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The Problem of Slavery in African Studies

Frederick Cooper
The Journal of African History / Volume 20 / Issue 01 / January 1979, pp 103 - 125 DOI: 10.1017/S0021853700016741, Published online: 22 January 2009

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Journal of African History, 20, I (1979), pp. 103-125 Printed in Great Britain


T H E PROBLEM OF SLAVERY IN AFRICAN S T U D I E S BY FREDERICK COOPER In the past few years the study of slavery in different parts of Africa has been transformed from a neglected subject to one of the most fashionable.1 The volume and quality of empirical work makes it both possible and essential for new conceptual approaches to be developed, yet current syntheses - and the questions most of the local studies are asking - reflect weaknesses in the theoretical basis of the social sciences, as well as a peculiar anxiety about the subject of slavery itself. Moreover, Africanists have profited little from two decades of extensive research and debate on slavery in the Americas. By and large, Africanists and Americanists are studying slavery in isolation from one another, venturing into the others' territory only to make a point about their own. Americanists have found African slavery to be a conveniently benign foil against which the exploitation and degradation of American slavery stand out. Africanists have been anxious to dissociate slavery in Africa from its bad image in the Americas. 2 Eager to call attention to the achievements of African kings and entrepreneurs, scholars have often refused to face the question of whether in Africa, as in most of the world, the concentration of wealth and power also meant exploitation and subordination. David Brion Davis has argued that in Western culture slavery has always posed a moral problem, a set of contradictions stemming from the duality of the slave as property and yet a person, as a living part of a society and yet an outsider. But the problem needed to be solved only after the development of capitalism, when it became necessary to understand and justify a new economic order, in which the complex rights in land of cultivators and the complex relations of subordination and reciprocity that they had had with their lords were transformed into private property and a market in labour power. The architects of the new economic framework, the political economists, and of the new moral order, the humanitarians, came to define slavery as a 'peculiar institution', both archaic and evil, and wage labour as no system at all, but simply the workings of the universal and self-propelling laws of the market, freed of the constraints of the tyranny and paternalism of the lord. 3 For all the subsequent development of the social sciences, 1 I am grateful for the reactions to an earlier version of this article by members of the African Studies Program at Northwestern University, as well as to Stephen Baier and Carla Glassman for their careful reading of the manuscript. I also wish to thank Suzanne Miers, Paul Lovejoy, Jan Hogendorn and A. Norman Klein for showing me manuscripts of theirs before publication. 8 The level of anxiety is evident from the very first sentence of the latest synthesis, Igor Kopytoff and Suzanne Miers, 'African "slavery" as an institution of marginality', in Miers and Kopytoff (eds.), Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives (Madison, Wise, 1977), 3. They, and many others, feel compelled to dissociate themselves from an equation of slavery in Africa with slavery in the Americas, although I do not know of any modern scholar who has made such an equation. In the colonial period, scholars and officials were more likely to err in the opposite direction - to minimize the significance of slavery in order to avoid having to do anything about it. Even some leading nineteenth-century abolitionists made a point of distinguishing African and American forms of slavery. Colonial reticence is discussed by Claude Meillassoux, ' Introduction', L'Esclavage en Afriqueprecoloniale (Paris, 1975), 12-13, and J.-L. Boutillier,' Les captifs en A.O.F. (1903-1905), Bull, del'I.F.A.N., ser. B, xxx (1968), 519. For earlier comparisons see Charles New, Life, Wanderings and Labours in Eastern Africa (London, 1973), 500, and David Livingstone, The Last Journals of David Livingstone, in Central Africa from 1865 to His Death, 1 (London, 1874), 73 David Brion Davis, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture (Ithaca, N.Y., 1966), and The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 1770-1823 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1975). See also Howard
0021-8537/79/2828-1000 802.00 1979 The Cambridge University Press



the same tendency to mystify the interests and actions of particular classes by reference to the operations of universal laws, be they the laws of the market or the rules of social structure, still remains. 4 At present, the most influential approach to slavery in Africa starts with a functionalist conception of the social structure and emphasizes the role of enslavement in absorbing people into society, above all into kinship groups. 5 The 'absorptionist'analysis' has been ably expounded by Igor Kopytoff and Suzanne Miers and has produced subtle case studies of social relations - although within the artificial boundaries of particular 'societies' and 'ethnic groups'. 6 Such work has emphasized the 'place of slaves in society' as if it were indelibly written into particular cultures and not the ever-changing product of conflicting pressures from slave-owners, non-slave-owners, and the slaves themselves. At the same time, Kopytoff and Miers, among others, have jumped from the particular to the universal, making absorptiveness into a general characteristic of Africa, a contrast to the American pattern of economic exploitation and social separation so stark that the very word 'slavery' when applied to Africa must be quarantined by quotation marks. A. G. Hopkins appears to be saying the opposite: the use of slaves was a straightforward economic choice in a situation where markets offered incentives to expand production and other sources of labour were more expensive. 7 Hopkins's approach - as conventional within economics as Kopytoff and Miers's is within social anthropology - reifies the market as much as the absorptionist analysis reifies kinship. Neither provides an adequate framework to analyse the fundamental differences in the ways labour was controlled and surplus value extracted or to understand the consequences that the ability of particular groups to control and use slaves had for social organization, cultural values, and ideology. The most important new step toward such a framework comes from the Marxist analyses of Claude Meillassoux and others. 8 They focus not on 'the society' or 'the economy' but on the use of slaves by particular groups in their struggles for wealth and power. Their work has difficulties of its own some specific to Marxist concepts, some shared with other Africanists - but it points to a range of questions that other approaches have failed to raise. This essay will proceed from a discussion of the anxiety-inducing concept of slavery to a critique of the absorptionist, market, and Marxist approaches. By focusing on the questions of who gained control over slaves, how they used slaves, and how they Temperley, 'Capitalism, slavery and ideology', Past and Present, LXXVO977), 94-118. Southerners argued that wage labour was in fact the peculiar institution, but the label stuck to slavery (Kenneth Stampp, The Peculiar Institution (New York, 1956)). 4 Within each academic discipline, the basic theoretical and methodological differences thus have a political and ideological dimension. See Elizabeth Fox-Genovese and Eugene Genovese, 'The political crisis of social history', Journal of Social History, x (1976), 205-20. 5 This view dominates general syntheses and has made its way into textbooks and popular accounts. See Kopytoff and Miers, 'African "slavery"'; Arthur Tuden and Leonard Plotnicov, 'Introduction', Social Stratification in Africa (New York, 1970), 11-15; Aidan Southall, 'Stratification in Africa', in Leonard Plotnicov and Arthur Tuden (eds.), Essays in Comparative Social Stratification (Pittsburgh, 1970), 247-56; John Grace, Domestic Slavery in West Africa (New York, I 975)> J-2O; Paul Bohannon and Philip Curtin, Africa and Africans (Garden City, N.Y., 1971), 265; Colin Turnbull, Man in Africa (Garden City, N.Y., 1977), 189-95; a n c ' ~ incongruously, in a Marxist work -Jean Suret-Canale, Afrique noire occidentale et centrale, I (Paris, 1968), 115-16. 6 Almost all the articles in the Miers and Kopytoff collection are bounded by an ethnic group, although Stephen Baier and Paul Lovejoy, despite their title ('The Tuareg of the Central Sudan: gradations in servility at the desert edge [Niger and Nigeria], 391-414), take a regional approach, and the Meillassoux collection has a less rigid view of ethnicity. On the limits of ethnic analysis, see Fredrick Barth (ed.), Ethnic Groups and Boundaries (Boston, 1969). 7 A. G. Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1973), 23-77. SeealsoJ. D. Fage, ' Slavery and the slave trade in the context of West African History \J. Afr. Hist., x (1969), 393-404. 8 Meillassoux, L'Esclavage.



controlled slaves, it becomes possible to study slavery as part of historical processes, to see how new ways of employing slaves could transform both the balance of political and economic power within a society and the ways people of all groups perceived and interacted with slaves. Most important, it becomes possible to see the forms of slavery not as fixed structures but as interactive processes, shaped by slaves as well as by slave-holders. In such an analysis, the literature on slavery in the Americas can be of much use to Africanists, not because the Americanists' head start has led them sooner to the answer, but because conflicting approaches have been more clearly defined and debated. 9 By failing to master this field, Africanists have forced themselves to go over well-worn ground: the view of slavery as embedded in certain kinds of social institutions recalls the much-criticized institutional approach of Stanley Elkins. 10 By ignoring the recent trend among Americanists to use slave sources, Africanists - eager to take an 'African point of view' have often allowed an elite's ideology to define a society as a whole. Comparative study also permits a fuller understanding of what the concept of slavery does and does not illuminate and allows us to examine the real differences in structures and processes, rather than be stifled by meaningless dichotomies between 'western' and 'non-western','American' and 'African' societies. Calling a slave a slave The word 'slavery' carries with it a bundle of connotations - all of them nasty. This has led some Africanists to use terms like 'adopted dependant', 'captive', or 'serf for a person whom others would call a slave.11 Terms for certain statuses in local language can be the most precise of all, but confine one to the scope of local history. However, if one looks at that old ' Western' term - slavery - with a sense of its meaning throughout the course of European and American history, its relevance to Africa becomes apparent. The word 'slave' comes from the ethnic term Slav, and its origin points to the essential characteristic of the slave in both classical Europe and Africa - the foreigner brought by force into a society. As Moses Finley has written: ' T h e slave is an outsider: that alone permits not only his uprooting but also his reduction from a person to a thing that can be owned.' Some Africanists rightly stress the slave's alienation from a society's * Also important is the literature on slavery and other forms of bondage in Greece, Rome, the pre-Islamic and Islamic Middle East, Russia, India, China, and so on. I have stuck to the Americas, because slave studies there have defined a field, and opposing points of view have been spelled out. For recent reviews of Americanist literature, see David Brion Davis, ' Slavery and the post-World War II historians', in Sidney Mintz (ed.), Slavery, Colonialism and Race (New York, 1974), 1-16; John V. Lombardi, 'Comparative slave systems in the Americas: A critical review', in Richard Graham and Peter Smith (eds.), New Approaches to Latin American History (Austin, Texas, 1974), 156-74; and - for references beyond the Americas - Orlando Patterson, 'Slavery', Annual Review of Sociology, in (1977), 407-49. A good starting point is Laura Foner and Eugene Genovese (eds.), Slavery in the New World: A Reader in Comparative History (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1969), or C. Duncan Rice, The Rise and Fall of Black Slavery (New York, 1975). 10 Stanley Elkins, Slavery (Chicago, 1959), and Frank Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas (New York, 1946). For critiques, see articles by Sidney Mintz, Marvin Harris, David Brion Davis and Eugene Genovese, in Foner and Genovese, 27-47, 69-84, 202-10, 238-5511 The first euphemizes a process that was based on violence and coercion; the second distracts from the various possible fates that befell people and their descendants once the act of capture was completed; and the third misinterprets the nature of dependence and the slave's relationship to the land. Allen F. Isaacman, Mozambique: The Africanization of a European Institution: The Zambeze Prazos, iys6-jgo2 (Madison, Wise, 1972); Michael Mason, 'Captive and client labour and the economy of the Bida emirate, 1857-1901', J. Afr. Hist, xiv (1973), 453-71; William Derman, Serfs, Peasants, and Socialists : A Former Serf Village in the Republic of Guinea (Berkeley, 1973)-



