3.3 Re-translations of interviews conducted by Otolorin Adesiyun in Ilorin in 1975, as part of a project organised by Paul E. Lovejoy

2.4b(v) Paper presented to the Tubman Seminar on Slavery, York University, Toronto, 31 March 1997. Some references have been updated (2020) Various items of evidence referred to in this paper are included in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive, DigITall African History Archive. A few of these have been specifically identified in the endnotes, to make them easier to locate; readers should check the Archive for others




Ann O’Hear 

Niagara University 


           The city of Ilorin, in northernmost Yorubaland, came to prominence in the early nineteenth century as the headquarters of Afonja, the rebel Old Oyo general. Afonja invited a Fulani religious leader, Alimi, to assist him, but later the Fulani in Ilorin, supported by Hausa and Yoruba Muslims, overthrew Afonja and established Ilorin as an emirate within the Sokoto Caliphate (actually immediately under Gwandu). Two sons of Alimi, Abdusalami and Shita, became emirs in turn, and their descendants then reigned in rotation. Below the emirs were fourbalogun, major war and ward chiefs. Balogun Fulani led the Fulani settlers, Balogun Gambari led the Hausa and other northerners, and Alanamu and Ajikobi headed the Yoruba, who were probably a very large majority of the population.[2] 

           An expansionist period began with Afonja and continued under the early emirs. The aim was to destroy the Oyo Empire, and carry the jihad to the south. The destruction of Oyo power was completed by the mid-1830s, but soon afterwards the Ilorin advance south into Yorubaland was checked by the rising power of Ibadan, and by inhospitable terrain for cavalry. Ilorin continued to pursue its Islamic aim by a flanking movement through Igbomina and Ekiti, then by allying with one or another of the Yoruba powers, in the hope of eventually weakening them all. On occasion, Ilorin acted in cooperation with Ibadan, but essentially the two were enemies for the rest of the century. As the century wore on, Ilorin’s warfare became, essentially, a reasonably successful effort to defend its sphere of influence in the savanna, rather than trying to expand to the south.[3] 

           Within Ilorin itself, the emirs were unable to consolidate their power against the major chiefs. They were weakened by rebellions in the 1860s and 1870s.[4]At the end of the 1870s, Emir Aliu, who wanted better relations with Ibadan, was overruled in the matter of the siege of Offa by Karara, his Balogun Gambari.[5]Aliu’s successor, Moma, was also anxious to come to terms with Ibadan, and with the British in Lagos. But in the 1890s, Moma lost his power struggle with the baloguns so definitively that he was forced into suicide, and replaced by the puppet ruler, Suleiman, in whose reign the British took over the city. 

           Economically speaking, Ilorin took over, in part, Old Oyo’s role as a slave supplier, both by capture[6]and as re-exporter of slaves from the north. Ilorin was in a good position to develop as an entrepôt, and its government encouraged its mediatory role.[7]It earned a reputation as a major slave dealing center.[8]The slave trade from Ilorin flowed overwhelmingly from north to south, as was reported consistently by observers from the early 1850s to the end of the century.[9]Many of the slaves taken south eventually joined the Atlantic trade,[10]but many others went only as far as southern Yorubaland, where warrior-entrepreneurs were engaging in large-scale production, both to support their followers and to profit from “legitimate” trade, all of which relied on slave labor.[11] 


           Ilorin’s initial expansion had been considerably aided by the revolt of the Hausa (and other northern) slaves of the Old Oyo Empire, incited by Afonja and Alimi. These slaves fled in large numbers to freedom in Ilorin, joined its armies, and were a major factor in the eventual overthrow of Afonja and the establishment of the emirate.[12]While slaves never again played such a spectacular role in Ilorin’s political history, they and their activities continued to be significant, both politically and economically, for the rest of the century. It is my intention in this paper, therefore, to examine some of their roles, passive and active, collective and individual, in and around the city from about 1820 to the arrival of the British and consolidation of British rule. Since Ilorin was both a largely Yoruba-populated city and also an emirate on the Caliphate frontier, one ancillary theme I attempt to introduce, where possible, is a comparison of slaves’ roles in Ilorin with those in the rest of Yorubaland and in other parts of the Caliphate. 


Slave Acquisition and Trade: Chiefly Power 

           Slaves were acquired by the chiefs and people of Ilorin in a variety of ways. Some came through payments from tributary towns, though this may not actually have been a major source.[13]It is likely that the single most important method of slave acquisition was capture.[14]Slaves were an important product of the early expansionist wars, begun by Afonja, who 

captured various towns and 


resettled them around Ilorin so as to make it into what it has become. The able-bodied men he enrolled among his soldiers and several [sic] women and children he sold into slavery, in order to have wherewith to maintain and supply arms to his war boys.[15] 


In the reign of Abdusalami, “many slaves were taken during campaigns to the south of Omu, 

in Igbomina country.”[16]Others were captured during raids on Ekiti towns such as Osi and Obo in the 1840s. The town of Eruku was overrun by Ilorin forces and “large numbers of the population were taken away and sold as slaves.”[17]In 1858, while visiting Ejeba, a Yagba (?) town under Nupe control, Daniel May reported an Ilorin raid on a nearby town, in which “a party of people” was attacked and carried off.”[18] 

           As time went on, Ilorin found itself faced more and more with the power of Ibadan to the southeast and Nupe to the northeast. But while this meant that Ilorin’s access to slaving areas “thenceforward depended upon either the weakness of the complicity” of these powers,[19]both cooperation and competition with them could still provide opportunities for slave acquisition. The expeditions in which Ilorin joined forces with Ibadan and/or Nupe netted it some gains; and when Ilorin allied with Ijaye against Ibadan it occupied itself in “kidnapping in the Oyo farms.”[20] 

           In the later years of the nineteenth century, Ilorin’s long periods of encampment in the Offa area provided opportunities for slave seizures. Ilorin forces were reported to be “in the habit of kidnapping the caravans between Offa and Erin,” “despatching [kidnapping] expeditions into the Ijesha country,” and conducting “kidnapping expeditions in the Ogbomosho farms.”[21]In 1889, Ibadan authorities complained of Ilorin army activities around the Ibadan camp at Ikirun: 


We . . . distrust [them] on account of their treacherous acts . . . we shall be ready against their surprises within our boundary, as five days ago they surprised Otau, a town near us, and took away 31 persons, and today they took away two persons near the walls of Ikirun.[22] 


Even with their concentration of forces in the Offa area, and with the internal disruptions of the 1890s, Ilorin forces were still, apparently, able to raid far afield on occasion. The city was able to maintainajele, or resident representatives, in varying numbers of towns on the routes to the east, which must have assisted those Ilorin forces who were reported in 1894 to have “started on a kidnapping expedition” as far away as “the Akoko country, distant about twenty days travel from Ilorin.”[23] 

           The emirs of Ilorin, from the time of Shita, did not go to war themselves,[24]and thus took no personal part in slave capture. Instead, they received the captives from the war leaders, through whose hands slaves from tributary towns also passed. By law, the emirs were supposed to take one-fifth of the captives themselves, and return the rest to the baloguns for distribution. But since the emirs were absent from the warfront, it is likely that the baloguns and their subordinates had already helped themselves liberally before the captives ever reached the emirs.[25]In addition, although the slave tribute to Gwandu was apparently raised in most emirates by a levy made by emirs on their chiefs,[26]in Ilorin it was very probably paid largely from the emirs’ own share of the captives, especially in later years as the emirs’ control slipped away. Tribute to Gwandu siphoned off between 50 and 200 slaves a year, depending, it is said, on the numbers captured. It could also be demanded, probably irregularly, by Sokoto: the missionary A.C. Mann, visiting Ilorin in 1855, was introduced to “a messenger of Sokotu, an Alufa of a friendly face: he was sent with a demand for 200 slaves!”[27]Thus, while incoming tribute in slaves may have been negligible, outgoing tribute consumed large numbers. 

           In Ilorin, therefore, the emirs almost certainly gained less than their baloguns and others from captured slaves. The baloguns and other chiefs are remembered in Ilorin tradition for their slave-capturing activities, and both local and external informants single out successive Baloguns Gambari as the greatest slave catchers and owners of them all.[28]The chiefs could also profit from the slaves they had acquired, by selling them, either locally, or into the lucrative trade to the south. The prestige, military strength, and economic profit gained from the acquisition, use, and sale of slaves were instrumental in further cementing the power of the baloguns against the emirs. 


Roles of Privileged Slaves 

           In nineteenth-century Ilorin, palace slaves were used in many of the same roles, and for the same reasons, as they were in other emirates, in Oyo, and in many other kingdoms. Such slaves were expected to display complete loyalty to their ruler/master, on whom they depended for everything.[29]In Ilorin, however, while the anticipated loyalty was indeed forthcoming in some cases, it was by no means so in all. 

           The Jimba family of Ilorin was founded by a major warrior slave of Emir Abdusalami, who is credited, among other things, with having plundered the city of Old Oyo.[30]Jimba is also said to have been trusted to be in charge of “a vast portion of Ilorin’s great arsenal, gun powder and heavy weaponry,” though this may in fact be a reference to a later head of the family.[31]The head of this family is also said to have been the emir’s champion during the revolt of Balogun Usman Olufadi in the 1870s.[32] 

           The Jimbas had a number of incentives to remain loyal to the emirs. Their daughters, for example, were allowed to marry into the royal family.[33]The hereditary title, “Daodu Abdulsalami,” is said to have been bestowed on them, as well as the right to create their own titles.[34]They were given a compound in the city, and farmland outside, which also became hereditarily theirs.[35]They were able to amass slaves of their own, whom they settled on this land.[36] 

           Other palace slaves profited similarly from the incentives on offer. The Balogun Afin, Sarkin Dongari, and Ajia Ijesha also received titles and rights to land which became hereditary in their families.[37]Many slaves had the opportunity to acquire their own slaves, including the emir’sajias during military campaigns.[38]Nasama, an important court slave in mid-century, and “sheriff or public executioner,” was “master of a large number of slaves.”[39]Emirs’ slaves also seized the opportunity of profiting from the role ofbaba kekere[intermediary]. In the Afon area, near the city, for example, settlers 


followed a big chief of slave of the Emir . . . and, when they took up land, asked them to get the sanction of the Emir for so doing. This was done, and a yearly gift was given to these men for protection’s sake, and to further their interest in the Court, should they have occasion to bring in some case for settlement.[40] 


When the slave warrior Adenlolu was settled by the emir in Lanwa, to the north, “many men came from Ilorin and obtained farm lands from [him] following him as their Baba Kekere . . . [he] was a man of great influence.”[41] 

           Clearly, considerable influence and prestige could be gained in the service of the emir. In the mid-century, the slave official Sarkin Dongari was described as 


prime minister . . . daily [sitting] in the market place to receive the homage of the populace intended for the king . . . [he is] really the most important personage of the kingdom, and in rank even above the king’s own sons.[42] 


Even in 1893, Emir Moma’s slave, Ogunkojole, was “perhaps the most powerful man in the kingdom,” having “very great influence with the Emir,” and being “treated with great respect wherever he went.”[43] 

           Ogunkojole (also called Alihu) was useful to Moma in a variety of ways. In 1893 he was given the care of Governor Carter of Lagos, who was conducting peace negotiations between Ilorin and Ibadan, and took a “leading part” in the evacuation of the Ilorin war camp, in the interests of peace. He was willing to stand up to the powerful Balogun Gambari in the emir’s name: “He had some trouble with Adamu [successor to Karara], but soon brought him to his senses by threatening to behead him.”[44]In 1895, when Moma had finally lost his power struggle with Baloguns Alanamu and Gambari, Ogunkojole, his fate inextricably linked with his master’s, provided the ultimate in loyalty: 


a faithful slave named Alihu . . . who led the Emir’s party, returned to the palace and with his Master proceeded to the powder magazine when Alihu deliberately set a match to the powder, and this was the end.[45] 


The emirs were also able to use court slaves in their attempt to control the process of settlement and resettlement of land around the city. To the south, for example, settlers from Ogbomosho were gradually driven out and Ilorin settlers established, under the leadership of two emirs’ slaves, Ajia Ijesha and Are Ogele, together with the Balogun Alanamu. These three settled their followers on parallel strips of land.[46]It is entirely likely that the two slaves were there with the intention of curbing any independent activities by the balogun, and of ensuring that his rights to grant land were kept within bounds.[47]It is also said that Adenlolu was settled in Lanwa in the reign of Aliu to ensure that the new trade route from Ilorin to Jebba was kept free of robbers,[48]and, no doubt, under the emir’s control, possibly for purposes of munitions importation. 

           Thus the emirs were able to benefit from the settlement of palace slaves on the land. There were, however, three limitations to these benefits. First, grants of land (or agency in land) to their slaves were used not only as a means of controlling settlement, but also as an incentive to the slaves’ loyalty. But once such grants had been made, they tended to become hereditary.[49]Land once granted, whether to freemen or slaves,couldbe recalled by the emir and given out again; but I have found only two occasions on which this was actually done.[50]A 1917 document giving information on nineteenth-century land grants, although it is somewhat simplified,[51]suggests strongly that the great majority were made by the earlier emirs. Acceptance of slaves’ hereditary rights to land by successive emirs was necessary to ensure continuing loyalty: but the land available for future such grants was thus diminished, and with it the emirs’ patronage power.[52]It is said that the emirs created few new slave appointments as the century wore on:[53]this may well have been connected with the declining availability of land. 

           Second, privileged slaves could be used in land settlement not only by the emir, but also by the major chiefs, in their own interests. The slave warrior Omodare was given land in Oloru by his master, the Balogun Gambari: Omodare was able to drive away Nupe settlers, and make the area safe and available for the balogun’s followers and agricultural slaves.[54]Another chief, the Basambo (actually the head of a branch of the royal family which had been denied the throne), sent out his slave Nasamu in an attempt to expand his holdings around Malete. Nasamu made a determined effort to seize some of the neighboring land held by the Balogun Ajikobi. In turn, this land was defended by [a certain] Paiye, possibly also a slave, who had been installed there by the balogun.[55][Omo] Dada, a major military slave of the same balogun, is said to have “fought bravely in a war which was specifically against him and Balogun Ajikobi”:[56]this may also refer to a land dispute. 

