Slaves & the Traditional Political Setting:
Political mobility was a very common phenomenon in pre-colonial
traditional African society. Among the Aboh of Nigeria a slave's
mobility depended to a considerable extent upon the status of his/her
owner. Those in the larger trading group advanced more rapidly. In the
Hausa-Fulani Emirates slaves could be appointed Village heads.
Some slaves in Bornu occupied important governmental positions. Slaves
among the Mende of Sierra Leone could achieve high political status,
sometimes that of a chief. Slaves could rise to high political offices
in the Efik Ward in Ibo, Ibibio and Ijo lands.
In Bonny and New Calabar, a slave could become Head of his House or
even found one. The famous Jaja of Opobo started his own House and
built a commercial empire. In the riverine trading centres and in most
of the hinterland of Nigeria there were avenues for political mobility.
The most remarkable example was Iron Bar, who lived on a 300
acre plantation bequeathed him by his master. Aspects of the Yoruba
world view stressed personal achievement and the possibility of social
and political mobility. Political mobility also occurred among the
Kanuris, Tuaregs and Toubous who inhabited parts of Northern Nigeria
and Southern Niger. ( The information on the first two paragraphs is
derived from Miers & Kopytoff, Slavery, p. 134-157, 157-170, 424;
Lovejoy, Ideology, p.107, 112-113, 127).
In Ghana the pre-colonial social structure was transposed into the
political realm. By virtue of his/her membership in his/her owner's
family, lineage and clan, a slave could rise to occupy a position of
authority especially if there were no suitable heirs. Examples abound
among all the ethnic groups. The Ashantes were perhaps the most
generous in allowing slaves to occupy stools ( the traditional symbol
A study of Ashante Oral Stool Histories compiled by Agyeman-Duah
for the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, Legon,
revealed the following:
The Ashante stools were 212 in number, out of these 36 Royal Ashante Stools were
occupied in the past by slaves and servants residing in the palaces.
There were 53 recorded instances when slaves succeeded to these stools.
31 of the 212 stools were created for slaves, servants and dependants
at the palace of the Asantehene for their faithfulness and hard work.
The stools were and are still called Esom Adwa or Bwa (Service
Stools). Slaves who had stools created for them attained the highest
political mobility in Ashante traditional circles and were regarded as
Dr. Akosua Perbi - Manchester College - USA [full