Short on time?

Get essay writing help

Essay about Trans Saharan Trade Route

Words: 1613
Pages: 4
This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples.

Slavery is defined as the system by which people are owned by other people as slaves. A slave is a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey them. The act of a slave is the submission to a dominant influence. The history of slavery in Ghana includes both indigenous slavery and non-indigenous slavery. The word indigenous is defined as naturally existing in a place or country rather than arriving from another place. Indigenous slavery refers to the system of human ownership amongst those of the same place or origin. Indigenous slavery has existed throughout Ghana’s history dating back to the Iron age [Perbi]. Non-Indigenous Slavery also shares a long deep-rooted history beginning with the Trans Saharan Caravan Trade in 800 AD. Both forms of slavery played major integral roles throughout Ghana’s history up until the 20th century although many theorists argue their effects linger today.

The History of Slavery in Ghana is complex for it includes a plethora of factors to consider. For brevity, this paper will cover three. The first factor to consider is their abundance of natural resources. The commodification of these natural resources such as kola nuts and gold enabled interstate trade facilitating the Trans-Saharan Caravan Trade. The roles of slaves in this trade are indispensable. The second factor to consider is the international market beginning at the tail end of the 15th century when Europeans first made direct contact. European influence in Ghana and the western coast of Africa by the mid-17th century brought a new dynamic to trade and slavery in Ghana. The third and final factor to look at is the British abolition movement in the late 19th century and its effects. This includes the outbreak of the Anglo-Asante wars and the shift to an underground slave export market as the institution of slavery in Ghana was being questioned by the global community.

Ghana’s institution of slavery has transformed throughout the centuries as trade has evolved primarily due to globalization. The most extreme transformation occurred during the 16th-18th century with the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. This period marked the beginning of European occupancy. This period will be focused on with particular attention as its impact on present-day social political and economic global order is significant. By looking at the evolution of slavery both indigenous and non-indigenous throughout Ghana’s history in these three sections; Gold trade, international market, and the abolition movement, a basic understanding can be made: The institution of slavery in Ghana is historically linked to the social political and economic life both domestically and globally.

The Ghanaian Empire dates back to 500 A.D. Endowed with rich gold reservoirs it attracted trade turning it into a major trade state. Trade networks were established internally before the first contact with Arabs at some point after 7A. D (Arabs established their presence in North Africa 7AD through acquisition). There are written accounts describing West African highly advanced trading circuits and economies but these are only found in Arabic journals written by Arab travelers and traders. The 8th century marked a peak in trade in what would be known as the Trans-Saharan Caravan trade. Arab merchants from the north would trade salt for gold with Ghana. Commercial trade naturally, brought cultural exchange introducing Islam to the Soninke Empire of Ghana. Slaves played a big role in this trade. Male and female slaves participated in the long-distance trade across the Sahara by accompanying merchants and traders to meet and trade gold for salt. These slaves acted as porters and carriers of goods. Slaves would carry on their backs up to 50 pounds of goods walking 100 to even 200-mile journeys. Reports of slaves being traded themselves have been shown but the exact numbers of slaves are still unfound. Records only go so far as to mention the trade of “some slaves” without any indication of an approximate number.

Save your time!
We can take care of your essay
  • Proper editing and formatting
  • Free revision, title page, and bibliography
  • Flexible prices and money-back guarantee
Place Order

The Trans Saharan Caravan Trade included the trade of kola nuts which are found in abundance in the Asante region of Ghana’s northern parts. These kola nuts gained popularity among merchants for three principal reasons. They have been proven to reduce thirst, help sustain the body against hunger pains, and avoid fatigue. These natural stimulants were of high value for traders covering long journeys across the Sahara with a limited supply of food and water. Slaves were ordered to perform the tasks of picking collecting and preparing these kola nuts for transport.” {]

