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Article

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

Felicitas Becker and Michelle Liebst

Slaves, ex-slaves, and their descendants have taken multiple and complex routes toward emancipation in East Africa. Their experiences varied regionally, with status contests most clearly traceable in those areas where slavery had been most concentrated, especially on the coast. As scholars have established, the legal abolition of slavery did not lead directly to emancipation in East Africa, but it contributed to the quick erosion of slavery-based labor regimes around 1900. Ex-slaves pursued economic security and livelihoods through access to land and wage labor and sought to shed the stigma of slave origins by seeking religious affiliations, education, ethnic identities, and kinship ties. Routes to emancipation were highly gendered as female slaves within owners’ households lacked both political support and legal rights to their children. Moreover, male ex-slaves’ ambitions to assert their own patriarchal status by controlling women could be a major obstacle for ex-slave women’s search for emancipation. Although political independence in the 1960s encouraged the condemnation of slavery as an aberration from a different era, slavery-derived social differences linger, and people with a genealogy of slavery may face status implications in certain situations. Though East African societies, rural ones especially, are readily characterized as timelessly egalitarian, they struggle to this day with the legacy of slavery and incomplete emancipation.

Article

The term “Zanzibar Revolution” refers to (1) the overthrow in January 1964 of the islands’ first postcolonial regime, barely a month after gaining independence from British rule; (2) a period of several weeks following the overthrow when Africans targeted islanders of mostly Arab heritage and identity for violence, plunder, and vengeance seeking; and (3) the years from 1964 through the 1970s, when Zanzibar’s revolutionary regime sought to level island society at the expense of Arabs and South Asians, whose numbers continued to dwindle, mostly through emigration, some of it coerced. While aided and advised by socialist experts from overseas, and inspired by socialist models such as China and the Soviet Union, the regime charted its own unique course, a course influenced by the revolutionaries’ own understanding of the role of race in island society. The Zanzibar Revolution was exceptional in several ways. Arguably, it was the most lethal outbreak of anti-Arab violence in Africa’s postcolonial history. It was also remarkable in the extent to which it attempted to bring an end to long-standing social and economic inequalities. Since the early-19th century, all the wealthiest and most privileged islanders were Arab or South Asian. Yet after a decade of revolutionary policies, they and their less well-off kinsmen were killed, forced into exile, or reduced to relative poverty. Thus, despite its modest size and population, Zanzibar produced one of sub-Saharan Africa’s only postcolonial revolutions. While scholars may disagree as to what constitutes a “revolution,” if that term refers to a situation in which one regime overthrows another, and then afterwards seeks to “turn society upside down,” then it is an accurate characterization of Zanzibar in the 1960s and 1970s.

Article

Daniel B. Domingues da Silva and Philip Misevich

Over the past six decades, the historiography of Atlantic slavery and the slave trade has shown remarkable growth and sophistication. Historians have marshalled a vast array of sources and offered rich and compelling explanations for these two great tragedies in human history. The survey of this vibrant scholarly tradition throws light on major theoretical and interpretive shifts over time and indicates potential new pathways for future research. While early scholarly efforts have assessed plantation slavery in particular on the antebellum United States South, new voices—those of Western women inspired by the feminist movement and non-Western men and women who began entering academia in larger numbers over the second half of the 20th century—revolutionized views of slavery across time and space. The introduction of new methodological approaches to the field, particularly through dialogue between scholars who engage in quantitative analysis and those who privilege social history sources that are more revealing of lived experiences, has conditioned the types of questions and arguments about slavery and the slave trade that the field has generated. Finally, digital approaches had a significant impact on the field, opening new possibilities to assess and share data from around the world and helping foster an increasingly global conversation about the causes, consequences, and integration of slave systems. No synthesis will ever cover all the details of these thriving subjects of study and, judging from the passionate debates that continue to unfold, interest in the history of slavery and the slave trade is unlikely to fade.

Article

Mohammed Bashir Salau

The two versions of the autobiography that Nicholas Said published offer insight into 19th-century conditions in five continents as well as insight into life as a child, slave, manservant, and teacher. As a child in the 1830s, Said was enslaved in Borno, marched across the Sahara Desert, and passed from hand to hand in North Africa and the Middle East. After serving as a slave in various societies, Said was freed by a Russian aristocrat in the late 1850s after accompanying the aristocrat in question to various parts of Europe. In the 1850s, Said also traveled as a manservant for a European traveler to South and North America. Ultimately he settled in the United States, where he authored two versions of his autobiography, served as a teacher and soldier, got married, and disappeared from sight. This article compares the two versions of the autobiography that Said published, provides an overview of Said’s life, charts the development of scholarly works on Said, and draws attention to the primary sources related to the study of Said and his autobiography.

