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THE CAMBRIDGE WORLD HISTORY

O F SL AV E RY
Volume 3: a d 1420a d 1804

Most societies in the past have had slaves, and almost all peoples have at some
time in their pasts been both slaves and owners of slaves. Recent decades have seen
a significant increase in our understanding of the historical role played by slavery
and wide interest across a range of academic disciplines in the evolution of the
institution. Exciting and innovative research methodologies have been developed,
and numerous fruitful debates generated. Further, the study of slavery has come
to provide strong connections between academic research and the wider public
interest at a time when such links have in general been weak. The Cambridge World
History of Slavery responds to these trends by providing for the first time, in four
volumes, a comprehensive global history of this widespread phenomenon from
the ancient world to the present day.
Volume 3 of The Cambridge World History of Slavery is a collection of essays
exploring the various manifestations of coerced labor in Africa, Asia, and the
Americas between the opening up of the Atlantic world and the formal creation of
the new nation of Haiti. The authors, well-known authorities in their respective
fields, place slavery in the foreground of the collection but also examine other
types of coerced labor. Essays are organized both nationally and thematically and
cover the major empires, coerced migration, slave resistance, gender, demography,
law, and the economic significance of coerced labor. Nonscholars will also find
this volume accessible.
David Eltis is Robert W. Woodruff Professor of History at Emory University
and research associate of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University. He
has also held visiting appointments at Harvard, Yale, and Oxford universities.
Eltis received his PhD from the University of Rochester in 1979. He is author of
The Rise of African Slavery in the Americas, co-author (with David Richardson)
of Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, and co-compiler of Slave Voyages at
www.slavevoyages.org. He co-edited and contributed to Extending the Frontiers:
Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (with David Richardson)
and Slavery in the Development of the Americas (with Frank D. Lewis and Kenneth
L. Sokoloff ) and edited Coerced and Free Migrations: Global Perspectives.
Stanley L. Engerman is John H. Munro Professor of Economics and Professor of
History at the University of Rochester. He has also previously taught at Harvard,
Yale, Oxford, and Cambridge universities. Engerman received his PhD in economics from Johns Hopkins University in 1962. He is the author of Slavery,
Emancipation, and Freedom: Comparative Perspectives and the co-author of Time
on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (with Robert Fogel) and
Naval Blockades in Peace and War: An Economic History Since 1750 (with Lance E.
Davis). He is also co-editor of A Historical Guide to World Slavery (with Seymour
Drescher); Finance, Intermediaries, and Economic Development (with Philip T.
Hoffman, Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, and Kenneth L. Sokoloff ); and The Cambridge
Economic History of the United States (with Robert E. Gallman).

Cambridge Histories Online Cambridge University Press, 2011

T H E C A M B R I D G E WO R L D H I S TO RY O F S L AV E RY

General editors
David Eltis, Emory University
Stanley L. Engerman, University of Rochester
Volume I: The Ancient Mediterranean World
Edited by Keith Bradley and Paul Cartledge
Volume II : ad 500ad 1420
Edited by David Eltis and Stanley L. Engerman
Volume III : ad 1420ad 1804
Edited by David Eltis and Stanley L. Engerman
Volume IV : ad 1804ad 2000
Edited by Seymour Drescher, David Eltis, and Stanley L. Engerman

Cambridge Histories Online Cambridge University Press, 2011

TH E CA M BRIDG E
WO R L D H I S TO RY O F
SL AVERY
VO LUME 3

ad 1420ad 1804
Edited by
DAVID ELTIS
Emory University
STANLEY L. ENGERMAN
University of Rochester

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C Cambridge University Press 2011

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception


and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without the written
permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published 2011
Printed in the United States of America
A catalog record for this publication is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data
Revised for volume 3
The Cambridge world history of slavery / edited by David Eltis and Stanley L. Engerman.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 978-0-521-84066-8 (hardback)
1. Slavery History. I. Eltis, David
II. Engerman, Stanley L. III. Title.
ht861.c34 2009
2009036356
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isbn 978-0-521-84068-2 Hardback
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guarantee that any content on such Web sites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

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CONTENTS

page ix
xi
xiii

List of Maps, Figures, and Tables


Contributors
Series Editors Introduction

Dependence, Servility, and Coerced Labor in Time and Space


david eltis and stanley l. engerman

part i: slavery in africa and asia minor


2

Enslavement in the Ottoman Empire in the Early Modern


Period
ehud r. toled ano

25

Slavery in Islamic Africa, 14001800


rudolph t. ware iii

47

Slavery in Non-Islamic West Africa, 14201820


g . ug o nwokeji

81

Slaving and Resistance to Slaving in West Central Africa


roquin ald o f erreira

111

White Servitude
w i l l i a m g . c l a r e n c e - s m i t h a n d da v i d e l t i s

132

part ii: slavery in asia


7

Slavery in Southeast Asia, 14201804


kerry ward

163

Slavery in Early Modern China


pamela kyle crossley

186

v
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vi

contents

part iii: slavery among the indigenous


americans
9

Slavery in Indigenous North America


leland donald

217

10

Indigenous Slavery in South America, 14921820


neil l. whitehead

248

part iv : slavery and serf d om in eastern europe


11

Russian Slavery and Serfdom, 14501804


richard hellie

275

12

Manorialism and Rural Subjection in East Central Europe,


15001800
edgar m elton

297

part v: slavery in the americas


13

Slavery in the Atlantic Islands and the Early Modern Spanish


Atlantic World
william d. phillips, jr.

325

14

Slavery and Politics in Colonial Portuguese America: The


Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Centuries
j o a o fragoso and ana rios

350

15

Slavery in the British Caribbean


philip d. morgan

378

16

Slavery in the North American Mainland Colonies


lorena s. walsh

407

17

Slavery in the French Caribbean, 16351804


laurent dubois

431

18

Slavery and the Slave Trade of the Minor Atlantic Powers


pieter emmer

450

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contents

vii

part vi: cultural and demographic patterns in


the americas
19

Demography and Family Structures


b. w. higman

479

20 The Concept of Creolization


richard price

513

21

538

Black Women in the Early Americas


betty wood

part vii: legal structures, economics, and the


movement of coerced peoples in the atlantic
world
22

Involuntary Migration in the Early Modern World,


15001800
dav id richardson

563

23

Slavery, Freedom, and the Law in the Atlantic World,


14201807
sue peabody

594

24

European Forced Labor in the Early Modern Era


timothy coates

631

25

Transatlantic Slavery and Economic Development in the


Atlantic World: West Africa, 14501850
joseph e. inikori

650

part viii: slavery and resistance


26

Slave Worker Rebellions and Revolution in the Americas


to 1804
mary turner

677

27

Runaways and Quilombolas in the Americas


m a n o l o fl o r e n t i n o a n d m a r c i a a m a n t i n o

708
741

Index

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LIST OF MAPS, FIGURES, AND TABLES

maps
9.1
12.1
14.1
14.2

Culture Areas of Indigenous North America


East Central Europe, ca. 1500
Brazil, Eighteenth Century
Portuguese Empire in America, Eighteenth Century

page 216
296
348
349

figures
27.1
27.2
27.3
27.4
27.5

Sambabaia Quilombo
River of Perdition Quilombo
Quilombo on a Tributary of the Perdition River
Ambrozio Quilombo
Sam Goncalo Quilombo

730
731
732
733
734

tables
10.1 Debts to be collected by the postmaster of Cuyuni
14.1 Distribution of registered slave baptisms: Sao Goncalo,
16511668
15.1 Slave populations of the British Caribbean, 16501830
15.2 Annual percentage decline (and increase) in the slave
populations of the British Caribbean, 16271825
18.1 Imports of slaves in Dutch Brazil, 16301653, by African
region of origin
18.2 Surinames trade balance/balance of payments, 17661776,
average per year
18.3 The Dutch slave trade, 16001800
18.4 Distribution of slave departures from Africa on Danish vessels
20.1 The African origins of Suriname slaves
22.1 Involuntary migration in the Old World, 15001800,
estimates and projections
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262
363
383
384
456
461
465
468
518
570

list of maps, figures, and tables

22.2 Africans and whites taken to the Americas, 15001800, by


subperiods
22.3 National participation in transatlantic slave trade, 15001800
22.4 Numbers of slaves shipped by African region of departure, all
carriers, 15001800
25.1 Merchandise carried to the African Coast by the Mary in 1684
25.2 Cowries carried to the Gold Coast from Britain, 18271850
(three-year averages in tons)
25.3 Distribution of commodities carried to the Bight of Benin
from Britain, select years, 16811724
25.4 Distribution of commodities carried to the Bight of Biafra
from Britain, select years, 16611791
25.5 Distribution of commodities carried to the Bights of Benin
and Biafra from Britain, select years, 18281850
27.1 Demographic profile of slaves in Taubate (17301830) and
Rio de Janeiro (17891835)
27.2 Demographic profiles of escaped slaves advertised in
newspapers in the Caribbean and the southern United States
(17301805)
27.3 Population estimates of some Minas Gerais quilombos
(17661770)

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574
582
586
665
666
666
667
668
709
714
726

CONTRIBUTORS

Marcia Amantino, Department of History, Universidade Federal do Rio


de Janeiro, Brazil
William G. Clarence-Smith, Department of History, School of Oriental
and African Studies, UK
Timothy Coates, Department of History, College of Charleston, USA
Pamela Kyle Crossley, Department of History, Dartmouth College, USA
Leland Donald, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Laurent Dubois, Department of History, Duke University, USA
David Eltis, Department of History, Emory University, USA
Pieter Emmer, Department of History, Leiden University, Netherlands
Stanley L. Engerman, Departments of Economics and History, University
of Rochester, USA
Roquinaldo Ferreira, Department of History, University of Virginia, USA
Manolo Florentino, Department of History, Universidade Federal do Rio
de Janeiro, Brazil
Joao Fragoso, Department of History, Universidade Federal do Rio de
Janeiro, Brazil
Richard Hellie, University of Chicago, USA (deceased)
B. W. Higman, Department of History, Australian National University,
Australia
Joseph E. Inikori, Department of History, University of Rochester, USA
Edgar Melton, Department of History, Wright State University, USA
Philip D. Morgan, Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, USA

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xii

contributors

G. Ugo Nwokeji, Department of African American Studies, University of


California, Berkeley, USA
Sue Peabody, Department of History, Washington State University, USA
William D. Phillips, Jr., Department of History, University of Minnesota,
USA
Richard Price, Department of Anthropology, College of William and Mary,
USA
David Richardson, Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and
Emancipation, University of Hull, UK
Ana Rios, Department of History, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro,
Brazil
Ehud R. Toledano, Department of History, Tel Aviv University, Israel
Mary Turner, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London,
UK
Lorena S. Walsh, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, USA (retired)
Kerry Ward, Department of History, University of Michigan, USA
Rudolph T. Ware III, Department of History, University of Michigan,
USA
Neil L. Whitehead, Department of Anthropology, University of Wisconsin,
USA
Betty Wood, Department of History, Cambridge University, UK

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SERIES EDITORS INTRODUCTION

This is the third volume of The Cambridge World History of Slavery, exploring the various manifestations of coerced labor in Africa, Asia, and the
Americas between the opening up of the Atlantic world and the formal
creation of the new nation of Haiti. Slavery has been among the most
ubiquitous of all human institutions, across time and place, from earliest
history until, some would argue, the present day. Yet its durability and
ubiquity are not widely recognised and, where they are, they seem poorly
understood by the general public and scholars alike. A central aim of these
volumes, which cover many different times and places, is to help to place
the existence and nature of slavery against the backdrop of the broader
human social condition.
Slavery has appeared in many different forms and is not always easy to
separate from other forms of coerced labor. Nevertheless, there are basic
similarities that emerge from the contributions that follow. Most critical
of these is the ownership of one human by another, and the ability to
buy and sell the human chattel such ownership creates. A second common
characteristic is the fact that chattel status is a heritable condition passed
down through the mother. Such characteristics are not to be found in the
more general category of coerced labor, as normally practiced. The latter
typically involves a general loss of citizenship rights, but not necessarily
ownership of one person by another and inherited status. Some scholars
regard slavery as part of a spectrum of coerced labor and dependency, but
the institution has maintained a distinctive legal existence in almost all
societies.

xiii
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CHAPTER 1

DEPENDENCE, SERVILITY, AND COERCED


LABOR IN TIME AND SPACE
david eltis and stanley l. engerman

Slavery is generally regarded as the most extreme form of dependency


and exploitation. This project attempts to cover types of dependency in
addition to slavery, although it is clear from both the overall title and
the program for the projects third volume that slavery gets considerably
more attention than do other types of dependency. This reflects in part the
modern preoccupation with individual freedom and equality before the law
accorded by citizenship now acknowledged, at least as an ideal, just about
everywhere in the modern world. Slavery may not be completely eradicated
today, but it had lost irrevocably the ideological struggle perhaps as early as
the first half of the nineteenth century, with only minor rearguard actions
(in ideological terms, that is) in the antebellum South and less certainly in
Hitlers Germany and the Soviet gulags. Such a circumstance amazing
in its rapidity and completeness from a worldwide historical perspective
of human behavior and beliefs is taken for granted today. The more
complete the victory of the view that slavery should not exist nor should
have ever existed, the more remote slavery itself appears, but at the same
time the greater the modern fascination with the institution becomes.
And the more remote it appears, the easier it is to treat slavery simply
as an evil practiced by evil men, and the harder it is to understand it in
human terms. At the very least, modern preoccupations with freedom and
individual rights drive the fascination with slavery. This phenomenon, an
outcome of the Enlightenment, shapes the form of the modern assault on
slavery.
General explanations of the rise and fall of slavery have not fared well
in recent years, as the great resources thrown into the study of slavery
from primary sources have revealed the richness and complexity of the
institution. As this suggests, such explanations tend to date from an era
predating our present age of extensive empirical research, and for the most
part focus on slavery or rather separate slavery from other forms of
dependency counter to what we wish to do. Such explanations are quite
good at describing how slavery functions but are weakest at accounting for
first, its rise, second, its fall, and third, why at times nonslave dependency
(for instance, serfdom) emerges as more important than chattel slavery.
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Most important of all, perhaps, they fail to explain the eligibility issue in
other words, why certain peoples are seen as qualifying for slavery (whereas
others are not), and why this changes over time. This last issue has become
of much greater interest in the last decade or so, as the realization spreads
that all peoples in the world have been at some time in their history
both slaves and owners of slaves, often at one and the same time. Having
dismissed general theories, we will nevertheless mention three of them here
as sometimes helpful. There is the general Marxist position, implicit in the
work of those who followed Marx, if not Marx himself, who had little to
say on the subject, which in broad terms takes the position that any ruling
class would wish to impose slavelike conditions on the rest of society and
is prevented from doing so only by resistance on the part of the potential
slaves. This position is tempered by an argument quite incorrect, in our
view that chattel slavery is not compatible with industrialization because,
in crude terms, advanced capitalism needs consumers and skilled workers
who respond to incentives. Thus, it is argued, slavery exists when conditions
hobble the ability of people to resist enslavement and tends to disappear
with the onset of industrialization. A second general position is that of
Jack Goody, who accepts the overwhelming power element of the previous
argument but interprets it in terms of states rather than classes. This has
the advantage of recognizing that most peoples in history have not enslaved
full members of their own society and have sought slaves from elsewhere.
It also projects to the level of the state the explanation Adam Smith offered
for slavery at the personal level, which was mans love to domineer. Such
an impulse would probably hold for both states and individuals even if
using free rather than slave labor might lead to more profits. Based mainly
on his study of African societies, Goody offers the general proposition
that any time a state was significantly more powerful than its neighbors,
one could expect the powerful state to use the weaker as a source of
slaves. A third general explanation is the now well-known Nieboer-Domar
hypothesis that focuses on the environment. It is a land-labor argument
that elegantly lays out the social consequences of land abundance. In short,
it holds that slavery will tend to emerge in such an environment because
one cannot have free land (in other words, a frontier open for settlement),
free workers willing to work for wages, and a nonworking land-owning
class at the same time. Only two of these three elements can exist at once.
Hence serfdom emerged in early modern Eastern Europe, and slavery
emerged in the Americas. We find this persuasive, but there is nothing to
account for why serfdom emerged and not slavery (and vice versa), why
slavery never appeared in many land-abundant environments especially
hunter-gatherer societies and why slavery disappeared in the Americas at
least several generations before the closing of the land frontier on the two
continents.

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dependence, servility, and coerced labor

Instead of dwelling further on these general theories, we would like,


at least at this stage of the project, to note the different forms of forced
dependency that have existed, as well as some common patterns in the
institution of slavery and how these have changed over time. If we are to
gain any insight into slavery, however, it must be assessed as part of a continuum of dependency typically seen as occupying the opposite pole from
free labor and separated from it by such institutions as indentured servitude, convict labor, debt peonage, and serfdom, to mention just a few
of the intervening categories. Institutionalized dependency and servitude
had been accepted without question in Western and non-Western cultures
alike, from the dawn of recorded history until the modern historical era,
and they have formed one of the basic institutions that have appeared in
almost every culture. Earlier discussions of dependency, and more specifically slavery, where they occurred, were couched in terms of how individual
slaves should be treated, who should be a slave, and how one could fall
into or lose slave status, but not whether the institution itself should exist.
Moreover, however firmly the modern mind sees free labor as the antithesis to slavery, free labor arguably did not exist at all until the nineteenth
century in the sense of the master-servant contract being enshrined in civil
rather than criminal law. For example, free labor emerged first in the United
States. As late as 1875 in England, a worker who refused to comply with
the terms of his contract was viewed as stealing from the employer. Indeed,
when the post-emancipation British West Indies colonial authorities introduced what the Colonial Office in London regarded as a harsh labor code,
it was pointed out that the new code was basically adapted from the British
Master and Servant Act. More recently, Kevin Bales has estimated that
27 million slaves lived in the late-twentieth-century world. It is possible to
question the definition he uses it appears to cover a range of dependency
relations rather than chattel slavery per se but even accepting it for the
moment, 27 million constitutes far less than 1 percent of todays global
population. Two and a half centuries ago (as Arthur Young, among others,
pointed out), a definition of unfree status similar to that employed by
Bales would have encompassed a majority share of the mid-eighteenthcenturys working population, whereas a definition of free labor in the
modern sense would have covered few, if any, waged workers in 1750 or in
any preceding era. Broadly, then, institutionalized coercive relationships,
whether for profit or for some more overtly social purpose, were normal
before the nineteenth century and have diminished rather dramatically
since.
Perhaps the first step is to recognize changes in the way societies have
defined the various forms of dependency. Thus, as already hinted, even the
nature of free labor has changed substantially within the confines of the
period to which volume three of the present project is devoted waged

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labor in seventeenth-century England (and even in mid-nineteenth-century


America) being taken as a sign that an individual could not possibly be
a full citizen. Among the more overt forms of dependency and coerced
labor, convict labor (in the sense of those guilty of offenses being required
to labor) by the state has increased dramatically since the early modern period. Prior to this, and in many non-Western environments long
afterward, those guilty of crimes against the community might be physically chastised or expelled. Punishment had few implications for labor. In
Western societies, physical chastisement came to be supplemented by, or in
some instances replaced with, incarceration, and expulsion became systematized into transportation. In both cases, however, convicts were frequently
expected to labor as well. The Siberian case is well known. Exile was stipulated as early as 1582, but the forced labor of exiles is an eighteenth-century
phenomenon, with, in the British case, a rapid switch from colonial North
America to the antipodes as the place of exile. The most striking example
is perhaps Australia, where shortly before the ending of transportation in
the 1850s, convicts brought halfway around the world formed a similar
proportion of the total population as had slaves in South Carolina less
than a century earlier, and a far greater proportion than was ever the case
in Siberia. They were also responsible for much of the infrastructure that
accelerated the economic development of Australia. Despite this, the exaction of labor was never the major reason for the creation of convicts in the
first place, or even, after conviction, for the existence of schemes that used
the labor of those convicted, such as workhouses, prison gangs, galleys,
soviet gulags, and transportation to distant colonies. Indeed, the history
of coerced labor in the context of the history of the communitys or states
need to punish transgressors seems a story of lost economic opportunity.
One possible reason for this is that few schemes to harness the labor of
convicts appeared to have warranted the expenditures they incurred at
least within the norms that most societies regarded as acceptable for the
treatment of convicts. If convicts had been treated like African slaves, then
there might have been different economic consequences.
In classical times, prisoners of war were probably the major source of
slaves, especially in the early expansionary days of the Roman Empire, as
was also the case more recently in Africa and the indigenous Americas.
Historically, capture in war has always been a justification of slavery. If a
victor has the power to end a persons life, then presumably the victor also
has the power to inflict social death, or slavery, as opposed to biological
death. A typical pattern at the conclusion of a battle was to inflict the
latter on adult males and the former (slavery) on women and children.
Such behavior is observed in the struggles between core states in Western
Europe and the peoples that spearheaded the great migration prior to the
fall of the Roman Empire and on down to the early Middle Ages. It was

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dependence, servility, and coerced labor

also prevalent in struggles between most premodern polities everywhere in


the world. The first effect of the emergence of large states and empires
whether in China, Mesoamerica, or the aforementioned case of Rome,
where state structures allowed the control of men as well as of women
and children was that men, too, became slaves. Yet in the European
world, treatment of prisoners of war changed rather decisively around the
twelfth century, as relative equality of power between European states (and
also between Islamic and Christian powers) and the attendant fear that
the defeated power might be the victor in the next conflict meant that
gradually more and more prisoners of war came to be exchanged or ransomed. Yet when Western European nations ended enslavement of one
another, they still carried on extensive warfare resulting in large-scale deaths,
rape, and pillaging. Whatever the reason, there is almost no evidence of
prisoners of war being enslaved in the European Atlantic world during
the era of American slavery, and indeed, no indication of servitude of any
length being exacted by the victors in the many intra-European wars of
the era (except, perhaps, for Dutch prisoners being put to work draining
the English fens in the seventeenth century for the duration of hostilities).
The major exception was prisoners of civil wars and those on the Celtic
fringe that resisted the expansionary impulses of the core states of Western
Europe, they were sent in large numbers to American plantations, at least
in the seventeenth century, but always as servants with fixed terms rather
than as chattel slaves, and with offspring who were free.
Debt bondage was a form of servitude based upon an initial agreement
to borrow funds and continued until the time, if ever, the debt was repaid.
The debt was payable by the family of the borrower if the latter was
unable to repay while alive. Lenders were accused of extending too much
credit or charging an excessively high interest rate so that repayment was
never possible. The borrower would therefore become bound for very long
periods, perhaps for life. Debt bondage was a system of coercion sometimes
associated with the post-chattel-slavery era, as manifested in nineteenthcentury India, but it was practiced widely and in some cases earlier in
other parts of Southeast Asia, as well as in Latin America, Africa, and
China.
Serfdom has a history going back to at least ancient Greece and formed
the basis of agricultural production and rural social structure alike in
Western European medieval countries. The classic explanations of its rise,
in what might be called its first resurgence in the aftermath of the fall of
the Roman Empire, allow for some peasant agency. The feudal contract
provided some protection from marauding invaders for those working the
land in return for feudal obligations to the lord, who provided the security.
From the late fifteenth to seventeenth centuries, serfdom went through
a second renaissance in Eastern Europe and, on a much smaller scale, in

