Were there pirates from African nations?

Yes, there were pirates from African nations, particularly from the North African Barbary States (modern-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya), and also from regions along the West and East African coasts.

Barbary Corsairs

The Barbary corsairs were some of the most notorious pirates from the African continent. These pirates operated from the North African coast, under the aegis of the Ottoman Empire, primarily between the 16th and 19th centuries. The corsairs were based in the port cities of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli and were involved in piratical activities across the Mediterranean Sea and even into the Atlantic Ocean. They targeted European merchant vessels, capturing ships and enslaving or ransoming their crews and passengers. The Barbary corsairs played a significant role in the Mediterranean maritime conflicts and were a persistent threat to European shipping​ (ThoughtCo)​​ (Smithsonian Magazine)​.

West African Pirates

West Africa was also home to pirates, particularly during the 17th and 18th centuries when European colonial powers and traders were active in the region. The Gulf of Guinea, for example, saw significant pirate activity. These pirates often targeted European slavers and merchant vessels. Notable among them were the Akan people, who resisted European incursions and sometimes engaged in piratical activities as a form of resistance against the transatlantic slave trade.

African Slave Traders and Piracy

Some African leaders and traders engaged in piracy as an extension of their involvement in the slave trade. These individuals would capture ships and people to sell into slavery. The complex relationship between local African powers, European traders, and piracy is exemplified in regions like the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Biafra, where piracy and slaving were closely intertwined​ (ThoughtCo)​.

East African Pirates

Piracy also occurred along the East African coast, particularly around the island of Madagascar and the Swahili coast. The strategic location of Madagascar made it a popular base for pirates, including those of European origin who integrated with local communities. The Zana-Malata community, for instance, was a mix of Malagasy and European pirates who settled on the island. These pirates operated in the Indian Ocean, targeting ships from various nations, including the Portuguese, Dutch, and British.

The Zana-Malata Pirates

The Zana-Malata were known for their mixed heritage and their piratical activities in the Indian Ocean. They would often form alliances with local Malagasy tribes and European outlaws, creating a unique pirate culture that blended various traditions. This community was instrumental in some of the most famous pirate activities in the Indian Ocean during the late 17th and early 18th centuries​ (Smithsonian Magazine)​.


Pirates from African nations played diverse roles in the maritime history of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. From the Barbary corsairs of North Africa to the West African pirates resisting the transatlantic slave trade and the mixed-heritage pirates of Madagascar, African pirates were significant actors in global piracy narratives. Their activities were often intertwined with broader economic and political contexts, reflecting the complexities of maritime history during the early modern period.


  1. Cordingly, D. (1996). Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates. Random House.
  2. Earle, P. (2003). The Pirate Wars. Methuen.
  3. Milton, G. (2009). White Gold: The Extraordinary Story of Thomas Pellow and North Africa’s One Million European Slaves. Sceptre.

For more detailed accounts, consult these works and other scholarly resources on the history of piracy in Africa.