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Article

African Music in the Global African Diaspora  

Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje

When researching music in the African diaspora, most scholars concentrate on the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade, which has been a trend since inquiries began during the mid twentieth century. Only since the late twentieth century have researchers started to consider musical repercussions from the involuntary and voluntary migration of Africans in the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean. Using historical and musical secondary sources, the essay, African Music in the Global African Diaspora, devotes special attention to musicking during the enslavement of Black people in the Indian Ocean, Mediterranean, and Atlantic Ocean worlds. In addition to a concise history of slavery and the enslaved, a description of instruments, musical traditions, performance practices, and meaning is presented for each diaspora. The degree that musical elements identified with Africa were retained and/or transformed, resulting in a fusion or blending of performance practices, is also explored. Because no single publication, heretofore, has focused on African music in the global African diaspora, the study fills a significant void in the literature and presents a more comprehensive view of the dispersion of African music inworld culture. The outcome provides a broader analysis and understanding of the power and impact of African music globally.

Article

Akan Slavery in Africa and the Atlantic  

Pierluigi Valsecchi

Slavery was a macroscopic reality in the documentable historical itinerary of the Akan region of West Africa, both as a recognized institution existing in all the societies of the region up to the late 19th century and as a crucial component of its relationships with the outside world from the late 17th to the 19th century. During this phase, and although it lagged behind other parts of West Africa, the Akan region became also one of the most important exporting areas in the Atlantic slave trade. The condition of a slave until the end of the 19th century was generally the consequence of capture in war, judicial sentence, sale for debts, and so on. Akan societies distinguished between different degrees and types of slavery: prisoners of war, convicts sold into slavery, foreign slaves who were purchased, individuals enslaved for indebtedness, children of slave parents, and the like. These gradations corresponded to differences in treatment and could guarantee certain privileges. Many slaves suffered harsh exploitation, deprivation, and constant existential precariousness, while many others were instead immersed in a whole gamut of living and working conditions that bespoke of a more or less advanced integration into the host society, mainly operating through inclusion within the institutions of matrilineal kinship. Pawnship was another widespread institution of servitude that veered toward slavery but remained distinct from it, at least in principle, due to its temporary nature. The slaves who were shipped from the ports of the Akan region were called “Amina” (or “Mina”) or “Coromantee” in the Americas. These terms morphed into definitions of identity that the deported slaves themselves appropriated—whether or not they were of Akan origin—and that were largely based on common cultural traits originating primarily in the Akan world. The enslaved Amina/Mina and Coromantee left lasting marks on the history and culture of the black communities of several countries, especially in the Caribbean and Latin America and, to a lesser extent, in parts of North America too. A crucial reason was their role in slave insurrections and in the “Grand Maroonage,” that is, the establishment of stable communities of slaves who escaped from the plantations and eked out spaces of independence on the fringes of plantation society. The early 19th-century abolitions of the Atlantic slave trade caused a decline in slave exports, but the demand for enslaved labor grew within the Akan region itself. While for most of the 19th century, slavery experienced an overall growth, in various coastal centers, and in some areas of the Gold Coast, this same period saw the development of anti-slavery sentiment and strong abolitionist pressures. Later in the 19th century, the abolitionist legislations put in place as a result of the colonial occupation by Great Britain and France had some crucial effects. These laws recognized for the first time the fundamental right to freedom of bonded individuals by outlawing their subjection and providing them with effective and immediate legal instruments for claiming their freedom in colonial courts. In actual terms, however, the pace of change in the realm of subjection was very slow and, all in all, unsatisfactory with respect to the initial intentions of the anti-slavery legislation. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, there were still cases of individuals sold or pawned. Slavery and pawnship, in fact, survived for decades, notwithstanding profound changes in the economic and socio-political framework. That legacy is still very much present in the memory and discourse of Akan societies in the early 21st century.