kinship groups. This alienation was most often the result of capture or purchase, especially where slaves were numerous or concentrated; the local man first had to be separated totally from the social fabric. 13 In daily life, no neat set of characteristics necessarily distinguished the slave from all others: people have been subordinated in many way. But slaves, because they came from outside under conditions they could not control, lacked the local affiliations and knowledge of local society with which others could defend themselves. Many Africanists hesitate to use the term 'slavery' for fear of conjuring up the entire bundle of traits commonly associated with it. Their conception of the American slave is that he was nothing more than his owner's chattel: the owner's property rights were total. Yet no Western Hemisphere slave code ever treated slaves purely as chattels and no slave society escaped the necessity of creating some kind of social order. In fact, Americanists have argued over the extent to which the property rights of slave-holders in Latin America were undermined by the vested interests of the Catholic Church and Spanish or Portuguese Crown in slaves as converts or subjects, while in all areas individual property rights could be restricted by the need of slave-owners, as a class, to avoid threats to order from a master who treated his slaves either too brutally or too humanely. 14 Most important, to assume that slaves in the Americas had absolutely no rights is to take the slave-owners' point of view. Awesome as the masters' power seems, slaves could resist, and were especially effective in setting some limits on work loads, work rhythms, and holidays. These limitations became deeply ingrained in local customs and were guarded by slaves as best they could. 15 In short, the slave-owner's 'rights' to dispose of or use his slaves as he wished were never absolute, but depended on his ability to subordinate them. One can examine a gradation of powerlessness in African societies, just as Finley has pointed to the gradation in degrees of freedom in ancient Europe. 16 Slaves and society It is thus useful to speak of slavery, but it is not useful to speak of 'African slavery', as if a form of slavery were co-terminous with the continent. Nevertheless, Paul Bohannan and Philip Curtin sum up a common way of separating African from American slavery: But in Africa, slavery was not mainly an economic institution. The object in buying M. I Finley, 'Slavery', International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, xiv (New York, 1968), 307-8; Philip D. Curtin, Economic Change in Precolonial Africa: Senegambia in the Era of the Slave Trade (Madison, Wise, 1975), 34; Grace, Domestic Slavery, 7. 13 For a local person to be reduced to the status of an outsider required the acceptance of the community or more force than most kings or chiefs possessed. See Meillassoux, 'Introduction', to UEsclavage, 21-2, and nearly all the case-studies emphasize the predominance of capture and the purchase of captives. There are, as with any concept, problems of definition. Debt pawns, for example, would not be slaves in this framework, because they retained connexions with their kinsmen, but if forfeiture of the debt enabled the creditor to treat the pawn as if he were kinless, the process begins to resemble enslavement. 14 Even the most trenchant critics of Elkins's emphasis on these institutions do not deny their importance, but see them as part of a wider picture. See Elkins, Slavery, the critiques cited in note 10, above, and Elsa Goveia, 'The West Indian slave laws of the eighteenth century', in Foner and Genovese, Slavery, 113-37. 16 Eugene Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made (New York, 1974). Even in Jamaica, with one of the world's most intense labour systems, customary work rules developed. Orlando Patterson, The Sociology of Slavery (Rutherford, N.J., 1967), 286. 18 M. I Finley, 'Between slavery and freedom', Comparative Studies in Society and History, VI (1964), 233-49. Kopytoff and Miers rightly stress that 'freedom' is an elusive and misleading antithesis to slavery - a point that might be applied to the 'West' as well as to Africa (Slavery, 17-18).



a slave was to increase the size of one's group, more often for prestige than for the sake of wealth. . .Men and women alike were assimilated into the master's social group. 17 On the American side, the economic-versus-social dichotomy is less than revealing. Obviously, slaves were imported to create a labour force. However, as Eugene D. Genovese has argued, the plantation economy meant different things to different planter classes. In the southern United States the plantation became a social as well as an economic institution, and the life-styles and values of the planters reflected the aristocratic ideals of the lord with his dependants as well as the bourgeois model of a businessman exploiting factors of production. But in eighteenth-century Jamaica the plantation was less a way of life than a source of income to support a class that preferred to live in London. The importance of such differences became clear when slavery was challenged: some planters could adjust how they invested capital and made money; others faced a threat to their existence as a class. In earlier periods the social and economic dimensions of slavery also changed with time: a relatively paternalistic slave system in Cuba became a brutally exploitative one with the nineteenth-century sugar boom, while the economic decline of Virginia encouraged its planters to emphasize the genteel elegance of their way of life.18 ' On the African side, the undeniable evidence that kinship groups sought slaves does not justify, even as a textbook generalization, the anti-economic views of Bohannan and Curtin. Too much is now known about slaves as economic assets for this view to stand without severe qualification. Most important, the concept of absorption is an inadequate basis for dissecting the internal cleavages and dynamics of African societies. Kopytoff and Miers are at their best in stressing the ambiguity of absorption, that the new slave was a person in limbo who had to be integrated into his new society. The slave's marginality was institutionalized: as the slave was integrated, his foreign origin still made him distinct. Nevertheless, the underlying premise of this analysis is that 'African societies were receptive to all opportunities of bringing outsiders into their midst as dependants and retainers.' 19 But societies did not buy slaves; people did. Slaves taken into lineages could strengthen them; slaves incorporated into the entourage of a chief could undermine the lineages.20 Control of slaves could be a potentially revolutionary phenomenon, giving an aspiring king or ruling class a power base independent of entrenched kinship groups. In a changing economy, slaves might be less able than local people to resist mounting exactions. Marginality is the starting point for such analyses. It helps explain why slaves were open to use by different groups, but it provides little help in unravelling the crucial dynamic: how the success of different groups in controlling slaves and the way they employed them could alter the structure of society. Kopytoff and Miers have abstracted
17 Bohannan and Curtin, Africa, 265. Despite their reservations about 'slavery', Kopytoff and Miers write of 'African "Slavery"' as 'an institution'. 18 Eugene D. Genovese, The World the Slaveholders Made (New York, 1969); David Brion Davis, 'The comparative approach to American history: slavery', in Fonerand Genovese, Slavery, 67-8; Franklin W. Knight, Slave Society in Cuba During the Nineteenth Century (Madison, Wise, 1970); Stanley J. Stein, Vassouras: A Brazilian Coffee Country, 1850-1900 (Cambridge, Mass., 957); Richard S. Dunn, Sugar and Slaves : The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West Indies, 1624-1713 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1972); Genovese, Roll. 19 Kopytoff and Miers, 14. For more detailed criticism, see reviews by Claude Meillassoux and myself in African Economic History, v (1978), and Martin A. Klein, 'The study of slavery in Africa', J. Afr. Hist, xix (1978), 599-609. 10 Indeed, conflict between kings and lineages over who was to get slaves could be important; so too was the question of whether individuals or groups would control slaves. At stake could be the ability to control a society or to shape relations of dependence within a kinship group. These issues are touched on by Joseph C. Miller,' Imbangala lineage slavery (Angola)', in Kopytoff and Miers, 205-34, Carol P. MacCormack, ' Wono: institutionalized dependency in Sherbro descent groups (Sierra Leone)', ibid. 181-204, a n d Eric Pollet and Grace Winter, 'L'organisation sociale du travail agricole des Soninke (Dyahunu, Mali)', Cahiers d'etudes africaines, vn (1968), 509-34.



marginality from its contradictory uses; they can only describe variations in its manifestations and are unable to analyse the causes or consequences of the different ways slaves' marginality was used. Hopkins reverses the social bias of the absorptionists. For him, 'there was a longestablished labour market in Africa', and the predominance of slave over wage labour 'was the result of deliberate choice'. 21 Hopkins, however, is suggesting alternatives that may not have been open to potential employers, and he also underplays basic differences in the social relations of production. That potential labourers were members of kinship groups was no obstacle to economic development per se, but it might have been an obstacle to certain kinds of development. Ideologies that stressed kinship were defences of a moral economy; the social ties among potential workers might have been as much of a barrier to centrally controlled, labour-intensive enterprises as the high land-labour ratio that Hopkins stresses. 22 It is more fruitful to suggest that labour power was not bought and sold on the market, and that the need to buy or capture slaves sprang from the difficulty of acquiring detached, controllable individuals in any other way. Enslavement was a means of meeting the demands of concentration and control, and it often resulted in the development of means of organizing work vastly different from those within kinship groups. Hopkins is at his best when he goes beyond his market model: control of the highly centralized process of catching slaves when incentives to export them were high underwrote the dominance of a certain kind of ruling class, a military aristocracy.23 Once entrenched, it sought to maintain the structures it dominated even when their economic basis, the overseas slave trade, was eroded during the nineteenth century, and small producers began to compete in the growing of crops - above all palm oil - for export. Hopkins has suggested a valuable line of inquiry, but his explanation of the rise of peasant
21 Hopkins, Economic History, 26. To fit slavery into a neo-classical model requires two assumptions that are, arguably, inappropriate: individual autonomy and the commoditization of labour power. The much more elaborate attempt by Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman to apply an economic approach based on assumptions similar to Hopkins' to slavery in the Southern United

