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ʿAlī Eisami Gazirmabe  

Richard Anderson

ʿAlī Eisami Gazirmabe, later known as William Harding, was one of an estimated 99,752 “Liberated Africans” intercepted by the British Royal Navy from slave ships at sea and taken to the colony of Sierra Leone as part of Britain’s 19th-century campaign against the transatlantic slave trade. Eisami was born in the metropolitan district of Borno. He was enslaved c. 1812–1813 during the jihād waged by Hausa-Fulani jihadists against Borno. He was taken westward through the nascent Sokoto Caliphate and eventually to Oyo Ile, the capital of the Oyo Empire. For four or five years he was enslaved to a member of the Oyo aristocracy. In 1817, a Muslim uprising at Ilorin prompted his enslaver to sell Eisami to European slave traders on the coast. British naval forces captured Eisami’s slave vessel at sea, transporting him to the abolitionist colony of Sierra Leone. In Freetown, ʿAlī Eisami took up the name William Harding. In extensive interviews with the missionary linguist Sigismund Wilhelm Koelle from 1848 to 1852, he provided detailed accounts of his native Borno. This included stories, historical accounts, and poetry in his native Kanuri, as well as a substantial narrative of his enslavement. Harding’s linguistic work with Koelle represented an important step in the study of the Kanuri language, while his “Biographical Sketch,” as published by Koelle in 1854, has become a canonical account of enslavement in Africa. Eisami’s eyewitness accounts are important sources on the 19th-century jihād movement, experiences of enslavement in Africa and the transatlantic slave trade in its final half-century of existence, and the experience of being a Liberated African in Sierra Leone.