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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

Forced Labor in Portuguese Africa  

Zachary Kagan Guthrie

Forced labor was central to the modern history of the Portuguese empire. It was widely imposed across Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé, and Guinea after the imposition of Portuguese colonial rule in the late 19th century and persisted within the Portuguese empire for decades after it had been abolished by other European powers. The brutal violence and far-reaching social disruption created by forced labor had a profound impact on colonized communities. It was one of the most important ways that individual subjects interacted with the Portuguese colonial state. Forced labor was also fundamental in structuring the economic, political, social, and ideological contours of the Portuguese empire: the colonial economy was deeply dependent on the exploitation facilitated by forced labor, and both the operations of the Portuguese colonial administration and the justification for its existence were closely intertwined with conscripting forced workers. Finally, the prevalence of forced labor in the Portuguese empire precipitated recurring international scandals, which did a great deal to define Portuguese colonialism in the eyes of the world. Studying forced labor has therefore become an important methodology for understanding the depredations of Portuguese colonial rule, its impact on the lives of the people it governed, and the economic and political organization of the Portuguese empire.

Article

Slavery and Forced Labor in Madagascar  

Gwyn R. Campbell

Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, was first permanently settled in about the mid-9th century. Slavery was present on the island from the first, but a slave export trade became significant only from the mid-18th century because of demand from the French islands of Réunion and Mauritius. Most of the literature has focused on slavery in, and the slave trades involving, Imerina, until 1817 a landlocked kingdom in the central highlands of Madagascar. In 1820, Radama I of Imerina signed a treaty with the British in which he banned the slave export trade. However, the measure was effective only in Merina-controlled regions of the island, and the traffic in slaves, predominantly to the French islands of the western Indian Ocean, continued, albeit in clandestine form. Moreover, the 1820 ban applied only to exports, and there arose a lively trade in imported East African slaves. At the same time, Merina military expansion resulted in the enslavement of thousands of non-Merina Malagasy women and children. Of greater significance than slavery was forced labor. In pre-colonial times, fanompoana, or unremunerated forced labor for the Merina crown, was originally an honorary service of limited duration. However, from 1820, it was applied on such a scale that it resulted in the impoverishment of the vast bulk of ordinary people subjected to Merina authority. In 1896, following the French takeover of the island, the colonial regime decreed the abolition of slavery but maintained a system of corvée labor as exploitative as pre-colonial fanompoana. Many former slaves chose to remain in servitude to their former masters rather than become subject to corvées, which also underlay a massive revolt that erupted in 1947 in the coffee-growing regions of the eastern littoral, foreshadowing the demise of French colonial rule. In the post-independence era, a forced labor regime for youths was reinstituted from 1978 to 1990, while descendants of ex-slaves have largely retained their servile status, and many have remained socially and economically marginalized.

Article

Sugar Plantation Slavery  

Klas Rönnbäck

Sugar and slavery became intimately connected in the Americas during the early modern era. Once the cultivation of sugar cane had been transplanted to the Americas in the early 16th century, Spanish and Portuguese planters turned to exploiting slaves as laborers on the plantations. The first slaves were taken from among Indigenous populations in the Americas. In the 17th century, English and French planters tried to recruit indentured servants from Europe. Both these sources of labor would, for several reasons, turn out to be insufficient to meet the great demand for laborers on the American sugar plantations. Planters throughout the Americas therefore came to import slaves from Africa, particularly following the so-called “sugar revolution” during the late 17th century. As sugar henceforth became the preferred crop of cultivation throughout most of the Caribbean and Brazil, it also became the main driver of the transatlantic slave trade. The particular demography of sugar planting—with a natural population decline as a consequence of hard labor, a brutal labor regime, and insufficient diet—did furthermore exacerbate the demand for slave imports even further. The cultivation of sugar, and all economic activities associated with the slave plantation complex, would be of great economic importance for investors, merchants and producers in Europe. The political decision to abolish the slave trade would therefore have large economic consequences both in the Americas, Africa, and Europe.

Article

The League of Nations, the International Labour Organization, and Slavery in Africa  

Kevin Grant

The League of Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO) turned to the problems of slavery and forced labor in the context of a general program to promote welfare and social justice as the foundations of a lasting peace after World War I. Their initiatives for abolition and labor regulation, global in scope but focused mainly on Africa, were driven forward by humanitarians and defined ultimately by colonial interests. While the colonial powers attempted to induce the League and the ILO to accommodate their coercive labor systems in Africa, they also proved positively responsive to critical international oversight and especially to the charge of slavery. Humanitarianism and imperialism intersected most clearly in the case of Ethiopia, with which the League’s work on slavery effectively began and ended. Although the League’s Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery, 1926, and the ILO’s Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labour, 1930, had limited constructive effects on colonial labor systems in Africa between the wars, they laid important groundwork in international law for the long-term development of new norms in the rights of labor worldwide.