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Scotland after seemingly heading toward insignificance in the West. Both


the scale and the intensity (that is, the restrictions applied to the peasant)
increased in the east through to the eighteenth century, as the Russian
and Prussian states extended the area under their control eastward. By
late in that century, there were probably more serfs in Europe, including
Russia, than ever before. Expansion also meant that the term serf came
to cover a much wider range of servile relationships than earlier. Serfdom
may have disappeared in Scandinavia, England, and the Netherlands, but
in most parts of Western Europe, including Germany and France, peasants
still owed residual obligations to landholders. Indeed, in Germany, such
obligations acted as a major restraint on German migration to both east
and west, as German peasants had to compensate their lords before they
could legally migrate. Peasant support for the early stages of the French
Revolution is testimony enough to the significance of similar obligations
west of the Rhine.
The new full serfdom that developed in Eastern Europe from the sixteenth century varied somewhat from its Western predecessor. Although
primarily a means of ensuring that landholders would have a supply of
labor, and the state a pool of potential soldiers, a new form of serfdom also
showed up, stripped of its military aspects, in mines in Scotland, Germany,
and even in the lead mines of Elizabethan England. In the Scottish case,
valuations of the collieries reflected the number, age, and sex of the serf
workforce in a way familiar to those who have studied probate records or
deeds in plantation regions in the Americas. In addition, the second serfdom showed much less evidence of the contractual (implicit or otherwise)
basis for serf status that historians have seen in its Dark Ages predecessor.
The new lands acquired by an expanding Russian state were taken from
indigenous, mainly Turkic, peoples and remained highly insecure. Hundreds of thousands of Russians and other Slavic peoples fell victim to slave
raids and died in servitude in Islamic and Christian Middle Eastern regions,
as indeed the origin of the term slave suggests. Nevertheless, there is little
sense of a contractual relationship between the peasant on the one hand and
the state, or the local pomeschiki class in Russian history, on the other. The
expansion of serfdom occurred overwhelmingly at the initiative of an
expanding militaristic state. Equally important, some Eastern serfs came
to have fewer ties with the land in law, in the sense that both state and
seigneurial peasants in Russia could be forcibly moved to new lands in a
way that would not have been imaginable in medieval Western Europe,
and which was redolent of chattel-slave status. Under such circumstances
given the heritability of serf status drawing a legal or behavioral line
between serf and slave status becomes difficult.
If the resurgence of serfdom in the east changed the nature of serfdom,
completely new forms of coercive relationships appeared in northwestern Europe. The aforementioned master-servant contract, as it evolved in

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the aftermath of the Great Plague, recognized the right of the master to
physically chastise the servant and charge the servant with theft in the
event that the latter did not meet the terms of the contract. From the
broad global perspective, what is extraordinary about such a relationship
is the voluntary nature of the initial contract and the fact that it could be
renewed at least once a year. Rural fairs in northwestern Europe became
not just markets for surplus produce but, late in each year, nascent markets
for labor as well. In the global history of dependency and coercive labor,
this was a watershed in the evolution of agency on the part of those
without property or without kin. The evolution of the master-servant relationship has received very little attention, at least from the comparative
perspective. Equally unique in global terms was the system it spawned
for facilitating large-scale transoceanic travel. As it evolved in England,
the master-servant contract provided the initial basis for the repeopling
of the Americas, and much later, the first large-scale movement of Asian
peoples to the semitropical Americas. In its first manifestation, it came to
be called indentured servitude; in its second, contract labor. In both cases,
there was a largely voluntary contract in which individual workers gave up
several years of their working lives in return for the cost of passage. During
the period of the contract, there were clear analogies with slavery in that
the contract could be sold and severe restrictions placed on the rights of the
worker to move or to avoid the obligations incurred. Once more, the full
weight of the criminal law was applied against the servant for noncompliance, but not against the master. The length of the term of labor required
appears to have varied closely with key variables such as the age and skill
level of the laborer and the distance (and thus the cost) of the migrants
passage.
Major change occurred within the slavery category over the centuries
preceding its abolition. There are, arguably, three aspects of slave societies
that at a preliminary view are to be found across cultures, although the
incidence and distribution of these forms do seem to vary in a systematic
fashion. As with attempts at definition, these may seem vague and indefinite, but they help provide some analytical grounding for an important
issue. First, and perhaps most common from a transglobal perspective, was
slavery as a system of augmenting and sustaining the survival of the group
as a social entity, whether based on some conception of kinship or set of
religious beliefs. Such slavery is more likely to be open, that is, to provide
for eventual entry into full membership of society through a process of a
gradual reduction in marginality of either the slave or, more likely, the
descendants of the slave (though the stigma of slave origins could survive
for many generations). Slavery of this type could be associated with large
state structures, as in many Islamic polities, or in smaller societies on either
side of the shift to settled agriculture, as in the indigenous Americas and
pre-nineteenth-century Africa.

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A second type of slavery was, as a system, directly organized by the state


to achieve communal goals perhaps the maintenance of public works,
as in irrigation systems, fortifications, or the clearing of salt deposits to
permit agriculture, or to provide soldiers for offensive or defensive purposes.
Examples could be found in most phases of Chinese history (referred to
sometimes as Oriental despotism), in fourteenth- to sixteenth-century
Korea, and in Ancient Egypt. Both the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire
and the genizaros of Spanish New Mexico would also qualify.1 A third type
is as a system for extracting high levels of output from labor for profit
of private individuals. Although the state was not directly involved as an
owner (though in the early modern period, Atlantic European navies did
ship some slaves across the Atlantic, and European armies bought African
slaves for military purposes galley oarsmen as well as the regular army),
the state normally had to provide the legal structure for the enforcement
of ownership rights of slaveholders and, ultimately, the armed force that
sustained the private use of slaves. There are probably no occupations
that have been performed by nonslaves that have not also been performed
by slaves, yet historically, some activities have clearly had a larger slave
component than others. Concentration of slaves in particular tasks may
be attributed broadly to the ability of nonslaves to avoid activities that
were particularly unpleasant. For two centuries after the mid-seventeenth
century, field labor on plantations in the Americas was evidently one such
activity. In some societies in the classical era, the focus on production did
not preclude the eventual entry of some slaves into mainstream society. We
can probably all think of cases that fit none of these three categories the
tribute slaves that came into the Aztec Empire from the north, many of
whom ended up as sacrificial victims, to provide one example.2 Yet some
broad categorization is useful to get an analytical grasp on an institution
as ubiquitous as slavery few peoples on the globe have not at some point
in their history been slaves and owners of slaves, often at the same time.
Given these changing conceptions of dependency, it is somewhat tricky
to evaluate the relative importance of the different forms of dependency
and coercion over time. Even without such a consideration, the different
types do on occasion occur together. Thus, the bulk of European convicts
sent overseas before 1800 were in fact sold in the same manner as indentured
servants to private owners, with only a longer term of service separating
them from their nonconvict counterparts. But as social observers from
1 James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill, NC, 2002), pp. 12142.
2 The historiography on slavery in the Aztec Empire is extremely thin, but see Robert D. Shadow
and Maria J. Rodriguez, Historical Panorama of Anthropological Perspectives on Aztec Slavery, in
Barbro Dahlgren and Ma De Los Dolores Soto de Arechavaleta (eds.), Arqueologia del Nort y del
Occidente de Mexico: Homenaje al Doctor J. Charles Kelley (Mexico City, 1995), pp. 299323.

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Aristotle to Marx and Foucault have noted, there can be no doubt that
in addition to changes within a given form, major shifts have taken place
in the relative importance of different forms. As already suggested, recent
interpretations stress that free labor as we understand it today did not
exist prior to the nineteenth century. But even understood in seventeenthcentury terms, it had neither a long history nor a very wide currency outside
relatively small enclaves in Western Europe. For convicts and perhaps
prisoners of war, significant numbers could not be expected before the
creation of a state system and bureaucracy to maintain them and administer
their activities. Galleys in the Mediterranean drew on this form of labor
(as well as on nonconvict slaves) from antiquity to the eighteenth century,
but it is unlikely that convicts ever formed more than a tiny share of
either the labor force or, more broadly, the unfree, even in societies with
sophisticated state structures. The same is true of indentured servitude and
contract labor, which did not appear at all until the seventeenth century
and thereafter never accounted for anything approaching majority status
in any society. Serfdom, by contrast, was usually widespread if it existed
at all, especially if we define it in the broadest possible way to include all
relationships where individuals gained access to land to produce their own
commodities in exchange for varying circumscriptions of personal actions
and the acknowledgment of obligations to others.
The chronology of the initial appearance of the three systems discussed
in this chapter broadly follows the order in which they were described.
Slavery dedicated to augmenting the numbers and sustaining the identity
of societies or religions is usually associated with Islam, sub-Saharan Africa,
or the indigenous Americas, but it now seems to have application for
many parts of the premodern world. As that world is also largely preorthographic, historical evidence of it tends to come from oral tradition or
from those post-orthographic societies with which the premodern society
interacted. This means essentially that evidence of such slavery is scarce in
the years before Chinese and European expansion, but there seems little
reason to doubt that it existed and, indeed, may well have been universal
in post-neolithic societies. More broadly, an argument might be made that
the basic social structure in such environments was not class but kinship,
and that slavery was a normal component of kinship structures. This is
not to suggest that slavery then was widespread. Too many slaves would
be likely to overwhelm the absorptive function of the institution and
threaten collective identities as indeed happened in several indigenous
American societies in the aftermath of the demographic calamity triggered
by Old World contact. A slave in the two later types of slave systems
described earlier was usually without any rights in law and passed on his
or her status to any offspring. In kin-based societies, by contrast, slaves
or their descendants might gradually receive back certain rights as they

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demonstrated acceptance of kinship identity through their behavior. As


there is no clear dividing line between slave and nonslave, assessments of
the extent of such slavery must necessarily be fragile. Nevertheless, in the
absence of severe demographic stress, people without rights at any given
point in time must have formed a very small proportion of the populations
of kin-based societies. From another perspective, however, one that counts
as servile all those who were not full members of the kin group and were
therefore in part dependents of those who were full members, then we
might say that the servile would often, perhaps normally, account for the
majority of the population.
Systems of slavery dedicated to the extraction of labor, whether for public
projects or for the production of export crops organized for the benefit of
private individuals, are normally associated with stratified societies that
have moved some distance beyond the agricultural revolution. When these
appear, it is possible to think in terms of slave societies instead of societies
with slaves, to use Moses Finleys well-known designations. It is also
probable that slavery of this type was what the major social science modelers
of slavery, both Marx and Engels, Nieboer, and Domar, had in mind.
Indeed, this form of slavery is what most people have in mind when they
think of the subject at all, especially those who have used the term slavery
to draw attention to abusive or exploitative labor situations from early times
to the present day. Many Caribbean islands had more than three quarters
of their populations as chattel slaves with no prospect of change of status
prior to the abolitionist era. Brazil probably approached a point where half
of its population was enslaved at several points prior to the early nineteenth
century. Yet because of the absolute nature of the definition of slavery in
these societies, and the rarity of any intermediary category between slavery
and freedom, the proportion of the population that had full rights was
actually quite high from the global historical perspective adopted here,
and high, too, compared to the share of free people using here modern
definitions of freedom that existed in the countries of Western Europe
that owned these islands. Though the share of slaves in Rome, Greece,
and the slave Americas was much higher than was ever the case in kinbased societies that used slavery as a way of augmenting their numbers and
sustaining their identities, there have been relatively few slave societies
in history. They appeared relatively late in human social evolution, and
though they have had a very high profile in recorded history being
associated usually with imperial systems and human progress to borrow
David Brion Daviss ironic association they probably never accounted for
anything like the majority of slaves on the globe at any point in history.
Thus, most slaves in history have experienced their servitude in what are
today termed premodern social environments. It also seems highly probable
that the number of slaves in the Americas has always lagged behind the
number of serfs in the Old World.

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The advent of large-scale slave societies did not mean that the original
kin-based form of slavery disappeared. The two, sometimes all three, forms
of slavery existed at the same time. In the Atlantic world, some scholars
argue that the kin-based system of slavery at the periphery of capitalist
development in both Africa and the indigenous Americas was transformed
by a burgeoning Atlantic-based market system into something more akin
to slavery in the plantation Americas. Thus, by the nineteenth century,
the Cherokee in the United States owned cotton plantations worked by
African slaves, and slaves owned by Africans in different parts of subSaharan Africa grew peanuts and cloves for sale into the Atlantic economy.
Yet the total value of such activities is so small when compared to the
value of any major crop in the white-dominated plantation Americas that
such a slippage into a new form of slavery cannot have been extensive.
A much stronger consequence of contact between different systems was
that plantation societies drew on their kin-based counterparts for slaves,
first in the Americas, then on the African coast, and finally in Dutch Asia.
Slaves traded between the two systems were individuals without any rights
whatsoever in either sphere, but the trade ensured that they shifted from an
environment where a reduction of their social marginality was possible to
one in which the gradual reclaiming of rights was an unlikely eventuality.
Returning to the overview of dependency and coerced labor over the very
long run, we can observe three major patterns. First, though slavery was
ubiquitous, the share of slaves in kin-based slave systems was not likely to
have been very great. However, if we define freedom as emanating from full
membership of a given society so that, first, one has the right to participate
in the decision making of the kin or community in which one lives, and
second, one is in possession of most of the bundle of rights that make
up possessive individualism, then the share of free individuals in kin-based
societies was also small. Thus, the vast majority of people in most societies
in history have been neither slave nor free, once we consider the limited
rights to political participation that existed, and not just freedom from
labor coercion. A second pattern is the polarization process that appears
to have been associated with the rise of more complex economies and
imperial systems. The share of both slave and free in such societies appears
to have risen sharply, and the intervening categories of dependence have
almost disappeared. This observation is another way of approaching the
paradox that has drawn the attention of Orlando Patterson, who has argued
that our understanding, indeed awareness, of freedom was dependent on
slavery.3 The lines between slave and free (defined in terms of citizenship)
were clearly delineated in Greek, Roman, and, with a religious orientation,
Islamic societies, too. The slave-free dichotomy was perhaps at its starkest
in the Americas.
3

Orlando Patterson, Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (New York, 1991).

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A third major pattern has been the rise and fall of the incidence of
coercive systems in the last five centuries, in a world in which kin-based
systems of slavery continued to thrive. From the fifteenth to the early twentieth centuries, systems of serfdom, slavery, convict labor, and indentured
servitude expanded dramatically and in close unison. Four out of five
transatlantic migrants prior to 1820 arrived in the Americas owing service
to another, most of them having been physically coerced into leaving their
country of origin. Yet in little more than a century, coercive migrant systems had disappeared. The last slave ship crossed the Atlantic in 1867,
the last transoceanic contract labor vessel (with terms of service enforced
with penal-code sanctions) arrived in 1917, and the last convicts returned
from Devils Island to France in 1952. A related and even more important
development was the virtual disappearance of all ideological justifications
of inequality and dependence. In the twentieth century, there have been
intense debates on the meaning of freedom, but none at all on its desirability. The net result is that from the perspective of the early twenty-first
century, while inequality is clearly rife in the modern world, there is no
attempt to justify it in the terms employed in the earlier debates. The
ideological shift has swept away not only the American slave plantation,
but, almost as comprehensively, the kin-based systems of slavery in the
indigenous Americas, in Africa, and in Asia. At no point in history has
the share of the global population who see themselves as full members of
society been as great as it is now.
Although slavery today is seen as the epitome of evil, its stigma is not
entirely a function of modern conceptions of freedom. However much
slavery has historically formed part of a range of dependent relations, it
has tended to be regarded across cultures at best as a particularly hard and
unfortunate fate, and at worst as the ultimate degradation for any human
being. In many social environments, it has been viewed not as an alternative to death, but as a fate worse than death, although most societies that
had some form of human sacrifice also had slavery. Individuals who sold
themselves into slavery did so only as a last resort, thus suggesting that
avoidance of slavery was of paramount importance to them. The stigma
of a slave-ancestor in most non-Western societies was (and in many, still
is) widespread. Long before the abolition process was complete, Frederick
Douglass made it clear to supporters of other social reforms that antislavery
should have priority because there was nothing at all to compare with its
malevolent impact.4 Scholars of the social history of the colonial Americas
have equated the conditions of indentured servants, convict and contract
4 David Roediger, Race, Labor, and Gender in the Languages of Antebellum Social Protest, in
Stanley L. Engerman (ed.), Terms of Labor: Slavery, Serfdom and Free Labor (Stanford, CA, 1999),
pp. 17583.

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laborers, and even free wage-workers with those endured by slaves.5 Nevertheless, there could have been few slaves at any point in the history of
slavery in the Americas who would have spurned an opportunity to switch
their status with that of any one of these nonslave groups, just as few in
history have opted to enslave themselves. The distinctiveness of slavery in
historical (as opposed to modern) terms seems to lie in the close to absolute
one-sidedness of power in the master-slave relationship, at least in formal
legal terms. Even where slavery might offer freedom from starvation and on
occasion greater life expectancy, the disutility of the institution in the form
of being in the power of another was overwhelming. Nonslaves always had
more protection against the power of a social superior or an employer than
did slaves. In the end, social norms offered far more protection for serfs,
convicts, servants, prisoners of war, contract workers, debt peons, apprentices, and the myriad other forms of dependency (including children and
wives) than they did for slaves. Put another way, these groups were less
marginal to society than were slaves a conclusion that appears to hold
for all societies. Even in societies where the exaction of labor was not the
central function of slavery, they were less likely than slaves to be sacrificed,
sold off in times of social stress, or denied rights over offspring and spouses.
What follows from the uniquely degrading nature of slavery observed
here is a central set of questions for the present volume. What is it that determines who is to be a slave, and how does this shift over time and between
societies? Given that the potential for abolition has always existed in the
sense that, in every culture, there were large numbers of people usually
the vast majority who were considered exempt from slavery. Is abolition,
then, nothing more than the extension of this exemption to everyone in
a given society and, eventually, the attribution of all the characteristics of
full personhood to all aliens as well? If so, then just as important as the
type and function of coercion is the question of which groups are viewed
as eligible for coercion, and why direct coercion has come to play a very
much smaller role in the way societies function than has hitherto been the
case. It is striking that few of the major models of slavery have made much
effort to address the issue of eligibility for enslavement. Whether land-labor
ratios (Nieboer-Domar), or power imbalances between societies (Goody),
or simply the love to domineer (Adam Smith), general explanations have
focused very much on the conditions under which slavery might appear or
intensify, and on the prerequisites of its abolition. For most of the history
of slavery, such a focus was entirely appropriate. Major centers of slavery
have often drawn slaves from one particular region so that the name for
slave became synonymous with the name of the dominant peoples in the
5 See, for example, Hilary McD Beckles, White Servitude and Black Slavery in Barbados, 16271715
(Knoxville, TN, 1989).

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region of provenance. In French Canada, panis, an ethnic designation,


was the standard name for slaves whatever the ethnicity of the slave. In
colonial Brazil a similar merging came about under the term tupi, and
the origin of the term slave, as is well known, comes down to us from a
time when the great bulk of slaves entering the Mediterranean area were
drawn from slavic regions. Yet prior to the fifteenth century, it was rare to
have eligibility for enslavement defined in terms of physical characteristics
or even racial constructions. Cranial deformation, or its absence, among
Northwest Pacific Coast peoples comes closest, but it was never an absolute marker for slavery.6 For the great modelers of slavery, it was enough
to acknowledge that slavery was associated with extreme degradation, and
then move on to the social, psychological, or environmental factors that
shaped how extensive the institution of slavery would be, and what form
it would take. And most of the historiography on slavery has followed suit
by keying on rather narrow cost-benefit considerations and power relationships between groups when addressing historical shifts in the composition
of people making up slave populations as opposed to explaining why
slavery per se has existed.7
It is impossible to address the question of eligibility without taking into
account how any group responsible for enslavement perceived and defined
itself in relation to others. In recent decades, this has come to be known
as the question of identity. Societies have tended to reserve enslavement
for those whom they have defined as not belonging, but this has not
always meant that all aliens were enslaved, or that all slaves were aliens.
There have been many instances in history of societies generating slaves
from within their own ranks, but this has usually occurred only after
the potential slave has violated, or is thought to have violated, the most
profoundly held norms of society. In addition, exposure of infants (parents
abandoning a child), typically practiced by all social ranks, was a source of
internally generated slaves in many societies, including ancient Rome and
China, which suggests that some acculturation or nurturing process was a
prerequisite of belonging, or insider status.
In early Rome, citizens could be reduced to slaves, and twins in many
Igbo communities were sold into the Atlantic slave trade directly from
Igboland.8 It was easier to become a slave from within some societies
than from within others, just as the ease of reduction of marginality (and
6 Leland Donald, Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America (Berkeley, CA, 1997),
pp. 945.
7 H. Hoetinks work on somatic norms, not often cited recently, is an exception to this comment.
8 Almost all the twins in a sample of 57,000 Africans taken out of slave ships by British cruisers and
landed in Sierra Leone between 1819 and 1845 were on vessels that left Bonny, New Calabar, and Old
Calabar [Nutritional Trends in Africa and the Americas: Heights of Africans, 18191839, Journal of
Interdisciplinary History, 12 (1982): 45375], as were the vast majority of the small number of recaptives
in the Liberated African Registers with disabilities.

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thus protection against the worst consequences of enslavement) varied.


In parts of Europe in the Middle Ages, the problem of excess children
was solved by infanticide and abandonment, whereas in some societies in
Africa and Asia, the same issue was resolved by involuntary enslavement
of such children. In the slave Americas, manumission a clear example of
reduction of marginality was more possible in Iberian than in Englishspeaking areas, but on the other hand, the Iberian Americas were the very
last to abolish slavery on the two continents an unexpected negative
correlation. The most well-known survey of slavery and kinship in an
African context focuses almost entirely on the movement from outsider to
insider status.9 The reverse process in effect how an insider becomes a
slave has received little attention for any society. Generally, however, there
was some formal process whereby the erstwhile insider was redefined as an
outsider, or else, as in the case of Russia, owners believed that their human
chattels were physically different from themselves when the reality pointed
in quite the opposite direction. Nevertheless, the vast majority of slaves
in history have originated from outside the group that was responsible for
their enslavement.
The conception of not belonging appears to form the core element
of eligibility for slavery across cultures whether or not the institution
functioned primarily to extract labor or to add and integrate newcomers to
the slave owners social group. In addition, however, gender and age were
major considerations at different times. Where the main aim of slavery
was to augment ones social or religious group, then women and children
would likely be preferred to adult males, who, as already suggested, might
be put to death immediately or, as in Tupinamba societies in Brazil, held for
sacrifice at a point in the future decided by the captor. The trade in slaves
across the Sahara Desert to the Islamic Mediterranean, which grew from a
trickle of people in the early days of Islam to a stream ultimately rivaling in
numbers the better-known transatlantic trade, was overwhelmingly female,
and some of the few male slaves involved were destined to be eunuchs.
As the previous discussion suggests, societies seeking to augment their
numbers, and ultimately their cultures and/or religions, were extremely
eclectic in their selection of potential slaves. The whole point of acquiring
such slaves was not just to inflict social death, but also to facilitate social
rebirth. The basic aim was to create a new social identity to produce
more people who in the end behaved and thought like the host group,
and might fight alongside them. Children from any culture presumably
have the potential for assuming new identities, and the chief purpose of
preserving women after capture was to ensure a broader base for society
9 Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff (eds.), Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropologival Perspectives
(Madison, WI, 1977).

