Articles on Slave Trade

 

Am I not a man

The Harvests of Slave Trade

Globalization Not New; Look at Slave Trade

Edward Wilmot Blyden

Slave legend draws people for two-day remembrance in coastal Georgia

Olaudah Equiano

Ja Ja of Opobo

 

 

 

 

Globalization Not New; Look at Slave Trade
By Philip Emeagwaliemeagwali.com 

Globalization - or the ability of many people, ideas and technology to move from country to country - is not new. In Africa, it was initiated by the slave trade and given impetus by colonialism and Christian missionaries. The early missionaries saw African culture and religion as a deadly adversary and as an evil that had to be eliminated. In 1876, a 27-year-old missionary named Mary Slessor emigrated from Scotland to spend the rest of her life in Nigeria. For her efforts in trying to covert the people of Nigeria, Mary Slessor’s photograph appears on Scotland’s ten pound note, and her name can be found on schools, hospitals and roads in Nigeria.

The introduction to Mary Slessor’s biography titled: “White Queen of the Cannibals” is revealing:

On the west coast of Africa is the country of Nigeria. The chief city is Calabar,” said Mother Slessor. “It is a dark country because the light of the Gospel is not shining brightly there. Black people live there. Many of these are cannibals who eat other people.”

They're bad people, aren't they, Mother?” asked little Susan.

Yes, they are bad, because no one has told them about Jesus, the Saviour from sin, or showed them what is right and what is wrong.”

These opening words clearly show that Mary Slessor came to Africa on a mission to indoctrinate us with Christian theology. She told us we worshipped an inferior god and that we belonged to an inferior race. She worked to expel what she described as “savagism” from our culture and heritage and to encourage European “civilization” to take root in Africa.

We accepted the mission schools which were established to enlighten us, without questioning the unforeseen costs of our so-called education. These mission schools plundered our children’s self-esteem by teaching them that, as Africans they were inherently “bad people.” Our children grew up not wanting to be citizens of Africa. Instead, their education fostered the colonial ideal that they would be better off becoming citizens of the colonizing nations.

I speak of the price Africans have paid for their education and “enlightenment” from personal experience. I was born “Chukwurah,” but my missionary schoolteachers insisted I drop my “heathen” name. The prefix “Chukwu” in my name is the Igbo word for “God.” Yet, somehow, the missionaries insisted that “Chukwurah” was a name befitting a godless pagan. The Catholic Church renamed me “Philip,” and Saint Philip became my patron and protector, replacing God, after whom I was named.

I have to argue that something more than a name has been lost. Something central to my heritage has been stripped away. This denial of our past is the very antithesis of a good education. Our names represent not only our heritage, but connect us to our parents and past. As parents, the names we choose for our children reflect our dreams for their future and our perceptions of the treasures they represent to us.

My indoctrination went far deeper than just a name. The missionary school tried to teach me that saints make better role models than scientists. I was taught to write in a new language. As a result, I became literate in English but remain illiterate in Igbo - my native tongue. I learned Latin—a dead language I would never use in the modern world—because  it was the official language of the Catholic Church, which owned the schools I attended.

Today, there are more French speakers in Africa than there are in France. There are more English speakers in Nigeria than there are in the United Kingdom. There are more Portuguese speakers in Mozambique than there are in Portugal. The Organization of African Unity never approved an African language as one of its official languages.

We won the battle of decolonizing our continent, but we lost the war on decolonizing our minds.

Many acknowledge that globalization shapes the future, but few acknowledge that it shaped history, or at least the world’s perception of it. Fewer acknowledge that globalization is a two-way street. Africa was a colony, but it is also a key contributor to many other cultures, and the cornerstone of today’s society.

The world’s views tend to overshadow and dismiss the value and aspirations of colonized people. Again, I must impart my own experiences to illustrate this point. I grew up serving as an altar boy to an Irish priest. I wanted to become a priest, but ended up becoming a scientist. Religion is based on faith, while science is based on fact and reason—and science is neutral to race. Unfortunately, scientists are not neutral to race.

Take, for example, the origin of AIDS, an international disease. According to scientific records, the first person to die from AIDS was a 25-year-old sailor named David Carr, of Manchester, England. Carr died on August 31, 1959, and because the disease that killed him was then unknown, his tissue samples were saved for future analysis. The “unknown disease” that killed David Carr was reported in The Lancet on October 29, 1960. On July 7, 1990, The Lancet retested those old tissue samples taken from David Carr and reconfirmed that he had died of AIDS. Based upon scientific reason, researchers should have deduced that AIDS originated in England, and that David Carr sailed to Africa where he spread the AIDS virus. Instead, the white scientific community condemned the British authors of those revealing articles for daring to propose that an Englishman was the first known AIDS patient.

If these scientists were neutral to race, their data should have led them to the conclusion that Patient Zero lived in England. If these scientists were neutral to race, they should have concluded that AIDS had spread from England to Africa, to Asia, and to America. Instead, they proposed the theory that AIDS originated in Africa.

Even history has degraded our African roots. We come to the United States and learn a history filtered through the eyes of white historians. And we learn history filtered through the eyes of Hollywood movie producers. Some of us complained that Hollywood is sending its distorted message around this globalized world. Some of us complained that Hollywood is a cultural propaganda machine used to advance white supremacy. George Bush understood Hollywood was a propaganda machine that could be used in his war against terrorism. Shortly, after the 9/11 bombing of New York City, Bush invited Hollywood moguls to the White House and solicited their support in his war against terrorism.

Some will even argue that schools play a significant role as federal indoctrination centers used to convince children during their formative years that whites are superior to other races. Fela Kuti, who detested indoctrination, titled one of his musical albums: “Teacher Don't Teach Me Nonsense.” It scares me that an entire generation of African children is growing up brainwashed by Hollywood’s interpretation and promotion of American heroes. Our children are growing up idolizing American heroes with whom they cannot personally identify.

We need to tell our children our own stories from our own perspective. We need to decolonize our thinking and examine the underlying truths in more than just movies. We need to apply the same principles to history and science, as depicted in textbooks.

Look at African science stories that were retold by European historians; they were re-centered around Europe. The earliest pioneers of science lived in Africa, but European historians relocated them to Greece.  Science and technology are gifts ancient Africa gave to our modern world. Yet, our history and science textbooks, for example, have ignored the contributions of Imhotep, the father of medicine and designer of one of the ancient pyramids.

The word “science” is derived from the Latin word “scientia” or “possession of knowledge.” We know, however, that knowledge is not the exclusive preserve of one race, but of all races. By definition, knowledge is the totality of what is known to humanity. Knowledge is a body of information and truth, and the set of principles acquired by mankind over the ages. Knowledge is akin to a quilt, the latter consisting of several layers held together by stitched designs and comprising patches of many colors. The oldest patch on the quilt of science belongs to the African named Imhotep. He was the world’s first recorded scientist, according to the prolific American science writer Isaac Asimov. The oldest patch on the quilt of mathematics belongs to another African named Ahmes. Isaac Asimov also credited Ahmes as being the world’s first author of a mathematics textbook.

Therefore, a study of history of science is an effort to stitch together a quilt that has life, texture and color. African historians must insert the patches of information omitted from books written by European historians. There are many examples of the mark Africans have made on world history.

Americans are surprised when I tell them Africans built both Washington’s White House and Capitol. According to the US Treasury Department, 450 of the 650 workers who built the White House and the Capitol were African slaves. Because the White House and Capitol are the two most visible symbols of American democracy, it is important to inform all schoolchildren in our globalized world that these institutions are the results of the sweat and toil of mostly African workers. This must also be an acknowledgement of the debt America owes Africa.

Similarly, discussions of globalization should credit those Africans who left the continent and helped build other nations throughout the world - most nations on Earth. Africans who have made contributions in Australia, in Russia, and in Europe must be acknowledged so our children can have heroes with African roots - so they can know their own roots and be proud of them.

The enormous contributions of Africans to the development and progress of other nations has gone unacknowledged. We have yet to acknowledge, for example, that St. Augustine, who wrote the greatest spiritual autobiography of all time, called “Confessions of St. Augustine,” was an African; that three Africans became pope; that Africans have lived in Europe since the time of the Roman Empire; that Septimus Severus, an Emperor of Rome, was an African; and that the reason Beethoven was called “The Black Spaniard” was because he was a mulatto of African descent. Why are we reluctant to acknowledge the contributions and legacies of our African ancestors? We cannot inspire our children to look toward the future without first reminding them of their ancestors’ contributions.

Look at the long struggle of African Australians, who recently became citizens with rights on their native continent. Africans have been living in Australia for 50,000 years. Yet, African Australians were granted Australian citizenship just 42 years ago, in 1967. According to CNN, African Australians were not recognized as human beings prior to 1967. They “were governed under flora and fauna laws.” African Australians were, in essence, governed by plant and animal laws. For many years, African Australians were described as the “invisible people.” In fact, the first whites to settle in Australia named it the “land empty of people.”

The contributions of Africans to Russia must be reclaimed. Russia's most celebrated author, A.S.(Aleksandr Sergeyevich) Pushkin, told us he was of African descent. Pushkin’s great-grandfather was brought to Russia as a slave. Russians proclaim Pushkin as their “national poet,” the “patriarch of Russian literature” and the “Father of the Russian language.” In essence, Pushkin is to Russia what Shakespeare is to Britain. Yet Africans who have read the complete works of Shakespeare are not likely to have read a single book by Pushkin.

I was asked to share today the story behind my supercomputer discovery. It would require several books to tell the whole story, but I will share a short one that I have never told anyone. The journey of discovery to my supercomputer was a titanic, one-man struggle. It was like climbing Mount Everest. On many occasions I felt like giving up. Because I was traumatized by the racism I had encountered in science, I maintained a self-imposed silence on the supercomputer discovery that is my claim to fame.

I will share with you a supercomputing insight that even the experts in my field did not know then and do not know now. In the 1980s, supercomputers could perform only millions of calculations per second and, therefore, their timers were designed to measure only millions of calculations per second. But I was performing billions of calculations per second and unknowingly attempting to time it with a supercomputer timer, which was designed to measure millions of calculations per second. I assumed my timer could measure one-billionth of a second. It took me two years to realize my timer was off a thousand-fold.

I was operating beyond a supercomputer’s limitations, but I did not know it. The supercomputer designers did not expect their timers to be used to measure calculations at that rate. I almost gave up because I could not time and reproduce my calculations which, in turn, meant I could not share them, two years earlier, with the world.

After years of research, my supercomputer’s timer was the only thing stopping me from getting the recognition I deserved. I realized the timer was wrong, but I could not explain why. I spent two years mulling over why the timer was wrong. It took two long and lonely years to discover why I could not time my calculations. My 3.1 billion calculations per second, which were then the world’s fastest, were simply too fast for the supercomputer’s timer.

What I learned from that experience was not to quit when faced with an insurmountable obstacle – and that believing in yourself makes all the difference. I learned to take a step backward and evaluate the options: Should I go through, above, under, or around the obstacle? Quitting, I decided, was not an option. Indeed, the old saying is true: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Looking back, I learned that most limitations in life are self-imposed. You have to make things happen, not just watch things happen. To succeed, you must constantly reject complacency. I learned I could set high objectives and goals and achieve them.

The secret to my success is that I am constantly striving for continuous improvements in my life and that I am never satisfied with my achievements. The myth that a genius must have above-average intelligence is just that, a myth. Geniuses are people who learn to create their own positive reinforcements when their experiments yield negative results. Perseverance is the key.

My goal was to go beyond the known, to a territory no one had ever reached. I learned that if you want success badly enough and believe in yourself, then you can attain your goals and become anything you want in life. The greatest challenge in your life is to look deep within yourself to see the greatness that is inside you, and those around you. The history books may deprive African children of the heroes with whom they can identify, but in striving for your own goals, you can become that hero for them – and your own hero, too.

I once believed my supercomputer discovery was more important than the journey that got me there. I now understand the journey to discovery is more important than the discovery itself; that the journey also requires a belief in your own abilities. I learned that no matter how often you fall down, or how hard you fall down, what is most important is that you rise up and continue until you reach your goal. It’s true, some heroes are never recognized, but what’s important is that they recognize themselves.

Philip Emeagwali 3

It is that belief in yourself, that focus, and that inner conviction that you are on the right path, that will get you through life’s obstacles. If we can give our children pride in their past, then we can show them what they can be and give them the self-respect that will make them succeed.

Transcribed from speech delivered by Philip Emeagwali [emeagwali.com] at the Pan-African Conference on Globalization, Washington, DC USA

Philip Emeagwali helped give birth to the supercomputer - the technology that spawned the Internet. He won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize, which has been dubbed the “Nobel Prize of Supercomputing.”