Article

Sean Hanretta

Emancipation is a broad concept that includes liberation from slavery as well as broader projects of self-fulfillment. Muslims in Africa have drawn on Islamic sources both to justify and to critique enslavement, slaveholding, and slavery as an institution. Commercial law in particular recognized slave owners’ rights and early debates focused on categories of enslaveability. Slaves themselves drew on Islamic resources to improve their personal situation, to press for reforms, and to critique or try to overthrow the institution as a whole. Political transformations often created openings for more radical attempts to remake social hierarchies in the name of Islam, while Islamic revolutions both disrupted and facilitated the slave trade, depending on time and place. More broadly, critiques of other forms of ascriptive inequality, such as those based on race, caste, former slave status or slave descent, gender, and sexuality, have had equally complex relationships with the ways people have drawn on Islam. Many, but not all, analysts have emphasized the greater effectiveness of emancipatory projects that mobilize Islamic repertoires rather than relying on “Western” ideas of liberalism. The colonial era provided a new set of intellectual and political resources for those seeking to support or critique inequalities in Islamic terms. Halfhearted efforts to abolish slavery created some openings, but colonial commitment to maintaining social order limited its impact. The discursive legacy of colonialism has been more pronounced, particularly by creating an alignment between cultural nationalism and some conservative readings of Islamic sources, while neocolonial discourses can marginalize or even hamper the emancipatory efforts of Muslim activists.

Article

Ahmad Alawad Sikainga

As in the rest of Africa, the establishment of colonial rule has accelerated the pace of urban growth in the Sudan. During the period of British colonial rule (1898–1956), a number of new administrative centers, ports, and railway stations were established and metamorphosed into full-fledged cities. Among the most important towns and administrative centers were Khartoum, the capital of the Anglo-Egyptian administration; Atbara, headquarters of the Sudan Railways; the port city of Port Sudan; and Khartoum North, the headquarters of the steamers division of the Sudan Railways. These towns grew from small administrative headquarters into major urban centers and became the home of a diverse population that included Sudanese as well as immigrants from the Middle East, Europe, and neighboring African countries. The inhabitants of these towns engaged in a wide range of economic, social, and political activities that shaped the character of these towns and developed a distinctive urban culture.

Article

While the single most consequential event in Africa during the 19th century was European colonization of the continent, most of the century was characterized by tremendous growth and innovation in African political and economic institutions, as well as the expansion of literacy and the development of enduring intellectual traditions. Many African societies were making strides toward the creation of new self-governing nations over the course of the 19th century, as the ending of the transatlantic slave trade made way for the development of new industries and commercial systems. Large powerful states governed in numerous places across the continent, including the Sokoto and Tukulor Empires, Asante, Dahomey, Egypt, Buganda, Bunyoro, and Ethiopia. Many African states had powerful armies and distinct political identities. The emergence of modernities in 19th-century Africa also came in the form of religious change. This era saw the expansion of Islam in rural areas of western, northern, and eastern Africa, accompanied by the rapid growth of Islamic education and literacy. At the same time, Christian mission societies facilitated the establishment of mission schools and colleges based on European institutions of higher education. The new class of mission-educated African elites included teachers, clergymen, doctors, civil servants, law clerks, journalists, private entrepreneurs, and academics. These individuals, mostly men, had a profound influence on African visions of modern nationhood, particularly in West and Southern Africa. In many ways, Africa was becoming modern in the decades prior to the European conquests of the late 19th century. For the purposes of this article, “modernity” refers to the cultural and social revolution that accompanied the rise of industrial capitalism and included an expansive universalism. The development of modernity in Africa and elsewhere was linked to the new age of science, economics, realism, rationalism, and humanism dawning toward the end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. In particular, the newly founded colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia became centers for the diffusion of African-American cultural influence, as liberated former slaves and their descendants from the British Empire, the United States, maroon communities, and captured slave ships settled there. In order to appreciate the 19th-century development of African modernity, it is important to remember, as A. Adu Boahen once explained, that European colonization of the African continent occurred suddenly and unpredictably. As late as 1880, there was little indication that European nations intended to dramatically alter the map of Africa by force. Most African states and societies were entirely autonomous and controlled by their own rulers. The unexpected European conquest of African territories at the end of the 19th century thwarted much of the progress Africans had made throughout that century and arguably reversed key processes of modernization. And while colonial regimes also introduced new modernities into Africa, these were mainly destructive and exploitative in nature.