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to reproduce itself in its own image. Slavery supported by major state


structures could more easily cope with adult male slaves. The ultimate
aim, however, was nevertheless to refashion newcomers according to the
needs of the host society. Most countries in the modern world have had the
same attitude toward todays voluntary immigrants. In the United States
and Europe, there is a set of core values, loosely described as Western,
that all newcomers are expected to believe in and accept. Assimilation
was intended to be the main outcome of the melting pot. The major
difference between this and enslavement as traditionally enforced is that
the decision to migrate today is voluntary. Entry into the new society is
no longer preceded by social death or in the case of the Mintz and Price
formularization of creolization in the Americas, by the traumatic relocation
inflicted by the Middle Passage.
But in some cases, women and children were simply not available. From
the point at which Christendom and Islamic societies reached military
stalemate in early Middle Ages, slaves acquired by one from the other
tended to be drawn from the mainly male world of ships and the military,
and despite the fact there may have been more English slaves held in North
Africa than black slaves in the English Caribbean in the second half of the
seventeenth century, neither were at that time very numerous. In recent
years, historians have begun to draw explicit comparisons between kinship
structures and bondage in widely separated parts of the world, especially
sub-Saharan Africa and the temperate areas of the indigenous Americas.
Whereas Europeans carried off 12.5 million Africans to the Americas in
just more than three centuries, Africans absorbed few if any Europeans
into their own societies.10 In the celebrated case of Bullfinche Lambe, an
Englishman was held captive by the king of Dahomey for several years and
was eventually released. But the basic reason for the imbalance, apart from
the fact that few Europeans could survive in sub-Saharan Africa, was the
almost total absence of European women and children on the African coast,
and the essentially nonconfrontational nature of the relationship between
African polities and European slave traders. Not only were there few European captives, but Europeans could usually pay what was necessary to
gain the release of captives before the reduction of marginality had proceeded very far.11 In the temperate North Americas, by contrast, there was
large-scale settlement by Europeans in the aftermath of the demographic
disaster that overtook the Indian population. These factors ensured that
some French, English, and Spanish (and many more of Euro-aboriginal
10 David Eltis and David Richardson, A New Assessment of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, in idem
(eds.), Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database (New Haven, CT,
2008), pp. 160.
11 See, for example, the process described by Suzanne Schwarz, Slave Captain: The Career of James
Irvine in the Liverpool Slave Trade (Wrexham, 1995).

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parentage) women and children, and even some men, became absorbed
into indigenous societies via the enslavement mechanism, though obviously the numbers never approached those of Indians enslaved by Europeans. Though initially Europeans sought labor, they later strove to bring
about the complete assimilation of whole Indian populations in what was
one of the most blatant of European attempts to recast social identity.
Even African slaves were expected to take a role in white society a partial
assimilation presaged in the Iberian areas with conversion to Christianity,
learning a new language, and conforming to European behavioral norms.
From this perspective, the differences between slavery designed to extract
labor and slavery designed to augment and perpetuate the host social group
fades somewhat.
If societies seeking slaves for any purpose happened to draw disproportionately on a particular region or ethnicity, this was rarely because
the people of the target group were seen as having the best potential for
enslavement. Slavish personalities attributed to slaves and serfs, or the
peoples from whom slaves were drawn, have formed part of the ideology of
slavery since written records first appeared. Nevertheless, any examination
of the composition of slave-labor forces and conquered peoples in the
major empires from ancient China down to the very early modern Atlantic
empires indicates that the enslaved comprised a bewildering mix of peoples.
The same was true of systems such as those in the indigenous Americas,
where the Iroquois, for example, brought in so many newcomers from so
many ethnic backgrounds that social identity could never become uniform in spite of the fact that enslavement and absorption were designed
to achieve the opposite effect.12 Broadly, for all systems, shifting power
relationships between societies, as well as environmental and demographic
considerations, usually ensured a heterogeneous mix of slaves in the long
run.
In the late Middle Ages, this situation began to change. Partly because
of the aforementioned stalemate between Islam and Christendom, and
more particularly because of rising slavic, especially Russian, power in
the east, the flow of slaves into Islamic areas from the north and west
gradually declined. As a consequence, the relative importance of southern
regions specifically sub-Saharan Africa as a source of slaves for Islam
increased. Growing distinctions between white and black slaves are quite
apparent in Islam from the ninth century if not even earlier. Different terms
evolved abd for all slaves, but mamluk came to be used for white
slaves and higher valuations for whites appear in the record, presumably
reflecting the greater likelihood of whites being ransomed. The harder
12 Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires and Republics in the Great Lakes Region,
16501815 (Cambridge, 1991).

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tasks were assigned to blacks.13 Thus, the linking of race and slavery in
the context of the Americas had little precedent in the Old World. By the
nineteenth century, the overwhelming share of slaves in the Arab world
was from sub-Sahara Africa, or was of sub-Saharan African descent, and
the association of black skin with slavery became ever stronger. European
expansion into the Atlantic world from the early fifteenth century brought,
first, cheap transoceanic transportation, second, a demographic calamity
in the Americas, third, the prospect of exportable quantities of precious
metals and high-value crops, and fourth, labor productivity that was much
higher in the New World than in the Old. The resulting transatlantic slave
trade, after relatively modest beginnings in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries, built up to hitherto unimaginable levels of mass movement of
peoples in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. That the vast
majority of the people who made this move were unwilling Africans was
precisely because the peoples of Europe had some choice over the decision
to migrate. When the options in the Americas narrowed to working on a
sugar estate the major reason for people crossing the Atlantic for nearly
three centuries after the late 1500s then voluntary migrants avoided
the plantation labor force option and did their moving within Europe
rather than between continents, but when alternative forms of agriculture
developed, free-labor migration was renewed on a much larger scale. Once
again, the fact that conceptions of freedom in Europe had shifted to permit
most individuals control over the decision to migrate, plus, as described
later, the invisible barrier that prevented Europeans from enslaving other
Europeans, generated more coercion and more slavery for non-Europeans.
In both the Atlantic and, less certainly, the Islamic world, for the first time
eligibility for enslavement began to be defined not in terms of which group
to exclude, but rather which groups to include. Muslims debated the issue
extensively, and in addition, had a formal proscription against enslaving
other Muslims (as opposed to automatically manumitting those enslaved
chattels who converted to Islam). The Spanish debated the enslavement
of indigenous Americans, but the striking feature of the establishment of
African slavery in the Americas was the set of underlying assumptions about
who could be enslaved. Indeed, the absence of a major debate except for
the Spanish case is probably responsible for the failure of historians to
explore the eligibility issue in the European context.
There was nothing in European history to suggest either a turning away
from coercion or restrictions on who should be subject to enslavement.
Europe was a conglomeration of competing polities with extensive written
records of military conflicts, civil wars, and the repression of minority systems of thought, especially religious thought. Most states evolved unequal
13

Bernard Lewis, Race and Color in Islam (New York, 1971), pp. 634.

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and rigid social structures early on that fostered some slavery and a great
deal of serfdom, as well as centralized judicial systems that meted out
punishments for wrongdoing and heresy that appear harsh compared to
slavery itself. Slavery had been extensive in Roman times, and for nearly six
hundred years after the fall of Rome, a slave trade from the less developed
north, west, and east of Europe sent a stream of slaves drawn from various European peoples to the more prosperous areas of the south and the
Mediterranean increasingly Islamic after the seventh century.14 Relations
between European polities and the fringe areas of Europe, especially the
marauding leading edges of the Great Migrations, had a large enslavement
component on both sides, and the system of serfdom thought to have
developed as a response to these pressures was clearly related to slavery.
In addition, in the late Middle Ages, plagues reduced western European
populations by one-third and created a large shortage of labor. But despite
all the precedents and pressures that appeared to point to more coercion
and more slavery, between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries, the internal
European slave trade dried up completely, slavery itself diminished significantly throughout Europe, and the institution disappeared altogether in
the north and west of the subcontinent.
More remarkably, when Europeans expanded into new lightly populated, land-abundant territories, the overseas component of that expansion
in the West (but curiously, not its eastern counterpart) demonstrated that
Europeans were prepared to enslave the peoples they found in those territories, and to relocate millions of others Indians, Africans, and Asians alike.
Demographic collapse, and in the Spanish case some ideological reservations, soon eliminated indigenous Americans as slaves,15 and though the
Dutch carried Asians to South Africa as slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and all Europeans used enslaved Asians in Asia in mainly
domestic contexts, only distance from the Americas ensured that no Asians
worked in Caribbean cane fields prior to the nineteenth century. In early
Brazil, the Portuguese drew extensively on Indian communities for slave
labor to produce sugar. The Spanish used variations of corvee labor as well
as some Africans to exploit precious mineral deposits of New Spain and
South America. In the Chesapeake, the English in the seventeenth century
had some Indian slaves and many peoples of African descent who were
not only not slaves, but full members of society as well. French Canadians
were prepared to buy African slaves but could not afford them, and they
14 See William D. Phillips, Slavery from Roman Times to the Early Transatlantic Trade (Minneapolis,
1984) for the main slave trade routes across Europe down to the eleventh century.
15 Presumably if the Spanish had developed a large export sugar industry in the sixteenth century,
like the Portuguese, their reservations on the use of Indian slaves would have been more in tune with
those of the Portuguese.

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ended up with a slave-labor force that was exclusively Indian.16 But from
the mid-seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries, the economic center of gravity of the Americas was in the Caribbean and subtropical South
America a centering that was made possible by a labor force of slaves who
were exclusively African or of African origin. Slavery here came to have
a racial exclusivity that was more pronounced than in the Islamic world.
In both Islam and Europe, a core culture characterized a wide variety of
ethnicities and languages as major elements of a common identity, and
therefore, insider status. Both Islam and Europe traveled a road that began
with the exemption of its own members from slavery, and by the end of the
period, both cultures were conferring eligibility for enslavement on only
one of the many groups of others, or outsiders Africans.
But was the next step in this process of redefining eligibility necessarily
the elimination of the final category such that slavery was seen as inappropriate for any human being? The intensity and depth of abolitionism
in parts of the West suggests that the final step was more likely to happen (or to happen first) in the Atlantic rather than in the Islamic world,
and within regions where slavery played a marginal role. As Adam Smith
described it in the case of the Pennsylvania Quakers, the demand curve for
emancipation could be downward sloping, emancipation occurring first
where slavery was less important. But interpreting the economic argument
is itself often difficult, and the current literature has provided at least three
arguments the first, that slave owners found the institution unprofitable,
the second, that while still profitable, slavery was less so than sectors of
the economy drawing on free labor, and third, that slavery came to play
an ever-diminishing role in the major slave-owning nations and could be
abolished without serious implications. Each of these arguments has different implications for the nature of slavery. The debates on the causes of
abolition have perhaps drawn too sharp a dichotomy between economic
and other (moral, religious, cultural) factors in the process. The greater
the costs of emancipation, whether because of the ongoing profitability of
the slave system, or the costs of compensating slaveholders, the more likely
emancipation will be delayed.
Nevertheless, whatever the cost, unless there is a moral argument of some
kind pointing to the need for slavery to end, the institution will continue.
Even where the costs to ending slavery were low, this situation alone has
never by itself led to abolition, nor apparently have high costs ever permanently prevented it from happening. Compensation, though not always
paid, was always an issue. First, should it be paid (and to whom, and in
what form)? Here the answers were generally clear compensation to the
slave owners in cash, bonds, or labor time. Second, should emancipation
16

Robin Winks, Blacks in Canada: A History (New Haven, CT, 1971), chapter 1.

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be immediate or gradual, and what should be the role of government in the


process? An argument for gradual emancipation goes back to Jean Bodin
and Condorcet if slavery is as destructive to slave psychology and culture as the antislavery argument claims, then immediate freedom without
some adaptive period or government control could only be disastrous. In no
case were slaves or serfs ever provided with compensation by their owners
or the state, a pattern that reflects the belief in the importance of property
rights. There were a few discussions of compensation to freed people at
the end of the U.S. Civil War, but this was not a source of major debate.
Claims for compensation to the descendants of the enslaved (reparations)
developed as an issue only in the twentieth century.
Viewing abolition through the lens of social identity does offer some
prospect of finessing these older debates, as well as coming to terms with
the continuance of slavery in those parts of Asia and Africa that viewed
slavery as an integral part of societies organized around kin groupings. Such
an approach also reduces the distance between slave systems dedicated to
the exaction of labor and those whose aim is to augment the social group.
The former always attempted some assimilation, and the latter always had
labor needs, the most unpleasant of which were invariably performed by
slaves or those who were most marginal to society.

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PART I

SLAVERY IN AFRICA AND ASIA MINOR

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CHAPTER 2

ENSLAVEMENT IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE


IN THE EARLY MODERN PERIOD
ehud r. toledano

introduction
From the middle of the fifteenth century until its demise after World War
I, the Ottoman Empire was arguably the most important Islamic power on
the face of the earth. At the height of its expansion, it ruled a vast territory
from the western Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, from southern Poland
to southern Sudan. Many of the sultans subjects were not Muslim, did not
speak Ottoman Turkish, and were illiterate, poor, and lived in villages, not
in cities. Yet they were all governed by a Muslim, Turkish-speaking, urban,
affluent, and predominantly male elite of officeholders. Perhaps the only
phenomenon that cut across all these social barriers was enslavement, for
despite the at times enormous differences in lifestyle, enslaved persons came
from all walks of life: They were male and female, rich and poor, powerful
and powerless, rural and urban, Muslim and non-Muslim, and speakers
of all the dialects in the empire, with origins as far-flung as central Africa
and the eastern Caucasus. What united them was a shared legal status
of bondage, with the variety of social impediments it entailed in each
predicament.1
Perhaps more than anything else, it was this melange of types that made
Ottoman enslavement unique, complex to study and explain, and highly
intriguing as a social phenomenon. For its significance lay mostly in its
social and cultural aspects rather than its role in the Ottoman economy.
Whereas practically all historically known societies including Islamic
ones enslaved individuals either from within or from outside their boundaries, few had evolved such a stratified and highly diversified unfree population. If until the early seventeenth century most of the enslaved were
prisoners of war, from that point on but mainly in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries people were reduced to slavery through capture and
trade. The main reason for this shift in recruitment was rather simple territorial expansion as a result of military conquest ceased almost completely,
1 For the detailed arguments underlying this essay, see the following books by Ehud R. Toledano:
As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East (New Haven, CT, 2007); and
Slavery and Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East (Seattle, 1998).

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and few prisoners of war were available, although some were still being
enslaved even as late as the nineteenth century. Hence, during the period
of contraction and diminishing military successes, demand for unfree labor
had to be met through an evolving network of trafficking in humans. It was
then too that the ethnic makeup of the enslaved population in the empire
shifted according to the changing origins from the Balkans and eastern
Europe to central and eastern Africa and the Caucasus, largely Circassia
and Georgia.
Scattered data and reasonable extrapolations regarding the volume of
the slave trade from Africa to the Ottoman Empire yield an estimated
number of approximately 16,000 to 18,000 men and women who were
being transported into the empire per annum during much of the nineteenth century.2 Estimates for the total volume of coerced migration from
Africa into Ottoman territories are as follows: from Swahili coasts to the
Ottoman Middle East and India 313,000; across the Red Sea and the Gulf
of Aden 492,000; into Ottoman Egypt 362,000; and into Ottoman
North Africa (Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya) 350,000. If we exclude the
numbers going to India, a rough estimate of this mass population movement would amount to more than 1.3 million people. During the middle
decades of the nineteenth century, the shrinking Atlantic traffic swelled
the numbers of enslaved Africans coerced into domestic African markets,
as well as into Ottoman ones.
Although the numbers were possibly smaller during the eighteenth century, the patterns of trade remained fairly stable, with seasonal shifts occurring as a result of local factors. Such were the internal wars within Africa
between rival Muslim states, as between them and non-Muslim ones, which
resulted in the enslavement of large numbers of men and women. Changing economic conditions on the continent also affected the reduction of
individuals to slavery as a result of debt or the inability of dependent
entities to pay the tributes imposed on them in cash or kind. Brigandage
on the overland routes and corsair activity on the high seas also affected
the traffic, as did circumstances on the northern Black Sea shores and in
the Caucasus. One thing remained fairly constant through most of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Ottoman demand for unfree labor,
2 The most reliable work on this is by Ralph Austen: The 19th Century Islamic Slave Trade from
East Africa (Swahili and Red Sea Coasts): A Tentative Census, in William Gervase Clarence-Smith
(ed.), The Economics of the Indian Ocean Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century, Special Issue of Slavery
and Abolition, 9 (1988): 2144; and The Mediterranean Islamic Slave Trade out of Africa: A Tentative
Census, Slavery and Abolition, 13 (1992): 21448. See also Thomas M. Ricks thorough consideration
in Slaves and Slave Traders in the Persian Gulf, 18th and 19th Centuries: An Assessment, in ibid,
6070. For Lovejoys higher numbers and criticism of Austens figures, Commercial Sectors in the
Economy of the Nineteenth-Century Central Sudan: The Trans-Saharan Trade and the Desert-Side
Salt Trade, African Economic History, 13 (1984): 8795; see also Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations in
Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2000), chapter 7.

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mainly of domestic and menial workers. Agricultural slavery, which had


been widely practiced until the sixteenth century, was abandoned thenceforward until it reappeared in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Even then, only in Egypt during the American Civil War was agricultural
bondage used to supply global demand for cotton, and in the 1860s, the
empire had also absorbed a large population of Circassian agricultural slaves
who were pushed by the Russians with their landlords out of the Caucasus.
Immigration and emigration in the Ottoman Middle East and North
Africa have not been an unusual phenomenon. In a region still supporting
large nomadic-pastoralist communities of various ethnicities Turcoman
and Bedouins immediately come to mind inbound and outbound movements of people have been a common feature of history. People moved in
and out both as groups and as individuals. They brought with them their
languages, religions, and cultures. They interacted with the already diversified populations in the empire; they left their mark, contributed their
share, and enriched and were enriched by the melange of traditions that
permeated these lands, littorals, river basins, and mountains. Out of all this
wealth of human experiences, our concern here is with the trade in enslaved
Africans and Circassians transported into the Ottoman Empire during the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the traffic, which has been
treated in a number of studies, will be examined here from a rather different perspective: not as an economic or political phenomenon, but as a
question of cultural inflow, interaction, and fusion.
Indeed, as has been publicly proclaimed recently, the forced movement
of enslaved persons was one of the largest migrations of history, and also
one of its greatest crimes. A number of important social and cultural
insights concerning enslaved Africans and Circassians in the Ottoman
Empire can be gained by examining their forced transportation as a type
of migration.
For our purposes here, such an approach to the Ottoman slave trade
yields some interesting cultural insights, for instance, the view that migration tends to occur at certain junctions in the life cycle, thus becoming
a part of the rites de passage. The evidence shows that the overwhelming
majority of enslaved persons who were taken into the Ottoman Empire,
whether African or Circassian, were very young, often in their early to midteens. Their coerced recruitment into the Ottoman unfree labor market
occurred, in many cases, just as they were passing into puberty, entering
the workforce, and for the young females also becoming sexually active
either as concubines in urban households or as wives in the countryside.
Although they would have also gone through these passages in their origin societies, their enslavement meant that all this took place amidst the
heightened stresses of resocialization and reacculturation in unfamiliar surroundings, without the support of family and friends, and without the

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comforting and soothing effects that a home culture would normally provide. The important elements from that perspective are the construction
of individual and collective identity, the redefinition of notions such as
origin/home and destination/host cultures and their interrelationship, and
the reevaluation of the concepts of struggle, conflict, choice, and agency
with regard to the enslaved.
The main divide within the enslaved population in the Ottoman Empire
was between elite and nonelite slaves, or rather between military-administrative slaves and their female consorts or wives (hereafter kul/harem slaves)
on one hand, and the rest of the unfree laborers, that is, domestic, agricultural, and menial bondsmen and bondswomen, on the other. This has
raised the question whether or not the kul/harem class should be considered in the same category with the other enslaved populations. Alternative
terms have been suggested to describe the predicament of people in that
group, including the sultans servants and state servitors.3 Others have
rightly argued that the privileges of elite slavery were temporary, because
they were not allowed to bequeath their wealth or status to their offspring,
and their property reverted to the treasury upon their death. The sultan
controlled his unfree servants religious and cultural identity, their material
environment, and their right to life, which he could take if he believed
they had betrayed his trust. As one writer put it, elite slavery was a paradox at the heart of the Ottoman system; that is, that ordinary subjects
enjoyed immunity from the sultans direct power of life and death, which
was denied to those who governed them, namely, kul/harem slaves.4
Although certain elements of kul/harem servitude were gradually removed in practice toward and during the nineteenth century, all legally
bonded subjects of the sultan should for the purpose of social analysis
be treated as enslaved persons. In fact, there was no difference of kind
between kul/harem and other types of Ottoman slaves, although there
certainly were differences of degree among them.
By and large, the unfree can be classified according to four main criteria,
which determined their position in society and affected their treatment and
fortune. The first criterion was the tasks the enslaved performed whether
they served as domestic, agricultural, menial, or kul/harem. Second was the
stratum of the slaveholders whether they were employed by urban elite
members, rural notability, small cultivators, artisans, or merchants. The
third was location whether they lived in core or peripheral areas. Finally,
type of habitat urban, village, or nomad was of central importance.
3 See Metin Kunt, All the Sultans Servants: The Transformation of Ottoman Provincial Government
15501650 (New York, 1983); Suraiya Faroqhi, The Ruling Elite between Politics and the Economy,
in Halil Inalcik and Donald Quataert (eds.), An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire
13001914 (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 564 ff.
4 Leslie Peirce, Morality Tales: Law and Gender in the Ottoman Court of Aintab (Berkeley, CA, 2003).