Article

Archival and Digital Sources on Unfree Labor in Northern Nigeria  

Mohammed Bashir Salau

Unfree labor in Northern Nigeria is a subject of interest to an increasing number of scholars. The National Archives Kaduna (NAK) and other repositories in Northern Nigeria and elsewhere hold many records that are useful for the study of several forms of unfree labor that occurred within the present-day borders of Northern Nigeria. The history of these records is long, but most of the written records were produced in the period after 1800. The written materials are mainly in Arabic and English. Unlike the written records, the oral sources are mainly in the Hausa language and the collection of such oral information is related to the post-1960s efforts by scholars led primarily by Paul E. Lovejoy. Lovejoy also initiated the digitization of archival materials and oral sources related to unfree labor in Northern Nigeria in the early 2000s. The digitization effort is still ongoing. Scholars who have drawn on the available archival and digital material have focused on the theme of slavery in the precolonial era. Such scholars addressed several topics including plantation agriculture, military slavery, slave control, slave resistance, the ending of slavery, and the wages of slavery. Apart from the works on slavery that mainly focus on the 19th century, there are relatively few other works on the topic that have primarily dealt with the early colonial era or with the period between 1903 and 1936. While the history of slavery has attracted the most critical attention, the history of corvée and convict labor in Northern Nigeria has largely been neglected. Indeed, to date, only two works mainly deal with convict and corvée labor. Considering the little attention given to the themes of convict labor and corvée labor, there is clearly more room for additional historical works on these subjects than on the topic of slavery.

Article

British Antislavery and West Africa  

Padraic Scanlan

Resistance to slavery within African societies was as complex and heterogeneous as slavery itself. For enslaved Africans and their descendants taken by force to Europe’s colonies in the Americas, antislavery was an existential struggle. Among European states, Britain was among the first imperial powers to pass laws abolishing its slave trade (in 1807) and slavery in its colonies (in 1833). Antislavery was a transnational phenomenon, but Britain made suppressing the Atlantic slave trade an element of its foreign policy, employing a Royal Navy squadron to search for slave ships, pressing African leaders to sign anti-slave-trade treaties as a condition of trade and coordinating an international network of anti-slave-trade courts. And yet, for many leading British abolitionists, “Africa” was an ideological sandbox—an imagined blank space for speculation and experiment on the development of human societies and the progress of “civilization.” In the 18th century, early British critics of the transatlantic slave trade argued that “Africa” presented an unparalleled commercial and imperial opportunity. Although the slave trade—and the plantations in the Americas that slave ships supplied with labor—were profitable, some argued that slave-trading regions could, with enough investment, produce goods and commodities that would be many times more lucrative. Moreover, if Britain were the first European power to abolish the slave trade, it might also be among the first to gain a territorial foothold on African soil. Over time, these arguments coalesced into the concept of “legitimate commerce.” A combination of Christian teaching, slave-trade suppression, and commercial incentives would persuade slave-trading polities to give up the practice and instead produce other goods. Legitimate commerce intertwined with a theory of civilization that held that any society that enslaved people was so degenerate in its social development that nearly any reform or intervention was justifiable. By the end of the 19th century, antislavery became a justification for European conquest. There were at least three broad reform projects launched by British officials and merchants in Africa in the name of antislavery. First, drawing on critiques of the slave trade from the 18th century that emphasized the commercial potential of legitimate commerce, antislavery activists and politicians argued for replacing the slave trade with new kinds of export-oriented commerce. Second, in two colonies, Sierra Leone and Liberia, Britain and the United States experimented with the possibility of using Black people from the African diaspora as settlers and missionaries. In Sierra Leone, more than seventy thousand people, usually known as “Liberated Africans,” were repatriated from slave ships into the small colony. Third, in the mid-19th century, as the transatlantic slave trade declined, Britain and other European powers invested heavily in African plantation agriculture, particularly in cotton and palm oil monocrops.