 

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The Harvests of Slave Trade
Am I not a man

By Ebiuwa Aisien

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade lasted for over four centuries before its final abolition in 1830. Over these centuries, Africans were forcibly moved as human cargoes from the shores of West Africa for slave labour in the sugar cane, cotton and tobacco plantations of the Americas. On the average, it was the very healthiest and fittest of the populations of the Central and Western portions of the African Continent who were victims of this forced migration. Captives were inspected meticulously with regard to height, dentition, skin colour, age etc. Those who did not meet the required standards were rejected by the Slave-Merchants.

By 1494, that is, two years after the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, this trade on Africans had been de facto legitimized when Pope Alexander the VI divided the World into two halves between Portugal and Spain with the Treaty of Tordesillas. Africa was a part of the half that fell under the suzerainty of Portugal, so Portugal was able to gain a monopoly of the trade for nearly a century before the other European countries forced their way into it due to the huge profits the trade was generating. For the next three or more centuries, the trade gathered momentum. European traders exchanged guns, knives, rings, alcohol, and the manilla with the African middlemen for African youths and children.

The discovery of the New World helped Europe to solve the problem of over-population of her cities and to settle these excess populations in the new lands which had just been discovered. But regarding the great need for the human labour which would be essential in the cultivation and taming of these newly discovered lands - to Europe's economic advantage - Europe turned to Africa. And the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade began.

The toll was high on Africa because African slaves became the human machinery, which constituted an indispensable portion of the means of production of the commercial crops in the plantations of the New World. The slaves represented a substantial fraction of the capital at the disposal of the Plantation Owners. It was this available capital which slowly developed the physical infrastructures of the New World, while at the same time enriching the mother-countries of Europe where the Plantation Owners emigrated from.

The negative impact of the slave trade on Africa, coupled with the subsequent colonization of the entire continent after the Berlin Conference of 1884 continues to haunt the continent and its peoples. But after a period of about one and a half centuries since the abolition of the trade, are there any rewards or benefits which accrued unwittingly to both the continent and its peoples from this odious trade? Africa was far behind Europe in both literacy and technology, so without this forced migration of her peoples, Africa would not have had a direct opportunity for a share of the ownership of the New World. It was therefore the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that served as Africa's Visa to the Americas.

The Slave Trade was the price Africa had to pay for the co-ownership of the Americas with Europe - the ticket which took Africa to the New World. Into that ticket was built humiliation, racial abuse and discrimination. But it got Africa into the Americas and dispersed Africa's seeds into this new world of enormous potentials. The seeds - our enslaved brothers and sisters - took root in the new lands, survived, and multiplied. Of course, this whole idea is not intended to down - play the unspeakable cruelty of the Slave Trade itself, which has rightly been described as one of the most de-humanizing incidents in the history of mankind. It is a phenomenon some Historians have graphically described as the "Journey of Death" while others have succinctly labeled it, the "Black Holocaust."

A few discerning voices have called for some reparations to Africa from both Europe and America for that harrowing African experience. Rationally, it is a legitimate demand. After all, demographically, the trade decimated the population of Africa because it is on record that with the 54,000 voyages made to Africa by European and American slave ships, a total of about 20million African captives landed in the Americas. About that same number died deaths of various forms in the course of the trade. The trade also stunted the political, economic and cultural growth of the whole continent over the four centuries it lasted. But what form will an exercise of reparation take? What price do we put on human life? How do we quantify the trauma and emotional injuries to the souls of individuals? Can these be reduced to a simple arithmetical symbol of pounds, euros, dollars or naira?

Perhaps, Africa is already reaping some of her reward from the Slave Trade. Like the Jewish seed, which was dispersed to various parts of Europe, Asia and the Middle East after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish State in Palestine by the Roman Army in 70 AD, the African seed, through the slave trade, is today dispersed across wide areas of the New World. The African seed has become "native" in the Americas - North America, Central and South America and the Caribbean Islands.

More significantly, that forced migration produced a new ethnic group (the Afro-Americans) which today constitutes 13% of the total population of that most powerful nation on earth - the United States of America. It is the presence of this semi-indigenous group that gave President Barrack Obama an identity, as well as a leverage, in the political equation of that nation. Obama's father was a Kenyan. In places like Brazil and some of the Caribbean Islands, there is a replica of a rich, potent and viable African culture - these are all harvests of the Slave Trade.

Forever, the umbilical cord of the U.S., that land of opportunities, possibilities and dreams, is tied to Africa. Today, Europe and Africa co-own the U.S., and it was the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade that enabled that to happen. Africa rode piggy - back to the United States on the shoulders of Europe. The strap which held him onto that back was the Slave Trade. Some decades ago, George Bernard Shaw wrote -

"People dream of things as they are and ask, why?/ I dream of things that never were and ask; why not?" These lines could have been written for President Barack Obama, an Afro-American and the 44th President of the United States of America. It is only in that God's own country (United States of America) that President Obama could have had the opportunity to dream of things that never were and at the same time, have that audacity to ask, why not? (The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama). President Obama therefore, is so far, the biggest harvest to Africa, of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

In terms of the Foreign Policy objectives of our continent, better days are ahead and more harvests will be reaped by Africa and indeed Nigeria, the most populous black nation on Earth. With well articulated foreign policy positions, we can seize all the new opportunities to forge new alliances and stronger partnerships with all the Blacks in the Diaspora to encourage economic, political and cultural growth in Africa as a panacea for the persistent inter-ethnic conflicts, leadership problems, poverty and other forms of affliction that continue to plague our continent and retard our progress. "Yes, we can".

Mrs Aisien is a lecturer in the Dept. of Political Science and Public Administration,
Benson Idahosa University, Benin City.

 

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Ja Ja of Opobo

Birth: c. 1820
Death:
1891
Nationality:
 Igbo/Biafran
Occupation:
politician, nationalist, slave
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
JaJa of Opobo (ca. 1820-1891) was a political and military strategist, brought to the Bonny Kingdom as a slave, who was perhaps the most troublesome thorn in the flesh of 19th-century British imperial ambition in southern Nigeria.

The story of Ja Ja recounts a man of servile status hurdling intimidating odds to attain wealth and power, and founding in the latter half of the 19th century the most prosperous city-state in the Delta area of Nigeria. Information regarding his parentage and early childhood, derived from uncertain and speculative oral tradition, is scanty and unsatisfactory. According to informed guesstimates, Ja Ja was born in 1820 or 1821, in the lineage of Umuduruoha of Amaigbo village group in the heartland of Igboland, Southeastern Nigeria. He was sold into slavery in the Niger Delta under circumstances which are far from clear. One version of the oral traditions says that he was sold because, as a baby, he cut the upper teeth first, an abominable phenomenon in traditional Igbo society. Another version claims that he was captured and sold by his father's enemy. Regardless, he was bought by Chief Iganipughuma Allison of Bonny, by far the most powerful city-state on the Atlantic coast of Southeastern Nigeria before the rise of Opobo.

To follow the Ja Ja story or, indeed, revolution, an explanatory note is necessary. Until the end of the 19th century, the Delta communities played a crucial role in European and American trade with Nigeria. Acting as middlemen, these communities carried into the interior markets the trade goods of European and American supercargoes stationed on the coast and brought back in exchange the export produce of the hinterland, basically palm oil. As the Delta is dominated by saline swamps and crisscrossed by a labyrinth of creeks and rivers, the canoe was indispensable for trade.

The Delta society was organized in Canoe Houses. A Canoe House was the pivot of social organization and also, notes K.O. Dike, "a cooperative trading unit and a local government institution. " It was usually composed of a wealthy merchant (its founder), his family, and numerous slaves owned by him. A prosperous house could comprise several thousand members, both free and bonded, owning hundreds of trade canoes. In this intensely competitive society, leadership by merit--not by birth or ascriptions- -was necessary if a house was to make headway in the turbulent, cut-throat competition that existed between houses. Any person with the charisma and proven ability, even if of servile birth, could rise to the leadership of a house, but could never become king. Ja Ja would achieve this, and much more.

Finding young Ja Ja too headstrong for his liking, Chief Allison made a gift of him to his friend, Madu, a chief of the Anna Pepple House, one of the two houses of the royal family (the other being the Manilla Pepple House). Ja Ja was slotted into the lowest rung of the Bonny slave society ladder, that of an imported slave, distinct from that of someone who was of slave parentage but born in the Delta.

As a youth, he worked as a paddler on his owner's great trade canoes, traveling to and from the inland markets. Quite early, he demonstrated exceptional abilities and business acumen, quickly identified with the Ijo custom of the Delta, and won the hearts of the local people as well as those of the European supercargoes. It was unusual for a slave of his status to make the transition from canoe paddling to trading, but Ja Ja--through his honesty, business sense, and amiability-- soon became prosperous.

For a long while, Ja Ja turned his back on Bonny politics, concentrating his immense energies on accumulating wealth through trade, the single most important criterion to power in the Delta. At the time, Bonny politics were volatile as a result of the irreconcilable and acrimonious contest for supremacy between the Manilla Pepple House and the Anna Pepple House to which Ja Ja belonged. Coincidentally, both houses were led by remarkable characters of Igbo slave origins--Oko Jumbo of the Manilla House and Madu (after him Alali his son) of the Anna House.

Ja Ja Rescues Debt-Ridden House
In 1863, Alali died, bequeathing to his house a frightening debt of between £10,000 and £15,000 owed to European supercargoes. Fearing bankruptcy, all of the eligible chiefs of the house declined nomination to head it. It was therefore a great relief when Ja Ja accepted to fill the void. With characteristic energy, he proceeded to put his house in order by reorganizing its finances. Conscious that the palm-oil markets in the hinterland and the wealth of the European trading community on the coast constituted the pivot of the Delta economy, he ingratiated himself with both sides. In a matter of two years, he had liquidated the debt left behind by his predecessor and launched his house on the path of prosperity. When less prosperous and insolvent houses sought incorporation into the Anna House, Ja Ja gradually absorbed one house after another.

By 1867, his remarkable success had become common knowledge throughout Bonny. The British consul to the area, Sir Richard Burton, had cause to remark that although Ja Ja was the "son of an unknown bush man," he had become "the most influential man and greatest trader in the [Imo] River." Predicted Burton: "In a short time he will either be shot or he will beat down all his rivals."

Burton's words proved prophetic. Ja Ja's successes incurred the jealousy of opponents who feared that, if left unchecked, his house might incorporate most of the houses in Bonny and thereby dominate its political and economic arena. Oko Jumbo, his bitterest opponent, was determined that such a prospect would never materialize.

Meanwhile, two developments occurred in Bonny, serving to harden existing jealousies. First, in 1864, Christianity was introduced into the city-state, further polarizing the society. While the Manilla House welcomed the Christians with a warm embrace, the Anna House was opposed to the exotic religion. Not surprisingly, the missionaries sided with the Manilla House against the Anna House. Second, in 1865, King William Pepple died and, with this, the contest for the throne between the two royal houses took on a monstrous posture.

Three years later, in 1868, Bonny was ravaged by fire, and the Anna House was the worst hit. In the discomfiture of his opponent, Oko Jumbo saw his opportunity. Knowing that the fire had all but critically crippled Ja Ja's house, he sought every means to provoke an open conflict. On the other side, Ja Ja did everything to avoid such a conflict, but, as Dike states, "Oko Jumbo's eagerness to catch his powerful enemy unprepared prevailed."

On September 13, 1869, heavy fighting erupted between the two royal houses. Outmatched in men and armament, though not in strategy, Ja Ja pulled out of Bonny, accepted defeat, and sued for peace with a suddenness that surprised both his adversaries and the European supercargoes. Peace palaver commenced and dragged on for weeks under the auspices of the British consul. This was exactly what Ja Ja planned for. It soon became doubtful if the victors were not indeed the vanquished.

Ja Ja had sued for peace in order to gain time to retreat from Bonny with his supporters with little or no loss in men and armament. A master strategist, he relocated in the Andoni country away from the seaboard at a strategic point at the mouth of the Imo river, the highway of trade between the coastal communities and the palm-oil rich Kwa Iboe and Igbo country. There, he survived the initial problems of a virgin settlement as well as incessant attacks of his Bonny enemies.

He Proclaims Independent Settlement Of Opobo
In 1870, feeling reasonably secure, Ja Ja proclaimed the independence of his settlement which he named Opobo, after Opubu the Great, the illustrious king of Bonny and founder of Anna House who had died in 1830. As Dike writes:

[I]t is characteristic of the man that he had not only a sense of the occasion but of history. . . . Kingship was impossible of attainment for anyone of slave origins in Bonny. Instead he sought another land where he could give full scope to his boundless energies.

Long before the war of 1869, Ja Ja had been carefully planning to found his own state. The war merely provided him with the occasion to implement his design.

In naming his new territory Opobo, Ja Ja was appealing to the nostalgia and historical consciousness of his followers while giving them the impression that he was truly the heir of the celebrated king. That this impression was widespread and accepted by most Bonny citizens may be judged from the fact that of the 18 houses in Bonny, 14 followed Ja Ja to Opobo.

