Of course we are one century and several generations away from the age of slavery and Africans are even closer to it (slavery was ended in Africa only during the early twentieth century). The truth is that in terms of social time, slavery is right in our back yard and often pushed into insignificance. The modern Atlantic world--including the countries, cultures and practices we know today in Africa, Europe and America--was significantly shaped by the institution of slavery. We continue to live the legacy of slavery (for example, we can hardly imagine what an Atlantic world without slavery would look like today). We should not, indeed we cannot, ever forget slavery. If we do, we lose our humanity by refusing to reflect on one of the fundamental institutions of the past which "got us where we are." Understanding slavery in modern life means looking at four continents: Africa, Europe, South America, North America, and of course the Caribbean.
Slaves were an important minority of the population in both the Africa's and the Americas (and in certain places on both continents slaves constituted the majority of the population). At least as many slaves were made and kept in the Africa's as were forcibly transported as human cargo westward across the Atlantic. People on the western side of the Atlantic are usually ignorant of this fact because they know so little about Africans and their history. There were far fewer slaves in Europe than in the Africa's or the Americas, but Europeans and their economies were central to creating the demand which sparked enslavement's within Africa, financing the Atlantic slave trade, transporting slaves, and benefiting economically from slave labour both in the Americas and in the Africa's. Africans, of course, were the people enslaved in this modern system of Atlantic slavery. It is especially important to study Africa and Africans in the Atlantic, then, because unlike Europeans or Americans of any origin, Africans were both slaves and slave owners in the Atlantic.
Enslavement refers to the process of making slaves. This may sound funny, but most slaves who were captured and transported across the Atlantic had to be enslaved (they had to be created as slaves); few were born in bondage. What this means is that the vast majority of those slaves transported were not simply enslaved persons living in African societies whose masters decided to get rid of them, they were free people who were captured by a variety of means and sold away to a different land. The existence of a transatlantic trade in slaves then, meant that many new persons would be enslaved within Africa to supply the demand for slaves in the Americas. In Africa, slaves were created through a variety of means with differing implications. The first point to consider is that most African slaves were captured by other Africans and not Europeans. People generally have in their minds the image of Europeans landing on the African coast and conducting raids on African villages, kidnapping persons and taking them back on board their ships. This image was powerfully reinforced by the popular television series entitled Roots by Alex Hailey. There were indeed some European raids on African villages to create slaves, especially during the first several decades of the transatlantic slave trade, but very few slaves indeed were captured this way. This is not to suggest that