Article

Cocoa and Child Slavery in West Africa  

Michael Odijie

The ongoing scholarship on child slavery in cocoa farming in West Africa is examined by illustrating major developments in the field. Slavery was a mainstay of the labor force in early West Africa cocoa farming, especially in Sao Tomé and Príncipe. Whereas slavery in cocoa farming in West Africa historically involved adult slaves, the modern version is almost exclusively based on child slavery. With the promise of a job, child slaves are transported to Côte d’Ivoire from neighboring countries like Mali and Burkina Faso and transported to cocoa farms in remote villages. In Ghana, child slaves are transported from poorer regions. The modern literature on child slavery in the West African cocoa sector, which to a great extent has been led by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and activists, has not properly engaged with the history or evolution of cocoa farming or its link to modern child slavery. While the documentaries and journalistic case studies produced by NGOs and activists have offered crucial evidence of the occurrence of child slavery on West African cocoa farms, they have generated only limited questions and arguments. This is partly due to the practical goals of this literature—for example, showing that child slavery exists (via documentary approaches)—and the use of surveys to attempt to measure its prevalence. This focus primarily serves the antislavery campaign. The literature has also suffered from a lack of conceptual direction. The proximity of categories such as child labor and hazardous child labor has allowed stakeholders to shift the conversation away from child slavery to less problematic forms of labor, especially given the methodological difficulties encountered in uncovering child slavery. However, the literature that has sought to explain the causes of child slavery in cocoa farming in West Africa has been robust and historical due to the contribution of Marxist and other scholars who are not necessarily involved in the antislavery campaign. The campaign against child slavery in cocoa farming has led to copious programs and initiatives on the part of the West African government and other stakeholders.

Article

Combat Games in the Black Atlantic, 17–19th Centuries  

Matthias Röhrig Assunção

Combat games are attested in Africa from the time of the transatlantic slave trade and throughout the 19th century. In the agricultural societies in the rainforest of West and West Central Africa, wrestling was the most common form, while pastoral societies in the savannahs of central and southern Africa excelled in stick fighting. Fist fighting, slap boxing, and kicking also constituted the base of combat games in some locations. The enslaved Africans and their descendants made use of these bodily techniques in the plantation societies of the Americas and the Indian Ocean. The new oppressive context of slavery led to adjustments of techniques and practice. Stick fighting was widespread in Brazil and the Caribbean, whereas wrestling only became important in the United States. The previously rather marginal techniques of kicking and head butting became central to capoeira, ladja, and moring, even though it is difficult to establish precise genealogies. Bodily techniques were onlys one aspect of the complex cultural reinvention of combat games in the Atlantic world. African religious practices such as protections from supernatural forces and broader cultural meanings were incorporated into African-derived and creole combat games. While keeping some of their former social function, combat games in the “New World” also acquired new, contradictory meanings as either tools of resistance, spectacle for monetary gains, or even instruments of oppression. They provided an early example of globalization of bodily techniques and cultural meanings, and the most successful ones, such as capoeira, continue to expand worldwide to this day.

Article

Diaspora Tourism  

Bayo Holsey

Since the 1990s, diaspora tourism has become a significant cultural and economic enterprise within several West African nations. The conservation of important sites related to the history of the slave trade, particularly Cape Coast Castle and Elmina Castle in Ghana and the Slave House on Gorée Island and Senegal, along with the development of the Slaves’ Route in Benin, has led to burgeoning numbers of diaspora tourists in these nations. Although this particular form of travel took off in the 1990s as a result of a growing African American middle class and the simultaneous rise in their level of interest in the history of the slave trade, temporary diasporic travel to West Africa has a much longer history. From the very moment of independence, the development of diaspora tourism industries has been a goal of several African nations. Pan-African festivals held throughout the 1960s and 1970s sought to capture this tourism market and to celebrate historical and cultural connections as well as to encourage economic investment. More recent state-sponsored events such as Emancipation Day and PANAFEST in Ghana have similar goals. For the tourists themselves, diaspora tourism often represents much more than leisure travel. Oftentimes framed as a “homecoming” or a “pilgrimage,” the trips can have deeply personal and even spiritual significance. They occur in the context of anti-Black racism in the home nations of tourists who therefore may seek a sense of belonging within Africa. Many want to learn more about the history of slave trade in order to understand the struggles of their ancestors. Diaspora tourism thus is both an economic enterprise, firmly situated within neoliberal logics, and a potentially oppositional act for Black subjects in the context of global White supremacy. It has also influenced the ways in which continental Africans view the history of the slave trade and their relationship to the African diaspora.

