2.2j Summary of Ann O’Hear, “Political and Commercial Clientage in Nineteenth-Century Ilorin,” African Economic History, no. 15 (1986): 69‒83. This research note contains material on elite slaves as baba kekere (intermediaries), which is summarised below.
The 1986 research note provides a report on both political and commercial clientage, and the connections between the two. The summary below concentrates on the political sphere, because it is the sphere in which privileged slaves were particularly involved. Nevertheless, even here, links between the political and commercial spheres can be found. To assist the reader, brief references to relevant source material are included in the text of the summary below, and a select list of references follows.
Political intermediaries called baba kekere (“little father”) were highly important in Ilorin in the nineteenth century and later. Similar intermediaries in Ibadan were known as baba ogun, and in Hausaland as kofa. In Ilorin they were often members of chiefly families or titled slaves. They provided access, especially to justice and land. In the nineteenth century, the emirs gave out land to recipients who were later called “fiefholders” by the British. These in turn sent out farm slaves or gave lands to free tenants. Sometimes the emir retained land, and sent agents to manage the tenants and slaves. In Ogele, for example, Emir Shita “put one of his head slaves Audali to look after the farms and other slaves. Audali’s son is now Bale and collects for the Emir. Many of the farms are let to free men who pay rent to the Bale but follow some big man in Ilorin” (Burnett, Case 7). “[S]ome big man” refers to the tenant’s baba kekere, who might be the tenant’s own fiefholder or any one of a variety of other well-connected persons. In Ogele, baba kekere included, for example, the Sarkin Dongari, an important palace slave (see below). Men who wanted to be granted small fiefs “followed a big chief or slave of the Emir,” who would represent their interests to the emir and would receive “a yearly gift” from them (Hermon-Hodge, 169, quoting Burnett).
Emirs’ slaves also acted as baba kekere in the city. Local tax money was passed through them (Lethem, para. 41). They also assisted visiting traders to gain access to trade privileges. Some idea of this can be gained from the reports of European and other visitors, who were given over to baba kekere tasked with providing accommodation, advice, and access to the emir (but also with controlling the visitors’ movement around the city). Often these high-level baba kekere were slaves. In the 1850s, the leading baba kekere were the Sarkin Dongari, whom the visitors called “prime minister” (Bowen, 191; Campbell, 61), and Nasamu, “the sheriff or public executioner” (Campbell, 101; Bowen, 191-92; and Mann, 1/8/55), who was also a long-time trader (Clarke, 84).
In later years, this system continued. For example, in 1893, the baba kekere assigned to a C.M.S. missionary visitor was the emir’s “head slave . . . practically prime minister” (Farrow, 29). A few years earlier, in 1889, Major Claude Macdonald, on a political mission to Ilorin, was escorted to the “Chief of the Executioners,” who was to be his host and baba kekere (Mockler-Ferryman, 185-86). Whatever their actual business, Europeans were regarded as traders, and A. F. Mockler-Ferryman, who published an account of Macdonald’s mission, shows clearly that access to the market for an important trader needed the emir’s permission, through baba kekere and adequate payments. The European visitors entered the process through a high-level baba kekere, but lesser individuals would have had to contact a commercial landlord-broker, who might approach a baba kekere or act as such himself. Major baba kekere themselves may have also been landlord-brokers (as Nasamu could well have been) or would have had landlord-brokers in their families. Thus the political and commercial spheres, for elite slaves and others, were closely intertwined.
Select List of References
Bowen: T.J. Bowen, Central Africa: Adventures and Missionary Labours in Several Countries in the Interior of Africa from 1849 to 1856 (Charleston, 1857).
Burnett: Nigerian National Archives Kaduna (NNAK) Ilorinprof 4 814/1912, Land Tenure in Afon District, Report by Captain Burnett 1912.
Campbell: Robert Campbell, A Pilgrimage to My Motherland (London, 1860).
Clarke: William H. Clarke, Travels and Explorations in Yorubaland 1854-1858, ed. J.A. Atanda (Ibadan, 1972).
Farrow: S.S. Farrow, “A Visit to Ilorin,” Niger and Yoruba Notes, I (1894).
Gavin: R.J. Gavin, “The Impact of Colonial Rule on the Ilorin Economy 1897-1930,” Centrepoint (University of Ilorin), 1 (1977).
Hermon-Hodge: H.B. Hermon-Hodge, Gazetteer of Ilorin Province (London, 1929).
Lethem: NNAK Ilorinprof 4 900/1912, Ilorin Town Re-Assessment Report by A.R Lethem, Progress Report, para. 41.
Mann: Church Mission[ary] Society (CMS) archive, University of Birmingham, UK, CMS CA 2/0 66/88, A.C. Mann, Journal for the Quarter Ending 25/9/55, entry for 1/8/55.
Mockler-Ferryman: A.F. Mockler-Ferryman, Up the Niger (London, 1892).