Article

Barbara Cooper

Across West Africa up to the 19th century, titled positions for women ensured that women’s interests could be voiced and their disputes regulated. Women often had major roles as brokers and intermediaries in trade centers along the Saharan and Atlantic littorals, contributing to the emergence of powerful Euro-African families. Nevertheless, women were particularly vulnerable to the depredations of the trans-Saharan and Atlantic slave trades. Because female labor was so highly valued, female slaves were more expensive than male slaves. The history of women in West Africa has been characterized by marked differences by ecological zone. Those differences have been deepened by Islamic influences in the North and by different experiences under French, British, and Portuguese rule. With the decline in the Atlantic trade and the growing emphasis upon commodity production, the demand for female labor in agriculture and in processing rose. Under colonial rule, the loss of slave labor was partially offset by increasing demands upon the labor of wives. Women mediated demands upon their labor through colonial courts, with some success in the early decades of the 20th century. Later courts and administrators supported patriarchal controls upon women in the interests of order and a smoothly running economy. Women’s control over their traditional means of accumulating wealth through farming, cloth production, and specialized crafts was typically undermined as economies shifted to emphasize cash crop production and tree crops in particular. Women nevertheless could flourish in market trade and could sometimes gain control over new niches in the economy. The growth of colonial infrastructure had contradictory implications. Women’s traditionally important roles as queens, priestesses, and ritual specialists declined in importance. At the same time, schooling gave some women access to new means of gaining income and prestige as teachers and medical practitioners.

Article

Despite its long history in the region, slavery in Eastern Africa has attracted little archaeological attention. This deficit is partly due to the reticence of many Eastern Africans to discuss slavery, a historically painful topic. In addition, some archaeologists have expressed skepticism about the material visibility of the practice. That is, they question whether slavery can be archaeologically identified. Given these concerns, those archaeologists who have pursued the study of slavery in Eastern Africa tend to focus on the 18th and 19th centuries, when historical documentation of the practice is well established. Archaeologists in the region have considered slavery in a variety of settings—including not only plantations but also contexts of slaving and emancipation. Research in Eastern Africa has helped to challenge and complicate definitions of slavery rooted in American historical experience. Yet, perspectives on slavery from outside of the region continue to shape public memory in Eastern Africa; increased outside interest and investment in the heritage of slavery has begun to influence both memorialization and the practice of memory itself. For example, heritage funding from UNESCO is tied to particular expectations for how slavery is defined and what counts as heritage. In this context, archaeologists studying slavery in Eastern Africa grapple with their responsibilities to many different stakeholders and audiences. In particular, they continue to work to make slavery research and memorialization more meaningful to Eastern Africans themselves. In addition, researchers have begun to develop methodological tools to push the study of slavery in Eastern Africa to deeper time periods less undergirded by historical documents.

Article

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

Anne Hugon

Ama Ata Aidoo is one of the most prominent African writers of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her works comprise plays, novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. She is recognized worldwide and has received many prizes and honorary distinctions. In Ghana, her country of origin, her books are part of the syllabus for secondary schools, and they are studied in many universities around the world. A number of late 20th and early 21st century women writers from the African continent acknowledge their debts toward her work and speak of her as their literary big sister, as did Nigerian author Buchi Emecheta, or mother, as does Ghanaian author Amma Darko. Like many other African authors, she is both a major writer and more than “just” a writer: she is also an activist, notably an acknowledged feminist, a dramatist, a teacher, and a craftswoman—this list is not exhaustive.

Article

Slavery and enslavement were common processes across Africa, increasingly so during the era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In decentralized societies—societies without centralized political states—enslavement took particular forms; in some regions, people were most commonly enslaved through warfare, slave raids, kidnapping, and other forms of violence. In other areas, people were primarily enslaved through judicial processes, witchcraft accusations, debt, and pawning. In many decentralized societies, all of these methods of enslavement existed simultaneously. Regardless of how enslavement occurred, enslaved men and women were integrated into societies across Africa unevenly. In some societies, incorporation was a relatively quick process, facilitated by marriage or assimilation into kinship networks or lineages. However, in some cases it took generations for enslaved individuals and their descendants to become equal members of society. People in decentralized societies enslaved men and women within Africa and also sold them into the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In response to rising demand for enslaved persons from Atlantic traders, members of decentralized societies undertook raids of neighboring societies and transformed their communities to protect themselves. Within Africa, enslaved men and women played integral economic roles in agriculture, trade, mining, and other economic tasks. They played an important social function in increasing the prestige of particular individuals, households, and communities. Enslaved persons were typically treated as lesser members of households and lineages and subjected to more violence than others, typically ranking lowest in societal hierarchies. In general, decentralized societies valued enslaved women and children more than men because they were more easily brought into households. However, there were important regional variations. While decentralized societies were long seen as victims in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, studies of particular societies have shown the ways these societies participated in and defended themselves from enslavement.