Article

Donas, Nharas, and Signares: Women Slave Traders in Atlantic Africa  

Hilary Jones

Donas, nharas, and signares belonged to a class of women who obtained high social and economic standing in Africa’s west and west central region from the age of the European encounter to the era of mercantile companies and transatlantic slavery. These women owned slaves consistent with the notion of “slavery” or institutions of marginality within their specific West African and West Central African societies. As women who lived in close proximity to European military and mercantile installations on the Atlantic coast, they acted as cross-cultural brokers between European merchants and officials and African elites. Whether through marriages arranged by lineage elders or by relationships of convenience between African women and European men, donas, nharas, and signares entered contractual unions with European men. From the late 16th to the early 19th centuries, these relationships originated Afro-European families and established Afro-European men and some women as a propertied class along Africa’s Atlantic coast. Infamous in the texts of traveler’s accounts written by European men and a few Afro-European men, documentation of this era of women’s influence and their role in the Atlantic commercial system largely resides in European administrative reports and population data, court records and notarized documents, and published and unpublished genealogies.

Article

The Dutch Slave Trade in the Atlantic, 1600–1800  

Pieter Emmer and Henk den Heijer

The Dutch share in the Atlantic slave trade averaged about 5 to 6 percent of the total, but the volume differed sharply over time. The beginning of the Dutch transatlantic slave trade can be dated to 1636, after the Dutch West India Company (WIC) had acquired its own plantation colony around Recife in Brazil. In order to set up a regular trade in slaves, the WIC also took Elmina on the Gold Coast and Luanda in Angola from the Portuguese. The slave trade to Dutch Brazil was short-lived, and after the loss of Dutch Brazil and Luanda, the WIC as well as private merchants from Amsterdam started to sell slaves to colonists in the Spanish, English, and French Caribbean via Curaçao, the WIC trade hub in the region. In 1667, in addition to the small colonies of Berbice and Essequibo, the Dutch conquered Suriname and during the 18th century established Demerara. The Dutch slave trade became more and more focused on these plantation colonies. Between 1700 and 1725, after the Dutch had been banned from selling slaves in foreign colonies, the Dutch slave trade declined, but the volume increased again after 1730 when the WIC lost its monopoly and private shipping companies were allowed to enter the trade. In addition, Amsterdam-based investors poured money into the Dutch plantation colonies expecting windfall profits from a new cash crop: coffee. These profits did not materialize, and the majority of the planters in the Dutch plantation colonies went bankrupt. These bankruptcies, another war with Britain, and the French occupation caused the Dutch slave trade to decline sharply. The last Dutch slave ship sailed to Suriname in 1802. In 1814, the Dutch government yielded to British abolitionist pressure and abolished the slave trade in the hope of regaining its colonial possessions occupied by Britain.