To no avail, the British consul tried to coerce Ja Ja to come back to Bonny. Against the admonition of the consul, and in the face of Bonny's displeasure, many British firms began to trade openly with Opobo while others transferred their depots there. By May of 1870, the Ja Ja revolution had driven the death-knell on Bonny's economy. British firms anchoring there are said to have lost an estimated £100,000 of trade by mid-1870. The city-state fell from grace to grass as Opobo, flourishing on its ashes, became in Ofonagoro's words, "the most important trade center in the Oil Rivers," and Ja Ja became "the greatest African living in the east of modern Nigeria."

For 18 years, Ja Ja ruled his kingdom with firmness and remarkable sagacity. He strengthened his relations with the hinterland palm-oil producers through judicious marriages and blood covenants which bound the parties into ritual kingship. He armed his traders with modern weapons for their own defense and that of the state. He thus monopolized trade with the palm-oil producers and punished severely any community that tried to trade directly with the European supercargoes.

Queen Victoria Awards Ja Ja Sword Of Honor
In 1873, the British recognized him as king of independent Opobo, and Ja Ja reciprocated by sending a contingent of his soldiers to help the British in their war against the Ashanti kingdom in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Queen Victoria expressed her gratitude in 1875 by awarding him a sword of honor. It seemed a honeymoon had developed between Opobo and Britain.

Ja Ja's reign has been described as a striking instance of selective modernization. He retained most of the sociopolitical and cultural institutions of Bonny, such as the house system, and stuck steadfastly to the religion of his fathers, arguing that Christianity was a serious ferment of societal destabilization. While recognizing the value of Western education and literacy, he objected to its religious component. Thus, he sent his two sons to school in Scotland but insisted they acquire only secular education. He established a secular school in Opobo and employed an African-American, Emma White, to run it. An Englishman who visited Opobo in 1885 stated that the standard of the pupils in the school compared quite favorably with that of English children of the same age.

The honeymoon between Ja Ja and the British turned out to be meteoric: the ultimate ambitions of the two ran at cross-purposes. Ja Ja guarded his independence jealously, had a tight grip on the interior markets and confined British traders to Opobo, away from these markets. He made sure that the traders paid their comeys (customs and trade duties) as and when due.

But in the 1880s, the clouds of British imperialism were closing in menacingly on Opobo, the overthrow of indigenous sovereignties having been initiated by John Beecroft, the first British consul to Nigeria (1849-54). British imperialism had begun to assert itself forcefully; British officials on the spot were increasingly ignoring indigenous authorities, while British traders had begun to insist on trading directly with the hinterland palm-oil producers. Ja Ja tackled these formidable problems judiciously and with restraint.

In July 1884, fearing German intrusion in the Delta, the British consul, Edward Hewett, rushed to the area, foisting treaties of protection on the indigenous sovereignties. With a veiled threat from a man-of-war, Ja Ja too was stampeded into placing his kingdom under British protection. But unlike the other African monarchs, this was not before he had sought explanation for the word "protectorate, " and had been assured by the consul that his independence would not be compromised. Hewett wrote to Ja Ja informing him, inter alia (among other things), that:

the queen does not want to take your country or your markets, but at the same time she is anxious that no other nation should take them. She undertakes . . . [to] leave your country still under your government; she has no wish to disturb your rule.

At Ja Ja's insistence, a clause providing for free trade in his kingdom was struck off before he agreed to sign the treaty.

European Powers Sign Treaty Of Berlin
The following year, European powers entered into the Treaty of Berlin which set the stage for the scramble and partition of Africa among themselves, without regard to the wishes of Africans. The treaty provided for free navigation on River Niger and other rivers, such as the Imo, linked to it. On the basis of this, the British consul asserted that British firms were within their rights to trade directly in the interior palm-oil markets. That same year, 1885, Britain proclaimed the Oil Rivers Protectorate, which included Ja Ja's territory. Sending a delegation to the British secretary of states for the colonies to protest these actions by right of the treaty of 1884, Ja Ja's protest fell on deaf ears. A man of his word, he was shocked at Britain reneging on her pledge.

Worse times were yet to come as political problems were compounded by economic dispute. The 1880s witnessed a severe trade depression that ruined some of the European firms trading in the Delta and threatened the survival of others. The surviving firms responded to the situation in two ways. First, they reached an agreement among themselves, though not with complete unanimity, to offer low prices for produce. Second, they claimed the right to go directly to the interior markets in order to sidestep the coastal middlemen and reduce the handling cost of produce.

As would be expected, Ja Ja objected to these maneuvers and proceeded to ship his own produce directly to Europe. The British consul directed the European firms not to pay comey to Ja Ja anymore, arguing that in shipping his produce directly to Europe, he had forfeited his right to receive the payment. Once again, Ja Ja sent a delegation to Britain to protest the consul and the traders' action. Once again, this was to no avail.

Under a threat of naval bombardment, Ja Ja signed an agreement with the British consul in July 1887 to allow free trade in his territory. By now, he knew that Britain's imperial ambition was growing rapidly, and he began transferring his resources further into the Igbo hinterland, his birthplace. But as Elizabeth Isichei points out, "he was confronted with a situation where courage and foresight were ultimately in vain."

British Official Reneges On Promises
Harry Johnston, acting vice-consul, a young hothead anxious to advance his colonial career, imagined that Ja Ja would be a perfect stepping-stone to attain his ambition. Arriving at Opobo on a man-of-war, Johnston invited Ja Ja for a discussion on how to resolve the points of friction between Opobo and the British traders and officials. Suspicious of Johnston's real intentions, Ja Ja initially turned down the invitation but was lured to accept with a promise of safe return after the meeting. Said Johnston:

I hereby assure you that whether you accept or reject my proposals tomorrow, no restrictions will be put on you--you will be free to go as soon as you have heard my message.

But again the British reneged on their pledge: Ja Ja would not return to his kingdom alive. Once on board the warship Goshawk, Johnston confronted him with a deportation order or the complete destruction of Opobo. Nearly 18 years to the day when he pulled out of Bonny, Ja Ja was deported to the Gold Coast, tried, and declared guilty of actions inimical to Britain's interest. Still afraid of his charm and influence on the Gold Coast, even in captivity, Johnston saw to it that he was deported to the West Indies, at St. Vincent Island.

With the exit of Ja Ja, the most formidable obstacle to Britain's imperial ambition in Southeastern Nigeria had been removed. But the circumstances of his removal left a sour taste in certain British mouths. Lord Salisbury, British prime minister, could not help criticizing Johnston, noting that in other places Ja Ja's deportation would be called "kidnapping. " Michael Crowder describes the event as "one of the shabbiest incidents in the history of Britain's relations with West Africa." Among the indigenous population, it left a deep and lasting scar of suspicion of Britain's good faith and, for a long time, trade in the area all but ceased.

In exile, Ja Ja is said to have borne himself with kingly dignity. He made repeated appeals to Britain to allow him to return to Opobo. In 1891, his request was granted, belatedly as it turned out: Ja Ja died on the Island of Teneriffe en route to Opobo, the kingdom built with his sweat and devotion. His people gladly paid the cost of repatriating his body and spent a fortune celebrating his royal funeral.

Today, an imposing statue of Ja Ja stands in the center of Opobo with the inscription:
A king in title and in deed. Always just and generous.

FURTHER READINGS
Burn, Alarn. History of Nigeria. George Allen & Unwin, 1929.
Dike, Kenneth O. Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830-1885. Oxford University Press, 1956.
Isichei, Elizabeth. A History of the Igbo People. Macmillan, 1976.
Ogonagoro, Walter I. Trade and Imperialism in Southern Nigeria, 1881-1929. Nok Publishers, 1979.

 

 

Ja Ja of Opobo
Ja Ja of Opobo

Birth: c. 1820
Death:
1891
Nationality: 
Igbo/Biafran
Occupation:
revolutionary, ruler
Source: Historic World Leaders. Gale Research, 1994.

"Several of the Igbos who were brought to the [Niger] Delta as slaves showed an outstanding ability to triumph over circumstances. Of these, the most celebrated and the most outstanding was Ja Ja of Opobo. . . ." Elizabeth Ischei Political and military strategist, brought to the Bonny Kingdom as a slave, who was perhaps the most troublesome thorn in the flesh of 19th-century British imperial ambition in southern Nigeria.

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
The story of Ja Ja recounts a man of servile status hurdling intimidating odds to attain wealth and power, and founding in the latter half of the 19th century the most prosperous city-state in the Delta area of Nigeria. Information regarding his parentage and early childhood, derived from uncertain and speculative oral tradition, is scanty and unsatisfactory. According to informed guesstimates, Ja Ja was born in 1820 or 1821, in the lineage of Umuduruoha of Amaigbo village group in the heartland of Igboland, Southeastern Nigeria. He was sold into slavery in the Niger Delta under circumstances which are far from clear. One version of the oral traditions says that he was sold because, as a baby, he cut the upper teeth first, an abominable phenomenon in traditional Igbo society.. Another version claims that he was captured and sold by his father's enemy. Regardless, he was bought by Chief Iganipughuma Allison of Bonny, by far the most powerful city-state on the Atlantic coast of Southeastern Nigeria before the rise of Opobo.

To follow the Ja Ja story or, indeed, revolution, an explanatory note is necessary. Until the end of the 19th century, the Delta communities played a crucial role in European and American trade with Nigeria. Acting as middlemen, these communities carried into the interior markets the trade goods of European and American supercargoes stationed on the coast and brought back in exchange the export produce of the hinterland, basically palm oil. As the Delta is dominated by saline swamps and crisscrossed by a labyrinth of creeks and rivers, the canoe was indispensable for trade.

The Delta society was organized in Canoe Houses. A Canoe House was the pivot of social organization and also, notes K.O. Dike, "a cooperative trading unit and a local government institution. " It was usually composed of a wealthy merchant (its founder), his family, and numerous slaves owned by him. A prosperous house could comprise several thousand members, both free and bonded, owning hundreds of trade canoes. In this intensely competitive society, leadership by merit--not by birth or ascriptions- -was necessary if a house was to make headway in the turbulent, cut-throat competition that existed between houses. Any person with the charisma and proven ability, even if of servile birth, could rise to the leadership of a house, but could never become king. Ja Ja would achieve this, and much more.

Finding young Ja Ja too headstrong for his liking, Chief Allison made a gift of him to his friend, Madu, a chief of the Anna Pepple House, one of the two houses of the royal family (the other being the Manilla Pepple House). Ja Ja was slotted into the lowest rung of the Bonny slave society ladder, that of an imported slave, distinct from that of someone who was of slave parentage but born in the Delta.

As a youth, he worked as a paddler on his owner's great trade canoes, traveling to and from the inland markets. Quite early, he demonstrated exceptional abilities and business acumen, quickly identified with the Ijo custom of the Delta, and won the hearts of the local people as well as those of the European supercargoes. It was unusual for a slave of his status to make the transition from canoe paddling to trading, but Ja Ja--through his honesty, business sense, and amiability-- soon became prosperous.

For a long while, Ja Ja turned his back on Bonny politics, concentrating his immense energies on accumulating wealth through trade, the single most important criterion to power in the Delta. At the time, Bonny politics were volatile as a result of the irreconcilable and acrimonious contest for supremacy between the Manilla Pepple House and the Anna Pepple House to which Ja Ja belonged. Coincidentally, both houses were led by remarkable characters of Igbo slave origins--Oko Jumbo of the Manilla House and Madu (after him Alali his son) of the Anna House.

Ja Ja Rescues Debt-Ridden House
In 1863, Alali died, bequeathing to his house a frightening debt of between £10,000 and £15,000 owed to European supercargoes. Fearing bankruptcy, all of the eligible chiefs of the house declined nomination to head it. It was therefore a great relief when Ja Ja accepted to fill the void. With characteristic energy, he proceeded to put his house in order by reorganizing its finances. Conscious that the palm-oil markets in the hinterland and the wealth of the European trading community on the coast constituted the pivot of the Delta economy, he ingratiated himself with both sides. In a matter of two years, he had liquidated the debt left behind by his predecessor and launched his house on the path of prosperity. When less prosperous and insolvent houses sought incorporation into the Anna House, Ja Ja gradually absorbed one house after another.

By 1867, his remarkable success had become common knowledge throughout Bonny. The British consul to the area, Sir Richard Burton, had cause to remark that although Ja Ja was the "son of an unknown bush man," he had become "the most influential man and greatest trader in the [Imo] River." Predicted Burton: "In a short time he will either be shot or he will beat down all his rivals."

Burton's words proved prophetic. Ja Ja's successes incurred the jealousy of opponents who feared that, if left unchecked, his house might incorporate most of the houses in Bonny and thereby dominate its political and economic arena. Oko Jumbo, his bitterest opponent, was determined that such a prospect would never materialize.

Meanwhile, two developments occurred in Bonny, serving to harden existing jealousies. First, in 1864, Christianity was introduced into the city-state, further polarizing the society. While the Manilla House welcomed the Christians with a warm embrace, the Anna House was opposed to the exotic religion. Not surprisingly, the missionaries sided with the Manilla House against the Anna House. Second, in 1865, King William Pepple died and, with this, the contest for the throne between the two royal houses took on a monstrous posture.

