African slavery arose long before Europeans came to the region, probably as early as 1550 BC in Northern Africa. The ancient Egyptians used Hebrews, Babylonians and other war captives to work as slaves to work in the Pharaoh's palace and the houses of nobility.In West Africa, we know about slavery from about 900 AD. But the lives of African slaves in WestAfrica and African American slaves were very different. In many West African societies, land was owned by communities, not by individuals. Social status and class could therefore not be based on land ownership. Instead, they were based on one's place in the social environment. Slaves were thus part of the family as well as private property. And slavery was not a lifetime status,someone might be born free, made a slave for a few years, and then be free again for the rest of their life.

Slaves also had rights; they could marry, own property, and inherit substantial goods from their owner. They could even own slaves themselves. Their children were generally born into freedom, not servitude. Some owners even adopted their slaves as family.When Europeans first came to Africa in search of slaves, the African leaders themselves were eager to contribute. Initially, the slaves were war prisoners, criminals or people in debt. However, as the European demand for slaves grew, African leaders turned to new ways to find slaves. Wars were started for the sole reasons of taking prisoners to sell, and many were simply kidnapped (either by people from their own tribe, or from competing tribes). Some African rulers earned great profits by controlling the regional slave trade.Slavery in Africa has not only existed throughout the continent for many centuries, but continues in the current day. Systems of servitude and slavery were common in parts of the continent, as they were in much of the ancient world. In most African societies where slavery was prevalent, the enslaved people were not treated as chattel slaves and were given certain rights in a system similar to indentured servitude elsewhere in the world.When the Arab slave trade and Atlantic slave trade began, many of the local slave systems changed and began supplying captives for slave markets outside of Africa.

Slavery in historical Africa was practiced in many different forms and some of these do not clearly fit the definitions of slavery elsewhere in the world. Debt slavery, enslavement of war captives, military slavery, and criminal slavery were all practiced in various parts of Africa.Although there had been some trade from the interior of Sub-Saharan Africa to other regions, slavery was a small part of the economic life of many societies in Africa until the introduction of transcontinental slave trades (Arab and Atlantic). Slave practices were again transformed with European colonization of Africa and the formal abolition of slavery, which began in the early 19th century.

The continent of Africa is one of the most problematic regions in terms of contemporary slavery. Slavery in Africa has a long history, within Africa since before historical records, but intensifying with the Arab slave trade and again with the trans-Atlantic slave trade; the demand for slaves created an entire series of kingdoms (such as the Ashanti Empire) which existed in a state of perpetual warfare in order to generate the prisoners of war necessary for the lucrative export of slaves. These patterns have persisted into the colonial period during the late 19th and early 20th century. Although the colonial authorities attempted to suppress slavery from about 1900, this had very limited success, and after decolonization, slavery continues in many parts of Africa even though being technically illegal.

Multiple forms of slavery and servitude have existed throughout Africa during history and were shaped by indigenous practices of slavery as well as the Roman institution of slavery (and the later Christian views on slavery), the Islamic institutions of slavery, and eventually the Atlantic slave trade.Slavery existed in parts of Africa (like the rest of the world) and was a part of the economic structure of some societies for many centuries, although the extent varied. Ibn Battuta who visited the ancient kingdom of Mali in the mid-14th century recounts that the local inhabitants vie with each other in the number of slaves and servants they have, and was himself given a slave boy as a "hospitality gift." In sub-Saharan Africa, the slave relationships were often complex with rights and freedoms given to individuals held in slavery and restrictions on sale and treatment by their masters.Many communities had hierarchies between different types of slaves: for example, differentiating between those who had been born into slavery and those who had been captured through war.

In many African societies, there was very little difference between the free peasants and the feudal vassal peasants. Enslaved people of the Songhay Empire were used primarily in agriculture; they paid tribute to their masters in crop and service but they were slightly restricted in custom and convenience. These non-free people were more an occupational caste.

Slavery in African cultures was generally more like indentured servitude, although in certain parts of sub-Saharan Africa, slaves were used for human sacrifices in annual rituals, such as those rituals practiced by the denizens of Dahomey.Slaves were often not the chattel of other men, nor enslaved for life.The forms of slavery in Africa were closely related to kinship structures. In many African communities, where land could not be owned, enslavement of individuals was used as a means to increase the influence a person had and expand connections. This made slaves a permanent part of a master's lineage and the children of slaves could become closely connected with the larger family ties. Children of slaves born into families could be integrated into the master's kinship group and rise to prominent positions within society, even to the level of chief in some instances.However, stigma often remained attached and there could be strict separations between slave members of a kinship group and those related to the master.

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