By James Walvin

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The millions of Africans who crossed the Atlantic - from such diverse regions and destined for the full range of praedial life throughout the Americas - shared the common experience and the horrors of the Middle Passage. While historians have been able to reconstruct the details of the Atlantic crossings - the size of ships, of slave cargoes, mortality rates, slaves' illnesses and their commercial values - it seems practically impossible to convey the appalling 50 SLAVERY AND THE SLAVE TRADE experiences of the slaves crossing the Atlantic.

One day, when all our people were gone out to their work as usual and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both, and without giving us time to cry out to make resistance they stopped our mouths and ran off with us into the nearest woods. There followed a long and difficult journey lasting for months, in which Equiano passed through a series of African societies before arriving on the Atlantic coast and coming face to face with European slave traders.

Yet this, like many other explanations or justifications for the African involvement in slave trading, is largely hypothetical and rests on debatable evidence. It is furthermore pointless to seek a single, seminal cause of African slaving, apart from the growing economic demand for cheap and pliant labour in the Americas. Once that demand had been established, however, its consequences for sub-Saharan Africa were far-reaching and fundamental. The most obvious impact was the drain of population.

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