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In addition, two other parameters have to be factored in, namely, gender


and ethnicity. Generally, women were more exposed to sexual exploitation,
whereas men were more vulnerable to harsh physical treatment. And,
more often than not, enslaved Africans ranked socially lower than enslaved
Circassians and Georgians.
Some preliminary generalizations emerge from this matrix. Enslaved
domestic workers in urban elite households were better treated than
enslaved people in other settings and predicaments. The greater the distance from the core, the lower the enslaved were in the social strata, and the
less densely populated was the habitat, the greater the chances the enslaved
would receive worse treatment. Finally, the lives of enslaved Africans and
enslaved women were more often than not harder. Thus, for example, it
follows that women in urban elite households where arguably enslavement was the mildest could be, and not infrequently were, exposed to
uncomfortable, compromising situations, which we might call today sexual
harassment.
The single most important factor that sustained a fairly stable demand for
unfree labor within the Ottoman Empire was the constant dwindling of the
enslaved population and the absence of a capacity to replenish the supply
of slaves internally. Both should be attributed to sociocultural practices that
must be considered as mitigating circumstances of Ottoman and more
generally Islamic enslavement. According to Islamic law as practiced in
the Ottoman Empire during the period reviewed here, enslaved women
could be absorbed into the slaveholding society through concubinage.
There were no injunctions against cross-racial or cross-cultural unions. If
an enslaved concubine became pregnant, it was illegal to resell her, and if
she gave birth, her child was considered free and she was to be manumitted
upon the death of the father. Although little choice on the womans part
existed in such cases, the status that she came to possess in effect provided
her with considerable protection. It also meant that such women and their
offspring would regularly disappear from the enslaved population, reducing
its size.
In addition, an Islamic moral encouragement to manumit enslaved persons after long service in Ottoman practice this meant, on average, seven
to ten years was largely observed, although not by all slaveholders. Again,
this imperative constantly released individuals from legal bondage, even if
they often chose to remain as free servants in the same or another household. At the same time, on the supply side there was in Ottoman societies
an absence of slave-breeding practices. Enslaved persons were not married
to each other in order to produce enslaved children for the household
or the farm. When such marriages occurred it was usually between freed
persons, socially and financially encouraged by their former slaveholders to
marry within their ethnic group after manumission, as an act of benevolent

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patronage. With such strongly entrenched social mechanisms, demand for


slaves would persist on the same level as long as slavery remained legal,
that is, until the demise of the empire and the establishment of the Turkish
Republic in the 1920s.
Attempts to abolish Ottoman slavery and suppress the slave trade into the
empire were launched during the second half of the nineteenth century but
do not form a major theme of this chapter. Suffice it here to note that British
efforts to induce the Ottomans to suppress the slave trade from Africa and
the Ottoman governments own actions against the traffic in Circassians
and Georgians produced a significant reduction in the volume of the
traffic toward the turn of the twentieth century. But these measures also
pitted two value systems the European and the Ottoman against each
other, producing a whole set of dilemmas for Ottoman intellectuals and
statesmen. Part of the reason why the Ottoman elite did not enthusiastically
embrace British-style abolitionism lay in different perceptions, indeed, in
a bifurcated view of the Ottoman version of enslavement itself.
Compared to other modes of dependency in Ottoman society, slavery
was not necessarily the worst, which is probably true for most other premodern societies. Significant social disabilities, reflected in law and practice,
were part of everyday life in varying degrees for all women as well as
for all non-Muslims. Poor people often suffered greater deprivation than
many enslaved people, and marriage was also a form of male ownership
over women. Military service in the sultans armies did not always have a
clear end in sight for the common soldier. Peasants frequently worked for
bare subsistence, and when pushed under that line, had to abandon the
land and fend for themselves as brigands or nomadic beggars in the nearby
desert for food and shelter. Consequently, it has been argued that many
slaves were better off that is, better cared for than many of the sultans free subjects, especially in material terms. Many slaves, it was further
asserted, would not have traded their position for the uncertainties and
vulnerabilities of the free poor and other marginals in Ottoman societies.
Still, slavery is rightly considered to be the most extreme form of domination. There were other, at times quite harsh, forms of coerced denial of
freedom, such as incarceration or indentured labor. Even in its mild forms,
slavery seems to remain such a stark instance of deprivation and coercion
that it stands apart from the other phenomena of unfreedom. Hence,
what is perhaps sometimes hard to grasp, or even simply to realize, is that
even under enslavement, the capacity of slaveholders to extract labor was
not unlimited, nor was the slaves powerlessness absolute. A better understanding of slavery can be gained only if we conceive of it as an involuntary
relationship of mutual dependence between two quite unequal partners.
Within this broad definition, there were certainly cases in which slaves had
little impact on their lives, as were other situations in which they had a

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great deal of influence vis-`a-vis their masters. In all cases, the slaves ability
to stand her or his ground in the relationship depended on the extent to
which she or he could withhold labor in order to attain their minimal
requirements. In other words, their agency depended on denial of services,
whether in the fields, the mines, or the household the latter including sex,
rearing, and nurturing, in addition to the rest of the domestic package.
As master-slave relationships went, Ottoman slaves had a relatively
greater capacity to effect a reasonable balance of power with their owners. In a sense, the main types of slaves, domestic and agricultural, could
exercise approximately the same degree of leverage, albeit in different circumstances. Domestic slaves could run away more easily, due to the urban
environment in which most of them lived, but their decisions often had to
be made on an individual basis, as they were few and not bonded to other
slaves in the household, who might even have an interest in exposing their
plans to escape. Also, because from the eighteenth century onward most
of these slaves were African, they were more easily traceable and vulnerable to capture. For Circassian agricultural slaves, absconding from a small
and often isolated village community was more difficult, but because they
lived and worked in family units, developing, concealing, and eventually
executing a plan to run away was more practicable.
The kul, or elite officeholding slaves, on the other hand, leveraged their
position vis-`a-vis the sultan and his administration in a different manner.
They had no incentive to opt out of the system, but instead tried to work
from the inside and create a power base from within. By demonstrating
efficiency and loyalty, while at the same time working to increase their
personal and household wealth, they managed to reduce the risks that
came with the privilege of holding high office in the sultans service. Their
performance in the various government jobs they held increased their value
to their sovereign and within his administration, which reduced substantially the risks they ran. But at times, and under various circumstances,
the system, or sections thereof, did not function rationally, allowing diligent, talented, and loyal kul to fall from grace, and even lose their lives
and fortunes, due to arbitrary decisions. The mode of operation among
this officeholding elite, however, clearly forms a different area of scholarly
investigation namely, that of Ottoman power politics and does not fit
in here.
Was Ottoman Enslavement Relatively Mild?
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries clearly show that, for the most
part, enslaved people did not wish to remain in servitude. Regardless
of the alleged mildness of Ottoman and other Islamic slave experiences,
bondage was a condition from which most enslaved people tried to extricate

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themselves. Many went to a great deal of trouble, took enormous risks, and
fought against heavy odds to achieve freedom. In that, enslaved Ottoman
subjects were not different from enslaved persons in any other society, and
their efforts too deserve to be recognized and appreciated. In the eighteenth
century, absconding was perhaps the main manifestation of the desire to
be free, but with the reforms of the nineteenth century known as the
Tanzimat (1830s80s) enslaved people learned how to manipulate the
system in their favor and actively claim their freedom.
Not so surprisingly, many of the slaveholders themselves realized that
slavery was not warmly embraced by the enslaved. The very language used
in Ottoman government documents and official correspondence reveals
that officials knew very well that enslaved persons kept complaining about
their situation, and that many of them demanded from the courts and
from various government agencies that effective steps be taken to redress
their grievances. Moreover, documents include statements to the effect
that the enslaved have a natural desire for freedom (memluklerin tabii olan
arzu-y huriyetleri) and recognized that they actively seek to be liberated.
It was common to refer to such requests as demands to be rescued/saved
from slavery (memlukiyetten tahlisi), as stated for example in a telegram
from the governor of Trabzon to the grand vezir sent in 1872. Thus, as the
nineteenth century drew to a close, the rhetoric deployed by the Ottoman
state in dealing with enslavement was evolving toward the discourse on
abolition that we find in Western societies.
Perhaps the most striking is the text of official certificates of manumission
issued by the Ottoman government during the last decade and a half of
the nineteenth century. These documents contain such phrases as: This
manumission [literally freedom in other words] certificate is being handed
to [name of person] to clarify that she or he is released from the bond
of slavery and that henceforth, the said person will be like all other free
persons, so that she or he cannot ever be claimed by any person or by
any means to be a slave.5 An Istanbul court of the first instance stated
in October 1890 that by granting manumission papers to an enslaved
woman, she will thenceforward benefit from the pleasure [sweetness] of
freedom. The court added that following this act, she will be like other
free Muslims, at liberty to do as she chooses and permitted to live where
she desires. Another court, this time in Salonika in January 1888, also
stressed the freedom of movement granted to a freed slave, saying that
5 Documents cited in this section are from the British National Archives (henceforth BNA), FO
198/82/X/M 00518: Certificate of Manumission form, nd; Istanbul court decision, 9.10.1890; and
Salonika court decision, 30.1.1888 (all emphases in this paragraph are mine). For a recent assessment of
the domestic labor market in the Ottoman Empire, see Madeline C. Zilfi, Servants, Slaves, and the
Domestic Order in the Ottoman Middle East, Hawwa, 2 (2004): 133. The author rightly points out
that as laudable as Islamic-Ottoman manumission practices were, they helped guarantee a supply of
cheap labor in the form of ex-slaves, affecting mostly women (8).

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being set free meant that he could move to where he wished without
anybody interfering with that.
Externally, however, and in the face of European criticism, a defensive
posture regarding enslavement in Ottoman societies was being projected.
This opened the door to a debate about the nature of the practice by
comparison to other societies, most notably those of the New World.
The Ottomans argued that slavery in their empire, as in other Muslim
societies, was fundamentally different from slavery in the Americas. It was,
they asserted, considerably milder because slaves were not employed on
plantations and were offered a real opportunity to integrate into Ottoman
society through marriage and manumission. Slaves were generally well
treated and, it was further maintained, regarded as family members. On the
whole, this view was broadly accepted by scholars, and Islamic societies were
classified as societies with slaves rather than slave societies. Slavery in
these societies was believed to have been milder, better integrated, and more
open to inclusion, hence its abolition occurred late and never constituted
a major political issue.
Nevertheless, perceptions have been changing over the past two decades
or so. Scholars have become more critical, less accepting, perhaps less prepared to tolerate the broader implications of what we may call the good
treatment debate. There is a fine line, it must be acknowledged, between
studying a culture with empathy and avoiding the required evaluation of its
practices, including from a moral standpoint. Understanding why enslavement was so natural in so many societies should not lead to condoning
it. But also, appreciating the options available to people in the Ottoman
Empire and assessing the choices they made are important and deserve our
attention and respect. After all, one could decide not to own slaves; slaveholders could choose not to mistreat their slaves; and slaveholders could
manumit their slaves after a reasonable period of service. That enslavement
continued to be legal in the empire until its late demise should not obscure
the fact that a wide variety of instances of enslavement also existed.
In addition, one should take a more differentiated view with regard to
the good treatment debate. Evidence from various parts of the Ottoman
Empire, Brazil, and Africa suggests that even domestic slavery, especially
for women, could not be described as mild. The intimacy of home,
family, or household did not guarantee good treatment of the enslaved, and
concubinage was a far cry from the ideal manner in which it was depicted
by contemporary witnesses and later scholars who used their accounts. A
methodologically gendered interpretation of enslaved womens experiences,
as well as a tendency to privilege views from within and favor a bottomup interpretation, have yielded a rather harsh picture of realities under
enslavement, which was certainly incommensurate with the putatively
mild Islamic version proffered by Muslim and non-Muslim observers.

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Yet another and relatively new kind of argument raises the issue of
consent. It comes from Africans who see themselves as heirs to the heritage of enslaved Africans who were forcibly transported into the Ottoman
and Arab Middle East and North Africa. Simply put, the powerful (here
Ottomans and Arabs) stand accused of bestowing on the unwilling powerless (here enslaved Africans) the questionable benefits of their mild
slavery, good treatment, and high culture.6 This is clearly a bottomup rather than a top-down discourse, which seeks to speak for the absent
and the silenced, to stand for those deprived of their agency, unable to act
in their own lives. The debate is thereby charged and politicized, urging
the historian to reevaluate the assertions about the mild nature of Islamic
slavery. However, this requires us to reexamine also another underlying
assumption, namely that slaves were indeed as deprived of agency as they
are here presumed to have been. It will be argued further below that the
enslaved themselves managed to find ways to resolve the tangle into which
they were brutally thrust, indeed to respond to oppression and abuse, which
they did not see as mild or even acceptable.
Attachment
In the Ottoman Empire, as in many other Islamic and non-Islamic societies,
slavery was one of the modes of belonging to a social unit. This notion
appears in Ottoman sources as intisap (patronage), for which we prefer
here to use attachment, or belonging (French, appartenance). Individuals
did not exist in a vacuum; each one was attached, or belonged, to a social
group or unit. For most of the enslaved in the Ottoman Empire, the unit of
attachment was the household. Here, by households we mean the more
sociopolitically complex elite urban units, not the family unit referred
to in demographic and population studies. For others, the most primary
attachment was kin-based, usually consisting of the nuclear (or simple) and
extended (or joint) family, and the various structures connecting such units
to each other, whether clan, tribe, or any other kin-derived formation.7
Nonetheless, people belonged to other, non-kin groups, often according
to the kind of community they lived in. Thus, urban communities were
usually divided according to quarters and neighborhoods and classified by

6 See the demand for apology and reparations made by an African group at a conference in
Johannesburg on February 22, 2003 on Arab-led enslavement of Africans (the quotation marks are
mine).
7 The most useful introduction to the social structure of Middle Eastern societies is Dale F. Eickelman, The Middle East and Central Asia An Anthropological Approach, 3rd edn (Upper Saddle River,
NJ, 1998). For families and households in Istanbul from the 1880s into the Republic, see Alan Duben
and Cem Behar, Istanbul Households: Marriage, Family, and Fertility, 18801940 (Cambridge, 1991).

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trade and guild, as by religion, confession, or ethnic group. Village and


pastoralist communities were normally less diversified, but they too were
often internally differentiated. Other types of groups that overlapped with
those mentioned thus far were spiritual-mystical, or Sufi, orders and the
variety of possession-healing (Zar and Bori) associations. Gender played an
important role in all of these groups, determining the role of women and
reflecting their experience of the various modes dappartenance. Obviously,
individuals belonged to a number of groups, constantly negotiating the
various roles and statuses they were assigned by each. More often than not,
these sets of affiliations complemented and reinforced one another, together
constructing the persons identity, indeed, set of identities. Properly socialized and in the case of the enslaved resocialized individuals were skillful
enough in negotiating these multi-attachments on a daily basis.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the household
emerged as the basic unit of belonging or attachment throughout the
Ottoman lands. Although households surely existed before that period,
they nonetheless came to play a distinct role in Ottoman societies as a
result of the large-scale transformations that took place in the empire
from the end of the sixteenth century onwards.8 Suffice it here to note
that a dual process of localization and Ottomanization was taking hold in
the provinces, producing Ottoman-local elites throughout the empire.9 In
this process, the Ottoman imperial elite was becoming less mobile, with
posts being assigned within limited regions, so that specializations according to needs of specific provincial clusters were developing within the
military and the bureaucracy. Officeholders developed strong ties to the
local economy, society, and culture, and linked their and their childrens
future to one province, often to one city. At the same time, local elites
urban and rural notables, ulema, and merchants were seeking to become
part of the imperial administration, trying to attain government offices,
and being Ottomanized in the process. The localizing imperial elite and
8 The main contributors to the debate over the transformation of the Empires governance in that
period are Islamoglu and Keyder, Agenda for Ottoman History, in Huri Islamoglu-Inan (ed.), The
Ottoman Empire and the World Economy (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 4262; Roger Owen, Introduction:
The Middle East Economy in the Period of So-Called Decline, 15001800, in idem (ed.), The
Middle East and the World Economy, 18001914, rev. ed. (London, 1993), pp. 123; Faroqhi, The
Ruling Elite, pp. 5526; Rifaat Ali Abou-El-Haj, Formation of the Modern State: The Ottoman Empire,
Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries (Albany, NY, 1991); Jane Hathaway, The Politics of Households in
Ottoman Egypt: The Rise of the Qazdaglis (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 1, 14, 24; idem, A Tale of Two
Factions: Myth, Memory, and Identity in Ottoman Egypt and Yemen (Albany, NY, 2003), 46; and

Oktay Ozel,
Population Changes in Ottoman Anatolia During the 16th and 17th Centuries: The
Demographic Crisis Reconsidered, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 36 (2004): 183
205, on demographic and economic pressures during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
9 The arguments put forth in the following paragraphs are in an article by Toledano, The Emergence
of Ottoman-Local Elites (17001800): A Framework for Research, in I. Pappe and M. Maoz (eds.),
Middle Eastern Politics and Ideas: A History from Within (London, 1997), pp. 14562.

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the Ottomanizing local elites gradually merged into Ottoman-local elites,


which better served the interests of both sides.
These merged Ottoman-local households served as the major social,
economic, political, and even cultural unit in Ottoman society until about
the last quarter of the nineteenth century. During the seventeenth century,
households were created around leading officeholders in the bureaucracy
and within the military. Though forming initially around the nuclear and
extended family of the founder, from the outset they relied on patronage relationships between the head of the household and a broad array of
clients. An essential component of any household was the founders retainer
militia force, often small in size and armed, which protected household
interests. Household heads first vied for modest resources, usually in a local
seat of government, but they soon realized that it was essential to build a
network that transcended subdistrict, district, and provincial bounds, ultimately linking up with imperial elite households in the capital. By the end
of the first quarter of the eighteenth century, in provinces throughout the
empire,10 a single household-faction would emerge as hegemonic, securing
for its leader and his lieutenants near-full control of the body politic and
economy. These men took over the main offices of state, thereby ensuring
access to, and appropriation of, prime income-generating assets, which
became the spoils of their household-faction members and proteges.
The purchase of enslaved persons for various roles was one of the four
most important channels of recruitment to imperial-center and Ottomanlocal households. The other three modes of recruitment-cum-bonding to a
household were biological-kin ties, marriage, and voluntary offer of loyalty
and services in return for patronage. Less prevalent were adoption and
suckling relationships, but the sources occasionally do mention them too.
Attachment ensured that in households across Ottoman societies, patronage
would flow from top to bottom, and loyalty from the bottom up, linking
people from various elites to nonelite groups and individuals. In that way,
society was cohesively undergirded both vertically (within a household)
and horizontally (between households). Not infrequently, individuals were
attached to a household by more than one of these ties, for instance, through
enslavement, marriage, and officeholding simultaneously. Attachment to a
household gave an individual protection, employment, social status, and
an identity.
For the enslaved population in the empire, social attachment was a crucial
matter, perhaps more critical than for any other group. This was so because
enslaved persons were essentially kinless. Except for enserfed Circassians,
who lived with their families on their landlords estate, all other types
of bonded persons lost their kin ties when enslaved. Kul/harem slavery
10 These include the Kazda
gls of Egypt, the Eyubizades of Iraq (mainly in Baghdad and Basra), the
Azms of Syria, the Husaynis of Tunis, and the Karamanls of Libya.

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even made kin loss into a major feature in the ideology of the institution.
The young men and by extension, the young women who were recruited
into the sultans elite military-administrative corps were supposed to substitute their loyalty to their parents for loyalty to their sovereign. But
sometime in the seventeenth century, the monopoly of the imperial kap
was broken, and high officeholders, themselves kuls, were allowed to recruit
kul-type (Arabic, mamluk) retainers, known as the kuls of the kuls (kullarn
kullar).
First the sultan and later also his senior kuls were to possess the loyalty
and affection of enslaved recruits kuls, harem women, and eunuchs.
In theory, severed from their original kin group, these enslaved members
of the imperial elite were to acquire fictive kin through bonding with
their new patrons high officeholders at the center and in the provinces
whose household folk (kap halk) they became. In fact, research has shown
that many kul/harem slaves maintained their kin ties back home, despite
the fact that the idea and practice of fictive kin relationships was a major
component of the Ottoman system of government. However, with the
entry of non-kuls into the army and bureaucracy fairly early on, the pool
of recruits was greatly diluted and compromised vis-`a-vis the ideal-type
version. This process further intensified during the first decades of the
seventeenth century, after the demise of state-run, periodic recruitment
campaigns (devsirme).
But reattachment was not less important to enslaved Africans, who were
brutally detached from their kin groups on the continent and transplanted
into an alien milieu, socially and culturally so different from the environment they had grown up in. Bonding with slaveholders was never easy,
but it was smoother for those who served as domestics in urban households, and more difficult and bumpier for menial workers in mines, pearl
dhows, crop fields, and quarries. When successfully achieved, attachment
to a household partially compensated the enslaved for the loss of kin back
home, and not infrequently these men and women were accepted into
the slaveholders family. Enslaved persons were renamed as part of recreating their identity, often with the intention of wiping out the older
one, which was invariably considered uncivilized, seriously deficient in
religious terms (non-Islamic or superficially Muslim), lacking refinement,
and generally primitive.
Whereas manumission was what many of the enslaved yearned for, and
freedom was certainly a much-coveted status, the passage from enslavement to freedom also meant severance of hard-earned bonds to slaveholders and other household members. By losing their acquired attachment,
freed persons risked social marginalization, which entailed exposure to
many hazards. Slaves having already been torn apart from their kin-base
now faced the same experience over again with manumission. In fact,
any resale threatened to absolve newly formed attachments, although it at

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least offered a chance of another reattachment and effectively barred the


option of renewed kinlessness. Things were better for enslaved persons who
were permitted to form families while still in bondage. This was not very
common for domestic slaves, but it did occur. Manumitted concubines
(ummuveleds, Arabic umm walad ) were, of course, in a different position,
already having at least one child from a deceased slaveholder and, at least
to some extent, enjoying the chance of continued relationship with his
extended family, despite ever-present competition and jealousy. Among
enserfed-enslaved Circassians, however, families were rather the norm, and
kinlessness not a serious threat, if the family could avoid being split up by
sale away from the beys estate.
Well into the nineteenth century, the Ottoman state still favored the
interests of slaveholders, although it is hard to ignore the fact that its agents
clearly displayed compassion in their treatment of hardship cases among
the enslaved. Kindness and generosity were not infrequently bestowed
upon enslaved persons pleading for the sultans mercy. At the same time,
until the 1860s at least, the sultans officials seemed reluctant to grant
freedom when demanded by enslaved people on the basis of some claimed
entitlement. Thus, for example, appeals for sultanic-imposed manumission
(azad- padisahi) due to length of service were not often endorsed. But the
state did intervene on behalf of enslaved people in cases of blatant denial
of liberation after many years of service, much in the same way it showed
consideration toward suffering individuals in other kinds of cases.
Modes of Resistance
Ottoman law governing slavery followed, for the most part, the path of the
Hanafi School of Islamic law, or Seriat, which was one of the main sources
of state law in the empire.11 Accordingly, runaway slaves had to be pursued, and if captured, returned to their holders. Only ill-treatment, usually
requiring that accusations of severe physical abuse be sustained in court,
could form the basis for a court-imposed, involuntary manumission of an
enslaved person. Such an option was open to ill-treated slaves who did not
abscond, although captured runaway slaves often charged ill-treatment to
improve their standing, in the hope of inducing the court to set them free.
Conversely, to counter such potential and actual charges, slaveholders frequently accused their runaway slaves of petty theft.12 Whereas absconding
occurred throughout Ottoman history, it perceptibly increased in the last
11 For Islamic law on slavery, see R. Brunschvig, Abd, Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2nd edn,
vol. I (Leiden, 1960): 24 ff.
12 On this, and other aspects of runaway slaves in the Ottoman Empire, see Y. Hankan Erdem,
Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and Its Demise (London, 1996), pp. 16073 (who prefers fugitive to
runaway).

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quarter of the nineteenth century, as the British allowed runaway slaves to


be harbored in their consulates throughout the empire and in their naval
vessels. Although the Ottoman government officially cooperated with the
British and other European powers on the suppression of the slave trade,
individual governors, especially in remote, slave-importing provinces, often
developed their own approach to the problem.
Leniency toward slaves in the Ottoman Empire was often forthcoming
on humanitarian grounds. It was not uncommon for the sultan to grant
freedom upon the recommendation of his grand vezir or another top
official to suffering, criminally neglected, physically abused, and destitute slaves. The imperial fisc then purchased the slaves freedom from a
slaveholder who refused to liberate him or her. These acts of sovereign
benevolence were not infrequently prompted by British consular requests
on behalf of runaway slaves who sought refuge at their consulates across
the empire.
There can hardly be much doubt that, given the legal injunction against
absconding and the determination to enforce it, runaway slaves took great
risks when deciding to leave their holders. We should certainly note that
some of these slaves did not fully calculate the risks and were not fully aware
of the possible consequences of their action. However, most slaves were
very aware of the realities of urban life in the Ottoman Empire. Hence,
they knew that because success was not guaranteed, careful planning,
preparation, and cautionary measures were necessary in order to maximize
chances of success. Most enslaved persons realized that in order to gain
their freedom, they needed to rely on outside help. Runaway slaves could
expect assistance either from Ottoman state officials or from representatives
of foreign powers in the empire. They could distinguish between those
Ottoman authorities who were more committed to hunt down and punish
runaway slaves and those who were more likely to be lenient.
Although the Ottoman state did not run a tightly controlled society
for much of its history, the technological advances of the Tanzimat period
increased the states capacity to impose central authority. As the century
wore on, the deployment of better communications systems (the telegraph),
better transport systems (trains and steam ships), and better registration
and licensing practices (travel documents, border controls) increased the
authorities capability to track down and recapture runaway slaves. This
coincided with the governments move to suppress the traffic in Africans
and to reduce the size of the enslaved population, which they did partly
under foreign, mainly British, pressure, and partly out of their own desire
to cope with problems posed by Circassian agricultural slavery. Although
enslaved individuals found themselves caught between these two contradictory processes, the number of absconders who could expect to end up
as freed persons steadily grew.