Three years later, in 1868, Bonny was ravaged by fire, and the Anna House was the worst hit. In the discomfiture of his opponent, Oko Jumbo saw his opportunity. Knowing that the fire had all but critically crippled Ja Ja's house, he sought every means to provoke an open conflict. On the other side, Ja Ja did everything to avoid such a conflict, but, as Dike states, "Oko Jumbo's eagerness to catch his powerful enemy unprepared prevailed."

On September 13, 1869, heavy fighting erupted between the two royal houses. Outmatched in men and armament, though not in strategy, Ja Ja pulled out of Bonny, accepted defeat, and sued for peace with a suddenness that surprised both his adversaries and the European supercargoes. Peace palaver commenced and dragged on for weeks under the auspices of the British consul. This was exactly what Ja Ja planned for. It soon became doubtful if the victors were not indeed the vanquished.

Ja Ja had sued for peace in order to gain time to retreat from Bonny with his supporters with little or no loss in men and armament. A master strategist, he relocated in the Andoni country away from the seaboard at a strategic point at the mouth of the Imo river, the highway of trade between the coastal communities and the palm-oil rich Kwa Iboe and Igbo country. There, he survived the initial problems of a virgin settlement as well as incessant attacks of his Bonny enemies.

He Proclaims Independent Settlement Of Opobo
In 1870, feeling reasonably secure, Ja Ja proclaimed the independence of his settlement which he named Opobo, after Opubu the Great, the illustrious king of Bonny and founder of Anna House who had died in 1830. As Dike writes:

[I]t is characteristic of the man that he had not only a sense of the occasion but of history. . . . Kingship was impossible of attainment for anyone of slave origins in Bonny. Instead he sought another land where he could give full scope to his boundless energies.

Long before the war of 1869, Ja Ja had been carefully planning to found his own state. The war merely provided him with the occasion to implement his design.

In naming his new territory Opobo, Ja Ja was appealing to the nostalgia and historical consciousness of his followers while giving them the impression that he was truly the heir of the celebrated king. That this impression was widespread and accepted by most Bonny citizens may be judged from the fact that of the 18 houses in Bonny, 14 followed Ja Ja to Opobo.

To no avail, the British consul tried to coerce Ja Ja to come back to Bonny. Against the admonition of the consul, and in the face of Bonny's displeasure, many British firms began to trade openly with Opobo while others transferred their depots there. By May of 1870, the Ja Ja revolution had driven the death-knell on Bonny's economy. British firms anchoring there are said to have lost an estimated £100,000 of trade by mid-1870. The city-state fell from grace to grass as Opobo, flourishing on its ashes, became in Ofonagoro's words, "the most important trade center in the Oil Rivers," and Ja Ja became "the greatest African living in the east of modern Nigeria."

For 18 years, Ja Ja ruled his kingdom with firmness and remarkable sagacity. He strengthened his relations with the hinterland palm-oil producers through judicious marriages and blood covenants which bound the parties into ritual kingship. He armed his traders with modern weapons for their own defense and that of the state. He thus monopolized trade with the palm-oil producers and punished severely any community that tried to trade directly with the European supercargoes.

Queen Victoria Awards Ja Ja Sword Of Honor
In 1873, the British recognized him as king of independent Opobo, and Ja Ja reciprocated by sending a contingent of his soldiers to help the British in their war against the Ashanti kingdom in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). Queen Victoria expressed her gratitude in 1875 by awarding him a sword of honor. It seemed a honeymoon had developed between Opobo and Britain.

Ja Ja's reign has been described as a striking instance of selective modernization. He retained most of the sociopolitical and cultural institutions of Bonny, such as the house system, and stuck steadfastly to the religion of his fathers, arguing that Christianity was a serious ferment of societal destabilization. While recognizing the value of Western education and literacy, he objected to its religious component. Thus, he sent his two sons to school in Scotland but insisted they acquire only secular education. He established a secular school in Opobo and employed an African-American, Emma White, to run it. An Englishman who visited Opobo in 1885 stated that the standard of the pupils in the school compared quite favorably with that of English children of the same age.

The honeymoon between Ja Ja and the British turned out to be meteoric: the ultimate ambitions of the two ran at cross-purposes. Ja Ja guarded his independence jealously, had a tight grip on the interior markets and confined British traders to Opobo, away from these markets. He made sure that the traders paid their comeys (customs and trade duties) as and when due.

But in the 1880s, the clouds of British imperialism were closing in menacingly on Opobo, the overthrow of indigenous sovereignties having been initiated by John Beecroft, the first British consul to Nigeria (1849-54). British imperialism had begun to assert itself forcefully; British officials on the spot were increasingly ignoring indigenous authorities, while British traders had begun to insist on trading directly with the hinterland palm-oil producers. Ja Ja tackled these formidable problems judiciously and with restraint.

In July 1884, fearing German intrusion in the Delta, the British consul, Edward Hewett, rushed to the area, foisting treaties of protection on the indigenous sovereignties. With a veiled threat from a man-of-war, Ja Ja too was stampeded into placing his kingdom under British protection. But unlike the other African monarchs, this was not before he had sought explanation for the word "protectorate, " and had been assured by the consul that his independence would not be compromised. Hewett wrote to Ja Ja informing him, inter alia (among other things), that:

the queen does not want to take your country or your markets, but at the same time she is anxious that no other nation should take them. She undertakes . . . [to] leave your country still under your government; she has no wish to disturb your rule.

At Ja Ja's insistence, a clause providing for free trade in his kingdom was struck off before he agreed to sign the treaty.

European Powers Sign Treaty Of Berlin
The following year, European powers entered into the Treaty of Berlin which set the stage for the scramble and partition of Africa among themselves, without regard to the wishes of Africans. The treaty provided for free navigation on River Niger and other rivers, such as the Imo, linked to it. On the basis of this, the British consul asserted that British firms were within their rights to trade directly in the interior palm-oil markets. That same year, 1885, Britain proclaimed the Oil Rivers Protectorate, which included Ja Ja's territory. Sending a delegation to the British secretary of states for the colonies to protest these actions by right of the treaty of 1884, Ja Ja's protest fell on deaf ears. A man of his word, he was shocked at Britain reneging on her pledge.

Worse times were yet to come as political problems were compounded by economic dispute. The 1880s witnessed a severe trade depression that ruined some of the European firms trading in the Delta and threatened the survival of others. The surviving firms responded to the situation in two ways. First, they reached an agreement among themselves, though not with complete unanimity, to offer low prices for produce. Second, they claimed the right to go directly to the interior markets in order to sidestep the coastal middlemen and reduce the handling cost of produce.

As would be expected, Ja Ja objected to these maneuvers and proceeded to ship his own produce directly to Europe. The British consul directed the European firms not to pay comey to Ja Ja anymore, arguing that in shipping his produce directly to Europe, he had forfeited his right to receive the payment. Once again, Ja Ja sent a delegation to Britain to protest the consul and the traders' action. Once again, this was to no avail.

Under a threat of naval bombardment, Ja Ja signed an agreement with the British consul in July 1887 to allow free trade in his territory. By now, he knew that Britain's imperial ambition was growing rapidly, and he began transferring his resources further into the Igbo hinterland, his birthplace. But as Elizabeth Isichei points out, "he was confronted with a situation where courage and foresight were ultimately in vain."

British Official Reneges On Promises
Harry Johnston, acting vice-consul, a young hothead anxious to advance his colonial career, imagined that Ja Ja would be a perfect stepping-stone to attain his ambition. Arriving at Opobo on a man-of-war, Johnston invited Ja Ja for a discussion on how to resolve the points of friction between Opobo and the British traders and officials. Suspicious of Johnston's real intentions, Ja Ja initially turned down the invitation but was lured to accept with a promise of safe return after the meeting. Said Johnston:

I hereby assure you that whether you accept or reject my proposals tomorrow, no restrictions will be put on you--you will be free to go as soon as you have heard my message.

But again the British reneged on their pledge: Ja Ja would not return to his kingdom alive. Once on board the warship Goshawk, Johnston confronted him with a deportation order or the complete destruction of Opobo. Nearly 18 years to the day when he pulled out of Bonny, Ja Ja was deported to the Gold Coast, tried, and declared guilty of actions inimical to Britain's interest. Still afraid of his charm and influence on the Gold Coast, even in captivity, Johnston saw to it that he was deported to the West Indies, at St. Vincent Island.

With the exit of Ja Ja, the most formidable obstacle to Britain's imperial ambition in Southeastern Nigeria had been removed. But the circumstances of his removal left a sour taste in certain British mouths. Lord Salisbury, British prime minister, could not help criticizing Johnston, noting that in other places Ja Ja's deportation would be called "kidnapping. " Michael Crowder describes the event as "one of the shabbiest incidents in the history of Britain's relations with West Africa." Among the indigenous population, it left a deep and lasting scar of suspicion of Britain's good faith and, for a long time, trade in the area all but ceased.

In exile, Ja Ja is said to have borne himself with kingly dignity. He made repeated appeals to Britain to allow him to return to Opobo. In 1891, his request was granted, belatedly as it turned out: Ja Ja died on the Island of Teneriffe en route to Opobo, the kingdom built with his sweat and devotion. His people gladly paid the cost of repatriating his body and spent a fortune celebrating his royal funeral.

Today, an imposing statue of Ja Ja stands in the center of Opobo with the inscription:
A king in title and in deed. Always just and generous.

PERSONAL INFORMATION
Name variations: original Igbo name, Mbanaso; named Jubo Jubogha in Bonny (shortened to Jo Jo but popularized in European historical literature as Ja Ja). Born around 1820/1821 in Amaigbo village group in the heart of Igboland; died in exile in 1891 at Teneriffe Island; early childhood and personal family life unknown.

CHRONOLOGY
c. 1832 Brought to Bonny as a slave
1863 Elected head of Anna Pepple House
1865 William Pepple, king of Bonny, died; political turmoil escalated
1869 Civil war erupted in Bonny; Ja Ja evacuated Bonny and founded Opobo
1870 Proclaimed Opobo an independent state
1873 Britain recognized Opobo as an independent state
1875 Ja Ja awarded sword of honor by Queen Victoria for service in the British-Ashanti war
1884 Signed a treaty of protection with Britain
1885 Treaty of Berlin--prelude to European scramble for and partition of Africa; Britain proclaimed the Oil Rivers Protectorate, embracing Opobo
1887 British Vice Consul, Harry Johnston, deported Ja Ja to the West Indies
1891 Died at Teneriffe Island

FURTHER READINGS
Burn, Alarn. History of Nigeria. George Allen & Unwin, 1929.
Dike, Kenneth O. Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta, 1830-1885. Oxford University Press, 1956.
Isichei, Elizabeth. A History of the Igbo People. Macmillan, 1976.
Ogonagoro, Walter I. Trade and Imperialism in Southern Nigeria, 1881-1929. Nok Publishers, 1979.

 

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Olaudah Equiano

Also known as: Gustavus Vassa

Birth: 1745 
Death:
April, 1797 in London, England
Nationality: 
Igbo/Biafran
Occupation:
Writer, Abolitionist
Source: African Biography. 4 vols. U*X*L, 1999.

“The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole a scene [on the slave ship] of horror almost inconceivable.”

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
When Olaudah Equiano (pronounced ek-wee-AHN-o) was 10 or 11 years old, kidnappers came into his Ibo village in what is now eastern Nigeria and took him and his sister captive. Sold into slavery in Africa and then shipped to the West Indies on a slave ship, Equiano never returned to his homeland. As a slave he sailed on ships ferrying goods and slaves between the West Indies and North America and Great Britain. On board ship and through the help of kind acquaintances, Equiano learned to read and write. By the time he was 21 years old, in 1766, he had saved enough money through years of shrewd trading to buy his freedom. As a freed slave he worked on sailing ships for several years and traveled throughout the Mediterranean and even to the Arctic. Eventually, he settled in England and became involved in the antislavery movement.

In 1789 Equiano published a two-volume book, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African. It is an account of his life, from his childhood in Africa to being a slave and then a free man. His book was famous in its time, running into 17 editions in Great Britain and the United States and translated into Dutch and German.. The autobiography provides unique insight into the experiences of an African as a slave and the problems of a freed slave.

Taken captive
Equiano recalls in his narrative how kidnappers stole him and his sister from their family's village when the elders were out working in the fields. He says they traveled about six or seven months before he reached the coast. Some time during the trip, he and his sister were separated from each other. Equiano went from one master to another on the way to the coast; once a master sold him for cowrie shells (small hard white shells from the Indian Ocean used as money by West Africans). Once he arrived at the coast, British slavers bought him for work on the plantations in the West Indies or Caribbean. Equiano says he was put on board by "those white men with horrible looks, red faces and loose hair.... I asked them if we were not to be eaten by [them]." The following is his description of the conditions aboard the slave ship.

