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ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 3

ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria Series: Slideshow

Business Of Slavery

Yes, greed was the major motivation for African slave traders. Yet, what was the real worth of slaves to the owners? -Absolutely nothing.

African slave merchants were financially established to purchase the weapons, gagging devices, sacks, and narcotics needed to subdue free persons. Plus, credit facilities from whites provided the capital, in goods, for barter in the interior to obtain slaves.

Dear Gentlemen Sir,

Captain John Burrow arrived at this river on the fourth day of May with a very fine cargo, only we want more iron bar and romalles [cloth] and powder and ordnance and shot as them be finest thing for our trade as we will send Captain Burrow away with 450 or 460 slaves after October. I hope his ships carry 450 or 460 slaves and I hope he will send by tender 340 or 330 slaves. I think so, as you may, get the cargo ready before he come home. I don’t keep him long and I think he’ll get to Liverpool 15 or 20 day March – Mind send very little salt and mugs as you may. Send round white and round green and round yellow bead for money, salt and mugs. I wish no more war for England.

I am your dear Egboyoung Offeong

Old Calabar, July 23rd 1783

~>Ekpeyong Offiong, 1783 ~An Efik slave trader writing to contacts in the United Kingdom

Those Nigerian agents of slave trade employed the services of couriers, trusted slaves, to travel deep into the hinterlands of virgin societies to abduct unsuspecting adults and children.

Yoruba slavers travelled throughout the interior of what later became Nigeria and raided communities as distant as Umuahia.

Several ethnicities of the South were involved in the commerce of exportation of humans for misery profit.

Villagers lived in fear of the menace of terrorists of the day.

Nigerians armed themselves for self-defence wherever they went, for they were constantly on alert for abductors. Abductors relied on the element of surprise and many-against-one raids.

Lone travellers were especially vulnerable.

Susceptible too were other sole citizens:

-farmers who trek long distances to and from the bush and work on the farm alone,

-children and young persons left behind at home.

Children were lured into slave ships through drops of red handkerchiefs. The red colour fascinated and attracted young persons, as red clothing was rare.

The Igbo and associated ethnicities, the Ibom peoples of Ibibio, Efik, Oron, Eket, and Annang would be a prime target for they much lived independently of each other, unlike some other communities that existed in walled towns.

Women from this region formed the greater volume of captured persons shipped to the Americas.

At times, slave raiders were caught, though not a deterrent, for the frequency of the abductions outnumbered the security successes of the community.

To acquire slaves from a gated community with an established leadership structure would require a full-blown conflict.

The other method of obtaining slaves from a nation-state was through transaction.

The owner, however, must be willing to sell the slave. Such was the insecurity caused by slave traders that devotions were made to God for safety from snatchers.

While the affluent exported the sons and daughters of others, they were careful to avoid doing same to own children.

Allied staff – free-born and slave – of slave dealers were exposed to the risk of exportation when used as pawn to clear credit.

Worse, in a fierce dispute, slave suppliers were held hostage and exported as slaves.

A case in point was the 1767 sacking of Old Town slave drivers by a gang comprised of British slave merchants and Nigerian slavers – Duke Town, Henshaw Town and Creek Town – rivals of Old Town’s prosperity.

Apart from organised crime of kidnapping conducted on behalf of upper profile personalities, opportunistic pirates and traditional hostile ethnicities were some of the participants in abductions.

Persons kidnapped by small bands of robbers were sold multiple times, through different ethnicities before finally being sold at the seacoast to Europeans.

That places in accurate perspective the quantity of slaves war architects, such as Efunroye Tinubu, sold to possess ammunitions to fund Egba aggression at the Dahomean and Ikorodu Wars.

At a point, weekly transactions in humans through Badagry averaged 1,500 slaves.

In 1861, slave trade through Lagos was 37,715 persons, excluding smuggled slaves.

While Africans traded own blood for minor objects, one captain, on his inaugural venture into slavery in 1827 gained almost $42,000 with a starting capital of 200,000 Havana cigars and 500 ounces of Mexican coins.


Number Price
1 slave $5.00, at times £20; worth $300 to $1,500 internationally
35 slaves 1 mirror
7 slaves Some sticks of matches
10 slaves Tobacco
15 slaves Dry gin
40 slaves An umbrella
100 slaves Canon gun


Salvador was the desired destination for slave suppliers from Lagos and Portuguese buyers.