Article

Richard B. Allen

The history of the Seychelles since the islands’ colonization in 1770 has been shaped by their physical geography, location in the western Indian Ocean, and peripheral status in the French and British colonial empires. The archipelago’s social, economic, and political history reflects its role in facilitating the slave trade that funneled hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans and Malagasies toward the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius and Réunion between 1770 and the early 1830s, the development of cotton and then coconut plantation agriculture, and its status as a Mauritian dependency until it became a separate British Crown Colony in 1903. Economic and political life after independence in 1976 included a coup d’état in 1977 that led to the establishment of a one-party socialist state in 1979, a return to multiparty democracy in 1993, and the country’s increasing economic dependence on tourism during the late 20th and early 21rst centuries.

Article

Matthew D. Turner

Histories of the Fulani people have generally focused not on their pastoralism per se but on their role in the political histories of different periods in West Africa. Nevertheless, the changing social relations of Fulani people and others have affected the Fulani settlement and herd mobility practices that constitute their pastoralism. Fulani pastoralism has undergone significant changes from the late 19th century to the present, including sociopolitical changes that arose with colonial rule and have led to new trajectories affecting Fulani pastoralism up to the present. A key issue is the uneasy dependence of herding Fulani on the state—a dependence that has qualitatively changed as the key threat to their mobile pastoral livelihood has shifted from insecurity to competition with crop agriculture, as shaped by colonial policy, laws, and rapid increases in rural population density. The Fulani have always been a heterogeneous group. The herding Fulani, who manage livestock owned by themselves and others, is a focus of any reconstruction of the history of pastoralism. Unfortunately, these low-status “bush Fulani” are not often not included as protagonists in oral histories and colonial archives. A serious consideration of current understandings understandings of the needs of livestock and the constraints associated with herding offers a different lens through which to re-read standard accounts of the “Fulani” within colonial and post-colonial documents. By doing so, the hope is to demonstrate the responsiveness of herding Fulani to the changing constraints they have faced over time.

Article

Mauritania is an almost universally Muslim society in northwest Africa, with a deep history of Islamic scholarship but also painful legacies of slavery and, more recently, shifting permutations of political authoritarianism. Three main forces have affected the intersection of Islam and politics in Mauritania since independence in 1960: the growing diversity of Islamic identities and affiliations available to Muslims, the role of Islamic discourses within tense negotiations over socio-racial identity in Mauritania, and the state’s efforts to manage Islam and shape the religious field. Some of the diverse Islamic affiliations, postures, and movements in postcolonial Mauritania include loyalism, Islamism, Salafism, the missionary movement Jamāʿat al-Tablīgh, jihadism, and quietism. In terms of socio-racial tensions, there has been growing self-assertion on the part of the ḥarāṭīn (singular ḥarṭānī), an Arabic-speaking population of slave descendants who are classified as “black” within Mauritanian society, in distinction to Arabic-speaking “whites”—bīḍān (singular bīḍānī). Meanwhile, there have been variable and at-times tense relationships between the state and Islamists, as well as key moments when authorities sought to elaborate or modify structures relating to “official Islam” in the country. Amid these changes, there has been an ongoing construction and reconstruction of Islamic scholarly culture in Mauritania. The country has also had consequential exchanges with the wider Islamic world, with influence from Saudi Arabia and other states affecting dynamics of Islamic identity in Mauritania, but with Mauritania also making profound contributions to the trajectory of Islamic authority in the Gulf region through the transnational careers and media prominence of key scholars.

Article

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

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.

Article

The social and economic history of the Mascarene Islands of Mauritius, Réunion, and Rodrigues must be viewed in the context of regional and global developments including the African diaspora of slave origin and European colonialism in both the Indian Ocean and Atlantic worlds. Mauritius and Réunion’s transformation into plantation colonies during the 18th and early 19th centuries was a complex process shaped by the cultivation of coffee, cloves, cotton, indigo, and sugar; Anglo-French rivalry for domination in the Indian Ocean; a reliance upon domestically generated and controlled capital; the importation of hundreds of thousands of African and Asian slaves from a global catchment area that stretched from West Africa eastward to Southeast Asia; and the increasing socioeconomic importance of the local free population of color during the early 19th century.

Article

African military history is more than just the study of “tribal warfare,” imperial conquest, military coups, and child soldiers. Moving beyond conventional questions of strategy, tactics, battles, and technology, historians of precolonial Africa are interested in the role of armies in state formation, the military activities of stateless societies, and armed encounters between Africans and foreign visitors and invaders. Scholars working in the 19th and 20th centuries are similarly focused on the role and influence of African soldiers, military women, and veterans in society. In this sense, African military history is part of a larger effort to recover the lived experiences of ordinary people who were largely missing from colonial archives and documentary records. Similarly, Africanist historians focusing on the national era are engaging older journalistic and social science explanations for military coups, failed states, and wardlordism. The resulting body of literature productively offers new ways to study military institutions and collective violence in Africa.