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Breaking the law was another form of resistance. Although initially based
on the Seriat, Ottoman criminal law soon developed apart from Islamic
principles and penalties.13 From the 1840s onward, the Tanzimat-state
codified existing legislation, developing an Ottoman-based, and then a
European-influenced, penal system through a combination of codification
and case-law evolution. In 1845 the Council of Ministers endorsed the High
Courts view that enslaved persons should be liable to the same penalties
as the free subjects of the sultan. This changed the Seriat-derived practice
that slaveholders were responsible for punishing their slaves, bringing the
state into the slaveholder-enslaved relationship to protect the enslaved and
reduce arbitrary punishment. Enacted by the Tanzimat-state and enforced
by its agents, the law only naturally came to be identified by the enslaved
with the Ottoman state. Gradually, they began to consider the Tanzimatstate as protector of their right to freedom and as their guardian against
abuse and exploitation by the slaveholders. When the state was seen as failing to live up to its image as their defender, some of the enslaved resorted
to actions against the sultans government and against what was one of its
most explicit representations Ottoman law.
Whereas in many cases enslaved persons committed homicide, larceny,
or arson for the same reasons that free persons did, enslavement-related
factors often motivated their criminal behavior. These have to be weighed
in when transgressions by slaves are reviewed and analyzed. Beyond these
major types of crimes, enslaved men and women in Ottoman society
also resorted to other kinds of action that can be classified under various
levels of defiance and resistance. Generally speaking, we notice two kinds
of action under this category individual defiance and group defiance.
An individuals act of defiance was often a unique expression of anger,
resistance, or protest. Group action was a different thing in that it was
an organized reaction to a particular situation that had developed in a
given locale. Enslaved persons acted as a group usually when some form
of leadership was present, which helped amplify their protest and achieve
redress to specific grievances.
Whereas individual acts of defiance require personal courage, group
action necessitates organization, leadership, and goal-oriented, calculated
risk-taking. Large-scale group action would normally qualify as an uprising
or a rebellion, but the Ottoman government was reluctant to label even
considerable organized disturbances of the public order as revolt (syan),
13 For early Ottoman criminal law, see Uriel Heyd, Studies in Old Ottoman Criminal Law, V. L.
Menage (ed.) (Oxford, 1973); Ehud R. Toledano, The Legislative Process in the Ottoman Empire
in the Early Tanzimat Period: A Footnote, International Journal of Turkish Studies, 11 (1980): 99
108; for developments during the Tanzimat, see Ruth Austin Miller, From Fikh to Fascism: The
Turkish Republican Adoption of Mussolinis Criminal Code in the Context of Late Ottoman Legal Reform
(unpublished PhD dissertation, Princeton University, 2003).

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given the cost and difficulty of forcible suppression. Instead, the Ottomans
often preferred to deal with the rebels, negotiate with them, constructively
engage them, and finally co-opt them into the imperial system. The Celali
revolts of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries were perhaps
the classic example of that policy,14 but the principles of that political
culture continued well beyond and into the following centuries.
The same policy was evident also in the few cases in which the group that
launched an organized protest was made up of enslaved persons, usually
men, seeking to end their oppression and gain freedom. Group action
by the enslaved could only occur where slaves were not isolated in urban
households or working in small numbers, as for example for an individual
farmer in Egypt; it could happen only where the enslaved worked in groups.
In the Ottoman Empire, enslaved people who lived and worked in groups
were to be found in only three situations. First were the enserfed-enslaved
Circassian families that cultivated the agricultural estates of their feudal
lords (beys, emirs). Second were the enslaved Africans who worked on
the large agricultural estates (ciftliks; Egyptian Arabic, plural gafalik) of
Ottoman-Egyptian elite members. The third case comprised the enslaved
Africans who worked in small gangs for their nomad slaveholders in the
Hijaz.
The creolization process was as important as overt resistance in the
struggle against enslavement. The eastern Mediterranean represents one
of the most fascinating and fertile grounds for studying cultural diversity,
fusion, complexity, struggle, and coexistence. It was in Ottoman times, and
still is in fact today, one of the worlds best laboratories for ethnic studies. We
are only too familiar with the past and recent calamities of Middle Eastern
ethnopolitics, but there is also another side to it all, which calls for more
scholarly efforts that might, in the long run, perhaps also defuse some of the
intractable political quagmires that make life in this region so frustrating,
even painful, but also so humanly engaging and absorbing. The cultural
diasporas created within the Ottoman Empire by forced migration were
formed by a mix-and-match braiding of cultural components from various
origins into a rich and fascinating variety, a melange that has sometimes
been called hybrid or creolized culture. Ottoman cultural creolization
is, thus, the process by which enslaved Africans and Circassians retained
ingredients of their origin cultures, fused these ingredients with localculture components, and disseminated the resulting hybrid-type cultures
across Ottoman societies.15
14 See, for example, Karen Barkeys account of the Ottoman approach to the Celali revolts in the seventeenth century in Karen Barkey, Bandits and Bureaucrats: The Ottoman Route to State Centralization
(Ithaca, NY, 1994).
15 For a succinct treatment of the terms creole and creolization, see Paul E. Lovejoy, Identifying Enslaved Africans in the African Diaspora, in idem (ed.), Identity in the Shadow of Slavery

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However, that process did not happen pell-mell; there was a certain
logic to what occurred at the interface between the cultures of the enslaved
and those of the slaveholders, where creolized forms were being fused.16
Though a by-product of the coerced migration of enslaved peoples into the
Ottoman Empire, creolization was also an individual and group response of
those victimized people to their passage and integration into Ottoman societies. Accordingly, creolization has rightly been associated with resistance to
incorporation, but degrees of resistance should be distinguished within that
process: Strong resistance creates what is sometimes called separate subcultures that are impervious to creolization, whereas the emergence of
creole cultures implies a certain measure of assimilation, integration, and
acceptance of the dominant culture. In the Ottoman Empire, enslavement
produced, perforce, creolized cultural reformulations rather than separate
subcultures.17 The process began in transit from home to destination,
as Islam was imposed on the captives, initiating a long cultural-religious
journey. The journey would continue well into the Ottoman households
that absorbed the enslaved and integrated them into society with varying
degrees of success.
In principle, African-Ottoman creolization provided a model for other
creolization processes, allowing for variants in contents and historical circumstances. Because Africans in the Ottoman Empire were either enslaved
or freed, or later the offspring of enslaved and freed persons, we may gain
access to their world by breaking the sociocultural code of their creolized
possession-healing cults (Zar and Bori). The ritual obviously had a psychological healing purpose for these individuals, who had been brutally torn
away from family, community, and country to be enslaved, thrust into an
alien society, and relegated to the lowest social rung. The initial severance
from home and the crossing of nearly unbridgeable cultural boundaries
were the most traumatic. Even successful reattachment within Ottoman
societies was never completely secure, nor could it ever be taken for granted,
for the threat of resale was always lurking in the background. As already
noted, manumission, too, posed similar risks to freed individuals.
Despite the Ottoman-recommended norm of manumission after seven
to ten years of service, many enslaved persons accumulated a sad history of
several severances and reattachments in their lifetime, with all the emotional
(London, 2000), pp. 1319. For the basic concept of creolization (with which Lovejoy disagrees), see
Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, An Anthropological Perspective to the Afro-American Past: A
Caribbean Perspective (Philadelphia, 1976). The quote in this paragraph is from Paul E. Lovejoy,
Introduction, in idem (ed.), Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam (Princeton, NJ, 2004), 8.
16 Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (Seattle, WA, 1997), pp. 12734; Steven Vertovec,
Three Meanings of Diaspora, Exemplified among South Asian Religions, Diaspora, 6 (1997): 277
99.
17 For a generally similar view, see John Hunwick, The Religious Practices of Black Slaves in the
Mediterranean Islamic World, in Lovejoy (ed.), Slavery on the Frontiers, pp. 149172.

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and physical wear-and-tear that these involved. In that stressful reality and
psycho-cultural vacuum, the soothing role of origin-culture reenactment,
most notably in Zar and Bori rituals, is quite obvious. The rituals and public
festivals not only provided African-Ottomans with a much-needed sense of
community; they also served as a compensatory mechanism, a substitute
for the loss of the original family, neighborhood, and village structures.
Within this context, we may see the sect leader (kolbas/godya) both as a
mother/father figure and as a social leader who cemented community ties.
Economic integration of enslaved Africans in the Americas also brought
about the endangerment of their native African languages, which did not
survive in the plantation colonies. In reality, enslaved Africans and Circassians were rapidly absorbed into Ottoman societies, especially in urban
domestic settings, where most of the enslaved lived. This meant that the
lexifier, whether Turkish or Arabic, also effectively extinguished the languages and cultures that the enslaved brought with them into the empire.
Thus, the agenda for future research on cultural processes in the eastern
Mediterranean during the Ottoman period should concentrate on examining the dual phenomena of absorption-integration of enslaved Africans and
Circassians and the concomitant disappearance-extinction of their cultures
within the empire.
The Role of the State
As in other societies with slaves and slave societies, the Ottoman state
upheld the rights of slaveholders and refrained as much as possible from
intervening in slaveholder-enslaved relationships. When it intervened, this
was in most cases to help slaveholders to recover their absconding slaves or,
conversely, to liberate enslaved persons from abusive slaveholders. Until
1845, the state was also reluctant to impose its criminal system upon
slaves, leaving the responsibility in the hands of slaveholders. However,
that changed as part of the growing role the state assumed in criminal
matters in general. Regardless of the debate over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, few scholars would dispute the fact that in the nineteenth
century, especially during the period of the Tanzimat reforms (1830s
80s), the government in Istanbul was gaining strength and becoming more
centralized. As already mentioned, the new technologies imported from
Europe were increasing its power and ability to exercise control within
society.
The state is not seen here as separate from society or as standing in opposition to it, but rather as the tool of the social groups to serve and protect
their interests. In the Ottoman Empire, all these groups had something
to do with slavery, mostly as slaveholders. Kul/harem slaves were in the
peculiar position of serving as the backbone of the very state that enslaved

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them, and they resisted attempts to abolish slavery. As loyal servants of the
sultan and his state, the kul served the interests of the slaveholding elite.
Moreover, they themselves owned slaves, and they recruited and socialized
new kul.
When the nineteenth century drew to a close, however, the ideas that followed the technologies won the day. Although harem women and eunuchs
remained in bondage, many vestiges of kul servitude had been dissolving in
practice. Other types of unfree persons were also being freed, albeit gradually: Runaway slaves, as well as illegally captured, enslaved, and transported
persons, could expect to be liberated from bondage in all core areas and
most peripheral regions within the sultans domains. The growing numbers
of runaway slaves who managed to regain their freedom began to have a
perceptible economic impact. With risks of losing slaves to absconding
and government-sponsored manumission, slaveholders gradually came to
prefer hiring free labor to slaves.
As the number of slaves decreased, the number of free servants
increased.18 But the shift was not easy, because domestic slavery was such a
deeply entrenched social institution. Many elite households, which thrived
on it for centuries, found it hard to carry on without it. Substitute arrangements evolved for the transitory period, and as late as the first decades of
the twentieth century, such households would unofficially adopt children from poor families and raise and educate them in-house, while also
using them as domestic servants. In this version of patronage, the children
(known in Turkish as besleme or crak) would later be married off and set
up in life by the patrons family. Slavery in the Ottoman Empire was at
an end.
further reading
The last few years are witnessing yet another cyclical surge in academic
and public interest in enslavement. Perhaps not since the debates of the
1970s has this interest been both as intense and as pluralistic in orientation.
However, for those sharing an essentially Americanist orientation in the
study of enslavement be it North, Central, or South America work
will continue to be driven by economic history, with social and cultural
concerns taking a backseat. Social and cultural historians, however, are able
to deploy readily available comparative tools that are increasingly drawn
from social anthropology and cultural studies, which treat transnational
18 See, for example, observations from Jidda in BNA, FO/541/25 (Confidential 4914)/81, Consul
Moncrieff (Jidda)s report on runaway slaves for 1882 (dated December 1, 1883). Gabriel Baer observed
for Egypt that the most important change affecting slavery was the emergence of a free labor market
in the late 1880s and 1890s, in his Slavery and Its Abolition, in idem, Studies in the Social History of
Modern Egypt (Chicago, 1969), pp. 16189 (the quote is from page 186).

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phenomena such as migration and diasporas. For the study of enslavement


in Ottoman and other Islamic societies, these are the most promising tools
for research and interpretation.
In the past twenty years or so, a number of studies on slavery and
the slave trade have created the framework for interpreting the history of
enslaved people in the Ottoman Empire. These have mostly described the
system and its working, the institution and its complexity. The next phase
will have to build on early attempts to recover voices of the enslaved and
further interpret them with the help of sociocultural tools.19 Such a trend
accords with the recent changing of the research environment, which is
likely to open up the field of Ottoman and Middle Eastern slavery studies.
The incremental growth of studies devoted to these topics over the past
quarter century is now coinciding with demands to enrich our research
agenda by posing a partially new set of questions pertaining to the life
the slaves made in these societies, their manumission, and the attitude of
society toward freed slaves.
The most important sources for studying enslavement in the Ottoman
Empire are Ottoman records, whether state-produced or private. For the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Seriat court records and state papers
form the backbone of available research materials. For the nineteenth century, the most promising of these are court registers (contained in various
state archives), both Seriat and Nizami (courts established by the Tanzimatstate, often called new administrative courts).20 Enslaved persons appear
in these records as absconders or alleged offenders, thereby rendering court
files an excellent source for the social and cultural history of enslavement.
So far, very few studies of Ottoman slavery have been based on Seriat court
records,21 the use of which has been a subject of some controversy in the
19 For some examples, see Alexander Lopashich, A Negro Community in Yugoslavia, Man,
58 (1958): 16973; John Hunwick, Black Africans in the Mediterranean World: Introduction to
a Neglected Aspect of the African Diaspora, in Elizabeth Savage (ed.), The Human Commodity:
Perspectives on the Trans-Saharan Slave Trade (London, 1992), pp. 538; idem, The Religious Practices
of Black Slaves in the Mediterranean Islamic World, in Lovejoy (ed.), Slavery on the Frontiers, pp.
14972; and I. M. Lewis, Ahmed Al-Safi, and Sayyid Hurreiz (eds.), Womens Medicine: The Zar-Bori
Cult in Africa and Beyond (Edinburgh, 1991).
20 Extensive work on S
eriat court records has been conducted in recent years. Some of the most
recent to be published in a long list are Mahmoud Yazbak, Haifa in the Late Ottoman Period, 18641914:
A Muslim Town in Transition (Leiden, 1998); Peirce, Morality Tales; articles by Beshara Doumani and
Iris Agmon, in Beshara Doumani (ed.), Family History in the Middle East. Household, Property, and
Gender (Albany, NY, 2003); Madeline C. Zilfi, Women and Slavery in the Late Ottoman Empire: The
Design of Difference (Cambridge, 2010), and Iris Agmon, Family and Court: Legal Culture and Modernity
in Late Ottoman Palestine (Syracuse, NY, 2006).
21 This list is not exhaustive but rather gives a general idea of the state of the literature: Ronald
Jennings, Black Slaves and Free Slaves in Ottoman Cyprus, 15901640, Journal of Economic and
Social History of the Orient, 30 (1987): 286302; Yvonne Seng, A Liminal State: Slavery in SixteenthCentury Istanbul, in Shaun E. Marmon (ed.), Slavery in the Islamic Middle East (Princeton, NJ, 1999),

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field in recent years.22 It is common knowledge that there are no Ottoman


slave narratives. Although this statement may now be slightly revised to
include some such accounts that have come to light in recent years,23 the
absence of this kind of source has hampered the study of enslavement in
Ottoman and post-Ottoman societies.
Owing to the intense British interest in the abolition of slavery, and a
milder concern on the part of the French and a few other Western nations,
European diplomatic records, mainly consular reports, have proven to be
a very useful source for the study of the slave trade and slavery in the
Ottoman Empire. These records have been studied extensively, leaving
less uncharted territory, although scattered private papers in European
libraries and archives containing Ottoman documents have not yet been
fully exploited.
pp. 2542; Ovadia Salama, Avadim be-vaalutam shel Yehudim ve Notsrim bi-Yerushalayim haOthmanit, (Slaves held to be Jews and Christians in Ottoman Jerusalem), Katedra, 49 (1988): 64
75 (in Hebrew); Erol Ayyldz and Osman C
etin, Slavery and Islamization of Slaves in Ottoman
Society according to Canonical Registers of Bursa between the Fifteenth and Eighteenth Centuries,
unpublished report on work in progress, 1996; and Ron Shaham, Masters, Their Freed Slaves, and
the Waqf in Egypt (Eighteenth-Twentieth Centuries), Journal of Economic and Social History of the
Orient, 43 (2000): 16288.
22 See, for example, Dror Zeevi, The Use of Ottoman Sharia Court Records as a Source for
Middle Eastern Social History: A Reappraisal, Islamic Law and Society, 5 (1998): 3556 [the authors
own work relied heavily on the Seriat court records of Jerusalem idem, An Ottoman Century: The
District of Jerusalem in the 1600s (Albany, NY, 1996)]; Zouhair Ghazzal, Discursive Formations and the
Gap between Theory and Practice in Ottoman Sharia Law, Paper submitted to the Second Joseph
Schacht Conference on Theory and Practice in Islamic Law, Granada, December 1997.
23 Hasan Ferit Ertu
g, Musahib-i Sani-i Hazret-i Sehr-Yari Nadir Agann Hatrat-I, Toplumsal
Tarih, 49 (1998): 715; Ahmed Emin Yalman, Yakin tarihte gorduklerim ve gecirdiklerim, vol. 1, 1888
1918 (Istanbul, 1970): 1314; Ahmet Resmi Efendi, Hamletul-Kubera, edited by Ahmet Nezihi Turan
(Istanbul, 2000). The latter work contains biographies of African eunuchs in the imperial harem
published by an eighteenth-century senior Ottoman officeholder.

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CHAPTER 3

SLAVERY IN ISLAMIC AFRICA, 14001800


rudolph t. ware iii

introduction
Between the beginning of the fifteenth century and the end of the eighteenth, millions lived and died as slaves in African Muslim societies. From
the Mediterranean coast to the grasslands of West Africa, in the Nile Valley
and the Horn, and all along the Indian Ocean littoral, Muslims predominated or exercised great influence. In all these regions slavery was economically, socially, and politically important, and its scale increased throughout
our period before reaching wholly unprecedented levels in the nineteenth
century. Islamic principles and practices shaped the nature of slavery in
Muslim societies, but they did so in uneven and contingent ways. In this
chapter, we will examine the ways in which Islamic ideas about slavery were
negotiated in the historical experience of Muslim Africans. There are three
major components of any system of slavery: reduction of human beings to
servitude, distribution of the enslaved within and between societies, and
the nature of servitude within a society. These categories are utilitarian, not
absolute. Biological reproduction of slaves belongs in categories one and
three. Category three implies the continuous reproduction of the meanings
of category one without the initial act of capture or birth. Examples could
be multiplied. The categories are heuristic aids, not precise hermeneutical tools. In these sections we will survey Islamic legal, intellectual, and
moral discourses on slavery in relation to the historical record. This initial
discussion will treat themes common to all of Islamic Africa, providing a
necessary context. But a historians analysis must be rooted in temporally
specific pasts, so we will move from thematic concerns to summary histories of slavery in four distinct regions: western Africa, the Nile Valley, the
Horn, and coastal East Africa.
slaving
A survey of scholarship on enslavement in Islamic law, Shara, and in the
history of Muslims in Africa makes it clear that principle and practice were
frequently at odds. A closer look at academic writings on slavery in the
47
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Shara makes it clear that the principles themselves were often ambiguously
understood and hotly contested. This is true both for the scholars of Islam
(ulama ) and the Islamicists who study them. Nearly all of the latter agree
that sub-Saharan Africa was a place of special importance for slavers. As a
shifting but generally expanding frontier of Islamization where Muslim
and non-Muslims were in close (and not always friendly) contact, it was a
paradigmatic region of slave supply. A close association between blackness
and slavery developed. This was sometimes the case in Muslim Africa south
of the Sahara as well. Here the immediacy of enslavement also helped reveal
some ambiguities of law and discrepancies of custom that were more easily
ignored in Egypt or Turkey.
Only two means of producing a slave seem to have been unanimously
accepted by the ulama: biological reproduction and capture in a legally
constituted jihad. Some academics state unequivocally that these were
the only valid means of making a slave according to the Shara. This is
not accurate as a global statement. Some ulama accepted purchase from
non-Muslims; others did not. Some considered the dependents of Muslim
criminals to be enslavable; for some, only the dependents of apostates could
be so treated. For still others, only organized bands of apostates might have
their women and children taken as slaves. Some early Muslims appear not
to have accepted the enslavement of dependents at all, permitting only the
capture of enemy combatants.1 The fine points are nearly inexhaustible
and require book-length discussions.
These and other matters were debated in Islamic Africa. Were darkskinned Africans particularly fit for enslavement? Who had the authority
to declare a jihad? Were simple raids legal as long as those who were raided
were non-Muslims? What if they were bad Muslims? The arguments of the
ulama on these topics constitute a rich body of sources that academics
are only beginning to explore in historical context. Arguments over the
principles were complex and frequently elided or ignored in the real world.
Many human beings were enslaved by means that enjoyed no sanction in
Shara. Slaving had its own logic that could defy the pious and the learned.
War, Slavery, and Africa
The conquests that brought coastal North Africa under Muslim rule in
the seventh and eighth centuries CE produced significant numbers of
slaves. Sub-Saharan Africa remained unconquered, yielding relatively few
slaves to the Muslim world. Some were spared enslavement in the short
term, but remaining beyond the caliphate (rule by a temporal successor
1 See William Gervase Clarence-Smiths provocatively argued and highly useful new overview, Islam
and the Abolition of Slavery (London, 2006), especially chapter 2, A Fragile Sunni Consensus. The
point on enemy combatants is made on page 27.

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of the Prophet) meant greater risk in the long term. The ulama radically
proscribed slaving activities within the polities established by the conquests.
No free Muslim was to be enslaved under any circumstances, nor was it
legal for a Muslim to willingly submit to slavery. People of the Book
Jews, Christians, and often other religious groups were exempt from
enslavement if they lived within the bounds of a Muslim state, upheld
public law, and paid the jizya or capitation tax. The production of slaves
was thus pushed to the margins of the dar al-Islam, the abode of Islam.
For the ulama the surest candidates for enslavement were polytheists who
lived beyond its bounds, had no treaty (ahd) with Muslims, and had
been captured in a legal jihad.2 By the tenth century most Sunni scholars
had come to see continuous jihad on the frontiers of Muslim territory
as a religious obligation. Strong prohibitions against slaving within the
dar al-Islam, and strong incentives to fight those beyond it in what the
scholars chose to call the abode of war (dar al-harb),3 meant that jihad
in distant lands of unbelief was considered the ideal means of producing
slaves. Alongside such seemingly aggressive interpretations of the Quranic
and Prophetic exhortations to struggle (jah.ada) in the way of God, the
ulama agreed almost universally on the humanistic principle that the
inherent condition of the descendants of Adam was freedom (al-as.l huwa
al-h.uriyya).
Only a narrow range of contingencies could abrogate that original state,
foremost being capture in jihad. For many ulama only a rightful caliph
had the authority to declare jihad and take slaves. Enslavement was thus
closely linked to the religious legitimacy of political authorities. Few political authorities in Islamic Africa during this period could make a plausible
claim on the caliphate, but some did anyway. Often the question of political authority and jihad was literally academic, concerning only scholars
while the world seemed to ignore it entirely. The full weight of academic
scholarship on the history of slavery in Islamic Africa makes it clear that
many Muslims considered the inhabitants of dar al-h.arb enslavable even
when the formal requirements of jihad were not met. Two scholarly notions
emergent in the period considered helped produce this notion. The first was
2 The traditional reference given for a detailed introduction to the position of slaves in Islamic
legal thought is Robert Brunschvigs Abd in Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960). It is a masterful
synthetic piece based mainly on classical sources. Chapter 3, Slave Law and Practice, in Jonathan
Brockopps Early Malik Law: Ibn abd al-H
. akam and His Major Compendium of Jurisprudence (Leiden,
2000) is useful for understanding the development of slavery law as process.
3 The term is not Quranic and has no clear basis in hadith, being primarily (if not exclusively) the
product of later juristic effort (ijtih.ad). In spite of this, it seems that the basic distinction between the
lands of Islam and war and the obligatory nature of jih.a d were maintained by most scholars in
all four Sunni schools, even though empirically distinguishing between the two abodes was always a
matter of contention. Shafii scholars also introduced an intermediate category or abode of truce or
covenant, where non-Muslims were protected by a pact with Muslims.

