Atlantic Slavery

Masks and Masquerades in African Slavery Trades

      The seventeenth century slaves of Africa and Europe became the focus of trade. Europe's conquest and colonization of North and South America and the Caribbean Islands, from the fifteenth century onward, created an unsatisfied demand for African laborers, who were considered more fit to work in tropical conditions of the New World. The numbers of slaves imported across the Atlantic Ocean even increased, from approximately 5,000 slaves a year in the sixteenth century to over 100,000 slaves a year by the end of the eighteenth century. 

Evolving political circumstances and trade alliances in Africa led to move in the geographic origins of slaves throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Slaves were generally the unlucky victims of territorial expansion by imperialist African states or of invasion led by predatory local strongmen and general population. They found themselves captured and sold as different regional powers came to influence. Firearms, which were often exchanged for slaves, generally increased the level of fighting by lending military strength to previously marginal polities. A nineteenth-century tobacco pipe from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Angola demonstrates the degree to which warfare, the slave trade, and elite arts were tangle at this time (creativity start to emerge). The pipe itself was the prerogative of wealthy and powerful individuals who could afford expensive imported tobacco, generally by trading slaves, while the rifle form makes clear how such slaves were given in the first place. Because of its deadly power, the rifle was added to the collection of theme drawn upon in many regional pictures of rulers and culture heroes as emblematic of power along with the leopard, elephant, and python. The sculptures and masks maintained by the organizations demonstrated to members acute understanding of plants, animals, and spiritual energy. Given the nature of their work and...