States has been thoroughly dissected: Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (Boston, 1974), and Paul David et al., Reckoning with Slavery : A Critical Study in the Quantitative History of American Negro Slavery (New York, 1976). 22 Jack Goody has also argued that slavery emerged in Africa, while serfdom did not, because access to land was relatively easy, so that direct control over people was the only way to obtain labour. Technology, Tradition and the State in Africa (Cambridge, 1971). He and Hopkins both take off from, but do not fully accept, the analysis of H. J. Nieboer, Slavery as an Industrial System : Ethnological Researches (The Hague, 1900). On Nieboer, see also Bernard J. Siegel, 'Some methodological considerations for a comparative study of slavery', American Anthropologist, xiv (947). 357-92, and Orlando Patterson, 'The structural origins of slavery: a critique of the Nieboer-Domar hypothesis from a comparative perspective', Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, CCXCII (1977), 12-34. 23 Hopkins is more aware than Fage of the implications of arguing that the slave trade promoted 'a sustained process of economic and political development' (Fage, 'Slavery', 400). He both questions its effects on other dimensions of the economy and stresses the kind of development that the slave trade and internal slavery promoted. Walter Rodney has also explored the relationship between external trade and internal exploitation, but his eagerness to blame both on Europeans has led him to oversimplify the dynamic: an elite's control of trade - not just of the slave trade - could be a step toward the further exploitation of labour. The more powerful coastal kingdoms in West Africa, as Fage shows, were using slaves before they were selling them. A preliminary attempt to sketch the changing interrelation of slave trading and slave employment in West Africa over the period of the slave trade is made in Martin Klein and Paul Lovejoy, ' Slavery in West Africa', in H. A. Gemery, and J. S. Hogendorn (eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York, forthcoming). See also Walter Rodney, 'African slavery and other forms of social oppression on the Upper Guinea Coast in the context of the Atlantic slave trade', J. Afr. Hist, vn (1966), 431-43, and C. C. Wrigley, 'Historicism in Africa: slavery and state formation', African Affairs, LXX (1971), 113-24.



production in terms of a shift in world demand to products that entailed no economies of scale requires elaboration and modification. In most parts of the world the dominance of plantations and planter classes has much less to do with economies of scale (which are slight for most plantation crops except sugar and tea) than with the ability of a planter class to control resources, stifle other forms of production, use the power of the state, and extract labour by the use of force.24 How West African rulers controlled or failed to control supplies of slave labour for local use and market outlets for crops remain crucial questions. 25 Hopkins presents a contestable view of the economic basis of social structures when he argues that the transition from slave to 'free' labour in the twentieth century was accomplished with 'relative ease', a conclusion similar to that of Kopytoff and Miers. 26 The adjustment of peasant producers and domestic groups, far from reflecting continuity, may well have been the result of the collapse of rulers' mechanisms of control, of powerful states and of trading networks. Current research on this still neglected topic is beginning to suggest that the rhythm of agricultural labour, the nature of supervision, punishment, and the reproduction of the labour force often changed drastically. In parts of Mali, once-powerful slave-owners lost many of their slaves to a new set of planter-protectors in the distant peanut fields of Senegal, while even slaves with few alternatives to dependent relations with their ex-masters still greatly altered the nature of those relations. 27 By posing the problem facing both colonial powers and African rulers as one of ' labour recruitment', Hopkins - and most writers on the development of wage labour - shies away from the most important question, the conflicting ways of organizing work. The starting point for exploring this area must be a precise understanding of how and by whom labour in the precolonial era was controlled and exploited.
24 Cotton, for example, is a fine smallholder crop, and the efficiency of cotton plantations lay above all in the compulsion which made labourers minimize leisure, the force that made women and children join the work force, and the discipline of the gang system. As soon as coercion ended, so did this system of labour and so did the plantation as a work unit. Roger Ransom and Richard Sutch, One Kind of Freedom: The Economic Consequences of Emancipation (Cambridge, 1977); David, Reckoning with Slavery; Jay R. Mandle, 'The plantation economy: an essay in definition', in Eugene Genovese (ed.), The Slave Economies, 1 (New York, 1973), 214-28. 25 E. A. Oroge shows that kings and leading chiefs in Yorubaland kept a high concentration of labour to themselves, and Sara Berry has suggested that the old elites might still have controlled marketing even of smallholder crops while disorder and insecurity made the protection of the military rulers essential for any kind of economic activity. A. G. Hopkins, ' Economic imperialism in West Africa: Lagos, 1880-1892', Economic History Review, xxi (1968), 580-606; E. A. Oroge, 'The institution of slavery in Yorubaland with particular reference to the nineteenth century', Ph.D. thesis, University of Birmingham, 1971; Sara Berry, Cocoa, Custom and Socio-Economic Change in Rural Western Nigeria (Oxford, 1975), 25-8. For a Senegalese study raising similar questions, see Martin A. Klein, 'Social and economic factors in the Muslim revolution in Senegambia', J. Afr. Hist, xni (1972), 419-41. 81 Hopkins, 227; Kopytoff and Miers, 71-6. Historians of the Southern United States have done less well with abolition than with slavery, perhaps because the conceptual tools of economic history provide no way of confronting the unfreedom of free labour. The best effort stops short of analysing the new system by which a planter class controlled the economy, and explains the failures of emancipation in terms of flawed institutions and racist thinking left over from the past. See Ransom and Sutch, One Kind of Freedom, and the penetrating critique by Harold Woodman, 'Sequel to slavery: the new history views the postbellum South', Journal of Southern History, XLIII (1977), 523-5427 Martin Klein,' From slave labour to migrant labour in Senegambia: South Saalum 1880-1930', paper presented to the African Studies Association Meeting, Boston, 1976; Derman, Serfs, Peasants. Abolition is touched on by the case-studies in the Miers and Kopytoff and Meillassoux collections, while the beginnings of more specific attempts to grapple with it were made at a conference on agrarian labour, Columbia University, 1977, which included a paper by Timothy Weiskel, ' Labor in the emergent periphery: from slave to migrant labor among the Baule peoples, c. 1880-1925', and a paper by the present author which is being developed into a book, From Slaves to Squatters: Plantation Labor and Agriculture in Zanzibar and Coastal Kenya, i8go-iQ25.



Meillassoux and other Marxist anthropologists move beyond the tendency to study social structures and markets in isolation from one another. Not only do they focus on the organization of production, but they assess the place of slavery among the various means by which ruling classes tried to maintain their hegemony, and they discuss the balance of power between slaves and slave-owners. These conflicts could be expressed in ideology: kinship groups and the state could offer opposing conceptions of slave status. These essays also begin to address the issue of social reproduction; how a social group continued from generation to generation. Meillassoux argues that few African slaveholding elites were strong enough to let their slaves produce a new generation of slaves: polarized so starkly into closed groups, conflict could not have been contained. By importing or capturing new slaves, the category of slave could be reproduced without the risks of relying on biological reproduction. The children of slaves, in such cases, would enter into a different and varying kind of dependent relationship. Meillassoux is on the track of a theoretical understanding of absorption that Kopytoff and Miers, who regard it as an inherent quality of African societies, cannot attain. However, he pushes his insight too far in attempting to counterpose 'reproduction' and 'production', a distinction that underplays the complex interrelations, in Meillassoux's own article on Gumbu, of particular forms of slave production with particular modes of reproduction. 28 Meillassoux, like Kopytoff and Miers, seems to be searching for an essence of African slavery. Perceptive as these analyses are, the dialectical relationship of masters and slaves, ruling classes and kinship groups, remains 'frozen in time'. 29 Most essays analyse slavery in a timeless field between some process, such as the development of trade, that gave rise to the slave system, and the colonial conquest which ended it. Nor is much consideration given to the implications of the upheaval of colonial rule for fieldwork on slavery.30 With more attention to process, it might be possible to see how modes of reproduction affected production: would the restocking mechanism described by Meillassoux simply keep funnelling in new slaves or would it undermine itself by creating a large, dependent peasantry that would, eventually, provide new ways of extracting a surplus while posing new problems of control ? Or might changes in production affect reproduction: would plantation development by a powerful ruling class reduce the mobility or assimilation of locally-born slaves, or would diversification of an economy - as in parts of Brazil - create the need for a more flexible labour pool and foster manumission ?31
28 Meillassoux L'esclavage, p. 25, and ' Etat et conditions des esclaves a Gumbu (Mali) aux XIXe siecle', 221-52. See also Claude Meillassoux, 'From reproduction to production', Economy and Society, 1 (1972), 92-105. 28 This phrase is borrowed from Herbert Gutman's critique of a Marxist analysis of slavery in the Southern United States, Genovese's Roll, Jordan, Roll. The rather static picture of the master-slave relationship which Genovese provides is the major flaw of this brilliant work, but Gutman's other criticisms of it are generally wide of the mark: The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York, 1976), 97.
30 This is least true of Meillassoux's own essay in L'Esclavage, 221-52. Yet as stimulating a study of the ideological basis of slavery as Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan's 'Captifs ruraux at escalves imperiaux du Songhay' (99-134), assumes that the social relations and beliefs of present day Songhai villages apply to village-level society four centuries ago, while the Islamic notions of a part of the Tarikh-al-Fattasch, now known to be of more recent origin, apply to the ancient empire. 31 The possibility of enslavement very gradually producing a peasantry in Northern Nigeria is raised, although not sufficiently explored, in Paul Lovejoy, 'Plantations in the Economy of the Sokoto Caliphate', J. Afr. Hist, xix (1978), 341-68. In all parts of the Americas except for the Southern United States, importation was also the dominant mode of reproducing the slave labour force. This was more the result of mortality than manumission, but manumission practices in the New World were varied and in certain circumstances produced gradations of dependence among slaves and ex-slaves. In Brazil, mining encouraged manumission, coffee discouraged it. Carl Degler, Neither White nor Black : Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States (New York, 1971); Tannenbaum, Slave and Citizen; David Cohen and Jack Greene (eds.), Neither Slave nor Free: The Freedmen of African Descent in the Slave Societies of the New World (Baltimore, 1972); Philip Curtin, The Atlantic Slave Trade (Madison, Wise, 1969).



