The central African city of Timbuktu (Timbuctoo) continued as a market for slaves long after the British had abolished their transatlantic slave trade — which had more to do with destroying French colonial commerce than philanthropy. The Captain writes below of how the British action simply forced native African slave traders to the interior of the Dark Continent, and the trade flourished nonetheless as slaves were a traditional African medium of exchange. In his 1961 book “The Slaves of Timbuktu” (Harper & Brothers), author Robin Maugham found that slavery still existed among the African tribes in the late 1950’s. He was the brother of author Somerset Maugham.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
“Slaves, Don Teodore, Are Our Money”
“[Mahometan Foulah] Mami had visited many of the European colonies and Moorish kingdoms on the north coast of Africa, so that he was not stupefied by the untrammeled ignorance of Africans who consider Timbuctoo a combination of Paris and paradise. Indeed, he did not presume, like most of the Mandingo chiefs, to prefer it to Senegal or Sierra Leone. He confessed that the royal palace was nothing but a vast enclosure of mud walls, built without taste or symmetry, within whose labyrinthine mesh were numerous buildings for the wives, children, and kindred of the sovereign.
The markets of Timbuctoo, alone, secured his admiration. Every week they were thronged with traders, dealers, peddlers and merchants, who either dwelt in the neighboring kingdoms, or came from afar with slaves and produce. Moors and Israelites from the northeast were the most eminent and opulent merchants; and among them he counted a travelling class crowned with peculiar turbans, whom he called “Joseph’s-People,” or in all likelihood, Armenians.
However, in spite of its despotic rulers, Timbuctoo was a great central mart for exchange, and commercial men as well as the innumerable petty kings, frequented it not only for the abundant mineral salt in its vicinity, but because they could exchange their slaves for foreign merchandise. I asked the Foulah why he preferred the markets of Timbuctoo to the well-stocked stores of regular European settlements on the coast which was reached with so much more ease than this core of Africa?
“Ah!,” said the astute [slave] trafficker, “no market is a good one for the African in which he cannot openly exchange his slaves for whatever the original owner or importer can sell without fear! Slaves, Don Teodore, are our money.”
(Adventures of an African Slaver, Captain Theodore Canot, Star Books, 1928, pp. 135-136)