‘My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves’


Slave Driving In Africa In The 19Th Century. From Africa By Keith Johnston, Published 1884.Picture copyright
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Amid the worldwide debate about race relations, colonialism and slavery, a few of the Europeans and Individuals who made their fortunes in buying and selling human beings have seen their legacies reassessed, their statues toppled and their names faraway from public buildings.

Nigerian journalist and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani writes that certainly one of her ancestors offered slaves, however argues that he shouldn’t be judged by right this moment’s requirements or values.

My great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, was what I choose to name a businessman, from the Igbo ethnic group of south-eastern Nigeria. He dealt in a lot of items, together with tobacco and palm produce. He additionally offered human beings.

“He had brokers who captured slaves from completely different locations and introduced them to him,” my father instructed me.

Nwaubani Ogogo’s slaves have been offered by means of the ports of Calabar and Bonny within the south of what’s right this moment generally known as Nigeria.

Folks from ethnic teams alongside the coast, such because the Efik and Ijaw, normally acted as stevedores for the white retailers and as middlemen for Igbo merchants like my great-grandfather.

They loaded and offloaded ships and provided the foreigners with meals and different provisions. They negotiated costs for slaves from the hinterlands, then collected royalties from each the sellers and patrons.

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A number of European nations had slave compounds in what’s now Nigeria

About 1.5 million Igbo slaves have been shipped throughout the Atlantic Ocean between the 15th and 19th Centuries.

Greater than 1.5 million Africans have been shipped to what was then referred to as the New World – the Americas – by means of the Calabar port, within the Bight of Bonny, making it one of many largest factors of exit throughout the transatlantic commerce.

The one life they knew

Nwaubani Ogogo lived in a time when the fittest survived and the bravest excelled. The idea of “all males are created equal” was utterly alien to conventional faith and regulation in his society.


Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

Assessing the individuals of Africa’s previous by right this moment’s requirements would compel us to solid the vast majority of our heroes as villains”

It could be unfair to evaluate a 19th Century man by 21st Century rules.

Assessing the individuals of Africa’s previous by right this moment’s requirements would compel us to solid the vast majority of our heroes as villains, denying us the suitable to completely have a good time anybody who was not influenced by Western ideology.

Igbo slave merchants like my great-grandfather didn’t undergo any disaster of social acceptance or legality. They didn’t want any spiritual or scientific justifications for his or her actions. They have been merely residing the life into which they have been raised.

That was all they knew.

Slaves buried alive

The preferred story I’ve heard about my great-grandfather was how he efficiently confronted officers of the British colonial authorities after they seized a few of his slaves.

White traders inspect African slaves during a sale, circa 1850


My great-grandfather apparently didn’t think about it honest that his slaves had been seized”

The slaves have been being transported by middlemen, together with a consignment of tobacco and palm produce, from Nwaubani Ogogo’s hometown of Umuahia to the coast.

My great-grandfather apparently didn’t think about it honest that his slaves had been seized.

Shopping for and promoting of human beings among the many Igbo had been happening lengthy earlier than the Europeans arrived. Folks turned slaves as punishment for crime, fee for money owed, or prisoners of conflict.

The profitable sale of adults was thought-about an exploit for which a person was hailed by reward singers, akin to exploits in wrestling, conflict, or in looking animals just like the lion.

Igbo slaves served as home servants and labourers. They have been generally additionally sacrificed in spiritual ceremonies and buried alive with their masters to take care of them within the subsequent world.

Slavery was so ingrained within the tradition that a lot of widespread Igbo proverbs make reference to it:

  • Anybody who has no slave is his personal slave
  • A slave who appears to be like on whereas a fellow slave is tied up and thrown into the grave together with his grasp ought to realise that the identical factor may very well be carried out to him sometime
  • It’s when the son is being given recommendation that the slave learns

The arrival of European retailers providing weapons, mirrors, gin, and different unique items in alternate for people massively elevated demand, main individuals to kidnap others and promote them.

How slaves have been traded in Africa

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  • European patrons tended to stay on the coast
  • African sellers introduced slaves from the inside on foot
  • Journeys may very well be as lengthy as 485km (300 miles)
  • Two captives have been usually chained collectively on the ankle
  • Columns of captives have been tied collectively by ropes round their necks
  • 10%-15% of captives died on the way in which

Supply: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Resisting abolition

The commerce in African individuals continued till 1888, when Brazil turned the final nation within the Western hemisphere to abolish it.

Image of slave


We expect this commerce should go on.That’s the verdict of our oracle and our monks”

When the British prolonged their rule to south-eastern Nigeria within the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, they started to implement abolition by means of army motion.