In Africa, as in the Americas, the physical, social, and cultural uprooting of the slave conditioned his subsequent life. But what slaves were made to do in turn affected the conditions of their subordination. The ends and means of controlling slaves, the slaves' means of resistance, and the consequences of this conflict to a society or a region as a whole must be studied as parts of a process, one which grew out of specific historical situations and created a dynamic of its own. The dynamics of slavery Out of the intense debate on comparative history, Americanists have learned that static views of slavery - such as Elkins's attempt to correlate Catholicism and monarchy with relatively unchattel-like forms of slavery - fail, not simply because they ignore other variables, but because they ignore the way the variables interacted. Peter Wood has shown that slaves served a great variety of needs in the frontier days of South Carolina and often worked largely on their own. But as rice began to dominate the colony's economy in the eighteenth century, slaves became increasingly relegated to the role of field worker, and the apparatus of control tightened. Ideas changed too: whites thought of slaves less as useful and loyal servants in a rough environment than as degraded and resentful labourers. Their fear of slaves led to further repression and more fear, culminating in a slave rebellion and another cycle of fear and repression. By responding to new opportunities in an international market, South Carolina's slave-owners set in motion a process which changed not only what slaves did, but how whites thought about them and interacted with them. 32 Africanists have a long way to go along such lines, partly because their sources rarely allow socio-economic change to be studied through all its phases, but partly because of a lingering tendency to regard the social norms governing slaves' roles as cultural givens rather than as part of historical processes. As good a book as Curtin's study of economic change in Senegambia treats the social position of slaves as background, not as history. 33 One methodological problem is especially difficult, but is compounded by a failure to recognize it. Many anthropologists write about the lack of concentration of wealth and coercive power in African societies as if it were part of 'traditional Africa' without fully analysing the implications of the colonial conquest on precisely those groups most capable of amassing and controlling large numbers of slaves.34 The emphasis on the integrative nature of slavery may largely reflect the fact that with the removal of its coercive and exploitative dimensions - and above all its means of reproduction - the social dimension is all that is left.
Peter H. Wood, Black Majority: Negroes in Colonial South Carolina from i6yo through the Stono Rebellion (New York, 1974). See also Edmund S. Morgan, American Freedom - American Slavery : The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York, 1975). Gutman makes a strong plea for studying the development of slave culture over time, seeing how behaviour patterns and traditions built on themselves and were transmitted from generation to generation. His book does not quite fulfil his promise of analysing change, partly because he, like many Africanists, treats culture and kinship as being autonomous from the dominant and themselves changing forces in society. See Black Family and Eugene Genovese's review of it in The Times Literary Supplement, 25 February >97733 Curtin, Economic Change, 34-6. His subsequent chapter, ' Production for the market', focuses on the products, not on the productive process. 34 See for example, Southall, 'Stratification', Tuden and Plotnicov, 'Introduction', and Lloyd Fallers, Inequality: Social Stratification Reconsidered (Chicago, 1973), 59-79. Some authors (e.g. Grace, Domestic Slavery, 3-5) use the observations of R. S. Rattray on Asante slavery in the twentieth century as if they represented precolonial Asante, and the destruction of the Asante state by the British had made no difference. An understanding of the significance of Rattray's observations in historical context will be provided by A. Norman Klein's forthcoming study of Asante slavery. See R. S. Rattray, Ashanti Law and Constitution (London, 1929), 33-46, and Ivor Wilks, Asante in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge, 1975).



But it is often possible to unravel the direction of change. On the coast of East Africa, plantation slavery evolved in the nineteenth century out of a more diffuse form of slavery. The Arabs of Oman, who built Zanzibar's clove planations, owned many slaves back in their homeland, including servants, concubines, soldiers, artisans, and town labourers. The generalized subordination of slave to owner was more important than specific economic roles. But the growing Indian Ocean commercial system created an infrastructure linking fertile regions of the East African coast with sources of slaves deep in the interior and with markets in India, Arabia, Southeast Asia, and Europe. By the 1840s Zanzibar's plantations - large even by American standards - were becoming the dominant agricultural unit, and slave labour became increasingly regimented. On parts of the mainland, Swahili-speaking Africans and Arabs developed, around mid-century, an intensive grain-producing economy. Their plantations had a voracious appetite for labour, and the gang-labour system, akin to that of the Americas, came into use, changing the entire rhythm of work and patterns of economic relationships. Nevertheless, agricultural development did not turn Zanzibar into Jamaica. Above all, the absence of a strong state and class unity among slave-holders meant that plantations became a new kind of socio-political unit as well as an economic one. The power of slaveholders still depended more on control over inferiors than control over institutions, but the slave, if still a personal follower, had now become a labourer working under plantation discipline. 35 The need to study slavery as part of changing regional economic systems, not simply within the bounds of ethnic groups, is evident as well in the case of the Western and Central Sudan. Here, the focus is not simply on exports, but on the economic vitality of the region itself, together with its links to the forest and desert-edge economies and indirect relationship to overseas markets. The dispersal, interpenetration, and changing patterns of interaction of ethnic groups created a complex arena in which certain dimensions of slavery came to be widely shared while local patterns emerged in response to particular conditions. In nineteenth century Gumbu, large-scale grain production by a relatively unified ruling class led to tight control over slave labour and a rigid social structure. But in Masina, incentives were lower, surpluses smaller, and control looser, factors which, as Marion Johnson suggests, had much to do with the character of the theocratic state. If rulers, with their armies, were one group that could amass concentrated holdings of slaves, merchants, with their wealth and trade connexions, were the other. Nehemia Levtzion has observed that the slaves of Dyula merchants, in trading centres throughout the Western Sudan, were not acculturated and Islamized as much as the slaves of rulers, a reflexion of the owners' ambivalent position vis-a-vis the rulers and the different mechanisms on which social control could depend. 36 The emirs of Northern Nigeria, after the jihad, built on an already differentiated economy to create the largest plantation system of the savanna. As M. G. Smith's pioneering comparison of Zaria and Jamaica demonstrated, the tightly knit aristocracy used slave labour on immense landholdings, for export production, and under close Frederick Cooper, Plantation Slavery on the East Coast of Africa (New Haven, Conn., 1977). Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 221-52; Marion Johnson, 'The economic foundations of an Islamic theocracy - the case of Masina', J. Afr. Hist, xvn (1976), 481-95; Nehemia Levtzion, 'Slavery and Islamization in Africa', paper presented to the Conference on 'Islamic Africa: Slavery and Related Institutions', Princeton, 1977. J.-L. Boutillier also contrasts the conditions of Dyula slaves to the slaves of the Dyula's neighbours in 'Les trois esclaves de Bouna', in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 253-80. Other studies of this region may be found in ibid., L. O. Sanneh, 'Slavery, Islam and the Jakhanke people of West Africa', Africa, XLVI (1976), 80-96, William A. Brown, 'The caliphate of Hamdullahi ca. 1818-1864: a study in African history and oral tradition', Ph.D. dissertation, University of Wisconsin, 1969, J.-P. Olivier de Sardan, 'Esclavage d'echange et captivite familiale. chez les Songhay-Zerma', Journal de la Societe des Africanistes, XLIII (1973), '51-67, and S. Cissoko, 'Traits fondamentaux des societes du Soudan occidental du XVIIe au debut du XIXe siecle', Bull. I.F.A.N., ser B., xxxi (1969), 1-30.
36 36


I 13

supervision. But Smith fails to analyse the implications of the very different ways Zaria and Jamaica were integrated into market systems. Instead, he sees the crucial distinction in the fact that the society of Zaria constituted a 'single homogeneous field to which slave recruits and their offspring were assimilated as fully as possible', whereas Jamaican masters and slaves were separated by distinct cultural and social institutions. 37 But integration and pluralism are what need to be explained. Smith's answer is, almost literally, deus ex machina : Islam, in itself, encouraged slave buying and catching as a means of bringing pagans into the Islamic community. Religion is thus isolated from the changing social structure of which it was a part, yet becomes a determining agent. Smith fails to consider the aristocracy of Zaria as a ruling class using slaves to consolidate its wealth and power, yet constrained by the limitations of its power over slaves and non-slaves. Assimilation to Hausa culture and conversion to Islam were social necessities, and integration took a form that religion cannot explain: rigid control over plantation workers giving way, over generations, to looser forms of economic dependence with continued social differentiation. Polly Hill's analysis of the same region stresses the way slaves worked alongside the sons of landholders on small-scale farms, a sector which Smith neglected. But her failure to use sources of slave descent - whose experience might reflect the variety of producing units and ways of organizing labour - contributes to a questionable view that smallness of scale and lack of differentiation in the labour force defined the dominant form of slavery in Hausaland. 38 Hill has also failed to ask whether her ethnographic data might reflect the restructuring of the elite's political and economic control since the conquest of Nigeria. Instead, she asserts that the differences between her farm slavery and Smith's estate slavery are the difference between Hausa and Fulani society - a view of ethnicity as a determining factor that is artificial and ahistorical.39 Joseph Smaldone and David Tambo have explained how the concentration of slaves within the emirates was possible: the crucial role of the emir's armies in collecting slaves and, to a lesser extent, the close relations of rulers with merchants, and hence the ability of the aristocracy to build itself a plantation system through control of access to slaves.40 Paul Lovejoy and Jan Hogendorn have explained why the rulers would want to do this: the development of an increasingly differentiated market system within the relatively urbanized, interconnected Caliphate and the expansion of exports of grain and cloth made
37 M . G . S m i t h , ' S l a v e r y a n d e m a n c i p a t i o n i n t w o s o c i e t i e s ' , Social and Economic Studies, i l l (1954), 239-90, 271 quoted. For an extraordinary account of an estate at Zaria, from the point of view of a descendant of its owner, see Mary Smith, Baba of Karo : A Woman of the Moslem Hausa (New York, 1964). 38 Reliance on the descendants of slave-owners as sources in Africa must be as suspect as the reliance on planter sources alone has become in the historiography of the Southern United States. At the very least, scholars should discuss the implications of the status and biases of their informants. Hill's comment that' Reticence about slave origin and ignorance (especially on the part of younger men) were among the factors that would have made it altogether impossible to collect information from slave descendants themselves' seems questionable in the light of the use made of slave informants by Paul Lovejoy and Jan Hogendorn, discussed below, while her comment that 'most of the information on farm-slavery' comes from a single informant who was a Hamlet Head raises serious methodological questions. Polly Hill, 'From slavery to freedom: the case of farm-slavery in Nigerian Hausaland', Comparative Studies in Society and History, xvm (1976), 395-426. 39 Ibid. 406-7. Among Fulani the differences between forms of slavery were as great as they were among Hausa. See, for example, Derman, Serfs, Peasants, and Derrick Stenning, Savannah Nomads (London, 1959), 66-7. 40 Joseph Smaldone, Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate (Cambridge, Eng., 1977); David Tambo, 'The Sokoto caliphate slave trade in the nineteenth century', International Journal of African Historical Studies, ix (1976), 187-217. See also Jan Hogendorn, 'Slave acquisition and delivery in precolonial Hausaland', in R. Dumett and Ben K. Schwartz, West African Culture Dynamics: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives (Chicago, forthcoming).