Article

The History of Mali: Connectivity and State Formation since the 18th Century  

Madina Thiam and Gregory Mann

The Republic of Mali comprises a very diverse population spread over a vast territory composed of a large part of the southern Sahara, the Sahel, and the savannah. One of the world’s great rivers, the Niger, runs through much of the national territory, reaching its northern apex near Timbuktu. For over a millennium, this territory has allowed empires and kingdoms to flourish alongside decentralized societies. These include the empires of Ghana, Mali and Songhay, as well as any number of smaller states, trading diasporas, and nomadic and semi-nomadic communities. The territory of Mali has long been a hub in African commercial and intellectual circuits, notably those linking the societies of the Maghreb (or North Africa) to those bordering the Atlantic. In the 19th century, as elsewhere in Muslim Africa, new and explicitly Islamic states emerged in western and central Mali. They did not endure more than a few decades, as the territory was colonized by France in the late 19th century. The Republic of Mali claimed its independence in 1960 and rapidly developed greater autonomy from French neo-colonialism than did most of its neighbors. Mali has maintained an out-sized diplomatic and cultural role on the African continent and beyond under a socialist government from 1960 to 1968, military government through 1991, and a vibrant democracy in the decades since. However, since 2011, the country has been increasingly beset by violent conflicts between nonstate actors, the national government, and foreign forces including the French. Thus, in historical perspective, Mali’s geographic position and its environment have proven conducive to the production of expansive, diverse, and mutually dependent communities that have produced radically distinct and often fragile states.

Article

Igbo  

Chima J. Korieh

The Igbo-speaking people inhabit most of southeastern Nigeria. Their political economy and culture have been shaped by their long history of habitation in the forest region. Important themes relating to the Igbo past have centered on the question of origin, the agrarian bases of their economy, the decentralized and acephalous structure of their political organization, an achievement-based social system rooted in their traditional humane living, and a fluid gender ideology that recognized male and female roles as complementary rather than oppositional. The Igbo contributed to major historical developments including the development of agriculture, the Bantu migration, and its influence in the making of Bantu cultural areas in sub-Saharan Africa. On the global arena, the Igbo contributed significantly to the transformation of the New World through the Atlantic slave trade and the making of New World cultures. The Igbo made the transition to palm oil production in the postabolition era, thereby contributing to the industrialization of Europe as well as linking their society to the global capitalist economy from the 19th century. The Igbo encounter with Europeans continued through British colonialism, and their struggle to maintain their autonomy would shape British colonialism in Nigeria and beyond. The postcolonial era has been a time of crisis for the Igbo in Nigeria. They were involved in a civil war with Nigeria, known as the Nigeria-Biafra war, and experienced mass killing and genocide but continued to be resilient, drawing from their history and shared experience.

Article

Liberated Africans  

Richard Anderson

“Liberated Africans” refers to a group of African-born men, women, and children intercepted by naval forces from slave ships and slave trading factories in the Atlantic and Indian oceans as part of the 19th-century campaign to abolish the transoceanic slave trade from Africa. Following the passage of Britain’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, the British Royal Navy patrolled both the Atlantic and Indian oceans in order to suppress the external trade from Africa. Captured vessels were taken to a series of Vice-Admiralty courts, and later Mixed Commission courts, located in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Havana, Cuba; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Tortola; Cape Town, South Africa; James Town, St. Helena; Luanda, Angola; and Port Luis, Mauritius. Naval interdiction by Brazil, Portugal, the United States, and other powers resulted in a smaller number of cases brought before unilateral anti-slave-trade tribunals. Between 1808 and 1896, this complex tribunal network “liberated” approximately 214,000 Africans who survived the Middle Passage. Perhaps 75,000 of these individuals were settled in Sierra Leone; the remainder were settled in the British Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba, Liberia, and British colonies and outposts from the Gambia, Cape Colony, and Mauritius, to Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Bombay. The arrival of an estimated 192,000 Liberated Africans into Atlantic ports continued through the demise of the transatlantic slave trade in the 1860s. In the Indian Ocean, approximately 22,000 Liberated Africans disembarked in East Africa, the Persian Gulf, and India as a result of a highly uneven British naval campaign from 1808 into the 1890s. Many Liberated Africans experienced very liminal freedom. Adults and children were apprenticed to colonial inhabitants for periods of up to fourteen years. Men were conscripted into the British West India Regiments and Royal African Corps. Many women were forcibly married to strangers soon after arrival. Approximately one out of every four Liberated Africans underwent a second oceanic passage, most of them forcibly relocated to the British West Indies. The settlement of Liberated Africans—referred to by British officials as their “disposal”—represented a sizable involuntary African migration into and across the British Empire in the decades after the abolition of the British slave trade. Their arrival brought with it a lasting linguistic and cultural impact in many colonial societies. The descendants of Liberated Africans remain identifiable communities in many postcolonial societies from Africa to the Caribbean.

