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Article

African Masculinities  

Ndubueze L. Mbah

As a system of identity, African masculinity is much more than a cluster of norms, values, and behavioral patterns expressing explicit and implicit expectations of how men should act and represent themselves to others. It also refers to more than how African male bodies, subjectivities, and experiences are constituted in specific historical, cultural, and social contexts. African masculinities, as historical subjects embodying distinctive socially constructed gender and sexual identities, have been both male and female. By occupying a masculine sociopolitical position, embodying masculine social traits, and performing cultural deeds socially construed and symbolized as masculine, African men and women have constituted masculinity. Across various African societies and times, there have been multiple and conflicting notions of masculinities, promoted by local and foreign institutions, and there have been ceaseless contestations and synergies among the various forms of hegemonic, subordinate, and subversive African masculinities. Men and women have frequently brought their own agendas to bear on the political utility of particular notions of masculinity. Through such performances of masculinity, Africans have constantly negotiated the institutional power dynamics of gender relations. So, the question is not whether Africans worked with gender binaries, because they did. As anthropologist John Wood puts it, African indigenous logic of gender becomes evident in the juxtaposition, symbolic reversals, and interrelation of opposites. Rather, one should ask, why and how did African societies generate a fluid gender system in which biological sex did not always correspond to gender, such that anatomically male and female persons could normatively occupy socially constructed masculine and feminine roles and vice versa? And how did African mutually constitutive gender and sexuality constructions shape African societies?

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

Christianity and Abolition in Africa  

Paul Kollman

Efforts to mitigate slavery in Africa were multidimensional. Many drew upon Christian discourses and institutions, yet fully assessing Christian antislavery in Africa raises complex moral and historical questions. Christian abolitionism inspired missionaries throughout Africa and the diaspora, helped generate support for Christian missions, advanced global treaties that made slavery illegal, and profoundly shaped 20th- and 21st-century African Christianity, including through the evangelization of slaves, some of whom became famous abolitionists themselves. Antislavery appealed to humanitarian instincts among Christian missionaries, their benefactors, and European populations, and it undoubtedly alleviated some suffering. Notwithstanding the benevolence in such motivations, racialized paternalism was also in operation. Moreover, like slavery for export, antislavery altered African political economies, sometimes abruptly, helping some Africans and disempowering others. It also legitimated eventual colonial rule in Africa, since depictions of a vulnerable, slave-ridden continent implicitly defended European intervention as an urgent humanitarian undertaking. Europeans also applied antislavery unevenly in Africa due to their own self-interests, often, for example, delaying emancipation (legally ending all slavery) because it threatened labor systems deemed vital for colonial order and economies. Christian antislavery impulses and actions, whether to stop the slave trade or in pursuit of legal abolition, thus resist generalization and do not allow easy self-congratulation for either defenders of European colonization or Christians, African or non-African.

Article

Freedom Suits in the Ibero-Atlantic World  

Cristina Nogueira da Silva and Mariana Dias Paes

Throughout the period when slavery was a legally sanctioned institution in the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds (c. 1500–c. 1888), Africans and their descendants in Europe, Africa, and the Americas approached courts and other institutions to claim their entire or partial freedom. Known as “freedom suits,” these lawsuits allow access to their conceptions of freedom and justice. Mobilizing a common normative framework, enslaved individuals advanced their own interpretations regarding norms that governed slavery and freedom. This common framework, however, acquired specific meanings in different regions, depending on the configuration of the relationship between slave and owner as well as on the agency of the enslaved themselves. Enslaved women and men advanced numerous arguments in courts, but their chances of success varied widely. In the long term, these lawsuits were fundamental in determining the directions that the institution of slavery took in the Ibero-Atlantic world.