However through the use of drive fairly than persuasion, many native individuals reminiscent of my great-grandfather could not have understood that abolition was concerning the dignity of humankind and never a mere change in financial coverage that affected demand and provide.

“We expect this commerce should go on,” one native king in Bonny infamously mentioned within the 19th Century.

“That’s the verdict of our oracle and our monks. They are saying that your nation, nonetheless nice, can by no means cease a commerce ordained by God.”

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The Missionary Society was shaped in London in 1799 by British anti-slavery campaigners

So far as my great-grandfather was involved, he had a bona fide buying and selling licence from the Royal Niger Firm, a British firm that administered commerce within the area within the final quarter of the 19th Century.

So when his property was seized, an aggrieved Nwaubani Ogogo boldly went to see the colonial officers accountable and offered them together with his licence. They launched his items, and his slaves.

“The white individuals apologised to him,” my father mentioned.

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Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

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Adaobi’s father, Chukwuma Hope Nwaubani, lives on land that was owned by Nwaubani Ogogo

Slave commerce within the 20th Century

Acclaimed Igbo historian Adiele Afigbo described the slave commerce in south-eastern Nigeria which lasted till the late 1940s and early 1950s as the most effective saved secrets and techniques of the British colonial administration.

Whereas the worldwide commerce ended, the native commerce continued.

“The federal government was conscious of the truth that the coastal chiefs and the key coastal merchants had continued to purchase slaves from the inside,” wrote Afigbo in The Abolition of the Slave Commerce in Southern Nigeria: 1885 to 1950.

He added that the British tolerated the continued commerce on political and financial grounds.

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Getty Photographs

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British merchants have been on the coronary heart of the slave commerce, earlier than the UK authorities abolished the commerce

They wanted the slave-trading chiefs for efficient native governance, and for the enlargement and progress of legit commerce.

Generally, in addition they turned a blind eye fairly than jeopardise a helpful alliance, as appears to have been the case after they returned Nwaubani Ogogo’s slaves.

That incident deified Nwaubani Ogogo amongst his individuals. Right here was a person who efficiently confronted the white powers from abroad. I’ve heard the story from relations, and have examine it.

It was additionally the start of a relationship of mutual respect with the colonialists that led to Nwaubani Ogogo being appointed a paramount chief by the British administration.

He was the federal government’s consultant to the individuals in his area, in a system generally known as oblique rule.


How the UK abolished slavery

  • 1833 Parliament outlawed slavery in most British colonies

  • 1834 Regulation took impact

  • 800,000slaves have been freed

  • £20m allotted to pay for “damages” suffered by house owners

  • 0compensation for freed slaves

Supply: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Information from the UK’s Nationwide Archives at Kew Gardens present how desperately the British struggled to finish the inner commerce in slaves for nearly your entire period of the colonial interval.

They promoted legit commerce, particularly in palm produce. They launched English forex to switch the cumbersome brass rods and cowries that retailers wanted slaves to hold. They prosecuted offenders with jail sentences.

“By the 1930s, the colonial institution had been worn down,” wrote Afigbo.

“In consequence, that they had come to put their hope for the extirpation of the commerce on the corrosive impact over time of schooling and common civilisation.”

Working with the British

As a paramount chief, Nwaubani Ogogo collected taxes on behalf of the British and earned a fee for himself within the course of.

He presided over circumstances in native courts. He provided labourers for the development of rail traces. He additionally willingly donated land for missionaries to construct church buildings and colleges.


Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

My great-grandfather is famend for his enterprise prowess, sturdy management, immense contribution to society, and development of Christianity”

The home the place I grew up and the place my mother and father nonetheless stay sits on a bit of land that has been in my household for over a century.

It was as soon as the positioning of Nwaubani Ogogo’s visitor home, the place he hosted visiting British officers. They despatched him envelopes containing snippets of their hair to let him know each time they have been as a consequence of arrive.

Nwaubani Ogogo died someday within the early 20th Century. He left behind dozens of wives and youngsters. No pictures exist of him however he was mentioned to have been remarkably light-skinned.

In December 2017, a church in Okaiuga in Abia State of south-eastern Nigeria was celebrating its centenary and invited my household to obtain a posthumous award on his behalf.

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Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

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Nwaubani Ogogo donated land to Christian missionaries

Their data confirmed that he had supplied an armed escort for the primary missionaries within the space.

My great-grandfather was famend for his enterprise prowess, excellent boldness, sturdy management, huge affect, immense contributions to society, and development of Christianity.

The Igbo don’t have a tradition of erecting monuments to their heroes – in any other case one devoted to him might need stood someplace within the Umuahia area right this moment.

“He was revered by everybody round,” my father mentioned. “Even the white individuals revered him.”

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