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7.1 Correspondence: Extracts from letters sent to Ann O’Hear by Stefan Reichmuth (Prof. Dr. Reichmuth, Ruhr-Universität-Bochum, Germany), 1988, 1990, and 1992.

I am most grateful to Prof. Dr. Reichmuth for giving me his permission to include the following extracts from his letters.

Bayreuth, 23 April 1988

[Ilorin: murgu as a means to attaining freedom for slaves; Alufa families with slave background]

With regard to your slavery project, I would think that gradual absorption of slaves was very common in Ilorin, although some murgupractice is suggested, e.g. by the nickname Dan Murgu of Balogun Gambari Saibu.+ There are definitely some Alufa families with slave background who were employed as teachers, or as Imams or Ladanis at the mosque of their (former) lords. Quranic schooling for slaves was rather common.

+ (Son of a “houseboy” of Balogun Ali, Buhari) [handwritten note added by Prof. Reichmuth]

Universität Bayreuth

18. Juni 1990

[Ilorin: problems in researching slavery; 1936 loss of power of elite slaves]

I fully subscribe to your note . . . where you mention the difficulties of research into slave issues in Ilorin. The reason for the nowadays constant denial of slave origin may be related to the effective loss of power of the slave families after 1936, when the last set of influential court slaves (Sanda in particular, as far as I was told) lost their position. Only after you have lost power it becomes degrading to be called a slave, because it will only enhance the status of your former master. Calling somebody a (former) slave is particularly useful for degrading others who have otherwise become almost equal (or are successfully trying to achieve that). As Safi Jimba put it in a talk: the Emirs have always been very ungrateful; when you helped them they would fear your power and declare that you are their slave. It seems to be the same in the whole town: nowadays you can only lose by being called a slave, at least it will be what Nigerians call a “costly joke,” and the “owner,” having lost most of his former glory, enhances his status by this past relation.

[Ilorin: nineteenth-century history of the Jimba family—elite slaves; activities of Emir Mọmọ’s slaves]

. . . the struggle between the Jimba and the Balogun Fulani did not occur during Abdusalami’s time, as Safi Jimba[*] put it. Both the Emir and several other informants (mainly Balogun Fulani’s family) said it was in Aliyu’s days (see already Mustain 159f).[**] The Balogun was Usman Olufadi, also called Hinakonu . . . the most powerful man since Sitta’s days. It [the struggle] must have happened after 1872 when [Samuel] Crowther . . . met Usman. The present Daudu [titleholder] said the leader of the Emir’s guard was then Lasaki, the son of the first Jimba, Saliu. It was only after his victory over Usman that he got the Daudu title. In his army he had his own Mejindadi, Galadima, Ajia and Balogun under him, which shows the great significance of this guard. They also said the Daudu Jimba did not participate in the Ọfa war, and according to Safi Jimba also did not fight against Mọmọ. For Mọmọ’s tyrannical behavior there are many stories in Ilorin, as well as for the crimes and extortions committed by his slaves.

[*Lawyer and member of the Jimba family, author of A Short History of Ilorin, 1981, and other works. Note added by Ann O’Hear]

[**Here, Prof. Reichmuth is making reference to Ivan B. Mustain, “A Political History of Ilorin in the Nineteenth Century,” M.Phil. thesis, University of Ibadan, 1988. Note added by Ann O’Hear]

[Families descended from elite slaves: Sarkin Dongari; Balogun Afin; Ajia Ijẹṣa]

Sarkin Dongari: told me a long story how his ancestor, Ahmadu Baba Kannike who was from Bornu, met Alimi [leader of the Fulani jihad in Ilorin] in Katsina and came down together with him. This is . . . [a] very typical way of putting oneself as close to Alimi as possible, so common in Ilorin. Of course he denied slave origin.

Balogun Afin . . . also described his ancestor as brother to a wife of the Emir (B.Afin: Bariba from Nikki). . . . The Madawaki mentioned “Ọmọ Ijẹṣa” as a powerful servant of [Emir] Bawa who supported the election of [Emir] Abdulkadiri and was later banned by him. Is he perhaps identical with Ajia Ijẹṣa?[***]

[***He was an Ajia Ijẹṣa, but not the first to hold the title. See Ann O’Hear, “Elite Slaves in Ilorin in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 39, no. 2 (2006), e.g., 265, including notes 85 and 86, which incorporates the information above from the Madawaki of Ilorin, and provides further detail of the Ajia’s falls from grace (exile in the 1920s and removal as a district head in 1931). Note added by Ann O’Hear]

[Especially Metropolitan Districts of Ilorin: resistance and accommodation; role of Islam]

To your question of resistance and accommodation and the role of Islam, particularly in the Metropolitan Districts:

Personally . . . I did not see much of these districts. Islamic preaching in Ilorin and surroundings is a current theme in the family histories of Alufas for the early colonial period. Conversion was apparently very frequent then. Migration and a need to “close ranks” were perhaps the most important factors encouraging it. Even nowadays Islam seems to be a medium of expression for both accommodation and resistance. Many Islamic societies in Ilọrin have branches in the districts, which can be seen as a new type of link which has developed over the last ten years. As I was told, the ITP [Ilorin Talaka Parapo, commoners’ party active in Ilorin and the Metropolitan Districts in the 1950s] . . . had a koranic slate as its symbol and was supported by many Alufas. I think from the factors which you mention, commitment to Islam in the districts can be seen as an expression of equality and a right of access to the capital without dependent status. This also goes very well with the continuous struggle against the District Head system and the support for O.Saraki.

Universität Bayreuth

3 März 1992


From your account the apprenticeship would seem to be one of the crucial pawning relationships in the town. This would, however, not be valid for Islamic learning and the Quranic School. Although the teacher would sometimes be given full paternal authority over the pupil, the father would never be required to buy his son back, so to speak. The “Marriage by alms” (sàráà) which was very common in this context (daughters being given by the teacher himself or by a wealthy man in the quarter to a poor but well-reputed and promising student) relieved young men of the otherwise very high costs of a marriage. This can be seen as a measure against the debt bondage arising from marriage costs which you also mention. Perhaps the Muslim society developed its own forms of social integration—and dependency—which were slightly different from the otherwise common Yoruba patterns, without necessarily abolishing them.