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.ii

     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.iii

     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.iv 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.v 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 capturevi 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.vii It earned a reputation as a major slave dealing center.viii 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.ix Many of the slaves taken south eventually joined the Atlantic trade,x 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.xi

     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.xii 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.xiii It is likely that the single most important method of slave acquisition was capture.xiv Slaves were an important product of the early expansionist wars, begun by Afonja, who captured various towns andresettled 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.xv

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

     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.”xvii 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.”xviii

     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,xix 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.”xx

      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.”xxi 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.xxii

     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.”xxiii

      The emirs of Ilorin, from the time of Shita, did not go to war themselves,xxiv 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.xxv In addition, although the slave tribute to Gwandu was apparently raised in most emirates by a levy made by emirs on their chiefs,xxvi 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!”xxvii 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.xxviii 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.xxix 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.xxx 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.xxxi 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.xxxii

     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.xxxiii The hereditary title, “Daodu Abdulsalami,” is said to have been bestowed on them, as well as the right to create their own titles.xxxiv They were given a compound in the city, and farmland outside, which also became hereditarily theirs.xxxv They were able to amass slaves of their own, whom they settled on this land.xxxvi

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.xxxvii Many slaves had the opportunity to acquire their own slaves, including the emir’s ajias during military campaigns.xxxviii Nasama, an important court slave in mid-century, and “sheriff or public executioner,” was “master of a large number of slaves.”xxxix 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.xl

     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.”xli

     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.xlii

      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.”xliii

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.”xliv 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.xlv

     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.xlvi 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.xlvii 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,xlviii 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.xlix 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.l A 1917 document giving information on nineteenth-century land grants, although it is somewhat simplified,li 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.lii It is said that the emirs created few new slave appointments as the century wore on:liii 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.liv 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.lv (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”:lvi 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,lvii 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.lviii

     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.”lix 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.lx

     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.lxi 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,lxii there seems to have been no development of a corps of slave musketeers who could defend/extend the power of the emirs.lxiii 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.”lxiv 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.lxv 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.lxvi 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.”lxvii

     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.”lxviii While another account from the same period is said to have described this particular balogun as very rich and owning numerous slaves,lxix 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.lxx

     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.lxxi 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.lxxii

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.lxxiii 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 . . .lxxiv

     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.lxxv

     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,lxxvi 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.lxxvii A similar report comes from southern Yorubaland.lxxviii 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.”lxxix

     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.lxxx

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.lxxxi

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.lxxxii

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.lxxxiii

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.lxxxiv

      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.lxxxv 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.lxxxvi

      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.lxxxvii

      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 . . .lxxxviii

     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.lxxxix (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.)xc 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.xci

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.xcii 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.xciii 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.xciv 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.xcv 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.xcvi The emir and his slave military official, the Sarkin Baraje, are said to have kept some 350 horses between them.xcvii 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.xcviii

     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.xcix 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,”c 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.ci

      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.cii But many were indeed slaves. These included, for example, the Bariba captives who took care of the emir’s horses.ciii 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.civ

     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.cv But there were also slaves among the fighting troops.cvi 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.cvii A slave who caught slaves for his master “was still a slave, but was given different treatment” thereafter.cviii 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.cix It was also, however, a significant center of industrial production, with cloth and lantana beads as major export items.cx 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),cxi 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”cxii 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,cxiii  and females were useful as spinners.cxiv 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.cxv 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.cxvi 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.cxvii 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.cxviii 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.cxix

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

     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.cxxiv  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.cxxv

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.cxxvi Trusted male slaves might be employed in long-distance trade for the master.cxxvii Slaves involved in local or long-distance trade were following a time-honoured Yoruba custom.cxxviii 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.cxxix

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 . . .cxxx

Goldie had no choice but to refuse.cxxxi And this response, plus other British activities,cxxxii 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.cxxxiii

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.”cxxxiv

     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.cxxxv Others, remaining in the emir’s service, or in that of one of the major chiefs, continued to find opportunities for manipulation and profit.cxxxvi Slave raiding was halted, and the slave trade was driven underground and gradually declined.cxxxvii 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.cxxxviii


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