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ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 5

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

White Slavers Versus Black Culture

If African slaves were provided an option of enslavement within Nigeria and slavery under Europeans, what choice lay before such slaves?

Imported slaves were of lesser status than slaves born of slave parents were. Yes, slaves who served under African slaveholders were expected to fulfil joyously the wishes of the master.

Yet, the prospect of suicide, self-impalation, being burned alive, buried alive or beheaded to honour tradition, to bury the Oba or to ward off pestilence or an overwhelmingly relentless foe is hardly appetising.

That was not much of a choice for slaves in the Empires of Oyo and Benin in Southern regions of Nigeria.

Nevertheless, all was not gloom for every slave, for some rose to powerful position in the government.

Slaves had the right to privacy and to family life.

Slaves were accorded own sleeping and dining arrangements, for themselves and their family.

A trip northwards presented the slave with an improved status. Slaves enjoyed much of the same rights as non-slaves.

Oluda Ikwuano, Latin: Olaudah Equiano; [1789] an Igbo of Isieke near Abakaliki was stolen along with his younger sister when he was 12 years-old by a robbery gang of two men and a woman. About a decade later, he bought his freedom.

With us they do no more work than other members of the community, even their masters. Their food, clothing and lodging were nearly the same as theirs (except they were not permitted to eat with those who were freeborn), and there was scarce any other difference between them than a superior degree of importance which the head of a family possesses in our state, and that authority which, he exercises over every part of his household. Some slaves have even slaves under them as their own property, and for their own use.

~>Oluda Ikwuano, 1789 ~The Igbo former slave describing the rights of a slave in his homeland in South-Eastern Nigeria

There is no compulsory labour, the owner and the slave work together, eat the like food, wear the like clothing and sleep in the same huts. Some slaves have more wives than their masters. It gives protection to the slaves and everything necessary for their subsistence- food and clothing. A free man is worse off than a slave; he cannot claim his food from anyone.

~>T. Valentine Robins, 1866 ~On slaves in Lokoja, Kogi State North-Central Nigeria

Cultural Check On Slave Trade

The culture of the Bini ranks atop the others on resistance to participation in slave trade.

Such was the observation of the culture of abolition of slave trade in the Benin Empire that not only the Oba, but also his close aides vehemently refused to sell slaves to Europeans.

Despite the threat of force by Europeans, the Edo equally declined to expel runaway slaves, purchased by white slave merchants, who sought refuge in their individual property.

This positive pride in own African traditional human rights of the slave protected slaves from financial exploitation and greed of their master.

That, for no level of capitalism justified the sale of slaves by the King, and in extension all of Bini, Esan, Isoko and others. The Edo specifically proscribed the retail of male slaves.

The Kingdom Of Benin were the pioneer and consistent Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade abolitionists.

While the Edo, identified by a scar evocative of that incurred by Oba Ehengbuda [1578-1604], served as slaves with the Kingdom, none were to be sold to the whites. This custom covered non-Edos slaves under Edo masters.

The scant trade in slaves that occurred in the territory might be attributed to the actions of non-Edo slave-owners, perhaps resident at some distance from immediate scrutiny of the King.

The Edo did purchase persons from Portuguese and Dutch.

Another dignified cultural influence on the opposition to slave trade was the impact of Islamic culture.

Observant Muslims are barred from enslaving other Muslims.

That ruled out the indiscriminate capture of local residents.

While slavery is permissible in the Religion of Islam, financial greed is not.

The inordinate enslavement of a people solely for supply to the European and American markets was, therefore, a contemptuous presentation.

Slaves were to be visited with little stress, educated and freed, or given the opportunity to purchase own freedom.

In fact, a number of Islamic redemption processes explicitly involve freeing slaves, as the first or second condition of atonement.

Moreover, certain Islamic rules govern the sale of slaves. For instance, siblings are to be sold together, to enable them retain emotional satisfaction.

A slave that has given birth to her master’s child may not be sold.

The child of the sexual relationship between master and slave mother is a free citizen.

Now, the pious Muslim knew better than to sell his slave pregnant with his child.

The few Muslim participants in economic slavery were likely bandits.

Notable Nigerian Abolitionists

The award goes to Oba Eresoyen of Benin [1735-1750] who survived an assassination attempt at the hands of a Dutch slave trader.

The Oba’s aide took the bullet and died in protection of his Monarch. Willem Hogg, the murderer, was shortly executed.

Oba Esigie, 1522, declined slave trade with the Portuguese.

The Ezomo, 1778, rejected slave trade with French.

Ezomo Odia, and several Edo Chiefs, refused to expel slaves, who fled Dutch slave camp, hiding on his farm.

Sarkin Gandu Usmanu ~Uthman, c. 1824, who led slaves in an armed revolt at Wase. He was killed in combat.

John Christopher Taylor

Simon Jonas

Augustus Radillo

The above three were Igbo recaptives resettled in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Motives For Slavery

African arguments for slavery cut across a composite of factors, from conquest to personal grievances to customary observations.

  • Prisoner of war, or any confrontation, including one-on-one conflict;
  • Family conflict, including taboo labels against a member;
  • Insolvency, such as a parent’s sale of a child to settle a debt;
  • Malicious association, for examples, children of accused persons, stubborn children, fugitives, strangers, plus accusations of abomination, crime;
  • Betrayal of trust.

A Muslim teenager from Borno was sold after accompanying a Ghanaian merchant. The teenager became James Albert Ukawsaw Gronniosaw.

Seriki Faremi Williams Abass began his life as a slave and ended as a trafficker in humans. –The mother of ironies!

What might have influenced that transformation? One would think that his experiences in his days as a slave will dissuade him from subjecting his fellow Africans to the horrors of enslavement and the inhumane slave trade.

Did he relish his experiences at the hands of his owners, the gawky eyes of slave buyers and the torment of long treks to the Slave Coast exacted by kidnappers?

Was he so embittered as to project his grievances on innocent Africans unconnected with his capture and bondage?

  • Did he wish to perpetuate the culture of slavery and the affluence associated with human merchandise – after all, he was a helpless product of his time and environment?
  • If indeed slavery was normal, why did Williams Abass negotiate his freedom? Why did he not continue his life as a contented slave?


  • Was every adult in Nigeria at the time, or more specifically in slave societies, involved in slavery – slave, slavemaster, and vice versa?
  • Was slavery a welcomed fate?
  • Even if slavery within own community was relegated to the wishes of the Gods, did citizens embrace servitude under other communities, ethnicities, let alone races?

Remind Mr Henry De Mane of his own feelings under the horrors of slavery.

~>Granville Sharp, 1789


Slaves React

Enslaved persons responded to their condition variously. Several rebelled by talking back at their possessors. Of course, the consequences of rebellion were stiff, often flogging, castration, branding and hanging.

Slave revolts, individual and consolidated, were frequent.

  • The Yoruba Muslim slaves conducted extensive rebellions against their owners, both Africans and of European descent.
  • At the intensification of the Jihad of the Sokoto Khaliphate, ~Caliphate, enslaved Muslims, primarily Yoruba, in the military unit of the Oyo Empire revolted and joined forces with their Northern brethren.
  • In Salvador, Bahia, in the middle of Ramadhan of 1835, a band of hundreds of Muslim Nupe and Yoruba slaves and free men rose against the Brazilian establishment. Betrayed by his wife, Vitório Sule and his party were killed in resistance.

Several others were executed, flogged or deported to Nigeria.

  • Slaves from South-Eastern Nigeria, in the vicinity of the Bight Of Biafra, were petrified they would be eaten by their ugly white captors.
  • Slaves readily committed suicide, instead of continue the ordeal, in the belief that they will reincarnate in a better condition, and in their homeland.
  • The most famous being the Igbo Landing, a mass drowning of slaves off the shore of Saint Simons Island, Georgia.

Ten ~10 slaves drowned, others were pulled from the water.

That was the grande finale of the 1803 takeover of a slaveship by 75 Igbo slaves.

Purchased for $100, the slaves drowned the captain and crew and ran the ship aground.

The slaves en masse walked into Dunbar Creek chanting: The Water Spirit brought us; the Water Spirit will take us home.

  • Enslaved persons also fled the premises of their owner. Igbo men scored high on suicides and Igbo women on runaways in certain parts of North America.
  • After an armed uprising against their slavemaster, the Emir Of Wase, Hamman in the mid 1800s [possibly earlier, say 1824], hundreds of Jarawa slaves fled Bauchi suzerainty to Yergam and later founded the city of Yelwa in Plateau.

As the Jarawa are vastly Muslims, this was a blatant case of Muslims enslavement, and by the protagonists of the so-called Jihad for that matter.

  • For two days in the year 1831 commencing on the night of August 21, Nat Turner at the head of an armed group of 75 Africans led an insurgency against white slavers. Though the state regained control of Nat and his men, who were executed, the insurgence sent a clear message: We can do something to end slavery.
  • Do something Mary Price demonstrated by the detailed documentation in a novel [1831] of her ordeal at the hands of her purchasers.
  • Sojourner Truth fought passionately for her rights and the freedom of her children.
  • As did Harriet Tubman, who marched more than 300 slaves, including her sister and two children, in 19 separate convoys over a decade from Maryland to freedom
  • Phillis Wheatley published her first poetry [1773] at the age of 19 that touched on longing for Gambia.
  • After effecting his own escapee to freedom, William Wells Brown assisted others flee to Canada. Of note is William’s 1853 documentation of the life of the daughters and granddaughters of President Thomas Jefferson by his slave woman Currer in the novel Clotel.
  • In 1800 Richmond, Virginia, Gabriel organised a revolution of hundreds of armed slaves. Gabriel and the leaders of the revolt were executed, as they were unable to implement the plan. Denmark Vesey, a free man, was to lead an armed insurgency of 9,000 enslaved persons. 1n 1822, he and scores of other leaders were hanged after a slave leaked the plan to whites.


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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6 comments on “ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 5

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

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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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