locally from slave-grown cotton. They have gone beyond Smith in their description of tight supervision, strict punishment, and closely defined work routines on the plantations of Zaria, and they suggest that the integrative mechanisms were even slower and social discrimination against people of slave descent more severe than Smith described. These studies have not yet fully explored, partly because of their market-bias, the problem of control, over slaves and non-slaves alike, and broader problem of class formation. Without such an analysis, Lovejoy's view of a slow evolution from plantations toward peasant production requires, as does Hopkins' analysis, an explanation of the causes of the change and of the struggles between groups whose interests in the organization of production were quite different.41 A fuller analysis of the political economy of the Sokoto Caliphate will permit a return to the problems stressed by Smith: the significance of culture, religion, and ideology, now seen as concomitants of a changing economic and social order. A regional and comparative approach should also be applied to the extension of palm oil production and local use of slaves in the forest belt during the nineteenth century. In the Niger Delta, the wide distribution of palms and the strength of hinterland market mechanisms meant that palm-oil production was both efficient and spread out, while collection and sale offered the opportunities for concentration. In this highly competitive trading system, in which success depended as much on tight yet flexible control of armed followers as on astuteness in the market place, slaves played a very different role than that performed on farms. 42 On the other hand, the strength of the state of Dahomey made it possible for the king to create a plantation system at a point so far inland that only a ruler capable of controlling 'legions of slaves' in production and transport could profitably produce palm oil.43 On the large plantations, labourers were needed, not military supporters or skilled subordinates, and slaves had much less chance of assimilation or mobility than had the trading slaves of the Delta. 44 41 Lovejoy, 'Plantations'; and Jan Hogendorn, 'The economics of slave use on two plantations
in t h e Zaria emirate of t h e Sokoto caliphate', International Journal of African Historical Studies, x, iii (1977), 3 6 9 - 8 3 ; Paul Lovejoy, ' T h e characteristics of plantations in t h e Sokoto caliphate', Princeton Conference. 42 David N o r t h r u p , ' T h e compatibility of the slave and palm oil trades in the bight of Biafra', J. Afr. Hist, XVII (1976), 3 5 3 - 6 4 ; K a n n a n Nair, Politics and Society in Southeastern Nigeria, K . O . Dike, Trade and 1841-1906 ( L o n d o n , 1972); A . J. H . Latham, Old Calabar i6oo-i8gi; politics on the Niger Delta ( L o n d o n , 1956). 43 Patrick Manning, 'Slaves, palm oil and political power on the West African coast', African Historical Studies, 11 (1969), 287. Exactly how labour was organized on the royal plantations is not yet clear, and Manning's forthcoming book on Southern Dahomey will hopefully clarify it. Meanwhile see the description of plantation management in A. Le Herisse, L'Ancien royaume du Dahomey (Paris, 1911), 90. It is clear that other men of power had plantations, while many Dahomeans were small-scale producers of palm oil. The Dahomean state thus had to play off potentially conflicting economic groups. See Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, 'De la traite des esclaves a l'exportation de l'huile de palme et des palmistes au Dahomey: XIXe siecle', in Claude Meillassoux(ed.), The Development of Indigenous Trade and Markets in West Africa (London, 1971), 107-23; Melville Herskovits, Dahomey: An Ancient West African Kingdom, 1 (New York, 1938), 99-100; William Argyle, The Fon of Dahomey (Oxford, 1966), 143; Honorat Aguessy, 'Le Dan-Home du XIXe siecle etait-il une societe esclavagiste?' Revue frangaise detudes politiques africaines, 50 (1970), 71-90; C. C. Newbury, 'An early enquiry into slavery and captivity in Dahomey', Zaire, xiv (i960), 53-68. The most recent assessment of this question is Robin Law, 'Royal monopoly and private enterprise in the Atlantic trade: the case of Dahomey', J. Afr. Hist. xvni, (1977), 555-77. In the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo, alongside the integration of slaves into households, there developed 'a more exploitative form', linked to royal estates, but limited by the small market in slave-grown commodities. In the nineteenth century the slave estates of Yoruba kings became more important. Robin Law, The Oyo Empire (Oxford, 1977), 206-7. 44 While small-scale productive units in Dahomey may have absorbed their slaves relatively fully, the royal plantations did not. The French conquest brought about a mass exodus of largely unacculturated slaves of Yoruba origin. Report of J. Penel, 1904, reprinted in Newbury, 'Early enquiry', 57, and Paul Mercier, 'Travail et service public dans l'ancien Dahomey', Presence Africaine, xm (1952), 88.



The crucial issue that emerges from this recent research is the control of labour. What distinguishes plantation agriculture from other forms of production is not just its scale but the social relations of production. Slaves worked in gangs under supervision. Work rhythms were no longer determined by the labourer, in response to his and his family's needs and the seasonal flow of tasks, but were set by an owner attuned to the changing demands of the market. As in Jamaica, but not in the southern United States, labour time was divided into two segments, distinct in their very organization as well as in the fate of the surplus: the slave working for the master, under the master, and on the master's land, versus the slave working on a plot provided for him, in his own time, for his own family.45 This was one form of slave labour among the three that Meillassoux identifies, the other two being the incorporation of slaves into communal units of production and the settlement of slaves in semi-autonomous villages from which an agricultural surplus, but not labour, was extracted. Meillassoux's attempt to correlate these forms with specific geographic regions is not persuasive, and an analysis of which historical situations fostered particular forms of labour will require more comparative study. Market incentives clearly were crucial forces pushing labour organization in the direction of greater regimentation, but slave-owners had to be able to get slaves and control them. 46 The slave village could result from an influx of slaves, resulting from lowered prices or the new riches of merchants or rulers, without either the incentives or the power to make the slaves work under discipline. The slave village could also be an instrument of colonization, allowing rulers to control new territory without contributing to the economic independence of their own subjects. 47 The third alternative, the use of slaves to supplement the labour power of younger kinsmen, also amounted to the strengthening of a particular kind of socio-economic order, as much as the control of slave labour by a ruling class consolidated an opposed kind of order. The incorporation of slaves could profoundly affect economic relationships within the kinship group, as well as between it and other elements of a society.48
44 T h e i m p o r t a n c e of work r h y t h m s to defining economic structure is emphasized by E. P. T h o m p s o n , ' T i m e , work discipline a n d industrial c a p i t a l i s m ' , Past and Present, x x x v m (1967), 5 6 - 9 7 , a n d the a r g u m e n t is applied to plantation agriculture in Genovese, Roll, 285-324, and C o o p e r , Plantation Slavery, 180-2.

48 Besides agriculture, gold and salt mining also resulted in concentrations of slaves and intense exploitation. Mines and large plantations were found in very particular locations, in forests, deserts or savanna. In both forests and savanna, all three forms of slave labour can be found, although the importance of regional trade networks - reinforced by religious linkages in the Sudan - is clear. The savanna-forest distinction is made too neatly in Meillassoux,' Introduction', Indigenous Trade, 63-5, and Klein and Lovejoy, 'Slavery in West Africa'. On mining, see Emmanuel Terray, ' Le captivite dans le royaume abron du Gyaman', in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 389-54; Wilks, Asante, 436-6; and Nehemia Levtzion, Ancient Ghana and Mali (London, 1973), 172. 47 Even where plantations were the predominant form of export-agriculture organization, slave villages could develop in particular locations where incentives for close control of labour were weak. Cooper, Plantation Slavery, 173-6, 182. For examples of slave villages, see Derman, Serfs, Peasants; Mason, 'Captive and client labour'; Wilks, Asante, 52; and W. R. G. Horton, 'The Ohu system of slavery in a northern Ibo village-group', Africa, xxiv (1954), 311-36. 45 This is not to say that labour was the only, or even the principal, purpose for which kinship groups acquired slaves. The functionalist approach to slavery does better with this form that it does with the others, but the Marxist conception of kinship has much to offer here. Pollet and Winter, for example, show how an elder's ability to contain slaves contributed to the adhesion of subordinate kinsmen to him, and that the abolition of slavery weakened the elder's capacity to provide for dependants and to control them, leading to greater autonomy in the organization of work within the kinship group ('Organisation sociale du travail'). See also J.-P. Olivier de Sardan, 'System des relations economiques et sociales chez les Wogo (Niger)', These pour le doctorat de troisieme cycle, Universite de Paris, 1969, 31-4; Claude Meillassoux, 'Essai d'interpretation du phenomene economique dans lessocietes traditionellesd'auto-subsistance', Cahiers d'etudes africaines, 1 (i960), 38-67; and Maurice Godelier, Rationality and Irrationality in Economics, trans, by B. Pearce (London, 1972).



In Marxist terms, slaves could be employed within different modes of production, and their use could strengthen conflicting structures within a single society: kinship groups used slaves to enhance their economic power, while ruling classes could undermine the power of kinship groups by using slaves as an independent source of wealth.49 Emmanuel Terray is not persuasive in arguing that a slave mode of production in the kingdom of Gyaman and elsewhere dominated other modes of production. He believes that the military aristocracy of Gyaman based its power on the wealth coming from slaves which it alone could catch en masse. The need to have the co-operation of 'free' subjects in capturing and disciplining slaves limited the extent to which rulers could exploit kin-based agriculture: other modes of production were subordinated to the requirements of reproducing the slave mode. 50 Terray is correct to point to the contradictions among different means by which ruling classes extract surpluses, but his conclusion that one such means was dominant, and linked to a certain kind of military kingdom, is too mechanical. Precisely those ruling classes capable of exploiting slaves to this extent balanced and adjusted a variety of economic bases: slave production, tribute collection from within and without the polity, taxes on trade, and administered trade. 51 The control of slaves was not narrowly an issue of labour and markets but of political economy. Those who see politics and production as distinct spheres might find the use of slaves in administration and warfare, a frequent practice in Africa and the Middle East, to be a jarring contrast to the familiar role of slaves in the Americas. But if the efforts of an elite to control access to wealth and power are seen as a totality, the ways in which elites used slaves can be considered in terms of the options and constraints which particular historical situations presented. The economic exploitation of slaves allowed an elite to enrich itself without challenging directly the village- or kinship-based economy. Politically, slaves could also be instruments of control over local social groups. Power in African societies, it is commonly said, comes from people. It is also directed at people. For a chief or king, the problem of control was often to obtain personal followers. In flexible situations, incentives could be provided, yet potential supporters or administrative
49 My own views of this subject have been influenced by P. C. Lloyd, ' Conflict theory and Yoruba kingdoms', in I. M. Lewis (ed.), History and Social Anthropology, (London, 1969), 25-62. Lloyd, however, sees conflict in overly political terms, while the fundamental basis of kinshipkingship conflict involves inherently contradictory means of mobilizing resources - the one through control of reproduction and agricultural knowledge, the other through institutionalized control over warfare, slaves, tribute collection, etc. 50 Emmanuel Terray, ' Long distance exchange and the formation of the state: the case of the Aron kingdom of Gyaman', Economy and Society, in (1974), 315-45. His argument is an advance on the views of Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, 'Research on an African mode of production', in M. Klein and G. W. Johnson (eds.), Perspectives on the African Past (Boston, 1972), 33-51, and Goody, Technology. 51 Wilks, Asante. A better case might be made for the East African coast: plantation slavery was essential to the elite's economic power, and it had a great impact on ideology and values. But the slave-owners were so enmeshed in a wider commercial system - involving trade in other items, and dependent on sources of credit outside the slave system - that placing the coast in the pigeonhole of 'slave mode of production' conceals as much as it reveals. Meillassoux is wisely cautious on this point (L'Esclavage, 19-20), while Klein and Lovejoy ('Slavery in West Africa') confuse their argument, which they make persuasively, that slavery in West Africa was of great economic importance with an argument that it constituted a mode of production. Much of the literature on modes of production is marred by an obsession with taxonomy: we have lineage, tributary, pastoral, hunting and gathering modes of production, not to mention feudal, capitalist, Asiatic and African. Yet the concept is useful in showing how social structures and ideologies are rooted in material life, and are not just detached structures whose relationships can only be analysed empirically. The present need is to look at modes of production as totalities, not as classifications. See Aidan Foster-Carter, 'The modes of production controversy', New Left Review, evil (1978), 44-77.