"The stench of the hold while we were on the coast was so intolerably loathsome that it was dangerous to remain there for any time.... The closeness of the place and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us. This produced copious perspirations, so that the air soon became unfit for respiration from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died.... This wretched situation was again aggravated by the galling of the chains, now become insupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women and the groans of the dying rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable. "

After several months at sea, the ship landed at Bridgetown, Barbados, where the traders sold the surviving slaves to merchants and sugar planters.. No one bought Equiano, probably because he was too young to provide much labor. They put him and other unsaleable slaves on board a boat bound for the colony of Virginia. There he worked on a plantation belonging to a Mr. Campbell, pulling weeds and collecting stones. Not long after, a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, Michael Henry Pascal, bought him from Campbell for between 30 and 40 pounds sterling. Pascal commanded a merchant ship trading between the colonies and England. He bought Equiano as a present for a friend in England. On board ship Pascal gave him the name Gustavus Vassa. (Why Pascal named Equiano Gustavus Vasa is a mystery. Gustavus Vasa [1496-1560] was one of the greatest Swedish kings. Equiano spelled Vasa with a double s.) Luckily for Equiano, a 13-year-old American boy named Richard Baker, only a few years older than he, was on board and the two boys became fast friends. After 13 weeks at sea, the ship landed at Falmouth, England.. Equiano remained in England, on the isle of Guernsey, with Richard Baker and a family friend of the captain. In the summer of 1757 Pascal sent for him and for Baker.

Education at sea and in England
In 1754 France and Britain went to war in North America over control of the fur trading posts and land west of the Appalachian Mountains and over fishing rights off the coast of Canada. The British Royal Navy commissioned Pascal as first lieutenant of the HMS Roebuck to fight against France along the Newfoundland coast of Canada. Initially France was successful.. But when British General James Wolfe took command of the troops in the New World, the British quickly turned the situation around and conquered all of French Canada. As a slave on board the Roebuck, Equiano was present at the siege of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia in 1758.

When they returned to England, Equiano lived with some friends of Pascal's, the two Guerin sisters. They sent him to school, where he had an opportunity to learn to read and write. They also arranged for his baptism in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster, in 1759.

Later that year, Pascal set sail again, this time aboard the Namur for the Mediterranean. While the Namur was taking on supplies at Gibraltar, the French fleet attacked them. The British eventually repelled them but Pascal suffered some injuries. When he recovered, he was given command of a fire ship called the Aetna. Equiano became his steward, a position he says he enjoyed because he had free time to improve on his reading and writing skills.

Cheated of his freedom
Toward the end of 1761 the ship returned to England, to Deptford on the Thames. Although Equiano says he had no specific promise from the captain that he would be given his freedom when they returned to England, he certainly expected it. Instead, the captain forced Equiano onto a barge and later onto a ship sailing for the West Indies. Equiano believed that Pascal had cheated him of his freedom because, he claimed, the law in England held that a baptized man could not be sold. Equiano also accused Pascal of keeping his prize money--his share in the value of the ships captured and their cargoes. Equiano's protests were useless and he soon found himself at sea again, headed for the West Indies.

Under instruction from Pascal, the captain sold Equiano when they got to Montserrat in February 1763 to a Quaker merchant, Robert King. King had a reputation as a kind and charitable man and while working for King, Equiano did a little trading of his own. He would make a small profit by buying an item in the Indies and reselling it for a small profit in North America. Likewise he would purchase something in North America and then sell it in the Indies for a small profit. In this way he earned enough money eventually to buy his freedom from King, who reluctantly agreed to accept 40 pounds sterling and grant Equiano his freedom in 1766.

Equiano soon found, however, that the life of a freed man in the islands was fraught with danger. Blacks had no protection under the law and might easily be kidnapped and taken away on a ship as a slave. To protect himself, Equiano signed on as a sailor for 36 shillings a month on a ship going to England. He learned about sailing on his many voyages between North America and the islands.

Life as a freed slave
Equiano continued as a sailor for several more voyages. Once he had to command the ship himself as the captain and first mate took ill. The captain died on board the ship and Equiano successfully sailed the sloop safely into harbor. He also survived a shipwreck in the Bahamas caused by a self-assured captain who steered an incorrect course.

In 1766 Equiano went to London where he worked for a short time as a hair dresser, a skill he had learned aboard ship. Unable to make ends meet in London, in 1768 he signed up again as a sailor on a ship going to Turkey. He spent several more years sailing in the Mediterranean and made several more trips to the West Indies. In the early 1770s he returned to England and worked for Dr Irving, whose business was purifying salt water into potable or drinkable water. Equiano acted as his assistant, purifying between 26 and 40 gallons a day. When a Captain Phipps asked Equiano to accompany him on an expedition to the Arctic, Irving asked to join Equiano on the trip. Equiano says that in their four-month voyage they explored farther north than any navigation team had done before.

Not long after their return to London, Dr. Irving bought a 150-ton sloop (sailing boat) that he planned to sail to Jamaica to establish a plantation there. In 1775 Equiano accompanied him on this venture. After several months with the doctor along the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras, Equiano left and returned to Jamaica. He planned to go back to England, but in several instances of bad judgement, he put his trust in people who duped, cheated, and enslaved him. Finally, in January 1777, he returned to England.

Joins the antislavery crusade
The final phase of Equiano's life was much more predictable and serene than the years leading up to it. He became involved in the antislavery movement and began work on his autobiography. Because of his activities in the abolitionist movement, the naval authorities in England appointed him Commissary for Provisions and Stores for the Black Poor going to Sierra Leone. In 1787 British abolitionists, humanitarians and church groups had established a community for freed slaves in Sierra Leone, a small British colony on the West Coast of Africa. The Sierra Leone Company started as an experimental colony with 411 freed slaves repatriated from Britain. Its goals were to "introduce civilisation among the natives and to cultivate the soil by means of free labour."

Equiano never made the trip back to Africa. He quarrelled constantly with the agent and wrote a public letter to the newspaper accusing the promoters of the expedition of corruption and deception. In retaliation the agent accused him of insubordination (disobedience to authority) and insolent behavior toward his superiors. The Navy dismissed Equiano from his post and the expedition went ahead, although slightly delayed.

After his dismissal from the expedition, Equiano completed his book. When it was published in 1789 he traveled throughout England promoting it and making speeches against the slave trade. In 1792 , at the age of 47, he married Susan (or Susanna) Cullen. Historians disagree as to whether he had a son or a daughter. It seems fairly certain, however, that he and his wife had a daughter who died while a young child. Equiano died only four months after his daughter, in late April or early May 1797. Although Equiano did not live to see the abolition of slavery, his narrative made the public aware of the horrors of the trade.

FURTHER READINGS
Equiano's Travels: His Autobiography: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African Life. Paul Edwards, editor. London: Heinemann, 1967.

Jones, G. I. "Olaudah Equiano of the Niger Ibo," Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade. Philip D. Curtin, ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977.

 

Olaudah Equiano

Olaudah Equiano 1

Olaudah Equiano 2
A copy of Equiano's marriage certificate. On the 7th of April 1792,
Olaudah Equiano (Gustavus Vassa) married Susannah Cullen at St Andrew's Church, Soham.

 

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Olaudah Equiano

Also known as: Gustavus Vassa

Birth: 1745 in Essaka, Benin Province, Nigeria
Death:
c. 1801 in London, England
Nationality:
African
Occupation:
slave, author
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
Olaudah Equiano (1745-ca. 1801) was an African slave, freedman, and author who wrote the first outstanding autobiography in slave narrative literature.

Olaudah Equiano was born at Essaka, an Ibo village (not now known) in the Benin Province of present-day Nigeria. At age 11 he was kidnaped into domestic slavery. After short service in African households he was sold to British slavers in 1756 and sent to Barbados in the West Indies. Transshipped immediately to Virginia, Olaudah, who said his African name meant "vicissitude" or "fortune," became the personal slave of Lt. Michael Henry Pascal of the Royal Navy, who gave him his second name, Gustavus Vassa.

Thus spared the fate of plantation laborer, Equiano spent the next 30 years as servant, barber, seaman, and trader, traveling widely to such varied places as Turkey, the Arctic, Honduras, North America, and London. In the process he became a literate and articulate observer of the slave trade, slavery, and his own condition.

After service in the Seven Years War, including the siege of Louisburg on Cape Breton Island and the capture of Belle Isle, Lt. Pascal surprisingly disappointed Equiano's expectation of freedom and sent him back to the West Indies for resale in 1763. Equiano's new master, a Quaker merchant of Montserrat and Philadelphia named Robert King, gave him both recognition for his abilities and the opportunity for manumission. Employed as a clerk and captain's assistant on vessels trading in the islands and carrying slaves to the American colonies, Equiano was allowed to trade on his own account and bought his freedom in 1766 for £40, the price King had paid for him. Equiano went to London, where he qualified as a barber and musician and improved his education before taking to the sea again as a free servant in 1768..

Equiano had been baptized as a youth in 1759, but Christian religion did not deeply influence his life until during or just after participating in an Arctic expedition in search of the Northeast Passage in 1773 which nearly ended in disaster. At that time he experienced profound depression and soul-searching that resulted in his conversion to Evangelicalism in 1774. Living in London again after 1777, he petitioned the bishop of London to ordain him a missionary for service in Africa, but he failed.

Subsequently Equiano rose to prominence in London's society of free blacks, became a close friend of Ottobah Cugoano, and associated with the British humanitarians opposed to the Atlantic slave trade. In 1783, for example, he brought the famous case of the ship Zong to Granville Sharp's attention. Sharp made it a cause célèbre in the parliamentary battle for abolition. One hundred thirty-two sick and shackled slaves had been thrown overboard alive and then claimed for cargo insurance. In this connection also, late in 1786 Equiano was appointed by Charles Middleton, the comptroller of the navy, to be commissary steward of Granville Sharp's subsidized expedition to repatriate London's "Poor Blacks" in Sierra Leone. However, the scheme was beset with delays and mismanagement, and in a letter which his friend Cugoano published in London before their departure, Equiano charged his superior, Joseph Irwin, with theft of stores and ill treatment of the blacks. Middleton supported Equiano, but Irwin and several colleagues, acting through London businessmen interested in the venture, engineered his dismissal by Treasury authorities.

Equiano's famous autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of O. Equiano, or G. Vassa, the African was then written in 1787-1788 partly to vindicate his role in the Sierra Leone affair, as well as to recount his exemplary rise from slavery to freedom and to argue the case for abolition of the slave trade. Although one critic (G. I. Jones, 1967) has doubted Equiano's sole authorship because of its stylistic felicities, there is little doubt that the work was essentially his own. Unlike Ottobah Cugoano's sophisticated Bible-based discourse, Equiano's is an account of action in which the realities and iniquities of slavery and the trade emerge eloquently in the telling of his own story. Besides its importance as "the first truly notable book in the genre" of slave narratives (Arna Bontemps, 1969) and its value as one of the few genuine personal recollections of the slave trade as seen by the victims themselves (Philip Curtin, 1967), Equiano's account is especially interesting in two respects: first, for its extensive recollections of the author's African childhood and his retention of an African point of view in judging experience and, second, for its rational economic argument against the slave trade. Not only did he argue the moral transgressions of the trade but also its economic insanity. On the basis of demographic projections he urged the potential of legitimate commerce for British manufactures in Africa as an economic alternative to the trade in lives. This was a view shared with Cugoano's book, and it figured prominently in the ideological preparation for abolition.

Despite his sense of mission, Equiano was destined never to return to Africa. He lectured extensively in Britain against the slave trade during the 1790s and married an English girl, Susan (or Susanne) Cullen of Ely, in April 1792. He is believed to have died in London in 1801.

 

FURTHER READINGS
Equiano's own The Interesting Narrative of the Life of O. Equiano, or G. Vassa, the African was first published in two volumes in London, 1789, with eight new editions to 1795 and several more thereafter. Recently it has appeared in an abridged edition by Paul Edwards, Equiano's Travels: His Autobiography (1967), and in full in Arna Bontemps, ed., Great Slave Narratives (1969), with a useful literary introduction by the editor.

Equiano's place in the intellectual history of the slave trade, and African-European relations generally, is discussed in Philip Curtin's introduction to his collection, Africa Remembered: Narratives by West Africans from the Era of the Slave Trade (1967), which contains Equiano's description of his African homeland with commentary by G. I. Jones. Robert W. July, The Origins of Modern African Thought: Its Development in Western Africa during the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1967), also discusses Equiano's career and the importance of his book. Christopher Fyfe, A History of Sierra Leone (1962; rev. ed. 1963), narrates Equiano's involvement in the Sierra Leone settlement scheme, while Christopher Fyfe, ed., Sierra Leone Inheritance (1964), uses a letter of Equiano to Lord Hawkesbury in 1788 to exemplify the economic argument against the slave trade.

