourite side to win between African nations at a war and supplied that side with guns, a superior war weapon. In its victory, the African side with guns rounded up captives of war who were sold to the Europeans in exchange for more guns or other barter.

–       Whites used these captives in their own slave raids.

The Rise of Coastal Empires

–       Around 1700, Asante (or Ashanti) Empire of Akan peoples was unified under Osei Tutu on the “Gold Coast”. Asante dominated the coast with control of gold-producing zones and by supplying slaves in exchange for firearms (to 1820s).

–       The Ashanti, who resisted British Imperialism in a Hundred Years War, sold their African captives of war and criminals to other Europeans, the Portuguese, Spanish, French, in order to buy guns to maintain their military resistance against British Imperialism

–       In the 1720s Rise of Kingdom of Dahomey of Fon (or Aja) peoples, on the “Slave Coast” in the Bight of Benin rose in power from trading slaves for firearms.

The Effects of Slavery

–       The capitalist economy in the Americas flourished as plantations in the Caribbean, Brazil, and America expanded.

–       Commerce in the Islamic world expanded with slave labour on plantations, at seaports, and in homes.

–       West Coast African kingdoms like Ashanti and Dahomey grew in power.

–       Interior populations were decimated.


Holocaust: a great or complete slaughter or reckless destruction of life.

“The Black Holocaust is one of the more underreported events in the annals of human history. The Black Holocaust makes reference to the millions of African lives which have been lost during the centuries to slavery, colonization and oppression.  The Black Holocaust makes reference to the horrors endured by millions of men, women, and children throughout the African Diaspora. In sheer numbers, depth and brutality, it is a testimony to the worst elements of human behavior and the strongest elements of survival.”

(KAMMAASI, The Black Holocaust: From Maafa to Colonization)

–       Between 1450 and 1900, over 20 million Africans were sold into slavery by European and Arab slave traders.

–       Between 1500 and 1850, at least 12 million Africans were shipped from Africa across the Atlantic Ocean via the notorious “Middle Passage”–primarily to colonies in North America, South America, and the West Indies. (see pg. 71)

–       80% of these kidnapped Africans (or at least 7 million) were exported during the 18th century, with a mortality rate of probably 10-20% on the ships enroute for the Americas


  • The forced and brutal dispersal of millions of Africans into foreign lands.
  • Africans were dispersed throughout the world.
  • Europeans attempted to destroy African cultural forms in the Americas.
  • Africans were separated from their ethnic groups, and even families; they were forced to speak English only; they were re-named with slave names; their instruments such as drums were removed from them for fear that they would be used to communicate.
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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