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that slavery was a punishment for and a prophylactic against unbelief.4


A second (and related) idea was that slaving provided an avenue to faith
and therefore was a proxy for proselytizing. Over time, those peoples who
were known by Muslims mostly as slaves might be imagined to have unbelief and enslavability inherent in their nature. This was true at different
times for Persians, Berbers, Turks, Caucasians, Scandinavians, and others.
In our period, however, slavery and unbelief were increasingly read onto
the bodies of dark-skinned Africans.
Blackness, Unbelief, and Enslavement
The history of blackness and slavery in the Muslim world remains unwritten. The documentary sources of Islam make no normative association
between skin color and servitude, yet we know that by the nineteenth
century, and indeed long before, many in the Muslim world considered
dark-skinned Africans unusually suited for enslavement. Blacks were not
the only or even the most numerous slaves in the early centuries of
Islam. Persians, Berbers, Turks, Europeans, Slavs, and Asians all served as
slaves in Muslim lands. Slavery was based on religious not somatic
difference, but according to Lewis and others, by the medieval period the
generic Arabic term for slave, abd, had already come to mean black slave.
It would ultimately denote black person slave or free in many Arabic
dialects. Some Arabic-language intellectuals argued that the enslavement
of dark-skinned Africans was ordained by a Prophetic curse. The notion
that Noah bequeathed both servitude and blackness on the progeny of
Ham emerged from misreadings of early rabbinic literature.5 It was reproduced by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim intellectuals in spite of the fact
that it was refuted by prominent scholars, including the great fourteenthcentury North African historian, a lim (pl. ulama) Ibn Khaldun, who
believed color difference was a consequence of climate. In this model,
derived from the Greek physician Galen, the world consisted of a series of
climes. The Mediterranean latitudes were considered ideal for the development of the most advanced peoples and civilizations. To the north
and south, extremes of cold and heat were thought to produce deformations of body and character. Light-skinned Europeans and dark-skinned
Africans were thought equally conditioned to barbarism and, by extension,
servitude.
4 For the full text of a fatwa written by the scholar Ahmad al-Wanshars, see Bernard Lewis, Race
.
and Slavery in the Middle East: An Historical Enquiry (Oxford, 1990), p. 148.
5 See David Goldenberg, The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity,
and Islam (Princeton, 2003). See also Ephraim Isaac, Genesis, Judaism, and the Sons of Ham, in
J. R. Willis (ed.), Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa I: Islam and the Ideology of Slavery (London,
1985).

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The association between blackness and slavery was apparently so conventional that it spawned a number of treatises enumerating the accomplishments of blacks and rebutting claims of inferiority. These date back to
at least the ninth century, with Jahiz al-Bas.rs (d. 869) The Boast of the
Blacks Against the Whites. So although the central texts of Islam made
little of color difference (in Quran 30:22 it is but a sign of God and one
of His mysteries), the ulama speculated about the bodies, character, and
enslavability of dark-skinned Africans. All of these discourses have been
elaborated and discussed in a number of academic works, but whether the
curse of Ham or the theory of the climes penetrated the consciousness of
ordinary Muslims remains unknown. Did Muslim slave traders discuss such
matters? Warriors and kidnappers did not, but what about privileged, wellread slave-owners? Between 1400 and 1800, sub-Saharan Africans formed
an increasing percentage of the slaves in Muslim societies, as indeed was the
case in Christian Europe. Everywhere, dark-skinned Africans were being
enslaved on an increasing indeed unprecedented scale. This simple,
inescapable fact must help explain the association between blackness and
slavery in the Islamic world, including sub-Saharan Muslim societies.6
slave trading
The transfer of slaves from sub-Saharan Africa to North Africa and the
Middle East has been the subject of a fair amount of research. It is usually
and rather casually referred to as the Islamic, Arab, or Oriental slave
trade. Thus christened, it is framed as an export slave trade from subSaharan Africa and placed in numerical and moral competition with the
Atlantic trade. The latter is almost never called a Christian or European
trade; we call it the Atlantic in spite of the fact that it moved people all over
the Indian Ocean. The so-called Islamic slave trade is understood to have
three main parts: the trans-Saharan, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean
trades. All were oriented primarily toward markets in Muslim societies
beyond sub-Saharan Africa.
Wild estimates of the scale of this trade are sometimes circulated despite
the very narrow source base. Nonetheless, this chapter would be incomplete without some sense of the scale. The best scholarly estimate is that
roughly 11.75 million enslaved sub-Saharan Africans were exported across
the Sahara, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean from 6501900 CE.7 These figures
are based largely on the work of Ralph Austen, who pioneered efforts to
6 See Bruce S. Hall, The Question of Race in Precolonial Southern Sahara, Journal of North
African Studies, 10 (2005): 361.
7 See Lovejoy, Transformations, especially pp. 246, 612, and 1528. See also Patrick Manning,
Slavery and African Life (Cambridge, 1990).

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quantify this trade.8 But the true figure for pre-1600 might easily be double or just two-thirds of Austens estimates. Data for the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries are better, but still very sparse. Only the nineteenthcentury data can be considered adequate, and even this compares poorly
with the evidentiary base for the Atlantic trade. Lovejoys estimates indicate that roughly 3.75 million left sub-Saharan Africa for Muslim markets
during our period, with the total numbers increasing in each century, from
730,000 in the fifteenth century to 1.3 million in the eighteenth.
The Saharan trade was by far the largest component of the so-called
Islamic trade. Its estimated volume was 4,300 slaves per year in the fifteenth
century and 5,500 per year in the sixteenth before increasing to an annual
average of 7,000 in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It operated
on three major axes:
1. Greater Nile Valley: Nilotic Sudan especially Sinnar and Dar Fur
Egypt
2. Central Sudan and Maghrib: Bornu and the Hausa states Tunis and
Tripoli
3. Western Africa: The western Sudan Morocco and Algiers
Egypt received many slaves from the western Sudan, particularly before
the seventeenth century. In the eighteenth century, many slaves taken by
slavers in Wadai and Kanem were marched overland to the infamous darb
al-arban (forty-day road) connecting Dar Fur with Egypt. North African
termini shifted. In short, these axes all overlapped. They are useful only to
sketch the major flows of enslaved people.
As mentioned earlier, most scholarly work portrays this trade as an
export trade from Africa to the Muslim world. But most of the trade
happened on the African continent. As E. Ann McDougall has so cogently
argued, the decision to portray the Saharan trade as an export trade is
an artifact of nineteenth-century abolitionist discourse. It was part of a
broader colonialist project to demonize Arabs and Islam by showing that
their slave trade was as cruel, brutal, and large as the Atlantic trade, if
not more so.9 Further, this project imposed European racial categories on
8 See the following works by Ralph A. Austen: The Trans-Saharan Slave Trade: A Tentative Census,
in H. Gemery and J. Hogendorn (eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of the
Atlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1979); The Islamic Red Sea Slave Trade: An Effort at Quantification,
Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Ethiopian Studies (Chicago, 1979); The Nineteenth
Century Islamic Slave Trade from East Africa (Swahili and Red Sea Coasts): An Intermediate Census,
Slavery and Abolition, 9 (1988); The Mediterranean Slave Trade out of Africa: A Tentative Census,
Slavery and Abolition, 13 (1992): 21448.
9 E. Ann McDougall, Discourse and Distortion: Critical Reflections on Studying the Saharan
Slave Trade, Outre-Mers, Revue dHistoire, 336/337 (2002): 195229. A thoughtful earlier review essay
by Janet Ewald broaches some similar themes, see, Slavery in Africa and Slave Trades from Africa,
American Historical Review, 97 (1992): 46585.

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the African map, separating white and black Africa, the thinly veiled
elder sisters of our contemporary siblings, North and sub-Saharan Africa.
Dividing the Muslim societies of North Africa from those of West Africa
to fabricate an intercontinental trade obscures the fact that most of
the so-called Islamic export trade was a continental African trade among
Muslim societies. Two-thirds of the total export trade was Saharan. It
was a shared Islamic identity and juridical context that facilitated much of
the trade from the Sudan to North Africa. Furthermore, the Sudan itself
was probably the primary Muslim market in this trade. Artificial racial and
geographic distinctions distract from the primary dynamic: the continuous
large-scale movement of enslaved populations from non-Muslim areas to
Muslims areas.
Even this pattern, however prominent, was not absolute. Muslims were
not always the victors in wars, nor were they always the aggressors in raids.
However, their greater access to arms, goods, and markets must have helped
greatly before the rise of the Atlantic trade. Once the Atlantic trade was
established, many Muslims were shipped across the sea after being enslaved
by non-Muslims. Muslim slaves sometimes formed distinct minorities in
the slave populations of non-Muslim societies in Africa as well. Hausa
Muslims lived as slaves in predominantly non-Muslim Yorubaland in the
eighteenth century. Their polyglot contemporaries living as slaves in Cape
Town were drawn from all over the Indian Ocean. These Muslim slave
communities defy easy characterization.
The other components in the so-called Islamic trade might be better
qualified as export trades because a greater percentage of the slaves handled in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean networks were moved outside of
Africa. But even here we must remember that significant (if indeterminate)
numbers were kept in bondage within Africa. The slave trade across the
Red Sea into Arabia predates the rise of Islam. There were slaves of
Ethiopian origin in Arabia at the time of the Prophet. A steady supply
of slaves moved across the Red Sea along networks operated by Muslim
traders in the Christian highlands and through Muslim polities in what is
now southern Ethiopia. Lovejoys estimates suggest a figure of roughly
two thousand slaves per year exported across the Red Sea for twelve
and one half centuries. In the Muslim coastal cities south of the Horn,
Swahilis, Arabs, and others traded some enslaved Africans to seagoing
merchants. Lovejoy estimates the East African trade at one thousand
slaves per year before 1700. The enslaved were sent all over the Indian
Ocean, though most probably went to southern Arabia. Lovejoys estimate
for the eighteenth century is four thousand per year, reflecting transformations in the nature of the coastal economy after Omani Arabs
introduced much greater reliance on slave trading. As noted later, it now
seems that the coastal trade was much larger than previously believed,

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but that most of the slaves were obtained on Madagascar rather than the
mainland.10
The coastal, Red Sea, and Saharan trades also overlapped with one
another. In the sixteenth century, slaves from Sinnar in the Nilotic Sudan
were usually marched to the Red Sea. Conversely, in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, slaves from greater Ethiopia were included in caravans from Sinnar. Mogadishu and Brava fit into networks of the Horn
and the Swahili coast. Escalating religious tensions in the Red Sea and the
Swahili coast after the sixteenth century helped further blur the lines. Arabs,
Swahilis, Somalis, Ethiopian Muslims, and Ottoman Turks all fought
in Ahmad Grans war against the Christian monarchy of Ethiopia. The
Ethiopians were in turn aided by their Portuguese co-religionists. The close
contacts forged in this period accelerated the interpenetration of Muslim
merchant networks in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. In fact, though the
category Red Sea slave trade has become a convention in the literature,
it may ultimately be repositioned within the context of the greater Indian
Ocean slave trade, rather than in the so-called Islamic trade.
The Atlantic Slave Trade from Islamic Africa
The slave trades of Islamic Africa overlapped not only with one another, but
with the Atlantic networks as well. Interpenetration and cross-fertilization
occurred at every conceivable level, and in nearly every place on the
African continent. Only a few examples can be given here. Fourteenth- and
fifteenth-century Iberian notions of the enslavability of blacks, so foundational in the history of European and American slavery, were informed by
North African histories of skin color and slavery. Many areas of Islamic
Africa were exposed to demand from both external Muslim markets and
the Atlantic world simultaneously. Fifteenth-century Senegambia was the
first. By the end of the eighteenth century, slaves purchased by Swahili merchants on Madagascar might wind up in Mauritius or Manhattan, Cape
Town or Free Town, Lamu or Lima, Goa or Mecca. At the same time,
Swahili Muslims themselves were sometimes kidnapped by the Portuguese
and sold into slavery. Substantial numbers of African Muslims were slaves
in the New World, and many had been sent there by Muslim brigands,
traders, and kings. Accusations of enslaving free Muslims for sale to Europeans were at the heart of a series of Islamic movements in the seventeenth,
eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries.11 The notion that the Oriental
10 Thomas Vernet, Le commerce des esclaves sur la c
ote Swahili, 15001750, Azania, 38 (2003):

6997.
11 This is discussed later, but see also Paul E. Lovejoy, Islam, Slavery, and Political Transformations
in West Africa: Constraints on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, Outre-Mers: Revue dHistoire, 336/337
(2002): 24782.

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and Occidental trades in slaves can be discretely isolated is fundamentally


untenable. Between 1400 and 1800, Europeans lived as slaves in North
Africa and Turks as slaves in West Africa, and Yoruba slaves taught Quran
in Brazil. This was a true histoire croisee, and nowhere was the web more
tangled than in Islamic Africa.
slavery
Frederick Cooper has asked, What is Islamic about slavery in an Islamic
society of Africa?12 The Quran mentions slavery; it neither sanctions,
nor condemns, nor eternalizes the institution. The classical jurists and
later ulama sought to regulate aspects of the creation, purchase, use,
and manumission of slaves. As Martin Klein has pointed out, slavery was
justified by many Muslims in religious terms; yet as Klein also demonstrates,
slavery was contested in Islamic terms as well. Slaves reproached their
owners for not providing Islamic instruction, and for not living up to the
legal and ethical guidelines scholars provided for the treatment of slaves.
Islam provided powerful discourses of submission and authority, equality
and hierarchy, destiny and agency that could be struggled over by slave and
slave-master alike. All of this means that slavery was a preoccupation of
many Muslims and that they often thought of it in reference to religion;
none of this means that there was an Islamic slavery any more than we
could speak of a Christian slavery. In a useful survey article on slavery in
the Islamic world, Hans Muller, the worlds foremost authority on slavery
in Persian, Turkish, and Arabic literary traditions before the nineteenth
century, argues that the history of slavery in Muslim societies must be
written as economic history.13 That economic system could be mediated
by religious discourse, but slavery in the Muslim world as elsewhere was a
socioeconomic institution, not a religious one.
Slave Labor
In addition to pointing out that slavery is an economic rather than Islamic
institution, Muller also pointed to the importance of slaves in agricultural work and other large-scale, labor-intensive tasks in the Islamic world.
Atlantic exceptionalism portrays the capitalist slave plantation as a historical
phenomenon without precedent. Oriental exceptionalism often obscures
the simple fact of slave-labor. But were slaves in the Muslim world just
12 Frederick Cooper, Islam and Cultural Hegemony: The Ideology of Slaveowners on the East
African Coast, in Paul E. Lovejoy (ed.), The Ideology of Slavery in Africa (Beverly Hills, CA, 1981),
p. 271.
13 See H. M
uller, Sklaven, in B. Spuler (ed.), Handbuch der Orientalistik (Leiden, 1977) vol. VI,
section 6, part 1. Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Vorderen Orients in islamischer Zeit, pp. 5383. My
special thanks to Ruediger Seesemann for translating this piece.

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luxury imports, domestics, warriors, sexual objects, and curios? Sources


on the activities of nonelite slaves are rare everywhere before the nineteenth
century. We know, however, that in many parts of Islamic Africa, slaves
worked in the fields, sometimes in great numbers. There were extensive
slave-worked agricultural estates in Senegambia, Southern Morocco, and
the Mediterranean in the fifteenth century. Songhay had massive plantations in the sixteenth century, Kano and Sinnar in the seventeenth century,
Zanzibar in the eighteenth century, and Egypt in the nineteenth. Examples could be multiplied. In the Sahara, slaves were often used to cultivate
crops, whereas slave-owning groups maintained a nomadic social identity
and value systems that held cultivators in contempt. Slaves work needs
more thorough research for our period, but tasks were clearly diverse and
suited to a variety of economic, social, and political circumstances. Slavery
is not a kind of labor, but a kind of control, and slaves could be made to
meet all kinds of perceived societal needs and desires.
Female Slavery
Some academic discussions of female slavery in the Muslim world seem to
focus heavily on sexual desires at the expense of societal needs. Although it is
impossible to overstate the sexual vulnerability of female slaves, it is possible
to overstate the role of Oriental lust in shaping female slavery. Of course
slave-women were sexually objectified and abused in the Muslim world
as elsewhere. In historical practice as opposed to the imagined harem
womens slavery was largely directed to production, reproduction, social
prestige, and political power. Slave fertility in Africa was low, and the labor
of enslaved women was more important to the perpetuation of slavery than
their descendants. When born to their owners, the progeny of slave-women
were often incorporated into free lineages. When born to others, such
children were slaves, but because they were during this period often locally
born slaves rather than trade-slaves, they were more likely to be emancipated
and become part of the history of clientage rather than slavery proper.
Most slaves in Africa were female, and it is often asserted that the
external trade to the Islamic world carried twice as many females as
males. Women generally cost more than male slaves (except eunuchs), and
specialized elite concubines could cost many times more. In Islamic Africa,
as elsewhere, women were in high demand for their labor, reproductive
capacities, and sexual services. Because slave-wives and concubines usually
lacked the protection and arbitration of kin, an overall increase in slavery in
our period and its increasing feminization probably resulted in a decline
in womens position in marriage. At the same time, the slavery of some
women meant enhanced freedom of others. Free women might resent
sexual and marital competition, but female slaves liberated many elite

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women from manual labor. Before mechanization, domestic labor was


time consuming and difficult, and women of the slave-owning classes did
little of it. Slavery also allowed for the possibility of female seclusion,
a possibility that many women relished because it marked prestige and
facilitated independent economic activity.
Concubines and slave-wives were important in Islamic Africa in the
same ways and for the same reasons that they were important throughout
Africa. Women of reproductive age were always in demand because they
increased the size of kin-groups, slaves all the more so, because they might
be more easily controlled. In Islamic Africa, women who bore children
by their masters had particular Shara protections. Unless a slave-owner
explicitly disavowed ever having intercourse with his female slave, she was
granted the status of umm walad (mother of children) upon bearing a child,
or in the Malik school, even upon successful conception not resulting in
birth. An umm walad could not legally be sold, nor could her children,
whether or not they were explicitly recognized by their owner. She was
granted freedom upon her masters death, as were her children. In the
case that the owner formally recognized the children as his own, they were
immediately free.14 There is, of course, no way of knowing how widely the
formal prescriptions of the law were respected, but they were not wholly
ignored.
Hausa rulers of Kano kept hundreds of royal concubines from at least
the fifteenth century, and these provided most of the citys rulers. The
concubines themselves were central in the administration of grain taxation,
marking a close link between production and reproduction. They also may
have played an important early role in cloth dyeing and were critical sources
of knowledge on their regions of origin. In short, Nast demonstrates that
they were fundamental to the reproduction of the state, though not always
in the ways intended by the Sarki. Kano concubines effectively asserted
their economic and political agency from within the largely autonomous
confines of the royal harm. A major challenge to that autonomy came at
the end of the sixteenth century when eunuchs were first installed in Kano
palaces female quarters.
Eunuchs
In 1715, an Ottoman edict sent to Egypt source of most of the empires
eunuchs forbade the castration of young men, calling it inhumane,
contrary to the Sharia and the sultans orders. The edict compared the
14 The term is also not Qur
anic and has a shallow basis in hadith. Brockopp, Early Malik Law
p. 195. Brockopps extended discussion of the legal status and the early history of the umm walad
(pp. 192203) goes beyond the Malik context and serves as an excellent introduction to this
category.

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sites of castration to slaughterhouses, cited a fatwa by the Grand Mufti


of Istanbul, and declared the whole business to be bida, a blameworthy
innovation. Edicts in 1712, 1722, and 1737 sang a different tune, demanding
immediate shipments of eunuchs for the sultans harem.15 Here, in short,
was the dilemma faced in the Muslim world on the question of eunuchs.
There was simply no way the ulama could countenance the manufacture
of eunuchs, yet some Muslims would not stop demanding them. Eunuchs
were valued in guarding women because of their presumed lack of virility,
and more important, in administration and governance because of their
inability to develop kin-based interests. They had been long used in both
capacities in many of the lands that came to be lands of Islam. There was
no clear Shara argument forbidding ownership of eunuchs, only their
manufacture, though there are hadiths wherein the Prophet orders his
wives to maintain seclusion from eunuchs after he hears one describing a
womans body in detail to a potential suitor.16 The prohibition of castration
was universally maintained by Muslim legal thinkers, and the problem of
eunuchs was handled in much the same fashion as the problem of illegal
enslavement.
There were centers of production all over Islamic Africa meeting continental as well as intercontinental demand. Important sites before the
nineteenth century included Ethiopia (probably the oldest), several locations in Upper Egypt, Bagirmi south of Bornu, and the Hausa-Kanuri state
of Damagaram in what is now Niger. Prepubescent captives were the usual
victims, as adults were thought unlikely to recover physically or psychologically from the operation. Eunuchs were worth many times more than
their unemasculated counterparts, but mortality rates could be as high as
90 percent even for young boys. Many specialized locations for eunuch
manufacture were at the fringes of dar al-Islam and run by non-Muslims,
such as Coptic monks, Jews, and Mossi traditionalists. But some Muslims
also performed the mutilations. To maximize profits, slavers mutilated children at some distance from the site of their capture, but before beginning
a usually long journey to market. In this way food and water would not
be wasted on the boys, most of whom were likely to die after being
mutilated.17
15

Michael Winter, Egyptian Society Under Ottoman Rule, 15171798 (London, 1992), p. 43.
Two accounts are found in the Sunan of Abu Dawud, Book 32 (hadiths 4095 and 4100) as well
as the Sahih of Muslim, Book 26 (5415 and 5416).
17 Jan S. Hogendorn, The Location of the Manufacture of Eunuchs, in Miura Toru and John
Edward Phillips (eds.), Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa: A Comparative Study (London, 2000).
For a general discussion of eunuchs and the trade in them, see John Hunwick, Black Africans in the
Mediterranean World. For a view framed by the nineteenth-century travels of Gustav Nachtigal in the
central Sudan, see Humphrey J. Fisher, Slavery in the History of Muslim Black Africa (London, 2001),
pp. 28094.
16

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The extensive use of eunuchs is documented in Muslim societies on


both sides of the Sahara. The Mamluk and Ottoman ruling elites and
wealthy Egyptians more generally bought eunuchs on a grand scale.18 The
first ruler to possess eunuchs in the Hausa states was reportedly a female
ruler named Amina who ruled in the first half of the fifteenth century. Leo
Africanus reported their presence at the royal palace in Songhay in the early
sixteenth century. Eunuchs were extensively used in state administration in
Bornu and Wadai in the nineteenth century, and probably before. For such
roles, eunuchs are important because they are the quintessential kinless
slave. Not only have they been taken from their kin group, but they cannot
produce their own. The most common form of castration removed the
ability to reproduce, not the ability to copulate. The eunuch was still
valuable even if a sexual threat because he was not a reproductive
threat. As regional governor, the eunuch could not turn his concession into
a hereditary kingship. Anthropologist Claude Meillassoux argues that slaves
in general were denied legitimate kinship and were in a nearly identical
position. What makes the eunuch unique is that what is a mere social
fiction for the slave is, for him, a biological fact. In an early modern world
where statecraft was based largely on controlling competing families, the
inability of the slave to develop kin-based interests made him an ideal
administrator for elites looking to centralize power and authority.
Military Slaves
For students of North American slavery there is something wholly incongruous in the image of the armed slave. When confronted with the phenomenon on a large scale in Islamic history, some have tended to imagine this as a peculiarly Islamic institution. Yet the Quran has nothing
to say about slave-soldiers, and the foundational jurists had little to say
about them, focusing their attention on common household slavery. Slavesoldiers were known in many non-Muslim societies, including Christian
Ethiopia, and they became particularly common throughout Africa in the
Atlantic era. The reasons and history are complex, but in short, elites
often thought that the same dependency and kinlessness that made the
slaves valuable administrators could also make them obedient soldiers. In
practice, slaves and eunuchs demonstrated the fiction of their powerlessness all the time, frequently assuming the reigns of state or becoming
18 For eunuchs in Maml
uk Cairo, see the first chapter of Shaun Marmons interpretive book Eunuchs
and Sacred Boundaries in Islamic Society (Oxford, 1995), pp. 330. For a detailed empirical exposition
of the theme of eunuchs in positions of administrative authority, see chapter 8 in Jane Hathaway,
The Politics of Households in Ottoman Egypt: The Rise of the Qazdagls (Cambridge, 1997), entitled
The Qazdagls and the Chief Black Eunuch. Many thanks to Carl Petry for alerting me to this
reference.

