By-Passing the Muslims
The Portuguese found Muslim merchants entrenched along the African coast as far as the Bight of Benin. The slave coast, as the Bight of Benin was known, was reached by the Portuguese at the start of the 1470's. It was not until they reached the Kongo coast in the 1480's that they outdistanced Muslim trading territory.
The first of the major European trading 'forts', Elmina, was founded on the Gold Coast in 1482. Elmina (originally known as Sao Jorge de Mina) was modeled on the Castello de Sao Jorge, the first of the Portuguese Royal residence in Lisbon. Elmina, which of course, means the mine, became a major trading center for slaves purchased along the slave rivers of Benin.
By the beginning of the colonial era there were forty such forts operating along the coast. Rather than being icons of colonial domination, the forts acted as trading posts - they rarely saw military action - the fortifications were important, however, when arms and ammunition were being stored prior to trade.
Market Opportunities for Slaves on Plantations
The end of the fifteenth century was marked (for Europe) by Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to India and the establishment of sugar plantations on Madeira, Canary, and Cape Verde Islands. Rather than trading slaves back to Muslim merchants, there was an emerging market for agricultural workers on the plantations. By 1500 the Portuguese had transported approximately 81,000 slaves to these various markets.
The era of European slave trading was about to begin...
From an article first published on the web 11 October 2001.