Article

Middle Passage  

Anita Rupprecht

The term “Middle Passage” invokes the unparalleled experience of dispossession, suffering, community, and resistance associated with the global and globalizing history of forced African transportation and racial enslavement between the 16th and 19th centuries. Over nearly four centuries, an estimated 12.5 million Africans endured this sea passage, and nearly two million Africans died. “Middle Passage” is freighted with multiple allusions, however, having been first popularized in the late 18th century by European abolitionists campaigning against the horrors of the slave trade and latterly appropriated as a powerful political and cultural symbol for the historical travails of African diasporic peoples. It still carries older Eurocentric meanings, even as Black Atlantic cultural memory and Africanist scholars have shifted its historical and cultural references.

Article

Nampula  

Daria Trentini

The city of Nampula is the capital of Nampula Province, an agricultural region situated in the Nacala Development Corridor connecting Malawi and Zambia to the coastal port of Nacala. Founded at the beginning of the 20th century by the Portuguese army, Nampula was located at the crossroads of trading and migration routes that had connected the interior of Southern Africa to the Indian Ocean for centuries. Under colonial occupation, Nampula served as a military garrison for launching military operations to subdue and occupy the interior of northern Mozambique, the last undefeated region of the Portuguese empire. The subsequent construction of infrastructure and the advent of commercial agriculture transformed Nampula into the main economic and administrative hub of the northern region of Mozambique. Following independence in 1975, the demographic and territorial expansion of Nampula was informed by socialist governance as well as by a prolonged civil war that brought thousands of refugees from the surrounding rural areas. The economic liberalizations in the 1990s and the mineral discoveries in the northern region of Cabo Delgado in the 2010s consolidated the role of Nampula as a commercial and trade center for national and international capital. The economic boom—alongside increasing rural poverty and ongoing internal and external conflicts—has continued to attract migrants from the rural regions, as well as from across the country and continent, making Nampula the third-largest city in Mozambique, with a population of 743,125 and an area of 404 square kilometers.

Article

Numerical Data and Statistical Sources  

Leigh Gardner

The use of numerical data and statistical sources in African history has expanded in recent decades, facilitated by technological advances and the digitization of primary sources. This expansion has included new analysis of traditional measures (population, government, and trade) as well as new sources of individual-level data such as census returns, marriage registers, and military and police records. Overall, this work has allowed for a more comprehensive quantitative picture of Africa’s history, and in particular facilitated comparisons within Africa and between African countries and other parts of the world. However, there remain misunderstandings about the collection, use, and interpretation of these data. Increasingly sophisticated methods of quantitative analysis can alienate scholars who have an intimate knowledge of the data and how they are produced, but lack specialist methodological training. At the same time, limited understanding of the origins and reliability of quantitative data can lead to misinterpretation.

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

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.

Article

Saharan Peoples and Societies  

E. Ann McDougall

The Sahara: bridge or barrier? Today, most would answer that the desert was more a historical facilitator than hindrance in moving commodities, ideas, and people between North and sub-Saharan Africa. A recent publication even coined a new name for the region: “trans-Saharan Africa.” However, the Sahara is also a place where people live. Complex societies, sophisticated polities, extensive economies—all flourished at various times, waxing and waning in response to much the same factors as societies elsewhere. It is just that in the Sahara the vagaries of climate and the availability of water always established the parameters of development. A long-term drying era led to the dispersal of the Late Stone Age Dhar-Tichitt agro-pastoral settlements in eastern Mauritania, but in the east, Lake “Mega-Chad” shrank, leaving rich, sandy soils that attracted new cultivators. The Garamantes people of the Libyan Fezzan overcame their lack of water by developing a sophisticated underground irrigation system that supported an urbanized, cosmopolitan civilization that outlasted the Roman Empire. The introduction of the camel in the 4th century and the gradual growth of Islam from at least the 9th century added new possibilities for economic, cultural, and religious life. The Sahara benefited from the sequence of medieval empires emerging across its southern desert edge. Camel pastoralism, salt mining, oasis agriculture, and expansive trade networks shaped the region’s economy; those same networks facilitated cultural and scholarly exchanges. As Islam took root, growing its own understandings of North African and Middle Eastern schools of thought, a prodigious body of Saharan scholarship was created. It underpinned much of the jihad-led political upheaval and state-building in the 18th and 19th Sahel. Saharan clerics also directed their religious fervor against the invasion of French imperialists; “pacification” took the colonialists decades to achieve. But the impact of this violence exacerbated traditional clan conflict and disrupted economic life. So too did policies aimed at sedentarizing pastoralists and reshaping their social relations in the interests of the colonial economy. Much talked-about but largely ineffective efforts to abolish slavery had far less real impact than taxation policies; these both suppressed traditional exactions such as those levied by “warriors” and introduced new ones, including those to be paid in forced labor. Life in the Sahara became increasingly untenable. The arrival of Independence did nothing to address colonial legacies; the years of drought that devastated herds and crops in the desert and along its edge less than a decade later further fueled both political instability and economic crisis. That today the region nurtures radicalized Islamic movements promising to return “true meaning” (not to mention material benefits) to that life is not surprising.

