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Changes in the Trading Centers

Attempts to suppress the slave trade triggered a marked strategic shift in trading locations toward the end. In the eighteenth century, the trading centers had been islands in Upper Guinea, forts on the Gold Coast, and, further east and south, enclaves of strong African authority in places such as Whydah, Bonny, Old Calabar, and the Vili centers of northern Angola, or centers of European authority in the case of Luanda, Benguela, and Mozambique to the south. Slave traders, like other merchants, sought physical security and a known set of rules to carry on business.

In the era of attempted naval suppression, both the islands and forts proved too susceptible to naval interference, and trafficking shifted to creeks and mangrove swamps in Upper Guinea. In the area of the castles on the Gold Coast there was no obvious alternative, and the slave trade ended quickly in the region. In the Bight of Benin, a lagoon system, and in the Bight of Biafra the myriad waterways of the Niger Delta allowed captives to be moved quickly to points of embarkation beyond the knowledge of patrolling cruisers, and thus a clandestine trade survived longer there.

Further south, the vast Congo River estuary offered better cover for slave traders than the Vili ports of Cabinda and Malembo, and replaced them in the last thirty years of the trade. Beginning in the mid-1830s, Portuguese government actions in Angola and Mozambique forced traffickers to conduct their affairs and embark their captives from secluded creeks and beaches removed from these government centers, in Luanda's case often as far away as the Congo.