underlings were rarely autonomous individuals, but members of groups whose collective strength gave them alternative means of obtaining security and livelihood. That slaves lacked such affiliations was the basis of their usefulness as subordinates and henchmen. Chiefs could use bands of slaves - sometimes mixed with other detached persons - to hunt, fight and intimidate. 52 Female slaves could fulfil the longer-range goal of augmenting the chiefly lineage, vis-a-vis its potential rivals, with the added benefit of producing offspring without maternal kinsmen. 53 Powerful kingdoms, including those of the Yoruba and Asante, made considerable use of slave-soldiers. In the Hausa-Fulani emirates and in Bornu, slaves occupied important offices in the administrative system and the army, even as others toiled in the fields. Such slaves were generally well rewarded. But it is a misunderstanding of the process of political control to argue that such practices mean that the slave category did not imply diminished status and economic deprivation. On the contrary, weakness and the disabilities associated with the slave category were used to obtain loyal service from those few slaves who owed their good fortune to the king or emir and no one else.54 In terms of power, the slave-official was as subordinate as the field slave was economically.55 This subordination had to be maintained, for if slave-officials were given too many posts, acquired an esprit de corps, or began to reproduce themselves, the king could become dispensable to his administration. Hausa-Fulani emirs guarded against this danger by a system of interpenetrating hierarchies of free, slave and eunuch officials that could check each other's power. The tyeddo, slave armies that ran out of control over the Senegambia, might be thought of as the result of subordination that failed.56 That slaves played such an important part in economic and political change was a consequence of their powerlessness. Yet a slave's subordination was relative: others bent before the will of the powerful, and slaves themselves could resist. Even in the most repressive slave societies of the New World, slaves not only resisted, but had some impact on setting the limits of their oppression. 57 Africanists have tried too hard to say what 'rights' slaves did or did not have or what the 'status of slaves' in a particular society was, and not hard enough to analyse how such rights and statuses became customary or how they changed.

For an example of slaves as followers and hunters, while others worked in the fields, in a

changing political and economic situation, see Andrew Roberts, ' Nyamwezi trade', in R. Gray and D. Birmingham (eds.), Pre-Colonial African Trade (London, 1970), 39-74. 53 For this reason, obtaining slaves was particularly important to chiefs and kings wishing to extend their own descent groups in matrilineal societies (E. A. Alpers, 'Trade, state and society among the Yao in the nineteenth century', J. Afr. Hist, x (1969), 405-20; Wilks, Asante, A. N. Klein (forthcoming)). But the politics of kinship also made sexual control important to other societies (Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, and Cooper, Plantation Slavery, 195-9). 54 The non-integration of slaves was thus essential to their administrative and military functions (Allan Meyers, 'The 'AbTd al-Buhari: slave soldiers and state-craft in Morocco, 1672-1790', Ph.D. Dissertation, Cornell University, 1974, 30, 145-9; and Olivier de Sardan, in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 129-30). On slaves in government see M. G. Smith, Government in Zazzau (London, 1959); Louis Brenner, The Shehus of Kukawa (London, 1973), Law, Oyo, 232-3; Oroge,' Slavery', 2-112; R. S. O'Fahey, 'Slavery and the slave trade in Dar Fur', J. Afr. Hist, xiv (1973), 29-43; A. N. Klein, ms. on Asante slavery; and various articles in Meillassoux and Miers and Kopytoff collections. 65 Not the least of slaves' sacrifices to their royal owners' power was their lives - in rituals of power and royal funerals in Dahomey, Asante, Old Calabar and elsewhere. See especially Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch, 'La fete des coutumes au Dahomey', Annales, iv (1964), 696-716. 66 Smith, Zazzau; Martin Klein, 'Servitude among the Wolof and Serer of Senegambia', in Miers and Kopytoff, Slavery, 335-65. On breakdowns of control in regimes dominated by slave officials and armies, see David Ayalon, L'Esclavage du Mamelouk (Jerusalem, 1951), and Meyers, "Abid al-Buhari', 187-8. 67 Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll.



In many parts of Africa, rulers had much to fear from letting an exploited slave-class develop and continue over generations. A. Norman Klein argues that 'state slavery' in the Asante kingdom ceased to develop after the 1820s because of disorders among slaves and the king's fear of rebellion once the outlet of the overseas slave trade was cut off. Klein may be overestimating the decline of the state's exploitation of slaves, but he is right to look at the role of slaves themselves in moving the nature of slavery in a direction more favourable to their integration into society.58 Slave rebellions also took place in the Upper Guinea coast, while in Macina and Ilorin slaves joined an invader or a social movement that promised them relief from their oppressors. The violent repression of rebellions - such as one in Guinea and one in Zanzibar - laid bare the coercive nature of slave regimes that was most often in the background. But the most important form of resistance was probably the least dramatic: running away, refusing onerous demands and withholding deference were all part of day-to-day interaction. 59 When colonial regimes slowly put down overt coercion, responses varied, but some of the more labour-intensive regimes experienced large-scale desertion, unrest, outright refusal to work, or a re-negotiation of terms of service, all reflexions of the changing balance of power. 60 By looking at the dangers posed by slaves, it is possible to understand why secondgeneration slaves in many cases were better off than their parents and why slave reproduction depended on importation. New slaves from diverse places not only lacked unity among themselves, but had directly experienced the violence and insecurity of the enslavement process. 61 As Terray argues, however much the king of Gyaman wanted slave labour in his gold mines, he could not afford to allow slaves to develop, over generations, a consciousness of themselves as a class.62 The upward mobility of slaves in the Niger Delta must also be seen in the light of the difficulties of controlling them in a competitive trading situation. Indeed, some of the best examples of slaves rising to positions of wealth and power reflect not the flexibility of slave systems but their failure - the inability of slave-owners to keep their subordinates in check.63 That second-generation slaves in parts of Africa could not be sold was not a 'rule', but a reflexion of the balance of power between masters and slaves, and the fact that such slaves sometimes were sold is not an 'exception' so much as a mark of the instability of
A. N. Klein, MS on Asante slavery. See also Wilks, Asante. Sheku Ahamdu, leader of the jihad in Macina, received much support from slaves, but when he and his followers continued to exploit them, many assisted another conqueror, El Hajj Umar. In Ilorin, many Hausa slaves helped overthrow the Yoruba kingdom: Brown, 'Caliphate of Hamdullahi'; Robert Smith, Kingdoms of the Yoruba (London, 1969), 141; Law, Oyo, 206-7; Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 1545-1800 (Oxford, 1970), 269; Mamadou Saliou Balde, 'L'esclavage et la guerre sainte au Fuuta-Jalon', in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 207; Cooper, Plantation Slavery, 202-3. F r different views of slave rebellion in the Niger Delta, see Nair, Politics, 48-54; Latham, Old Calabar, 91-6; Dike, Trade, 154-5. F r a n example of slaves using opportunities to run away, see Mary Smith, Baba, 39, while various articles in the two major collections mention the problem. 60 The exodus of Dahomean slaves has already been mentioned, and Klein and Lovejoy, 'West African slavery', cite other West African examples of disorder. The complex readjustment of plantation labor in Zanzibar is discussed in Cooper, From Slaves to Squatters. 61 The experience of violence and the symbolic dehumanization of new slaves is stressed by Jean Bazin, 'Guerre et servitude a Segou', in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 141-3. Kopytoff and Miers devote much attention to the limbic position of slaves after capture but strip the process of its terror. 62 Terray, in Meillassoux, 437-8. The connexion between mobility within the slave category and the need to prevent class solidarity from emerging is also stressed by Meillassoux, ibid. 243-4, and Marc-Henri Piault, 'Captifs du pouvoir et pouvoir des captifs', ibid. 347. 63 This might be said of the noted leader of slave origin, Jaja. While a number of slaves did rise - and the overwhelming majority experienced little but hard work and danger - the process produced contradictions in norms and conflict. For differing views, see Nair, Latham and Dike.
69 68


64 65


that balance. As in the New World, many factors affected this interaction. A closely knit slave-owning class and a strong central government reinforced the power of each slave-owner. Chronic warfare and insecurity made slaves more dependent, and active slave-trading routes made sale a severe threat, while human sacrifice, in Asante, Dahomey and elsewhere, discouraged resistance. On the other hand, divisions among slave-holders could weaken them and give escaped slaves a refuge. Reliance on slaves' skill gave them a better position: slaves in Zanzibar had advantages in the delicate task of clove picking that they did not have in other parts of the agricultural cycle.66 Slavery was shaped not simply by markets and social structures, or even by dominant classes, but by the process of interaction and struggle itself. In all cases, the control of slaves was not simply a matter of physical repression, but of creating ties of dependence. From the slave's point of view, accommodation could be a rational response to a difficult situation. Once taken from his own society, the slave's survival, access to land, social relationships, and peace with local gods all depended on his relationship with the only group available - his master's. Still, accommodation was not the only possible response and it did not imply acceptance of the justice of the system.67 Moreover, relations of dependence implied reciprocity: a slave-owner had to fulfil the role of protector and contain his greed, not out of benevolence, but out of necessity. Slaves as well as masters could make use of the bonds of dependence. 68 Once the connexion of power, dependence, and the control of production is understood, the striking changes of the early colonial era become comprehensible: as the colonial powers undermined the basis of slave-holders' coercion and slaves' dependence, slaves themselves - whatever the plans of the authorities - began to alter the relations of production. 69
84 Lovejoy and Klein ('Slavery in West Africa') cite examples of both sales and resistance to sales of local slaves. On the other hand, no laws on the East African coast prescribed different treatment for locally born slaves, but actual practice reflected the limits of the slave-owners' power and their fear of the second generation. Locally born slaves were more likely to be artisans or overseers, or to be manumitted. Cooper, From Slaves to Squatters. 85 Genovese, Roll, 587-97; Patterson, Sociology, 274-8; Gerald Mullin, Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth Century Virginia (New York, 1972); and Richard Price (ed.), Maroon Societies (Garden City, N.Y., 1970), 24. 60 At Gumbu, slave-owners kept an eye on each others' slaves and searched for runaways