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quasi-independent kingmakers. Just because the freeborn imagined they


were ineligible to hold power or incapable of wielding it did not make
it so.
In Islamic North Africa, the development of servile military forces
sometimes seemed to have a decidedly racial bent. In 1523, a rebellious Ottoman governor named Ahmet Pasha attempted to make himself
the sultan of Egypt, rapidly building a slave army for the purpose. It is
reported that he ordered the governor of Upper Egypt to raid Nubia for
a thousand slaves, whom he would arm (with guns) and train. It is also
reported that he ordered black slaves confiscated from private owners in
Cairo and placed in the army.19 The Saadian sultan Ahmad al-Mans.u r
(r. 15781603) built a substantial slave army by forcing dark-skinned Moroccan men into military service and apportioning wives to them from among
the black women of Morocco. In a letter to the ulama of Egypt attempting to justify this forced conscription, he claims to have investigated the
backgrounds of the slave-conscripts, paid the rightful owners, and abided
by the strictures of the Shara with the approval of local ulama. Historians have reason for doubt. It is clear from the letter that al-Mans.u r
considers blacks in Morocco to be slaves or runaways. Nearly a century
later the Alawi sultan Mulay Ismail b. al-Sharif (r. 16721727) would
repeat the episode, though on a grander scale, establishing the famous
abd al-Bukhar or slaves of Bukhari. These unfree warriors earned
the name by swearing their allegiance to the sultan on Bukharis collection of hadith. In this instance, however, the resistance of the ulama
was recorded. One Moroccan a lim, Abd al-Salam Jasus, was executed
for his criticism of the enslavement of free Muslims simply because
they were dark-skinned. The criticism did not stop the process, however. Mulay Ismail assembled his army, and the abd al-Bukhar, though
detested by the people, were important in Moroccan politics until the
1790s.20
The use of military slaves was rarely popular, not only because of societal contempt for slaves, but because it often marked a move toward
increased centralization and autocracy. Military slaves were often particularly despised by free commoners. This was true of Mamluks in fifteenthcentury Egypt as much as it was of ceddo in eighteenth-century Senegal or
the Abd al-Bukhari in Morocco. Though they were politically privileged,
slave status could still hang heavy over the heads of such warriors. Many

19

Michael Winter, Egyptian Society, p. 15.


For a recent attempt to challenge the received wisdom and question the extent to which this was
either a black or slave army, see Fatima Harrak, Mawlay Ismails Jaysh al-Abd: Reassessment of
a Military Experience, in Toru and Phillips (eds.), Slave Elites in the Middle East and Africa.
20

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reported that even powerful Wolof ceddo were required to keep iron bars
suspended above their beds as a reminder of their servile status.21
The Religious Lives of Slaves
Wolof ceddo were broadly held to be irreligious. They were sometimes
accused of being pagan in a society that knew no formal religion other
than Islam. Throughout Islamic Africa, slaves and their descendants were
often labeled as lax Muslims. As the enslaved were generally (though not
always) brought from non-Muslim societies, the slur contained a kernel of
truth, but it was the power of the freeborn that reproduced the stereotype.
In many Muslim societies, clear religious injunctions to teach faith to slaves
were ignored, in spite of the notion that enslaving non-Muslims was done
for their salvation. Other slave-owners did take this seriously, and some
slaves did achieve prominence through unusual educational achievement.
The enslaved were thus pushed into a realm between belief and unbelief.
Paganism was the pretext for slavery, but especially in North Africa
there was little market for wholly pagan slaves. In order to make the
enslaved marketable, a kind of cursory forced conversion was visited upon
them. Men and boys were circumcised and their heads were shaved. Males
and females were given Muslim names, often conventional slave-names.22
Needless to say, the experience did not always produce profoundly Islamic
sensibilities among slaves. Recent work by Ismael Musah Montana on the
religious life of slaves in early nineteenth-century Tunisia is indicative of a
new interest in the slaves religious life.23 Recently enslaved women dominated the Bori religious sphere where mainly Hausa cultic elements comprised an alternative religious life. Other recent studies of the Bori in North
Africa, Zar in Northeast Africa, and Pepo on the Swahili coast have greatly
enriched our understandings of the spiritual lives of the enslaved. Also,
it has mostly focused on visibly African populations in Arab regions,
where the racial division between master and slave makes the discussion
of slave syncretism and diaspora familiar. More historical work on the religious lives of slaves and subalterns in sub-Saharan Muslim societies would
be welcome. How did the Wolof ndepp or Songhay holey develop in the
context of social and gender relations before the nineteenth century? We do
not yet have full answers. It is problematic, however, to utilize the notion
21 James F. Searing, Aristocrats, Slaves, and Peasants: Power and Dependency in the Wolof States,
17001850, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 21 (1988): 484.
22 Slave-names have been studied by Terence Walz in Trade between Egypt and bil
ad as-Sudan,
17001820 (Cairo, 1978). See also Hunwick, Black Africans in the Mediterranean World, p. 13.
23 Ismael Musah Montana, Ahmad Ibn al-Q
ad al-Timbutaw on the Bori Ceremonies of Tunis,
in Paul E. Lovejoy (ed.), Slavery on the Frontiers of Islam (Princeton, 2004). See also John Hunwick,
The Religious Practices of Black Slaves in the Mediterranean Islamic World, in the same volume.

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of an African diaspora only when the enslaved land in societies we see as


racially other. If the insights and tools developed in scholarship on the
African diaspora are useful, then we must apply them to the social history
of slavery within sub-Saharan African societies as well.24
western africa
Sub-Saharan Africans provided the bulk of the slave population in
Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, and there was a strong connection between dark skin and slave status. Here the harat.in population
probably descendants of the indigenous dark-skinned inhabitants of the
Sahara was often assimilated to slave, or freed-slave, status. A folk etymology of the Berber term harat.in even made the equation explicit: harat.in
being supposed to derive from the Arabic term hurr than (second [class]
free). Dark-skinned Moroccans were likely victims of kidnapping and other
forms of illegal enslavement, but private brigandage may have been a relatively minor concern compared to illegal enslavement by the state for
military purposes (described above). The identification of skin color with
slave status was not absolute, as the chapter on white servitude in this volume clearly establishes. The elite of Moroccan society could be descendants
of dark-skinned concubines because slave ownership was limited mainly to
the wealthy and the powerful, and the children of concubines were free and
entitled whatever their color. It is sometimes claimed that Mulay Ismail
himself was the son of a Sudan concubine.
South of the desert in the western Sudan, the dominant political theme
of the fifteenth century was the fall of Mali and the rise of Songhay. The
merchant networks developed by the former were largely inherited by the
latter. Important among them were the Juula, who in spite of their pacifistic
Suwarian interpretations of Malik law, did not question slavery. Indeed
as a merchant diaspora in the lands of non-Muslims, they were critical in
the slave trade. By the 1460s the ancient city-state of Gao was becoming
the Songhay Empire, conquering and otherwise incorporating nearly all
of what had been the Empire of Mali. It would soon grow to be much
larger than its predecessor. The empire was established by Sunni Ali Ber,
who himself owned slaves on a vast scale. His dynasty was ended by one of
his former governors, Muh.ammad Ture, who accused Sunni Ali of having
enslaved (free) women and sold free men to an extent that cannot be
measured,25 thus raising the related issues of illegal enslavement, political
24 Pier Larson, History and Memory in the Age of Enslavement: Becoming Merina in Highland
Madagascar (Portsmouth, 2000), chapter 7.
25 John O. Hunwick, Shara in Songhay: The Replies of al-Maghl to the Questions of Askia al-H
ajj
Muh)ammad (Oxford, 1985), p. 71.

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authority, and Islamic legitimacy themes that run together through the
history of the region.
As a usurper, Askiya Muh.ammad worked hard to create support for his
rule. He invited Muh.ammad b. Abd al-Karm al-Maghl ana lim from
North Africa to his court, where the latter wrote a series of opinions
justifying Tures actions in Shara terms. Notable for our purposes is the
fact that he called Sunni Ali an unbeliever and qualified Tures coup
as a jihh.a d. He also ruled that nearly all other military endeavors being
pondered by Ture were not only permissible, but mandatory. In spite of the
fact that he condemned Sunni Ali as an apostate and an illegal enslaver, he
permitted Ture to keep possession of his predecessors slaves. He ruled that
these slaves of the sultanate were akin to an endowment and may be kept
forever.26 Ture made the h.a jj early in his rule, and while in Cairo met the
great a lim and dean of al-Azhar Jalal al-Dn al-Suyut. The latter apparently
arranged an audience for him with the nominally Abbasid caliph in Egypt
who allegedly formally deputized the Askiya as ruler over all the lands of
West Africa. This was important for Ture because this strengthened his
case for the right to make jih.a d. A series of annual campaigns against first
the non-Muslim Mossi peoples to the south of the Niger bend produced
slaves for export to North Africa as well as domestic markets. Under the
Askias, Songhay elites filled the Niger River valley with slave plantations in
the sixteenth century, the largest numbering perhaps 2,700 slaves.27 These
produced staple crop surpluses to support the military, administrative, and
scholarly elites. Agricultural slavery was basic to the functioning of state
and society in Songhay.
When Moroccan invasion ended Songhay dominance in 1591, a number
of scholars from Timbuktu were placed under house arrest in Morocco.
One of them was Ah.mad Baba (d. 1627), who wrote an important treatise
on slavery, the Miraj al-Suu d, during his exile. Baba, like al-Wanshars
a century before, reiterated the position that slavery was a punishment for
unbelief. Unlike al-Wanshars, Baba took a stand on illegal slaving, making
strong arguments about the un-Islamic nature of enslavement based on
skin color. He also parted with al-Wanshars by placing the burden of
proof on the slave-owner rather than the slave in cases when the latter
claimed to be a free Muslim. In this he followed rulings by Mah.mud b.
Umar Aqt, Qadi of Timbuktu until 1548. Babas works have been analyzed
in numerous publications and are now available in English translation.
Although the notion that a legitimate jihad was needed to produce slaves
was largely academic, it was never forgotten. To the idea that any black
African was legally a slave, whether or not now a Muslim, and that all of
26
27

Ibid, pp. 858, 1036.


Lovejoy, Transformations in Slavery, pp. 323.

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sub-Saharan Africa was only a reservoir for slavers, Baba responded: This
is something we have never heard of, nor has [any information about] it
reached us . . . [it] is very close to being devoid of truth.28 The scholarly
class to which Baba belonged may have relied on slavery for the leisure to
study, his city of Timbuktu certainly participated in the slave trade, and
his Berber brethren were not devoid of color prejudice, but Baba drew the
line at illegal enslavement of Muslims.
In the Sahara, raiding of Sudan Muslim populations in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries greatly exacerbated the problem. Some raiding
took place within Saharan societies as well. As in the Maghrib, local categories of thought came to equate black with slave. One incident reported
to have taken place among the Tuareg Berbers circa 1665 illustrates both the
process of intra-Saharan raiding and the extent to which color categories
could animate Saharan thought on slavery. A Tuareg ruler, Khadakhada, in
conflict with another Tuareg group marks his victory in the usual fashion:
Khadakhada raided livestock and slaves. Some of these slaves were free men . . .
brought into the world by slave women. News of this . . . reached the [ruler] of
Agades and he sent a message to Khadakhada asking him to liberate the free men
made prisoners, even if they were black. The other replied to him that he made no
prisoners of free men. All the prisoners were blacks, therefore slaves, for a Black,
when he has been raided (razzie) becomes a slave.29

The tradition was recorded well after the fact and certainly reflects later
sensibilities. However it is probably not wholly anachronistic. New research
by Bruce Hall indicates that ideologies of race became more rigid in the
desert as Saharans attempted to claim Arab genealogies and tighten the
connections between unbelief and blackness, blackness and slavery.30
Political, economic, and environmental factors played a role here as well.
The seventeenth century probably saw a substantial increase in the level of
slaving from the north as the balance of power between desert and savanna
changed fundamentally. As noted, Songhays fall ended the age of empire
and the protection it had afforded its tributaries. The Saharan gold trade
was also declining, with perhaps a quarter of West African gold going south
to the Atlantic even in the sixteenth century. Finally, in a process detailed by
James Webb, there was a progressive desiccation of the entire desert/sahel
region, putting increased economic pressure on Saharans from 1600 to 1850.
All of these factors led to an increased incidence of slaving of West Africans
by Saharans. Banu H
. sasan Arabs raided Fuuta Tooro in Senegambia, and
28 Mir
aj al-S.uu d: Ahmad Babas Replies on Slavery, annotated and translated by John Hunwick
and Fatima Harrak (Rabat, 2000), p. 24.
29 Alojaly Ghoubed, Histoire des Kel-Denneg avant larrivee des francais (Copenhagen, 1975), p. 22.
30 Hall, The Question of Race.

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Tuareg raided in the west-central Sudan. Muslims predominated in both


the raided regions. The development of slave economies in Saharan regions
was accelerated during this period. Slaves were used in salt mining within
the Sahara and in agriculture on its fringes and in its oases. Everywhere,
the enslaved, many of whom had been free Muslims, were put to work at
a wide range of domestic tasks thought to be beneath the free.
In Senegambia, as demand for slaves in trans-Atlantic and trans-Saharan
markets intensified beginning in the sixteenth century, political elites
became more and more deeply committed to political economies of slaving,
slave trading, and slavery. Rulers armed servile dependents with firearms
from the Atlantic and mounted them on horses acquired both by desert
and sea. They used these ceddo to enslave still others. This caused dramatic convulsions in Senegambian society as political elites increasingly
exposed free Muslims to enslavement and export in both the Atlantic and
Saharan trades. Illegal enslavement of free Muslim peasants was a central
concern for the ulama. By the 1670s, clerical communities in Senegambia
hitherto, like the Juula, politically inactive took up arms to remedy the
situation. Senegambian clerics captured the major states in the northern
end of the region, and the slave trade on the Senegal River slowed to a
trickle. The success was short-lived; the French quickly provided military
support to the deposed rulers to reestablish the status quo. Over the course
of the next century, rulers of both the Wolof and the Fulbe state of Fuuta
Toro on the Senegal River became more heavily dependent on Atlantic
imports. Fuutas peasants were doubly cursed. The Islamic revolution of
the 1670s had weakened the ruling dynasty, which found itself ill-prepared
to defend against increasing military pressure from the north. Saharans
and the Kingdom of Morocco raided Fuuta extensively for a century after
1675, despite the fact that Islam had been the religion of the peoples of
the Senegal River valley since the eleventh century. In 1776, the clerical
families of Fuuta Toro, known collectively as Torobbe, once again captured
the state. Abd al-Qadir Kn decisively defeated the Saharans, reclaiming the
northern bank of the Senegal River and ending a century of slave-raiding.
He also forbade passage of slaves through Fuuta to the Atlantic coast and
even secured the right to have his men inspect French slave ships to ensure
that no Muslims from Fuuta were aboard.31
Resistance to illegal enslavement was also a major theme in the central
Sudan. By the 1780s, the Atlantic slave trade was becoming a significant
factor in the economy and politics of the Hausa states, and Uthman Dan
Fodios famous jihad against the Hausa states was largely fought to end the
31 James Searing, West African Slavery and Atlantic Commerce: The Senegal River Valley, 17001860
(Cambridge, 1993), p. 119.

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illegal enslavement of free Muslims.32 The rulers of the Hausa states, like
Wolof rulers half a continent away, were probably selling free Muslims into
the Atlantic trade. But the founding of the Sokoto caliphate also led to the
enslavement of free Hausa Muslims on a dramatic scale, given that by the
end of our period almost all Hausa professed Islam. Dan Fodio drew on
al-Maghls writings and his liberal use of takfr to justify his jih.a d, yet his
poems reveal his misgivings at the large-scale enslavement that came with
his jihad. He was aware of the abuses and unable to stop them. Indeed,
enslavement had become so basic to the political economy of West Africa
that political survival was impossible without it.
The unjust enslavement of free Muslims was a major theme in the history
of Kanem-Bornu as well. In fact, it was in Bornu that the problem first
inscribed itself in the historical record of sub-Saharan Africa. It is striking
that the oldest surviving correspondence (c. 13912) in the Arabic language
from a sub-Saharan West African source is a letter from the king of Bornu
to the Mamluk sultan of Egypt wherein he decries the unjust enslavement
of the Muslims of Bornu at the hands of certain unscrupulous Saharans.
It makes sense that the problem was recorded here earlier than elsewhere;
Bornu became deeply involved in the slave trade at a very early period. The
trade routes connecting the region of Lake Chad with North Africa date
to the Roman period and may have included slaves. A large influx of slaves
into the Fezzan in the ninth century may have been the placenta of Bornus
very birth. Unlike western Sudan, central Sudan had no gold. Slaving was
always central to its economy, perhaps never more so than under Mai Idrs
Alawma, who ruled in the second half of the sixteenth century. Like his
contemporaries in Senegambia, Alawma was able to employ firearms and
servile mercenaries to great effect in his military and slaving operations,
although here both the guns and the mercenaries came from the Ottoman
sphere rather than the Atlantic.
How he acquired these guns reminds us once again that the strictest
scholars Shara equation for enslavement (Caliphal authority = right to
jihad = just enslavement) never disappeared from mind, if it was often
ignored in practice. Apparently Alawma first turned to the Ottoman rulers
of Tripoli. When assistance did not materialize, he turned to Ah.mad alMans.ur, sultan of Morocco. Mai Idrs couched his request in religiously
appealing terms to the Saadian sultan, whose new dynasty claimed Sharifian descent and sought to project Islamic as well as temporal authority.
He asked for firearms to help in his jihad against neighboring non-Muslim
populations. He was told that he had no right to wage such a war on his own
account, and only by swearing allegiance to al-Mans.ur, the commander of
32 Humphrey Fisher, A Muslim Wilberforce? The Sokoto Jihad as Anti-Slavery Crusade: An
Enquiry into Historical Causes, in Serge Daget (ed.), De la traite a` lesclavage du Ve au XIXe si`ecle;
Actes du Colloque International sur la traite des Noirs (Nantes, 1988).

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the faithful, could such a right be granted.33 According to one version of


the story, he did so, but the aid was still not forthcoming from Morocco,
so he turned to slave mercenaries. In another version, the slave mercenaries
had been possessions of the Mai of Bornu even before Idrs. Mai Idrs had
a mixed record concerning the enslavement of Muslims in his many wars
of conquest. On the one hand, it is documented that he released the free
Muslims after defeating the ruling dynasty of Kanem in 1572. On the other
hand, as Humphrey Fisher has noted, the peoples of Kanem were kin to
Aloomas Borno, and Aloomas principles did not protect the people of
Kano, Muslim but not kinsmen, against whom Alooma also warred.34
By the first decade of the nineteenth century, the problem of enslavement
of free Muslims had come full circle in nearly every way in the central
Sudan. The forces of Sokoto initially impelled by a pious (but now aged)
shaykhs rejection of the sale of free Muslims in the Atlantic trade were
now threatening to reduce the Muslims of Bornu to slavery. Muh.ammad
al-Amn al-Kanam, an Arab born in the Fezzan and educated in Cairo and
Medina, rose to provide the military and intellectual defense. As a governor
of one of Bornus provinces, he ultimately defeated the invading forces, but
in the process he also wrote to Dan Fodios caliph to lay bare what he
saw as the poverty of this so-called holy war against other Muslims. His
arguments focused around the problem of illegal enslavement and serve to
summarize this issue for western Africa before 1800:
Tell us therefore why you are fighting us and enslaving our free people. If you
say that you have done this to us because of our paganism, then I say that we are
innocent of paganism, and it is far from our compound. If praying and the giving
of alms, knowledge of God, fasting in Ramadan and the building of mosques is
paganism, what is Islam?35

the nile valley


At the end of the eighteenth century, Egypt, with its populous and wealthy
metropolis of Cairo, stood at the apex of a system of slave production,
distribution, and use that reached into Nubia and beyond to powerful
African kingdoms whose slaving activities reached further inland to drag
East and Central African peoples into servitude. The eighteenth- and
nineteenth-century picture of Egyptian trade in slaves is often presumed
to reflect an ancient reality. Although a trade in slaves in the region was
old, a close reading of the secondary literature suggests that it was only
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when trading relations with
33 John Hunwick, Islamic Law and Polemics over Race and Slavery in North and West Africa
(16th19th Century) in Shaun E. Marmon (ed.) Slavery in the Islamic Middle East (Princeton, 1999).
34 Fisher, Slavery in the History, pp. 1921.
35 Robert O. Collins (ed.), African History Text and Readings (New York, 1990), p. 71.

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three powerful kingdoms, Sinnar, Dar Fur, and (to a lesser extent) Wadai,
became routinized that the Nilotic Sudan became Egypts main source of
slaves.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the trade from European sources
was more important than it would later be, and there is little evidence
of systematic slave trading from the Nilotic Sudan. Al-Maqrz (d. 1442)
reports two African caravans bringing large numbers of slaves into Cairo
on two separate occasions in the fifteenth century, but these are caravans
of pilgrims rather than traders, and they are from the western not the
Nilotic Sudan.36 In fact, there is little evidence of a structured slave trade
from the greater Nile Valley in these sources, and little indication that it
had become more important than the trade in Europeans. Austen records
no sixteenth-century estimates for African slave imports in Egypt before
the 1570s, when reports indicate that many thousands of blacks are seen
for sale on market days, and a majority of slaves on the Cairo market
are black. From this point forward, nearly all of Austens entries indicate a
predominance of dark-skinned Africans.
Though there was apparently some trade with the antecedent states of
Wadai and the Kayra sultanate in Dar Fur, the Red Seabased trade may
have accounted for a majority of the slave trade into Cairo before the end of
the seventeenth century. In 1587, a German traveler, Lichtenstein, reports
that many black Moors are brought via the Nile from the land of Prester
John, presumably meaning Ethiopia. The enslaved may have been mostly
Cushitic speakers from the Horn of Africa, but there were certainly some
peoples enslaved in the Nilotic Sudan among them. Terence Walz notes
that from its inception circa 1500 until the seventeenth century, much
of Sinnars trade was directed toward the Red Sea port of Sawakin. This
town, along with the Ethiopian port city of Massawa, was annexed by the
Ottomans in 15567. Walz also confirms that much of the trade came first
by sea and then by river from Ethiopia in this period, noting that goods
from the Sudan were embarked on the Nile River at Qus. or Qina. He also
cites Ottoman sources indicating direct state involvement in shipping slaves
from Abyssinia to Egypt and Turkey in the late 1590s.37 Slaves from the
Horn of Africa probably figured prominently in the total number of slaves
imported into Egypt from 1400 to 1600. Substantial, though unknown,
36 Al Maqrzs account is cited as a basis for Austens estimates on the volume of trade into Egypt
in the charts reproduced in The Mediterranean Islamic Slave Trade out of Africa. For the fifteenth
century, there are only three other entries; two involve slaves being seized as taxes from Upper Egypt.
The third is an entry from Felix Fabris 1483 travel account. Fabri reports on one of the slave markets
where he saw exposed for sale, adults, youth, and children of both sexes, black and white, in great

number. See Jacques Masson (ed. & trans.), Voyage en Egypte


de Felix Fabri, 1483 (Cairo, 1975),
pp. 436, 442, 91819.
37 See Terence Walz, Trading into the Sudan in the Sixteenth Century, in Annales Islamologiques,
15 (1979): 21213, as well as Trade between Egypt and bilad al-Sudan, pp. 78.

