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The Slave Trade Among Ethnic Groups of Gambia
 
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Tribal Relationships to Slavery in Gambia:
All ethnic groups were affected to one extent or another by the Atlantic Slave Trade and domestic slavery.

The Aku's
They are the descendents of European traders and their African wives [Mulattoes], as well as of liberated slaves from Sierra Leone. Liberated slaves also intermingled and inter-married with other groups of freed slaves from the New World and Britain who were already exposed to different cultures. As a result the Aku developed their own distinctive culture, encompassing both African and European characteristics and language. Most are Christian and have European names and continue to figure prominently in Gambian commerce and the civil service.

Portuguese Mulatto traders were the middlemen between African producers and European merchants during the height of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Fulas
The Fulas were traditionally mainly cattle herders originating in the area north of the Senegal River, though it is thought by some that they originally came from much further north. The Fulas who first immigrated into The Gambia were non-Muslim pastoralists.

There are many sub-groups of Fulas based on different places of origin and modes of making a living. The Firdu Fulas for example, because of their semi-sedentary nature and ethnic intermarriage were often looked down upon as being of slave origin. Another sub-group, the Fulbe Futa, formed warrior bands and preyed upon other Fula groups and Mandinka communities.

The Jolas
Amongst the earliest people in the Senegambia region were the Jolas, who had migrated from Casamance in Senegal. A Colonial Office report in 1929 described the Jola tribe as mainly pagan.

The Jolas were the only tribe never to have had a tradition of keeping slaves, although they did sell their own prisoners of war to merchants. The Jolas were themselves often victims of slave takers and were particularly subjugated by the Mandinkas.

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The Mandingos
The Mandinka were the first of a series of invaders to the Senegambia region. Gradually the whole of Gambia valley came under Mandinka control and they were firmly established by the 15th century.

Trade was important in Mandinka states and long distance trade routes were established. During the period of the Transatlantic slave trade, slaves and firearms became the most important articles of trade.

As well as being victims of slave takers, some Mandinkas carried on extensive trade in slaves. Even well into the 19th century it was "well-known and admitted fact that Mandingos... are in the practice of obtaining and carrying off liberated slaves from Freetown".

The  Sarahules
Those found in The Gambia arrived during the 19th century as refugees from the religious wars in Senegal and are therefore the most recent arrivals of all the Senegambian ethnic groups. They hired land from Mandinka chiefs and, by the middle of the century, had proved themselves useful to the kings of the river states, acting as mercenaries.

The Serrer
The Serrers are among the oldest ethnic group in the Senegambia region, having migrated into the delta regions from the north of Senegal. According to traditions passed on by nineteenth century European writers, the Fulas drove the Serer out of the Futa Toro region of Senegambia and enslaved them.

The Wollof
The Wollofs are thought to have originated in Southern Mauritania where droughts and raids forced them south into the area north of The Gambia in western Senegal.

Early descriptions of Wollof chiefs are found in the writings of a 15th century Portuguese explorer. He described how Wolof kings forced some of their subjects and those of neighbouring provinces into slavery, part whereof they employed in cultivating the lands assigned them, with the rest sold to the Azanaghi [Moors] and Arab merchants. For protection, the kings would surround themselves with warriors, often of slave origin called 'Tyeddo'.

A caste system operated within Wolof society. Household or domestic slaves could not be sold except for serious crimes such as murder or witchcraft. In fact many enjoyed greater power than freemen, with some acting as trusted advisors and agents to their masters. Slaves were valuable property and ownership of many slaves generated prestige within the community.

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