           Third, even slaves attached to the emir himself did not always act in his interests in land settlement. A certain Eji, variously described as a slave of the emir and of the Sarkin Dongari,[57]but in any case a palace slave, took advantage of the weakness of the emirs in the 1890s (due to the activities of the baloguns and the confusion resulting from the 1897 Royal Niger Company attack) to extend his control over a considerable area of what is now Ejidongari District, and set himself up as a virtually independent ruler, refusing to pay tribute to the emir. The first British Resident of Ilorin, David Carnegie, in 1900, regarded Eji with admiration and recognized his power.[58] 

           Slaves attached to the emirs also revealed disloyalty in other ways. Ogunkojole’s suicide with Moma in 1895 may be contrasted with the activities of another court slave, Ajayi (or Ajia) Ogidiolu, at the same time. Ogidiolu took the other side, and was “closely mixed up” in Moma’s downfall. In 1906, he was said to have “a peculiar knack of recalling this . . . to the present Emir when things do not go as he pleases.”[59]Ogidiolu, if he was one of the emir’sajias, may have switched his loyalty in part due to the fact that, since the emirs were not themselves war leaders, theirajias were placed under the command of one or other of the baloguns during war, and therefore obtained their opportunities for profit (through slave capture and sale) not directly from their master but from these other chiefs.[60] 

           In other emirates of the Caliphate, during the later years of the nineteenth century, more centralized, bureaucratic rule was developing, under the direct control of rulers supported by control of firearms, slave musketeers, and dependent slave officials, especially in the military sphere. The power of the aristocrats and their followers was in process of being curbed, to the benefit of the emirs.[61]In Ilorin, however, whatever the intentions of the emirs, the opposite was occurring. Although munitions were kept in the palace, and slaves (both elite and other) were employed in various military-related occupations,[62]there seems to have been no development of a corps of slave musketeers who could defend/extend the power of the emirs.[63]And while the Ilorin emirs’ diminishing power was one of the causes of disloyalty among their slave retainers, this disloyalty also contributed to the emirs’ continuing decline. 


Slaves in Agriculture 

           Slaves who were granted land, or became agents [for] or caretakers of land, were members of a small and privileged group. In contrast, the majority of slaves (at least males) were engaged on the land in actual agricultural labor. Informants agree that Ilorin owners “preferred the slaves on the farm than elsewhere.”[64]Agriculture, therefore, was the most important occupation of the slaves who were settled in and around Ilorin. 

           It is evident from the available information that slave plantations around Ilorin varied in size, but data are limited on specifics. Informants frequently aver that small-scale holdings were common, either because “most slave-holders had mere handfuls” of slaves, or because a master might divide his slaves among several scattered pieces of land.[65]A warrior, Ojibara, said to have had “about four” plantations with “not less than ten slaves” working on each, perhaps represents the middle-rank Ilorin owner.[66]On a larger scale, “Jamurogo,” Balogun Ajikobi, is said to have had “many “ plantations, with “at least twenty-five slaves working on each . . . alongside his own children.”[67] 

           As already mentioned, successive Baloguns Gambari may well have been the largest slave owners in Ilorin. David Hinderer, a missionary in Ibadan, even referred, in 1851, to the late Ali, Balogun Gambari, as having had “a village of 26,000 slaves of his own, all working in irons.”[68]While another account from the same period is said to have described this particular balogun as very rich and owning numerous slaves,[69]the number given by Hinderer is clearly wildly exaggerated, obtained by hearsay, and influenced by Ibadan’s and the missionaries’ hostility to Ilorin. Nevertheless, it helps to confirm the reputation of the Baloguns Gambari as slave owners. Information collected in present-day Ilorin suggests, more plausibly, that they had numerous plantations in different locations.[70] 

           Only one detailed account of a really large plantation anywhere near Ilorin has survived, and it looks as if this was actually outside the Ilorin lands.[71]On present information, it seems likely that plantations around Ilorin, and numbers of slaves owned by individuals and families, were generally smaller than in the highly developed plantation areas of the central Caliphate, or among the export-cropping titled entrepreneurs of southern Yorubaland. As in these other areas, however, the slaves of Ilorin were used by major chiefs and small-scale owners alike.[72] 


Around Ilorin, as further north, agricultural slaves seem often to have worked in gangs, supervised by overseers (alakoso) chosen for their loyalty to the master.[73]Two accounts of the work of male farm slaves around Ilorin are to be found in the literature, although both date from the turn of the twentieth century and are therefore not necessarily representative of the entire nineteenth century. Both are by British officials. 

           The first British Resident, David Carnegie, was of the opinion in 1900 that slavery in Ilorin was “mild enough”: 


A slave on a farm works half a day for his master, and half for himself, and gets one full day to himself in every week. He can free himself by paying about £4 to his master, which sum a strong willing man can put by in say four years; but as a rule they are quite content to remain slaves . . .[74] 


In 1904, Resident P.M. Dwyer reported on the 


large number of domestic or farm slaves in the Province, who are both happy and contented . . . [t]he domestic slave almost in every case works on the farms; he is obliged to make 200 heaps of earth as a days [sic] work, which is absurdly light considering an ordinary hard-working farmer can complete anything up to 1,000 heaps. As soon as the slave has completed his allotted amount he has the rest of the day to himself. 

            He can till a portion of the farm for his own use, seed and spade [sic] being freely supplied by his master, and sell the produce in the markets, the proceeds of which belong absolutely to himself.[75] 


Carnegie and Dwyer agree that the Ilorin agricultural slave worked only part of the day for his master, and in the rest of the time he could work on his own account and keep the proceeds. If we assume that Dwyer is exaggerating the number of heaps a farmer will normally make in a day, and accept a recent estimate of 400,[76]then both accounts agree that the slave worked half a day for the master. Some such arrangements are reported, for example by Clapperton and Schoen, to have obtained elsewhere in the Caliphate.[77]A similar report comes from southern Yorubaland.[78]Paul Lovejoy has warned, however, that such accounts may give an idealized, ideological rather than actual, picture of slave treatment, and that slavery in the Caliphate was “complex and sometimes contradictory.”[79] 

           A number of accounts are available on the subject from present-day Ilorin informants: 


Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? Yes, they were given such liberty. 

Could they sell the produce they grew in their own time? Yes.[80] 


Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? No, but they were free to do what was calledabuse—unauthorized work during a slave’s free time. 

Could they sell the produce they grew in their own time? Yes they could.[81] 


Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? The slaves could not work for themselves. Only theiwofa[debt pawns] could do that. 

Could they sell the produce they grew in their own time? They had no private time. The only thing they could sell was whatever they stole from their owners. . . . 

In what ways were [poor free farmers and slaves] different? A freeborn could sell the proceeds of his farm, a slave had no farm of his own.[82] 


Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? The slaves were fully engaged by their owners and had no time to do independent farming.[83] 


Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? No, but they enjoyed a good life. 

Could they sell the produce they grew in their own time? They had no personal farms.[84] 


           A number of points may be made with regard to these various accounts, by turn-of-the-century outsiders and by modern informants. Carnegie’s and Dwyer’s reports may well be idealized, as the two officials undoubtedly received their information from members of the slave-owning elite, who would naturally be anxious to emphasize the milder side of slavery.[85]It seems that these reports represent the idealized norms that Caliphate elites were prepared to accept, or at least to present to outsiders, as do those of Clapperton and Schoen. The report from southern Yorubaland, also mentioned above, describes similar norms. What is evident from Ilorin informants’ responses is that, as Lovejoy has pointed out, the situation was not that simple. In addition, informants’ responses reveal that not only were Caliphate and Yoruba norms not necessarily followed in practice, but also that Ilorin people did not even always pay lip service to them. There is no evidence, incidentally, to suggest that “pagan” owners in Ilorin were any less hard as taskmasters than Muslims or Christians, as Oroge suggests for southern Yorubaland.[86] 


           The various accounts of slaves’ roles in farm work can be taken to refer largely to males. In general, women in Yorubaland, including Ilorin, are said to have been involved only in certain specified agricultural tasks. In the mid-nineteenth century, W.H. Clarke reported that in Yorubaland 


[t]he males are the only class on whom [the] duty [of cultivation] devolves though the females vary frequently aid in harvesting, and may be seen daily bringing in loads of provisions from the farm. So strong is the aversion of the native mind to this kind of female servitude that I have yet to see the first instance of a woman engaged, hoe in hand, in cultivating the earth.[87] 


In 1929, Sylvia Leith-Ross reported from Ilorin: 


The man does all the farm work; the woman only helps with the light work such as the picking of beans or cotton. . . . She strips and ties the cut guinea corn and carries the bundles, but does not cut it herself. . . . She helps to plant the yams. . . . Onion growing is entirely managed by women but I think that is the only purely feminine agricultural or horticultural employment, and, in this neighbourhood, is only practised on a small scale. Medicinal herbs and flavourings for sauces are usually gathered by the women but they are not specially grown . . . It can be definitely stated that the bulk of the farm work is done by the men . . .[88] 


The situation appears to have been similar for nineteenth-century female slaves. In some cases, they are said to have done no actual farmwork at all. In general, they appear to have been used on the farms in locally-customary female pursuits, taking part in planting and harvesting (especially of cotton), carrying crops, doing housework and preparing and cooking food.[89](Incidentally, slaves were not always used for cooking: in at least one city compound they were forbidden to cook for the members of the family, presumably for fear of poisoning. Slaves were, however, used in preparing and cooking food for the armies on campaign.)[90]Female slaves engaged in other non-agricultural rural occupations as in the case of a woman taken to Oloru in the 1890s, and employed there in plucking reeds for mat making.[91] 

           One might very reasonably ask whether the accounts of Ilorin informants on the limited role of female slaves in agriculture may not reflect norms rather than actuality, like the accounts of male slaves’ work arrangements discussed above. There are, however, other indications from informants’ reports that tend to confirm that it was indeed males who did the bulk of the cultivation. For one thing, informants generally say that male slaves were more in demand than females (and more costly, except for those females destined for concubinage), and that what they were valued for was their physical strength. Females on the other hand were more valued for housework, for instance taking over such duties so that free wives could be placed in purdah.[92]There is some difference in emphasis here from the analysis of the Caliphate as a whole given by Paul Lovejoy. While Lovejoy agrees that male slaves were valued for their labor power, he argues that women were more in demand than men, and more expensive, because they offered avarietyof advantages, combining the roles of concubines, child bearers, and servants.[93]In Ilorin, the physical strength of male slaves for use in agriculture seems to have been more emphasized and in demand, rather than the possible multiple uses of females. 


           Although there was no development of important export crops, such as those which helped to encourage the growth of plantations further south, the work of slaves in agriculture around Ilorin provided essential infrastructural support for the inhabitants of the city. They were widely employed in the cultivation of food crops, which fed the large city households (including retainers and slaves), provided tribute to be paid to agents, landholders and the emir, and were offered for local sale.[94]Both males and females were also used in the production and processing of crops used in the important cloth-related industries of the city, as will be further examined later. 


Slaves in Horsekeeping and the Military 

           The roles of some elite or relatively privileged slaves in the military have been discussed above. Less favored slaves in Ilorin were also employed in military-related duties, including horsekeeping. As in other parts of the Caliphate, horses were important, for status as well as war.[95]But their mortality rates in northern Yorubaland were high, and they had to be imported from the north, so they do not seem to have been kept in numbers comparable to those in, say, Sokoto or Kano. They were, nevertheless, kept in fairly large numbers. In 1889 at Offa, the Ilorin force was said to have about 800–1000 mounted men.[96]The emir and his slave military official, the Sarkin Baraje, are said to have kept some 350 horses between them.[97]If other major chiefs kept stables of a similar size, then Ilorin as a whole should have been able to field a considerable cavalry force.[98] 

           When not being used on campaign, horses were kept largely within city compounds, which meant that much of their fodder had to be brought in to them, involving a great deal of labor.[99]Informants stress the work involved in their feeding and care. One mentions that, out of the captured slaves, the emir “might give one of the strongest . . . to a chief, then that slave would provide food for the chief’s horse,”[100]another echo of the emphasis placed by Ilorin owners on the desirability of physically strong male slaves. Another reports that 


It took 5 to 6 people to look after a horse: one to collect the grass; one to chop the grass into short pieces, for easy digestion; one to clean the horse; one to wash it; one to exercise it. Those looking after horses were mostly slaves, caught at the war front.[101] 


Clearly, this would be an exaggeration if taken as the labor needed to care for a single horse; equally, it is no exaggeration, in Ilorin conditions, if taken as the labor needed for even a small stable of them. 

           Not all of those who looked after the horses were slaves. Some were family members, others were hired help.[102]But many were indeed slaves. These included, for example, the Bariba captives who took care of the emir’s horses.[103]In some cases, the job was given to slaves as a punishment, as a Fulani resident explains: 


Pagans were captured and converted to Islam. Those who refused to become Muslims were regarded as slaves looking after Fulani wives and horses.[104] 


During military campaigns, slaves not only looked after the horses, but performed a variety of other menial tasks: acted as carriers, set up camps, prepared and cooked food, and washed clothes.[105]But there were also slaves among the fighting troops.[106]Some were themselves responsible for capturing further slaves, for which they were rewarded. A slave who had captured a Hausa woman in 1896 was given “a present of money in cowries” by Balogun Alanamu.[107]A slave who caught slaves for his master “was still a slave, but was given different treatment” thereafter.[108]Some slave soldiers became famous warriors, and were rewarded with titles and lands. 


Slave Use in Industry and Trade 

           Economically speaking, nineteenth-century Ilorin is usually remembered for its prominence as a middleman city, channelling much of the trade between north and south.[109]It was also, however, a significant center of industrial production, with cloth andlantanabeads as major export items.[110]The most important and large-scale men’s industries were narrow-loom weaving andlantanabeadmaking (though there was some hidden female participation in the latter),[111]and a variety of other industrial occupations, including leatherworking, were also carried on by men. Notable among women’s industries were pottery-making, dyeing, and broad-loom weaving, which, again, were involved in production on a significant scale. Much of the industrial activity was carried on within the Yoruba tradition, or the “southern system”[112]of production: dyeing, for example, was a women’s occupation, not involving large dye-pits; women as well as men were weavers; andlantanabeadmaking had been brought from Old Oyo. 

