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Understanding the slave trade on the Loango Coast

- Wits University

More than one million slaves were traded during 18th Century on the Loango coastline.

Dr Stacey Sommerdyk, a Canadian postdoctoral fellow in the Wits History Department, is happy to give anyone who is willing to listen, a lesson on the history of the transatlantic slave trade of the 18th Century.

Sommerdyk, who comes from the Great Lakes area in Canada, completed her PhD on the Trade and Merchant Community of the Loango Coast in the 18th Century at Hull University in the United Kingdom before moving to Johannesburg to continue her research.

More than one million slaves were traded during the period on the Loango coastline, which is now split between the Angolan Province of Cabinda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sommerdyk is currently undertaking a careful examination of the records of the Dutch Middelburg Commercial Company (MCC) to identify the African slave traders on the Loango coast.

Working through the transaction records of 10 000 slaves that were sold to the MCC, Sommerdyk has identified 640 African slave traders who operated in the area during the 18th Century and early 19th Century.

These slaves were transported across the Atlantic on 32 voyages to be sold in the slave trade in the Americas. Among them were three pregnant women who all gave birth during the crossing. All three women and their children survived.

In studying the records, Sommerdyk found that the political leaders of the time were not active in the slave trade. Instead, they appointed a person to regulate the trade on their behalf.

This person, with the title “Mafouk”, not only regulated the trading but did the bidding, negotiations and selling and also took a cut from each transaction. In the end, the Mafouk became one of the most powerful men in the community, often overshadowing the political head.

“So, the question that arises is why did the political head not take part in the trading? By appointing someone to do it on his behalf, he actively undermined himself,” says Sommerdyk.

The government structures were centralised at the time so the political head could stop trading at any time but they rarely did.

“Another question that arises is whether religion was a reason for the political leader not taking part in trading,” she says.

Sommerdyk says the Congolese government is currently in negotiations with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, in order to get historic recognition for some of the slave trading sites in the country.

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