 

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Slave legend draws people for two-day
remembrance in coastal Georgia

The Associated Press
September 2, 2002

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- In May 1803, 10 Nigerians captured and sent to work on coastal Georgia plantations chose to drown themselves in Dunbar Creek rather than live as slaves.

It is a legend known well by many islanders, keeping some from fishing or crabbing in the creek, fearing that the men continue to haunt the place.

Over the weekend, about 75 people from as far as Nigeria visited the creek to designate the area as holy ground and to give the freed slaves peace.

"They were souls forced here to die without a proper burial. It's a step toward creating rest for us and our ancestors," said Adonijah O. Ogbonnaya, who lives in Illinois.

The drowned slaves were from the southeast Nigerian tribe called Igbo or Ibo, which claims 40 million members worldwide.

The event, organized by the St. Simons African-American Heritage Coalition, included lessons on Igbo history and customs Friday and a Saturday procession to the drowning site.

Coastal Georgia schools have recently begun incorporating mention of the event in history classes. There is no historical marker at the site, which is next to a sewage treatment plant built in the 1940s.

The source most often quoted by locals on the subject is a 1989 book by H.A. Sieber. It has accounts of the drowning as told by the survivors' descendants.

"It's an oral tale that's been told down -- not written. But it did happen," said Pat Morris, executive director of the Coastal Georgia Historical Society. "It's one of those things that we're always learning more about to tell the complete story. History isn't static."

According to Sieber's book, as the men marched to their death, they sang in their native tongue: "The water brought us; the water will take us away." Some claim that around midnight the stillness of the creek is disturbed by the clanging of chains and the men's cries.

The men's spirits have remained restless for 199 years because they never received a proper burial, said Chukwuemeka Onyesoh, who traveled from Nigeria to help give them one.

"I came here to evoke their spirits to take them back to Igboland," he said.

Others traveled to the island from Haiti, Belize, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Mississippi and Canada to remember the incident. Similar Igbo drownings occurred in Belize and Haiti.

The drowned men were among about 75 Igbo, including women and children, forced to leave Nigeria on ships bound for coastal Georgia, home to profitable cotton plantations. Descendants of the survivors settled in the island's Harrington community.

Dorothy Forbes, 81, and her husband have tried to preserve the historical site, leaving intact a rickety plank bridge that leads to the creek. They welcomed the tribesmen and historians this weekend and routinely welcome pilgrims to the site.

This weekend, elder tribesmen danced, sang and prayed in her yard under towering oaks and moss-laced cypress.

"That's where they jumped ship," Forbes said while staring from her back yard. "It's hallowed ground."

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Researcher has new version of legend

Mon, Aug 18, 2003
By JACQUELINE BERLIN
The Brunswick News

A North Carolina researcher is challenging the 200-year-old story of Ibo Landing on St. Simons Island.

Hal Sieber, commentary editor of Carolina Peacemaker, said his research convinces him that Africans brought to the island to be sold as slaves drowned, but not the way local legend says they did.

The legend goes that all of the slaves from Igbo Land, a village democracy in West Africa, jumped overboard upon sight of St. Simons Island, preferring death to slavery, May 1803. Igbo is the African spelling of the Ibo tribe.

The incident has been recorded in numerous books about the island and told to tourists and schoolchildren.

But that version is inaccurate, Sieber said.

The corrected version goes like this, Sieber said: The Igbo were being brought to Thomas Spalding of Sapelo Island and John Couper of St. Simons Island, who paid $100 for each slave. When an overseer opened the hatches as the schooner York reached the bluff of Dunbar Creek off Frederica River, the 75 Igbo on board, all males, rose at once in a revolt, Sieber said. In the confusion, three white men jumped overboard and drowned.

When the Igbo reached land, they went on what Sieber calls the first freedom march in this country. They walked into the marsh, where 10 to 12 drowned, according to a letter describing the event written by William Mein, a slave dealer from Mein, Mackay and Co. of Savannah.

The rest were salvaged by bounty hunters who received $10 a head from Spalding and Couper.

Sieber said he also heard the story from elderly descendants of the survivors of the Igbo mutiny when he visited St. Simons Island 15 years ago.

Those agreeing with his version include the St. Simons African American Heritage Coalition, which hosted Sieber this weekend at the Sea Island Festival, and the Coastal Georgia Historical Society.

"(Sieber) has made it his life work to prove or disprove the story of Ibo Landing," said Joan Shinnick, curator of St. Simons Lighthouse Museum, run by Coastal Georgia Historical Society.

"The story is true. I think what differs a little bit from general legend is not all the slaves committed suicide."

She added that tourist brochures will have to be rewritten.

Ms. Shinnick said the historical society has a record of the bounty hunters getting paid for rounding up the remaining Igbo.

"They had kept the tradition alive with singing songs and retelling the story," Ms. Shinnick said. "[Sieber] was able to talk to these people and they told the same story the same way over and over. It came from enough people that he really believed what he was hearing is the truth. He went into old historic documents that corroborated story."

Some researchers believe the reason the Igbo rushed into the marsh was because of a rumor that white people were cannibals and they were scared for their lives, Sieber said.

Others call it an accidental drowning. There had been a storm that day and the incoming tide may have taken them by surprise.

To Sieber, it was suicide brought on by desperate circumstances.

"I think they were thinking they'd be dead in a few minutes, but death was better than slavery," he said.

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Call is to mark site

Thu, Aug 21, 2003
By JACQUELINE BERLIN
The Brunswick News

Growing up in Brunswick in the 1960s, Anita Collins never heard the tale of Africans who drowned in Georgia in 1803 rather than accept a life of slavery.

It was while she was in college in Atlanta that she first heard of Ibo Landing. Even so it was more than a decade later, in 1989, that someone pointed out to her that the incident occurred on St. Simons Island.

If Hal Sieber has his way, there will be less chance of a black-history buff who lives in Glynn County not being familiar with Ibo Landing or the whereabouts of the site, which is on Dunbar Creek.

Two hundred years after the drownings, the North Carolina researcher and editor is calling for a monument or sculpture to mark Ibo Landing, which is also spelled Igbo Landing or Ebo Landing.

There, 10 to 12 Africans drowned after revolting on the schooner York that was carrying them from a slave-holding camp on Skiddaway Island to plantations on St. Simons and Sapelo islands.

"It's the Plymouth Rock for African Americans," Sieber said.

Sieber said there should be a monument or at least a marker on the site where slaves entered the water in what he calls the first freedom march in this country.

He would like to see a sculpture – part on land and part in the water – mark the spot where the Ibo entered the water singing what Sieber believes included the words: "The water spirit brought; the water spirit will take us home."

"They believed they would go back to Ibo the same way we believe when you die you go to heaven," he said. "They knew they would die going into the water."

Ten to 12 of the Africans died according to a letter written by a slave trader that year. The rest were rounded up by bounty hunters and returned to their original purchasers, according to records kept by the Coastal Georgia Historical Society.

Ms. Collins, who attended a lecture given by Sieber in Brunswick last Friday, said she is gratified to hear someone call for something to make it clear where the historic event happened.

"There should be a marker there. If we can have a marker for Lovers' Oak and Sydney Lanier, there needs to be a marker for Ibo Landing," she said..

That may not be easy to do, however. The pointed land, with the Frederica River on one side and Dunbar Creek on the other, where the Igbo entered the water is owned by Dorothy Forbes. She has been honored by the St. Simons African American Heritage Society for accepting history tourists who visit the property.

However, Darlin Thrower, speaking for her elderly mother, said the family would not want a marker or monument at the site.

"We live here," she said.

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LEST WE FORGET

Onye igbo, you are the keeper of Igbo culture. Reading these books will help expand your mind.

James Africanus Beale Horton, West African Countries and Peoples and A Vindication of the African Race, London: W. J. Johnson, 1868, 59.

James Africanus Beale Horton,, Physical and Medical Climate and Meteorology of the West Coast of Africa (J. Churchill, London, 1867)

James Africanus Beale Horton, Letters on the Political Condition of the Gold Coast, (W.J. Johnson, London, 1870)

Edward Wilmot Blyden, The Vindication of the Negro Race [1857]

Edward Wilmot Blyden, Christianity, Islam, and the Negro Race (W.B. Whittingham, London, 1887)

Edward Wilmot Blyden, The African Problem, and other discourses: delivered in America in 1890, London: W.B. Whittingham, 1890

Edward Wilmot Blyden, The origin and purposes of African colonization, being the annual discourse delivered at the 66th anniversary of the American Colonization Soc., (Colonization Building, Washington, 1892)

Edward Wilmot Blyden , The Jewish Question (1898)

Edward Wilmot Blyden, African Life and Customs (C.M. Phillips, London, 1908)

Edward L. Cox, Rekindling the Ancestral Memory: King Ja Ja of Opobo in St. Vincent and Barbados, 1888-1891 (Barbados, 1998).

Ebiegberi Joe Alagoa, Jaja of Opobo: The Slave Who Became a King

Sylvanus John Sodienye Cookey, King Jaja of the Niger Delta: his life and times, 1821-1891

Karen Kennerly, The Slave Who Bought His Freedom: Equiano's Story

Rick Andrew, Equiano : the slave who fought to be free

Jean-Jacques Vayssieres, Amazing Adventures of Equiano

John R. Milsome, Olaudah Equiano: The Slave Who Helped to End the Slave Trade

Elizabeth Isichei, The Igbo Roots of Olaudah Equiano, Journal of African History 33.1 (Jan 1992): 164(2).

Catherine Obianuju Acholonu, The Igbo roots of Olaudah Equiano: an anthropological research

Catherine Obianuju Acholonu, The Home of Olaudah Equiano -- A Linguistic and Anthropological Search, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature. 22 (1987).

Igwebuike Romeo Okeke, The Osu concept in Igboland: a study of the types of slavery in Igbo-speaking areas of Nigeria

Jude C. Mgbobukwa, Alusi, Osu, and Ohu in Igbo religion and social life

Alex Haley, Roots

Marquetta L.Goodwine, The Legacy of Ibo Landing: Gullah Roots of African American Culture

Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust (a compelling novel on Gullah women)

 

 

QUIZ: The Lost Igbos

Do you consider yourself nwa afor Igbo? If yes, the following quiz will determine your knowledge of Ndi Igbo.

  1. When did Ndi Igbo emigrate to their present location in Nigeria? Where did the Igbos emigrate? What is the relationship between Ndi Igbo and the Bantus?
  2. Which is the darkest holocaust of Ndi Igbo? The Atlantic slave trade or Biafra? Did we learn anything from the slave trade and/or Biafra?
  3. How many Ndi Igbo were stolen during the slave trade era? How many were converted to osu and oru caste?
  4. Which small Central American nation has a place named "Eboe quarters"?
  5. Can you name the Caribbean "Eboe King" (Eze Igbo) that was executed for initiating his Island's first slave uprising?
  6. What is the meaning of the Haitian saying: “Ibos pend cor a yo”? (i..e. Igbos hang themselves)
  7. Can you name the ancestral village of Olaudah Equiano?
  8. What percentage of the slaves in the New World (North, Central and Latin Americas) could appropriately respond to the exclamation "Igbo Kwenu?"
  9. What is the full name of Dr. Baikie or the first white man to travel into Igbo heartland? The Igbo expressions Ala Bekee, Ndi Bekee translates to "land of Baikie, white people."
  10. Who is James Africanus Horton? Why is he called the father of Igbo self-determination?
  11. Why is Edward Wilmot Blyden called the "father of West African nationalism? Where did he refer to himself as "a true son of the Eboe tribe"?
  12. What document contains the first recorded misspelling of "Igbo?" Hint: Igbo was previously misspelled as "Heebo," "Eboe," "Ebo," and "Ibo." Is the Igbo language endangered?

 

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Edward Wilmot Blyden

Birth: August 3, 1832 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
Death:
February 7, 1912 in Freetown, Sierra Leone
Nationality:
Liberian
Occupation:
statesman, educator
Source: Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.

BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY
Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912) was a Liberian educator and statesman. More than any other figure, he laid the foundation of West African nationalism and of pan-Africanism.

Edward Blyden was born in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, on Aug. 3, 1832, of free, literate parents. A precocious youth, he early decided to become a clergyman. He went to the United States in May 1850 and sought to enter a theological college but was turned down because of his race. In January 1851 he emigrated to Liberia, a African American colony which had become independent as a republic in 1847.

He continued his formal education at Alexander High School, Monrovia, whose principal he was appointed in 1858. In 1862 he was appointed professor of classics at the newly opened Liberia College, a position he held until 1871. Although Blyden was self-taught beyond high school, he became an able and versatile linguist, classicist, theologian, historian, and sociologist. From 1864 to 1866, in addition to his professorial duties, Blyden acted as secretary of state of Liberia.

From 1871 to 1873 Blyden lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone. There he edited Negro, the first explicitly pan-African journal in West Africa. He also led two important expeditions to Fouta Djallon in the interior. Between 1874 and 1885 Blyden was again based in Liberia, holding various high academic and governmental offices. In 1885 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Liberian presidency.

