Typical of the African situation were the Mende, who kept considerable numbers of slaves for both social and economic reasons and on the whole treated them well, so well indeed that it was difficult for an outsider to distinguish between free and slave. The primary social difference between the two groups was the honorlessness of the slaves, a condition that the free man was reluctant to point out in the presence of strangers, knowing how crushing it would be to the slave.... The loss of honor was most evident among aged slaves. In no other part of the world was age more respected and honored than in traditional African societies. But old Mende slaves never received this respect. They were minors who would never receive the respect due to a mature adult.
Patterson, Slavery and Social Death (83)