together. On the mainland of East Africa little such co-operation took place, but slaves were in a

dependent position to their own master, for an individual without a protector would be lost in coastal society (Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 231-2, 243; Cooper, chapter 5). The importance of insecurity to maintaining ties of dependence is evident from the accounts of Cissoko, 'Traits fundamentaux', Mary Smith, Baba, and Mason, 'Captive and client'. On sacrifice and social control see A. N. Klein, MS on Asante. 87 The wrong way to study accommodation is illustrated by Bernd Baldus, 'Responses to Dependence in a Servile Group: The Machube of Northern Benin', in Miers and Kopytoff, Slavery, 435-60, which amounts to a version of Elkins's much-criticized Sambo-personality thesis (Slavery), and fails to discuss accommodation as part of a range of responses by slaves. 88 In a study of the lives of three women in the unstable conditions of East Central Africa in the late nineteenth century, Marcia Wright describes a slave woman who was able to use her relationship with her master to achieve greater security, while another woman, although not enslaved, was left without protection when her husband died and left her to a relative who had little interest in this older woman. The slave's dependence on a single individual was extreme, but the bond of kinship could fail and that of slavery succeed: Marcia Wright, 'Women in peril: a commentary on the life stories of captives in nineteenth century East-Central Africa', African Social Research, xx (1975), 800-19. 88 Cooper, From Slaves to Squatters; Derman, Serfs, Peasants. For a related argument, see the work of Robert Brenner, who analyses the end of European serfdom in terms of class struggles, stressing that the different ways that control over land and labour evolved reflect the situation in various parts of Europe that favoured serfs or lords to differing degrees ('The origins of capitalist development: a critique of neo-Smithian Marxism', New Left Review, civ (1977), 25-92).



To see, in its totality, the basis of exploitation and control makes it possible, at last, to understand the differences between, for example, the Swahili coast before 1890 and the southern United States before i860. Commercial development, in both areas, strengthened precapitalist relations of production. Relations of dependence, as well as naked coercion, developed within Southern plantations and planter ideology reflected aristocratic values. But Southern society was thoroughly penetrated by the economic institutions of a capitalist world economy, and it was part of a country with a central government and a cultural climate heavily influenced by ideologies that stressed individualism and progress. The autonomous individual was in principle protected by state institutions; economic structures were largely impersonal and geographic mobility substantial. For that reason, an apparatus of legal and physical control aimed specifically at slaves and their descendants had to be developed. At the same time, the strength of the state and the collective power of the planters obviated the need of the planter class for personally loyal followers. Slave-owners were less reliant politically on their slaves, but had to face the consequences of the shallowness of their slaves' dependence on them. 70 It is a mark of the imprecision of the mainstream of British and American social science that so many Africanists choose to contrast slavery in Africa with slavery in 'Western society', as if there were such an entity. 71 The image behind the contrast is obvious, but its basis becomes blurred. The crucial point is the intertwining of the development of plantation agriculture in the Americas, from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, with the long and complex process of the development of capitalism in Europe. Parts of Africa became involved in the expansion of capitalism in the precolonial era as well, but above all through the market mechanism. Except for a few areas (and the least capitalist of European trading powers), what came out of African ports and what went into them was directly related to the changing economy of Europe and the Americas; what went on inside, the organization of production and the nature of control, was strongly influenced but not directly or mechanically made into something else.72 For the planters of the Americas, capitalism did not just make itself felt through the ports. Its importance did not lie simply in markets, and in greater incentives to maximize production, although differences of degree were important. Nor was it a question of the money-grubbing values of European cultures; pecuniary values are far more widely held. What is essential to analyse is the interpenetration of planter and non-planter classes in European colonies and, later, American and European nations. However important the 'precapitalist' element in the social relations of the plantation, the way planters and the plantations were incorporated into the wider world shaped the ideology of the slave-holders

In Brazil the state was weaker than in the United States and the planter class more rent by personal rivalries. Planters had to develop personal clienteles and often recruited slaves and ex-slaves into them, as did slave-owners on the Swahili coast. At times, plantations became political units, but the coffee estates of the nineteenth century were more fully integrated into a developing capitalist structure than plantations in Africa. Brazilian slave society was a complex hybrid, with relatively fluid social relations in the middle - especially in the case of mulattoes - and brutal exploitation at the bottom. See Genovese, World, and a forthcoming study of Brazil by Emelia Viotti da Costa, to whom I am grateful for discussing this subject with me. 71 See, for example, Kopytoff and Miers, 3. 72 An increasingly influential approach to African economic history that sees dependence and underdevelopment as part of the expansion of a European-centred world economy has much to offer from a global perspective, but leaves the economies of Africa as black boxes. It fails to distinguish the vastly different things that went on inside these boxes and draws simplistic conclusions about the impact of becoming part of the 'periphery' on class structure in Africa. See, for example, Immanuel Wallerstein, 'The three stages of African involvement in the world economy', in Peter C. W. Gutkind and Immanuel Wallerstein (eds.), The Political Economy of Contemporary Africa (Beverly Hills, Calif., 1976), and the searching critique of Wallerstein's assumptions and methodology in Brenner, 'Capitalist Development'.




and the structure of the power as well as the plantation's economic role. The global context helped to shape the planters of the New World into planter classes, with uneasy alliances with other elements of a metropolitan or national capitalist class. These classes maintained a considerable degree of solidarity within themselves, and their undoing came about only when the nature of capitalism and capitalist ideologies had evolved and their allies deserted them. 74 In the meantime, they were able to use the apparatus of the state to ensure their collective domination not only over slaves, but over the rest of their societies. The class basis of slavery was shaped - in complex and changing ways - not simply by markets, but by capitalism as a developing system. However powerful and closely knit the aristocracies of certain African kingdoms, none relied so closely on a particular organization of slave labour as did the planter class of the southern United States or the Caribbean - certainly the extremes of a rationalized plantation economy, as in the Caribbean sugar industry, did not exist in Africa. No African slave-owners had as full access to capital or as many alternative forms of capital accumulation within a more or less integrated economy. 75 Nor did any African aristocracy develop an ideology so closely linked to its role in the economy; generalized concepts of subordination were far more important. Above all, no aristocracy succeeded in eradicating kinship and other social groups, and their control over land. In most cases, kings and chiefs had, through kinship, clientage and slavery, closer ties with their inferiors than with their equals, and could not escape their own personal dependence on their subordinates. To focus comparisons on the impact of capitalism and the power of planter classes does not make our task any easier. But all-or-nothing distinctions between statically conceived modes of production are not the most useful way of comparing forms of slavery: agricultural development in an African state could have an effect on social relations parallel to the way it transformed an American colony like South Carolina, even if this process did not crystallize into the creation of a class society. However, to study the use of slaves as part of a process by which individuals and social groups tried to expand their wealth and power, in the face of opposition from local groups and imported slaves, gets at the roots of the differences in forms of slavery from the most undifferentiated societies of Africa to the hierarchical Hausa-Fulani to the absentee capitalists of Jamaica.
Absorption reconsidered

It is now possible to look at absorption, not as an inherent quality of African societies, but as part of historical processes. Slaves were always incorporated, in the Americas as well as in Africa, but the question is how: as quasi-kinsmen, as a subordinate stratum, as permanent semi-outsiders, or in other ways? The way students of American history have looked at race helps define the problem. Some have argued that the badge of slaves' foreignness, their race, was the major
The relationship of capitalism, slavery, and class is discussed in a brilliant and controversial interpretation by Genovese, World. The earlier work of Eric Williams is important, but vastly oversimplified: Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1944). For a comparison of slavery in the Southern United States and the East African coast in the nineteenth century see my Plantation Slavery, Conclusions. 74 The best analysis of the increasing ideological isolation and political weakening of slave-owning classes of English origin is Davis, Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. The slave-owners of the Southern United States were more autonomous and developed a more coherent and independent pro-slavery ideology, but they too could not escape their immersion in an increasingly capitalist world (ibid, and Genovese, World). 76 Accumulation by slave-owners on the East African coast was involuted: directed only to more slaves and (in Zanzibar) more clove trees. Capital - in itself- was amassed and redirected only by merchants and money-lenders, who employed it within a much wider commercial system linked to the European economy (Cooper, Plantation Slavery, 136-48). Genovese makes a rather similar argument for the Southern United States, but his case is not as clear and has been heavily criticized (The Political Economy of Slavery (New York, 1965)).



determinant of the way they were absorbed as an inferior stratum. The feelings of revulsion and scorn that English people had in their initial contacts with Africans enabled them to devise an apparatus of repression directed at blacks. This view sees attitudes as relatively autonomous and parallels views of slavery in Africa that stress concepts of ' the slave' within particular cultures. 76 Other scholars argue that whatever hostile attitudes Anglo-Americans initially had toward blacks, these prejudices were developed into racism only because blacks were made into plantation labourers. Planters, regardless of their misgivings, had tried to use Indian slaves and English indentured laborers, but neither had succeeded. Africans became predominant for economic reasons; they were available. The process of imposing domination itself hardened white attitudes into increasingly systematic racial ideologies, which in turn strengthened social control, enabling the planter class to exploit black labour still further. 77 Such a view does not neglect the importance of prejudice, but puts more emphasis on what is made of it. Race prejudice per se is a special reaction to the general condition of the slave, his being an outsider. It is a special case because race is so clearly visible and above all because it is hereditary. Yet some societies make more of colour than do others, and many have proved quite capable of reinforcing differences among people that existed only in their minds and not on their skins. Absorption in African societies can similarly be seen as part of a dialectical process. The question is under what circumstances the tension between the slaves' origins and the conditions of their use worked to reduce social distance and under what circumstances the slaves' distinctiveness became the basis for their forming a separate social group. Plantation agriculture required a vast influx of slaves and made it important for local inhabitants to avoid being engulfed by people whom they could not easily absorb, while the regimented conditions of plantation labour made it all the more important for them to emphasize that they had not fallen so low. The manipulation of such widely held sentiments could be important to the dominance of slave-owners themselves. On the Swahili coast the increasing specificity of slaves' economic role was paralleled by sharp social differentiation. Marriage prohibitions were rigid, and slaves and ex-slaves were excluded from parts of ritual life. Stereotypes emerged of slaves and their descendants as inherently lazy, stupid and - above all - religiously impure. Cultural differences, in such matters as dances and initiation ceremonies, developed along status lines. The polarizing tendency of labour-intensive agriculture thus made itself felt in the social and cultural sphere. But there were counter-tendencies: the fragility of the slave-owners' power and the ties of dependence between master and slave made it dangerous for slave-owners to make ' foreignness' or race into a sharp group boundary. The direction of change was the same as in South Carolina, even if the process could not go as far: slaves were pushed more decisively into an inferior stratum. 78 The tell-tale stereotypes, the marriage prohibitions, and the long-lasting legacy of social distinctions seem to have accompanied agricultural development in parts of the Western and Central Sudan as well. That a few slaves in palaces escaped the social degradation
Carl N. Degler, 'Slavery and the genesis of American race prejudice', Comparative Studies in Society and History, n (1959), 49-67, and Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black: American Attitudes towards the Negro, 1550-1812 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1968). 77 See the penetrating critique of Jordan by George M. Fredrickson, 'Why blacks were left out', New York Review of Books, 7 February 1974, 23-24, as well as his The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny i8ij-igi4 (New York, 1971). This dialectical process could work itself out in many ways, as the variations in race relations throughout the Western Hemisphere attest. See Cohen and Greene, Neither Slave nor Free; Robert Brent Toplin (ed.), Slavery and Race Relations in Latin America (Westport, Conn., 1974); Ira Berlin, Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (New York, 1974); Degler, Neither Black nor White; Wood, Black Majority; Morgan, American Slavery; and Genovese, World. 78 Cooper, Plantation Slavery, Conclusions.