Article

Omar ibn Said  

Mbaye Lo

Omar ibn Sayyid (Said is the more prevalent Anglicized version of his name; 1770–1863), a West African Muslim scholar, was enslaved in North Carolina from 1810 until his death in 1863. Omar was captured in Futa Toro, modern-day Senegal in 1807 and transported to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1808, and he spent the first two years of his American life enslaved on a plantation there. He left behind a body of Arabic writings including his 1831 autobiography, which was the subject of two limited translations in the 19th century by Alexander Cotheal in 1848 and Isaac Bird in 1863; a more elaborated translation was produced by John Franklin Jameson in 1925. Since the 1980s, Omar has attracted scholarly interest as a striking example of the presence of enslaved Muslim scholars in the antebellum United States. The Library of Congress has created an Omar ibn Said Collection of documents in English and Arabic to serve as a resource for research on slavery and Islam in America. North Carolina governor Roy Cooper declared May 23, 2019, Omar ibn Said Day.

Article

Ozurumba Mbanaso or King Jaja of Opobo  

Joseph Davey

Between 1800 and 1900, West Africa’s coastal states struggled to maintain autonomy in the face of imperial overtures from European trade partners. Simultaneously, these states coped with an overwhelming buildup of domestic slaves, some of whom rose to unprecedented higher political and economic positions. One particular individual, King Jaja of Opobo, came to the fore as an extreme example of how slaves became more capable of taking advantage of the changing political, religious, and economic landscape of the Eastern Niger Delta during this period. Born Mbanaso Ozurumba in the Igboland village of Umuduruoha in 1821, Jaja, as he would become known to his European trading partners, traversed the domestic slave systems of Southeastern Nigeria and arrived in the Delta trading state of Bonny in 1833. He obtained tremendous wealth and political influence through the burgeoning palm oil trade, ultimately becoming the head of one of Bonny’s most influential canoe-houses. Due to an internal dispute with a rival canoe-house in the late 1860s, Jaja removed his followers to a previously uninhabited island and cut off Bonny’s access to the lucrative interior oil markets. From 1871 on, Jaja monopolized the palm oil trade in the region to become the most influential trader from his new position as king of the island community, which he would name Opobo. However, by 1884, the relationship between Jaja and his British trade partners deteriorated, leading to Jaja’s exile in the West Indies. Political pressure forced the British to return Jaja to Opobo. Unfortunately, the once-powerful slave-turned-king died while trying to return home in 1891.

Article

Political Economy of Textiles in the Atlantic Slave Trade  

Kazuo Kobayashi

Textile production was among the most important manufacturing sectors in precolonial West and West-Central Africa, enabled by the availability of local sources of fibers. Although the origins of this manufacturing are difficult to trace, the spread of cloth production was linked to Islam and consumer politics, followed by specialization of cloth production within the region over time. Textile production was usually based on the household division of labor: women were responsible for the primary activities of carding and spinning in cotton textile production, while men were in charge of weaving and finishing processes, such as embroidery. Male weavers used narrow strip (or band) horizontal looms to manufacture textiles, but in some areas, female weavers used vertical looms to produce textiles from cotton or raffia mixed with cotton. Some weavers were professional, full-time workers, whereas part-time weavers engaged in cloth production in the non-agricultural, dry season. Cloth strips served not only as material for clothing and interior decorations of houses and palaces but also as a currency in the regional economy. From the 15th century, the Portuguese came to West Africa and joined the coastal trade as middlemen who would be trading locally woven textiles from one place to another along the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic slave trade brought in increasing amounts of textiles from overseas, and in the 18th century, Indian cotton textiles became the flagship commodity whose quality met consumer preference. The impact of the influx of textiles from overseas on local cloth production remains a topic of debate. Although the dependency theorists claimed a negative impact, there is no evidence to support such a claim.