           Slaves were involved in various industrial or industry-related activities, though there were some limits to their participation. They were frequently engaged in cultivating cotton for the weaving industries,[113] and females were useful as spinners.[114]Slaves were also utilized in the cultivation (in so far as itwascultivated, not simply gathered) of the leaf calledelu, used in the production of blue dye.[115]One informant, however, an elderly dyer herself, asserts that slaves were not used in harvesting and processing the leaf, “because it is secret,” having magical connotations. In contradiction to others, she also declares that slaves were not taught to dye.[116]In fact, they may have been used in some parts of the processes but not in those with arcane connotations. Female slaves might be weavers.[117]Male slaves could also become weavers (the head weaver of Olabintan Compound, who was also a warrior, took slaves to the warfront where he made them weave, no doubt in the periods of inactivity that characterized the siege warfare around Offa), though there is some evidence that their numbers were limited.[118]This is perhaps only to be expected, as slaves might naturally tend to be concentrated in the more laborious (and less highly-skilled) stages of production.[119] 

           Slaves were also bought by the leatherworkers, and used to help them in their work.[120]They were used by clay site owners to dig clay for use by the potters.[121]Lantanabeadmakers procured them by capture and purchase, and it is said that there was no beadmaking compound that did not have its slaves,[122]who were used in the craft (especially in the more tedious procedures?) and given out in marriage (or concubinage) to important customers.[123] 


           Slaves played a major, if passive, role as commodities for sale. They were also involved more actively in trade. Traders in Ilorin cloth employed them to carry the cloth to distant markets, especially in the south, to carry cowries back to Ilorin, and also to count the cowries.[124] These employments provide further examples of slave use in physically taxing, laborious, or tedious occupations. But it was not only slaves who were long-distance carriers, as traders’ children, junior relatives, apprentices,iwofa, and professional carriers were also involved.[125] 

           Slaves were also involved directly in trade. They carried agricultural produce to the market and sold it there, both on their masters’ behalf and on their own.[126]Trusted male slaves might be employed in long-distance trade for the master.[127]Slaves involved in local or long-distance trade were following a time-honoured Yoruba custom.[128]Members of the slave elite, of course, might engage in large-scale trade on their own account, like Nasama, the mid-century “sheriff or public executioner,” who “had for many years followed the trading business.” He was himself “master of a large number of slaves,” some of whom, no doubt, were his assistants in trade.[129] 


Conclusion: Significance of Slave Roles; Change and Continuity as the British Consolidated Their Rule 

           In Ilorin, elite or relatively privileged slaves were active in the political life of the emirate, and were instrumental in the loss of power of the emirs. Other slaves also played political roles, but collectively: their acquisition, use and sale strengthened the power and prestige of the baloguns and other chiefs, as did their activities at the warfront. The acquisition, processing, and sale of slaves was important to the economy of the city; and their employment in food, raw material, and industrial production added to its wealth. The significance of the slaves is underlined by a letter written by Emir Suleiman to the Royal Niger Company commander, George Goldie, in 1897, immediately after the exodus of large numbers of slaves following the Niger Company’s attack: 


I wish you to know that all the slaves in the town, belonging to me and my people, ran away with your men, and I am afraid they will not come back again to their masters. I therefore beseech you, in the name of God to send back these people to me if you please . . .[130] 


Goldie had no choice but to refuse.[131]And this response, plus other British activities,[132]must have aroused well-founded fears among the city’s elite that their days of slave collection and sale were numbered. At least, therefore, they must have been concerned to replace the slaves who had left in 1897, before it was too late for further slave acquisition. Thus between 1897 and 1900, they underlined the importance of the slaves by escalated seizures. In 1904, British Resident Dwyer recalled that on his arrival in 1900 he had found a 


woeful condition . . . No road was safe for woman or child to travel on as they were more than likely to be seized and sold as slaves. The senior Chiefs of the town held their own Courts and, seizing people, made them pay a heavy sum for their release.[133] 


In 1905 he reflected that only a few years earlier Ilorin had been “a truculent slave dealing tribe who spent time harrying Caravans and small villages.”[134] 


In subsequent years, as the British consolidated their hold, some slave roles began to change. The colonial government was concerned to resuscitate the power of the emir, in the interests of indirect rule, and those elite slaves who resisted openly (Eji and Ogidiolu) were removed.[135]Others, remaining in the emir’s service, or in that of one of the major chiefs, continued to find opportunities for manipulation and profit.[136]Slave raiding was halted, and the slave trade was driven underground and gradually declined.[137]This considerably reduced the power and incomes of the major chiefs and others, as well as being a major factor removing the need for the chiefs to keep large military followings. But slaves remained important to them. Members of the elite had to feed themselves and their households, and felt it necessary to keep up certain standards of hospitality and prestige. In order to fulfil these expectations, they still required the services and (perhaps equally important, in their reduced circumstances) the deference of slaves. Other owners continued to want slaves for agricultural, industrial and domestic work, as before. All owners feared the uncompensated loss of their slave assets. Since many slaves had already departed, especially in 1897, owners were anxious to hold on to those who remained. Whatever they had lost, they had the agreement of the British on the importance of the role played by their slaves. Long-term Resident Dwyer of Ilorin feared that if the slaves went free, 


[the] farmers could not pay for sufficient hired labour to keep the Province in its present flourishing condition and the markets would suffer severely.[138] 





[1]The information in this paper is largely taken from my monograph, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors[Rochester, NY, 1997: forthcoming at time of writing this paper] and also from two of my papers: an unpublished paper on elite slaves in Ilorin, and “Ilorin in the Atlantic and Internal Slave Trades, c. 1820 to the Early 20th Century,” presented at the ASA meeting, San Francisco, November 1996. 

[2]C.S. Whitaker has estimated that the Yoruba have always made up at least 90 percent of the Ilorin population. The Politics of Tradition: Continuity and Change in Northern Nigeria, 1946-1966(Princeton, 1970), 123. 

[3]For the argument that Ilorin’s warfare had become basically defensive, see e.g. quotation in Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yorubas(Lagos, 1921; reprint, 1976), 517. 

[4]On these rebellions, see Power Relations, chapter 3. 

[5]Johnson, History, 437; J. Milum, “Notes of a Journey from Lagos to Bida, etc. (1879-80),” Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, n.s. 3 (1881), 35. 

[6]See e.g. Robin Law, The Oyo Empire c.1600–c.1836(Oxford, 1977), 281. 

[7]R.J. Gavin, “The Impact of Colonial Rule on the Ilorin Economy, 1897-1930,” Centrepoint(University of Ilorin) 1, no. 1 (1977). 

[8]Though this may have been exaggerated by disapproving Christian visitors, who compared this Muslim and anti-missionary city unfavorably with southern Yorubaland, where missions were allowed to operate. Robert Campbell, A Pilgrimage to My Motherland. An Account of a Journey among the Egbas and Yorubas of Central Africa in 1859-60(London, 1861), 62; M.R. Delany, Official Report of the Niger Valley Exploring Party(New York, 1861), 40; Rev. S.S. Farrow, “A Visit to Ilorin,” Part I, Niger and Yoruba Notes1 (1894), 30; Rev. R.H. Stone, In Afric’s Forest and Jungle, or Six Years among the Yorubas(Edinburgh, 1900), 156. 

[9]See e.g. Church Missionary Society Archive[, University of Birmingham,] (CMS), CA 2/049/104, Rev. David Hinderer, Account of Ibadan, 23 October 1851; “Exploratory Tours in Yoruba,” Church Missionary Intelligencer7 (January 1856), 21, 22; Public Record Office, London (PRO) [held in the National Archives, Kew] FO 84/1061, B. Campbell, Consul, to Earl of Clarendon, 6 March 1858, transmitting extract from letter by Francis H. Davis, Medical member of Dr. Baikie’s Niger Expedition, camp near Jeba, 31 January 1858; CMS CA 2/085/265, Journal of Rev. Henry Townsend, 25 September 1859; CMS CA 2/069/13, Oyo Station, Journal Extracts of Geo. Meakin, 31 October 1859; CMS CA 2/056/51, Rev. James Johnson, From Ibadan to Oyo and Ogbomoso, 18 May 1877; interview conducted on the present author’s behalf by Toyin Hassan with Alfa Raji, Singini Quarter,  Ilorin, July/August 1981; [Commonwealth and African Collections, formerly] held in Rhodes House Library, Oxford [now in Weston Library, formerly known as New Bodleian, Oxford; RH numbers retained], RH Mss. Afr. s.958, Dwyer (P.M.) Extracts from Reports Ilorin 1902-1908, Annual Report 1904.  

[10]Paul E. Lovejoy, “The Central Sudan and the Atlantic Slave Trade,” in Robert W. Harms, et al., eds., Paths toward the Past: African Historical Essays in Honor of Jan Vansina (Atlanta, 1994), 345. 

[11]Toyin Falola, “Slavery and Pawnship in the Yoruba Economy of the Nineteenth Century,” paper for Conference on Unfree Labour in the Development of the Atlantic World, York University [,Toronto], April 1993; E. Adeniyi Oroge, “The Institution of Slavery in Yorubaland with Particular Reference to the Nineteenth Century” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1971), 158-61, 185-86; Robin Law, “‘Legitimate’ Trade and Gender Relations in Yorubaland and Dahomey,” in Robin Law, ed., From Slave Trade to “Legitimate” Commerce(Cambridge, 1995), 197-98. 

[12]Law, Oyo Empire, 245-46, 256-59; Johnson, History, 193-94, 197-200. 

[13]The extent of this source of supply is called into question by a report that the (sizeable) Ekiti town of Osi, once it had become tributary to Ilorin, supplied only two slaves a year. Other towns may not have supplied any: the bale of Eruku stated that his town paid tribute in cowries. H.O.A. Danmole, “The Frontier Emirate: A History of Islam in Ilorin” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1980), 100, citing Nigerian National Archives, Kaduna (NNAK), Ilorinprof no. 6338, Notes on the History of Igbominas, Ekitis, Ajasse, Otun, Obo and Osi; Nigeria Gazette (Extraordinary), Decision of H.E. the Governor on the Claim for a Revision of the Inter-Regional Boundary between the Northern and Western Regions, no. 46, vol. 39, Lagos, 3 September 1952, Appendix 3, 1004, para. 5. 

[14]Oral evidence corroborates other data with respect to the areas of Ilorin raids, but gives no chronological detail. 

[15]Johnson, History, 200. 

[16]NNAK SNP 7/13 4703/1912, Omu District—Offa Division—Assessment Report, Omu report June 1912 [by C.S. Burnett , para. 9]; see same file for Omu-Isanlu District Assessment Report by V.F. Biscoe 1912, para. 6. 

[17]RH Mss. Afr. s.1210, C.W. Michie, Political Situation Northern Provinces and History of Ilorin, Report on Local Government Reform in the Bala and Afon Districts of Ilorin Emirate: 1954, para. 11; NNAK SNP 10/4 304p/1916, District Assessment Report Osi by G.O. Whitely, paras. 6, 7, 10. 

[18]Daniel J. May, “Journey in the Yoruba and Nupe Countries in 1858,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society30 (1860), 226. 


[19]Gavin, “Impact,” 14-15. 

[20]Johnson, History, 404, 338; J.F. Ade Ajayi and Robert Smith, Yoruba Warfare in the Nineteenth Century(Cambridge, 1964), 88-89. 

[21]Johnson, History, 564, 605; A.F. Mockler-Ferryman, Up the Niger(London, 1892), 196. 

 [22]PRO CO 879/33, African (West), no. 399 (Printed), Lagos, Correspondence Respecting Native Affairs and Mr. Alvan Millson’s Mission, Colonial Office, August 1891, no. 14, Ag. Gov. G.C. Denton to Lord Knutsford, Lagos, 28 January 1890, encl.: Ajayi Balogun and other authorities of Ibadan to Ag. Gov., Ikirun, 24 December 1889, 51. 

 [23]Nigeria Gazette (Extraordinary), Decision of H.E. the Governor, An Examination of the Claims for a Revision of the Boundary between the Northern and Western Regions, 989, para. 19; 922, para. 28; Appendix 3,  1004, para. 5; Lagos Weekly Record, 29 September 1894. 

[24]Ivan B. Mustain, “A Political History of Ilorin in the Nineteenth Century” (M.Phil. thesis, University of Ibadan, 1978), 96, says that by the reign of Shita, the most senior balogun commanded the army, and the emir remained in Ilorin, “like the traditional secluded Yoruba monarch.” The main army leaders in Shita’s reign are said to have been Ajia Gaju and Ali, Balogun Gambari. At the battle of Oshogbo, in about 1838 [for this date, see Law, Oyo Empire, 296], the Ilorin army was led by the Balogun Gambari. K.V. Elphinstone, Gazetteer of Ilorin Province(London, 1921), 16-17. 

[25]Mustain, “Political History,” 116; Danmole, “Frontier Emirate,” 92-93. Compare David Tambo, “The Sokoto Caliphate Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century” (M.A. thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1974), 15. 

[26]Colonial Reports Annual: Northern Nigeria 1900-1913(London, 1900-1914), bound volume 1900-1911, 1904, 220, para. 22, Ancient System of Taxation. 

[27]S.A. Balogun, “Gwandu Emirates in the Nineteenth Century with Special Reference to Political Relations: 1817-1903” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Ibadan, 1971), 391-92; CMS CA 2/066/88, Rev. A.C. Mann, Journal for the Quarter ending September 25 1855, 6 August. 

[28]Interview with Nafisatu, Ile Eleke, Ilorin, 7 September 1988; interview conducted by O. Adesiyun with Alh. Yahaya Kalu Olabintan, Olabintan  Compound, 15 July 1975, translation of tape 11, and interview by Adesiyun with Alfa Salimonu, Pakata Isale Oja, 14 July 1975, translation of tape 10; interview by B. Elesin (organized by E.B. Bolaji) with anonymous informant 3, 11 December 1988; interview by Suleiman Ajao with Yunusa Hamada Gufari, Ile Alawo, 27 January 1990; for outsiders’ reports, see below, also Gilbert T. Carter, Despatch from Sir Gilbert T. Carter, Furnishing a General Report of the Lagos Interior Expedition, 1893 (London, 1893), 27. 

            The series of interviews conducted by O. Adesiyun in Ilorin in 1975 was organized by Paul E. Lovejoy, and the results deposited in the Lovejoy Collection, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria [and also deposited in  the Lovejoy Collection in the Harriet Tubman Institute at York University, Toronto, Canada]. I am grateful to Paul Lovejoy for copies of the tapes and transcripts, and to Busayo J. Simeon [and Suleiman Ajao] for providing translations of some of the tapes. I am also grateful to E.B. Bolaji for organizing several series of interviews on my behalf; and to E.B. Bolaji, B. Elesin, S.T. Salami, A.B. Adua, Suleiman Ajao, and K.A. Ibrahim for conducting interviews. 

[29]See e.g. comments by Frederick Cooper, Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa(New Haven, CT, 1977), 18, and “Review Article: The Problem of Slavery in African Studies,” Journal of African History20 (1979), 122-23. 

[30]It would seem from Johnson’s accounts (History, 217-218, 259) that he did this on two occasions. 

[31]Alh. Safi Jimba, A Short History of Ilorin(Ilorin 1981), 5. The author appears to be referring to the first Jimba, but the reference to munitions suggests a later period in the nineteenth century. The author appears here and elsewhere (see reference in note 32) to attribute to the first Jimba activities which were or may have been carried out by later heads of the family. 

[32]Safi Jimba, “Safi Jimba’s Notes and Comments on Omo Ikokoro’s History of Ilorin,” typescript. I am grateful to Stefan Reichmuth for providing me with a copy of this work. 

[33]Though not the other way round. Information from a member of a branch of the Ilorin royal family [see 4.2g. in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive]. 

[34]Jimba, History, 5, 6. 

[35]See e.g. ibid., 5; also Mockler-Ferryman, Up the Niger, 194; PRO FO 84/1940, Confidential Print December 1889, Report by Major Macdonald of Expedition to Ilorin, encl. 3: Journal of a Visit to the Ilorin Camp at Ofa by the Rev. C. Paul, CMS. 

[36]Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988; Igbomina S.W. Area Court Grade 1, Ajasse Po, suit no. 455/73, case no. 229/75. 

[37]NNAK SNP 10 693 p/1913, Ilorin Province: Re-settlement of the Oke Moro Districts, Report on Oke Moro Districts and District of Owode—Administration and Village Grouping by A/R Lethem, 16 September 1913, paras 27-30; Report on Bekodo District, 26 September 1913, para.2; Report on Owode District by A/R Lethem, 26 September 1913, paras. 4-5. 