To demonstrate the obstinacy of Black slavemasters operating at Badagry, trade in humans continued until as late as 1886.

That was almost three centuries of Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade through Badagry, which developed with the construction by the Portuguese in 1502 of Vlekete Slave Market.

Just about the same time the Portuguese were in communication with the multiple ethnicities of the South, the Portuguese also met the inhabitants of Kanem-Borno. Why did slave trade flourish with the South, but not with the North?

Plus Arab merchants were in contact with Kanem-Borno as early as the ninth [9] century.

More enterprising, if slave trade can be described as such, were Kanem slavers of Borno who received horses for slaves. Igbo traders obtained a similar deal.

The Yoruba of the South-West and the Igbo and Ibom peoples of the South-East and South-South battled slavers from adjacent nations in Dahomey, now Republic Of Benin, and Cameroon, respectively.


Number Of Slaves Price
12 slaves 10 horses
1 male slave 1 anyinya ~horse, 1 ndere aka ~bead, and 1 elephant tusk
1 female slave 1 anyinya, 3 ndere aka, 1 elephant tusk, and 4 okpukpu ~ivory bangles


The North also had to contend with Muslim Arab slave raiders, as early as the 14th ~fourteenth century, which compelled Uthman Biri Ibn Idris, the Mai Of Kanem-Borno to write a protest letter to his Egyptian counterpart.

Across the Nation, just as with the export trade, slaves were often given new names and robbed of own identity.


Igbo Slave Traders

Ndi Igbo made up a large percentage of persons exported as slaves to Chesapeake, Virginia, Maryland and the West Indies. Who were the sellers?

The British government and envoys – Bristol, London and Liverpool merchants – were the primarily buyers.

Individual slave-owners, on the need, sold a trickle of slaves. Slavers plying communities were always interrogated on the source of the persons in their charge.

Given the frequent slave rebellions carried out by Ndi Igbo while boarding transport ships, on deck on the occasional break from the Middle Passage, on docking at destination port or in the mainland, such enslaved persons were very likely abductees.

That is unlike persons apathetic to slavery after years in bondage, or persons conquered at war, for prisoners were frequently sold.

Still, Igbo culture encouraged the sale of persons relegated to slavery for violations of omenala.

Therefore, allowance has to be made that a good percentage of Ndi Igbo who crossed the Atlantic Ocean or Sahara Desert were traded by other Igbo.

Seven hundred and seventy-six thousand, four hundred ~776,400 persons were documented to have been exported from the Bight Of Biafra in the century until 1807.

That represents a staggering thirty percent ~30%, the highest percentage, of all human cargo from the coasts of Africa, commencing the year 1690.

Virginia had a significant proportion of Igbo slaves, and by extension, slaves from the region.

That figure does not include men, women, and children:

  • Executed at the port by slave raiders who failed to sell such persons;
  • Executed along the slave route for resisting slavery;
  • Who perished from the trauma of the long trek to Calabar;
  • Who succumbed to disease and starvation.

That explains the slave routes that existed throughout Igboland, which in turn indicates the prevalence of slave trade, in particular Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and the ease and frequency with which villages and towns were raided by criminal Igbo gangs and combatant border nations: the Edo, Ijaw, Igala, Jukun, Idoma and Ebira.

The thriving internal slave trade in Bonny and Calabar resulted in trading houses with enormous figures of Igbo slaves.

By the time, the Portuguese, French, Spanish, Dutch and English arrived for business, the practice of sale of the Igbo, and the Ibom peoples – Ibibio, Efik, Enyong, Ejagham, Oron, Annang, Eket and Ibeno, was deeply entrenched.

What was added was the mass seizure of free persons by greedy Igbo, Ijaw, Ibibio, and Efik traders of the regions.

Just as with the Itsekiri of Warri, and the Urhobo of Okpe, everyone profited from the transaction.

From the ports of Bonny, Calabar and Elem Kalabari through Bobi and Eghoroh in Warri to Lekki and Badagry, there is no evidence available to the author to suggest any of the slave traders desisted from the practice after the British Abolition Law of 1807.

To the contrary, document show all involved continued to trade slaves with the Portuguese and Brazilians, the last to ban the commerce in 1888.

Why was there a large concentration of Igbo women among the exported?

  1. Women were more prone to abduction, and being physically weaker, were less likely to achieve a successful resistance.
  2. Women were subject to enslavement on accusation – and possibly on conviction – of adultery. That makes for a highly lustful womenfolk, if any signification number of enslaved women were found guilty of sexual indiscretion.
  3. Women were maliciously accused by husband or in-laws, to get her out of the way for another wife.

