Mandingo Slave Traders and Coffle, Senegal, 1780s

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This record was last updated on 25 Aug 2010

Image Reference

René Claude Geoffroy de Villeneuve, L'Afrique, ou histoire, moeurs, usages et coutumes des africains: le Sénégal (Paris, 1814), vol. 4, facing p. 43. (Copy in Special Collections, University of Virginia Library)

Caption, "chaine d'esclaves venant de l'interieure" (chain/coffle of slaves coming from the interior); shows six African men with two armed guards. Villeneuve lived in the Senegal region for about two years in the mid-to-late 1780s and made this drawing from his own observations. He provides a detailed description of the coffle and the movement of slaves from the interior to the coast: "Every year the Mandingo traders, called slatées or Sarakole [Sarakule, Sarracolet, etc.] Negroes, after having sold slaves in exchange for European goods, leave with necessary goods for the interior, toward Bambara country. The Mandingo slatées often carry with them iron bolts of 15 to 18 inches long . . . . They cut pieces of a heavy wood, around 5 or 6 feet long, forked at one end so that the forked end can fit around the slave's neck. The two ends of the forked branch are drilled/pierced so as to permit the iron bolt, held at one end by a head, and fixed to the other end by a flexible iron blade [which passes] through a hole in the bolt . . . . When all the slaves are run through in this fashion and the traders want to start the march to the coast, they arrange the captives in a single file. One of the traders puts himself at the head of the line, loading on his shoulder the handle of the forked branch of the first black; each slave carries on his shoulder the handle of the forked branch of the person behind him . . . . During the entire route, the fork is never removed from the slaves' necks, and at the arrival point, as at the departure, the traders take great care to check if the iron bolts are in good working condition. It is thus that five or six armed traders, without fear, can succeed in conveying coffles of 50 slaves, and even more, from the interior to the European coastal factory. . . ." (Villeneuve, vol. 4, pp. 39-43; our translation). Jean Baptiste Léonard Durand, who had been governor of the isle of St. Louis, ca. 1785-86, wrote: "The commerce is carried on by the Negro courtiers, who are known by the name of the Slatées; these are free Negroes who possess considerable influence in the country, and whose principle employment consists in selling the slaves they procure from the centre of Africa" (A voyage to Senegal . . .Translated from the French [London, 1806], pp. 44-45). The same illustration appears in color in the English translation of Villeneuve; see Frederic Shoberl (ed.), Africa; containing a description of the manners and customs, with some historical particulars of the Moors of the Zahara . . . (London, 1821), vol. 4, p. 47.