[38]According to P.C. Lloyd, in Ilorin the “title of ajiawas bestowed upon slaves who, by their own prowess in war, had acquired their own slaves and thus controlled military battalions. Most of the more famous ajiaof the 19th century seem to have been slaves of the Emirs, though it is said that the Baloguns could create their own ajia.” The Political Development of Yoruba Kingdoms in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries(London, 1971), 42. However, not all ajiatitleholders in Ilorin were necessarily slaves. For example, Ajia Ogbonde is included in a list of free titles. NNAK Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts, Unsalaried Owners of Titles in Ilorin (1) Freemen. 

            For slaves capturing slaves in war, see also interviews with Salumanu, Magaji Yaba, 29 & 30 September 1988. On slaves owning slaves in Ilorin, see also Milum, “Notes of a Journey,” 36; and Rev. S.S. Farrow, “A Visit to Ilorin,” Part I, Niger and Yoruba Notes1 (1894), 29. 

            The title ajiais used outside Ilorin in a variety of ways. In Oyo [?] it seems to have referred to freemen (Johnson, History, 134), in Daura, to slaves (M.G. Smith, The Affairs of Daura(Berkeley, 1978), 142. 

[39]On Nasama (Nasamu, Nasamo), see W.H. Clarke, Travels and Explorations in Yorubaland, 1854-1858, ed. J.A. Atanda (Ibadan, 1972), 81, 84; Campbell, Pilgrimage, 62-63, 101-102; T.J. Bowen, Adventures and Missionary Labours in Several Countries in the Interior of Africa from 1849 to 1856, 2nd ed., with a new introduction by E.A. Ayandele (London, 1968), 191-92; CMS CA 2/066/88, Mann Journal, 1-4 August 1855. 

[40]H.B. Hermon-Hodge, Gazetteer of Ilorin Province(London, 1929), 169, citing NNAK Ilorinprof 4 814/1912, Land Tenure in Afon District, Report by Captain Burnett 1912. For baba kekerein Ilorin, see Ann O’Hear, “Political and Commercial Clientage in Nineteenth-Century Ilorin,” African Economic History15 (1986). 

[41]NNAK Ilorinprof 5/1 3766, Lanwa District Assessment Report, Lanwa Lands by C.S. Burnett July 1913, para. 1. 

[42]Campbell, Pilgrimage, 61. 

            In 1893, the Sarkin Dongari was described as “the jailer and chief executioner.” G.B. Haddon-Smith, Interior Mission to Yorubaland 1893, Extracts from the Diary of G.B. Haddon-Smith, Political Officer, Notes on Ilorin [formerly in Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library; copy available in University of Birmingham library, UK, and see 8.2 in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive].  In the middle of the century, however, it was the Sarkin Dongari’s subordinate, Nasama, who was generally identified as the executioner (see references in endnote 39). Only one traveller around that time refers to the Sarkin himself as the executioner (Clarke, Travels, 162). 

            In Nupe, Abuja, Zaria and Daura, the Sarkin Dongari was a slave police official (S.F. Nadel, A Black Byzantium(London, 1942), 108; M.G. Smith, Government in Zazzau, 1800-1950(London, 1960), table facing 36, table facing 100; Smith, Daura, 140. In Fulani Daura, he also became the executioner (281). 

            The Sarkin Dongari [as of 1989] in Ilorin denies previous slave status, but says that his nineteenth-century ancestor was chief warder in charge of prisoners, also in charge of war captives. Today, he says, he is “the palace police,” is in charge of announcements to the public, and supervises the palace in the absence of the emir. Interview by A.B. Adua (organized by E.B. Bolaji) with Alhaji Akanni, Seriki Dogari, 10 December 1989. 

[43]PRO CO 147/104, G.T. Carter to Chamberlain, Odo Otin 9 January 1896; Carter, Despatch, 26; Farrow, “Visit to Ilorin,” Part I, 29. 


[44]Haddon-Smith, Interior Mission, No. 5, 12 March 1893. 


[45]PRO CO 147/104, G.T. Carter to Chamberlain, Odo Otin 9 January 1896; see also Hermon-Hodge, Gazetteer, 73; Lagos Weekly Record, 28 September 1895. 

[46]NNAK SNP 10 693 p/1913, Ilorin Province: Re-settlement of the Oke Moro Districts, Owode District 26 September 1913, paras. 2-4. 

[47]Other emirs’ slaves, including the Balogun Afin and Sarkin Dongari, were given lands in the same area, maybe for the same purpose. NNAK Ilorinprof 5 2115A, Ilorin Emirate Notes [1937], Owode. 

[48]NNAK Ilorinprof 5 2267, Lanwa District Gazetteer by B.A. Roberts 1933, Historical, paras. 8ff. 

[49]See above; also Lloyd, Political Development, 45. 

[50]For the Sarkin Gambari (or his slave?) surrendering his rights in Igporin to Emir Shita, who wanted the lands for his own slave, Magaji Akiali, see NNAK Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts; for the resumption of Balogun Alanamu’s lands in what became Owode District by the emir, when the balogun was exiled in 1902, see Elphinstone, Gazetteer, 20; NNAK SNP 10 693 p/1913, Ilorin Province: Re-settlement of the Oke Moro Districts, Owode District 26 September 1913, paras. 6-7; and Report on Oke Moro Districts and District of Owode—Administration and Village Grouping 16 September 1913, para. 30. 

[51]NNAK Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts. For an indication of how far this may be a simplified account, compare with NNAK Ilorinprof 4 814/1912, Land Tenure in Afon District, Report by Captain Burnett, 1912. 

[52]According to Mustain, the emirs’ “ability to grant newly conquered land in return for loyal service” was important, and when the emirate ceased expanding, the emirs lost this “significant source of patronage.” “Political History,” 120. 

[53]Lloyd, Political Development, 45. 

[54]Interview with Lawani Akano and Mamudu Alau, Magaji Village, Oloru District, 13 September 1988; NNAK Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts, Oloru District; NNAK Ilorinprof 5 2197, Oloru District Gazetteer by G.M. Patterson 1935, revised by F. de F. Daniel 1937, Succession and Genealogies of Oloru District Village Head Men. 

[55]NNAK SNP 10 693 p/1913, Ilorin Province: Resettlement of the Oke Moro Districts, Report on Paiye District by A/R Lethem, 26 September 1913, para. 6; NNAK Ilorinprof 19/4 PLT 40, Paiye District General, 21, para. 2. 

[56]  Interview by E.B. Bolaji and B. Elesin with anonymous informant 1, 2 November 1988; Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 3. The slave warrior Dada was important enough to have his own oriki, remembered until today. 

[57]NNAK SNP 15/1 ACC No. 119, Ilorin Province Annual Report 1906, Report for July-September 1906 by P.M. Dwyer, para. 14; NNAK Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts, Fiefholds District by District. 

[58]Ann O’Hear, ed., Letters from Nigeria, 1899-1900: David Wynford Carnegie(Madison, 1992), 29, 41, 48; NNAK SNP 15 ACC No. 11, Ilorin 1900, D. Carnegie to High Commissioner, 10 July 1900, and Carnegie to High Commissioner (no date, but after 17 July; p. 39 of file). 

[59]NNAK SNP 15/1 ACC No. 119, Ilorin Province Annual Report 1906, Report for Quarter ending 31 March 1906, by P.M. Dwyer, para. 5. 

[60]Lloyd, Political Development, 42; Mustain, “Political History,” 116. 

[61]Joseph P. Smaldone, Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate  (Cambridge, 1977), 110, 115, 133, 134. 

[62]For slaves in military-related occupations, see below. For munitions in the palace, see above (death of Emir Momo). 

[63]It appears that few Ilorin soldiers were trained in the use of the available weaponry. Seymour Vandeleur, who was with the Royal Niger Company expedition against Ilorin in 1897, commented that “it is difficult to understand why the Ilorins did not make better use of the numbers of breech-loading rifles, amongst which there were even some curious magazine rifles, or of the quantity of ammunition which they possessed, and which was afterwards captured in the town.” Campaigning on the Upper Nile and Niger(London, 1898), 276.  

[64]Adesiyun interviews with Amuda Yusuf, Pakata, July 1975, transcript of tape 9; with Jimoh Isowo, Ode Isowo, 15 July 1975, transcript of tape 12; and with Alfa Abdul Lasisi, Pakata, 14 July 1975, translation of tape 8; Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988. 

[65]Interview with Magaji Yaba, 29 September 1988; Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988. 

[66]Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 3, and follow-up interview with same. 

[67]Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 1, and follow-up interview with same. 

[68]CMS CA 2/049/104, Hinderer Account of Ibadan 1851. 

[69]Mahdi Adamu, The Hausa Factor in West African History(Zaria, 1978), 104 and n. 40, citing T.J. Bowen. 

[70]Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988, and follow-up interview with anonymous informant 3. See also NNAK Ilorinprof 5 2197, Oloru Gazetteer 1935, revised 1937, Succession and Genealogies. 


[71]Power Relations, chapter 2. 

[72]Paul E. Lovejoy, “Plantations in the Economy of the Sokoto Caliphate,” Journal of African History19 (1978), 359-60: Law, “‘Legitimate’ Trade,” 197-98; Oroge, “Institution of Slavery,” 180.  

[73]Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988; Lovejoy, “Plantations,” 344. 

[74]O’Hear, ed., Carnegie Letters, 53. 

[75]RH Mss. Afr. s.958, Dwyer Extracts, Annual Report 1904. 

[76]Information from H.J. O’Hear, 21 March 1983, following his interview with two farmers of Alara Village Area, Oloru District. 

[77]See Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” in Paul E. Lovejoy, ed., The Ideology of Slavery(Beverly Hills, 1981), 216-218. 

[78]PRO FO 84/1031, Campbell to Clarendon, 14 March 1857, cited by Oroge, in “Institution of Slavery,” 199. 

[79]“Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” 215. 

[80]Interview by S.T. Salami (organized by E.B. Bolaji) with Magaji Adeyi, 20 October 1988. 

[81]Interview by B. Elesin (organized by E.B. Bolaji) with anonymous informant 2, 15 November 1988. 

            In 1991, inhabitants of a small hamlet in Igporin District said it had been the practice for a slave to have a small, separate farm called abuseon his own. The proceeds from this farm would be his, and could also be “shared with his master.” Information from anonymous research assistant [see 6.1, Anonymous research assistant, 1990-1994, in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive]. 

[82]Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 1. 

[83]Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant  3. 

[84]Interview by E.B. Bolaji and S.T. Salami with Alh. Yusuf Olore, 28 October 1988. 

[85]Carnegie’s account of slavery and its “mildness” appears to have been derived from his interview with “a gentleman who deals in slaves.” O’Hear, ed., Carnegie Letters, 53. 

[86]Oroge, “Institution of Slavery,” 200, 201. 

[87]Clarke, Travels, 260. 

[88]RH Mss. Afr. s.1520, Sylvia Leith-Ross, Report on Women’s Education Ilorin Province, 30 April 1929, 11. 

[89]Adesiyun interview with Mustapha Mesuna, Adana Compound, 10 July 1975, translation of tape 2; Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988. 

[90]Interview by Suleiman Ajao with Hassan Iyanda, Ile Ila Akodudu, 11 March 1990; see below on slaves cooking in the army. 

[91]PRO CO 147/105, Rohrweger to Chamberlain, 6 July 1896 encl.: Odo Otin, 29 May 1896 (statement by a Gambari woman who recently escaped from the Ilorin country). 

[92]Bolaji/Salami/Elesin interviews, 1988. Informants assert that males fetched higher prices than females, except in the case of a “beautiful female slave.” 

            A few other reports of slave prices in Ilorin are available; these tend to confirm the oral information. In 1897 a Hausa female was reported to have been bought for £10; in 1896 a woman and child were sold for less than £6; in 1893 an old woman was likely to fetch only about £2, but prices in general were said to vary from £5 to £8, with “boys and young men fetching the highest price.” PRO CO 147/121, McCallum to Chamberlain, 8 December 1897, encl.: Fuller, 3 December 1897; CO 147/105, Rohrweger to Chamberlain, 6 July 1895, encl.: Odo Otin, 29 May 1896 (statement by a Gambari woman); Carter, Despatch, 23; Haddon-Smith, Interior Mission 1893, Notes on Ilorin. 

[93]Paul E. Lovejoy, “Concubinage in the Sokoto Caliphate (1804-1903),” Slavery and Abolition11 (1990), 162-65, 174-75. 

[94]Adesiyun interviews with Abdul Kareem, Singini Quarter, 9 July 1975, transcript of tape 1; and with Alfa Salimonu; Bolaji/Elesin interviews with anonymous informants 2 and 3. On tribute, see e.g. Ann O’Hear, “The Economic History of Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: The Rise and Decline of a Middleman Society” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1983), 237, including notes. 

[95]Much of the information on horsekeeping in Ilorin included here is taken from Ann O’Hear, “Notes on Leatherworking in Ilorin,” in Toyin Falola and Robin Law, eds., Warfare and Diplomacy in Precolonial Nigeria: Essays in Honor of Robert Smith(Madison, 1992). On the importance of horses elsewhere, see Robin Law, The Horse in West African History(Oxford, 1980). 

[96]PRO FO 84/1940, Confidential Print December 1889, Report by Major Macdonald of Expedition to Ilorin, encl. 3: Journal of a Visit to the Ilorin Camp at Ofa by the Rev. C. Paul, CMS. 

[97]Interview with His Highness Alhaji Sulu Gambari, Emir of Ilorin, 8 December 1982. He told another researcher[, however,] that the emirs kept up to 200 horses in the palace, while the Sarkin Baraje kept 300. Mustain, “Political History,” 95. 

[98]Ilorin could only muster some 1000 horsemen all told against the Royal Niger Company in 1897, when it was fighting for its very independence, but internal political quarrels may well have reduced the numbers available to fight; and before the attack Ilorin had been engaged in a disastrous campaign, in which it was said to have “lost hundreds of riderless horses.” Smaldone, Warfare, 60, citing Vandeleur, Campaigning, 244; Johnson, History, 650. 

[99]Mustain, “Political History,” 91, 94-95; O’Hear, ed., Carnegie Letters, 38; interview with Alh. Yusuf Aremu, Ile Baba Isale, 9 December 1984. This was similar to Old Oyo. See Law, Oyo Empire, 186, 201. 

[100]Interview with Magaji Yaba, 30 September 1988. 

[101]Interview with Alh. Imam Idiaro, Ile Ongaari, 8 September 1988. On the labor required in dealing with horses, see also interview with Alh. Yusuf Aremu, Ile Baba Isale; and information from A.I. Aleshinloye, Ile Baba Isale, 29 September 1982. 

[102]Interview with Alh. Yusuf Aremu, Ile Baba Isale; information from A.I. Aleshinloye. 

[103]Ajoke Azumi Yusuf, “Diplomacy and Warfare: The Strategies and Military Exploits of Ilorin in the Nineteenth Century” (B.A. diss., History, University of Ilorin, 1988), 38-39. 

[104]Kehinde Abolarin Jimoh, “A Social History of Balogun Fulani Ward since 1823” (B.A. diss., History, University of Ilorin, 1984), Appendix 1, Sample of Oral Sources. 

            The slaves looking after wives were also said to have “protected the wives of their masters against assault . . . they were like bodyguards . . .” (Ibid., 28). There is no information as to whether the slaves referred to here were eunuchs. But sometimes at least it was eunuchs who looked after wives of prominent individuals. The wife of Rev. Henry Townsend was introduced to wives of “the Balogun” who were “confined in a part of his premises he has an Eunuch to look after them” (CMS CA 2/085/265, Townsend Journal, 21 August 1859). There were also eunuchs connected with the emir’s court, as recorded by Campbell (Pilgrimage, 104). These might become people of some importance: W.H. Clarke reported that he “received a present from the king, a large ram and several heads of cowries, brought in by a slave of two hundred pounds weight, said to be a eunuch, and who seemed to disdain the very ground on which he trod” (Travels, 83). But I have found very few references to eunuchs in Ilorin. Indeed, Campbell noted that a certain slave official, Nasama (on whom see above and below), was “the first important personage we met without a single wife,” and he was not a eunuch but a widower with children (Pilgrimage, 101). This suggests that eunuchs were relatively few in Ilorin, at least in important and publicly visible positions. 

            Emir Abdusalami of Ilorin wrote to Gwandu to ask if it was permitted for a Muslim to castrate. In his reply (1829), Abdullahi of Gwandu replied that it was not: see Abdullahi Smith, “A Little New Light on the Collapse of the Alafinate of Yoruba,” in G.O. Olusanya, ed., Studies in Yoruba History and Culture(Ibadan, 1983), 65, Appendix A. It was, of course, possible to obtain eunuchs from elsewhere. Yet, rulings such as that of Abdullahi of Gwandu, and the generally purificatory intentions of the early Caliphate leaders, seem to have affected other emirates as well as Ilorin. In Kano, eunuchs are said to have been eliminated as titled functionaries at emirate level: Adamu Mohammed Fika, The Kano Civil War and British Over-rule, 1882-1940(Ibadan, 1978), 34. In Fulani Zaria, eunuchs came to occupy few important offices, the old Habe posts for eunuchs being reallocated to free men (Smith, Zazzau, 87). In Nupe, posts which in pre-Fulani days had been held by eunuchs were given to other slaves (Nadel, Byzantium), 107 and note 1). These cases are in contrast to nineteenth-century Habe Zaria, outside the Caliphate and relocated to Abuja, in which eunuchs continued to play important official roles (Smith, Zazzau, 53-54). 

[105]Bolaji/Salami interview with Alh. Yusuf Olore; Bolaji/Elesin interviews with anonymous informants 1 and 2. 

[106]Adesiyun interviews with Alfa Sheu, Alowa (Alawaye) Compound, 12 July 1975, transcript of tape 6; and Alh. Yahaya Kalu Olabintan; interview with Magaji Yaba, 29 September 1988; Bolaji/Salami interview with Alh. Yusuf Olore; Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 1. 

[107]PRO CO 147/105, Rohrweger to Chamberlain, 6 July 1896, encl.: Odo Otin, 20 May 1896 (statement by a Gambari woman). 

[108]Interviews with Magaji Yaba, 29 & 30 September 1988. On slaves capturing slaves, see also Adesiyun interview with Alh. Yahaya Kalu Olabintan. 

[109]See Gavin, “Impact”; and O’Hear, “Economic History,” chapter 1. 

[110]On Ilorin industries, see “Economic History,” chapters 2-4; also the following articles by O’Hear: “Ilorin Lantana Beads,” African Arts19 (1986); “Pottery Making in Ilorin: A Study of the Decorated Water Cooler,” Africa56 (1986); “Craft Industries in Ilorin: Dependency or Independence?” African Affairs86 (1987); and “Notes on Leatherworking.” 

[111]See Ann O’Hear, “Lantana Beads: Gender Issues in Their Production and Use,” in Lidia D. Sciama and Joanne B. Eicher, eds.,Beads and Bead Makers: Gender, Material Culture, and Meaning[Oxford: Berg, 1998, 117-128].  

[112]For the “northern” and “southern” systems of textile production, see Colleen Kriger, “Textile Production and Gender in the Sokoto Caliphate,” Journal of African History34 (1993), 368ff. 

[113]Adesiyun interviews with Mustapha Mesuna, Alfa Salimonu, and Alfa Abdul Lasisi; with Baba Onimangoro, Alosinrin, 16 July 1975, transcript of tape 14 (also Toyin Hassan interview with same, 1981); Alfa Adelodun, Idi Igba Compound, 17 July 1975, transcript of tape 16; Alfa Ahinla, Idi Igba, 17 July 1975, transcript of tape 17; Alh. Abdul Gambari, Oke Agodi, 19 July 1975, transcript of tape 19; and Alfa Sheu, 10 July 1975, transcript of tape 21. 

[114]Adesiyun interviews with Mustapha Mesuna, Alfa Abdul Lasisi, Amuda Yusuf, and Alfa Ahinla: with Aminu Sinhaba, Sayodun Compound, July 1975 [exact date not given], transcript of tape 7; and Alfa Baba Dan Alhaji, Idi Igba, 18 July 1975, transcript of tape 18. Also Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 1; and Agbabiaka Jimoh Bakare, “The Life and Times of Emir Shitta, The Second Emir of Ilorin, 1836-1861” (B.A. diss., History, University of Ilorin, 1987), 58. 

[115]Adesiyun interviews with Alfa Salimonu, Alfa Adelodun; and with Alfa Nafi, Idi Igba, 16 July 1975, transcript of tape 15. 


[116]Interview with Mariama Ajibade (dyer), Ile Gaindo, 10 September 1988; interview with Nafisatu; interview with Lawani Akano and Mamudu Alao. 

[117]Bolaji/Salami interview with Alh. Yusuf Olore; Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 3. 

[118]Adesiyun interviews with Alh. Yahaya Kalu Olabintan, Mustapha Mesuna, Alfa Sheu Alowa, Alfa Abdul Lasisi, and Jimoh Isowo. 

[119]But see Kriger, “Textile Production and Gender,” 378, 392, on slave weavers in Kano Emirate. 

[120]Interviews by Suleiman Ajao with Yunusa Gufari and Hassan Iyanda. 

[121]Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant, and follow-up interview with same; interview by Suleiman Ajao with Baba Ibeji, Ile Oba Olodo, 1988. 

[122]Interviews in Ile Ashileke, 29 May and 1 June 1980; information from Kayode Abubakar Ibrahim, Ile Magaji Are, 18 September 1982 (collected from informants in beadmaking families). 

[123]Information from K.A. Ibrahim. For a Kano example of female slaves given out as gifts, see Lovejoy, “Concubinage in the Sokoto Caliphate,” 167. 

[124]Adesiyun interviews with Mustapha Mesuna, Abdul Kareem, Alfa Abdul Lasisi, Alfa Nafi, Alfa Adelodun and Alfa Ahinla; Bakare, “Emir Shitta,” 58. 

[125]Adesiyun interviews with Alfa Sheu Alowa and Alhaji Yahaya Kalu Olabintan (translations) and with Aminu Sinhaba; information from Abdulraufu Ajao. 

[126]Adesiyun interview with Abdul Kareem; Bolaji/Elesin interview with anonymous informant 1; also see above on slaves selling produce from their own farms. 

[127]O’Hear, ed., Carnegie Letters, 53. 

[128]Oroge, “Institution of Slavery,” 204-209; Law, Oyo Empire, 232. 

[129]On Nasama, see above. 

[130]Quoted in Vandeleur, Campaigning, 294. 

[131]PRO CO 147/124, Niger Sudan Campaign of Royal Niger Company, 14 May 1897, encl.: Report by Sir George Goldie on the Niger Sudan Campaign (1897)(London), G.T. Goldie to Earl of Scarborough, 6 March 1897; Richard H. Dusgate,The Conquest of Northern Nigeria(London, 1985), 92. 

[132]O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria, chapter 4. 

[133]RH Mss. Afr. s.958, Dwyer Extracts, Annual Report 1904. 

[134]Ibid., Annual Report 1905. 

[135]O’Hear, unpublished paper on elite slaves in Ilorin. 

[136]Ibid.; also O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria, chapter 4. 

[137]Power Relations in Nigeria, chapter 4. 

[138]RH. Mss. Afr. s.95 8, Dwyer Extracts, Annual Report 1904

2.4c(ii) “The [Okun] Yoruba and the Peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence” 



Author’s Note: The focus of this work is on contacts between the Okun Yoruba and other groups over a broad time frame. It was written in 2003, and was intended to be a chapter in an edited volume titledYoruba Frontiers, and it reflects my longstanding interest in the Confluence area (broadly defined) as an area of considerable cultural and economic contact and circulation. However, the work for which the chapter was written has never been published (as of September 2020). 

           The chapter contains a great deal of information on the period covering the nineteenth century and the turn of the twentieth century, in which slavery, slave raiding, the extraction of slaves as tribute, the slave trade, and the escape/return of slaves are prominent features of the narrative. 

The work is reproduced in its entirety here, because any attempt to extract just the slavery-related material runs the risk of producing a lack of coherence and of introducing errors due to the removal of some of the endnotes included in the original. In addition, reproducing the work in its entirety here may be my only opportunity to preserve it for future students and scholars. 

           For a published work utilising the same material, but focusing on themes and questions designed to stimulate future research, see Ann O’Hear, “The History of the Okun Yorùbá: Research Directions,” in Toyin Falola and Ann Genova, eds.,Yorùbá Identity and Power Politics(Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2006, 111-126. 


The [Okun] Yoruba and the Peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence 

Ann O'Hear

©Ann O’Hear 2003 


           The peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence area include various Northeast (or “O-kun”) Yoruba groups and a variety of others, including Nupe, Ebira, and Igala.[1]In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the word “Yoruba” was used to describe the more central Yoruba peoples, a distinction being made, both by Western-educated Nigerians and by colonial officers,[2]between these and the peripheral northeastern groups who spoke dialects of the Yoruba language. At the same period, it is very unlikely that the Yoruba speakers of the confluence area had any notion of a “pan-Yoruba” consciousness that would include them: even a Bunu ex-slave, who returned to the confluence as a missionary in the mid-nineteenth century, differentiated between his own people and the “Yoruba,” though he admitted that their languages were “almost alike.”[3]In the course of the twentieth century, however, the Northeast Yoruba came to claim a connection with the wider Yoruba world, very probably with the intention of counterbalancing their precarious and isolated position as Yoruba speakers and largely non-Muslims in what was, until 1967, the Northern Region of Nigeria.[4] 

           The Northeast Yoruba (Owe, Oworo, Bunu, Ijumu, and Yagba) have been neglected by academic historians and much of their history is obscure.[5]This chapter concentrates on the Northeast Yoruba closest to the confluence, namely the Owe, Oworo, and Bunu (including Ikiri), using published and other material available to the author to sketch an outline of their interactions with other groups, including the Nupe, Ebira, and Igala. Much more research, however, will be needed before this outline can be satisfactorily fleshed out. 


Origins, Contacts, and Connections 

           It seems likely that the Owe, Oworo, and Bunu have lived near the confluence for a considerable period of time.[6]Their longevity in the area is included in the suggestion that the Northeast Yoruba were the “‘proto-Yoruba,’ indigenous to the land and adhering to a political organization which characterized the whole language group before it became ‘the heritage of Oduduwa.’”[7]For Ade Obayemi, linguistic and other evidence suggests that “the ultimate origins of the Yoruba-speaking peoples are to be located not very far from the Niger-Benue confluence area.”[8]However, while this hypothesis is interesting, it needs a great deal more linguistic and other investigation.[9] 

Obayemi has argued that the Yoruba and the Igala were once immediate neighbors to the west of the confluence, noting, for example, surviving Igala settlements on the right (west) bank, including Ajaokuta and Geregu.[10]In contrast, many of the present-day neighbors of the Northeast Yoruba, including the Nupe-speaking Cekpã, Kupa, and Kakanda and the Ebira of the Okene and riverine areas, seem to have been relatively recent settlers on the right bank, mostly, it seems, crossing the Niger and/or Benue in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This was a period of considerable population movement owing much to the aggression of Nupe and Fulani (Nupe and Nassarawa Emirates) rulers.[11] 

The Northeast Yoruba, including the Owe, Oworo, Bunu, Ijumu, and Yagba groups, reveal much linguistic and cultural similarity (along with some variation). According to Eva Krapf-Askari, 


A number of cultural traits are more or less common to all the Okun tribes, though differently patterned in each. Thus, in the field of traditional religious belief and practice, there is the public worship of a category of spirits known asEbora, who are thought of as inhabiting lonely and inaccessible places, especially the tops of the low but steep inselbergs in which the region abounds, and to function as protectors of social groups of varying span; the subsidiary cult of Egungun; the existence of respected and feared women’s possession cults . . . ; the almost complete absence of the traditional Yorubaorisa. (Ogun is honoured by hunters and blacksmiths; Ifa diviners are freely consulted, but seem to be regarded more in the light of skilled fortune-tellers than exponents of esoteric knowledge.) Aside fromEbora and Egungun rites, the most important public ritual is that associated with funerals. . . . As regards political organization, the most noticeable characteristic is a system of promotional title-taking based on wealth, very different from the lineage-hereditary titles and dynastic sacred kingship of the Western Region Yoruba. These title systems, as well as certain other structural features, show a curiously consistent tendency to be arranged in sets of three.[12] 


The Northeast Yoruba groups were noted for the use of red cloth for funerals, manufactured in Bunu and traded to the Owe, Oworo, and Ijumu (as well as to the Ebira).[13] 

The Northeast Yoruba display some similarities with the wider Yoruba world, as well as some differences. In contrast with most other Yoruba, they lack what has been called “[t]he institution of sacred kingship.”[14]They are organized into “mini-states” that are very different in size from the large-scale kingdoms typical of other parts of Yorubaland, though not much different in size from the Ekiti polities and the old Egba kingdoms. They lack much of the Yoruba pantheon, but they do recognize Ifa, Egungun, and Ogun. They share some linguistic and cultural traits with southeast Yorubaland.[15] 

The confluence area (broadly defined) seems to have been one of major cultural and economic sharing, of contact and circulation over centuries. It is suggestive that the area has long been known for brass-working, “the Jukun, Igbirra, the north-east Yoruba and Nupe being acknowledged experts.”[16] Other cultural circulation centers around cloth, as Obayemi reports: 


[t]he red cloth used for burials and for the regalia of the masquerades by the north-east Yoruba is calledukpo[17]—the Edo and Igala word for cloth—and Ikiri traditions claim that these were introduced from Idah and later on traded to the Igbirra. The fabrics used in its weaving were scarlet, probably imported by the Europeans to Benin but obtained via Idah.[18] 


Obayemi also notes political and religious connections: 


The dynasties of the Igbirra kingdoms of Panda and Igu, the rulers of the Alago kingdom of Doma, Attama and Eze of the Nsukka area in north-west Igboland on the border of the Igala, as well as the Oku of Ikiri in north-east Yorubaland claim either that their founding ancestors came from Idah or derive the legitimacy of their offices from the Atta of Igala. Dynasties apart, the clans of the Igbirra [Ebira] Tao (Okene area), the Osomari Igbo south of Onitsha, some clans of the Idoma and Agatu claim migrations from Igala territory.[19] 


The personnel behind the Egu-afia of the Igala, the Eku-oba of the Igbirra, [the] Alekwu of the Idoma and the Egun of the . . . Abinu [Bunu] and Oworo share many things. The Igbirraovopa, the Abinuobakpa, appear to be cognate with the JukunAbakwa. . . . The Ekwe masquerade, sometimes described as the principal Igala masquerade, is traditionally said to have belonged to the Jukun. The long masquerade, theokula,ouna,iroandokponobiof the Abinu, Oworo, Owe and of some Ijumu towns or theEwunaof the Bassa Nge all derive from a common tradition. 

In the area of ancestor personification, the Igbirra . . . have a certain pre-eminence as founders of a cycle of these masquerades. The Igbirra . . . are mentioned as having introduced some of the masquerades to the Abinu and Oworo, while the priests to some of these masquerades orders have the clan nameAdoga, a name found among Idoma speaking peoples. The powerful women’s cultOfosiorOhosiof the Abinu, Ikiri, Oworo, Owe, and some Ijumu towns are all said to derive from Olle in Bunu, the founder being a man who [came] from the Igala-Idoma side of the Niger some centuries ago.[20]The language of this cult is not locally intelligible. The importance of the intermediary position of the Igbirra groups is further marked in the case of the Igala by the fact that the clans performing theilo(iroamong the north-east Yoruba) in the Atta’s burials are . . . clans . . . ultimately of Igbirra origin.”[21] 


The Nineteenth Century 

           In the nineteenth century, the most visible (and decidedly brutal) forms of contact between the Northeast Yoruba and other peoples were the raids and overlordship of the Nupe-Fulani Emirate; other contacts came about as a result of the population movements provoked by the activities of the jihadists in Nupe and Nassarawa and by trade along the River Niger.[22]The Fulani in Nupe, however, may not have initiated the raids. According to Elphinstone, raids from the Nupe kingdom had already started before the Fulani takeover: “It is largely owing to . . . Majia’s raids that the tribes in the Kabba Division are so mixed. The Yagba, Bunu, Aworo and Kakanda seem to have paid the Nupe tribute unless left sufficiently long without a visit.”[23] 

           Nupe-Fulani attacks on the Owe may have begun in 1827.[24]An early attack on the Bunu probably took place in 1832.[25]In the 1840s, raids continued. The 1841 Niger Expedition learned of a recent military campaign, a war 


with the Bunu, a people between Kakanda and Nufi: some were taken captive, and others driven into the bush or to the opposite side of the river. It is said . . . that there were sent to Rabba last month, 4000 Bunu and Kakanda slaves, 1000 black cattle, and 1000 measures of cowries, being plunder taken from the countries of these people.[26] 


Referring perhaps to the same campaign, Meek reported that 


Early in the forties of last century Mamudu, Malam Dendo’s son, raided Bunu country and the extreme west of the Aworo district. . . . The Aworos do not appear to have suffered from this early raid of Mamudu. They seem to have united under a strong minded chief—Okpoto of Ika—and possibly Mamudu thought it better to leave them alone. A year or two later however Masaba came in force and reduced all Aworo. . . . Okpoto was retained as paramount chief and the Lukwan Isa—Masaba’s Son—was formally installed at Ika as the Filani ajele.[27] 


In the 1860s, Nupe-Fulani overlordship over various peoples of the confluence was reaffirmed: 


Between 1860 and 1870 the Nupe Filani under the Emir Masaba had pretty well overrun all that country now called the Kabba Division. The Aworo, Kakanda, Yagba, Bunu, Egbirras[28]and Akokos were all overrun in turn. . . . In many of these raids the pagan Igbona Chiefs joined. It is said that the Olupo of Ajasse helped to raid the Aworo, and the Oloru of . . . Oke Ora the Igbirras.[29] 


Although it was mostly the Nupe-Fulani who controlled the Northeast Yoruba and the Ibadan and other Yoruba who operated in Akoko and elsewhere, this was not a cut and dried arrangement. Nupe influence increased in Akoko, Igbomina raided the Oworo, and the names of Ibadan generals are recorded in the traditions of the Northeast Yoruba.[30]  

           In the final years of Nupe-Fulani hegemony, it appears that raids on the Northeast Yoruba increased again despite their tributary status,[31]while at the same time large amounts of tribute also continued to be demanded. As a clergyman traveling with Bishops Tugwell and Phillips in 1894 reported, 


At Ayeri, a town close to Kabba, the king came to call on us . . . and told us the English king was the ruler of the world, and he besought us white men to come and help him. He said that four years ago, on his coming to the throne, the Nupes came and took away 300 of his people. He told us that oppression has been the rule here for forty years; that at first the Nupes only demanded couriers [cowries?], then farm produce, and that now they will have slaves as well. As all their own slaves are gone as tribute, they have to give their own children, and many, after giving their wives and children for tribute, have left the town and not come back—among others his own brother and cousin; that there are hardly any young people in the country, and that their nation is becoming extinct.[32] 


Tribute of various types was extracted, including cowries, farm produce, textiles, soldiers, and slaves. Generally speaking, it seems that cowries and other products were demanded at first, and that slaves became important later when cowries were progressively devalued and when other goods could not meet the value of the tribute desired.[33]The experience of the Oworo may have been typical. Once they had been “reduced” by Masaba and his army, Okpoto had been “retained as paramount chief,” and the Lukwan Isa had been installed as Fulani ajele, 


Tribute was fixed as 200 cowries per man. There were no demands for slaves and there was no undue oppression. . . . During the reigns of Umoru and Maliki [1873-95] the Aworos continued to pay the tribute imposed—more reluctantly each year as the demands of Bida became more rapacious. The tribute was raised annually until it became a poll tax of 10,000 cowries and when the tribe was unable to meet this tax it was invited to send slaves in lieu of cash. In Maliki’s time the demand for slaves had become unlimited.[34] 


In some places, such as “Ayeri” (see above), the demands may have been so exorbitant that slave supplies dried up and the overlords had to revert to demands for other types of goods. A chief in Ikiri-Bunu reported to a researcher that “[i]t came to a time when we could not get people for the Nupe to be taken away to Bida . . . [then] they said that we should begin to pay money as well as our locally woven cloth.”[35] 

            The tributary areas also had to supply soldiers to assist the emirate armies on campaign.[36]A further form of tribute was extracted when wealthy and prominent individuals died, as exemplified by the treatment of the chiefs of the Oworo. When Okpoto died (dated to 1854), “[t]he Lukwan proceeded to administer the dead chief’s estate—a form of robbery which added vast sums to the incomes of the Filani chiefs.”[37]The next chief was deposed and replaced by Abba (Aba). When Abba died in 1864, it was recorded that “all his property went to Masaba in Bida.”[38]He was succeeded by Ajetto (Ajeto), who died in about 1895. Little of Ajetto’s great wealth apparently ever reached his heirs, for the emir in Bida 


sent the Benu to administer Ajetto’s estate. As a preliminary offering the Aworos presented 15 slaves, 400 dane guns, a houseful of powder, and three houses full of cowries to the Emir. Administrations then took almost as long as they do now. The Benu spent 3 years over this one, the total fees paid to Bida being just over 10,00 [sic: should read 1,000?] slaves!”[39] 


Although these reports clearly illustrate the rapaciousness of the Nupe-Fulani Emirate, the accounts of the death and estate of Ajetto equally clearly reveal the profitability of accommodation with the Fulani, at least during an individual collaborator’s lifetime, if not for his heirs. At Ajetto’s burial, “about 20 slaves were slaughtered. Some of his wives were also slaughtered and others were buried alive. . . . Several little boys and girls were also entombed. . . . Precious stones and other valuables belonging to the dead chief were also buried with him, and six cases of gin.”[40] 

           There was certainly resistance to Nupe-Fulani depredations, especially in the early period of Fulani raids. Many of the fortifications in Northeast Yoruba, including those of the Owe settlements and of various towns in Bunu, date back to this early period.[41]And the Oworo under Okpoto united in the face of Mamudu’s raid in the early 1840s, though they were soon “reduced” thereafter. The Owe (apart from Okaba, or Kabba) resisted or revolted under “Ogun Gberi” at some unspecified time.[42]However, among the Owe, Oworo, and Bunu there seems to have been no military resistance of the scale and tenacity of that offered by the Akoko (to the south) in the late 1870s and by the Ijumu, Akoko, and Yagba in alliance in the 1890s.[43] 

           Accommodation to the Nupe-Fulani was displayed by various chiefs and leaders. It might, however, be active in nature, as in the case of the Oworo chief, Agboshi, who is said to have succeeded Okpoto and, hearing (with regard to the civil war then raging in the Nupe-Fulani Emirate) “that Masaba had had to retire to Ilorin, he decided to throw in his lot with Umoru Maiyaki,” while “Abba chief of Agbaja preferred to remain loyal to Masaba.” Unfortunately for Agboshi, however, “the strife which arose ended in the deposition of Agboshi, on Masaba’s return to Nupe country,” and the accession of Abba.[44]  

In Bunu, “upstart” chiefs became coordinators and assistant coordinators of tribute collection.[45]No doubt some of these were among the Bunu chiefs who converted to Islam, presumably in part at least as a gesture of accommodation to their Fulani masters.[46]Their accommodation was rewarded. A Bunu informant explains that the Nupe-Fulani had “devised a method of paying our chiefs every month on the basis of their success in persuading villagers to contribute people. It was not easy to stop because by stopping this practice, the chiefs would not have their monthly salary. If that happened, where would they get money to eat?”[47] 

The Owe settlement of Kabba and especially its chief (the Obaro) cooperated with the Nupe-Fulani, who used Kabba as the headquarters for their forces.[48]In 1897, when George Goldie and his Royal Niger Company forces entered Kabba, the Obaro did a swift about-turn, transferring his accommodation immediately to the British. As Goldie and his force came through the town, 


the chief and leading people threw themselves on their knees before him, and thanked him for having rid them of their oppressors. . . . this demonstration must be taken for what it is worth, as far as concerns the old chief, who would have welcomed either side impartially. He is known to have received a subsidy for collecting so many slaves and tribute from his own people.[49] 


           For many people, withdrawal was the only available form of resistance to Fulani raids. Various settlements moved to the tops of steep hills, refusing to come down until well into the twentieth century. Some people withdrew to other “inaccessible places,” “caves and rock-shelters as well as . . . the patches of rain and gallery forest where visibility was limited and cavalry movements difficult.”[50]Others fled across the Niger to the left (east) bank.[51]In the late 1850s, many Bunu people were residing at Gbebe on the left bank, having left their home area to avoid Fulani raids and engage in trade[52]Some towns and villages were deserted, their inhabitants having fled or been taken as slaves. When missionary Obadiah Thomas journeyed to Bunu in the 1870s, he found the “remains of ruinous villages” and noted that his party traveled behind Budan (or Budon: a Kakanda town on the Niger) almost all day before coming across a single small farm village.[53] 

           Some towns, however, increased in size. Lokoja was founded and became a center of population at the confluence, attracting refugees from its hinterland.[54]Kabba, Michael Mason suggests, also grew: “as an administrative centre . . . it attracted traders as well as soldiers and other clients connected with Nupe over-rule.”[55]Seymour Vandeleur, however, observing Kabba town in 1897, reported that it was 


evidently a shadow of what it has been once upon a time. The mud wall plainly shows the former extent of the town, over a mile from side to the other, but it has been so reduced by raids and slavery for the past century, that now there cannot be more than 5000 inhabitants. It had been a sore tax on the inhabitants, having this war camp of the Fulahs at their very doors.[56] 


While this account may reflect the intensification of tribute collection in the late years of the nineteenth century, it is impossible to judge the previous population of Kabba town without earlier reports to consult. And the large space inside the walls may simply reflect the common practice of including farm and pasture land within them. 

           It is also difficult to assess the overall effect of the Nupe-Fulani raids and collection of tribute in slaves on the population of the area. The account of “Ayeri” in 1894, quoted above, in which the chief claimed that they had given all their own slaves as tribute and now had to give their own wives and children, and said their “nation is becoming extinct,” suggests a large-scale population loss. So does Ade Obayemi, using a number of arguments. First, in common with the chief of Ayeri, Obayemi points out that “tribute in human beings, paid to Bida could not be met by the number of slaves locally owned nor by natural increase.” Second, he argues, population distribution today is uneven, and he suggests that the larger centers, collaborator settlements that were spared the worst ravages suffered by their neighbors, reflect what would have been the normal pre-nineteenth-century demographic pattern. Third, many lineages and sub-lineages are remembered but extinct, some of these being “‘towns’ in some senses of the word.”[57] These arguments are strong, especially the first and the third, but there are also problems. It is impossible to discount Michael Mason’s point that we do not know “either the absolute population or the population growth rate . . . before the twentieth century,” and that we do not know, “even approximately, how many slaves left the area and never returned,” so we cannot come to any conclusion on the seriousness of the long-term effects. There are “[e]ven lower population densities,” Mason goes on to point out, in other areas (he mentions Borgu) “where the factor of invading armies may be assumed to be negligible.”[58]Early British administrators believed that slave raiding had serious effects on population, and the intensification of slave-taking in the last years before the defeat of Nupe by the British may be argued to be confirmation of their beliefs. As C. K. Meek reported: 


Towards the end of Maliki’s and the beginning of Abubakr’s reign the Bida Filanis, fully appreciating the Niger Company’s preparations for war, made a final raid on Aworo and it is safe to say that in the Aworo district today there isn’t a single male or female over the age of 30 who has not been a slave at Bida.[59] 


Nevertheless, Meek’s account also makes it clear that many of the slaves (especially, it is likely, the newly enslaved) did return to their homes. Other reports of the return of slaves from Nupe to their homes south of the Niger due to British attacks on Nupe from 1897 onward support this conclusion.[60]Reports of the large scale of Bunu cloth production in the early twentieth century suggest that many of the returnees were weavers. Ade Obayemi accepts that escape from north of the Niger might not have been too difficult for the slaves,[61]even before the British attacks on Nupe. However, we are still left without real statistical information from which to draw any adequate numerical conclusions. 

           We can, nevertheless, make tentative suggestions as to some of the economic effects of raids, tribute collection, and enslavements. One important point, made by Femi Kolapo, is that for all the disruptions, normal economic activity did not cease.[62]Agricultural production continued. In 1858, Emir Masaba even told his Bunu soldiers (no doubt conscripts) “that those persons who wanted to trade must go and trade, who wanted to work farm must do it, and leave war.”[63]Even if the largest part of the produce and products of their work found its way into the Nupe-Fulani coffers, this action of Masaba’s argues for the encouragement of at least some semblance of normal production routines. In any case, warfare was a seasonal affair. 

Trade did not cease. Bunu and other traders who moved to Gbebe continued their trading activities, and some of them engaged in the down-river slave trade, in which compatriots of theirs were counted among the merchandise;[64]these traders profited from raids and kidnappings, not unlike the accommodationist chiefs. Even industrial innovation continued. In 1854, at Gbebe, William Balfour Baikie reported from Gbebe that “in one weaving establishment we found that some of our Turkey reds [blankets] had been taken to pieces and the threads, neatly knotted, were now being interwoven with some of their own white and blue.”[65]These weavers could well have been Bunu men or women; many Bunu women were observed by Bunu returnee missionary James Thomas in 1859 in the same town, “making country cloth.”[66]A new source of thread for the famed red cloths had been found.[67] 

It seems likely, however, that fairly large numbers of Bunu women weavers (as well as Yagba and others) were taken as slaves to Nupe, where they taught Nupe women of the upper classes to weave.[68]Indeed, cloth production in the Northeast Yoruba and nearby areas may well have been a factor in the Nupe-Fulani depredations south of the Niger, as Colleen Kriger suggests, because of its value in the northern trade.[69]Thus, the profit from Bunu cloth production, whether the cloths were taken as tribute or their makers were taken as slaves, moved north to Nupe. This did not, however, remain true in the early colonial period, when the cloth trade from Kabba and Bunu to Nupe was reported to be thriving, though in the long run the Bunu women may have decided to concentrate largely on the non-luxury segment of the trade.[70] 

The cultural effects of the nineteenth-century intermingling of peoples and other events were generally limited and superficial. There appears to be relatively little evidence of cultural borrowing or absorption, though some Bunu are said to have been absorbed by the Bassa-Nge on the east bank, and some Yoruba speakers are said to have been “Igbirralised.”[71]Some limited intermarriage is reported between language groups,[72]but in general the ethnicities, even when scattered amongst one another, remained separate.[73]Obayemi believes that where, as in Oworo, there is evidence of the adoption of Nupe traits, this is “the result of direct copying . . . during the twentieth century.”[74]In this, however, he may not be entirely correct. In 1918, C. K. Meek wrote a report on the “Aworo District”: 


When I paid my first visit to Agbaja I found that there was no one holding the position of second headman. The Olu was asked if he would prefer to have the old Aworo title of Lessaw restored or whether he would rather retain the Nupe titles of Yerima, Kpotun etc. The Olu preferred the 2nd alternative and . . . he was backed by all the principal men of the town.[75] 



It seems to me that this account is likely to reflect the adoption of Nupe titles during the period of Nupe-Fulani overlordship, as a further gesture of accommodation by the “principal men,” and as a means to disguise any lack of local legitimacy as titleholders among them. The titles seem to have become entrenched by 1918; and it is difficult to suggest a reason why they might have been adopted after the end of Nupe-Fulani rule.[76] 

           There are differing opinions as to the extent to which Islam spread from the Nupe-Fulani into the Yoruba-speaking areas near the confluence in the nineteenth century, but it seems likely that its influence did not extend very far.[77]Likewise, the impact of Christianity was not great. Christianity was preached by Church Missionary Society agents at Gbebe and Lokoja; most of them were Sierra Leone “recaptives” or their sons, and two of them were of Bunu origin.[78]While they made some progress among the refugee populations in Gbebe and Lokoja, including Bunu and Oworo, they had little impact inland, although they made preaching tours there. It was the next generation of evangelists, early in the twentieth century, who began to have more success in the Bunu area.[79]The early CMS agents, however, were yet another new group of neighbors that the Owe, Oworo, and Bunu were going to have to deal with, products of the “opening up” of the Niger to Europeans, European trade, and Europeanized Africans, and forerunners of the next imperialist group to arrive in the area, the British. 

           Politically, the Nupe imperialists had a more immediate impact on the confluence Yoruba groups. A colonial officer even alleged that the area that became Kabba Division was “so devastated and so disintegrated that not only tribal organisation but even village organisation had been well nigh oblitered [sic].”[80]However, as Obayemi has pointed out, the lineage remained “the basic landowning and land-disposing unit,” giving the individual “his social identity and determining his political standing, his religious expression and economic opportunity.” Returned slaves were reabsorbed into their lineages, and where lineages had died out, “known descendants (even on the female line) were persuaded to return and resettle.” All of the “basic institutions of the ancient polities” were retained.[81]And among the Owe, Oworo, and Bunu, group identity was broadened. The introduction, by the Nupe-Fulani for their “administrative convenience,” of overall tribute coordinators or “heads” of the Bunu, Oworo, and Owe peoples was an innovation,[82]albeit one that led to considerable problems. In Oworo, for example, “clashes” occurred after the death of Okpoto between Agboshi and Abba. The olu in 1918, reportedly a cousin of Ajetto, was of obscure origins: “Ajokpa does not know who his grandfather was and does not properly belong to Agbaja at all. Ajetto was also an importee (he belonged to an Aworo village called Kabba) and his election was opposed by the family of Abba.”[83]Controversy over the title has continued.[84] 


British Takeover and British Rule 

           The next imperialists faced by the Northeast Yoruba were the British. Their early contacts were cordial, with some Northeast Yoruba groups asking the British to come and defend them from the Nupe-Fulani.[85]The early results of British intervention against Nupe, first by the Royal Niger Company under Goldie, then by the authorities of the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria (declared in Lokoja in 1900)[86]were positive. Nupe raids and tribute collection ceased. Large numbers of slaves left their masters in Nupe north of the Niger and returned to their homes south of the river.[87]Safety returned to the area, and internal trade increased: 


After the fall of Bida Eggan [a Niger port] became a town of very considerable importance. Traders could safely bring in their products not only from the Nupe districts but from Bunu, Kabba, Yagba and Akoko country.[88] 


Trade in local cloth flourished. Leo Frobenius, who visited Bida, the Nupe capital, in 1911 described its market, where 


dealers with great bales of home-spuns come daily in from the Bunu district in the South, an outlying province of the Yoruban territory. The larger portion of the beautiful stuffs used by the Nupé ladies comes from there, and although they themselves can manage the handloom, their own producing power is a mere fleabite to the enormous output of Kabba and Bunu.[89] 


Despite Frobenius’s reference to “beautiful stuffs,” on the evidence of the textiles brought back to Europe by Frobenius, as pointed out by Colleen Kriger, much of the Bunu cloth sold in Bida is likely to have been of an inexpensive type, indicating the Bunu women weavers’ strategy of developing (or redeveloping?) a large-scale industry in low-cost products, which continued until the 1960s (despite some competition from the Ebira) and profited from thepax Britannica, which ensured the safety of long-distance trade.[90] 

           Overall, however, the long-term impact of British rule was less positive for the confluence area. With the development of the railway system, the River Niger lost its importance as a trade conduit; and no major export crop was found. The Yoruba speakers of the confluence and their neighbors, therefore, found themselves in an economic backwater. By 1926, for example, “the Eggan area [was] now but the shadow of its former self. . . . Now there is very little save the town itself, a multitude of native huts on a crumbling sandbank, for most of the trade has gone across the river to Katcha, a market on the Baro-Minna Railway.”[91] 

           Although the British caused the end of Nupe-Fulani domination over the confluence, nevertheless in many ways they allowed the effects of Nupe-Fulani domination to continue. In their boundary making, the British included the confluence peoples and many of the Northeast Yoruba within the Northern Region, to which the Nupe north of the Niger also belonged. Thus the confluence peoples were further pushed to the periphery, both economically and politically.[92] 

           Within the area, the British retained much of the political system introduced by the Nupe. Basing their decision on what they considered “the preponderant role of Kabba” during the Nupe period, the British chose Kabba as the capital, and the Obaro as the “Paramount Head,” of Kabba Division.[93]The “Oro of Aworro” also remained important, and in 1918 he was given supervisory authority over the Kakanda, Kupa, and Egga(n) Districts, while the “Baro of Kabba” was to oversee other groups.[94]The Owe and the Obaro are said to have been “despised by the other tribes in the Division for their tame submission to the Fulani,”[95]an accusation no doubt fueled by resentment of Kabba’s dominant position in the area during the colonial period. In 1918, the Ebira were said to be “prolific,” and “spreading over the surrounding districts in search of good farm land, or trading,” while the Owe were said to be decreasing in numbers.[96]The results of this mélange of population change, entrenchment of authority, and economic neglect for the relations between the peoples of the confluence in the twentieth century need to be investigated.[97] 



           Much of the story of the confluence peoples, Yoruba and non-Yoruba, and their relations still waits to be researched. Much of our present knowledge, together with promising lines of investigation, we owe to the work of Ade Obayemi. We urgently need to follow up his work. Archaeological and linguistic studies need to be expanded. The examination of cultural connections needs to be continued, though with the understanding that connection does not of itself tell us its direction or its type. Oral testimony needs to be collected before yet another generation dies out. The confluence area may have been something of a backwater in the last eighty years, but only in current economic terms; over the long term it has been an important area of cultural and economic contact and circulation. This is a story that needs to be told.




1.        I would like to thank Kola Odofin, of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, for locating and photocopying various items in the Nigerian National Archives, Kaduna (NNAK); James Femi Kolapo for providing me with copies of chapters of his thesis and other unpublished or to be published works; and Janet Stanley, Librarian, National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, for supplying copies of hard-to-find articles.  

Eva Krapf-Askari characterized the Northeast Yoruba as the “Okun” people, and in this she is followed by Ade Obayemi. Eva K. Askari, “The Social Organization of the Owe, African Notes2, 3 (1964-65): 9; Ade Obayemi, “The Sokoto Jihad and the ‘O-kun’ Yoruba: A Review,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria9 (1978): 61. 


2.      In 1918, for example, colonial officer C. K. Meek differentiated between the Oworo of the confluence area and the “pure Yorubas”: “The worship of Shongo is supposed to belong properly to the pure Yorubas and if an Aworo were killed by lightning the tribe would summon Yorubas from Lokoja to come to Agbaja and perform the rites necessary to appease the angry Spirit.” NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, An Assessment Report on the Aworo (Oworraw) District of the Kabba Division, by Mr. C. K. Meek, Assistant District Officer,” para. 45. 


3.      Femi J. Kolapo, “The 1858-59 Gbebe CMS Journal of Missionary James Thomas,” History in Africa27 (2000): n. 34. Thomas referred to  “my own tribe Eki which is called Bunu” (October 15); “Eki” probably refers to “Ikiri,” a part of Bunu. 


4.      Askari, “Social Organization,” 9; P. C. Lloyd, “Political and Social Structure,” in S. O. Biobaku, ed., Sources of Yoruba History(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), 209. In 1967 the old regional structure was abolished, and the Northeast Yoruba were included in Kwara State.   


5.      Toyin Falola, “A Research Agenda on the Yoruba in the Nineteenth Century,” History in Africa15 (1988): 216-17; Funso Afolayan, “Towards a History of Eastern Yorubaland,” in Toyin Falola, ed., Yoruba Historiography(Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program, 1991), 75-77. Much of the published work on the Northeast Yoruba is by Ade Obayemi. I urge that Professor Obayemi’s unpublished papers and research notes be made available to scholars. 


6.      For Oworo claims to indigenous status, see Daryll Forde, The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of South-Western Nigeria(Ethnographic Survey of Africa, Western Africa, Part IV) (London: International African Institute, 1951; reprinted with supplementary bibliography, 1969), 74; also NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, paras. 23, 39. However, Forde also cites the opinion of McBride that the Oworo were “the earliest known inhabitants of Koton-Karifi Division,” on the east bank, and “were driven across the Niger in the eighteenth century.” C. R. Niven reports that “as far as one can see the probability is that once all the Kabba Province was occupied by Aworos, though whether they were or were not the indigenous inhabitants is impossible to say.” See Niven, “The Kabba Province of the Northern Provinces, Nigeria,” Geographical Journal68, 4 (October 1926): 296. Niven adds that “[o]n the Kabba side the probability is that the Bunus were the first invaders from the south-west, and that they drove back the Aworos towards the River Niger.” For other stories of origin of the Bunu and of the Owe, see Forde, Ethnographic Survey, 74; O. Temple, comp., C. L. Temple, ed., Notes on the Tribes, Provinces, Emirates and States of the Northern Provinces of Nigeria, 2nd ed., new impression (New York: Barnes and Noble, 1967), 71, 306; K. V. Elphinstone, Gazetteer of Ilorin Province(London: Waterlow and Sons Limited, 1921), 48; Ade Obayemi, “States and Peoples of the Niger-Benue Confluence Area,” in Obaro Ikime, ed., Groundwork of Nigerian History(Ibadan: Heinemann Educational Books [Nig.] Ltd., 1980), 149; Lloyd, “Political and Social Structure,” 209. 


7.      Robert Smith, Kingdoms of the Yoruba, 3rd ed. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 50. 


8.      Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 148. 


9.      For the hypothesis and criticisms or caveats, see Smith, Kingdoms, 50, 156; Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 148, 153; Obayemi, “The Yoruba and Edo-Speaking Peoples and Their Neighbours before 1600 A.D.,” in J.F.A. Ajayi and Michael Crowder, eds., History of West Africa, vol. 1, 3rd ed. (Harlow, England: Longman, 1985), 261-63; Lloyd, “Political and Social Structure,” 208-9, 219-20; Afolayan, “Towards a History,” 77 


10.  Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 151, 152. 


11.  See Temple and Temple, Notes on the Tribes, 155, 197; Elphinstone, Gazetteer, 48; Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 147, 149, 161; S. F. Nadel, A Black Byzantium(London: Oxford University Press for International African Institute, 1942), 19-20, 21. Unfortunately, I did not have access to Y. A. Ibrahim’s manuscript (“The Search for Political Leadership in a Nigerian Community,” Zaria, 1968) on the Ebira Tao when writing this chapter, so my information on this group may be incomplete. For useful maps, see Michael Mason, Foundations of the Bida Kingdom(Zaria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, 1981), viii; and Elisha P. Renne, Cloth That Does Not Die(Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995), 140. 


12.  Askari, “Social Organization,” 9-10, and see other references, 10. For similarities and differences among the Northeast Yoruba groups, see also NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, paras. 39, 52; Forde,Ethnographic Survey, 74, 75, 79-80; Smith, Kingdoms, 50. 


13.  Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” e.g., citing Ibrahim, “Search for Leadership.” See also references to red cloth, below, and note 18. 


14.  Lloyd,  “Political and Social Structure,” 208; and Smith, Kingdoms, 50, also Askari, quoted above.  


15.  For similarities and differences between the Northeast Yoruba and the rest of the Yoruba world, see NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 45; Lloyd, “Political and Social Structure,” 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 213, 217; Obayemi, “Yoruba and Edo-Speaking Peoples,” 280; Afolayan, Towards a History, 77. For “mini-states,” see Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 62-63. 


16.  Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 163. See also Obayemi, “Yoruba and Edo-Speaking Peoples,” 271. 


17.  This must be a generic word. See, e.g., Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 164, n. 104. 


18.  Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 164. See also quotation from Baikie at Gbebe, below, on the use of “Turkey reds.” In the twentieth century, wool from red hospital blankets was used. See Renne, Cloth, 146. There was a more widespread movement of cloth ideas around the confluence area (very broadly defined) especially it seems in the nineteenth century, but this may well reflect in part a preexisting pattern of cultural circulation. See Ann O’Hear, “The Introduction of Weft Float Motifs to Strip Weaving in Ilorin,” in T. C. McCaskie and David Henige, eds., West African Economic and Social History: Studies in Memory of Marion Johnson (Madison: University of Wisconsin African Studies Program, 1990). 


19.  Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 149. 


20.    In this case we have an indication of the direction of the cultural influence. This, however, is not a conclusion we can draw in many cases. Neither is the nature of the cultural influence generally. For this latter, see Lloyd, “Political and Social Structure,” 205-6.  


21.  Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 162-63. 


22.  The emirate had its center to the north of the River Niger. The Nupe speakers who were the Northeast Yorubas’ immediate neighbors to the south of the river fared variously with respect to Bida. See C. K. Meek’s report on the Kakanda and Kupa groups, in NNAK SNP 10 266p/1918: An Assessment Report on the Kakanda, Kupa and Eggan Districts of the Kabba Division by Mr. C. K. Meek, Assistant District Officer: 

 The exactions were greatest under Maliki. . . . by the end of Maliki’s reign 3/4ths of what was left of the Kupa tribe had taken up permanent residence in Bida. (para. 40) 

 [t]he Kakandas admit paying Masaba a yearly levy of 200,000 cowries which was subsequently raised to 400,000. There was never any demand however for slaves and it would appear that Masaba found the Kakanda canoemen so useful for transporting Filani slave raiding expeditions that he considered it advisable to be on friendly terms with the river tribe. Budon moreover was a convenient market for disposing of such slaves as were not required at Bida. (para. 50) 


There may well, however, have been Kakanda “Canoe Slaves.” See Paul E. Lovejoy and Jan S. Hogendorn, Slow Death for Slavery: The Course of Abolition in Northern Nigeria, 1897-1936(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 35. 


23.  Elphinstone,Gazetteer, 30. 


24.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 67, n. 15. 


25.  Femi James Kolapo, “Military Turbulence, Population Displacement and Commerce on a Slaving Frontier of the Sokoto Caliphate: Nupe c.1830-1857,” Ph.D. thesis, York University, North York, Ontario, Canada, May 1999, appendix 2, 276. 


26.    Journal of J. F. Schon (Journals of the Rev. James Frederick Schon and Mr. Samuel Crowther), quoted in Kolapo, “Military Turbulence,” appendix 2, 280. See below for traditions of Bunu crossing the river and becoming absorbed in the Bassa-Nge.  


27.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, paras. 27-29. 


28.  The Ebira were probably not subdued for long. See Mason, Foundations, 77. For the Ebira in later years, see ibid., 102-3. 


29.  Elphinstone, Gazetteer, 19. 


30.  J. F. Ade Ajayi and S. A. Akintoye, “Yorubaland in the Nineteenth Century,” in Ikime, ed., Groundwork, 290, 292; E.G.M. Dupigny, Gazetteer of Nupe Province(London: Waterlow and Sons, 1920), 15-17. On Akoko and the “Agge War,” see Michael Mason,  “The Jihad in the South: An Outline of the Nineteenth Century Nupe Hegemony in North-Eastern Yorubaland and Afenmai,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria5, 2 (1970): 197-98; Kolapo, “Military Turbulence,” appendix 2, 289, n. 53. 


31.  Mason,Foundations, 134 and 138, n. 108; Dupigny, Gazetteer, 19-20; NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 35. 


32.  Seymour Vandeleur, Campaigning on the Upper Nile and Niger(London: Methuen and Co., 1898), 189-90, quoting Rev. C. E. Wating. 


33.  Mason, “Jihad in the South,” 205; Mason, Foundations, 77. For the devaluation of cowries, see Paul E. Lovejoy, “Interregional Monetary Flows in the Precolonial Trade of Nigeria,” Journal of African History15 (1974). 


34.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, paras. 29-30. Dates of reigns are taken from  Mason, Foundations. 


35.  Renne,Cloth, 210, n. 21. In the reign of Maliki, other places were apparently asked to pay in “money” as well as slaves. See NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 40. 


36.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 32; Kolapo, “CMS Journal,” October 15. Similar demands were made elsewhere by Ibadan. “All the subordinate towns in Osun, Ife, Ijesa, Ekiti, Akoko and Igbomina, apart from paying regular tributes, had to support the Ibadan with food, money and men whenever Ibadan was on campaign.” Ajayi and Akintoye, “Yorubaland,” 290. 


37.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 29 


38.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 75. 


39.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 34. See also Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 75-76, quoting Mai Maina, in Part II of A.H.M. Kirk-Greene and P. Newman, West African Travels and Adventures: Two Autobiographical Narratives from Northern Nigeria(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1971).  


40.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 51. 


41.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 69. 


42.  Ibid., 75, and n. 44. 


43.  Ajayi and Akintoye, “Yorubaland,” 292-93; Mason, Foundations, 105-6, 107, 108; Mason, “Jihad in the South,” 199-200. Akoko had been part of the Ibadan sphere of influence (see note 36, above), but Nupe influence had grown, so the Akoko people were fighting in the late 1879s and 1890s to resist the Nupe. 


44.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 29. 


45.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 73. Also see below on the introduction of tribute coordinators. 


46.  See note 75, below. 


47.  Ibid., 159, quoting T. Moses.  [Author’s note, 2020:  I am not sure what “Ibid.” refers to here.] 


48.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 75; Askari, “Social Organization,” 9; Ajayi and Akintoye, “Yorubaland,” 293. 


49.  Vandeleur, Campaigning, 189. 


50.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 69, also 81 and n. 68; Renne, Cloth, 16. For similar occurrences in Akoko, see NNAK SNP 10 458p/1917, Ilorin Province Report June 1917, by K. V. Elphinstone, para. 17. 


51.  See quotation from Schon’s journal, and note 26, above. 


52.  Kolapo, “Military Turbulence,” appendix 2, 282; Kolapo, “CMS Journal,” September 26. When Gbebe was destroyed in a civil war, many fled again, especially to Lokoja. Kolapo, “CMS Missionaries of African Origin and Extra-Religious Encounters at the Niger-Benue Confluence, 1858-1880,” African Studies Review43, 2 (Sep. 2000). 


53.  Femi J. Kolapo, “The Grassroots: Town-Life during the Early 19th Century Nupe Wars,” unpublished ms. On desertion of settlements, see also Ade Obayemi, “An Archaeological Mission to Akpaa,” Confluence(An Academic Journal of the Kwara State Council for Arts and Culture) 1, 1 (June 1978): 60, 61. 


54.  Mason, “Jihad in the South,” 208. 


55.  Ibid. 


56.  Vandeleur, Campaigning, 189. 


57.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 82-84. 


58.  Mason, “Jihad in the South, 208. 


59.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 35. For early British administrators’ assumptions, see Mason, “Jihad in the South,” 208; also Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 84, quoting Lugard.  


60.  See note 85, below. 


61.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 82. 


62.  Kolapo, “Grassroots.” 


63.  Kolapo, “CMS Journal,” October 15. 


64.  Kolapo, “Grassroots”; Kolapo, “CMS Journal,” December 4. For Bunu people among the slaves traded down the Niger, see Kolapo, “Military Turbulence,” 135-36; and “CMS Journal,” July 10, 16, and 26. 


65.  Wiliam Balfour Baikie, Narrative of an Exploring voyage up the Rivers Kwora and Binue in 1854(London: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd., 1966), 268. 


66.  Kolapo, “CMS Journal.” July 13 is the date given by missionary James Thomas in his journal: this is incorrect, and Femi Kolapo suggests February 13 as the correct date. Personal communication. 


67.  See references to Bunu red cloths, above and below. Also Renne, Cloth, 104-6, 124-26, and 145-46, on men and women weaving these red cloths. 


68.  Forde,Yoruba-Speaking Peoples, 77; Nadel, Black Byzantium, 297. Mason (Foundations, 54), refers to “the term bunu, which derives from the Yoruba people of the same name [and in Nupe] suggests both a design and a type of cloth.” This would have been taught to Nupe women by Bunu slaves. For bunucloth, see also Colleen Kriger, “Textile Production and Gender in the Sokoto Caliphate” Journal of African History34 (1993): 367, and 366, fig. 1. 


69.  Colleen Kriger, “Textile Production in the Lower Niger Basin: New Evidence from the 1841 Niger Expedition Collection,” Textile History21, 1 (1990): 53. For trade to the north in bunucloths, see Kriger, “Production and Gender,” 367, and n. 14. 


70.  See below. 


71.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 83, and n 74; Obayemi, “States and Peoples,” 152, citing Y. A. Ibrahim. 


72.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 39. 


73.  According to C. K. Meek, in NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, 

a.      Tribally the [Aworo] district is divisible into two halves inhabited by the Aworos and Bassanges respectively—the former occupying the country to the north, the Bassanges that to the south of Lokoja. In addition there are scattered settlements of Hausas, Igbirras, and Nupes, and there is a Bassa Komo village near IKEYA. (para. 8) 


b.      [T]he tribes of the Kabba Division can roughly be divided into 2 classes, the “Nupe” tribes and the “Yoruba” tribes, these terms being used generically, not to indicate a common origin so much as a common civilization and a common language group—the former living in round houses, observing the same institutions as the Nupes and speaking Nupe or a language affiliated to Nupe, the latter living in oblong houses, observing the cruder Southern customs of peoples forced to live in the hills or thick bush, and speaking languages which, when not actually dialects of Yoruba, are at least closely allied to Yoruba. The Aworo are one of the Yoruba, the Bassanges one of the Nupe group. (para. 22) 


74.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 86. 


75.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 74. 


76.  See below for lack of legitimacy among the olus of Oworo; also above on “upstart” chiefs. 


77.  Mason (“Jihad in the South,” 206-7) believes that “the impact of the nineteenth century jihad . . . caused . . . numbers [of Muslims] to swell to important proportions.” However, Obayemi (“Sokoto Jihad, 76, n. 48) argues that the “entry of Islam into the O-kun districts date[s] effectively from the first and second decades of the twentieth century.” Others tend to agree that conversion to Islam was not widespread in the nineteenth century. According to Renne (Cloth, 210, n. 24), “During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Nupe hegemony prevailed, some Bunu chiefs became Muslims although the majority of the people retained traditional beliefs. Although Muslim worship is not common in Bunu today, some people, particularly in Northern Bunu (Kiri) are practicing Muslims.” Temple and Temple (Notes on the Tribes, 72) reported in the second decade of the twentieth century that the Bunu were “a pagan people, amongst whom Muhammadanism is penetrating.” Niven, in 1926 asserted, of Kabba Province as a whole, that [m]ost of the natives are animists” (“Kabba Province,” 298). Mason (“Jihad in the South,” 207 and n. 4) records that returned slaves had become Muslims (“In nearly every village which I [Mason] visited in Kabba Division, I was informed that ex-slaves, returned from the north, had become Muslims”), but it is likely that many of these people did not return until 1897 or later. 


78.  Kolapo, “CMS Journal,” “Missionaries,” and “Military Turbulence,” 135-36. 


79.  Kolapo, “Missionaries”; Renne, Cloth, 159-60, 165-66, 225, nn. 8 and 9. The major period of conversion to Christianity among the Bunus came in the early 1930s, “in the wake of the Omi Mimo revival movement” and encouraged by CMS agents. Renne, Cloth, 164-66. 


80.  NNAK SNP 10 490p/1918, Ilorin Report no. 86, for Half Year 1918, by Resident K. V. Elphinstone, para. 9. 


81.     Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 85-86.  


82.  Ibid., 72-73, 76. More thorough-going political changes were introduced by the Nupe-Fulani in the Afenmai area, further south. Mason, “Jihad in the South,” 207, quoting a British colonial administrator. 


83.  NNAK SNP 10 393p/1918, Assessment Report Aworo District, Meek, para. 57, also para. 29; Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 72. On these chiefs, see also above. 


84.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 72 and n. 32. 


85.  Obayemi, “Sokoto Jihad,” 84 and n. 78; for the appeal made by the ruler of  “Ayeri,” see above. 


86.  For British campaigns against the Nupe-Fulani Emirate, see Mason, Foundations, chapter 7. 


87.  Ibid., 150; Lovejoy and Hogendorn, Slow Death, chapter 2. 


88.  NNAK SNP 10 266p/1918: Assessment Report on Kakanda, Kupa and Eggan, Meek, para. 28. Eggan had been a trading center of great importance in the nineteenth century, at least up to 1890, when Mockler-Ferryman visited it (cited in Marion Johnson, “Cloth on the Banks of the Niger,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria6, 4 [June 1973]: 363, 364). In 1897, however, “[t]he attitude of Eggan . . . towards the Royal Niger Company was not considered quite satisfactory. Bida spies and ajelai were apparently being harboured in the town. The town was accordingly burnt down and the Rogan Moman Lafiya deposed.” Assessment Report on Kakanda, Kupa and Eggan, para. 27. 


89.  Leo Frobenius, The Voice of Africa, trans. Rudolf Blind, vol. 2 (New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1913), 415. 


90.  Kriger, “Production and Gender,” 396. For Bunu textile production in the twentieth century, see Renne, Cloth. 


91.  Niven, “Kabba Province,” 292.  


92.  Mason, “Jihad in the South,” 208. 


93.  C. O. Akomolafe, “The District Head System in Akoko, 1914-1935,”Odun.s., no. 18 (July 1978): 32-33.  


94.  NNAK SNP 10 133p/1919, Ilorin Province Report Annual 1918, by K. V. Elphinstone, Resident, para. 25. 


95.  NNAK SNP 10 490p/1918, Ilorin Report no. 86, for Half Year 1918, Elphinstone, para. 13 (report from Sydney Smith). When Michael Mason was conducting research, he was told that the Owes were “still regarded as collaborationists for serving the Nupes.” “Jihad in the South,” 204, n. 7 


96.  NNAK SNP 10 490p/1918, Ilorin Report no. 86, for Half Year 1918, Elphinstone, para. 13 (report from Sydney Smith). 


97.    One example of conflict between groups is to be seen in the competition between the Ebira and the Bunu women weavers. Both Bunu and Ebira informants told Elisha Renne that Atta Ibrahim “forbade” the Ebira to buy aso ipocloth (used for burials), “on the grounds that the Bunu people and their cloths were causing undue death among the Ebira.”  The Bunu “had a particular economic monopoly which Atta Ibrahim effectively broke by insisting that henceforth the Ebira people use an Ebira-woven white cloth (itaogede) for burials.” Renne, Cloth, 146.