2.1b(ii) 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 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.i Incidentally, Carnegie’s comments on “the powerful King” of Ejidongari, whom he portrayed as a strong and independent-minded individual,ii are of particular interest, as in later sources this man is identified as an Ilorin court slave.iii If this is true,iv 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.v According to modern Ilorin informants, it would seem that some such arrangements sometimes did obtain, though certainly not always,vi as they did in some fashion elsewhere in the Sokoto Caliphate.vii Carnegie also describes arrangements by which slaves could free themselves. Local informants confirm that this was possible in Ilorin,viii 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.


ix 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.x 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”


xi . . . And despite [Carnegie’s] allegation that “as a rule they are quite content to remain slaves,”xii 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.xiii 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].xiv 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.”


xvi.   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.xviaHau

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