Article

Ritual Enslavement in West Africa  

Michael Odijie

Ritual slavery occurs when humans become properties of deities. Ritual slaves fulfill religious purposes for their deity owners, although they may also serve as slaves to a deity’s representative, such as a shrine priest. The transatlantic slave trade altered the ritual slavery practices of communities that were influenced by the slave trade. The abolition of the slave trade also affected the trajectory of ritual slavery. Ritual slavery generally escaped colonial emancipation and the abolition of domestic slavery. As a result, ritual enslavement presents an opportunity to study African indigenous movements for abolition and emancipation, as the colonial administration was typically unconcerned with it and local abolition groups emerged to combat it. The study of ritual enslavement in West Africa mostly focuses on two cases where a domestic campaign evolved. The first is trokosi, which is practiced by the Ga-Adangbe, Fon, and Ewe ethnic groups on Africa’s west coast. Trokosi is the practice of sacrificing young girls to local deities as a means of atonement for misdeeds done by family members. Once dedicated, the girls become slaves of the deity and are typically placed in the custody of the shrine priest, who represents the deity on earth. The second instance is Osu, which is practiced by the Igbo ethnic group in contemporary Nigeria. Osu are people dedicated to becoming properties of the deities. While the majority of the literature has concentrated on trokosi and Osu, owing to the campaign against them, there are other cases for scholars to examine.

Article

Routes to Emancipation in West Africa  

Alice Bellagamba

West African slave emancipation has been a process patterned and experienced in multiple ways depending on the histories, geographies, and uncertainties of individual, family, and communal lives and trajectories. Regionally and culturally diversified conceptions of slavery and the condition of slaves, the interrelation of slavery with other kinds of personal dependence, the local arrangements between masters and slaves, and gender and age, together with the socio-political and economic dynamics of entire areas and regions factored into this plurality of outcomes. To some extent, this process is unfinished, as the late 20th century closed with reports of child and female exploitation akin to slavery, the political mobilization of slave descendants in Mauritania and other West African contexts, and the interlacement of the legacies of slavery with civil strife and insurgency in still others. Three aspects characterize West African routes to emancipation: the centuries-old connections with the Sahara and the Mediterranean and—since the 15th century—with the Atlantic world, early exposure to Atlantic abolitionism and West Africans’ participation in the struggle against slavery and the slave trade, the political relevance of histories of enslavement, life in slavery, and emancipation. Through case studies and historical examples, the abolition of the West African slave trade and internal slavery in the aftermath of the colonial conquest, the gendered experience of emancipation, the controversial relationships between spatial and social mobility, and post-slavery politics can be considered.

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The Sahel in West African History  

Barbara Cooper

The Sahel or Sahil is in a sense the “coast” of the Sahara and its cities major “ports” in trade circuits linking long-standing regional exchange in the products of different ecozones to the markets of the Mediterranean through the trans-Saharan trade. Despite botanical diversity and the capacity to support high concentrations of humans and livestock, the productivity of this region depends upon a single unpredictable annual rainy season. Long- and short-term fluctuations in aridity have required populations specializing in hunting, farming, fishing, pastoralism, gold mining, and trade to be mobile and to depend upon one another for their survival. While that interdependence has often been peaceful and increasingly facilitated through the shared idiom of Islam, it has also taken more coercive forms, particularly with the introduction of horses, guns, and a dynamic market in slaves. Although as an ecozone the region stretches all the way to the Red Sea, the political Sahel today comprises Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad—all former French colonies. France’s empire was superimposed upon the existing dynamics in the agropastoral meeting ground of the desert edge. Colonial requirements and transportation routes weakened the links between the ecozones so crucial to the success of states and markets in the region. Despite the abolition of slavery in 1905, France tacitly condoned the persistence of servile relations to secure requisitions of labor, food, and livestock. Abolition set off a very gradual shift from slavery to other kinds of labor patterns which nonetheless drew upon preexisting social hierarchies based upon religion, caste, race, and ethnicity. At the same time, gender and age gained in significance in struggles to secure labor and status. “Black Islam” (Islam noir), both invented and cultivated under French rule, was further reinforced by the bureaucratic logic of the French empire segregating “white” North Africa and “black” sub-Saharan Africa from one another. Periodic drought and famine in the region has prompted a perception of the Sahel as a vulnerable ecological zone undergoing desertification and requiring intervention from outside experts. Developmentalist discourse from the late colonial period on has facilitated the devolution of responsibilities and prerogatives that typically belong to the state to nongovernmental bodies. At the same time, competition over political authority in the fragmented postcolonial states of the Sahel has often reinscribed and amplified status and ethnic differences, pitting Saharan populations against the governments of desert edge states. External and internal radical Islamic movements entangled with black market opportunists muddy the clarity of the ideological and political stakes in ways that even currently (2018) further destabilize the region.