of the many in the fields does not negate the importance of this social differentiation: it made the palace slaves all the more loyal and subservient. 79 The study of class or stratification in Africa is far behind the study of slavery. American anthropologists have devoted much of their effort to avoiding a central issue; economic and political dominance. Some Marxist-orientated scholars look for classes the way archeologists search for pot shards. 80 Meillassoux's caution in regard to conflicting classes is well placed, but class is not a thing that is either there or not there, but a changing pattern of relationships. 81 It is obvious that almost all Africans belonged simultaneously to a variety of social groups - vertical as well as horizontal - but it is essential to find out which ones were trying, and possibly succeeding, in establishing their ascendancy over others. For slaves, such processes could have quite distinct possible outcomes, (i) Absorption of slaves into lineages as quasi-kinsmen. 82 (2) Vertically integrated social structures, where a continuum of dyadic relationships - between superior and inferior - predominanted, with slaves performing no distinct functions and not constituting a specific status group. 83 (3) Slaves as a subordinate class, performing a particular economic role (which is dominant although not necessarily exclusive), working under distinct conditions, and separated from other persons by ritual and social prohibitions. 84 (4) Submergence of the distinction between slaves and other subjects into a common subordination to the ruler.85 These alternatives are not meant to be exclusive or static. Comparative study will hopefully permit a dynamic analysis of the ideological and cultural dimensions of slavery. Was foreignness, seen in physical, linguistic, or cultural terms, the basis of an ideology of domination, justifying the slaves' subordination and giving non-slaveholders a stake Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 230-31; Olivier de Sardan, 'L'esclavage d'echange et captivite familiale', 151; Lovejoy, 'Plantations'; Hogendorn, 'Economics of slave use'; Smith, 'Slavery and emancipation', 239-90; and M. G. Smith, 'The Hausa system of social status', Africa, xxix (1959), 242-3.
Fallers, Inequality, and Southall, 'Stratification'. For a perceptive critique of functionalist approaches to stratification, see M. G. Smith, 'Pre-industrial stratification systems', in Neil Smelser and S. M. Lipset (eds.), Social Structure and Mobility in Economic Development (Chicago, 1966), 141-76. A rather mechanical view of class emerges from Majhemout Diop, Histoiredes classes sociales dans I'Afrique de VOuest: 1, he Mali; 2, Le Senegal (Paris, 1972, 1972), while a more stimulating approach although not without problems of its own may be found in Emmanuel Terray, 'Classes and class consciousness in the Abron kingdom of Gyaman', in Maurice Bloch (ed.), Marxist Analyses and Social Anthropology (New York, 1975), 85-135. Another imaginative use of class analysis is Wilks, Asante. 81 Meillassoux, Indigenous Trade, 64-5. The idea of studying class as a process is stressed by E. P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York, 1963), 11. 84 The integrative process is complex and varied, and Kopytoff and Miers, Slavery, is most valuable on this question. An extreme example is studied by Barbara Isaacman and Allen Isaacman, ' Slavery and social stratification among the Sena of Mozambique: A study of the Kaporo system', 105-20. In some societies lineages absorbed their slaves while kings emphasized the non-integration of their own. Oliver de Sardan (in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 99-134) gives a perceptive analysis of the ideological contradictions in such cases. 83 See Baier and Lovejoy, 'Tuareg', in Miers and Kopytoff, for an example of this situation. Here, Fallers's point that relationships between superior and inferior do not necessarily result in the formation of strata is useful. Unfortunately, he did not try to specify the conditions where inequality did or did not lead to the development of stratification: Inequality (cited in n. 34). 84 This situation was found in its purest state in plantation societies of the Americas, but strong tendencies in that direction developed as a result of agricultural development on the East African coast and in the Western and Central Sudan. " The connexion between despotism and the absence of status groups is illustrated in Lloyd A. Fallers, 'Status culture, despotism, and social mobility in an African kingdom', Comparative Studies in Society and History, 1 1 (1959), n - 3 2 . Other instances of 'lower class identity' that cut across the category of slave are discussed by Wilks in the case of Asante and Morgan in the case of colonial Virginia.




in the system ? The rituals and symbols that marked slaves' distinct origins must be seen in relation to their functions and to conflicts among emerging groups in society. On the Swahili coast, slave-owners wanted to assimilate slaves into local institutions - without which they could not control them or hope to inculcate their ideas of status and behaviour - without eliminating the slaves' distinctiveness. Slave-owners wanted slaves to become Muslims, but for themselves to be better Muslims. 88 But for coastal slaves, distinctiveness had another meaning: an assertion that they were not being integrated into society on their owners' terms. While they often used their growing knowledge of Islam to assert their place in coastal society, they also used foreignness to assert their collective identity. By holding on to dances, female initiation ceremonies and other cultural practices from their homelands - and even labelling themselves by their place of origin - slaves were combating the notion that they were nothing but inferior members of coastal society. When slaves sought to perform their own rituals or to perform their masters', and when slave-owners tried to control both, they were engaging in a cultural battle over the slaves' place in coastal society.87 Even where slaves were readily assimilated, they suffered a devastating cultural subordination: their loss of their ancestry. Their destruction as a people was the other side of absorption. 88 But where the slave's distinctiveness was not a limbic state but an ideological basis for exploitation and control, it was all the more devastating. It is at this point that the absorptionist approach most clearly shows its inadequacy and most case-studies stop short. For, if African societies were inherently absorptive, there was little for slaves to do but be absorbed. As Kopytoff and Miers put it, the slaves 'common aspiration was, quite realistically, to move further into the host society'. 89 Slave-owners badly needed to believe that was true. For slaves, such a statement tells half of the story: accepting new norms and behaviour patterns offered meaningful rewards where the odds of resisting were poor. And so the culture of the slave-owners became a crucial element of control. But culture could also be a crucial element of the slaves' resistance. 90 By
Some writers believe that 'Islamic slavery' in Africa and the Middle East had certain characteristics that separate it from slavery in places where Allah was not the only God. But to separate religion from society and simultaneously to see it as a causative agent is artificial. But it does help to see Islamic texts and laws as providing the raw material which people - in particular economic and political situations - could shape into ideologies. For slave-owners, seeing slavery in terms of Islamic norms - rather than in those of a local religion - defined their own superiority in a way that transcended locality and self-interest. Where social and economic networks - as on the Swahili coast and in the Western Sudan - also transcended ethnic boundaries, a universalistic ideology played an important role in establishing slave-holders' hegemony. But Islam also provided slaves with the basis for an opposed concept of a moral order: conversion denied their inferiority. For a fuller analysis, see my paper for the Princeton Conference on Islamic Africa, ' Islam and the slave-holders' ideology on the east coast of Africa'. By no means all participants shared my views, nor do A. G. B. Fisher and Humphrey J. Fisher, Slavery and Muslim Society in Africa (Garden City, N.Y., 1971). 87 Cooper, Plantation Slavery, chapter 6; Margaret Strobel, Muslim Women in Mombasa, Kenya, i8go-ig73 (New Haven, Conn., forthcoming); and Abdul Hamid M. el-Zein, The Sacred Meadows: A Structural Analysis of Religious Symbolism in an East African Town (Chicago, 1974). Another attempt to collect evidence that slaves held a distinct view of slavery may be found in J.-P. Olivier de Sardan, Quand nos peres etaient captifs : recits paysans du Niger (Paris, 1976). 88 This point is also made by Olivier de Sardan in Meillassoux, L'Esclavage, 119. 89 Kopytoff and Miers, Slavery, 73. Despite his fuller understanding of what was done to slaves, Meillassoux does not do much better in explaining what they did (Indigenous Trade, 65). 90 Sidney Mintz emphasizes that culture is not just there; it is usedby some to justify domination, by others to deny their inferiority: Caribbean Transformations (Chicago, 1974), 18. On this topic imaginative use of slave sources is necessary, and the rich materials on the Southern United States provide a model. See John Blassingame (ed.), Slave Testimony : Two Centuries of Letters, Interviews, and Autobiographies (Baton Rouge, La., 1977), and Norman Yetman (ed.), Voicesfrom Slavery (New York, 1970). Genovese, Gutman and John Blassingame (The Slave Community, New York, 1972)



remembering where they came from and asserting the value of the way of life of their homelands, slaves struggled not to be absorbed. That the former slave-owners of the East African coast eventually adopted some of their ex-slaves' dances also tells us much about slavery. Slaves brought more to the societies they were forced to enter than their brawn, fighting ability and reproductive capacity. The master-slave relationship was a struggle, between individuals and at times between collectivities, in which each side used the political, economic, social and cultural resources it could muster to bend the interactive process to its own interests, and sometimes to break it altogether. It was an unequal struggle, but no slave-owning class, no matter how powerful, has ever made slaves into chattels and nothing more. suggest how such sources can be used to interpret the slaves' world and its connection with the masters'. Patterson, Stein, Price, Mintz (as cited above) and others have provided perceptive analyses of slave subcultures in the Caribbean and South America.