After 1885 Blyden divided his time between Liberia and the British colonies of Sierra Leone and Lagos. He served Liberia again in the capacities of ambassador to Britain and France and as a professor and later president of Liberia College. In 1891 and 1894 he spent several months in Lagos and worked there in 1896-1897 as government agent for native affairs.

While in Lagos he wrote regularly for the Lagos Weekly Record, one of the earliest propagators of Nigerian and West African nationalism. In Freetown, Blyden helped to edit the Sierra Leone News, which he had assisted in founding in 1884 "to serve the interest of West Africa ... and the race generally." He also had helped found and edit the Freetown West African Reporter (1874-1882), whose declared aim was to forge a bond of unity among English-speaking West Africans. Between 1901 and 1906 Blyden was director of Moslem education; he taught English and "Western subjects" to Moslem youths with the object of building a bridge of communication between the Moslem and Christian communities. He died in Freetown on Feb. 7, 1912.

Writings, Ideas, and Hopes
Although Blyden held many important positions, it is more as a man of ideas than as a man of action that he is historically significant. He saw himself as a champion and defender of his race and in this role produced more than two dozen pamphlets and books, the most important of which are A Voice from Bleeding Africa (1856); Liberia's Offering (1862); The Negro in Ancient History (1869); The West African University (1872); From West Africa to Palestine (1873); Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race (1887), his major work; The Jewish Question (1898); West Africa before Europe (1905); and Africa Life and Customs (1908). His writings displayed conversancy with the main current of ideas as well as originality, and he was often controversial.

Blyden sought to prove that Africa and Africans have a worthy history and culture. He rejected the prevailing notion of the inferiority of the black man but accepted the view that each major race has a special contribution to make to world civilization. He argued that Christianity has had a demoralizing effect on blacks, while Islam has had a unifying and elevating influence.

Blyden's political goals were the establishment of a major modern West African state which would protect and promote the interests of peoples of African descent everywhere. He initially saw Liberia as the nucleus of such a state and sought to extend its influence and jurisdiction by encouraging selective "repatriation" from the Americas. He hoped, also in vain, that Liberia and adjacent Sierra Leone would unite as one nation. He was ambivalent about the establishment of European colonial rule; he thought that it would eventually result in modern independent nations in tropical Africa but was concerned about its damaging psychological impact. As a cultural nationalist, he pointed out that modernization was not incompatible with respect for African customs and institutions. He favored African names and dress and championed the establishment of educational and cultural institutions specifically designed to meet African needs and circumstances.

FURTHER READINGS
A full-length biography of Blyden is Hollis R. Lynch, Edward Wilmot Blyden: Pan-Negro Patriot, 1832-1912 (1967). Edith Holden, Blyden of Liberia: An Account of the Life and Labors of Edward Wilmot Blyden (1966), is an important source containing biographical details and excerpts from Blyden's letters and published writings. See also Hollis R. Lynch, ed., Black Spokesman: Selected Published Writings of Edward Wilmot Blyden (1971), the only representative anthology of his writings.

 

 

Edward Wilmot
Edward Wilmot Blyden, a renown Pan-Africanist, declared himself: "a true son of the Eboe tribe.
" Blyden's writings inspired Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah.

BAIKIE, WILLIAM BALFOUR (1824-1864), Scottish explorer, naturalist and philologist, eldest son of Captain John Baikie, R.N,, was born at Kirkwall, Orkney, on the 21st of August 1824. He studied medicine at Edinburgh, and, on obtaining his M.D. degree, joined the royal navy in 1848. He early attracted the notice of Sir Roderick Murchison, through whom he was appointed surgeon and naturalist to the Niger expedition sent out in 1854 by Macgregor Laird with government support. The death of the senior officer (Consul Beecroft) occurring at Fernando P0, Baikie succeeded to the command. Ascending the Benue about 250 m. beyond the point reached by former explorers, the little steamer Pleiad returned and reached the mouth of the Niger, after a voyage of 118 days, without the loss of a single man. The expedition had been instructed to endeavour to afford assistance to Heinrich Barth (q.v.), who had in 1851 crossed the Benue in its upper course, but Baikie was unable to gain any trustworthy information concerning him. Returning to England, Baikie gave an account of his work in his Narrative of an Exploring Voyage up the Rivers Kwora and Binue. . . (London, 1856). In March 1857 Baikie with the rank of British consulstarted on another expedition in the Pleiad. After two years spent in exploring the Niger, the navigating vessel was wrecked in passing through some of the rapids of the river, and Baikie was unable longer to keep his party together. All returned home but himself; in no way daunted, he determined single-handed to carry out the purposes of the expedition. Landing from a small boat, with one or two native followers, at the confluence of the Niger and Benue, he chose Lokoja as the base of his future operations, it being the site of the model farm established by the expedition sent by the British government in 1841, and abandoned within a twelvemonth on the death of most of the white settlers (see Capt. W. Allen, R.N., and T. R. H. Thomson, M.D., A Narrative of the Expedition . . . to the River Niger in 1841, London, 1848). After purchasing the site, and concluding a treaty with the Fula emir of Nupe, he proceeded to clear the ground, build houses, form enclosures and pave the way for a future city. Numbers flocked to him from all neighboring districts, and in his settlement were representatives of almost all tile tribes of West-Central Africa. To the motley commonwealth thus formed he acted not merely as ruler, but also as physician, teacher and priest. In less than five years he had opened up the navigation of the Niger, made roads, and established a market to which the native produce was brought for sale and barter. He had also collected vocabularies of nearly fifty African dialects, and translated portions of the Bible and prayer-book into Hausa. Once only during his residence had he to employ armed force against the surrounding tribes. While on his way home, on leave of absence, he died at Sierra Leone on the 3oth of November 1864. He had done much to establish British influence on the Niger, but after his death the British government abolished the consulate (1866), and it was through private enterprise that some twenty years later the district where Baikie had worked so successfully was finally secured for Great Britain (see NIGERIA).

Baikies Observations on the Hausa and Fuifuide (i.e. Fula) Languages was privately printed in 1861, and his translation of the Psalms into Hausa was published by the Bible Society in 1881. He was also the author of various works concerning Orkney and Shetland. A monumept to his memory was placed in the nave of the ancient cathedral of St Magnus, Kirkwall. (The 1911 Edition Encyclopedia)

St Magnus

The Igbo expressions Ala Bekee, Ndi Bekee translates to "land of Baikie, white people." Dr. William Balfour Baikie was buried at the old cemetery in Sierra Leone. A stone memorial (shown below) was erected in St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall with the inscription: “William Balfour Baikie, MDRN, FRGS, FBS, FSA (Scot). Born at Kirkwall 27th August 1825. The explorer of the Niger and Tchadda, the translator of the Bible into the languages of Central Africa, and the pioneer of education, commerce, and progress, among its many nations.. He devoted life, means, and talents, to make the heathen savage and slave, free and Christian man. For Africa, he opened new paths to light, wealth and liberty – for Europe, new fields of science, enterprize and beneficence. He won for Britain new honour and influence, and for himself the respect, affection, and confidence of the chiefs and people. He earned the love of those whom he commanded, and the thanks of those whom he served, and left to all a brave example of humanity, perseverance, and self-sacrifice to duty. But the climate, from which his care, skill, and kindness, shielded so many, was fatal to himself, and when, relieved at last though too late, he sought to restore his failing health by rest and home, he found them both only in the grave. He died at Sierra Leone 12th December 1864.”

St Magnus 1

 

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Slave Trade
To be sold, on board the ship Bance Island, .... negroes, just arrived from the Windward & Rice Coast
Photograph of newspaper advertisement from the 1780s(?) for the sale of slaves at Ashley Ferry outside of Charleston, South Carolina.

 

Kidnapped Prince
Olaudah was enslaved at the age of 12

 

Roots

 

Daughters of Dust
Julie Dash's exquisitely alive film chronicles the last days of the Gullah.
The companion book has a chapter entitled "The Ibo Landing."

 

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THE EGBA YORUBA
(AN AFRICAN - AMERICAN LINK TO IGBO ORIGINS)
BY ISHAQ AL - SULAIMANI
(NWANNE DI NAMBA NDI IGBO)
ishaqa777@hotmail. com

ANYONE WHO HAS EVER TAKEN A SERIOUS INTEREST IN THE SLAVE TRADE AND THE TRIBAL ORIGINS OF AFRICAN - AMERICANS WOULD MOST LIKELY UNDERSTAND THAT THERE WAS A SIGNIFICANT YORUBA ELEMENT AMONGST THE AFRICAN CAPTIVES WHO WERE TAKEN TO THE AMERICAS. THE PURPOSE OF THIS WRITING IS TO FURTHER SUPPORT RESEARCH THAT PROVES THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF THE SLAVES BROUGHT TO THE AMERICAS WERE IGBOS BY ACKNOWLEDGING THE YORUBA ELEMENT TO BE IGBO AS WELL.

IN ADDITION TO THE MASSIVE AMOUNT OF IGBOS DOCUMENTED AND ACKNOWLEDGED TO HAVE BEEN SHIPPED DIRECTLY OUT OF THE IGBO DOMINATED AREAS OF THE NIGER DELTA, MILLIONS OF OTHERS WERE BROUGHT TO THE AMERICAS FROM IGBO SLAVE COLONIES WHICH WERE ESTABLISHED ALL OVER THE AFRICAN CONTINENT AND THUS ARRIVED UNDER A VARIETY OF NATIONAL AND TRIBAL LISTINGS. SLAVES CLASSIFIED AS ASHANTE WERE ACTUALLY IGBOS WHO WERE IMPORTED TO GHANA BY PORTUGUESE JEWISH SLAVE TRADERS TO WORK THE GOLD MINES. OTHERS LISTED AS ANGOLAN WERE ALSO IGBOS.. SOME IGBOS WERE IMPORTED TO ANGOLA PRIOR TO THEIR ARRIVAL IN THE AMERICAS, OTHERS WERE BORN AND RAISED IN THE IGBO SLAVE COLONY OF ANGOLA. THE YORUBA CLASSIFICATION PROVED TO BE NO EXCEPTION TO THE RULE, AS THOSE SLAVES DOCUMENTED TO BE YORUBA WERE MORE SPECIFICALLY REFERRED TO AS EGBA yoruba were more specifically referred to as EGBA YORUBA. THE WORD EGBA IS A DERIVATION OF IGBO( EGBA,EGBO IGBO) AS THE EGBA YORUBA ARE OF IGBO ORIGINS.

SOUTHEAST NIGERIA MARKS THE LOCATION OF THE PRESENT DAY IGBO TRIBE. HOWEVER INITIALLY THE IGBO WERE THE RULERS OF THE ENTIRE SOUTH INCLUDING THE SOUTHWEST WHICH IS CURRENTLY CLASSIFIED AS YORUBA TERRITORY. THE YORUBA FIRST ENTERED THE SOUTHWEST PART OF NIGERIA AS INVADERS AND COLONIZERS OF THE ORIGINAL IGBO INHABITANTS WHO LATER BECAME KNOWN AS THE EGBA YORUBA. THE YORUBA(oyo,ijebu etc.) invasion was led by a man named ODUDWA WHO IS CONSIDERED TO BE THE " FOUNDING FATHER " OF THE PRESENT DAY YORUBA PEOPLE. TO THIS DAY YORUBA INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENTS STILL EXIST WITH THE HOPE OF ESTABLISHING THE INDEPENDENT YORUBA NATION OF WHICH THEY WISH TO CALL ODUDWA. THE DEFEAT AND CONQUEST OF THE IGBOS IN SOUTHWEST NIGERIA IS CELEBRATED EVERY YEAR BY THE YORUBA AT THE ANNUAL EID FESTIVAL(THE KINGDOM OF THE YORUBA - ROBERT SMITH 3RD EDITION UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN PRESS)

ONE OF THE LARGER YORUBA TRIBES ARE CALLED THE IJEBU. IT IS AN ESTABLISHED FACT THAT THE IJEBU WERE SELLING EGBA IN MASS NUMBERS DURING THE SLAVE TRADE. THE CITY IJEBU - IGBO STILL EXISTS IN THE YORUBA HEARTLAND WHICH NOT ONLY REFLECTS THE EARLIER IGBO HISTORY IN THE SOUTHWEST BUT FURTHER SERVES AS A MEMORY CONCERNING THE USAGE OF IGBO PRIOR TO THE TRANSFORMATION TO EGBA IN THAT PARTICULAR REGION. IN ADDITION TO THE EGBA THERE REMAINS A YORUBA TRIBE THAT LIVES IN THE KWARRA STATE WHICH CONTINUES TO USE THE MORE ORIGINAL IGBO AS PART OF THEIR TRIBAL NAME AS THEY ARE CALLED THE IGBO - MINA TRIBE. THE USAGE OF THE TERM EGBA WAS INSTITUTED TO DECLARE A STATE OF SECRECY AMONGST CERTAIN IGBOS. THE CURRENT IGBOS OF SOUTHEAST NIGERIA CONTINUE TO MAINTAIN EGBO AS A SECRET SOCIETY WHILE THE SAME TERM EGBA REFERS TO OTHER SECRET IGBO TRIBES.