Article

Slavery and Post-Slavery in the Indian Ocean World  

Alessandro Stanziani

Unlike the Atlantic, slavery and slave trade in the Indian Ocean persisted over centuries, from antiquity to the present: slavery involved many actors, not necessarily attributed to tensions between the “West and the rest.” Multiple forms of bondage, debt dependence, and slavery persisted and coexisted over centuries, since ancient times, then with the expansion of Islam in the 8th century, and reached a peak with the intrusion of European powers between the 16th and the 19th centuries. However, even after the official abolition of slavery in the western colonies, forms of bondage and illegal slavery have persisted and were openly practiced in the Gulf region through much of the 20th century.

Article

Slavery at the Cape  

Nigel Worden

Slavery was a mainstay of the labor force of the Cape Colony between its foundation by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in 1652 and abolition in 1834, by which date the Cape was under British rule. Slaves were transported to the Cape from a wide range of areas in the Indian Ocean world, including South and Southeast Asia, Madagascar, and Mozambique. Some were owned by the VOC and labored on the Company farms, outposts, and docks. The majority were sold to settlers and worked as domestic servants in Cape Town or as laborers on the grain, wine, and pastoral farms of the Cape interior. Throughout the 18th century slaves outnumbered settlers. Although there were few major revolts, individual resistance was widespread and desertion common. Some runaways joined indigenous groups in the Cape interior, while others formed more isolated maroon communities. Toward the end of the 18th century some slaves claimed individual rights, reflecting the influence of wider revolutionary movements in the Atlantic world. A revolutionary uprising took place in 1808, shortly after the abolition of the slave trade and the takeover of the colony by the British. In the early 19th century slave resentment continued to grow, especially as a boom in wine production increased labor demands. In the 1820s and early 1830s abolitionist voices were heard in the colony, and slavery was ended at the same time as that in the British Caribbean and Mauritius. Unlike these other British colonies, Cape slaves largely continued to work as farm laborers, and their living and working conditions produced the continued impoverishment of farmworkers in the western Cape region. Slaves played an important part in the creation of a distinctive creolized Cape culture, notably in the development of the Afrikaans language and Cape musical and culinary traditions. They were also responsible for the growth of Islam in Cape Town and its hinterland, which took a distinctive form influenced by its Southeast Asian origins.

Article

Slavery in Europe during the Atlantic Slave Trade  

Giulia Bonazza

Slavery was a widespread phenomenon in Europe during the Atlantic slave trade of the 1500s to the 1800s, particularly around port cities and in their hinterlands. The slaves held around the Mediterranean and more widely around Europe included both “Atlantic” slaves and slaves of other geographical origins, primarily the Ottoman Empire, Indian Ocean colonies, and sub-Saharan Africa. Others came from the Black Sea and Eastern Europe. Sub-Saharan Africans arrived in Europe via the Barbary Regency ports and Egypt. Slaves’ personal histories were often complex and surprising because of the intricacies of global slave mobility and continuous changes of ownership. There is a general theoretical distinction between captives from the Ottoman Empire and its satellite states, defined as temporary slaves, and slaves from the Atlantic or sub-Saharan Africa, even if they sometimes lived the same experience in Europe. Ransom demands and payments were a significant form of commerce in the Mediterranean basin until the middle of the 19th century and slavery persisted in Europe throughout the 1800s. The process of slaves’ assimilation into the European system ran parallel with learning a new language and becoming Christian. Starting work for a new owner, governmental or private, involved the imposition of a new social and cultural identity. Many enslaved often sought out pathways to emancipation. This article presents more detailed analyses on the Italian and German territories, Austria, France, Britain, and Portugal.

