West Africa: Colonial Times From the early 1500’s to the mid 1900’s Europeans have been known for their success in colonizing foreign territories. The Dutch, British, Portuguese, French and Germans were the main European groups who throughout the 15th and 19th century felt the need to take over beneficial countries to improve their power. The desire for money, goods, territory and empire building led the Europeans to all search around the world in hopes of finding a weaker country with raw materials to take over.
In Western Africa, the main European forces that colonized most of the western area were the Portuguese, the French and the British. Like in many other parts of the world, the European countries were invading, conquering and controlling the goods that West Africa had to provide; much like the East Indian Company (British) in India. From the early 1500’s until the late 1900’s the Portuguese, the French and the British came into West Africa and began to increase trade, overpower and become racial towards the Africans and turn a tribal country into a strict European ruling type of government.
With the Europeans in charge, the way of life, expenses and laws/rules quickly began to change for the benefit of the Portuguese, French and British. The main reason for European colonization was to boost up the Europeans’ economy. In West Africa many of the countries such as the Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria were blessed with many resources and raw materials that the Portuguese, French and British could acquire and trade with other countries in exchange for other goods or money. Another main attraction to Africa, were the available slaves that the French and British shipped to the Americas for cheap labor.
The slaves were so demanded that the European nations began the Atlantic slave trade in the 16th century and shipped many slaves to the new world in order to be able to produce multiple products and not have to pay the workers. The constant need for slaves, and the high demand for ivory and gold from the west coast left the Africans inhabiting the west without any resources for themselves. Due to excess trading, the West Africans were forced to change from tribes and organized groups into hard working slaves owned by the French and British.
Beginning with the Portuguese and later with the French and British, West Africa was split in a such way that each European power could receive the amount of land and African population they needed. According to a Committee of the African Institution, the French and British men came into Africa for ivory, beeswax, dye-woods, gum Senegal, gum copal, potash, palm oil, indigo, rice, coffee, sugarcanes, malaguetta pepper, cayenne, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, castor oil, musk, tobacco and most importantly gold.
All of these resources helped the Portuguese French and British. For the French all these resources were making them lots of profits and raising their status in Africa whereas on the other hand, the British used West Africa as a “chill spot” while on there way to India. Also the resources helped the British transport through trade many needed materials to India. Although the trade made Western Africa popular and got the French and British lots of recognition, the trade of African resources also wiped out the Africans, their resources and changed their tribal life.
Economically, the Africans no longer had anything because it now belonged to the Portuguese, French and British. With the colonization on the coasts of West Africa by the Portuguese, French and the British, African economy dropped causing changes in life and society and there was a rapid boost in the Europeans economy. The Africans downfall was just another point for the Europeans which made them more powerful and lowered the status of Africa.
Before the 1300’s, the Africans were a wide cultural and tribal nation that based their wealth and success on agriculture and natural resources. The head person in charge was the chief of the tribe. When the Portuguese started coming in, the social classes began to slowly change. By the 1600’s the French and British began to come into West Africa and completely changed the cultural and tribal aspects of Africa. They basically came in, took over and changed everything the Africans were known for. The Europeans treated the African slaves like animals.
They were viewed as non-humans and deprived from all education. The Europeans took everything the Africans had that could possibly put them on top or make them more powerful. In The Interesting Life Of Olaudah Equiano, Olaudah Equiano describes how the French and British men came into his hometown, Nigeria, shipped him to the Americas and treated him harshly. He describes how he was forced to work from before sunrise to after sunset and if he didn’t do what was asked of him by his European masters he would be beat and suffer horrible consequences.
All the Africans in West Africa were used to depending on nature and obeying their chief but when the Europeans came in, the Africans had to learn how to work innumerable hours and just focus on working. They had no time to socialize with each other and most were mixed in plantations with other Africans who didn’t speak their tribal language. The African men still remained more powerful and demanded than the average African women but as a whole, all the Africans went from highly known tribes to low ranked people in European societies.
No longer did the Africans have their own culture and their own people as rulers but now the white man was on top and was controlling all of the Africans who were put in the lowest class rank. “The White Man’s Burden” is a poem that explains exactly how the Europeans came into political control and used Social Darwinism as an excuse. Thanks to all the European power governing West Africa, the Africans no longer had anything of their own and were forced to live and obey European power. When it came to political issues, the French were the ones to blame.
When the French came into Africa in the 1600’s they were certain of the areas in West Africa that they wanted to colonize. Later in the 1800’s, other European countries came in and the struggle for Africa began. By 1885, the African continent was split up and the Portuguese, French and British gained control and got to colonize West Africa due to the Berlin Conference. As an effect of the Berlin Conference, tribes and social groups were split up and put into a whole different style of government with other African tribes they didn’t know.
In order to control this wide amount of different cultures, the French had to create an imprisonment (The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Africa. 1981) and enforce strict laws to keep the Africans in order. The French also input taxes on all the colonies and began a French Administration to control over all the western territories they owned. With the French Administration the Africans had no choice but to follow the French men’s order because if not the French had more than thousands of army troops getting ready to abuse the Africans.
When the French came in, they took away all the power from the chief and completely dominated every single African on the west coast. With their domination, the French changed culture, traditions and rules that the Africans were used to following. No longer was Africa a tribal and traditional continent because thanks to the French they were under a rule where they were kind of like animals or house pets – just getting used when needed and receiving no rewards in exchange. European Colonization took place from the early 1400’s until the late 1900’s.
With colonization came imperialism in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Both imperialism and colonization in Africa prove how the Europeans in history are constantly fighting for power. With the Portuguese, French and British in West Africa, trade, social status and organization was changed. The Africans were put under the Europeans rule and were forced to follow and obey unfair orders and task. No longer did they have their normal traditional days or events but now they spent all day in a plantation working for their white masters.
All the African culture and lifestyle was blocked out throughout the European colonization and imperialistic era. The Africans went from having healthy and wealthy running empires to getting dictated by rude Europeans who just randomly showed up in their territory to take away all their resources. History proves yet again how selfish and greedy the Europeans are, and no matter how much they hurt and effect others traditions and histories, they continue to expand, invade and control.