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Reviews The End of Slavery in Africa. Suzanne Miers and Richard Roberts, eds. Madison and London: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1988. 524 pp. Beverly Grier The study of domestic slavery in Africa over the last 10 to 15 years has yielded some of the most important insights to date into the nature of precolonial African economic, social, and political structures and into the impact on Africa of its links with the expanding world capitalist system in the three to four centuries before the imposition of formal colonial rule.1 Domestic slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude, most notably pawning, were widespread throughout the African continent. Slavery and the slave trade were the basis of material wealth and political power in many, if not most, societies. Some slaves were attached singly to peasant households, working alongside the master and living a life that was not visibly different from that of the free peasantry. Other slaves lived in villages occupied solely by slaves. They worked on the plantation of their owner and were ruled over by a slave overseer or slave "chief." Most slaves worked the fields and tended animals. However, some served as soldiers and as personal retainers, high officials, and advisers to rulers; others mined gold, made crafts for domestic consumption and sale, and carried goods in long-distance trade. Some slaves accumulated great wealth (including wealth in the form of other slaves) and power. For all the diversity in the uses to which slave labor was put and the conditions under which slaves lived, there was considerable unity to the slave experience across the continent. The slave was defined by his or her "kinlessness." Captured in wars or raids, kidnapped, or bought in the market, the slave was said to be of foreign rather than of a local or founding lineage or clan. It was blood-related membership in a local kinship group that determined rights to property, political and religious offices, and rights in marriage and inheritance. Kinship was emphasized so much that when women and men of local origin and free birth were enslaved (which they were, usually for crime or indebtedness and in numbers greater than the ideology of kinship would have us believe), in some societies they were ritually expelled from the lineage group before being sold.2 Indeed, household slaves and enslaved children were adopted and assimilated into the kinship group; faithful slaves were manumitted during the lifetime of the owner or as part of the owner's deathbed wish; and the children of a freeborn man by his slave wife or concubine were legally free and were considered members of the owner's kinship group. However, slave origin or ©1989 JOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY, VOL. 1 No. 2 (FALL)_________________________ 1989 REVIEW: BEVERLY CRIER 159 ancestry remained part of a person's genealogy. It was known to a sufficient number of people in the household and in the community that it could be recalled and used against a person in times of economic crisis or political struggle. At best, the freed slave and his or her descendants were quasikin with rights that were less than equal to the rights of those descended from the freeborn. An important dimension of the unity of the slave experience involved the centrality of women. Contributions to Women and Slavery in Africa, edited by Claire C. Robertson and Martin A. Klein, and research published elsewhere demonstrate how slavery, so central to precolonial African societies, cannot be discussed without discussing women. Robertson and Klein make four points in their "Introduction" that should be repeated here. The first is that the bulk of the slaves captured in centuries of warfare and raiding in Africa were not exported but were retained for domestic use, and the overwhelming majority of these were women (and children). Second, women, as slaves, were valued not as much for their reproductive capacity as for their productive capacity. Thus, the emphasis many researchers place on the fact that female slaves could without cost to the owner reproduce the servile labor force is too strong. Women were preferred as slaves (and this was reflected not only in their predominance but in the higher prices buyers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 158-165
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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