Slavery and the pre-colonial social structure:
Kinship formed the core of Africa's pre-colonial social structure.
Kinship relations and the kin group were dominant elements in Africa's
social system. Kinship provided both the idiom and the metaphor for
social relations. Kinship ties were derived from consanguinity,
marriage or adoption. Slaves were often integrated into the kin of
their owners either by adoption or marriage.
Among the Tuaregs and the
Berbers of North Africa, slaves were
regarded as part of the family (
Africa's Slaves Today, J. Derrick,
London 1975, p. 24-40). Baier and Lovejoy relate that the slave was
called AIklan by the Tuareg, and he/she was integrated into Tuareg
society at the level of the family. Slaves were fictive children and
they used kinship terms to address members of the owner's real family (The Tuareg of Central Sudan, Baier & Lovejoy, in S. Miers & I.
Kopytoff, Slavery in Africa, U.S.A. 1977, p.391-403).
The Maraka and the
Bambara in the Middle Niger Valley assimilated
slaves into the family. Unfortunately the Maraka threw away the
traditional social laws on slavery during the 19th century A.D. when the
Atlantic Slave Trade was at its peak. Consequently there was a marked
divergence between the theory and practice of slavery. Maraka slavery
became different from slavery as perceived and practiced by the
Bambara. The Maraka and the Bambara spoke the same language, lived in
the same ecological setting and participated in the same social
formation. A slave who found his/her way into a Bambara family in the
19th century A.D., tended to be assimilated more fully and more quickly
than one owned by a Maraka family.
(Maraka Society in the Middle Niger Valley, Roberts, in Lovejoy (
Ed.), The Ideology of Slavery in Africa, U.S.A. 1981, p. 178-180).
The Wolof and the
Senegambia integrated slaves into the
family but they did this slowly and gradually. This was also the case
among the Vai of Liberia and Sierra Leone (The Wolof and Serer of
Senegambia, Klein, In Miers & Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 290. The
Sierra Leone however made slaves part of the kin. By the second and
third generation they were related to free born members of the family-
they shared the same father or grandfather (The Mende of Sierra Leone,
Grace, in Miers & Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 417-419). In Ghana all the
ethnic groups integrated slaves into the family, lineage and clan. The
lineages were either patrilineal or matrilineal, depending on the
group. Many ethnic groups in Nigeria also integrated slaves into the
kin. For example the Igbo, Ibibio, Ijo, Aboh and Yoruba ( Miers &
Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 123-129; Lovejoy, Ideology, p. 41-42, 73-75).
In Central Africa lineage structures were the basic social
system. Slaves were assimilated into the local kin groups.
Some of the ethnic groups which practiced assimilation of
slaves were the Bakongo, Baluba, and the Lunda. The Ila of
Zambia assimilated their slaves gradually and slowly. The
little girls bought from neighbouring and culturally similar
peoples were however easily assimilated. The Ila of Zambia
and the Kerebe of Tanzania regarded the clan as the basic
social unit. They were patrilineal, and for those persons
who were no longer members of a clan as a result of slavery
or other circumstances, an arrangement was made by which
they could be incorporated into a new clan but in a servile
status ( Miers & Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 205-212, 243;
Lovejoy, Ideology, p. 41-42, 73-75; Miers, Slave Trade, p.
138-140; The Kerebe of Tanzania Hartwig, in Miers & Kopytoff,
Slavery, p. 265).
In Southern Africa the Cokwe of the Democratic Republic of
the Congo ( formerly Zaire)and Angola practiced
incorporative slavery. The Imbangala of Angola defined
slaves aspersons who had lost the names to which they had a
right by birth and had assumed low status positions
affiliated either to other lineages or to one of the Kasanje
political titles. The Imbangala used the positions for
aliens to assimilate other strangers of various sorts in
addition to slaves. The Sena of Mozambique defined the
position of slaves akaporo in kinship terms. Upon arrival in
their new homes, they received the mutapa or clan name of
their patron. This symbolic act created fictitious links in
the absence of blood relationship. The Akaporo addressed
their patrons as "baba" or father, used the appropriate kin
terms for other adopted relatives and paid homage to the
local ancestor spirits at periodic religious ceremonies (Imbangala
of Angola, Miller, in Miers & Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 205-212;
The Sena of Mozambique, B. Isaacman & Isaacman, in Miers &
Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 110-111).
A few African societies did not integrate or assimilate
their slaves. These were the Batawana of Botswana in
Southern Africa, the
Yao of East Africa, the Ila of Zambia,
the Duala of Cameroon and the
Shebro of Sierra Leone ( Miers
& Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 187,305-312, 367-388; Miers, Slave
Trade, p. 118).
Dr. Akosua Perbi - Manchester College - USA [full