African tribes and the slave trade
Most European states have tried to face up to the past, but slavery's legacy is in some ways even more poisonous in places like modern Ghana. A smokescreen still covers the African role in this pernicious trade. It is an awkward fact that the traffic could not have existed without African chiefs and traders. Europeans rarely went far from their forts; slaves were brought to them. Indeed, when the Europeans arrived the slave trade and slavery were already integral parts of local tribal economies. One of the few Ghanaian historians to touch these issues, Akosua Adoma Perbi, writes that “slavery became an important part of the Asante state [the Gold Coast's most powerful] right from its inception. For three centuries, Asante became the largest slave-trading, slave-owning and slave-dealing state in Ghana.”
When the Portuguese arrived on the scene in 1471, they were intermediaries, bringing slaves (and other goods) from Senegal and Benin along the coast to Ghana to sell them in exchange for gold to the Asante and other local peoples. The Asante then mounted slave-trading expeditions to get labour for gold mines.
The forts themselves were not owned by the Europeans; the land on which Cape Coast Castle was built was rented to the British by the local chief for a monthly sum. It was in the interests of the Europeans to respect local customs and laws, as that included the institution of slavery. This meant that they could take slaves but not, for instance, kill animals for amusement; when one officer, James Swanzy, shot a crocodile there was a huge fuss and compensation was paid.
Most of the slaves sold to Europeans in later centuries were men and women captured in battles between tribes like the Asante and the Acan. Many of the captives were kept as slaves by the victors, where they were treated relatively well and could gain some social standing within their new families. Still, the proliferation of wars between the tribes was, as Ms Perbi writes, “mostly aimed at acquiring slaves for sale to the European companies and individual European merchants”. So integral did the slave trade become to the local chiefs' welfare that its abolition hit hard. In 1872, long after abolition, Zey, the king of Asante, wrote to the British monarch asking for the slave trade to be renewed.
Revisionist history and white man’s burden