The exportation of humans from the Bight Of Benin aggregated two hundred and ninety-two thousand, seven hundred ~292,700 souls, eleven percent ~11% of trade within the same period.

None of these figures accounts for citizens smuggled on slave ships to evade taxation through falsification of records.

A closer examination reveals that slavery was so ingrained in Igbo culture that there exists caste of slaves – the Ohu.

The Ohu, variously called Osu and Oru, at one stage would sacrifice a member to the Gods for protection against slave trade.

Cases of slave dealing are still to be found amongst the ethnicities to the east of the Niger. The traffic in slaves breaks out sporadically between Nigeria and the Cameroons.

~>Colonial Reports For Nigeria, 1923 ~On slave trade in the East

To grasp the extent of organised slave trade among Ndi Igbo, we look at the few Nation-States that existed in Igboland.

Let us commence with the Nike of Enugu. The Nike were proficient slave traders, who pillaged neighbouring holdings for captives to be retailed as slaves.

These Igbo slaves were transacted to Northern business persons for horses and to the Aro for European goods. Arab merchants also came to barter products and horses for African slaves.

To consolidate further the monopoly on slave trading that spanned two ~2 centuries, the people of Nike were party to the Aro Confederacy.

The Aro Confederacy must have provided the channelling of Igbo slaves to Calabar, for in one particular year Ndi Igbo were 30,000 of the 37,000 slaves exported from Calabar port, with a sizable number being females.

Aside from the Aro and Nike, the Nri and Awka were slave drivers, while the Ohafia were the bodyguards of slave convoys. Other allies of the Confederacy were the Abam, Abiriba, and Afikpo.

Children comprised as much as 29% of exported person from Calabar port.

Multiple slave markets operated every four days, alternatively and existed to move persons from one location to the next.

For instance, Oguta, Idah [Kogi State], Bende, Ngwa, Ndoki, Uburu, and Uzuakoli held slave auctions regularly.

List of slave markets:

  • Eke Ukwu Agbagwu, in Uzuakoli, catering for the axis with Isuikwuato.
  • Ahia Afo in Bende
  • Ahia Ose Nwamkpi, Ututu
  • Ahia Nwaebule, Azumini

The slave routes from the markets took Ututu, Bende, Uzuakoli, and Azumini to Calabar and were lined with caves utilised for shelter and rituals.

Four vital slave routes formed the long trek to the seas and rivers, though several other routes were operational.

  • Agbagwu – Ozu Item – Bende – Arochukwu
  • Ututu – Onu Asu Bekee, Ihe Osu
  • Ujari, Arochukwu – Ito [Onu Asu Bekee], Akwa Ibom – Itu – Calabar
  • Agbagwu – Umuahia – Asa – Azumini
  • Azumini via canoe – Opobo – Bonny

At strategic points along slave routes were arranged slave warehouses, ulo isi. Such prison cells were not only windowless, but some were doorless as well, the only exit being the roof.

Yes, slaves climbed into and out of these dark cell houses, hence the name ulo isi, a house without lighting.


ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria Series:

[Series 1] [Series 2] [Series 3] [Series 4] [Series 5] [Series 6] [Series 7]


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8 comments on “ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 3

  1. Pingback: ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 1 | Umm Sulaim's Thoughts

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  6. Pingback: ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 5 | Umm Sulaim's Thoughts

  7. Sidney Davis
    June 12, 2017

    I am reading your powerpoint presentation on Slavery. I find it very detailed and well researched. You have compiled information and data found nowhere else. You quote the King of Bonny who wanted the slave trade to continue because it was “ordained by God himself” (slide 13). Where these slave traders Christian?

    • Umm Sulaim
      June 12, 2017

      Gratitude, Sidney.

      It is rewarding that my readers appreciate my research efforts in obtaining valuable information.

      My greatest difficulty was finding accurate information on slavery among Ndi Igbo. I persevered until I got very sweet materials.

      African slavetraders in the South were a mixture of Muslims, Christians and Traditionalists.

      God in the quote was as revealed by the oracle.

      If that is not implied in the context of the entire quote, I shall cross-check my copy to be sure.

      The one and only,
      Umm Sulaim

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This entry was posted on September 10, 2016 by in Attitude, E-Learning Expert, Education For All and tagged , .


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