- Documents on Slavery in West Africa:An Introduction
This special issue of African Economic History focuses on documents on the legal dimensions of slavery and the efforts of colonial regimes, particularly British and French, to understand the local context of slavery and then to reform the institution in ways that would not interfere with the establishment of colonial rule. These aims usually involved various attempts to redefine the legal status of slavery without specifically challenging the control of masters over slaves, although the intention was to implement changes that result in the eventual ending of slavery. There is now an extensive scholarship on the impact of colonialism on the gradual termination of slavery and the altered forms of social control that persisted for decades into the twentieth century and to some extent continues to affect the perpetuation of slavery into contemporary times. These documents, therefore, are useful in the ongoing scholarly analysis of slavery and its demise. The focus in this issue is largely on Nigeria, although an important exception is the materials in French by Eugène Daumas and Ausone De Chancel on Islamic societies as interpreted in Algeria. Moreover, the documents from the Lagos palace of Kosoko at the time of British occupation in 1851 do not relate to colonial policies but rather to the attempts of Portuguese and Lagos merchants to carry on the slave trade during the period of British naval blockade of the West African coast during the anti-slave trade campaign of the nineteenth century.
The first document is the interesting creation of Daumas and Chancel, who recorded what they called a Code de l’esclavage chez les musulmans in Algeria in the 1840s (Document 1).1 Admittedly their interest in Algeria was to promote French expansion into and across the Sahara and therefore they made up stories when convenient, such as the lengthy description of a caravan journey across the Sahara to the Sokoto Caliphate, and specifically to Katsina in the 1830s. The account is clearly [End Page 1] a fabrication because at the time caravans crossed the Sahara in relays, not in one continuous journey, because of the political economy of the Sahara that was managed through overlapping confederations of nomads. Their Code de Esclavage is also a compilation and hence not a real code but rather their interpretation of Islamic law and practice. Daumas and Chancel relied on legal opinions that they solicited in Algeria. They cite Muslim authorities with respect to marriage, concubinage, and other matters that relate to slavery. These can also be compared with the official reports of Georges Poulet, Ernest Roume, and Georges Deherme on slavery practice and law in the French colonies of West Africa. These later reports are interesting in themselves. For example, Deherme provided an exhaustive list of sources and opinions on matters relating to slavery and his discussion of measures taken in French colonies and West Africa before 1905 is important as an indication of the wealth of material that is available to study slavery in the areas that were incorporated into the French empire.2
The second set of documents (Document 2) is the correspondence seized by the British in the occupation of Lagos in 1851 and include materials in Portuguese and the translations of these documents that were undertaken by British officials so that the efforts to suppress the slave trade from West Africa could be better enforced. The analysis by Ojo establishes the context for the rule of Kosoko and his engagement in the slave trade, principally with Brazilian merchants. The original Portuguese text is included as well as the British translation. Notation is kept to a minimum, although some obvious problems in translation and analysis are noted. As with other documents that are included in this special issue, our interest is to make these materials accessible, not to provide a full analysis. Similarly, the Native House Rule Ordinance (Document 3) is included here to demonstrate British policy toward slavery in the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria (modern south, central and eastern Nigeria, whereby slavery was not officially recognized as anything more than social relationships confined within domestic contexts.
The documents on the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria...