2.1-2.4 O’Hear:  Published and Unpublished Works



2.1a(ii) Reviews of O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria:  Publication Details 2003


Review by J.D.Y. Peel, in Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, vol. 73, no. 1 (2003): 139‒140.


Review by Felix K. Ekechi, in The Historian, vol. 62, no. 1 (September 1999): 137‒139.

Review by Funso Afolayan, in African Studies Review, vol. 42, no. 3 (December 1999): 156‒158. 


Review by Saheed A. Adejumobi, in African Economic History, no. 26  (1998).

Review by Axel Harneit-Sievers, in Afrika [Africa] Spectrum, vol. 33, no. 3 (1998): 368‒370.

Review by Joseph E. Inikori, in American Historical Review, vol. 103, no. 5 (December 1998): 1664‒1665.

2.1b(i) Book Edited by Ann O’Hear: Letters from Nigeria, 1899‒1900: David Wynford Carnegie. Madison: African Program University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1992. Edited, with new introduction, notes, appendix, and index. 

Cover Note 

The title page of the original printed work provides the following information: Letters from Nigeria of The Honourable David Wynford Carnegie F.R.G.S. 1899-2900; with introduction and appendix; privately printed  Brechin: Black & Johnston, Printers and Publishers 1902.

The next page of the original printed work provides the following information: Impression one hundred copies (Not published).

Section 2.1b(ii) contains transcribed material on slavery from Ann O’Hear, “Introduction to the New Edition.”

Section 2.1b(iii) contains transcribed material on or relevant to slavery from the text of the Letters.


Two reviews of the 1992 edition of the Letters from Nigeria, 1899-1900 are available on JSTOR:

Review by H.O. Danmole, in The Journal of African History, vol. 36, no. 2 (1995): 330-331.

Review by Toyin Falola, in African Economic History, no. 21 (1993): 169-170.



2.1b(ii) Book Edited by Ann O’Hear:Letters from Nigeria,1899‒1900:DavidWynford Carnegie. Madison: African Program University of Wisconsin–Madison,1992.Edited, with new introduction, notes, appendix, and index. 


Transcript of extracts on slavery in the Ilorin area from Ann O’Hear, “Introduction to the New Edition” (1992) 



Page numbers given in the text below are to the text of the “Introduction to the New Edition,” Letters from Nigeria,1899‒1900:David Wynford Carnegie,1992. Selected endnotes to the “Introduction to the New Edition” are also included here, renumbered appropriately. Additions/clarifications that were provided by Ann O’Hear as she was making the transcription (July 2020) are shown in square brackets. 


Pp. vii-xvi comprise the “Introduction to the New Edition,” text and notes. 

viii. The letters provide some insight into Ilorin’s dealings with its outlying districts, especially on its strategies of economic control. It is clear from Carnegie’s accounts of his visits to the large village of Ejidongari, northwest of Ilorin, that these strategies were by no means altogether successful, at least at this particular period. Indeed, it seems that the city’s internal problems, combined with its conflicts with the British, had weakened its control in general.[1]Incidentally, Carnegie’s comments on “the powerful King” of Ejidongari, whom he portrayed as a strong and independent-minded individual,[2]are of particular interest, as in later sources this man is identified as an Ilorin court slave.[3]If this is true,[4]then Carnegie’s observations provide an illustration of the extent to which such slaves might gain power and independence.

The letters provide information on the institution of slavery, and on slaves’ reactions at the beginning of colonial rule. Like his successor, Resident Dwyer, Carnegie emphasizes the mildness of the institution in Ilorin. He recounts, as does Dwyer, that agricultural slaves worked only part time for their masters, and also worked for themselves.[5]According to modern Ilorin informants, it would seem that some such arrangements sometimes did obtain, though certainly not always,[6]as they did in some fashion elsewhere in the Sokoto Caliphate.[7]Carnegie also describes arrangements by which slaves could free themselves. Local informants confirm that this was possible in Ilorin,[8]as it was in other parts of the Caliphate. So Carnegie’s comments on these matters fit in (in very general terms) with other sources . . . His assertions with respect to the freedom of certain children of slaves, however, need to be treated with caution, since generally in the Muslim savanna it seems that the children of slaves remained slaves, though often with some improvement in status and conditions.[9]

         Carnegie’s underlying assertion of the mildness of slavery in Ilorin needs especially careful consideration. Carnegie was undoubtedly in large part receiving his information from members of the slave-owning elite (and maybe from a slave broker), who would have wanted to paint as positive a picture as possible.[10]He may also have believed that it would be dangerous to attack slavery, which, as Lugard decided, would “prematurely abolish the almost universal form of labour contract, before a better system had been developed,” and would result in “a state of anarchy and chaos”[11]. . . And despite [Carnegie’s] allegation that “as a rule they are quite content to remain slaves,”[12]not all Ilorin slaves wanted to remain in bondage when they had the chance to leave. Carnegie’s own statement that he had had to settle many slavery questions at Ilorin suggests that there were people anxious to free themselves.[13]From other evidence it is clear that there was a large exodus of slaves, many of them Hausa, in the wake of Goldie’s 1897 expedition [against Ilorin].[14]Carnegie himself presumably met some of them when he visited a small village near Jebba, inhabited by “Hausas who left Illorin after it was ‘broken’ by the Whiteman.”[15]


xi.    Although there is much that is valuable in Carnegie’s accounts, there are some references which cast doubt on his accuracy (when he is recording other than his own first-hand observations) or at least pose difficulties in interpretation. The accuracy of his treatment of slavery, especially its supposed mildness, is a major example . . . In another instance, Carnegie avers that the emir of Ilorin “has some 300 wives, not including slaves”; yet one would expect that only his four actual wives would be free, and that the rest, the concubines, would be slaves.[16]


[1]The chief of Ejidongari was refusing to pay tribute as were many others. See NNAK [Nigerian National Archives Kaduna] SNP 15, ACC No. 11, Ilorin Residents Reports 1900, Carnegie to Lugard, 10 July, and Carnegie to Lugard (no date, but after 17 July). [This file and several other items referenced in these endnotes are included in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive.] 

[2]He was said to be recognized by a number of villages, he acted as judge for his people, his town was large, and observers regarded him with apprehension [seeLetters, pages] (29, 41-42, 48). 

[3]NNAK Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts, Fiefholds District by District; NNAK SNP 15/1 ACC No. 119, Report for July-Sept 1906 by Resident Dwyer, para. 14. 

[4][For a later brief discussion of elite slave Eji (Ejidongari), see Ann O’Hear,“EliteSlavesinIlorininthe NineteenthandTwentiethCenturies,”InternationalJournalofAfricanHistoricalStudies,vol. 39,no. 2(2006), 260.] 

[5] [Pages 52-]53 [inLetters: Letter from Carnegie] (To his Mother.) June 19, 1900. ILLORIN; [also] Rhodes House (RH) Mss. Afr. s.958, Dwyer, Dr. P.M. Extracts from Reports Ilorin 1902-1908, Annual Report 1904. [This item forms part of the Commonwealth and African Collections,formerlyheld attheBodleianLibraryofCommonwealthand African StudiesatRhodesHouse, Oxford, but nowhousedintheWestonLibrary(formerlyknown asthe NewBodleian), where they retainthe “RH”reference numbers.] 

[6]Interviews conducted by E.B. Bolaji, B. Elesin and S.T. Salami in Ilorin, Oct-Dec 1988 [on behalf of Ann O’Hear]. 

[7]Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” inThe Ideology of Slavery in Africa, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy (Beverly Hills, 1981), 216-18. 

[8]See note 6. 

[9]Paul E. Lovejoy,Transformations in Slavery(Cambridge, 1983), 207. See also Lovejoy’s discussion of Baba of Karo’s “idealized” account of the status of children of slaves: Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” 219-20. 

[10]In the text [of theLetters] (53), Carnegie’s account of slavery comes immediately after his account of a meeting with a slave broker. [Ann O’Hear note: If I were writing my “Introduction to the New Edition” today (July 2020), I would have chosen to use the wording “very likely from a slave broker” rather than “maybe from a slave broker”] For examples of reports on slavery which present an idealized version of the institution rather than the actual conditions in which slaves found themselves, see Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” 215-20. 

[11]Frederick Lugard,Instructions to Political and Other Officers, on Subjects Chiefly Political and Administrative(London, 1906), 136. 

[12][Letters,52-]53 [Letter from Carnegie] (To his Mother.) June 19, 1900. ILLORIN. 

[13][Letters,] 59 [Letter from Carnegie] . . . undated, but was presumably written about the 21st July, 1900, from Lokoja. (To H.M.C.) [his sister]. 

[14]PRO CO 147/124, G.T. Goldie to Earl of Scarborough, 6 March 1897; Seymour Vandeleur,Campaigning on the Upper Nile and Niger(London, 1898), 293. Ilorin informants (see note 6 above) also maintain that many slaves ran away when the British arrived. 

[15][Letters, 29-]30 [Letter from Carnegie] (To H.M.C.) March 28, 1900. JEBBA. A later colonial report also refers to many Hausa villages of (apparently) runaway slaves in the same area. NNAK SNP 7/13 3096/1912, Ilorin Division, Lanwa District Reassessment Report by R. Scott Chapman, para. 18. 

[16][Letters, 37 and] 39 [Letter from Carnegie] (To his Mother.) April 27, 1900, ILLORIN; Paul E. Lovejoy, “Concubinage and the Status of Women Slaves in Early Colonial Northern Nigeria,”Journal of African History, vol. 29 (1988), 246. 


2.1b(iii)Book Edited by Ann O’Hear: Letters from Nigeria,1899‒1900: David Wynford Carnegie. Madison: African Program University of Wisconsin–Madison,1992. Edited, with new introduction, notes, appendix, and index. 


Transcript of extracts from the text of the Letters with relevance to slavery and related topics, including “elite” slavery, runaway slaves, attempts by Ilorin to interfere with marketing in villages, debt pawnage, trade in slaves, slaves conducting long-distance trade for their masters, agricultural slaves, slaves working for their freedom, marriage, status of children of slaves, dues paid by villagers 


Page numbers given in the text below are to the text ofLettersfromNigeria,1899‒1900: David Wynford Carnegie,1992 edition. Selected endnotes to the text in the 1992 edition are also included here, renumbered appropriately. Additions/clarifications that were provided by Ann O’Hear as she was making the transcription (July 2020) are shown in square brackets. 



29. [Letter from Carnegie] (To H.M.C.) [his sister] March 28, 1900. JEBBA. 


[An] interesting case [in the provincial court] was a land palaver between two Kings . . . The land went to the powerful King Ajidungari [for whom, see section 2.1b(i) in this Archive and also further references in the Letters,below; Eji or Ejidongari was identified in later sources as an elite slave of the Emir or of the Sarkin Dongari—himself an elite slave titleholder—of Ilorin]. 


30. For the last three Sundays I have been shooting . . . I went alone and discovered a little village, about five miles away, where they live by selling “tombo” or “pompo” (palm wine). They are Hausas who left Illorin after it was “broken” by the Whiteman. 


34. [Letter from Carnegie] (To H.M.C.) April 11, 1900. JEBBA, N.N. 


[celebrating a Muslim holiday] There was certainly great rejoicing, and this morning a great crowd, headed by Sergeant Raji and Corporal Suliman . . . and the sort of Prime Minister of the King of Illorin[1] swarmed up to our house . . . 


37. [Letter from Carnegie] (To his Mother.) April 27, 1900. ILLORIN. 


39. [visiting the Emir of Ilorin] I asked to see his house, and the King showed me round . . . He has some 300 wives, not including slaves, but he would not show me these, nor indeed did he show me his private dwelling . . . 


41. [Letter from Carnegie] (To his Father.) May 7, 1900, JEBBA, NORTHERN NIGERIA [sending a journal:] 




April 13th. Continued along the Illorin road . . . then turned westward to Ajidungari . . . 

         Ajidungari is recognised as King by all villages west of, and including Eyatoro . . . 


April 14th. At Ajidungari. Had talk with the King, who expressed himself as very willing to please the White man in all things. He acknowledges Illorin as King, and pays him a yearly tribute (which I find later the King of Illorin denies), but objects to the system whereby he has to send all produce to Illorin for sale, instead of sending it to Jebba, where his people would get a higher price (this also the King of Illorin denies, saying he never even sees Ajidungari). 

. . . he agrees to employ aMallam,and make a monthly report of all cases settled by him (for it has been his practice to act as Judge for his people), and to settle no important case without first consulting the proper Authority at Jebba . . ./ 

42. . . .The town, including some outlying farms, contains some 600 men, is clean and has a fairly large market. 


43.April 16th. . . [the village of ] Malete has a small market; from what the people say it would appear that the King of Illorin, or his advisers, do anything but encourage country markets; their policy being to cause all produce to come for sale to Illorin. 


46. [at Ilorin] 

April 26th. Hearing small cases all day. 


Money-lending. A man lends money to another. He charges no interest in money, but, until the debt is paid back, half the debtor’s time and labour is for the benefit of the lender, and half at his own disposal.  (?) [interpolation by Carnegie’s sister, during her preparation of the letters for printing?] Thus every borrower pays 100 per cent. for his loan. For by the time he has made by his half-day’s work sufficient to pay back the loan, he has also paid the lender all his other half-days in labour. In the half-days belonging to borrower he must make enough to feed and keep himself and sufficient money to pay off the debt.[2] 


47. [Letter from Carnegie] (To H.M.C.) May 27, 1900, KISHI, W. AFRICA. 


48. On leaving Jebba, Ajidungari was our first town of any size. The old King is a great pal . . . my first acquaintance with him was through a man who had complained that his land had been taken and village robbed, so I sent for Ajidungari. Sergeant Raji said, “he be big man,” in rather a hesitating way, so I answered “I don’t care how big he is, Englishmen come here to keep order in the land, and if a man does wrong he must account for it,” and so Ajidungari was summoned, and came in and was talked to, and has been a pal ever since . . . There was a big market going on, 500 people or so . . . 


52. [Letter from Carnegie] (To his Mother.) June 19,1900, ILLORIN. 


53. . . . I interviewed a gentleman who deals in slaves, quite a nice man. He is really a compact form of servants registry office. He is a Dilali, or broker, and sells slaves on commission. If you wanted a slave for your pony carriage, or the garden, I would go to Mr. Badamashi, theDilali, and ask if he could find me a good slave for pruning roses, and he would hunt round the country until he found some one who had such a slave to get rid of, and so the bargain would be struck, he would get a commission from me and from the man who sold the slave, 1s. 9d. from each of us.[3]We are accustomed to think of all slavery as diabolical, chains and blood and torture and all horrors, but here at any rate it is mild enough. A slave, taking the case of a man, often works for his master many miles away. Most of the people who pass here going to and from Lagos are slaves trading for their masters in Illorin, Kano, Sokoto, and all about. 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; to be free is no advantage, as they have no ambition beyond a full tummy. If a slave pays for and marries a woman (who must be a slave), the children are free from birth. If, however, children occur without marriage, and without payment, then they are slaves, and belong to the master of their mother. 

         Of course slave raiding still goes on north of the river Niger, but not here, though I think certainly now and again, or even frequently, slaves raided north of the river are sold secretly in Illorin. There is said to be a night market, but I can’t be sure about it. 

. . . 

A “dash” of three goats and about 24 eggs just arrived from Sani, Bale(Chief) of Ajisai and Bode Sani (village or town of Sani). I have just returned from settling a boundary dispute between him and another neighbouring chief. The Bale is paid yearly rent in kind, as well as current provisions by all the villagers and farmers; he pays yearly rent to the Balogum(or Big Chief) who owns the land, and probably lives in Illorin; the latter in his turn pays a yearly tribute to the Emir, and he, theoretically at least, is a vassal of Sokoto.[4]Any man can get farming land (or agricultural land would be more correct) for nothing, so long as he pays his rent, and is approved by the Bale




[1] Probably a major slave official, such as the Sarkin Dongari. 

[2] This describes theiwofaor pawning system, for which see Ann O’Hear, “Pawning in [the Emirate of] Ilorin,” in Paul E. Lovejoy and Toyin Falola, eds,Pawnship in Africa[Boulder, CO, 1994, 217-243. 

[3] There are some difficulties in interpreting the Ilorin data on commissions. In general, it seems that the commission was paid by the seller of the goods. Haddon-Smith, however, reported in 1893, with respect specifically to slave sales, that a fixed charge was paid by the buyer. Carnegie, also with reference to slave sale, says the commission is from both. Possibly there were special arrangements governing transactions in slaves. In judging the accuracy of Carnegie’s account [of commissions], it may be pointed out that he did obtain his information first-hand from a broker; and also that it does seem likely that the broker would generally make some profit from both parties to the transaction. See Ann O’Hear, “Political and Commercial Clientage in Nineteenth-Century Ilorin,”African Economic History, no. 15 (1986), 75 and note 68; G.B. Haddon-Smith, “Interior Mission to Yorubaland 1893: Extracts from the Diary of G.B. Haddon-Smith, Political Officer” (for these Extracts, see this Archive, sections 8.2a and 8.2b). 

           [Note that while any information that Carnegie received from the broker whom he interviewed on commissions with regard to slave sales may have been fairly accurate, any information he received from the broker on slavery in general would undoubtedly have laid stress on the mildness of the institution.] 

[4]Ilorin was actually directly under Gwandu. 


2.2a(i) Bibliography of  Source Materials for “Oriki and the History of Slavery in Ilorin, Nigeria.” List of hard-to-find works on oriki used in the preparation of this chapter, including rare published oriki (alphabetical order by author):

Adeeko, Adeleke. “Oral Poetry and Hegemony: Yoruba Oriki.” Dialectical Anthropology, vol. 26, nos. 3‒4 (2001): 181‒192.


Awe, Bolanle. “Notes on Oriki and Warfare in Yorubaland.” In Yoruba Oral Tradition, ed. Wande Abimbola, 267‒292. Ile-Ife: Department of African Languages and Literatures, University of Ife, 1975.


Babalola, S.A. (Adeboye), Awon Oriki Orile Metadinlogbon. Ikeja: Longman Nigeria, 2000.


Babayemi, S.O. Content Analysis of Oriki Orile (Ibadan: Institute of African Studies[, 1988]).


Barber, Karin. “Documenting Social and Ideological Change through Yoruba Oriki: A Stylistic Analysis.” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, vol. 10, no. 4 (June 1981): 39‒52.


Gbadamosi, Bakare. Oriki. Ibadan: Mbari Publications, October 1961. See pages 5, 23, 27, 32, 33.


Olajubu, Chief Oludare. “Yoruba Oral Poetry: Composition and Performance.” In Oral Poetry in Nigeria, ed. Uchegbulam N. Abalogu, Garba Ashiwaju, and Regina Amadi-Tshiwala, 71‒85. Lagos: Nigeria Magazine, 1981.


Olatunji, Olatunde O. Features of Yoruba Oral Poetry. Ibadan: University Press, 1984. See chapter 4, “Oriki: Yoruba Praise Poetry,” 67‒107.




2.2a (ii). Comments by Karin Barber, 15 June 2018, on Ann O’Hear, “Oriki and the History of Slavery in Ilorin, Nigeria,” a chapter included in African Slaves, African Masters: Politics, Memories, Social Life, ed. Alice Bellagamba, Sandra Greene, and Martin Klein, 153-174. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press (Tubman Series), 2017.


E-mail message from  Karin Barber, 15 June 2018:


Thanks so much for sending me a copy of your chapter on oriki and the history of slavery in Ilorin. . . . The chapter is very interesting. You've done a superb job of sifting and synthesising the various accounts of oriki, and I admire the way you have searched the Ilorin material for oriki fragments about slaves. 


The only traces of the voices of the underdog (iwofa in this case, rather than slave) that I was able to detect in the Okuku oriki was a passage which could have originated as the lament of someone suffering from harsh labour conditions, but which has been inflected in the oriki to serve as a glorification of the master (pp. 283-4 of I Could Speak Until Tomorrow). The facility with which accomplished performers carried this kind of incorporation and repurposing of existing texts to make them function as praise encourages me to think that this is what might have happened here. But your findings go well beyond this rather speculative interpretation. I'm really pleased to have this addition to my oriki “library”.


All the best




Emeritus Professor K.J.Barber
Department of African Studies and Anthropology

School of History and Cultures
University of Birmingham
Birmingham B15 2TT

2.2a(iii) Summary of Ann O’Hear, “Oriki and the History of Slavery in Ilorin, Nigeria,” in African Slaves, African Masters: Politics, Memories, Social Life, ed. Alice Bellagamba, Sandra Greene, and Martin Klein, 153-174. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press (Tubman Series), 2017.

[See endnote 4, p. 168 and endnote 56, pp. 171-72. Please note: The Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive is no longer available at the Hull History Centre, UK; at present (December 2020), the files in the Archive are in the process of being transferred to the DigITall African History Archives, an initiative founded, developed, and hosted by Professor Femi Kolapo of the University of Guelph, Ontario.]


The chapter examines oriki (Yoruba praise poems/songs) and their usefulness to students of slavery in Ilorin and other parts of Yorubaland. It begins with a brief background account of the history of Ilorin, including slavery there. A review of the literature on oriki follows, including the insights of scholars such as Karin Barber, Chief J.A. Ayorinde, Bolanle Awe, S.O. Babayemi, and Adeleke Adeeko  on the characteristics of the genre, and the strengths and weaknesses of oriki as sources of historical information. My review of the literature is deliberately detailed, so as to provide an accessible, comprehensive introduction to the genre.


Oriki are performed (or at least remembered) in many parts of Yorubaland, and they have appeared in some published collections. They are still performed in Ilorin, but the city rarely features in collections and studies, and I do not know of any systematic attempt to collect oriki there. I suggest that this neglect is connected with the city’s peculiar position vis-à-vis the rest of Yorubaland. However, I was fortunate enough to be able to gather oriki fragments, in and on Ilorin, as part of my broader study of slavery there. In my chapter, I provide short case studies surrounding these fragments, in order to illustrate some of the sources from which material may be acquired (here, local histories, interviews, and travellers’ accounts); some of the slavery-related topics that the material may cover; and some of the strengths and weaknesses of oriki as discussed by scholars and here related to slavery in Ilorin in particular.


It is possible that further research on oriki outside Ilorin may unearth material on individuals who were enslaved by Ilorin and other cities but later returned to their home areas and became prominent citizens. Oriki of these individuals (such as Esubiyi of Ayede) may provide information on their period of enslavement, and their descendants may be less sensitive than others about discussing it, given their forbears’ later eminence. But, of the slavery-related material that oriki may be able to provide, I think it likely that, due to the hegemonic character of the genre (as pointed out by Adeeko), it will prove to be most useful in increasing our knowledge of elite slaves. Oriki of elite slaves are found not only in Ilorin but also in Lagos, and thus very likely in other major Yoruba towns, and the investigation of these on a comparative basis may well be a fruitful approach.


Even the scattered fragments that I was able to collect have been of value. I encourage researchers to continue to look at local histories and other accounts. But I note that these are only starting points, and that oriki need to be collected in performance and in discussions with singers and their families. Given the decline in the performance of oriki, this is very urgently needed.

2.4b(i) “Shifting Projects of Elite Royal Slaves in Ilorin and Divergence between the Projects of Ilorin and Kano Slaves.” Conference: Landscapes, Sources, and Intellectual Projects in African History: Symposium in Honour of Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias, University of Birmingham, Department of African Studies and Anthropology and Centre of West African Studies, 2015. 


Copyright© Ann O’Hear, December 2015 



Shifting Projects of Elite Royal Slaves in Ilorin and Divergence between the Projects of Ilorin and Kano Slaves[1] 


Ann O’Hear 


In this paper, I look at the projects, specifically, of the elite slaves of the emirship in Ilorin.[2]These slaves were close to the emirs and held major positions in the 19th century, enjoying influence, wealth, and prestige. Under British rule, some continued to exercise influence, particularly asbaba kekere, or intermediaries, controlling access to the emirs. So their overall project was to achieve political and economic self-aggrandisement by manipulating their position. 

           But, after a massive loss of influence in the 1930s, their slave status became an embarrassment, leading to a shift in their projects, to the manipulation of family histories in order to retain some prestige while hiding their former status.  

           The Ilorin slaves’ projects in the 19th and early 20th centuries were somewhat similar to those of royal slaves elsewhere, especially Kano. But later, one particular divergence between the projects of Ilorin and Kano ex-royal slaves becomes evident, and I will return to this at a later point in the paper. 

In this paper, therefore, I take a brief look at some of the Ilorin slaves and their 19th- and early-20th-century projects, then I focus on their shift to a historical project and on a comparison between Ilorin and Kano that reveals the divergence between them that is linked with this project. 


So, in the 19th century, the Ilorin royal slaves pursued self-aggrandisement through the often intertwined avenues of military service,baba kekereroles, and opportunities associated with land ownership, land agency, and land settlement. Among these slaves were the heads of the Jimba family; the Sarkin Dongari, Balogun Afin, Ajia Ijesha, Are Ogele, Ajia Atikekere, and Sarkin Baraje; and Adenlolu of Lanwa. 

           A number of them profited from military service, with the Jimba chiefs providing a good example. And it is reported that from the reign of Shita, the second emir, the emirs did not go to war in person, and that captured slaves and other booty went first to the warrior slaves and chiefs, who would siphon off a large share. 

Major opportunities for influence and wealth in the 19th century were also provided bybaba kekereroles, in which elite slaves enabled people to gain access to the emir, to obtain land or justice. Many major slaves were involved. One example will suffice here: when Adenlolu was sent to settle north of the city and protect the trade route to the Niger, many men obtained farm lands from him as the emir’s land agent, “following him as their Baba Kekere.” He was said to be “a man of great influence,” as was his son. 

           Other slaves also benefitted from opportunities associated with landholding, land agency, and land settlement. The Sarkin Dongari, the Balogun Afin, the Ajia Ijesha, and the Are Ogele were all sent by the emir to areas south of Ilorin, settling their followers on the land they were granted, which became attached to their families (though the Are Ogele, unlike the other three, was a land agent rather than a landholder). They profited from opportunities related to tribute collection and access to the emir. 

           Land grants made to royal slaves tended to be handed down in their families. All told, few land grants made by the emirs were recorded as being recalled and reassigned. Successive emirs may have accepted royal slaves’ hereditary rights to land in an effort to ensure their continuing loyalty, especially as the emirs began to face opposition from their free chiefs. But in the turbulence surrounding the period of the late 19th century and the British takeover, while some royal slaves did pursue their projects via loyalty to the reigning emir, others turned against him or asserted their independence. 

           But since those who chose open resistance to the new colonial regime from 1900 onward were eventually defeated by the threat of British force, other royal slaves decided to stay in the service of the current emir and take advantage of the power vacuum created by British policy (which reduced the power of the major chiefs and gave greater authority to the emirs) and the personal weakness of the early-20th-century emirs. They could still manipulate their positions, particularly throughbaba kekereroles and tax collection. Some were apprehended by the British, including the Ajia Atikekere, the Ajia “Omo” Ijesha (descendant of the originalajia), the Balogun Afin, and the Sarkin Baraje. Many others must have evaded the rather sporadic British efforts to bring them down. 

But although they continued to profit asbaba kekere, they had less success in the colonial bureaucracy. The British were suspicious of them, and district headships were mostly given to royal family members or free chiefly families. However, some royal slaves did become village area heads. The title ofmagajiof Lanwa Village Area was given to Adenlolu’s descendants, but the district headship went to relatives of the emirs. In Afon, descendants of the Are Ogele were also appointed as village area heads. But these small-scale headships offered only limited opportunities forbaba kekereor tax-related profit, as much was siphoned off by others.  

In 1936, the power of the palace slaves was broken, as the result of a land dispute involving four palacebaba kekere, whose behaviour and influence over the emir was condemned by many city chiefs and the colonial authorities. All this led to the general loss of the royal slaves’ power. And they disappeared from the colonial record. 

           When their influence dwindled, their slave status became an embarrassment rather than an opportunity, and their projects now emphasised the massaging of their family histories, aiming to retain some prestige by highlighting their previous importance (and its ceremonial remnants),[3]while mostly hiding or glossing over their former slave status. This project may also have included interference with colonial records.[4] 


The Historical Projects of the Elite Slave Families 

           The families of the Sarkin Dongari, Balogun Afin, Ajia Atikekere, Sarkin Baraje, Ajia Ijesha, Jimba, Magaji Lanwa, and Are Ogele are all of slave heritage, as is clearly identified in various sources. But in 1989‒90,their family heads or representatives almost all claimed free origin. Five of them, in their “histories,” emphasise that their ancestors were “friends” (free followers) of the founders of the emirate, placing them right at the beginning of Islamic Ilorin. With respect to their lands and their activities, however, they agree with the sources that identify their ancestors as slaves; and the functions they say they still perform in the palace are consistent with those of slave officials elsewhere. 

The family of Adenlolu denied its former slave status in a 1970s court case. The family was sued over a piece of land that its head, themagajiof Lanwa, had sold. The plaintiff claimed that the land had been given to his own ancestor and that Adenlolu was a slave and just a land agent. The defendants claimed that their ancestor was a warrior and denied that he was enslaved.[5]They won the case. Because the family had been accepted as tax collectors and harvested locust beans, the judge could not believe they had been slaves. Thus the family was confirmed in rights it had never been granted in the first place. This gave legitimacy to the family’s project, to claim ownership of the land and reject former slave status.[6] 

           Two families, however, present a different picture. The Jimba family could hardly deny its former status outright, since Samuel Johnson’sHistory of the Yorubasidentifies the first Jimba as an emir’s slave. Thus, Safi Jimba, a member of the family, skates around the issue in his publishedHistory of Ilorin(1981), which details the 19th-century exploits of his family. 

A second family, that of the Are Ogele, is, to my knowledge, the only one that has publicly admitted its former status. In another 1970s court case, also involving a land dispute, a descendant of the first Are agreed that he was a slave of Emir Shita, who had sent him to Ogele where he built many villages. No military prowess or other distinction was claimed for him. But witnesses testified that tribute was given to the Are Ogele “as the owner of the land.” Again, the family won the case, the evidence about tribute-giving presumably outweighing the admission of previous slave status. In any case, the family’s project, to claim ownership of the land, met with success. The Are Ogele family seems to have been largely rooted in the rural area, lacking contacts and influence in the city. Perhaps its project has been, in general, to accept the limits of its situation and make the best of it.[7] 


A Comparison with Elite Slavery in Kano 

We can see a number of similarities between the elite royal slaves of Ilorin and those of Kano, who have been studied extensively by Sean Stilwell; I am basing my treatment of Kano on his research. In both cases, we see self-aggrandisement by manipulation and important military and policing functions. Both groups became powerful as intermediaries with the emirs, involved themselves in political disputes, and continued to pursue their projects in the early colonial period. 

But there were differences. For one thing, while titles given to slaves in Ilorin tended to become hereditary in certain families, emirs in Kano made strenuous and often successful efforts to block this. 

In addition, in Ilorin, land granted to royal slaves has tended to be handed down in their families, while in Kano, while royal slaves established and administered royal plantations for the emir, they did not themselves own land. And though some still supervised royal estates in 1975, by the 1990s they were no longer involved in (and thus no longer profiting from) this supervision. 

            In Ilorin, elite royal slaves could acquire their own slaves through military service. In Kano, elite royal slaves were given slaves by the emir for their use but did not own them. 

Although both groups suffered a major, permanent loss of much of their influence in the early 20th century, in Kano, even the slave titles were abolished for a while; in Ilorin, this does not seem to have happened. 

The most interesting difference between elite royal slaves in Ilorin and in Kano, however, arises in more recent times and lies in their differing attitudes to slave status, as illustrated by the Ilorin slave-descendant titleholders’ changing projects. 


The Divergence in Attitude 

           In Ilorin, in 1989‒90, titleholding families descended from elite royal slaves mostly emphasised free status while stressing their former prestige, military prowess, connections with the emir, and Islamic credentials. In Kano in the 1990s, however, Sean Stilwell found that titleholders and other descendants of royal slaves had no problem admitting their slave status: they were “very willing” to discuss royal slavery and their place in it. 

And even where Kano informants stressed the Islamic legitimacy of early elite slaves, they did so, in direct contrast to Ilorin informants,in conjunction with their slave status, as shown by Sean Stilwell in his discussion of Kano elite slaves Barka, Nasamu, and Hajjo. 

           Up to at least the 1990s, then, Kano slave descendants found good reason to continue accepting royal slave origin. Sean Stilwell recently told me that, in the 1990s, “many were still associated with the palace in a variety of ways, and found both meaning and status in that service.” 

A number of questions arise from all this. Do the Kano informants accept slave origin because they still gain prestige by serving one of the most important figures in the caliphate? Is it because their slave origin is bound up with their Islamic identity? Does it stem from their strong royal slave culture? Could it be connected in some way with the restoration of their titles in 1956? Stilwell and coauthors note in “The Oral History of Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate” that although the formal powers of the restored titleholders were limited, “some are known to have played very important informal and advisory roles.” How far does this continue, and how does it contribute to their prestige? 

           And what about the descendants of elite royal slaves in Ilorin? Why is their attitude to slave origin so different from that in Kano? Certainly there has been sensitivity in Ilorin over slavery in general. Has the elite slaves’ desire to hide their origins contributed to this? Or vice versa? Is the difference between landholding in Ilorin and Kano a factor?[8]Is the point in Ilorin that you now need to be accepted as free if you want to retain or claim land? That if you are challenged, you have to “prove” your free descent? While the experience of Adenlolu’s descendants supports this idea, the case of the Are Ogele family does not. 

This is as far as I have been able to go thus far with this exercise. I hope the questions it raises will encourage people to sharpen and individualise the experiences of royal slaves and highlight the complexity of royal slavery. 



Much of the material in this paper comes from an article I published in 2006, and I would like to express my gratitude to two people who helped greatly in the writing of that article: one is Professor Stefan Reichmuth, who generously provided information and insights; and the other was my friend and one-time colleague, the late Dr. E. B. (Dele) Bolaji, who conducted in-depth interviews with royal slaves’ descendants in the city of Ilorin on my behalf. I would also like to thank the organisers of “Landscapes, Sources, and Intellectual Projects in African History,” symposium in honour of Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias (Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham, November 2015), for prompting me to take a fresh approach to the material.




[1]The information provided in this paper is taken from my article “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,”International Journal of African Historical Studies39, no. 2 (2006), 247‒73; and from the following studies of Kano by Sean Stilwell: “Culture, Kinship, and Power,”African Economic History, no. 27 (1999), 137‒75; “Power, Honour and Shame: The Ideology of Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,”Journal of the International African Institute70, no. 3 (2000), 394‒421; andParadoxes of Power: The Kano “Mamluks” and Male Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate, 1804‒1903(Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2004). Also Sean Stilwell, Ibrahim Hamza, and Paul E. Lovejoy, “The Oral History of Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate: An Interview withSallamaDako,”History in Africa28 (2001), 273‒91. 

Other endnotes in this paper are used only to add information not provided in the text. 


[2]Or occasionally, slaves of individual emirs, such as Adenlolu of Lanwa, who was owned by Emir Shita and inherited by his son, Aliu, who did not become emir until later. 


[3]There may even have been competition over these ceremonial remnants: this is suggested by the fact that in 1989‒90several families were claiming the same duties as others were. However, it is also possible that some of these duties were performed by each of these families in turn, at the apogee of each family’s power. 


[4]In the 1960s, a list of slave titles was removed from a provincial file before it went to the Nigerian National Archives, Kaduna. Also, I found only a very limited amount of information on the 1936 crisis in the Ilorin files in Kaduna, although one might normally expect detailed accounts and analyses of such an important series of events. 


[5]The exact words were “never enslaved during the reign of Oba Moma.” 


[6]Though in 1982, when asked by a student researcher, the district head of Lanwa (a member of the Ilorin royal family who later became emir) agreed that Adenlolu was a slave of the royal house, so the family’s claims to free origin did not, apparently, go uncontested. 


[7]For a while, however, in the 1980s this seemed to be shifting, when the family grouped itself with other small-scalebales (also most likely of slave descent) who were trying to become officially recognised as “traditional rulers” and hence as graded chiefs. This must have involved some revision of their “history.” For claims to “traditional” rulership, see Ann O’Hear,Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors(Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997), chapter 8. 


[8]Even the Ajia Atikekere says he still owns land in Shao. It would appear that of all the slave titleholders discussed here, only the Sarkin Baraje does not hold at least some of the land his ancestor was given. Perhaps the land was recalled when the then sarkin was disgraced in 1927.

2.4b(ii) “Yoruba/Caliphate Society: Proverbs and Praise Poems.” Conference on Tales of Slavery: Narratives of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Enslavement in Africa, University of Toronto, 2009.


Copyright© Ann O’Hear, July 2020



Paper presented at Conference on Tales of Slavery: Narratives of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Enslavement in Africa, University of Toronto, 2009. Slightly revised version.


Yoruba/Caliphate Society: Proverbs and Praise Poems

Ann O’Hear


Should a bush pig act like a domestic pig, it will spoil a town; if a slave is made king, he will decimate the town. 


The Oba’s [king’s] slave is never so addressed. 


When a slave stays longer in the village he could become a chief. 


When a slave stays longer in the house he abuses the compound. 


This paper takes a brief look at two oral genres, namely, proverbs and praise poems. It also makes mention of similar or related genres, including slogans, other sayings, names, nicknames, and epithets. It aims to provide a few examples of where and how these types of information may be found, and of some of the ways in which they may be of use in providing African voices (though not necessarily direct slave voices) on slavery. Thus, the paper illustrates the use of interviews, local histories, and other sources, including local newspapers, and shows how proverbs, praise poems, and related genres can give us some ideas or insights about, for example, the attitudes of society in general to slavery and slaves, the status of slaves in comparison to freeborn citizens and pawns, the forms of resistance that slaves engaged in, the status and lives of the select group of elite slaves, the continued servitude of former slaves, and attitudes to slavery today. In conclusion, the paper discusses what types of information we might reasonably expect to glean (or not) from these types of sources and makes some suggestions for the future. 


The City of Ilorin 


The paper focuses on one location, the city of Ilorin, situated in northern Yorubaland and formerly the center of the southwestern most emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate. The location is important, as Ilorin is extremely secretive about slavery, and information of any sort, but most especially information providing the slave voice, is very hard to come by.[1]Thus the researcher is compelled to search for information in a wide variety of sometimes hidden places. 

            Ilorin began to grow in population in the early nineteenth century, first under Afonja and then under Fulani rule. The first Fulani leader in the city is commonly known as Mallam Alimi, and two of his sons, and their descendants, became emirs in rotatory succession. Although the city was ruled by Fulani emirs, it was populated by a variety of groups, including Hausa and especially Yoruba; the last-mentioned have always provided the overwhelming majority of the city’s people.[2]Slave raiding, slave trading, and the use of slaves were all prominent features of nineteenth-century Ilorin.[3]Slaves were extensively used in agriculture. In the early colonial period, many of the city’s aristocrats and others settled large numbers of their former slaves and other poor clients permanently in the agricultural hinterland, where they continued to live in conditions of servitude. At the other end of the slave spectrum, elite slaves (that is, influential slaves of the emirs and aristocrats) featured prominently in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century history of the city, and various families descended from these slaves still live there today. 


Proverbs and Other Sayings 


The birth of a slave is no different from that of a freeborn. 


Nobody cares when a slave dies, but there is much wailing when a freeborn son or daughter dies. 


These two proverbs, known both in Ilorin and elsewhere in Yorubaland, reveal some ambivalence in the attitudes of free society toward slaves,[4]and suggest that the norms, both Yoruba and Islamic, that were intended to guide the treatment of slaves were not always followed in practice.[5]There was little ambivalence, however, with regard to the status of slaves in comparison with free persons, even iwofa(pawns). The inarguable difference in status between slave and free is used to drive home the lessons that proverbs wish to teach: 


It is a slave who calls himself a slave, while an iwofacalls himself an iwofa; it is the son of the owner of the land who calls himself king. 

[Interpretation:] It is a person’s behaviour that shows who he is.[6] 


If we are sent on an errand like a slave, we should deliver the message like a freeborn. 

[Interpretation:] In the execution of a difficult and perhaps degrading assignment, we should use intelligence to make the task as easy as possible.[7] 


The proverb “When a slave stays longer in the village he could become a chief” is interpreted as “Whoever tries to endure his suffering, he will one day overcome it.”[8]It is concerned, not with the remote possibility of a slave’s actually changing his status, but with the shock value of juxtaposing the status “slave” with that of “chief.” And while “the Oba’s slave is never so addressed,” because such a slave’s influence or military prowess in the service of the king may inspire fear in others, who prudently refrain from mentioning his status, his status is still that of a slave.[9] 

            The proverb “Should a bush pig act like a domestic pig, it will spoil a town; if a slave is made king, he will decimate the town” is interpreted as meaning “An opportunity given to a worthless person to be treated or behave with decency will be misused”[10]and suggests that a slave might not only be despised but also feared, as violent resistance to his treatment was always possible. In contrast, “When a slave stays longer in the house he abuses the compound” suggests a possibility of resistance that was open only to an acculturated, probably relatively well-treated slave. The Ilorin informant who provided this proverb explains that when a slave lives for a long time in his owner’s house, he learns the history of the compound, so that in the case of a quarrel, he can abuse the members of the family by “telling the history of their great grandfather,” that is, by telling stories designed to embarrass them by dragging the skeletons out of the family closet.[11]It’s worth noting that while these proverbs dealing with resistance reflect the attitudes and fears of free society, and not directly the voices of slaves, they do at least provide evidence of slave agency. 

            While the proverb on the resistance of an acculturated slave may be of specifically Ilorin origin, the majority of the others quoted above were found originally in other sources (labeled as generically Yoruba) and then presented to Ilorin informants who identified them as known in Ilorin and provided interpretations of them. It seems, therefore, that they reflect a broader pattern of attitudes to slaves found throughout Yorubaland, and even further afield. Hausa proverbs, for example, collected at the beginning of the twentieth century, reflect much the same attitudes: “A slave and a free man cannot be cooked together”; “A slave is a slave no matter how wealthy he is.”[12] 

            Other types of sayings may also be useful in reflecting attitudes toward slaves or their descendants. Two examples will be given here. First, in the 1950s, the descendants of slaves and poor clients who had been settled in the agricultural districts around Ilorinfinally broke out into open resistance by joining the Ilorin Talaka Parapo, or commoners’ party, against the Northern Peoples Congress, the party of the emirs and aristocrats. As reported in the Daily Servicenewspaper, they met with fierce opposition from the supporters of the emir: 


tragedy struck Arnigari village in Molete District . . . as a gang of armed men from Paku village and Molete invaded the farms of members of the Ilorin Talaka Parapo Action Group Alliance and destroyed their yams and other farm products. 

            The invaders who travelled to the village at noon are believed to be members of the Northern Peoples Congress. 

            Most of the villagers who arrived . . . to protest to the NA Police alleged that the invaders beat drums and sang war songs on arrival at the village. 

            “We were startled and became helpless,” the villagers said. 

            They alleged that as the invaders continued to uproot their yams, they were heard saying [this quotation is first given in Yoruba, then in English]: We are now self-governing. He who fails to accept the Emir will suffer until he dies.[my emphasis][13] 


The slogan chanted by the invaders illustrates graphically, and with heavy irony, the attitudes of the ruling class to resistance among the descendants of their slaves, and a firm determination to keep them under control. 

            The second example comes from the 1980s. In the city itself, public mention of slave origin has long been frowned upon. A mantra, “These days there are no more slaves,” was repeated over and over again by an informant in the late 1980s during the course of an interview attempting to elicit proverbs about slaves, probably because there were other people within hearing distance. The saying confirms a public sensitivity with regard to slavery that contrasts with the fact that it is perfectly well known, in private, who and where in the city the slave descendants are. This sensitivity is reflected particularly clearly in the denials of former slave status by the families of former elite slaves.[14] 


Praise Poems, Names, Nicknames, and Epithets 


The term oriki is used both for the “cognomen or attributive” name given to a child and for the praise poems composed to celebrate the lives of prominent persons, towns, and so forth.[15]Here it refers to praise poems. Many Ilorinfamilies perform oriki, even some of those families whose origin is not Yoruba. For example, according to Abdurahman Alabi, in his local history, Adifa Community in Ilorin, women in the family of Daniyalu, which is of royal (Fulani) descent but has not provided candidates for the emirship, perform on important occasions a Fulani dance accompanied by a Yoruba praise song, including the following words: “E ka lo Adifa ni le Daniyalu t’eru ndi omo-oba.” Alabi translates as follows: come to Adifa, Daniyalu’s compound, where the slave becomes a prince. This is in reference, Alabi notes, to the “non-discriminatory” or egalitarian treatment given to both princes and slaves by Daniyalu.[16]The words of this song suggest that further investigation in the Daniyalu family might prove fruitful. Why is the egalitarian treatment of slaves singled out for praise? Is it in any way connected with the fact that the original Daniyalu, unlike two of his brothers, was never able to become an emir rather than a prince? Does it suggest that the Daniyalu family, having been excluded from the succession, was claiming the high moral ground on slavery? Or could it be that some of the slaves of the Daniyalu family became elite slaves, maybe prominent in war? 

            Praise poems or songs are particularly interesting as sources of information about elite slaves in Ilorin. For example, an oral interview provided me with the first detailed information on a certain Dada, a major military slave of the Balogun Ajikobi (one of the four main military and territorial chiefs).[17]Especially notable is the fact that Dada was not a slave of the emir but a slave of an aristocrat, and therefore a member of a group that has so far been largely neglected in the literature in general, in comparison with the slaves of emirs. Dada had his own praise poem, parts of which, at least, are still remembered today and performed in front of his descendants: 


Interviewer: I have heard that there was a slave in Ilorincalled Dada . . . , who became a great warrior. Is this true? 

Informant: Yes. 

Interviewer:Where did he live?  

Informant: Ile Omodada in Itamerin area of Ilorin. 

Interviewer: Did he serve under one of the major chiefs? 

Informant: Yes. 

Interviewer:Can you tell me anything about his career, for example, what wars did he fight in? Why is he remembered as a great warrior? 

Informant: He fought in the following wars: Orimope, Ogun Offa, Ogun Ile Baruba. He was very brave and had a lot of strength. During the wars, he had this special oriki: 

            Mo wole; too ba wole oo bale je   

            [Do not enter into the house; if you do, you will spoil the house] 

            Mo ku sile, too ba ku sile, o bale je 

            [Do not die at home; if you do, you will spoil the house] 

Drummers today still greet his descendants with the above oriki.[18] 


Unfortunately, the list of wars given by the informant is problematical. It appears to refer to Ilorin’s participation in the Yoruba wars of the later nineteenth century but also to a much earlier conflict with Borgu. This may well be an example of the Ilorin tendency to cluster or conflate events, sometimes widely separated in time, around a particular well-known individual. The oriki itself is somewhat difficult to interpret: it may well reflect a desire to emphasize the ferocity of the warrior; but it may also, possibly, hint at his outsider status. 

            The Ajia Ijesha family also remembers an oriki. The first Ajia Ijesha, a slave of the emir, was a warrior and titleholder in Ilorin whose descendants still carry the title and live in Ilorin today. Although the Ajia Ijesha is identified several times as a slave in records from the early colonial period, and there are other indications that he and his descendants carry a slave title, a present-day member of the family denies that the family is of slave ancestry. He does admit that the orikiof the Ajia Ijesha contains the words “Bawa n bako,” although he claims that they mean, not “slave of a guest/stranger” but “one who called himself slave, but was never captured in war.”[19]This modern interpretation is consistent with other, similar Ilorinfamilies’ denials of former slave status, but whatever the Ajia Ijesha family’s present-day gloss on the matter, these words from their orikihelp to confirm their slave origin. 

            The head of the Jimba family, which provided prominent slaves of the emir of Ilorin, also features in at least one oriki,  that of Ibikunle, who was Balogun of Ibadan from 1851 to 1864. This oriki appears to refer not to the original Jimba, who according to Samuel Johnson was responsible for plundering Old Oyo, but to the second head of the family, who was also a warrior: 


[Ibikunle] assaulted the Ijebu on the right wing of battle; 

The Ijebu whose king Adejowon is the Awujale 

He assaulted the Ijebu on the left wing of battle; 

The Ijebu whose king is the Awujale. 


He pleaded innocence and yet assaulted Jimba; 

Jimba, that native of Ilorinwith a nose so big 

you could hardly see his mouth![20] 


This doesn’t give us any substantive information, but the very fact that the second Jimba features in the orikihints at this warrior’s importance. 

            The Jimbas are an interesting family, and one that can’t very well claim nonslave origin, because the first Jimba is mentioned on several occasions by Samuel Johnson in his well-known and widely read History of the Yoruba and is clearly identified by Johnson as one of the emir’s head slaves. An early-twentieth-century Arabic history of Ilorin also identifies Jimba as a slave, as does the 1950s “History of Ilorin” written by the native courts registrar of the time, Mallam Sulu. It is quite possible that Mallam Sulu read Johnson’s account, but he was also the son of the incumbent emir and was himself soon to become Emir Sulu Gambari, so he would already have been well aware of the Jimba family’s status.[21]A modern representative of the Jimba family, lawyer Safi Jimba, has written his own Short History of Ilorin. In this book, he tiptoes very gently around the slavery issue. Although he makes extensive use of Johnson, he doesn’t quote the passages in which Johnson calls the first Jimba a slave. Indeed, he hardly refers to slaves at all throughout his book. The only possible hint that Safi Jimba doesn’t erase is contained in his dedication of the book to his grandfather, “Ilari Ogun.” This epithet may well be taken from an oriki, and it may suggest a comparison with the ilarislave officials of Old Oyo.[22] 

            Another epithet or name given to an elite slave may also have been taken from an oriki. This is the name “Ogunkojole,” given to a slave also called Alihu, who was a key figure, described  as “perhaps the most powerful man in the kingdom,” exercising “very great influence with” Emir Moma” and “being treated with great respect wherever he went,” despite his being “the king’s slave.” He threatened to behead the powerful Balogun Gambari Adamu. “Ogunkojole” is translated as “War does not resemble home.”[23]Again, this is hard to interpret, and may intend little more than to highlight the individual’s role as a warrior; but it may also hint at an origin outside Ilorin, to which the individual may have been brought as a slave. Unfortunately for Alihu, his power and influence did not last, and he and his master were forced to commit suicide together in 1895 by blowing themselves up in the palace powder magazine.[24] 

            The name “Na Samu” is identified by Jan Hogendorn as  a “joke” name for a slave, meaning “I got [him].”[25]In the mid-nineteenth century, an elite slave of the same name (variously given as Nasama, Nasamu, Nasamo), assistant to the slave official known as the Sarkin Dongari, was identified as the Ilorin executioner. Another Nasamu was an elite slave of the Basambo, an Ilorin titleholder.[26]All this makes it very likely that yet another Nasamu, a major Ilorinwarrior singled out for attention by Samuel Johnson, was also a slave. While the Ilorinarmy was besieging Offa, 


The Ilorinhorsemen were in the habit of kidnapping the caravans between Ofa and Erin bringing in provisions. On this occasion Enimowu [“leader of the expedition” and son-in-law of Basorun Ogunmola] attacked the kidnappers, and in a short time put them to flight, and pursued them rather too far. One notable Ilorinhorseman, Nasamu by name, but surnamed “Gata-ikoko” (i.e., a devouring wolf, from his great fondness for meat) in the chase easily out-distanced his pursuers, and with a few choice horsemen he made a wide detour and re-appeared at the rear of their pursuers! . . . The pursued had now become the pursuers. Great was the havoc wrought by the Ilorins with their spears on the panic-stricken pursuers now taken in the rear.[27] 


After the end of the siege of Offa, while the Ilorinarmy was harassing the Ibadanarmy at Ikirun, 


A small town behind Ilobu . . . was surprised and taken by the Ilorins. When the news reached Akintola at Ilobu he quickly marched out, gave chase, and intercepted them as they were returning with captives and booty. It was on this occasion that a single combat was fought between the champion lancers of the two armies which recalled similar warfare of ancient times. The two famous horsemen of both armies here met for the first time. Nasamu, nick-named “Gata-Ikoko” of whom we have heard . . .  the most famous of the Ilorinhorsemen on his famous war steed named from its colour “Arasi,” here met with Latunji. . . . Both of them had heard of each other’s fame and exploits on various battlefields, and had been longing to meet each other in a trial of valour. They now accosted each other, “Is that you?” “Is that you?” and then the single combat began 

according to their accepted rules, with spear on either side, and the hosts on both sides stood holding their breath, and watching these two chiefs of strength. The combat lasted for some time, which shows they were equally matched; but by a skilful turn Nasamu with his spear knocked Latunji’s spear off his hand, and then went about to throw him off his horse and spear him on the ground, when Latunji hastily whipped out his revolver from his side and wounded Nasamu in the right hand, causing his spear to fall off his hand. With the left Nasamu gathered up his reins, put spurs to his horse and escaped: the Ilorins with one accord gave way and were hotly pursued and badly beaten, all their captives and booty being recovered.[28] 


Given the prominent slaves who bore the name Nasamu, it seems that some “joke” slave names remained in place to remind even elite slaves that they were still slaves. In some places, Hunwick notes, slaves were given Arabic names which were often “redolent of happiness, good fortune and favour from God.”[29]It seems that some similar process was at work in Ilorin, where the children of slaves might be called Nagode (“I give thanks”) or Alheri (translated as mo ri ore, “I have seen good”).[30]However, the good fortune was that of the owner, and the children of slaves, however acculturated, were still to be reminded of their origins. 

            One final, rather quirky, example of the importance of names and their connection with slave status in Ilorin, as elsewhere, comes again from Samuel Johnson. After Governor Carter of Lagoshad arranged a settlement of the Ilorin/Ibadan war in 1893, and Ilorinhad broken this agreement, a British officer was sent to the city: 


Captain Bower had to go to Ilorinto remonstrate with the Emir. . . . The Ilorinchiefs took great exception to the manner Captain Bower was addressing their King. . . . They called Captain Bower “Bawa” . . .; that in Hausa is the name of a slave. All their great men have each one a Bawa—their principal slave—and hence Captain Bower was taken for Sir Gilbert Carter’s slave!. For a slave to be talking after that manner to, and threatening their King, was intolerable! . . . he was said to have been literally hustled out of Ilorin.[31] 


It is notable that “an Ilorininformant mentions Bower by nameas having been humiliated in the city.”[32]Possibly the Ilorinchiefs literally thought that Bower was a slave, but more likely they were playing on words in order to humiliate him. Whatever is the case, the lowly status of a slave, even an apparently elite slave, was emphasized. 




This has been a very brief look at proverbs, oriki,and similar oral genres, which are difficult but potentially useful sources and deserve to be more widely consulted in the study of slavery. In conclusion, a few points about their usefulness may be made, and questions asked about the future: 


  • Proverbs and slogans may be most useful in slavery studies in revealing attitudes, feelings, perceptions, and fears, providing information on status differences, and suggesting the differences between treatment and norms. Glosses on proverbs may, however, provide surprisingly specific information, as in the Ilorininformant’s explanation of the way in which the slave who “stays long in the house [may abuse] the compound.”  

  • From my very small sample, the fact that numerous proverbs seem to be known in various areas of Yorubaland, and that some similar proverbs exist in Hausaland seems to suggest that they may reflect a regionwide set of attitudes to slavery rather than attitudes specific to any particular place or area. But how far is this true? And for what period? Does the fact that proverbs are common to various areas today merely reflect a more recent spread of oral material since the disappearance of slavery, due to improved transportation and increased migration? Do proverbs collected in areas that were slave reservoirs differ from those found in areas of significant slave ownership? 

  • Slave names, like proverbs, may provide information on status; they may also be used to identify individuals in the historical record as slaves. Orikiand epithets that may have been taken from them are also suggestive about status, though they may be difficult to interpret. 

  • My own investigations have shown orikiand epithets to be useful in the study of elite slaves in Ilorin. Further study of orikimay well reveal more about elite slaves and their exploits, in Ilorinand elsewhere. Or is Ilorinthe only Yoruba city where orikiof elite slaves are found? And if so, what does that tell us about both Ilorinand other Yoruba cities? What similar praise poems and epithets exist outside Yorubaland that may be milked for the study of slavery? 

  • A study of orikioutside Ilorinmay reveal information about individuals who were enslaved in Ilorin, say, and became prominent on returning to their home areas (such as Offa and Igbomina) or elsewhere. Esu or Esubiyi, for example, was captured by Ilorinforces and held as a slave in Ilorin, until he was ransomed and left the city. Eventually he created a kingdom at Ayede, and received a “praise title”:[33]perhaps the orikiof individuals like Esu may provide details of their enslavement, whether in Ilorinor elsewhere. 

  • While oral interviews are one of the most important sources of examples of the genres explored here, local histories should also be consulted as often as possible. Local histories have a number of problems, including their indebtedness to various other sources, which they may rarely cite, and the various axes they have to grind, but on occasion they provide an epithet or quotation from an oriki, which may provide new information and serve as a starting point for further investigation. 



[1] On secrecy about slavery in the Ilorin area, see, for example, Ann O’Hear, “African Sources for the Study of Slavery and Its Aftermath in Ilorin, Nigeria,” paper presented at the African Studies Association Annual Meeting, New Orleans, 2007; Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors(Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997), 187, citing letter from anonymous research assistant, 10 June 1994; “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,”International Journal of African Historical Studies30, no. 2 (2006), including 269, n. 102. Otolorin Adesiyun records that two of his 1975 informants refused to say much or anything about slavery because of the sensitivity on this issue inIlorin(interviews conducted in 1975, organized by Paul E. Lovejoy, deposited in the Lovejoy Collection,AhmaduBelloUniversity,Zaria). See also below, especially on elite slaves. 

[2] C. S. Whitaker 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, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), 123. On the Yoruba predominance inIlorin, see also H. B. Hermon-Hodge,Gazetteer of Ilorin Province(London: George Allen & Unwin, 1929), 272. 

[3] On slave raiding, slave trading, and slavery inIlorinin the nineteenth century, see O’Hear,Power Relations. 

[4]Translations provided by E. B. Bolaji after he was given the proverb in Yoruba and discussed it with anIlorininformant. In 1988, I provided a number of proverbs (including the two quoted here), in Yoruba, to my research associate, Dr. E. B. Bolaji, and to another research assistant, Suleiman Ajao. I asked them to find out from informants whether the specified proverbs were known inIlorin. For the source of these proverbs, see, for example, the entry foreruin R. C. Abraham,Dictionary of Modern Yoruba, 2nd ed. (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1962). E. B. Bolaji and Suleiman Ajao also collected other proverbs fromIlorininformants. (Dr. Bolaji, a scholar of Yoruba oral literature, died tragically young; I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.) 

           With regard to the ambivalent attitude of free society toward slaves, a proverb quoted by A. B. Ellis reveals a similar attitude: “A slave is not the child of a tree (i.e., made of wood). When a slave dies his mother hears nothing of it, but when a free man dies there is mourning; yet the slave, too, was once a child in his mother’s house.”The Yoruba-Speaking Peoples of the Slave Coast ofWest Africa(London: Chapman and Hall, 1894), 228. 

[5]On norms and practice, see, for example, Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Context of Ideology,” inThe Ideology of Slavery in Africa, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy, 11–38 (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1981) and “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” in Ideology of Slavery, 201–43); and O’Hear, Power Relations, 31–35, 39–44. 

[6] Proverb and interpretation collected by E. B. Bolaji, 1989–90. 

[7] Translation and interpretation provided by E. B. Bolaji after he was given the proverb in Yoruba and discussed it with anIlorininformant, 1988. 

[8] Proverb and interpretation collected by Suleiman Ajao from a senior male informant, Okelele,Ilorin, 3 December 1988. 

[9]Translation provided by E. B. Bolaji after he was given the proverb in Yoruba and discussed it with anIlorininformant, 1988. 

[10]Translation and interpretation provided by E. B. Bolaji after he was given the proverb in Yoruba and discussed it with anIlorininformant, 1988.. 

[11] Proverb and interpretation collected by Suleiman Ajao from a senior male informant, Okelele,Ilorin, 3 December 1988. For proverbs on resistance, see also Hausa proverbs cited by Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” 227–28, 

[12] Quoted by Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” 237. For other Yoruba proverbs with similar themes, see note 4, proverb quoted by Ellis; also “One would not remove the thorn which pricks the foot of one’s son from the foot of one’s slave,” quoted in P. O. Ogunbowale,The Essentials of the Yoruba Language (London: University of London Press, 1970). 

[13] Daily Service (Lagos), 1 June 1959. 

[14] Interview with an elderly female informant, Okelele,Ilorin, 7 September 1988. On secrecy with regard to slavery inIlorin, see, for example, note 1 above. For particular sensitivity with regard to families of former elite slaves, see O’Hear, “Elite Slaves.” I found a list ofIlorintitles in anIlorinprovincial file in the Nigerian National Archives, whose cover page indicated that it included slave titles. Unfortunately, however, the material on slave titles had been removed before the file was sent toKadunain the 1960s (269, n. 102). 

           The reasons for sensitivity and secrecy may include a general desire on the part of theIlorinauthorities to cover up their slave-holding past and their continuing efforts to retain control over rural dwellers, and also perhaps a desire to protect the families of their former elite slaves. The ex-elite slave families’ denial of slave status today reflects a disastrous (for them) series of events in 1936, which led to their loss of power and influence asbaba kekeres, or intermediaries with the emir. “While slave status provided an avenue to power . . . there was no disgrace in acknowledging it. Once power was lost, to be called a slave became degrading” (“Elite Slaves,” 273; see also 265–66). I thank Stefan Reichmuth for this suggestion. 

[15] Rev. Samuel Johnson, The History of the Yorubas (1921; reprint, Lagos: C.S.S. Bookshops, 1976), 85; Ogunbowale, Essentials of the Yoruba Language, 149–50; Chief J. A. Ayorinde, “Oriki,” in Sources of Yoruba History, ed. S. O. Biobaku, 63-76 (London: Oxford University Press, 1973), 62. 

[16] Abdurahman Kola Alabi, Adifa Community in Ilorin: Historical Notes (self-published, c. 1990). 

[17] Interview by E. B. Bolaji and Alhaji Tunde Elesin, with an informant in Ile Agbogi,Ilorin, 2 November 1988 (one of a series of interviews organized and translated on my behalf by Dr. E. B. Bolaji and conducted by E. B. Bolaji, S. T. Salami, and B. Elesin,Ilorin, 1988. See Ann O’Hear with E. B. Bolaji, “Slavery inIlorin,Nigeria,” annotated interview). I first saw the name Dada in an interview conducted by O. Adesiyun with Alfa Sheu, Alowa (Alawaye) Compound, 12 July 1975, Lovejoy Collection, translation of tape 6 by Busayo Simeon and transcript of tape 6. Much more recently, I have found a further brief mention of this slave in a local history: Sheikh Ahmad Tijani Adisa-Onikoko,A History of Ilorin Emirate(Ilorin: Sat Adis Press Service Enterprises, n.d. [1992 or 1993]), 67. 

[18] Interview by E. B. Bolaji and Alhaji Tunde Elesin, with an informant in Ile Agbogi,Ilorin, 2 November 1988. 

[19] See O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 270–71, citing Nigerian National Archives, Kaduna (NNAK), Ilorinprof 4/1 829A/1917, Ilorin Emirate Reorganisation of Districts; and interview by E. B. Bolaji and/or Mallam A. B. Adua with a member of the Ajia Ijesha family, Ilorin, 7 November 1989 (one of a series of interviews organized and translated on my behalf by Dr. E. B. Bolaji and conducted in by E. B. Bolaji and/or Mallam A. B. Adua, 1989 –90). 

[20] Quoted in Toyin Falola and G. O. Oguntomisin, Yoruba Warlords of the Nineteenth Century (Trenton,NJ: AfricaWorld Press, 2001). For the first Jimba as despoiler of Old Oyo, see Johnson, History, 217–18, 259. 

[21] O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 271, citing the following: Johnson,History, 217–18 and 259; Abu Ikokoro,Ta’lif akhbar al-qurun min umara’ bilad Ilurin,dated 24 March 1912,photocopy of an annotated and corrected copy of an English translation (presumably by B. G. Martin), provided to me by Ade Obayemi; and Rhodes House, Oxford (RH), Mss. Afr. s. 1210, C. W. Michie, Political Situation in Northern Provinces and History of Ilorin, History of Ilorin, “compiled by M. Sulu, Ilorin Native Courts Registrar, chiefly from accounts given to him by old people in Ilorin Town in 1953.” 

[22] O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” citing the following: Alhaji Safi Jimba,A Short History of Ilorin(Ilorin: Jimba Book Productions Company, 1981), iii; and Robin Law,The Oyo Empire c. 1600–1836: A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), onilariin Old Oyo. 

[23]O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 258–59, citing Public Record Office (PRO) CO 147/104, G. T. Carter to Chamberlain, Odo Otin, 9 January 1896; Gilbert T. Carter,Despatch from Sir Gilbert T. Carter, Furnishing a General Report of the Lagos Interior Expedition, 1893), 26; G. B. Haddon-Smith, Interior Mission to Yorubaland 1893: Extracts from the Diary of G. B. Haddon-Smith, Political Officer, no. 5, 28 February 1893, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Library, London; and Rev. S. S. Farrow, “A Visit to Ilorin,” part 1,Niger and Yoruba Notes1 (1894), 29. 

[24]O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 259, citing PRO CO 147/104, G. T. Carter to Chamberlain, Odo Otin, 9 January 1896; H. B. Hermon-Hodge,Gazetteer of Ilorin Province(London: George Allen & Unwin, 1929), 73; andLagos Weekly Record, 28 September 1895. 

[25] Jan Hogendorn, “The Economics of Slave Use on Two Plantations of the Zaria Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate,” International Journal of African Historical Studies10 (1977), 374, cited in O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 253, n. 26. 

[26] O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 253, n. 26, and 255, including n. 34. 

[27] Johnson,History, 564. 

[28] Ibid., 603–4. 

[29] J. O. Hunwick, “Black Slaves in the Mediterranean World: Introduction to a Neglected Aspect of the African Diaspora,” Slavery and Abolition13 (1992): 13. 

[30]Bolaji/Elesin interview with informant in Ile Agbogi,Ilorin, 2 November 1988; interview by Shehu T. Salami with Alhaji Mustapha Magaji Adeyi, head of Adeyi’s Compound, Okelele,Ilorin, 20 October 1988. 

[31] Johnson, History, 648–49, quoted in O’Hear, Power Relations, 43–44 

[32] O’Hear, Power Relations, 44, and n. 219, citing an interview conducted by O. Adesiyun with Mustapha Mesuna, Adana Compound, Ilorin, 10 July 1975, Lovejoy Collection, translation of tape 2 by Busayo Simeon. 

[33] Olatunji Ojo, “Ethnic Identity and Nineteenth-Century Yoruba Warfare,” Harriet Tubman Seminar paper, December 2003, 18. 

2.4b(iii) “African Sources for the Study of Slavery and Its Aftermath in Ilorin, Nigeria.” African Studies Association Annual Meeting (USA), 2007. 


Copyright© Ann O’Hear, July 2020 


Paper presented at African Studies Association Annual Meeting (USA), 2007 


African Sources for the Study of Slavery and Its Aftermath in Ilorin,Nigeria 

Ann O’Hear 


Ilorin, as you know, is a city in northern Yorubaland, and it was formerly the southwesternmost emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate. Slavery was clearly an important institution in the city and its environs, and the descendants of slaves, together with other people of dependent status, still inhabit much of what the colonial officers called the “Metropolitan Districts” around the city. In addition, descendants of elite slaves (that is, major slaves of the emirs and aristocrats) still live in and around the city. I propose to examine sources for the nineteenth century but also sources for the period after the official emancipation of the slaves, when freed slaves and their descendants still lived (and to an extent they still do) in conditions of servitude. In contrast to the rest of the slaves, for much of the first four decades of the twentieth century, various elite slaves and their descendants continued to exercise considerable influence in the city. 

            I have been looking at slavery and its aftermath in the Ilorinarea, on and off, for twenty-five years or more. In that time, I have used a wide variety of sources. There’s no hard and fast line between “European” and “African” sources--colonial records, for example, and European and American travelers’ accounts contain a lot of interview material and collected histories--but in this paper I will try to focus on three types of what may be called local sources: 


  • oral testimonies, including interviews conducted by my representatives or myself or for other researchers; this type of sources also includes records of oral testimonies contained in student dissertations; 

  • written local histories and similar sources, such as autobiographies, both published and unpublished; and 

  • Nigerian newspaper reports, especially those including eyewitness accounts of events, statements from participants, and details of local election results. 


In general terms, I will be looking at the difficulties involved in obtaining information, the advantages and problems associated with the sources, the kinds of material that can usefully be found in them, and what this information is useful for. With regard to the difficulties involved in obtaining information, I should point out that anyone studying slavery in the Ilorinarea is working in the context of a city and environs in which the subject is still one of extreme sensitivity up to the present day. The sources help to reveal this sensitivity, by their silences as much as their statements. For me, one of the most interesting questions of all, and one that still awaits a complete answer, is: Why are some centers, like Ilorin, so secretive about slavery, while in others it seems to be much more freely discussed?--with regard to elite slaves, for example, I see a distinct contrast between Sean Stilwell’s informants in Kano and mine in Ilorin. 

            I’d like, first, to provide a very brief sketch of some background information on the city and its slaves. Ilorinbegan to grow in population in the early nineteenth century, first under Afonja, and then under Fulani rule. Although its rulers were Fulani, however, the city was populated by a variety of groups, including Hausa and especially Yoruba, who have always provided the overwhelming majority of its inhabitants.[1]Of the city’s four baloguns, or major warlords, two represent the Yoruba population, one the Hausa, and one the Fulani. Slave raiding, slave trading, and the use of slaves were all prominent features of nineteenth-century Ilorin. Slaves were always extensively used in agriculture, but in the early colonial period, many of the city’s aristocrats and others settled large numbers of their slaves and poor clients permanently in the agricultural hinterland. For most of the colonial period, the descendants of the slaves and other dependent farmers were tightly controlled by the urban elite, who controlled access to land, provided district heads and other Native Authority personnel, and acted as intermediaries, who in Ilorinwent by the name of baba kekere.The dependent farmers were forced to pay tribute in produce and labor, bribes, high taxes, and market and other fees. They provided wives for city men. They failed to share in migration to wealthier areas, no doubt due to their isolation and ignorance of opportunities, but also, I believe, due to the close control over them. They failed to share in even the very limited educational opportunities that were offered. For several decades, their opportunities to resist their dependent status were limited to covert, “diffident” (to use Michael Watts’ term)[2]acts of resistance. But the period of rapid political change in the 1950s provided an opportunity for them to fight against their dependent status, through a commoners’ party, the Ilorin Talaka Parapo, which allied with the Action Group to fight against the NPC, the party of the aristocratic elite. The elite managed to regain its control, however, and ironically, by the time of national independence, the farmers had been returned fully to their state of dependence. In May 1959, as an Action Group newspaper reported, a gang of armed men invaded the farms of members of the ITP/AG Alliance, saying “We are now self-governing. He who fails to accept the Emir will suffer until he dies.”[3]In later years, some new opportunities presented themselves, through local government reforms, the Land Use Decree, and the political campaigns of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Nevertheless, even as recently as 1991, a research assistant of mine, in conversation with the remaining inhabitants of a relatively remote hamlet, discovered that their conditions of dependency had hardly changed.[4] 

            The difficulties in obtaining information on a sensitive subject like slavery are particularly associated with oral sources--though they are also illustrated by colonial and other sources, such as a list of titles that I found in the national archives in Kaduna, only to discover that the portion of the list that dealt with slave titles, as promised on the title page, had simply been removed[5]--no doubt the local files had been very carefully examined (and culled) before they were transferred to Kaduna. 

            The problem of getting information from interviews was compounded for me by the fact that I was, personally, rather highly visible. Let me give you an example. On one occasion, I was able to go out into the districts with the help of an Ilorinchief (much of the time I was trying to keep under the radar of the chiefs, for obvious reasons, but this particular chief was a highly unusual individual, and also occupied a somewhat unusual structural position). I had been looking for information on agriculture in the districts--in the end, I was able to confirm the hypothesis that the poor dependent farmers would have been the last people to be considered in the provision of extension services, etc.--and I had amassed a lot of material from the colonial records. The only problem was that it was all from the point of view of the colonialists; I had nothing from the farmers themselves. So I explained to my friend that I was looking for information on extension services and agricultural “development” in general, and he introduced me to the baleof a village in which his family had formerly owned land, and off we went to interview the villagers. The next day I went back to my friend’s compound, to thank him, and I found him roaring with laughter. Not half an hour after I had departed with the bale,he had been visited by the emir’s messengers, with a message from the emir, demanding to know why he had sent a white woman into the emir’s districts. 

            So for much of the time, both because I was so conspicuous and because I needed the assistance of fluent Yoruba speakers, I relied on research associates and assistants. I was very fortunate in these. One of my major associates was a colleague at the college where I taught, and a very good friend. He was a native of Ilorin, and a member of a family with some traditional prestige. He had been sent away to school and had converted to Christianity, later even founding his own church, but he kept in close touch with his family. Also, he did his PhD research on part of the corpus of  Yoruba oral literature. So he was familiar with the city but to an extent distanced from it, and he also had a great deal of experience with oral interviews, and with translating responses into English. I provided him with detailed lists of very specific questions, asking for concrete bits of information, not generalizations, we discussed them, and he translated them into Yoruba. I left it to him to find suitable informants and to decide on how to approach them, to find assistants to help him in conducting interviews, and to transcribe the responses and translate them into English. He organized a major series of interviews for me on slavery in general, another on elite slaves specifically, and also a series on pawnage. He was particularly helpful in his glosses on the information--discussing the terminology that his informants had used, and describing the circumstances of the interviews and any specifics of the interviewees that might have influenced their testimony.  I should perhaps point out that given the sensitivity of the subject, he asked all the potential informants whether they would allow the information they gave to be published, and if they would, whether or not they wanted their names to be used. 

            This sensitivity is graphically illustrated by the experience of another assistant of mine, whom I mentioned above. I had known him as a student and he had also worked for another researcher. For a while he taught at a secondary school in a difficult-of-access part of the districts--not far from the city, but very badly served by roads. I asked him to go and talk to people in a number of small nearby hamlets that were pretty clearly of slave origin, but warned him to be extremely careful in his approach. He took a local student with him, and he did manage to come up with some very useful information from one small hamlet. Its inhabitants were still paying tribute and still regarded the Ilorinlandowners as their masters. The landowners in the area had highlighted their status by putting up signs saying “This village belongs to X,” “This village belongs to Y.” However, the inhabitants of the hamlet in question were largely elderly, and many younger people were said to have gone off to Lagos to work, indicating that although the city elite continued to assert its dominance, the migrants at least had gained a measure of independence. Even those villagers who did agree to talk to the researcher were reluctant and nervous, however, and in the end he was threatened by inhabitants of other hamlets and run out of the area.[6]The incident did provide very clear evidence of the state of dependency today, at least in such small isolated pockets, and equally clear evidence of the continued touchiness of the subject. I’ve never asked anyone to do any similar research since then.  

            My own interviewing was done largely in connection with the major industries of Ilorin, including weaving, pottery making, and lantanabead making, and I found that in these interviews, I was sometimes able to ask questions on slavery incidentally, as it were, to my research on the industries. A number of useful vignettes or anecdotes were the result. For example, slaves were used to dig clay to be sold to the Ilorin potters, and a weaver/warrior took his slaves to the warfront where he made them weave (no doubt this work was carried out in the periods of inactivity that characterized the lengthy siege of Offa in the later nineteenth century).[7]Wealthy beadmakers captured and bought slaves for use in their work, and gave out female slaves in marriage (or concubinage) to important customers. On the other hand, slaves might not be used in secret processes, such as the harvesting and processing of the eluleaf, which is used in blue dye production and is also used in magic.[8] 

            Oral testimony often supplements, fleshes out, complements, or confirms information found in other sources. This is clearly illustrated by testimony from elite slave families, whose members in almost all cases deny their slave origin, but with regard to their lands, activities, and functions, they are in general agreement with other sources that identify their ancestors as slaves. Even the functions they say they perform in the palace today are consistent with those performed by slave palace officials elsewhere.[9] 

            On occasion, however, oral testimony comes up with something completely new, or at least new to me. For example, it provided me with my first information on a certain Dada, a major military slave of the Balogun Ajikobi, a slave who had his own oriki, or praise-poem, which is still remembered today. This information extends our knowledge of elite slaves of major chiefs other than rulers, a group that has so far largely been neglected.[10]It’s only very recently that I have come across a brief mention of this slave elsewhere, in a published local history.[11] 

            In some cases, oral testimony raises doubts about other sources. It supports the suggestion that some accounts of slavery in the caliphate and in Yorubaland have presented an idealized, ideological rather than actual, picture of slave treatment.[12]It is evident from Ilorin informants’ responses to questions on whether agricultural slaves were allowed to work part of the day for themselves and sell the produce from their personal farms that the situation was not so simple as might seem from other accounts; not only were caliphate and Yoruba norms not necessarily followed in Ilorin, but Ilorin people didn’t always even pay lip service to these norms.[13]To further complicate matters, informants’ testimony on concubines suggests that in some cases there were competing norms at work. Ilorinpractice with regard to the status of concubines, as reported by informants, seems in some cases to have been more lenient than was laid down by Islamic law. The assertions made by some informants that a concubine who had given birth would become a free wife suggest that some Ilorinpractice was more akin to Yoruba custom, while statements by others sound closer to the legal position of the caliphate, in which the concubine remained a slave, although her status improved.[14] 

            A missionary account from the 1850s refers to an Ilorinbalogunas having had a plantation of “26,000 slaves of his own, all working in irons.” While this is obviously to be taken as a wild exaggeration, even if there were other information available, a useful corrective is offered by Ilorin informants, whose accounts suggest very strongly that small-scale holdings were common, either because most slaveholders had just a few slaves or because a wealthy master might divide his slaves among several scattered piece of land. The warrior Ojibara, said to have had “about four” plantations with “not less than ten slaves” working on each, perhaps represents the middle rank of owner. On a larger scale, Jamurogo Balogun Ajikobi is said to have had “many” plantations, with “at least twenty-five slaves working on each.”[15] 

            In this instance, informants were able to provide some reasonably precise numbers. In other cases, however, oral testimony may not be able to provide specific numbers or dates. Oral information cannot, for example, provide any specifics on the overall numbers of slaves in Ilorinin the nineteenth century. Informants do agree that slaves were numerous, but they do not agree as to whether the slaves formed a majority of the population or not.[16]A certain amount of evidence on the size of the slave exodus from Ilorinafter the arrival of the British is available from informants’ testimonies, but these provide neither quantifiable data nor any precise time frame. Informants agree that many slaves departed, and several assert that a majority of them left. The exodus was serious enough to create a well-remembered problem of labor supply and an increase in pawning of persons.[17] 

            Informants who gave testimony on pawnage also provided a further example of the difficulty of pinpointing the time to which their testimony applies. I was trying to pinpoint informants’ testimony in time in order to provide some sort of answer to the question of when pawning declined in Ilorin, but in order to do this, I had to have some rough idea of the informants’ ages. One alhajasaid she was 133 years old (in 1991), but she also claimed to have been born in the reign of the “terrible emir,” that is, Emir Moma, who reigned in the 1890s and so comprehensively lost his struggle with his balogunsthat he was forced to blow himself up in his palace with his chief slave. However, an alhajisaid he was about 60 years old, but he also claimed to have been born in the reign of Moma.[18]The memory of this emir was and is so powerful that many events have come to be clustered around, or conflated into, his reign. 

            This is a good point at which to switch to an examination of written local histories and similar sources, as I’d like to look at another couple of examples of clustering or conflation, but this time they’re to be found in the Short History of Ilorin  published in 1981 by an Ilorin lawyer called Safi Jimba, in which the author identifies the first head of the Jimba family, who was a major elite slave warrior in the early nineteenth century, as in charge of  “a vast portion of Ilorin’s great arsenal, gun powder and heavy weaponry.” However, the reference to the munitions suggests a much later period in the century and a later head of the Jimba family. Thus, Safi Jimba is apparently conflating the first Jimba with a later family head. In another conflation, the author states that the title of daoduwas conferred on the first head of the family in the early years of the emirate; yet the incumbent daoduin the 1980s told another researcher that the title was conferred on the second family head, after his victory over a balogunin a revolt that can be dated to the 1870s.[19] 

            Now, the Jimbas are an interesting family, and one that can’t very well claim non-slave origin. This is because the first Jimba is mentioned on several occasions by Samuel Johnson in his well-known and widely read History of the Yoruba, and identified clearly by him as “one of the head slaves” of the emir. Johnson credits Jimba with plundering the city of Old Oyo.[20]The Ta’lif, a short early-twentieth-century Arabic history of Ilorin, also identifies Jimba as a slave, as does the unpublished “History of Ilorin,” dating to the 1950s and written by one Mallam Sulu, Native Courts Registrar, which also identifies him as the man who conquered Old Oyo and left it “desolate.” It’s quite possible that Mallam Sulu used Johnson, but the mallam was the son of the incumbent emir (and was himself soon to become Emir Sulu Gambari), so he was already well aware of the Jimbas’ status.[21]In the ShortHistory,Safi Jimba skates very delicately around the issue. Although he makes extensive use of Johnson, he doesn’t quote the passages in which Johnson calls the first Jimba a slave. Indeed, he hardly refers to slaves at all throughout his book. He describes the Balogun Afin as a warlord and chief, like Jimba, again without mentioning that Balogun Afin was (and is) a slave title in Ilorin.[22]The only possible hint that Safi Jimba doesn’t manage to erase is contained in his dedication of the book to his grandfather, “Ilari Ogun.” I wonder if the word ilarihere has a slave connotation, as in the slave officials of that name in Old Oyo?[23] 

            One problem with regard to local histories and similar sources is interference from previously published or circulated works, which may or may not be acknowledged by later authors. Mallam Sulu may have used Johnson to flesh out his account. A later author, Adisa-Onikoko, in turn, uses Mallam Sulu’s history, as well as the Gazetteer of Ilorin Provincethat an Ilorin Resident, H. B. Hermon-Hodge, had published in 1929 (this is a favorite source for later chroniclers), and a variety of other sources, written and oral. Sometimes he provides specific acknowledgments in the text, sometimes not.[24]The problems here are, first, that a version given in a respected written source may be accepted in preference to other versions, which may then gradually be forgotten. And second, where the source of an item remains unspecified, it’s impossible to judge the biases that feed into it. One strength of Adisa-Onikoko’s book, however, is his detailed section on the ITP/Action Group resistance of the 1950s; in this case he is speaking from close first-hand acquaintance with the period: as a free-lance journalist, he reported for four of the major journalists based in Ilorinat the time.[25] 

            All the authors of local histories have their own particular axes to grind, and this, together with the general reticence on the subject of slavery, means there’s often not much attention given to the subject. Occasionally, however, you get a surprise. For example, from the Political Reminiscencespublished in 1993 by J. S. Olawoyin, a well-known politician from the town of Offa, who was an Action Group leader and closely involved in the struggles of the 1950s and later, I found that the author’s father and associates of his father had been captured in the Offa/Ilorin war of the late nineteenth century by Ilorin soldiers and sold to Abeokuta and Lagos, where they were converted to Christianity and trained as carpenters. The author’s father “became a Christian through the influence of his master, . . . a . . . leader of the Anglican Mission at Abeokuta,” and he and his associates later founded the CMS church in Offa. Female relatives of the author were captured and sold to Ikirun.[26]Aside from providing insight into the genesis of J. S. Olawoyin’s attitude toward Ilorin, this also provides an almost unique example of the individual experiences of those enslaved by Ilorin. This is the kind of discovery that makes it worth sifting through all the local accounts that can be found. 

            A further type of local source, as mentioned above, is provided by newspapers. In the case of Ilorin, these are most useful on the continuance of dependency relationships into the middle of the twentieth century and beyond, the resistance of dependent farmers in the 1950s and the struggle of their overlords to regain control, and the resistance and accommodation of the 1970s and later. The newspaper accounts provide plenty of specific cases, details of events, interviews or statements, and local election results.      There are, of course, some problems associated with the newspaper accounts themselves. For example, in their reporting of the 1950s events, they are not always accurate (I was able to demonstrate this for one Daily Timesreport), and the numbers given for participants in demonstrations may well be exaggerated. At least one Timesreporter may be accused of bias toward the aristocratic elite, while the Nigerian Tribunewas an Action Group broadsheet and the Daily Servicealso supported the Action Group. Nevertheless, these latter two newspapers provide a great deal of detail in their reports and frequently quote statements from involved Metropolitan District individuals. Their accounts of events are often confirmed by the Daily Times.And the newspaper correspondents or at least their stringers were eyewitnesses of events.[27] 

            There are many examples, but I’ll give just one here It’s taken from the Daily Service,and written in May 1959, by which time a campaign to crush the resistance movement was in full swing. In one incident, 


tragedy struck Arnigari village in Molete District . . . as a gang of armed men from Paku village and Molete invaded the farms of members of the Ilorin Talaka Parapo Action Group Alliance and destroyed their yams and other farm products. 

            The invaders who travelled to the village at noon are believed to be members of the Northern Peoples Congress. 

            Most of the villagers who arrived . . . to protest to the NA Police alleged that the invaders beat drums and sang war songs on arrival at the village. 

            “We were startled and became helpless,” the villagers said. 

            They alleged that as the invaders continued to uproot their yams, they were heard saying [this quotation is first given in Yoruba, then in English]: We are now self-governing. He who fails to accept the Emir will suffer until he dies.[28] 



Note (1) that this quotation gives evidence of both resistant and accommodationist behavior; and (2) that, despite the effort to intimidate them, the resistant villagers were still prepared to complain openly when they were attacked.[29] 

            Newspaper reports are also important sources for the story of resistance and accommodation in the political climate of the late 1970s and early 1980s. They document, for example, new strategies employed by the dependent population of the districts, especially the demand for “independence” from Ilorin, which involved a movement to remove their district heads, who were nominated from elite city families, and  a campaign to have their “traditional rulers” graded--which included the publicizing of “historical” narratives claiming independent origins for their settlements.[30]After the 1983 elections, the Nigerian Herald reported, a delegation from the Asa local government area complained to the state governor that the area had no graded chiefs. The delegation included “traditional rulers,” the “Ologbondoroko” of Olobondoroko, “Alaboto” of Aboto, “Olu-Ode” of Odo Ode, “Dado” of Okeso, “Onireke” of  Reke, “Olosin” of Osin, and “Are” of Ogele. Some of these chiefs were from settlements that could make no historically valid claim to non-dependent origin. The petitioners even included the Are Ogele, descendant of “one of [the] head slaves” of Emir Shita, sent to the area by the emir “to look after the farms and other slaves.”[31] 

            Just to bring things together in conclusion. There are difficulties in obtaining local sources, and problems associated with the use of these sources. For example, like all sources, we need to be aware of their biases, and we need to be aware of the extent of interference from other sources. They may be vague or confusing with regard to chronology. They need to be used in conjunction with other sources. But they can supplement, expand, confirm, or contradict what is found in other sources, or provide information that is completely new. They can answer questions, test hypotheses (for instance, on matters of resistance and accommodation), or even suggest new questions (such as what is behind the secrecy in Ilorin). So it’s absolutely necessary, at least, to conserve them and make them available. I’ll end with a few questions: Where can we deposit collections of oral interviews, without which no one will ever be able to check our work? Is any person or any institution collecting ephemerally published histories? Is anyone scanning such works, to make them more widely available? Is it possible, at the very least, to set up internet bibliographies that would direct researchers to people and institutions that can help them find these sources?



[1] C. S. Whitaker estimated that the Yoruba have always made up at least 90 percent of theIlorinpopulation.The Politics of Tradition: Continuity and Change inNorthern Nigeria, 1946 –1966(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970), 123. On the Yoruba predominance inIlorin, see also H. B. Hermon-Hodge,Gazetteer of Ilorin Province(London: George Allen & Unwin, 1929), 272. 

[2] Michael Watts, “On Peasant Diffidence: Non-Revolt, Resistance, and Hidden Forms of Political Consciousness in Northern Nigeria, 1900–1945,” inGlobal Crises and Social Movements: Artisans, Peasants, Populists, and the World Economy,ed. Edmund Burke III (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1988), cited in Ann O’Hear,Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors(Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997), 15, and note 105. 

[3] O’Hear,Power Relations,166 and n. 165. 

[4] Ibid., 187. 

[5] Ann O’Hear, “Elite Slaves inIlorinin the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,”International Journal of African Historical Studies30, n. 2 (2006): 269, n. 102. 

[6] O’Hear,Power Relations,187; letter from anonymous research assistant, 10 June 1994. 

[7] O’Hear,Power Relations,26. 

[8] Ibid., 35–36. 

[9] O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” esp. 269. 

[10] Ibid., 255, 248. 

[11] Sheikh Ahmad Tijani Adisa-Onikoko,A History ofIlorinEmirate(Ilorin: Sat Adis Press Service Enterprises, n.d. [1992 or 1993] ), 67. 

[12] Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” inThe Ideology of Slavery,ed. Paul E. Lovejoy(Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1981), 215, cited in O’Hear,Power Relations,32, and n. 110. 

[13] O’Hear,Power Relations,32-33. 

[14] Ibid., 41. 

[15] Ibid., 30. 

[16] Ibid., 25; Ann O’Hear, “Ilorinas a Slaving and Slave Trading Emirate, inSlavery on the Frontiers of Islam,ed. Paul E. Lovejoy(Princeton,NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004), 60 and n. 52. 

[17] Ann O’Hear, “British Intervention and the Slaves and Peasant Farmers ofIlorin, c. 1890–c. 1906,”Paideuma40 (1994): 138. 

[18] Ann O’Hear, “Pawning in the Emirate ofIlorin,” inPawnship inAfrica: Debt Bondage in Historical Perspective,ed. Toyin Falola and Paul E. Lovejoy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1994), 234 and n. 158. 

[19] O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 250–51, including nn. 14, 15. Also see Alhaji Safi Jimba,A Short History of Ilorin(Ilorin: Jimba Book Productions Company, 1981), 5. 

[20] Samuel Johnson,The History of the Yorubas(1921; reprint,Lagos, 1976), 217–18 and 259, quoted in O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 250. 

[21] Abu Ikokoro,Ta’lif akhbar al-qurun min umara’ bilad Ilurin,dated 24 March 1912,photocopy of an annotated and corrected copy of an English translation (presumably by B. G. Martin), provided to me by Ade Obayemi; Rhodes House (RH) Mss. Afr. s. 1210, C. W. Michie, Political Situation in Northern Provinces and History of Ilorin, History of Ilorin, “compiled by M. Sulu, Ilorin Native Courts Registrar, chiefly from accounts given to him by old people in Ilorin Town in 1953.” See also O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 271. 

[22] See Jimba,History,6, 7, 70. 

[23] Forilariin Old Oyo, see Robin Law,The Oyo Empire c. 1600–1836: A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977). 

[24] Adisa-Onikoko,History ofIlorinEmirate. 

[25] Ibid., 48, also 34–63. 

[26] Chief J. S. Olawoyin,My Political Reminiscences 1948–1983(Ikeja: John West Publications, 1993), 10–11. 

[27] O’Hear,Power Relations,283–84, n. 33. 

[28] Ibid., 166. 

[29] See ibid., 150–68 and accompanying notes, for further examples of newspaper reports from the 1950s. 

[30] O’Hear,Power Relations,177–80, 183. 

[31] Ibid., 183 and note 61, and 29; O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 272. More recently, a member of the Are Ogele family has admitted its slave origin. For a discussion, see “Elite Slaves,” 272–73. 


2.4b(iv) “Nigeria: Dependent Status in the Twentieth Century.” Conference on “Nigeria in the Twentieth Century,” University of Texas at Austin, March 2002


Note 1: A slightly amended version of this paper, titled “Dependency Relationships in the Twentieth Century,” was included in Nigeria in the Twentieth Century, ed. Toyin Falola, 225-231. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.


Note 2: As I was checking the 2002 paper, prior to transcribing it in preparation for sending it to the DigITall African History Archives, I found an error in the endnotes. Much of what should have been included in endnote 7 in the  2002 paper had unfortunately been omitted (and this error was repeated in the published version, also note 7). I apologise for this omission, and I have corrected it here (see new version of endnote 7, below, which is enclosed in square brackets). I apologise in particular to the early 1970s researcher Busari Ajani Alade, whose excellent dissertation I had intended to commend in the note.


Note 3: The paper was written and presented in March 2002 and the slightly amended version was published in the same year. Thus, even the most recent material it contains reaches only as far as the very beginning of the 21st century and may not reflect current (2020) conditions. I believe, however, that among the questions I raise in the last two sections of this paper, many are still pertinent today.



Copyright© Ann O’Hear, March 2002


Nigeria: Dependent Status in the Twentieth Century

Ann O’Hear


In this paper I am looking at the persistence of inequalities due to slavery and the continuance (or indeed resurgence) of various forms of dependency relationships in Nigeria in the twentieth century and into the twenty-first century. I am interested in bringing the story up to date, as far as possible. I want to examine, or at least suggest, some of the reasons why dependency relations persist or revive. And I am urging the need for further study of the various twentieth and twenty-first century phenomena that can be gathered under the heading of “dependency relations.”

            A new concern about dependency relations has been sparked by recent revelations about the continuance or resurgence of dependency relations in various parts of the world. There have been revelations, for example, about a slave trade in children between Nigeria and Gabon, and about the importation into the European Union of Nigerian women and girls who are then forced into the sex industry.[1] My own interest, however, has a historical background, and is based first and foremost on my study of slavery and its aftermath in and around the city of Ilorin. This city is in northern Yorubaland, but is also [the center of] the southwesternmost emirate of the old Sokoto Caliphate.[2] I looked at the ex-slaves and their descendants and other dependent individuals and communities, especially in  the agricultural hinterland of the city of Ilorin, an area often referred to as the “Metropolitan Districts,” and I brought their story up to the early 1980s and to some extent beyond. I showed not only that dependency relations persisted well into the colonial period (which various other studies in Nigeria have also revealed)[3] but also that these relations continued well after the granting of political independence to Nigeria in 1960. I looked at periods when it seemed that dependency was declining—that is, periods of large-scale and apparently successful resistance to dependent status—but I also found that it never completely disappeared and in fact remained strong in some ways even after I left Ilorin in the mid-1980s.


Dependency Relations in the “Metropolitan Districts” of Ilorin

During most of the colonial period, the descendants of slaves and other dependent farmers in the Ilorin hinterland were tightly controlled by their fiefholders (the colonial officers’ term for the city aristocrats who controlled access to land), by their district heads and other Native Authority personnel (also from the city aristocracy), and by the so-called “intermediaries” (of similar origins) who, in Ilorin, went by the name of baba kekere, although the farmers did engage in forms of “diffident” resistance like those described by Michael Watts for areas further north.[4] The dependent farmers of the Metropolitan Districts were forced to pay tribute in produce and labor, bribes, high (often illegally high) rates of tax, and market and other fees, and they suffered other forms of interference with their freedom to trade. They provided not only goods and labor for their overlords, but also women, who became wives of city men. They failed to share in migration to wealthier areas, no doubt due to their isolation and consequent ignorance of the opportunities, but also, I suggest, due to the close control exerted over them by the urban elite. The same urban elite was also among the factors contributing to the exceedingly limited educational opportunities that were offered. A Metropolitan Districts spokesman in 1977 made a bitter accusation:


Up to the 1960s, our children were intentionally denied access to education because the overlords back at home in Ilorin felt we should have no right to education for fear that once we became educated, our eyes would be opened and we would cease to become “the soup ingredients” which they made us to be.[5]



The period of rapid political change in the 1950s, in the years leading up to independence, provided an opportunity for the Metropolitan Districts farmers to fight against their dependent status, with considerable success, at least for a time. A resistant commoners’ party, the Ilorin Talaka Parapo (ITP), gained a large following both in the city and the districts, and engaged in a struggle with the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC), which, in Ilorin as elsewhere in the North, was the hegemonic party of the aristocratic elite. The ITP and its supporters reached their maximum extent of success in 1957, but between 1958 and 1960 the elite managed to retain control. Ironically, at the very minute of national independence, the farmers had been returned fully to their state of dependence.

            In the 1950s, resistance to dependency relations had been aided by local government reforms which gave the farmers for the first time some taste of democratic government, and by the considerable support provided for the ITP by the powerful Yoruba party, the Action Group (AG). The ITP-AG Alliance won majorities in many of the district councils, both in the Metropolitan Districts and elsewhere in the emirate, and took control of the new Native Authority Council. Tribute, market dues, and the baba kekere were all officially abolished. Two deeply unpopular district heads were suspended. Farmers began to claim ownership of their farmland—a truly radical claim. However, the Alliance Council’s aggressive approach to the traditional authorities was too much for the Northern Region government. It was dissolved and replaced by a council consisting of the traditional elite, which proceeded to undo the work of the Alliance and reaffirm elite control and land rights, represented by the reimposition of tribute. Threats, intimidation, reprisals, the police and the alkali court system, and manipulation of the electoral process were all used to crush resistance. In one incident, in May 1959, a gang of armed men invaded the farms of members of the Alliance, saying “We are now self-governing. He who fails to accept the Emir will suffer until he dies.”[6] Self-government meant the opportunity to reassert elite control.

      A new period of political change, in the late 1960s and 1970s, provided a further opportunity for some of the Metropolitan Districts inhabitants. Reforms of local government were begun after the military took over in 1966. As a result of government activities, a researcher in the early 1970s found that tribute to district heads had ceased to be compulsory, at least in the areas he visited. He found that forest guards and sanitary inspectors, both of whom had harassed the local farmers, had been abolished and so had the fees charged by messengers of the district heads. Primary school costs had been distributed among the population as “Education Rates,” and the first secondary school in the Metropolitan Districts had been founded. But the pace of change was slow. The district heads were still chosen from the same city elite families, they still surrounded themselves with their relatives, and they still possessed considerable powers. The pace of progress in education was uneven, although some Metropolitan Districts people did succeed in acquiring secondary and higher education (see, for example, the personal histories of the political leaders of the late 1970s).[7]

         The real catalyst for renewed activism against dependent status came with the overthrow of the Gowon regime in July 1975 and its replacement by the Mohammed/Obasanjo military government. This government introduced nationwide local government reforms, establishing almost 300 new local government areas throughout the country, each to be provided with funds, and designed to encourage and train people at the local level to participate in democratic government and local development. A Land Use Decree was promulgated in 1978, and nationwide elections were held in 1979. The Metropolitan Districts of Ilorin profited in 1976 from the creation of two new local governments which covered much of the districts’ territory and provided a measure of “independence” from the city (in the early 1980s, the boundaries were redrawn again, to the further benefit of the districts). However, the new Emirate Council set up in 1976 included the emir as chair, the major city chiefs, and all the district heads. A movement developed demanding the removal of the existing district heads, who were members of elite city families. The Land Use Decree encouraged farmers to refuse to pay tribute to their landlords. Dependent communities began to develop and publicize narratives claiming origins that were independent of Ilorin, and later to demand grading for their local rulers. Some villages began refusing to go into the city, carrying foodstuffs to their overlord families’ compounds, during the Muslim festivals, as they had traditionally done. Resistant leaders in the districts campaigned for the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), the direct descendant of the Action Group. However, the UPN did not perform particularly well in the various elections, and the general political story was more complex than it had been in the 1950s. This was due to a variety of reasons, not least the “Saraki factor.” Olusola Saraki was a city titleholder, but he had also accepted the two new local government areas, and was a vivid, forceful, sometimes threatening but often generous local personality. One influential local leader, for example, deplored “the almost perpetual socio-economic tragedy that is our lot,” blamed it squarely on Ilorin and the district heads, declared that as long as “absolute poverty reigns supreme in our area, we are bound to be diametrically opposed to the seat of the government,” defined the district and city people as related but equal, but at the same time was against the UPN and firmly anti-Awolowo and pro-Saraki.[8]

        The creation of new local government areas helped to stimulate development activities. By the mid-1980s there had been considerable improvements in educational provision, at least in some areas. Local communities were carrying out development. Some communities were helped by their migrant members.

        By the mid-1980s, some measure of independence from the city had been gained. Far more people had managed to migrate to the south, although the marriage migration of women into Ilorin continued. Although the “traditional” district heads remained in place, and some were still prepared to exert their power, others were essentially reduced to tax collectors. The creation of new local government areas, twice, was a significant move toward independence, though the decision of the military government which took over at the end of 1983 to reduce them to the pre-Second Republic number may well have proved a setback for some areas. In some small-scale, relatively remote villages, the conditions of dependency of the remaining inhabitants may hardly have changed. In 1991 the ex-slave residents of one small, difficult-of-access hamlet admitted that they still paid tribute in form of locust beans and other farm produce to their “master,” who had put up a sign declaring his continued ownership of the village. The inhabitants were mostly elderly, however, and many of the young people had gone to Lagos to work.[9]


Twentieth-Century Dependency Relations Elsewhere

Thus, dependency relations, although changed and for some much reduced or even virtually severed, persisted in the Ilorin Metropolitan Districts area. Struck by this evidence of their persistence, I tried to find other studies of the relatively recent history of dependency, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere, but I have found them fairly rare, aside from reports of the resurgence of slavery and the slave trade in various countries. I would like to take a very quick look at some of the relatively small number of studies that do exist.

      One major work that has been sadly neglected is William Derman’s study of what he calls “a former serf village in the Republic of Guinea,” which was published in 1973. In this area, the Fulbe masters’ right to tribute from their former slaves was abolished  during the colonial period, which led, says Derman, to “a decline in the importance of the distinction between them and the free Fulbe.”[10] Much of the political significance of the distinction was ended by independence, as were “all the remaining labor obligations of serfs.” However, at the time of Derman’s research there were still strong social and ideological continuities with the past” and “older social categories remain[ed] important for the population in the countryside.[11] Fulbe economic domination had largely ended, except that very few former slaves owned land, a fact that perpetuated “some of the aspects of their former subordinate status.”[12] Villages of former slaves had achieved control over their internal affairs, through the committee system.[13] Former slave communities were creating their own myths of origin, designed to demonstrate that they were descended from indigenes, who had neither been captured in war nor brought as slaves from elsewhere,[14] a process similar to the construction of new origin stories by Ilorin dependent villages some years later. Before independence, descendants of slaves were denied access to Koranic education, but this was no longer the case when Derman was conducting his research. However, the Fulbe retained “their Islamic ‘right’ to dominate in sacred matters,” declaring that slave descendants were not eligible “to lead free men in prayer.”[15] This “ideological predominance” was also noticeable in life-cycle ceremonies.[16]

      Moving northward in West Africa, Andrew F. Clark has studied another society of ex-slaves of the Fulbe, this time in Bundu, in eastern Senegambia. This study takes the story up to the 1980s, when the descendants were still struggling, as they had been during the colonial period, “to transform ties of servility and dependency.”[17] In this society, unlike Guinea, independence had no effect on servile status.[18] Freeborn Fulbe retained total political power in local government.[19] Slave descendants and others migrated, especially to France, particularly after the Second World War and in the 1970s and 1980s, but slave-descendant migrants retained ties to their “related freeborn family.”[20] Each freeborn family had its related slave-descendant (maccube) compound, and various rights and responsibilities connected the two.[21] As in Guinea, the differences in status between slave-descendants and freeborn were particularly strong in matters of religion.[22] Overall, the maccube had changed their interactions with the freeborn, but their status remains the same, and their interactions with the freeborn “continue to reflect the dependency nature of the relationship.”[23]

      Thus, the picture in Bundu appears to be one of continuing, if relatively benign, dependency. Further north again, in Mauritania, benignity is conspicuous by its absence. Although slavery was officially abolished in 1980, and many slaves have managed to escape from their masters, masters have ignored the 1980 law, and ex-slaves have been involved in “struggles to establish their right to property and struggles over inheritance. Masters .  . . still claim the property of their deceased slaves.” (The 1980 law said masters should be compensated for the loss of their slaves, but this has not been done.) The government of Lt. Col. Taya has harassed activists, and “[s]laves are still forced to work for masters and are brutally punished, exchanged, separated from spouses and children.”[24]

            Moving to some Nigerian examples, the story of ex-slaves and their descendants in Igboland has been a very different one, although slave descendants are still haunted by questions of status. Don Ohadike has demonstrated that Igbo ex-slaves were the first to take advantage of wage labor and other colonial-period economic opportunities, and the first to see Western education as “an avenue to wealth.” Thus, some slave descendants have been able to buy titles, have been elected to political office, have married into freeborn families, and become leaders. There is, however, a “lingering social stigma.”[25] Freeborn families do not like to accept marriages with slave descendants, where slave descent is revealed. And the osu, descendants of slaves who were dedicated to deities, still face considerable social disability.[26]

            In the northern part of Nigeria, the story has been different again. Lovejoy and Hogendorn use M.G. Smith’s work in the late 1940s to demonstrate that ex-slaves in the north were obliged to become sharecroppers on the masters’ lands. “Large slave holders continued to assert their rights to the land that had constituted their rumada.” Ex-slaves paid them rent in kind. “In other words,” says Smith, “persons were . . . controlled indirectly through property in land.” This system persisted in 1940s Zaria. Part of the rent was in form of gifts to the masters during Muslim festivals (as in Ilorin).[27] The existence of sharecropping in the Kano area has been, as Lovejoy and Hogendorn point out, “debated with some vigor.” They suggest that close to Kano, masters found it difficult to impose rental arrangements because of the attractions of other occupations in the city. At this point, I would like simply to note their reference to Fika, who, they report, comments that “the existence of sharecropping in Kano Province may demonstrate a connection between present-day domestic clientage and a former relationship of slave to master.”[28] Certainly we are seeing here a development of dependency relations from slavery to clientage which again is very reminiscent of Ilorin. Indeed, Michael Watts believes that the northern elite was able not only to retain but “even extend their domination over the talakawa,” supported by the colonial state and legitimated by a “hegemonic Islamic ideology.”[29] Yet many members of the northern peasantry did have the opportunity to make ends meet through dry season migration, and they could also grow groundnuts without displacing their foodstuff production.[30] These were two avenues which do not seem to have been open to their counterparts around Ilorin.



This has been a very brief survey of some of the limited number of studies that touch, at least, on relatively recent years. It raises a number of questions. Why, for example, did dependency relations evolve in so many different ways in the twentieth century? What factors led to the long-lasting continuance of severely restrictive conditions in some areas, and not in others? What was the effect of ecological differences between forest, savanna, and desert? Why did dependent cultivators manage to migrate in some cases to areas of greater, or at least alternative, economic opportunity, while others did not?

       How important a factor was access to land? What was the significance, in terms of loosening the bonds of dependency, of government actions with regard to land? In Lasta, northern Ethiopia, the landless ex-slaves were able to claim land after the Land Reform Proclamation of 1975. This raised their status to that of other peasants, but did little if anything to relieve their poverty.[31] What was the significance of the Land Use Decree (later Act) in Nigeria? Was it, as it seems to have been in Ilorin, more symbolic than substantively economic?  Whatever happened to the Nigerian Land Use Decree (Act)?  What provisions, if any, with regard to access to land are included in the latest Nigerian Constitution, and what effect have they had?

       What, indeed, is the significance of economic factors generally in the continuance or rupture of dependency relationships? Or in the resurgence of such relationships? Certainly, desperate poverty is a factor in the sale of children in various parts of the world today. And poverty was a major factor in the resurgence of human pawnship during the Depression years of the 1930s.[32] Yet an earlier increase in pawnship resulted from the increasing commercialization of the economy.[33] And  considerations of ideology and social status may well last after former dependents have made great economic gains. Previously, in Ilorin, periods of political activity helped lead to the weakening of dependency bonds. Has the [1999] renewal of party political politics led to a similar opportunity? Or has economic crisis led to renewed accommodation through clientage?

      What are the factors affecting the type of dependency relationship that survives or revives? And the type of affected individual? The sale or self-sale of young women for sexual purposes is a frequently recurring and persistent form of dependency, as is the transfer of girls for marriage, whether through pawnship or the payment of a price by the prospective husband or his family. Children are particularly prone to enslavement or other forms of exploitation, due to the desperation of their parents, their powerlessness, and their usefulness in carrying out menial tasks or, in the case of girls, in ultimately providing sexual services.

       What are the effects of economic mismanagement and neo-liberal globalization on the continuance or resurgence of dependency relationships? What, for example, was the effect of the economically disastrous 1990s on the rural population of the Ilorin Metropolitan Districts? Was the result a strengthening of existing dependency relationships, or the rise of new forms of dependency, or both? Did the old elite feel a need to strengthen its control in a period of belt-tightening for everyone? What happened to the outlet of migration? In economies that more and more often fail to provide adequate wage labor opportunities, is there any evidence of the revival of practices that had apparently disappeared, such as pawning of oneself or one’s children? What types of dependency relationships are exploited by the wealthy for the provision of domestic services?



Obviously I do not have the answers to these questions, or to the many other questions that need to be asked. I simply pose them, in the hope that other scholars will pursue the subject of dependency relationships, however distasteful it may be to us today, in order to understand them better and hence, possibly, to encourage their eventual demise, not only in the cases I have mentioned here, but in every part of the world.




[1] See, for example, “President of Nigeria Calls for More Attention to Be Paid to Slavery,” 23 July 2001, http://www.antislavery.org/homepage/news/nigeria230701.htm


[2] For the following account of dependency relations in the Ilorin area, see Ann O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors (Rochester, N.Y.: University of Rochester Press, 1997), chapters 5-8.


[3] For example, 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).


[4] O’Hear, Power Relations, 122, including quotation from Michael Watts, “On Peasant Diffidence: Non-Revolt, Resistance, and Hidden Forms of Political Consciousness in Northern Nigeria, 1900-1945,” in Edmund Burke III, ed., Global Crises and Social Movements: Artisans, Peasants, Populists, and the World Economy ( Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1988), 119.


[5] O’Hear, Power Relations, 119, quoting from Nigerian Herald (Ilorin), 30 November 1977, Oke Moro and Oke Asa Development Union. Compare this statement with the Song of a Bornu Nobleman: “The peasant is grass, fodder for the horses,/ To your hoeing, peasant, so that we can eat.” Quoted in Louis Brenner, The Shehus of Kukawa: A History of the Al-Kanemi Dynasty of Bornu (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973), chapter 6.


[6] O’Hear, Power Relations, 166, quoting from Daily Service (Lagos), 1 June 1959.


[7] [For this paragraph, see O’Hear, Power Relations, 175-76, and 299, notes 6, 7, 9, 12. 14, and 15, citing Busari Ajani Alade, “The Effect of Kwara State Local Government Reforms on Ilorin Division (B.Sc. [Soc.Sc] diss., Sociology, Ahmadu Bello University, 1973). This is an undergraduate dissertation of exceptional quality.

            On the success of some Metropolitan Districts people, including political leaders, in acquiring secondary and higher education, see, for example, Power Relations, 299, note 16, directing the reader to 304, note 75, which cites information collected by Yakubu Adeyemi Jimoh (lead researcher) and J.F. Adetunji, 1994 and 1996.]


[8] O’Hear, Power Relations, 185-86, quoting from Nigerian Herald, 20 December 1979.


[9] O’Hear, Power Relations, 187.


[10] William Derman, Serfs, Peasants, and Socialists: A Former Serf Village in the Republic of Guinea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 3.


[11] Ibid., 4, 5.


[12] Ibid., 240-41.


 [13] Ibid., 241.


[14] Ibid., 242-43.


[15] Ibid., 245.


[16] Ibid., 246.


[17] Andrew F. Clark, “‘The Ties That Bind’: Servility and Dependency among the Fulbe of Bundu (Senegambia), c. 1930s to 1980s,” in Suzanne Miers and Martin A. Klein, eds., “Slavery and Colonial Rule in Africa,” Special Issue of Slavery and Abolition 19, 2 (1988): 92.


[18] Ibid., 96.


[19] Ibid., 98.


[20] Ibid., 99.


[21] Ibid., 101.


[22] Ibid., 102.


[23] Ibid. 106.


[24] Martin A. Klein, “Slavery and French Rule in the Sahara,” in Miers and Klein, eds., “Slavery and Colonial Rule in Africa,” Special Issue of Slavery and Abolition, 85. See also, for example, “‘Slave Party’ Banned in Mauritania,” BBC News, 3 January 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi.english/world/africa/newsid_1740000/1740098.stm; Elinor Burkett, “God Created Me to Be a Slave,” New York Times Magazine, 12 October 1997, in Abolish: The Anti-Slavery Portal,  http://iabolish.com/news/press-coverage/old/NYT10-12-97a.html


[25] Don Ohadike, “The Decline of Slavery among the Igbo People,” in Suzanne Miers and Richard Roberts, eds., The End of Slavery in Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 456.


[26] Don C. Ohadike, “‘When the Slaves Left, Owners Wept’: Entrepreneurs and Emancipation among the Igbo People,” in Miers and Klein, eds., “Slavery and Colonial Rule in Africa,” Special Issue of Slavery and Abolition, 202.


[27] Lovejoy and Hogendorn, Slow Death, 283.



[28] Ibid., 284.


[29] Watts, “On Peasant Diffidence,” 131, 134.


[30] Ibid., 140.


[31] James McCann, “‘Children of the House’: Slavery and Its Suppression in Lasta, Northern Ethiopia, 1916-1935,” in Miers and Roberts, eds., End of Slavery, 356.


[32] See Martin A. Klein and Richard Roberts, “The Resurgence of Pawning in French West Africa during the Depression of the 1930s,” in Toyin Falola and Paul E. Lovejoy,  eds., Pawnship in Africa: Debt Bondage in Historical Perspective (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994). Also see Ann O’Hear, “Pawning in the Emirate of Ilorin,” in the same volume, 234.


[33] Toyin Falola and Paul E. Lovejoy, “Pawnship in Historical Perspective,” in Falola and Lovejoy, eds., Pawnship in Africa, 20.

2.4b(v) Tubman Seminar on Slavery, York University, Toronto, 31 March 1997. Some references have been updated (December 2020) in square brackets in the endnotes. These include some items which now appear in the Dr. Ann O’Hear Archive, DigITall African History Archive. Readers should check for other such items.


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 four balogun, 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. 
   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.  
   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.  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.  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  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.  It earned a reputation as a major slave dealing center.  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.  Many of the slaves taken south eventually joined the Atlantic trade,  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.  

    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.  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.  It is likely that the single most important method of slave acquisition was capture.  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. 

In the reign of Abdusalami, “many slaves were taken during campaigns to the south of Omu, 
in Igbomina country.”  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.”  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.” 
   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,  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.” 
   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.”  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. 

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 maintain ajele, 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.” 
   The emirs of Ilorin, from the time of Shita, did not go to war themselves,  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.  In addition, although the slave tribute to Gwandu was apparently raised in most emirates by a levy made by emirs on their chiefs,  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!”  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.  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.  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.  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.  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.  
   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.  The hereditary title, “Daodu Abdulsalami,” is said to have been bestowed on them, as well as the right to create their own titles.  They were given a compound in the city, and farmland outside, which also became hereditarily theirs.  They were able to amass slaves of their own, whom they settled on this land. 
   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.  Many slaves had the opportunity to acquire their own slaves, including the emir’s ajias during military campaigns.  Nasama, an important court slave in mid-century, and “sheriff or public executioner,” was “master of a large number of slaves.”  Emirs’ slaves also seized the opportunity of profiting from the role of baba 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. 

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.” 
   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. 

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.” 
   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.”  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. 

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.  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.  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,  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.  Land once granted, whether to freemen or slaves, could be recalled by the emir and given out again; but I have found only two occasions on which this was actually done.  A 1917 document giving information on nineteenth-century land grants, although it is somewhat simplified,  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.  It is said that the emirs created few new slave appointments as the century wore on:  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.  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.  (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”:  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,  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. 
   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.”  Ogidiolu, if he was one of the emir’s ajias, may have switched his loyalty in part due to the fact that, since the emirs were not themselves war leaders, their ajias 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. 
   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.  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,  there seems to have been no development of a corps of slave musketeers who could defend/extend the power of the emirs.  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.”  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.  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.  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.” 
   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.”  While another account from the same period is said to have described this particular balogun as very rich and owning numerous slaves,  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. 
   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.  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. 

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.  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 . . . 

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. 

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,  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.  A similar report comes from southern Yorubaland.  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.” 
   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. 

Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? No, but they were free to do what was called abuse—unauthorized work during a slave’s free time.
Could they sell the produce they grew in their own time? Yes they could. 

Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves? The slaves could not work for themselves. Only  the iwofa [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. 

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. 

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. 

    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.  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. 

    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. 

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 . . . 

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.  (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.)  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. 
   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.  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 a variety of advantages, combining the roles of concubines, child bearers, and servants.  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.  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.[1] 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.[2] The emir and his slave military official, the Sarkin Baraje, are said to have kept some 350 horses between them.[3] 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.[4]

            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.[5] 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,”[6] 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.[7]


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.[8] But many were indeed slaves. These included, for example, the Bariba captives who took care of the emir’s horses.[9] 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.[10]


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.[11] But there were also slaves among the fighting troops.[12] 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.[13] A slave who caught slaves for his master “was still a slave, but was given different treatment” thereafter.[14] 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.[15] It was also, however, a significant center of industrial production, with cloth and lantana beads as major export items.[16] The most important and large-scale men’s industries were narrow-loom weaving and lantana beadmaking (though there was some hidden female participation in the latter),[17] 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”[18] of production: dyeing, for example, was a women’s occupation, not involving large dye-pits; women as well as men were weavers; and lantana beadmaking 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,[19]  and females were useful as spinners.[20] Slaves were also utilized in the cultivation (in so far as it was cultivated, not simply gathered) of the leaf called elu, used in the production of blue dye.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] 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.[25]

            Slaves were also bought by the leatherworkers, and used to help them in their work.[26] They were used by clay site owners to dig clay for use by the potters.[27] Lantana beadmakers procured them by capture and purchase, and it is said that there was no beadmaking compound that did not have its slaves,[28] who were used in the craft (especially in the more tedious procedures?) and given out in marriage (or concubinage) to important customers.[29]


            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.[30]  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.[31]

            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.[32] Trusted male slaves might be employed in long-distance trade for the master.[33] Slaves involved in local or long-distance trade were following a time-honoured Yoruba custom.[34] 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.[35]


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 . . .[36]


Goldie had no choice but to refuse.[37] And this response, plus other British activities,[38] 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.[39]


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.”[40]


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.[41] Others, remaining in the emir’s service, or in that of one of the major chiefs, continued to find opportunities for manipulation and profit.[42] Slave raiding was halted, and the slave trade was driven underground and gradually declined.[43] 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.[44]





[1] 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).


[2] 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.


[3] 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.


[4] 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.


[5] 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.


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


[7] 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.


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


[9] 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.


[10] 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).


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


[12] 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.


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


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


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


[16] On Ilorin industries, see “Economic History,” chapters 2-4; also the following articles by O’Hear: “Ilorin Lantana Beads,” African Arts 19 (1986); “Pottery Making in Ilorin: A Study of the Decorated Water Cooler,” Africa 56 (1986); “Craft Industries in Ilorin: Dependency or Independence?” African Affairs 86 (1987); and “Notes on Leatherworking.”


[17] 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].  


[18] For the “northern” and “southern” systems of textile production, see Colleen Kriger, “Textile Production and Gender in the Sokoto Caliphate,” Journal of African History 34 (1993), 368ff.


[19] 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.


[20] 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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


[28] 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).


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


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


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


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


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


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


[35] On Nasama, see above.


[36] Quoted in Vandeleur, Campaigning, 294.


[37] 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.


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


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


[40] Ibid., Annual Report 1905.


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


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


[43] Power Relations in Nigeria, chapter 4.


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

2.4c(i) With E. B. Bolaji. “Slavery in Ilorin, Nigeria.” Unpublished paper: extended interview with Ilorin informant, with background and commentary. It was originally intended as a contribution to a workbook for students.



Slavery in Ilorin, Nigeria (revised 2009)


Ann O’Hear

with E. B. Bolaji


This features an extended interview conducted in 1988 with an elderly male Ilorin informant. It was one of a series of interviews conducted as part of a project on slavery and its aftermath in the city and environs of Ilorin (see Further Readings). At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Ilorin became well known as the headquarters of the rebel Oyo general, Afonja. He was defeated by the Muslim reformers as part of the Fulani-led jihad that led to the foundation of the Sokoto Caliphate. Ilorin subsequently became the southwesternmost emirate of this caliphate, under a Fulani emir, and at the turn of the twentieth century it was taken over by the British. The population of Ilorin is made up largely of Fulani, Hausa, and Yoruba inhabitants, gathered under four balogun (ward heads, and, in the nineteenth century, major war chiefs): Balogun Fulani, Balogun Gambari (Hausa), and Baloguns Ajikobi and Alanamu, these last two representing the Yoruba population, which has always made up the vast majority.

          I embarked on the project in the mid-1980s, and I asked Dr. E. B. (Dele) Bolaji, a friend and former colleague at Kwara State College of Technology, Ilorin, to act as my research associate in conducting several series of interviews in the city of Ilorin. Dr. Bolaji was particularly suitable for this role, as he was both a native of Ilorin and a scholar of Yoruba oral literature. He died tragically young some years later, and I dedicate this article to him, in appreciation of his friendship, knowledge, sensitivity, and skill.

          The interview reproduced here was part of the first series of interviews conducted for the project. It was designed to gain a general overview of slavery in Ilorin and it drew on information gleaned from published works that could be read as primary sources, colonial records and other archival materials, previous interviews, and the previous work of scholars of slavery particularly in the Sokoto Caliphate and Yorubaland;[1] these provided a number of themes, questions, names, and locations (some examples of specific sources on which the interview drew are provided in the notes). I drew up the interview questions, which Dr. Bolaji then translated into Yoruba. He chose the informants and recruited assistants to help him with the interviews. All the informants in this first series of interviews were asked the same questions. In some cases they proffered information beyond that which was specifically requested. Dr. Bolaji and his assistants transcribed the informants’ responses, and Dr. Bolaji rendered these into English, with explanatory annotations and comments. The information (sometimes contradictory) obtained from this series of interviews provided ideas and topics for further interviews and other avenues of research. The areas in which the interviews were least informative posed particular challenges for the ongoing project.

          Without the help of Dr. Bolaji and others who assisted me in the field, I would never have been able to bring the project to fruition, as Ilorin is known for its deep sensitivity on the subject of slavery, and extreme caution is required in making inquiries on the subject,[2] especially for a complete outsider such as myself. I could not have undertaken the various series of interviews that were needed. My own contribution, in terms of oral research, largely (though not entirely) consisted of asking “incidental” questions on slavery-related subjects in the course of interviews with informants who had been helpful to me on the subject of Ilorin’s major “traditional” industries.

          The interview includes questions on the size of the slave population in the city of Ilorin and its hinterland, the use of slaves in the military and in agriculture, the organization of plantations, the work performed by slaves, the differences and similarities between slaves and poor free farmers, the lives of women slaves including concubines, specific members of the slave elite (slaves of the emir and balogun who achieved wealth, fame, and titles of their own),[3] the trade in slaves and the markets and houses in which they were sold, the status of various types of slaves and children of slaves, the opportunities for slaves to achieve freedom, and the slave exodus at the time of the British arrival.




1.       On what topics were the interviews most informative?

2.       On what topics were the interviews least informative?

3.       Why do you think they were more informative on some matters than others?

4.       Looking at the interview and the notes giving information on comparisons with other interviews in the same series, on what subjects did the interviews provide variable, even contradictory information?

5.       What do you think these variations reflect?

6.       In which cases do you think the informant’s answers may reflect social (including Islamic) norms, rather than actual practice?

7.       Do you think the questions might have been worded differently, in order to elicit more, or more detailed, information? How might they have been modified?

7.       What questions would you have included in future interviews?


Interview on Slavery in Ilorin, Nigeria, 1988


The interviewers were Dr. E. B. Bolaji and Alhaji Tunde Elesin, and the interview took place on November 2, 1988. The informant was a man said to be over 75 years old at the time. Although he was completely cooperative and willing to share his information, he requested that his name should be withheld. All other details (the compound of the informant, the place where the  interview was held, and the names of others present at the interview) that could help to identify him have also been withheld.


The Nineteenth Century


Slave Population

Interviewer: About what proportion of the population of Ilorin and its hinterland were slaves, in the nineteenth century?

Informant: There were many slaves, but the predominating number of inhabitants were freeborn. Many of the slaves were captured in wars; many others were bought.


Slaves in the Army

Interviewer: Were many slaves used in the army?

Informant: Yes; all leaders had to deploy slaves to fight in wars.

Interviewer: What were they used for in the army?

Informant: The brave ones fought in wars; others carried loads; others provided food for the horses, built tents, and prepared food.


Slaves on the Farms; Size of Farms

Interviewer: Were many slaves used on the farms? Would it be true to say that the majority of the slaves were used on the farms?

Informant: Yes, slaves were used on farms, and the bigger the number of slaves, the bigger the farms.

Interviewer: Did some important people have large plantations worked by slaves?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: Can you give any examples?

Informant: They were the people considered as rich at that time. One of them was Jamurogo, the Balogun Ajikobi.

Interviewer: In the nineteenth century, did slaves working on the farms generally reside on the farms, or in town, or both?

Informant: Both.

Interviewer: Is it true to say that there were many large plantations around Ilorin, or were there mostly small scattered holdings?

Informant: There were some large farms, but not only slaves were employed on the farms.

Interviewer: Can you estimate how many plantations there were with more than 100 slaves working on them? With more than 30?

Informant: [in answer to both] About 50 farms.

Interviewer: About what proportion of farms had a few slaves, but less than five?

Informant: They were many; but some holdings had more iwofa[4] than slaves.

Interviewer: It has been said that the nineteenth-century emirs tried to restrict the elite members to small scattered land holdings, so that they could not build up a consolidated power base outside the town. Is it true that they tried to do this?

Informant: No. The elite had many farms and the emirs did not interfere with them, since it was mandatory for them to give part of their harvest to the emir every year. They had large farms where they kept their slaves. All titled men had their own farms.


Slave Work on the Farms

Interviewer: Did slaves on the farms work in gangs under an overseer?

Informant: Yes, mostly according to seniority, but the children of their owners were in supervising authority.

Interviewer: Did slaves work half the day for the master, then half the day for themselves?

Informant: The slaves could not work for themselves. Only the iwofa could do that.

Interviewer: Could they sell the produce they grew in their own time?

Informant: They had no private time. The only thing they could sell was whatever they stole from their owners.[5]

Interviewer: Did slaves always work in gangs under an overseer? Or did they sometimes work on their own, and periodically bring/send in fixed amounts of produce for the master?

Informant: Slaves worked under leaders who were loyal to their masters. Slaves worked in gangs when necessary. They worked in gangs when owners needed them for specific assignments that necessitated grouping.

Interviewer: If a farmer had just a few slaves, would he and his family work in the fields alongside the slaves?

Informant: Yes. This would not mean any change in status, for “a slave knows himself as a slave and an iwofa knows himself as such.”


Difference between Slaves and Poor Free Cultivators

Interviewer: How much difference was there between slaves working on the farms and small-scale poor free farmers?

Informant: The difference between enslavement and freedom.

Interviewer: In what ways were they different?

Informant: A freeborn could sell the proceeds of his farm; a slave had no farm of his own.

Interviewer: In what ways were they similar?

Informant: Just as slaves worked the farms, so did the poor free farmers.


Women Slaves on the Farms

Interviewer: Were women slaves also used on the farms?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: What kinds of work did they do there?

Informant: Planting, harvesting, and carrying of harvests to town.

Interviewer: Was it only the women slaves who carried the produce into the town?

Informant: [It was] male and female slaves, and even members of the owner’s family.


The Balogun Gambari and His Agricultural Slaves

Interviewer: In the 1850s it was reported that Balogun Gambari Ali had “a village of 26,000 slaves of his own, all working in irons.”[6] Did he have such a village?

Informant: Yes, but the slaves were not that many in number. Also they were not shackled. Only slaves who tried to escape, or did escape but were caught, were put in irons. It was not common to maltreat slaves.

Interviewer: Where was the village?

Informant: On the way to Osí.[7]

Interviewer: About how many slaves were there?

Informant: They were many, but one could not be definite about numbers.


The Jimba Family and Slaves

Interviewer: In the late nineteenth century, it was reported that the war-chief Jimba was the owner of the small village Oko Jimba between Ilorin and Offa, where he had settled his slaves.[8] Is this true?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: About how many slaves were there?

Informant: There were many slaves, but his relations also lived there.

Interviewer: Was Jimba Oja [Jimba’s Market] also in existence at that time?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: What was sold there? By whom and to whom?

Informant: Yams, maize, cotton, guinea corn, and so on.[9] Slaves came to sell these items but were always followed by the owners’ people.


Slaves and Religion

Interviewer: Were slaves taught to be Muslims?

Informant: Yes. Most slaves adhered strictly to the teachings or injunctions of their owners, even on religious matters.[10]

Interviewer: In Ilorin, how many people were members of the bori[11] cult? Did many slaves become members? For example, women slaves?

Informant: It was a taboo for Muslims to join secret cults. The Yorubas who still practiced their ancient rites joined the Ogboni cult. The bori cult belonged to the Hausas. Slave women’s lives were conditioned by the instructions of their owners, so that if any of them joined the cult, it would not be to the knowledge of their owners.

Interviewer: Did many freeborn women become members?

Informant: Yes.


Trade in Slaves

Interviewer: Where did the slaves come from?

Informant: Many were captured in the various wars; many others were brought from Hausaland. Traders took their wares to the north for sale or barter. Often times, traders sold their goods and bought slaves for resale at home in Ilorin.

Interviewer: In what markets in Ilorin were slaves sold?

Informant: In the markets of Jimba or Balla.[12]

Interviewer: In what houses in Ilorin were slaves sold?

Informant: Ile Eleni (Omoda area) and Ile Kannike (Gambari area).

Interviewer: Is there a house (or are there houses) called Ile Aluweru? Ile Aroworeru? Ile Arowoteru?[13]

[Informant indicated that there is a house called Ile Aroworeru]

Interviewer: Where?

Informant: Isale Gunniyan.

Interviewer: Is it true to say that the trade in slaves in Ilorin was especially important toward the end of the nineteenth century?

Informant: Yes it was, as it was the best means of labor on the farms.

Interviewer: What happened to the slave traders in Ilorin after the slave trade ended?

Informant: They lost their source of wealth.

Interviewer: Did they go into other kinds of business?

Informant: Yes. General trading, trade in cattle from the north, and so on.


Female Slaves in Comparison with Male Slaves

Interviewer: What proportion of slaves in and around Ilorin were women?

Informant: About one-third.

Interviewer: What tasks did women slaves perform?

Informant:  Planting of crops, cooking, spinning cotton, pounding yam flour, grinding corn, sweeping, washing of clothes.

Interviewer: Were slave women used for domestic tasks so that free wives could go into purdah?[14]

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: What were women slaves most valued for?

Informant: Domestic work.

Interviewer: Which cost more, a male slave or a female slave?

Informant: A male slave.

Interviewer: Which were more in demand, male slaves or female slaves?

Informant: Both.



Interviewer: Were concubines [called ore, or “friend,” in Ilorin] always slaves?

Informant: No.[15]

Interviewer: What was the status of a slave concubine who had borne a child to her master?

Informant: She achieved a new status--that of a wife. She would cease to be a slave.[16]

Interviewer: What was the status of a concubine who did not give birth?

Informant: She would remain the same. The only possible change in status was to be discarded.

Interviewer: What was the status of the children of concubines?

Informant: They became proper children.[17] If the concubine was a slave, she became a free woman and the children would be free.

Interviewer: Was there any special name for such children?

Informant: Yes, such as Kabido, or Alheri [meaning, literally, “I have seen good”--“Mo ri ore”]

Interviewer: What was likely to happen to daughters of concubines?

Informant: They were still slaves. If they were not sold, they were usually given to favored male slaves as wife, to multiply.

Interviewer: In the nineteenth century, did concubinage increase or decrease over time?

Informant: Slavery and concubinage were two different social phenomena. Masters were always free to have sexual dealings with their slaves.

Interviewer: What happened to concubines in the twentieth century?

Informant: They were either retained or discarded.

Interviewer: Are there still concubines today?

Informant: Yes. In fact, it has increased, since there is no more fear of being beaten in public as was the practice in the past.

Interviewer: For what reasons do women become concubines today?

Informant: Greed, financial problems, and so on.


Status of Slaves; Freeing of Slaves

Interviewer: What was the attitude of a master to his slave?

Informant: He was king over them and could give orders with the expectation of instant obedience.

Interviewer: What was the attitude of a slave to his master?

Informant: The slave feared and obeyed the owner.

Interviewer: To whom would a master marry his male slave?

Informant: To another slave.

Interviewer: To whom would a master marry his female slave?

Informant: Anybody the owner preferred.

Interviewer: Were household slaves considered as of higher status than farm slaves?

Informant: They were of equal status.

Interviewer: Did slaves become junior members of the family of their owner?

Informant: No. Only a female slave who had children for the owner. An owner could free any of his slaves.

Interviewer: What was the status of the child of a slave, if that child was born in the master’s house? On the farm?

Informant: If the child belonged to [was fathered by] the owner, the child became free, whether born on the farm or in the master’s house.

Interviewer: In the nineteenth century, did many slaves gain freedom through murgu payments?[18]

Informant: No, money was scarce to come by.

Interviewer: Is murgu a Hausa word?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: What word is used in Ilorin for murgu?

[No answer provided by the informant]

Interviewer: What other ways were there in which a slave could be given or gain his or her freedom?

Informant: Good conduct; becoming the mother of the owner’s children. Or as a mark of religious piety, to gain God’s acceptance.



Interviewer: Were slaves owned by families, or by individuals, or both?

Informant: Both.

Interviewer: Did women as well as men own slaves?

Informant: Yes.


Distinguishing Features of Slaves

Interviewer: How could people tell the difference between a slave and a free person?

Informant: Slaves performed most of the chores.

Interviewer: Were slaves given any distinguishing marks?

Informant: Yes, several types [no examples given].

Interviewer: Did they have a different accent from free people?

Informant: Non-Yoruba, older slaves had a different accent.

Interviewer: Did they behave in any way differently from free people?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: Did they retain their old religion?

Informant: They were compelled to follow the religion of their owners.

Interviewer: Did they retain the customs of their home areas?

Informant: No.

Interviewer: Did they retain the dances of their home areas?

Informant: No. They had to adopt the customs of the people among whom they lived.


An Example of an Elite Slave

Interviewer: I have heard that there was a slave in Ilorin called Dada or Omo Dada, who became a great warrior.[19] Is this true?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: Where did he live?

Informant: Ile Omodada in Itamerin area of Ilorin.

Interviewer: Did he serve under one of the major chiefs?

Informant: Yes.[20]

Interviewer: Can you tell me anything about his career, for example, what wars did he fight in? Why is he remembered as a great warrior?

Informant: He fought in the following wars: Orimope, Ogun Offa, Ogun Ile Baruba.[21] He was very brave and had a lot of strength. During the wars, he had this special oriki:

Mo wole; too ba wole oo bale je

(Do not enter into the house; if you do, you will spoil the house)

Mo ku sile, too ba ku sile, o bale je

(Do not die at home; if you do, you will spoil the house)

Drummers today still greet his descendants with the above oriki.[22]


The Colonial Period

Interviewer: When the British arrived, it is said that in many places there was a large slave exodus--that many slaves departed. Was this true of Ilorin?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: What proportion of the slaves left Ilorin and its districts?

Informant:  They were very many.

Interviewer: What were the effects of this, in the town and in the districts?

Informant:  In both town and districts, iwofa became more numerous.

Interviewer: Did many of the slaves stay?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: Why did they stay?

Informant: Some had children for their owners and became part of the household; some were treated like offspring. These stayed behind.

Interviewer: What happened to the slaves who stayed?

Informant:  They fused with their owners’ families.

Interviewer: In what way did their situation or status change?

Informant: They were no longer subject to forced labor. They were treated with consideration.

Interviewer: It is said that in the nineteenth century, when elite families kept up large households, they wanted more work/produce out of the slaves, but after the colonial period began, they wanted more the recognition from their slaves.[23] Is this true?

Informant: Yes.

Interviewer: Why?

Informant: Muslims normally kneel down, but it is always a sign of great respect and an acceptance or recognition of a person’s superiority.

Interviewer: Did the ex-slaves bring/send in less produce after the colonial period had begun?

Informant: It was never like when they were slaves.

Interviewer: Did many of the slaves enter into murgu arrangements with their masters after the colonial period had begun?

[No response recorded]

Interviewer: How did the ex-slaves gain access to farming land?

Informant: They were given lands for farming, and each year they paid isakole in recognition of the rights of the real owner.


Further Readings


Frobenius, Leo. The Voice of Africa, trans. Rudolf Blind, 2 vols. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1913).

Hermon-Hodge, H. B., Gazetteer of Ilorin Province. London: Allen and Unwin, 1929.

Johnson, Samuel. The History of the Yorubas. Lagos, Nigeria: C.S.S. Bookshops, 1976. First published 1921.

Lovejoy, Paul E. “Concubinage in the Sokoto Caliphate (1804–1903),” Slavery and Abolition 11 (1990).

———. “Murgu: The Wages of Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” Slavery and Abolition 14 (1993).

———. “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate.” In The Ideology of Slavery, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1981.

———, ed. Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2004.

———. “Slavery, the Bilad al-Sudan and the Frontiers of the African Diaspora.” In Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2004.

Lovejoy, Paul E., and Jan S. Hogendorn. Slow Death for Slavery: The Course of Abolition in Northern Nigeria, 1897–1936. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Lovejoy, Paul E., and Toyin Falola, eds. Pawnship, Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003.

Mockler-Ferryman, Captain A. F. Up the Niger: Narrative of Major Claude Macdonald’s Mission to the Niger and Benue Rivers, West Africa. London: George Philip & Son, 1892.

O’Hear, Ann. “African Sources for the Study of Slavery and Its Aftermath in Ilorin, Nigeria.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association, New York, October 18–21, 2007.

———. “British Intervention and the Slaves and Peasant Farmers of Ilorin, c. 1890–c. 1906.” Paideuma (40) (1994).

———. “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 39, no. 2 (2006).

———. “The Enslavement of Yoruba.” In The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, ed. T. Falola and M. Childs. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.

———. “Ilorin as a Slaving and Slave-Trading Emirate.” In Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam, ed. P. E. Lovejoy. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2004.

———, ed. Letters from Nigeria, 1899–1900: David Wynford Carnegie. Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program, 1992.

———. “Nigeria: Dependency Relationships in the Twentieth Century.” In Nigeria in the Twentieth Century, ed. T. Falola. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2002.

———. “Pawning [of persons] in the Emirate of Ilorin.” In Pawnship, Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy and Toyin Falola. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003.

———. Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997.

Oroge, E. Adeniyi. “The Institution of Slavery in Yorubaland with Particular Reference to the Nineteenth Century.” PhD diss., University of Birmingham, UK, 1971.


[1] For previous interviews, see especially a series of interviews conducted by O. Adesiyun in 1975 in Ilorin; the collection was organized by Paul E. Lovejoy, and the interviews were deposited in the Lovejoy Collection, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Nigeria. For colonial records and archival sources, see especially Secretariat, Northern Provinces (SNP) and Ilorin Provincial Files (Ilorinprof) series, Nigerian National Archives, Kaduna (NNAK), and Church Missionary Society (CMS) Archives, University of Birmingham Library, UK. For other sources of information, see, for example, Further Readings, below, notably Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” in The Ideology of Slavery, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications, 1981).

[2]  See Ann O’Hear, “African Sources for the Study of Slavery and Its Aftermath in Ilorin, Nigeria (paper presented at the annual meeting of the African Studies Association, New York, 2007).

[3] For elite slaves in Ilorin, see Ann O’Hear, “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 39, no. 2 (2006).

[4] Iwofa were debt pawns. See the essays in Paul E. Lovejoy and Toyin Falola, eds., Pawnship, Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2003).

[5] Two very early colonial officers in Ilorin asserted that slaves could work for themselves for half a day and sell the results of their labors. Some of the informants in the series of interviews under discussion agreed with this, but others, including the present informant, did not. See quotations in Ann O’Hear, Power Relations in Nigeria: Ilorin Slaves and Their Successors Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1997), 31–33; and  O’Hear, ed., Letters from Nigeria, 1899–1900: David Wynford Carnegie (Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison African Studies Program, 1992).

[6] CMS CA 2/049/104, Rev. David Hinderer, Account of Ibadan, October 23, 1851; this quotation refers to Ilorin, not Ibadan.

[7] Osí is an Ekiti town, to the east of Ilorin.

[8] For the Jimba family’s ownership of the village in the late nineteenth century, see, for example, Captain A. F. Mockler-Ferryman, Narrative of Major Claude Macdonald’s Mission to the Niger and Benue Rivers, West Africa (London: George Philip & Son, 1892), 194–95. On the Jimba  family (themselves elite slaves), see also O’Hear, “Elite Slaves in Ilorin.”

[9] Two other informants mentioned that slaves were sold in this market.

[10] Informants generally agree that slaves followed their owners’ religion, but one informant notes that the owner might not necessarily be a Muslim; another that some slaves kept “rigidly” to their non-Muslim practices; and another that slaves did not become devout Muslims. One says that slaves kept to their old religion for a while but many converted later. See O’Hear, Power Relations, 39.

[11] This was “a spirit-possession cult of Hausa origin.” Paul E. Lovejoy, “Slavery, the Bilad al-Sudan, and the Frontiers of the African Diaspora,” in Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam, ed. Paul E. Lovejoy (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 2004. For bori in Ilorin, see Leo Frobenius, The Voice of Africa, trans. Rudolf Blind (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1913), 2:563–64 and illustration facing 542.

[12] Balla (Bala, Ballah) is a village not far from the city of Ilorin, to the southwest.

[13] This question was asked because these houses had been mentioned in previous interviews as places in Ilorin where slaves were sold. In Ilorin as elsewhere, the most valuable slaves may often have been sold outside the marketplace. See O’Hear, Power Relations, 28.

[14] Purdah is the practice of secluding Muslim women. A man would gain in prestige if he could put his wives in purdah. Slaves could make it possible for a man to put his wives in purdah by taking over the wives’ work, both inside and outside the house.

[15] Ilorin informants appear to conflate the role of “concubine” with that of “girlfriend” of a married man.

[16] While some of the informants in this interview series agree with the present informant that women who had borne a child to the master would become free wives, others declare that they would still be slaves. Under caliphate laws, concubines who had borne a child became free only on the master’s death. See O’Hear, Power Relations, 41.

[17] Informants disagree on the status of concubines’ children, some saying that they remained slaves. The present informant is the only one who makes a clear distinction between male and female children. For the various statements of informants, see O’Hear, Power Relations, 41–42.

[18] Murgu was an arrangement whereby a slave who made payments to his master in lieu of work was allowed to work independently and provide for his own needs, while selling his crops; this might enable him to pay for his freedom. See Paul E. Lovejoy, “Murgu: The Wages of Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate,” Slavery and Abolition 14 (1993): 168–85; 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).

          The present informant does not believe that many slaves were able to gain their freedom through murgu arrangements; in contrast, other informants believe that many were able to do so. The present informant’s opinion is consistent with his statement, above, that slaves were not allowed to work for themselves.

[19] Omo Dada first came to my attention in an interview conducted by O. Adesiyun with Alfa Sheu, Alowa (Alawaye) Compound, July 12, 1975, translation of tape 6, Lovejoy Collection.

[20] He served under the Balogun Ajikobi. See quotation in O’Hear, “Elite Slaves,” 255.

[21] Ilorin informants and authors often cluster or conflate various, sometimes widely separated, events around one person (see O’Hear, “African Sources”). Here the list of wars appears to refer to Ilorin’s participation in the Yoruba wars of the later nineteenth century but also to a much earlier conflict with Borgu.

[22] An oriki is a praise-poem.

[23] For an example of such an assertion, see a 1912 report on land tenure in Afon District, near Ilorin, quoted in H. B. Hermon-Hodge, Gazetteer of Ilorin Province (London: Allen and Unwin, 1929), 168–69.

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 titled Yoruba Frontiers. 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 December 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 2003

Ann O’Hear


            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 as Ebora, 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 Yoruba orisa. (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 from Ebora 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 called ukpo[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 Igbirra ovopa, the Abinu obakpa, appear to be cognate with the Jukun Abakwa. . . . The Ekwe masquerade, sometimes described as the principal Igala masquerade, is traditionally said to have belonged to the Jukun. The long masquerade, the okula, ouna, iro and okponobi of the Abinu, Oworo, Owe and of some Ijumu towns or the Ewuna of 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 name Adoga, a name found among Idoma speaking peoples. The powerful women’s cult Ofosi or Ohosi of 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 the ilo (iro among 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 the pax 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 Notes 2, 3 (1964-65): 9; Ade Obayemi, “The Sokoto Jihad and the ‘O-kun’ Yoruba: A Review,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 9 (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 Africa 27 (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 Africa 15 (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 Journal 68, 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 Nigeria 5, 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 History 15 (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 Review 43, 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 bunu cloth, see also Colleen Kriger, “Textile Production and Gender in the Sokoto Caliphate” Journal of African History 34 (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 History 21, 1 (1990): 53. For trade to the north in bunu cloths, 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,

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)


[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 Nigeria 6, 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,” Odu n.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 ipo cloth (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.