Collecting kola nuts as well as other foods such as shea butter was part of the agricultural tasks slaves would take on. Slaves made up the majority of the labor hands in agriculture. They grew crops, reared livestock, and went fishing. Agriculture followed by Industry was the main local use of slaves according to Dr. Perbi’s research on the history of indigenous slavery in Ghana. Her work is cited by many historian scholars as it encompasses an extensive amount of sources in regard to this underdeveloped study. Based on her findings the role of slaves domestically could be divided into six sections as follows. ‘First, slaves constituted a reservoir of labor for agriculture, trade, and industry; second, slaves were used in the administrative sectors of the state; third, some slaves served in the military; four, slaves performed domestic chores in the palaces of chiefs, at shrines and in individual households; five a special category of slaves was available for sacrifice in accordance with traditional beliefs and practices; six, personal slaves satisfied the private desires of their owners.’ She notes that “by looking at the local uses of slaves it will become evident that they are woven into the political economic and social fabric of society.” Interestingly enough indigenous slaves were essential to the Ghanaian society. They were considered part of the family. Their social role as a part of the family unit varied. Slaves could marry. They often adopted family names and lived with their owners. Slave origin was not commonly disclosed in some parts and as a result, over generations descendants have been able to remove themselves from the status of “slave” and blend in with freemen. This was one way in which slaves were able to gain freedom. The second was to buy their freedom. Slaves were able to buy their freedom or nominate pawns to finish paying off their debt. This for example would involve a man pawning his son for servitude in his place to pay off a debt.

The late 15th century marked the beginning of a strong European presence off Ghana’s coast. Gold was the main incentive for exploration in the region. Portugal was the first to approach Elmina’s harbor, and eventually, other European countries followed suit. Portuguese ships reached the gold coast in 1471 establishing direct contact with west African traders, therefore, creating new routes of trade. Until that point, all gold trade went through the trans-Saharan caravan channels. It is within this period that slavery both indigenous and non-indigenous grew exponentially in size resulting in the Trans- Atlantic Slave trade. The European presence in Ghana between the 15 and 18th centuries brought significant changes to its institution of slavery.

Portuguese came into the Elmina port in 1471. The Elmina port was a simple fishing harbor at the time. The Portuguese came in search of ivory, pepper, and most of all gold. They constructed the Elmina fort in 1482 to secure their hold on the gold trade. In doing so they established the first western trading post in west Africa. In an attempt to monopolize trade with Ghana, they brought cloth and slaves to trade. The cloth was one of the main items of trade in Ghana which presented a ‘ peculiar problem’ to the Portuguese. There was a preference for North African-manufactured cloth over the Portuguese. In order to recover from this potential threat to trade the Portuguese bought cloth in North Africa,” even commissioned men on the Barbary coast to make fabrics, especially for this trade” to ensure continued control over the commerce” [S Harrop “The economy of the West African Coast in the 16th Century” The economic Bulletin of Ghana (1964) p24 Volume 8]. Along with cloth, the Portuguese brought slaves participating in the internal slave trade which predated their arrival. They brought slaves from neighboring villages to trade and work in the gold mines. These enslaved people were from present-day Benin, Togo, Nigeria, and Niger.” From the mid-1470s to about 1540 the Portuguese imported over 12,000 slaves to Elmina.”[ Adu-Boahen, Kwabena.]

The Portuguese direct contact with traders on the gold coast encouraged more business exchanges and dealings to occur. It is “estimated that the Portuguese shipments of gold from the Gold Coast in the early 16th century amounted to from ½ to 1 ton a year and equaled about 1/10th of the world’s gold supply” [Ivor Wilks Journal of African History volume 3]. The trans-Saharan caravan trade began to lose steam by the 17th century. Trade in gold no longer needed to be passed through the north African border to reach Europeans. Now Europeans were extracting this gold from the source by sailing to the gold coast and dominating the trade themselves. This expansion in the trade of gold leads to higher demands on slave labor, particularly in the mines. Gold was the number one commodity for Ghana and in order to meet these high demands, gold mining production increased. Slaves were vital to meeting gold demands as they dominated its production. Male slaves made up the majority of those mining for gold and female slaves would pan for gold.” According to oral accounts documented by Professor Perbi, only slaves were allowed in the mines with the exception of a few free men. These mines were to remain secret from Europeans.

Make sure you submit a unique essay

Our writers will provide you with an essay sample written from scratch: any topic, any deadline, any instructions.

Cite this Page

Essay about Trans Saharan Trade Route. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Essay about Trans Saharan Trade Route.” Edubirdie, 01 Mar. 2023,
Essay about Trans Saharan Trade Route. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 Sept. 2023].
Essay about Trans Saharan Trade Route [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Mar 01 [cited 2023 Sept 24]. Available from:
Join 100k satisfied students
  • Get original paper written according to your instructions
  • Save time for what matters most
hire writer

Fair Use Policy

EduBirdie considers academic integrity to be the essential part of the learning process and does not support any violation of the academic standards. Should you have any questions regarding our Fair Use Policy or become aware of any violations, please do not hesitate to contact us via

Check it out!
search Stuck on your essay?

We are here 24/7 to write your paper in as fast as 3 hours.