Moslem Slave Raid on a Village, Central Africa, early 1880s

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Image Reference

The Graphic: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper (London), vol. 38 (1888), pp. 340-41

Captioned “Slave Raid in Central Africa,” this engraving is based on a drawing made by the British explorer and colonial administrator, H. H. (Harry) Johnston. Johnston had travelled extensively in Africa during the 1880s. The illustration is accompanied by a lengthy article on the slave trade (p. 342) in which Johnston emphasizes that despite the virtual termination of the Atlantic slave trade, it “rages for the moment more fiercely than ever,” being conducted mainly by slavers from north, central, and east Africa. Johnston gives a detailed description of how villages are raided by slave traders and how male and female captives are secured and taken to the markets; also how children are treated. The illustration shown here is based on “my East African sketches, but the surroundings and the character of the participants in these drawings are very similar throughout the slave-hunting grounds of Central Africa; and what you see here depicted might as nearly represent the slave-raids of the Mohammedan Fulas and Hausas in the Western Soudan, of the Arabs, Nubians, and Abyssinians in the Nile Basin, as of the Arabs, Baluchis, and Arabised negroes on the Upper Congo, the Upper Zambezi, and in the region of the Great Lakes.” Johnston gives a vivid description not only of slaving raids on villages but also conditions on the coffles (“caravans”) in which captives were taken to the northeast and the slave markets of Arabian peninsula. In the legend under the illustration, Johnston describes how the raids are accomplished and what happens to the captives: “Creeping up through the long grass, gliding through the encompassing belt of forest, selecting, no doubt, a time when most of the fighting-men are absent fishing or hunting, the slave-raiders suddenly pounce on the doomed village, which they rapidly encircle. The loud discharge of their guns paralyses the inhabitants with terror, and the panic is doubtless added to by the firing of the thatched huts. The few men who attempt an ineffectual resistance with their spears and clubs and bows and arrows are pitilessly shot down. The women, the boys, and such youths or young men as are easily overpowered, are speedily secured; their hands are usually tied behind the back, and their necks are invested with the heavy forked sticks which the slave-raiders have previously cut and brought with them on the back of their donkeys or their slave-porters. In addition to these wooden yokes, the slaves are frequently tied together by long twisted liana cords, made of the tough bush-creepers. The little children are rarely tied, except with their heart-strings, for their attachment to their mothers, and the mothers’ determination not to be parted from their children, combine to carry them along with the slave-caravan—as long, that is to say, as their poor little legs can bear them.”