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Samuel Ajayi Crowther, 1806–1891  

Oluwatoyin Oduntan

The case for narrating the history of slavery and emancipation through the biography of enslaved Africans is strongly supported by the life and experiences of Samuel Ajayi Crowther. Kidnapped into slavery in 1821, recaptured and settled in Sierra Leone in 1822, he became a missionary in 1845, founder of the Niger mission in 1857, and Bishop of the Niger Mission in 1864. His life and career covered the span of the 19th century during which revolutionary forces like jihadist revolutions, the abolition of the slave trade, the rise of a new Westernized elite, and European colonization created the roots of the modern state system in West Africa. He was intricately tied to the Christian Missionary Society (CMS), Britain’s antislavery evangelical movement, resulting in Ajayi becoming the poster face of slavery, its acclaimed product of abolitionism, the preeminent advocate of evangelical emancipation, and the organizer of practical emancipation in West Africa. The leader of a very small group of Africans who worked diligently against the slave trade and domestic slavery, Ajayi also became a victim of the use of that agenda by imperialists. Thus, the contrasts of his life (i.e., slavery/freedom, nationalist/hybrid, preacher/investor, leader/weakling, linguist/literalist, etc.) were celebrated by himself, his patrons, and his evangelical followers on one hand, and denounced by his critics on the other. They underline the disagreements over his legacy, and indeed over the understanding of the institution of slavery, abolition, and emancipation in West Africa.

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Slavery and Resistance in West Central Africa  

Esteban Salas

The institution of slavery in West Central Africa predated the arrival of Europeans in the late 15th century, though there is limited information about its nature and extent or the gender and age dynamics prior to that period. Slavery in different West Central African societies in the 16th and 17th centuries was broadly defined as the legal and social outsider status of people originating from different states or chiefdoms and brought under captivity as a result of raids or wars, the payment for taxes from tributary states and chiefdoms, punishment for crimes such as adultery in royal circles, or direct purchase. This has been identified as lineage slavery and was distinct from the Atlantic slave trade. Yet, the characteristics of slavery changed throughout the centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries, local captives could become part of the kin of their owners after a process of integration in their new host society. They turned into insiders, even in instances in which they retained their enslaved status. However, from the 17th century, the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade and Portuguese colonialism resulted in a growing demand for captives, transforming the relations between captives and enslavers. The increasing presence of enslavers and their demand for different supplies, such as foodstuffs, resulted in a greater demand for labor in Portuguese colonial settlements, vassal chiefdoms, and autonomous states. Violence increased and individual kidnapping became the main method of enslavement, though warfare persisted as a method of capture well into the mid-19th century. Relations of dependency were increasingly disrupted and local captives became more vulnerable to deportation to other areas of West Central Africa and different parts of the world. Furthermore, the risk for insiders to be enslaved, re-enslaved, or deported increased, contributing to the redefinition of the meaning of slavery. Finally, following the prohibition of slavery by Portuguese colonial law in 1876, other forms of forced labor resembling slavery in varied ways emerged and were practiced until the third quarter of the 20th century. Resistance persisted throughout.