1. EGBO - A SECRET SOCIETY AT ONE TIME EXISTING AS A POLITICAL BOND BETWEEN VARIOUS TOWNS ESPECIALLY EASTERN NIGERIA - WORLD BOOK DICTIONARY A - K 1974

2. EGBA - A CONFEDERATION OF NEGRO TRIBES NORTH OF THE SLAVE COAST- FUNK AND WAGNALS NEW STANDARD DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE - 1963

ALTHOUGH THE CONCEPT OF LEGBA VARIES IT BEGAN AS AN ANCESTRAL MEMORIAL DESIGNED TO MAINTAIN THE IGBO IDENTITY DURING TIMES WHEN TRHE IGBO DECLARED THEMSELVES TO BE IN A STATE OF SECRECY CALLED EGBA. LEGBA WAS NOT ONLY USED TO FEND OFF INVADING AFRICAN TRIBES BUT WAS ALSO ACTIVATED IN THE NEW WORLD TO COUNTER MODERN SLAVERY AND ITS ATTEMPTS TO WIPE OUT THE EGBA(igbo) IDENTITY OF THE CAPTIVES. THE DEITY LEGBA IS DESCRIBED IN YORUBA MYTHOLOGY AS THE DIVINE TRICKSTER WHO WIELDS GREAT POWER BECAUSE OF HIS ABILITY TO OUTWIT HIS FELLOW GODS. EVIDENCES OF LEGBA HAVE BEEN DOCUMENTED THROUGHOUT THE AMERICAS IN SUCH PLACES AS BRAZIL, GUIANA, TRINIDAD, HAITI AND NEW ORLEANS UNDER VARIOUS NAMES SUCH AS LEBBA, LEGBA, ELEGBARRA AND LIBA.

THE TERM ELEGBARRA OR LUGBARRA IS OF GREAT SIGNIFICANCE BECAUSE NOT ONLY DOES THE NAME APPEAR IN THE AMERICAS AMONGST THE EGBA SLAVES WHO ARE OF IGBO ORIGIN BUT IT IS ALSO THE NAME OF A TRIBE THAT LIVES IN SOUTHERN SUDAN AND NORTHERN UGANDA WHO ARE LIKEWISE RELATED TO THE IGBOS OF NIGERIA. WHEN TRAVELLING IN UGANDA I PERSONALLY MET A LUGBARRA MEDICAL DOCTOR WHO PREVIOUSLY STUDIED ALONGSIDE OF IGBOS FROM NIGERIA.THE LUGBARRA STATED THAT HE COULD UNDERSTAND MUCH OF THE IGBO LANGUAGE WHICH NATURALLY HAD MUCH IN COMMON WITH HIS OWN LUGBARRA TONGUE. THE DOCTOR WAS CONVINCED THAT THE LUGBARRA AND THE IGBO WERE DEFINITELY AKIN.THE LUGBARRA TRIBE LIVES ALONGSIDE OF AND ARE RELATED TO THE KAKWA TRIBE. IT IS FROM THE KAKWA THAT ACCOUNTS FOR THE USAGE OF KWA AMONGST THE IGBO. THIS INCLUDES BOTH THE IGBO AND EGBA LANGUAGES BEING CLASSIFIED AS KWA LANGUAGES AND SUCH NAMES AS THE KWA IBO RIVER.

IN 1967, HAITI BECAME THE ONLY COUNTRY OUTSIDE OF AFRICA TO RECOGNIZE BIAFRAN INDEPENDENCE. THIS WAS DUE TO THE HAITIANS MEMORY OF THEIR OWN IGBO REVOLUTIONARY PAST. THE NUMEROUS AND SUCCESSFUL SLAVE REVOLTS IN HAITI ARE CLEARLY ACKNOWLEDGED AND DOCUMENTED AS IGBO UPRISINGS, BUT YET WE FIND THE STRONGEST PRESENCE OF THE ANCESTRAL DEITY LEGBA AMONGST THE HAITIANS. IN HAITI LEGBA IS DESCRIBED AS THE MOST POWERFUL OF ALL OF THE LOA. HE IS THE GUARDIAN OF THE GATE BETWEEN THE MATERIAL AND SPIRITUAL WORLD. HE HAS GREAT WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE OF THE PAST AND THE FUTURE. EVERY RITUAL BEGINS WITH A SACRIFICE TO LEGBA. HE IS THE GUARDIAN OF THE SUN AND HIS COLOR IS BLACK. THE GUARDIAN OF THE SUN IS MOST LIKELY A CODE FOR THE LAND OF THE RISING SUN WHICH IS BIAFRA. IN SUMMARY THE SLAVES TAKEN TO THE AMERICAS AND CLASSIFIED AS YORUBA WERE EGBA MEANING IGBO.

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Osu Caste
This book describes the social outcasts in Igbo land called osu and oru. Ma'zi Equiano and Jubogha belonged to the oru caste. By definition, the 200 million Diasporan Africans also belong to the oru caste.
Read excerpts from the above book at
http://www.gamji. com/NEWS1563. htm
http://www.gamji. com/NEWS1529. htm
http://www.umuaka. net/Politics/ Politics. htm#dike
http://www.nigerdel tacongress. com/particles/ politics_ of_descent. htm

 

Olaudah Equiano - book
Ma'zi Equiano died on 31 March 1797

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Excerpts: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African.

I was born, in the year 1745, in a charming fruitful vale, named Essaka. The distance of this province from the capital of Benin and the sea coast must be very considerable; for I had never heard of white men or Europeans, nor of the sea.

The dress of both sexes is nearly the same. It generally consists of a long piece of calico, or muslin, wrapped loosely round the body, somewhat in the form of a highland plaid. This is usually dyed blue, which is our favourite colour. It is extracted from a berry, and is brighter and richer than any I have seen in Europe. Besides this, our women of distinction wear golden ornaments; which they dispose with some profusion on their arms and legs. When our women are not employed with the men in tillage, their usual occupation is spinning and weaving cotton, which they afterwards dye, and make it into garments. They also manufacture earthen vessels, of which we have many kinds.

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My father, besides many slaves, had a numerous family, of which seven lived to grow up, including myself and a sister, who was the only daughter. As I was the youngest of the sons, I became, of course, the greatest favourite of my mother, and was always with her; and she used to take particular pains to form my mind. I was trained up from my earliest years in the arts of agriculture and war; and my mother adorned me with emblems, after the manner of our greatest warriors. In this way I grew up till I was turned the age of eleven, when an end was put to my happiness in the following manner:- - Generally, when the grown people in the neighbourhood were gone far in the fields to labour, the children assembled together in some of the neighborhood' s premises to play; and commonly some of us used to get up a tree to look out for any assailant, or kidnapper, that might come upon us; for they sometimes took those opportunities of our parents' absence, to attack and carry off as many as they could seize. One day, as I was watching at the top of a tree in our yard, I saw one of those people come into the yard of our next neighbour but one, to kidnap, there being many stout young people in it. Immediately, on this, I gave the alarm of the rogue, and he was surrounded by the stoutest of them, who entangled him with cords, so that he could not escape till some of the grown people came and secured him. But alas! ere long, it was my fate to be thus attacked, and to be carried off, when none of the grown people were nigh. One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, and ran off with us into the nearest wood. Here they tied our hands, and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night. We were then unbound; but were unable to take any food; and, being quite overpowered by fatigue and grief, our only relief was some sleep, which allayed our misfortune for a short time.

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The first object which saluted my eyes when I arrived on the coast, was the sea, and a slave ship, which was then riding at anchor, and waiting for its cargo. These filled me with astonishment, which was soon converted into terror, when I was carried on board. I was immediately handled, and tossed up to see if I were sound, by some of the crew; and I was now persuaded that I had gotten into a world of bad spirits, and that they were going to kill me.

Their complexions, too, differing so much from ours, their long hair, and the language they spoke, (which was very different from any I had ever heard) united to confirm me in this belief. Indeed, such were the horrors of my views and fears at the moment, that, if ten thousand worlds had been my own, I would have freely parted with them all to have exchanged my condition with that of the meanest slave in my own country.

When I looked round the ship too, and saw a large furnace of copper boiling, and a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted of my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted. When I recovered a little, I found some black people about me, who I believed were some of those who had brought me on board, and had been receiving their pay; they talked to me in order to cheer me, but all in vain. I asked them if we were not to be eaten by those white men with horrible looks, red faces, and long hair. They told me I was not: and one of the crew brought me a small portion of spirituous liquor in a wine glass, but, being afraid of him, I would not take it out of his hand. One of the blacks, therefore, took it from him and gave it to me, and I took a little down my palate, which, instead of reviving me, as they thought it would, throw me into the greatest consternation at the strange feeling it produced, having never tasted any such liquor before. Soon after this, the blacks who brought me on board went off, and left me abandoned to despair.

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I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a greeting in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life; so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste anything. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think, the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely.

The white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among my people such instances of brutal cruelty. The closeness of the place, and the heat of the climate, added to the number in the ship, which was so crowded that each had scarcely room to turn himself, almost suffocated us.

The air soon became unfit for respiration, from a variety of loathsome smells, and brought on a sickness among the slaves, of which many died. The wretched situation was again aggravated by the chains, now unsupportable, and the filth of the necessary tubs, into which the children often fell, and were almost suffocated. The shrieks of the women, and the groans of the dying, rendered the whole a scene of horror almost inconceivable.

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At last, we came in sight of the island of Barbados, at which the whites on board gave a great shout, and made many signs of joy to us. We did not know what to think of this; but as the vessel drew nearer, we plainly saw the harbor, and other ships of different kinds and sizes, and we soon anchored amongst them, off Bridgetown.

Many merchants and planters now came on board, though it was in the evening. They put us in separate parcels, and examined us attentively. They also made us jump, and pointed to the land, signifying we were to go there. We thought by this, we should be eaten by these ugly men, as they appeared to us; and, when soon after we were all put down under the deck again, there was much dread and trembling among us, and nothing but bitter cries to be heard all the night from these apprehensions, insomuch, that at last the white people got some old slaves from the land to pacify us. They told us we were not to be eaten, but to work, and were soon to go on land, where we should see many of our country people. This report eased us much. And sure enough, soon after we were landed, there came to us Africans of all languages.

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We were not many days in the merchant's custody, before we were sold after their usual manner, which is this: On a signal given, (as the beat of a drum) the buyers rush at once into the yard where the slaves are confined, and make choice of that parcel they like best. The noise and clamor with which this is attended, and the eagerness visible in the countenances of the buyers, serve not a little to increase the apprehension of terrified Africans, who may well be supposed to consider them as the ministers of that destruction to which they think themselves devoted.

In this manner, without scruple, are relations and friends separated, most of them never to see each other again. I remember, in the vessel in which I was brought over, in the men's apartment, there were several brothers, who, in the sale, were sold in different lots; and it was very moving on this occasion, to see and hear their cries at parting. Is it not enough that we are torn from our country and friends, to toil for your luxury and lust of gain? Must every tender feeling be likewise sacrificed to your avarice? Are the dearest friends and relations, now rendered more dear by their separation from their kindred, still to be parted from each other, and thus prevented from cheering the gloom of slavery, with the small comfort of being together; and mingling their sufferings and sorrows? Why are parents to lose their children, brothers their sisters, husbands their wives? Surely, this is a new refinement in cruelty, which, while it has no advantage to atone for it, thus aggravates distress; and adds fresh horrors even to the wretchedness of slavery.

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While I was thus employed by my master, I was often a witness to cruelties of every kind, which were exercised on my unhappy fellow slaves. I used frequently to have different cargoes of new Negroes in my care for sale; and it was almost a constant practice with our clerks, and other whites, to commit violent depredations on the chastity of the female slaves; and these I was, though with reluctance, obliged to submit to at all times, being unable to help them. When we have had some of these slaves on board my master's vessels, to carry them to other islands, or to America, I have known our mates to commit these acts most shamefully, to the disgrace, not of Christians only, but of men. I have even known them to gratify their brutal passion with females not ten years old; and these abominations, some of them practised to such scandalous excess, that one of our captains discharged the mate and others on that account. And yet in Montserrat I have seen a Negro man staked to the ground, and cut most shockingly, and then his ears cut off bit by bit, because he had been connected with a white woman, who was a common prostitute. As if it were no crime in the whites to rob an innocent African girl of her virtue, but most heinous in a black man only to gratify a passion of nature, where the temptation was offered by one of a different color, though the most abandoned woman of her species.

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Am I not a man

 

Runaway

 

Caution

 

Reward

 

Reward 1

Slave Trade 2

Slave Trade 3

Slave Trade 4

Slave Trade 5

Slave Trade 6

Slave Trade 7

 

 

 

To God be all Glory!!

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