In the first half of the twentieth century, most of Fernando Pó’s contract workers came from societies in southeastern Nigeria which had been heavily impacted by the transatlantic and internal slave trades. These contract workers were recruited by a new generation of labor recruiters, dispatched covertly by Spanish imperial employers, through a form of kidnapping known as panya. Panya was the largest labor smuggling and trafficking network in colonial West Africa, bringing tens of thousands of migrants to long and obligatory contracts on Fernando Pó. In contrast to scholars who have interpreted this history as a holdover from the pre-colonial period, this article argues that panya arose from the contractual order of Spanish imperial rule. Extensive archival research reveals the voices of those caught in the warp of post-abolition colonial labor regimes, in order to rethink the passage from the pre-colonial slave trade to imperialism within West African history. Using a series of vivid and precise petitions submitted by those who found themselves on the island of Fernando Pó, the article shows how these sources contain the potential to reconceptualize the disjunctures between enslavement in the slave trade and the recruitment of contract labor.


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pp. 91-129
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