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ATTITUDE | African Slavemasters, African Slaves – Slavery In Nigeria: Series 6

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

Culture Of Education Amidst Slavery

Did the interactions between our leaders and foreign slave traders – Europeans and Arabs – bring any positive lasting effect beyond personal or ethnocentric grandeur?

The southern kingdoms and ethnicities, though unable to read and write, had contacts with those who could – Arabs and Europeans.

Monarchs and slave traders learnt Portuguese, Pidgin English, Dutch and Spanish. Could they articulate any of those languages in writing or comprehend the written format?

The elite adopted European names and named their children in a foreign tongue, while retaining traditions inimical to the welfare of children.

Kings had their charges – offspring and sometimes loyal slaves – trained abroad. Did the trained write as much as an alphabet on their return to Nigerian shores?

For example, Oshodi Tapa a Nupe slave of Oba Eshilokun was sent to Bahia on a slave entrepreneurship course.

Is there any written account by this crop of foreign trained individual?

When the ruling families were not concerned with the literacy of principal court officers, how would slaves at the lowest rung fare?

Yes, the histories of nations were preserved through credible oral narrations and through sculptures of leading government figures.

With knowledge of the use of writing materials, did anyone – European educated or priests who are custodians of tradition – undertake to record such cultures in ink and paper?

Much of the information on the history of the region is obtained from accounts written by foreigners.

Monarchs who had western-educated children include:

  • Sebastian Olu Of Warri had Domingos I educated in Portugal
  • King Jaja Of Opobo
  • Oba of Benin
  • King Eyo of Calabar

Rulers who travelled overseas, such as:

  • John Africa, also called Billy Pit visited Britain.

Although leaders did their best to ensure loyal slaves were not exported to a foreign land, only when Kosoko conducted a reverse export of slaves from Brazil into Lagos was there a thirst for education, science, and technological transformation.

The learning situation in the South-South and South-East indicate several Nigerian slavers could speak, read and write fluent English. This group of slave merchants transferred that knowledge to their offspring those of court officials.

Centuries before close trade contact with Europeans formed to trigger learning of the language of the visiting slave ship captains, the people had developed a complex writing, Nsibidi, composed of hundreds of images. Spread of the detailed Nsibidi was restricted to initiated Ekpe members. Women used the decorative Nsibidi for aesthetics on walls, and earthenware, for examples.

Nsibidi was used extensively to communicate and record proceedings of slavery.


The record is of an Ikpe or judgement case. (a) The court was held under a tree as is the custom, (b) the parties in the case, (c) the chief who judged it, (d) his staff (these are enclosed in a circle), (e) is a man whispering into the ear of another just outside the circle of those concerned, (f) denotes all the members of the party who won the case. Two of them (g) are embracing, (h) is a man who holds a cloth between his finger and thumbs as a sign of contempt. He does not care for the words spoken. The lines round and twisting mean that the case was a difficult one which the people of the town could not judge for themselves. So they sent to the surrounding towns to call the wise men from them and the case was tried by them (j) and decided; (k) denotes that the case was one of adultery or No. 20.

~>J.K. Macgregor

The North, on the other hand had a thriving educated class, versed in Arabic grammar and syntax, as well as in Islamic sciences.

There exists a wealth of documents authored by the Kanuri, Hausa-Fulani and other northern ethnicities on own history and traditions.

This erudite group aided to preserve their language, for some works were penned in Hausa, Fulfulde and Kanuri using the medium of Arabic script.

Not only were women among the educated class, but also members of the public in the grassroots, free and slave, benefited from the literacy drive.

Philanthropists funded the scholarship of students in foreign lands. These students returned and passed their training to others. Education was not the monopoly of the ruling class.

Now, did Nigerian educate Europeans and Arabs on our norms? Yes, we were assertive to insist on non-interference in our culture of slavery and human sacrifice. Well, we did better than that, for our ancestors articulated some words in our languages which were compiled by foreigners.

In addition, some white slavers were inducted into Ekpe, a prestigious secret society, operated by African slave suppliers.

The culture of Nigerians enslaved overseas survives.

Examples include:

  • The Abakuá, an Ekpe organisation in Cuba.
  • Ibo Landing the name of places in Georgia Sea Islands.
  • Kalabari masks, in Virginia.
  • Seventeen Stones Cemetery in George Washington National Forest, Amherst County, Virginia, where Nsibidi was used on gravestones.

Preserved writings of Nigerians from the slavery period consist amongst others of:

  • Kano Chronicles by an unknown author. likely Hausa-Fulani, composed in Arabic;
  • Ntiero Duke’s Diary [1785–1788], written in Pidgin English, author Efik;
  • Ekpeyong Offiong’s Letter [1783], written in English, author Efik;
  • Otto Ephraim’s Letter, penned in English, author Efik.


Many photographs and portraits of female slaves, especially, depict women in various stages of nudity.

The images of unclad persons might have been of slaves from the Igbo, Efik, Ibibio and the deeply traditional ethnicities of the Middle Belt and among the Nupe, the Hausa-Fulani, the Igala, the Tiv, the Jukun, and so on, to whom nudity was natural.

To many of these, a woman’s dress was jewellery with decorated fabric hung on the shoulder.

Some other women were portrayed topless in lower garments wrapped around the waist, similar to the clothing of men.

They tie round her waist a cotton string of the thickness of a goose-quill, which none but married women are permitted to wear: she is now considered as completely his wife.

The dress of both sexes is nearly the same – a long piece of calico, or muslin, wrapped loosely round the body, somewhat in the form of a highland plaid. This is usually dyed blue, our favourite colour. It is extracted from a berry, and is brighter and richer than any I have seen in Europe. Our women of distinction wear golden ornaments; which they dispose with some profusion on their arms and legs.

