top of page
2.2d(i) Short note and summary, Ann O’Hear, “The Enslavement of Yoruba,” in The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, ed. Toyin Falola and Matt D. Childs, 56-73. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.


     The chapter titled “The Enslavement of Yoruba” is included in Part I of the volume titled The Yoruba Diaspora in the Atlantic World, which “examines the  different processes that resulted in the enslavement of the Yoruba in Africa and their dispersion throughout the Americas” (6). The volume editors emphasise that the Yoruba did not enter the slave trade on a large scale until the nineteenth century, when they were “ensnared” by the “incessant warfare” that characterised the period. The editors go on to note  that in “[e]xplaining the rise of . . . important city-states . . . after the collapse of Oyo,” the chapter “offers a close examination of the internal politics and military warfare that caused shifts and changes in Yoruba enslavement,” fleshing out “the Byzantine power struggles that contributed to the processes of . . . enslavement.” (7-8) The editors also note that “[e]specially important in understanding the diversity of the Yoruba diasporic experience is O’Hear’s analysis of . . . the continued process of enslavement within Yorubaland that thrived in response to local circumstances” long after the Atlantic slave trade had ceased to exist (8).


      In the chapter, I describe in detail the processes of enslavement, which included constant warfare, raiding, kidnapping, brigandage, and the extraction of tribute in form of slaves. I examine in particular the results of the collapse of Old Oyo and the warfare (and sometimes collaboration) between its successor states which provided so many slaves for both the internal and external markets. The city/emirate of Ilorin, for example, had taken over part of Oyo’s role in slave supply, by capture and trade. However, it eventually found itself competing with Ibadan (the most successful of the successor states) and Bida in raiding for slaves, but also at times cooperating with its competitors. Some Yoruba groups, including the Egba of Abeokuta and the Ijesha, were both raided and raiders at different times. Non-Yoruba states also joined in the enslavement of Yoruba people. The Nupe-Fulani emirate of Bida, mentioned above, raided the northeastern Yoruba peoples, establishing its overlordship and extracting many slaves as tribute. Dahomey also enslaved Yoruba, through attacks on the Egba. Apart from states and their rulers and notable citizens, many individual warriors of different statuses also profited from the capture, use, and sale of slaves.

     In the chapter, I also look at the people who were enslaved, including their origins, and in a few cases, their individual experiences.

     Many Yoruba speakers originating from a variety of areas were enslaved during the nineteenth century, but overall the small states of the northeastern Yoruba seem to have been most severely affected. Language and cultural affinities were no protection, but it does seem, however, that enslavement of people from one’s own town was generally disapproved of, except when it involved individuals who had in some way been disgraced.

     Of all the people who were enslaved, only a few were able to leave behind accounts of their individual experiences. These included, for example, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Osifekunde of Ijebu, and Joseph Wright, an Egba, all of whom are cited in the chapter.

     In addition, I examine the various destinations of Yoruba speakers who were enslaved, both those who remained in Yorubaland and those who joined the Atlantic trade. I look at the directions of the trade in slaves, especially through southern Yorubaland to the coast, but also the trade to the north and the export of enslaved northeastern Yoruba people to the south via the River Niger.

     A further topic in the chapter is the internal demand for slaves in Yorubaland, which continued well after the demise of the Atlantic trade. The demand for slaves to perform a wide variety of tasks has been discussed by a number of scholars. The “classic example of the internal use of slaves is Ibadan” (65), epitomised in the chapter by a long quotation from  Samuel Johnson’s History of the Yorubas. It illustrates “the numerous uses to which slaves were put, and the scale and complexity of the economy that grew up around the major war leaders and other large-scale slaveholders” (65-66). Examples from various parts of Yorubaland, given in the chapter, attest to the scale of slave holding.

     The  chapter concludes with a brief section on the “final intensification” and decline of enslavement in Yorubaland at the end of the nineteenth century.

< Back
bottom of page