Article

The History of Islam in Mauritania  

Erin Pettigrew

The study of the long-term history of what has been known since 1960 as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is possible largely because of inhabitants’ early embrace of Islam in the 8th century. While research on the early pre-Islamic history of the region is limited by the availability of sources to primarily the archaeological, the arrival of Islam through trade networks crossing the Sahara from North Africa meant that Arab merchants and explorers supplied and produced knowledge about the region’s inhabitants, polities, and natural resources that was then written down in Arabic by Muslim chroniclers and historians. Early Muslims were largely Kharijite and Ibadi but the 11th-century Almoravid reformist and educational movement ensured that the region’s Muslims would predominantly follow Sunni Islam as defined by the Maliki school of law and ʿAshari theology. By the time the Almohad empire succeeded the Almoravid in the 12th century, important centers of Islamic scholarship were emerging in major trading towns in the Sahara and along the Senegal River. The expansion of Sufi thought and practice, the arrival of the Arabic-speaking Banu Hassan, and the subsequent development of political entities known as emirates occurred in ensuing centuries and played a part in the genesis of a social structure that valorized the Arabic language, the study of Islam, and claims of descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The arrival of European merchants in the 15th century and the subsequent colonization of the region by the French led to rapid changes in the economic and cultural bases of political authority and social hierarchy, with colonial policy largely valorizing Sufi leaders as political interlocutors and community representatives. Independence from France in 1960 meant the establishment of an Islamic Republic whose laws are based on a mixed legal system of Maliki Islamic and French civil law. The basis of presidential rule is not religious in nature, though presidents have increasingly used a discourse of religion to legitimize their rule in the face of internal political opposition and external threats from extremist groups such as al-Qaʿeda.

Article

The History of Sierra Leone  

Gibril R. Cole

The geographical boundaries of contemporary Sierra Leone resulted from the intense quest for imperial domains by European powers, specifically by Britain and France, during the 19th-century scramble for colonies. However, the country’s history runs deep into the past. While the peoples of the present-day republic did not have a history of large polities, there were, nonetheless, organized states with social, political, and economic structures, some of them based on conventional understandings of relations between the rulers and their peoples. Agricultural production, local, regional, and long-distance commerce facilitated not just economic exchanges, but also cross-cultural encounters between peoples from near and far. This engendered an integrative process that allowed for population growth and state expansion prior to the arrival of Europeans in the region of West Africa in the 15th century and the subsequent rise of the Atlantic slave trade. While the transatlantic system disrupted the existing political, economic, and social systems, the remarkable resilience of the peoples enabled them to rebound, only to be later subjugated to British colonial rule from 1808 to 1961. British colonialism encountered resistance in one form or another from its initial establishment until 1896, when a civil uprising devolved into a war of attrition between the people of the interior of Sierra Leone and the British colonial state. British rule and control of the colonial economy continued until the post-World War II period, when educated Africans across the continent sought to attain their independence. Sierra Leone’s educated elite organized, albeit along ethno-regional lines, to demand independence, which was granted in 1961. The post-independence experiment in democracy was subverted by political megalomania, the entrenchment of ethno-regionalism, corruption, and frequent military interventions in the state. The use of subaltern youth in the politics of the country by the state ultimately had the effect of producing a group of youths who sought to transform themselves from foot soldiers of the political groups to a military junta through violence, which engulfed the country in a decade-long civil war from 1991 to 2002.