~>Oluda Ikwuano, 1789 ~Describing a woman’s wearing


In all of these, where were the dissenters?

The dissenters meant here are not the kidnapped or enslaved individuals en route another nation or the Slave Coast.

Of course, abducted persons did their utmost to resist enslavement and shipment.

The dissenting voices sought are the free persons or slaves resident and accustomed to a community.

Clearly, anyone who disagreed with the culture of indiscriminate slavery and human sacrifice risked the accusation of abomination and the resulting death or sale into slavery in a far away land.

This is a glaring case of cultural criminal justice, except criminals were in charge of justice.

Did no one consider human sacrifice an outrageous abomination in itself?

The Oracle has decided that to send our elder, a noble man of worthy lineage, into the other life to meet our ancestors we must sacrifice three human heads.

Did none of the town elders retort to the Nwa Agbara: Well, bring your own head!

Instead, these so-called elders actually dispatched a team to behead lone travellers from the next village.

The need for more human heads would lead to a conflict with neighbours, the conquered providing a resource for slaves and hence for heads to be butchered for Omenala ~Odinala to be upheld.

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, though fiction, embodies the crises wrought on the community by elders all in the name of Omenala.

A group of persons, generally men and old, gathered and decided that in the name of tradition, the sacrifice of a fowl, goat, cow or elephant was not pleasing enough to God.

The authority was further endorsed by the Oracle spokesperson who cites: The Gods have spoken, as an irrefutable proof that the blood of humans was a requirement for answering of supplications.

To induce compliance even more, the same gathering of the old and men, with the Agbara public relations officer, promised the would-be human sacrifice the return to earth as a king.

That sealed the deal.

Included among customs that ought to have been repudiated by nationals was the sale of own children into slavery.

Again, with the backing of the trio of the old, the testosterone manifest and the spokesperson for the unseen, the culture of heartlessness is instituted.

Interestingly, all of our diverse cultures and religions agree that parents are above the law and must not experience the same treatment they inflict on their children.

It is a conspiracy!!! Serious laughter!!!

Applause to any young person who sold own parent into slavery, in defiance of the culture that permits child abuse and neglect.

Chinua, however, gladdens the heart with characters that possess a true sense of justice. A case in point was, when again, Agbara decreed that a child be killed.

Two persons, who had the confidence of the principal character Okonkwo, advised him to have nothing to do with the child’s murder.

That provides the succour that despite the insanity perpetrated as culture, some would go against the distasteful practice.

Of course, the dissenting voices must trust the recipient of the advice to avoid exposure and the subsequent decree of Agbara for the dissenters’ head.

Considering consumption of meat extended to cannibalism, there ought to be the expectation that human flesh will also be dedicated to God.

Once, human meat was served on the dinner table, it was a matter of time before human flesh was presented to the Gods.

Human sacrifice and the belief attached to it might have been illustrated in the suicide of enslaved persons aboard slave ships or after landing at shore in the Americas.

The slave, then, cheerfully looked forward to having own head removed.

Right there is the effect of culture.

Where were the slaves who after being reminded of a transmigration of soul from a slave to a king, thought: Ditch that?

Commendations to any slave who before being beheaded, muttered:

Thank you, my dear King. Why do you not chop off your own head, so you can come back as another King?

A curious matter this: That in Oyo Empire where both slave human sacrifice and regicide were culturally acceptable, some Alaafin did not comply with the wishes of the Oracle.

Would a slave assigned to be offered as a sacrifice have dared ignore the directions of culture?

A century after the abolition of slavery in Nigeria, prevailing customs that permit parental irresponsibility survive.

In times of slavery, parents sold own children purely for financial gains. Today, parents still perceive children as a source of revenue; children feed parents, instead of the other way.

Parents send children as young as six years old to the streets to beg or hawk goods.

Teenage children are neglected, such that to fend for self, they turn to drug dealing and courier, if male, and prostitution and baby factory, if female.

Ask the justice in Arochukwu for ostracising twins, until they and their family conduct so-called cleansing rituals.

Trans-Saharan migration through Republic Of Niger to Libya and Italy is the new long trek of 21st century slave trade.

Make no mistake, for the stigma of slavery lives in our generation. Some persist in referring to others as slaves, with the attendant cultural discrimination. Ask the people of Nkanu or the Itsekiri and Urhobo the cause of conflicts.

Perhaps names such as Ohuabunwa [Slaves are not human], derogatory as it is, falls in the category of Agbara [Oracle], Nwagbara [Oracle child], that might cause alarm, but have lost the original purport.

Plus, Oru and Osu occur as names. Indeed, Escravos = Ohu = slave, while Osu is the extreme form of slavery that implies dedication to the deity.

I remember, as a teenager, being furious with Native American chiefs for selling their lands to Europeans for bottles of alcohol. African leaders did much worse, and bartered humans for intoxicants.

To all the lost, the betrayed, the stolen and the powerless:

Ga nke oma. Njo eme unu enweghi mkpuchi.

I was conscious to use indigenous names of ethnicities and towns. Do pardon any error.

As the diverse ethnicities were united in heinous practices in the name of God, one asks:

What devil hinders a similar united front for the wellbeing of Nigeria?

I wish to acknowledge this classic work as a 25-year continuation to my age 15-school research project that discussed slavery in America, titled Race, Racism, And The Mass Media.

The one and only,

Umm Sulaim

Publisher: Umm Sulaim’s Thoughts

Saturday 2016 September 10


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 6

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