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numbers of the enslaved were probably Cushitic speakers originating in


greater Ethiopia. Women of such origin were prized as concubines by
nineteenth-century Egyptians, and the custom was certainly not new.
After 1600, Egypt received substantial numbers of slaves from the Nilotic
Sudan, and these generally increased over the next two centuries. According to Lovejoy, they reached a total of three thousand to six thousand
per annum in the last decades of the eighteenth century.38 This would
suggest that Egypt dominated the trans-Saharan trade in this period, but
again calculations are difficult and estimates imprecise. Whatever the real
number, it was augmented by a much smaller and ever decreasing
quantity of slaves of Caucasian origin. Mamluk males and Circassian slavegirls were the most prized of all. Ottoman sumptuary restrictions forbade
civilians to own them, but the rules were regularly broken. As these sources
decreased, the demand for slaves (especially females) from the Horn may
have increased. At least two other minor sources complemented the flow
of trade-slaves. First, the Egyptian military sometimes raided for slaves
directly from outposts in Upper Egypt. Second, the phenomenon of poor
parents selling their children into slavery though documented only for
the nineteenth century was probably a minor source in our period as
well.39 Though it is true that Egypt served as a major market for redistributing slaves throughout the Middle East, the great majority of enslaved
people brought to Egypt lived and died there. Current views of their status
and numbers are captured by Michael Winters comment on the enslaved
of Cairo:
At the bottom of Cairos social ladder were the black slaves, who were employed
as domestic servants and maids; many black slave girls were kept as concubines.
No estimates are available as to the number of the black slaves in Cairo; they are
seldom mentioned in the sources as individuals, and never as a group or a class.40

The state of Sinnar to the south was probably the single largest source of
slaves for the Egyptian market in the early eighteenth century, dispatching
more than two thousand enslaved people per year.41 The monarch of Sinnar monopolized the domestic market. Only he had the right to sponsor
caravans, and once the caravan arrived, his agents sold the royal slaves first
before allowing the private traders to deal. The sources of Sinnars slaves
were diverse. Annual state-sponsored slaving campaigns against Sinnars
non-Muslim neighbors were organized by a court official charged specifically with the task. Half of the slaves thus produced belonged to the king.
Slaves were also acquired through purchase, sometimes by agents from
38
39
40
41

Lovejoy, Transformations, 61.


Gabriel Baer, Slavery in Nineteenth Century Egypt, Journal of African History 8 (1967): 419.
Michael Winter, Egyptian Society, pp. 2445.
Ralph Austen, The Mediterranean Islamic Slave Trade, p. 218.

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among the groups raided by the Funj. Throughout the eighteenth century,
the Dinka warred with Sinnar provoked, we might imagine, by the latters
slave raids. However, by the end of the century, when Funj relations with
the Dinka stabilized, Dinka merchants had become important suppliers of
Sinnars slave trade. Slaves were also produced domestically, as any illegitimate offspring of free women were claimed as slaves by the sultan. Slaves
were used extensively within Sinnar. As we might expect, the sultan was
the main slave-owner, and many slaves were used for the purposes of state.
Male slaves were widely used in the military as well as in state administration. Slave villages were founded in a ring-like arrangement around
the capital and were intended to serve as expendable first lines in military
defense.42
Female slaves were used sexually by royalty and titled elites in Sinnar.
Their services were also extended to travelers, foreign traders, and dignitaries in hospitality arrangements. According to Spaulding and Beswick,
this sort of precapitalist prostitution preceded the development of the commoditized prostitution of slaves from the mid-eighteenth century. In spite
of the Quranic exhortation to preserve slave-women from prostitution
(Quran 24:33), the practice was the purview of a literate Muslim bourgeoisie that defined itself as Arab, and otherwise left its mark on Sinnar
society by promoting textualist understandings of Islam, female seclusion,
and other practices they associated with orthodox Arab (largely Egyptian)
mores.43 Cash prostitution was apparently quite widespread in Cairo from
at least the sixteenth century. Despite periodic crackdowns, it was taxed in
some periods, and both pimps and prostitutes formed trade guilds.44
Terence Walzs research on Egyptian trade with the Sudan indicates that
in the sixteenth century, there was some trade already taking place with
the region of Dar Fur and the early polity of Tunjur, the political ancestor
of both Wadai and the Kayra sultanate. It may not have been very large
or routinized, but further research is necessary. For the first century of its
existence (c. 16501750), the Kayra sultanate directed much of its trade
north and northwest to Tripoli and Tunis as well as westwards to Wadai
and Bornu, but the extent of such trading between the sub-Saharan polities
is unknown. That the darb al-arban (forty-day road) was not in regular
use between 1400 CE and the end of the seventeenth century is widely
accepted. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the sultanate of
42 The composite picture presented here depends mainly on Jay Spauldings work on Sinn
ar. See
R. S. OFahey and J. L. Spaulding, Kingdoms of the Sudan (London, 1974), pp. 4566, 802, as well
as Jay Spaulding, Precolonial Islam in the Eastern Sudan, in Nehemia Levtzion and Randall Lee
Pouwels (eds.), History of Islam in Africa (Athens, OH, 1999), pp. 11729.
43 Jay Spaulding and Stephanie Beswick, Sex, Bondage, and the Market: The Emergence of
Prostitution in Northern Sudan, 17501950, in Journal of the History of Sexuality, 5 (1995): 51234.
44 Michael Winter, Egyptian Society, pp. 2301, 239, 249.

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Kayra delivered several thousand slaves per year to the Egyptian market,
more than were dispatched from Sinnar.45
The primary sources of slaves in Dar Fur were a collection of non-Muslim
and partially converted peoples to their south in western Sudan, presentday northeastern Central African Republic, and present-day southeastern
Chad. The Fur referred to all of these peoples as Fartt and held that their
enslavement was sanctioned by Islam. The Abode of the Fartt, Dar Fartt,
was used as a slave-hunting ground by the Fur. It was likewise raided
extensively by Baqqara Arabs resident in the region, and, at least in the
nineteenth century, Fulani from West Africa as well. Unlike in Sinnar,
civilians and private merchants were known to organize slave-raids with
permission of the sultan. Expeditions in Dar Fartt could take as long as
three months, and not all of the slaves obtained during these ghazwas were
captured. The leader of the ghazwa was empowered to accept tribute in
slaves from Fartt authorities, thus displacing the burdens and the risks
of capture. As in Sinnar, slaves were not only exported, but also used
extensively in military and administrative positions. Unfortunately, here,
as in the neighboring state of Wadai, information on the use of slaves within
Dar Fur is based on mid- and late-nineteenth-century documentation.
Slavery in Wadai is also known only in outline and follows the model of
the other main kingdoms of the Nilotic Sudan: The kings of Wadai raided
substantially to the south, among what they considered an undifferentiated
mass of enslavable people, in this case referred to as Kirdi. They also
seem to have encouraged raiding by resident Arabs, here, the Salamat.
If early-nineteenth-century usage is any indication of what came before,
agricultural slavery within the kingdom was practiced on an extensive scale,
and slaves including eunuchs imported from Bagirmi were heavily used
in both the military and administration.46
ethiopia and the horn
The principle driving force of slavery in the Horn of Africa before the nineteenth century was the Christian highland kingdom of Ethiopia. Though
its intercontinental slave trade was substantial, it was probably the largest
consumer of slaves in the region. The king was certainly the largest single
slave-owner, and his armies carried out extensive slaving operations against
non-Christians. These were believed to be sanctioned by Christian religious
45 The discussion of slaving, slave trading, and slavery in D
ar Fur is based on a series of works by
OFahey, Religion and Trade in the Kayra Sultanate of Dar Fur, in Yusuf Fad.l H
. asan (ed.), Sudan in
Africa (Khartoum, 1971); Slavery and the Slave Trade in Dar Fur, Journal of African History 14 (1973):
2943; and Slavery and Society in Dar Fur, in J. R. Willis (ed.), Slaves and Slavery in Muslim Africa
II. See also R. S. OFahey and J. L. Spaulding, Kingdoms of the Sudan, pp. 1514.
46 Spaulding, Precolonial Islam, p. 121.

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law. Why then, should Ethiopias history of slavery figure in our survey of
Islamic Africa? The reasons are mainly historiographical, rather than historical. Conventional approaches to the export slave trades from Africa
prominently featured Ethiopia and the Red Sea, because in the nineteenth
century, the region fit the paradigm of Arab slave trading. Slaves were
brought mainly to Arabia, and from there on to other parts of the Muslim
world, particularly India. Focusing on trade, rather than slaving or slavery,
highlighted the Horns coastal Muslim merchants, especially the Jabartis
who handled the traffic and the Muslim markets that received the bulk of
these slaves. Contrary to the interpretation of an early generation of Christian scholars, it is now clear that the Christian kingdom was the driving
ideological, economic, and political force behind the traffic. But once this
is recognized, the reasons why Ethiopia merits consideration here become
clear.
First, it is clear that Jabartis did dominate much of the long-distance
trade during our period, particularly the slave trade. Christian participation
was forbidden by both church and state, though Christians were allowed
to buy and keep slaves. Of course, in practice many Christians sold slaves
and, indeed, other free Christians (especially kidnapped children) to slavedealers.47 Also, in spite of the dominance of Christianity in the Amhara- and
Tigrinya-speaking areas that comprised the core of the Abyssinian state,
greater Ethiopia included many Muslim polities. The southern lowland
state of Adal, with its capital at Harrar, was a major factor in the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries, particularly during the jihad of Ah.mad b. Ibrahm
al-Ghaz (Ah.mad Gran), which enslaved many Muslims and Christians.
Extensive slaving by the Abyssinians in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries physically cleared space in southern and southwestern
Ethiopia and left remaining peoples socially dislocated. This triggered
the ascendancy of pastoral Oromo, traditionally the victims of Ethiopian
slavers, who incorporated the socially dislocated into their own emergent
gada system and changed the political face of the Horn.48 In the process of
occupying many areas that had once been centers of Muslim influence, the
Oromo progressively embraced Islam, becoming one of the most numerically important Muslim minorities in the Horn. Oromo societies, however
dynamic, were not united. Pastoralist Oromo enslaved settled Oromo and
others throughout our period. Indeed, as in West Africa, slaving was so
central to the political economy of the region by this time that they may
have had little choice.

47

Mordechai Abir, Ethiopia: The Era of Princes (New York, 1968), p. 54.
See Mohammed Hassen, The Oromo of Ethiopia: A History, 15701860 (Cambridge, 1990),
pp. xiv, 6971.
48

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According to the laws and customs of both the Muslims and the Christians of Ethiopia, polytheists should have been the main targets of slaving.
The Fetha Nagast (Law of Kings) that encoded church legal doctrine was
probably translated into Geez from the writings of an Egyptian Copt
sometime during the fifteenth century. In yet another example of blurred
boundaries, the Law of Kings echoed the ulamas humanistic legal principle (al-as.l huwa al-h.uriyya) on slavery: all men share liberty on the
basis of natural law. It also offered clear clerical sanction for slaving and
slavery based on scriptural grounds, including Leviticus 25:4446. The
Fetha Nagast made it plain that the law of war permitted the enslavement
of the vanquished.49 Muslims were not formally protected from enslavement the way the People of the Book were, but most Jabartis were native
Ethiopians and subjects of the king, and thus enjoyed civil protection in
principle if not always in practice. Various traditionalists were certainly the
main targets before the sixteenth century. Cushitic speakers in the southern and southwestern portions of greater Ethiopia, particularly Oromo
and Sidama, probably made up the bulk of the so-called habasha slaves
in Egypt and elsewhere. Warfare, kidnapping, and juridical enslavement
within and between the Cushitic-speaking societies produced significant
numbers of slaves for purchase by Jabartis and others. Amhara color conventions termed such peoples red. Because of their high value in external
markets, most of these slaves were exported. Other slaving targets were
groups referred to rather loosely as Bareya or Shanqalla. The latter term
is first recorded in the fifteenth century to refer to polytheists living on
the western fringes of Christian Ethiopia, and defined as both black and
enslavable by Ethiopian law and custom. Because their market value was
lower than red slaves, most Shanqalla and Bareya were kept as slaves in
Christian Abyssinia, where both terms came to mean slave.
Tensions between Muslims and Christian in the Horn probably led
to increased incidence of the enslavement of both from the fourteenth
century forward. Abyssinia warred with the Sultanate of Adal for much
of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, peaking during the wars between
Imam Ah.mad al-Ghaz and the Solomonid dynasty in the second quarter
of the sixteenth century. The war was considered a major reason for the
importation of Ethiopian slaves into India during the sixteenth century.50
Africans of slave origin played a major role in the politics of Mughal India,
where they were called Habsh.s. How many were actually from the area of
Ethiopia and the Horn is unknown, because the term was used to refer to
49 Richard Pankhurst, History of the Bareya, Sanqella

and Other Ethiopian Slaves from the


Borderlands of the Sudan, in Sudan Notes and Records, 58 (1977): 34.
50 Sih
ab al-Dn Ahmad b. Abd al-Qader b. Salem b. Utman, also known as Arab Faqh, translated
.
by Paul L. Stenhous with annotations by Richard Pankhurst, Futuh. al-H
. abasa: The Conquest of
Abyssinia, 16th Century (Hollywood, CA, 2003), p. xix.

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people of diverse African origins. Though there was clearly a trade before
1800, the sources give no reliable indication of its size.51 The true scale
of the Red Sea trade can be meaningfully estimated for the nineteenth
century, but not before.
Although a discussion of slaving and slave trading in the Muslim societies
of Ethiopia and the Horn is at least possible, no substantive discussion of
the nature of slavery whatsoever can be undertaken in the present state of
research. A treatment of slavery in Christian Abyssinia would be out of place
here, and even fleeting references to slavery within the Muslim polities and
highland communities are lacking before the nineteenth century. Oromo
speakers did not become predominantly Muslim until that time. Further,
I was unable to locate a single systematic analysis of slavery in Oromo
society before 1800. The latter statement is equally true for slavery among
the Somali, though they embraced Islam many centuries earlier. Slavery is
thought to have played only a very minor role in Somali society before the
Oman slave-complex at Zanzibar overflowed into all of East Africa in the
first half of the nineteenth century. Before this, it is likely that slaves were
extensively employed in coastal merchant towns like Mogadishu, Merca,
and Brava Lee Cassanelli estimates that one-third of the town populations
may have been slaves.52 These towns had little Somali presence until the
more recent past, and most indications are that unlike some other nomadic
groups surveyed earlier, Somalis made little use of slaves for agriculture or
other purposes before the nineteenth century.
coastal east africa and the offshore islands
For the period prior to 1750 on the East African coast, there is little
hyperbole in the claim that the history of its slave trade is currently being
rewritten, though the history of its slavery remains unwritten. For the
nineteenth century, there is a wealth of literature on both subjects, and on
slaving as well, but these, together with pre-fifteenth-century material, will
be included in other volumes of this series.53 The history of slave trading is
primarily being rewritten by Thomas Vernet, and this section will largely
51

James Bruce, Travels to Discover the Sources of the Nile III (Dublin, 1791), pp. 41620.
Lee Cassanelli, The Shaping of Somali Society (Philadelphia, 1982), p. 26.
For nineteenth-century slavery on the coast, see Jonathon Glassman, Feasts and Riot: Revelry,
Rebellion, and Popular Consciousness on the Swahili Coast, 18561888 (Portsmouth, 1995); Frederick
Cooper, Plantation Slavery on the East African Coast (New Haven, 1977); and Abdul Sheriff, Slaves,
Spices and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy,
17701873 (London, 1987). For the perspective from (mostly nineteenth-century) India, which received
some East African slaves, see Joseph Harris, The African Presence in Asia: Consequences of the East African
Slave Trade (Evanston, 1971). See also Thomas Ricks, Slaves and Slave Traders in the Persian Gulf,
18th and 19th Centuries: An Assessment, and Albertine Jwaideh and J. W. Cox, The Black Slaves
of Turkish Arabia during the Nineteenth Century, both of which appear in W. G. Clarence-Smith
(ed.), Economics of Indian Ocean Slave Trade (London, 1989). Finally, for a recent attempt to revisit
52
53

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reflect the new approaches and findings published in his recent seminal
article.54 The place of slaves in coastal Swahili society before the nineteenth
century is almost wholly unknown, though work with Portuguese sources
may still reveal details about slavery in coastal society before it was utterly
transformed by Oman Arabs in the late eighteenth century and into the
nineteenth.
The term Zanj was sometimes used by Arabic-language geographers to
refer to East Africa south of the Horn or its inhabitants (al-Tabari himself
used it almost interchangeably with Sudan). This led to the conclusion
that an important slave trade tied coastal East Africa Arabia and the Persian
Gulf in the early centuries of Islam. The scale of the rebellion, which
caused half a million casualties in one (presumably exaggerated) estimate,
seemed to point to a massive trade. An excellent article by G. H. Talhami
demonstrates that both inferences were unjustified, and that the majority
of slaves involved in the revolt came from sources in the Nilotic Sudan and
Red Sea zones.55 Another piece of early evidence came from Ibn Battutas
rih.la. Though he says nothing of slave trading, Battuta does give very brief
accounts of slavery and slaving. On the former, he makes passing mention
of slaves being given as gifts. On the latter, he writes that the people of
Kilwa are a people devoted to the Holy War because they are on one
continuous mainland with unbelieving Zunuj [sing. Zanj]. Battuta also
records that the sultan of Kilwa was much given to razzias upon the land
of the Zunuj; he raided them and captured booty.56 With these two pieces
of evidence and little else, some scholars sought to eternalize the dynamics
of nineteenth-century coastal slavery, projecting them back to the distant
past.
In fact, there are few unambiguous references to a slave trade from East
Africa in Arabic sources before the tenth century, and not many more
thereafter.57 Battutas report on mainland military slaving from Kilwa is
nearly an isolated account. Arguing from this silence, postcolonial scholars
tended to maintain that slaving and slave trading played little role in
the economy and political economy of the Swahili coast before the rise
of the Oman-controlled, Zanzibar-based trade in the second half of the
the archaeological record in search of evidence for slavery, see Chapurukha Kusimba, Archaeology of
Slavery in East Africa, African Archaeological Review, 21 (2004): 5988.
54 Much of the later discussion draws upon Le Commerce. Azania, 38 (2003): 69
97.
55 Ghada Hashem Talhami, The Zanj Rebellion Reconsidered, International Journal of African
Historical Studies,10 (1977): 44361.
56 See Sad Hamdun and Noel King (ed. & trans.), Ibn Battuta in Black Africa (London, 1975),
pp. 224.
57 See Randall L. Pouwels, Eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean to 1800: Reviewing Relations in
Historical Perspective, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 35 (2002): 3946. For more
on slavery in this piece, see pp. 40710.

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eighteenth century. With little secondary research available to estimate the


volume of the trade, Lovejoy published cautious estimates of one thousand
slaves per year from East Africa before 1700 and four thousand per year
during the eighteenth century.
As noted, Thomas Vernets research on Swahili-operated slavery seems
destined to bring about a broader reassessment of the role of slave trading in the history of the East African coast and offshore islands. The
Portuguese sources examined reveal a substantial slave trade operated by
coastal merchants and the resident Swahili community on Madagascar
(the Antalaotra). In the seventeenth century, the Swahili share in this trade
amounted to at least two to three thousand slaves being shipped from
Madagascar to the coast. As Vernet himself notes, evidence of a substantial
Muslim-operated trade from the island of Madagascar had long since been
published in secondary works on Madagascar. Often characterized as an
Arab trade, it was basically ignored by scholars of the Swahili. Even in
Vernets detailed account, it is unclear how much of the trade was operated
by Swahili and how much by Hadrami and Yemeni Arabs resident on the
East African coast. There were substantial numbers of the latter groups
after the sixteenth century and particularly in the cities tied most closely
to the trade, Lamu and Pate. Vernet even suggests that the slave trade
may be part of what hastened their migration. Nevertheless, it appears that
this trade was basically run by the Swahili from its origins until at least
1700.58 In addition to Arabs, Muslim merchants from the Comoro islands
were also involved. On the whole, the Arab, Swahili, and Comorian trades
handled three thousand to six thousand slaves per year in the 1700s. The
overwhelming majority of the enslaved were Malagasies sold to the Antalaotra community on the island by highland elites, before being resold to
Swahili, Comorian, and Arab merchants. Vernet seems mainly to follow
the interpretation of earlier writers on the slave trade from Madagascar
in seeing the captives as the products of slaving warfare in the highlands.
But kidnapping, juridical enslavement, and enslavement for debt were also
significant.59 Surely these must have been prominent in supplying Swahili
networks as well.
The Portuguese took notice of the slave trade almost immediately (1506).
They took control of Mozambique and Sofala, previously the southern
extremities of the Swahili world, and were soon receiving and reexporting
supplies of slaves from Madagascar sold by Antalaotra merchants. As in
West Africa, the overlaps between the Muslim-controlled trading networks
and those controlled by Europeans were substantial. From 1638 to 1658,
58
59

Thomas Vernet, Le Commerce, pp. 789.


Larson, History and Memory. See especially pp. 11860, Strategies in a Slaving Economy.

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the Dutch attempted to develop plantation agriculture on the island of


Mauritius, using Malagasy slaves purchased from Muslims. The Dutch
failed, but in the 1720s, the French renewed efforts to re-create the new
world economy on the Mascarenes. Part of the key to the French success
was that they were able to bypass Muslim merchants on Madagascar and
purchase slaves directly from ruling elites, but they also purchased slaves
from Portuguese Mozambique and the Swahili city-states. The most famous
symbol of the ties binding the multiple Indian Ocean slave trades together
was the 1776 CE agreement signed by the sultan of Kilwa to provide one
thousand slaves to the French trader Morice for export to the Mascarene
islands.
Though they were deeply involved in trading, the Swahili seem to have
done little slaving. Vernet argues that between 1500 and 1750, Swahili citystates were militarily fragile; mainland groups attacked the coastal polities
more frequently than the coast attacked the mainland. Moreover, even these
conflicts were exceptional, as the Swahili city-states had strong patron-client
ties with mainland societies, including arrangements for military defense.
Only at the southern end of the Swahili world, in Kilwa and its southern hinterland, were continental Africans traded in substantial numbers.
Vernet concludes that on the Swahili coast north of Cape Delgado, there
was little mainland slave trading at all between 1500 and 1800, with the
exception of a trade in Somali and Oromo women destined for use as
concubines. At the same time, Portuguese documents make reference to a
voluminous mainland trade in ivory, foodstuffs, and, at least in the south,
gold.60
New research is changing our understanding of slaving and slave trading
on the Swahili coast in fundamental ways. Unfortunately, the place of
slavery in Swahili society before the later eighteenth century remains almost
wholly unknown. In a recent study of material consumption on the Swahili
coast, Jeremy Prestholdt concludes that a paucity of evidence makes the
study of slavery in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century coastal society nearly
impossible. While it is clear, he writes, that slaves made up a large
percentage of the workforce on mashamba [farms] and served as soldiers,
their relations with the free people in Swahili society are unclear.61 The
secondary literature for the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries scarcely
offers more.

60

Thomas Vernet, Le Commerce, pp. 823.


Jeremy Prestholdt, As Artistry Permits and Custom May Ordain: The Social Fabric of Material
Consumption in the Swahili World, circa 14501600, Program in African Studies Working Papers,
Northwestern University, Number 3, 1998, p. 23, n. 82.
61

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conclusions

One way to tie our thematic discussion and our regional histories back
together is to point ahead to the nineteenth-century history of slavery,
Islam, and Africa. In coastal East Africa, and indeed throughout Islamic
Africa, slaving, slave trading, and slavery all expanded dramatically in the
nineteenth century. More important perhaps, so did abolitionist (and often
procolonial) invective against slavery in Africa and particularly the Arab
slave trade. Our study of slavery in Islamic Africa before 1800 has been
shaped in basic ways by these related nineteenth-century developments.
First, the increased European attention to the question of slavery produced
voluminous new bodies of sources in European languages. This bulge
eventually registered in the secondary literature, obscuring earlier patterns
of slavery, or worse, inscribing them with nineteenth-century anachronism.
Second, the rhetorical excesses of abolitionist invective painted a portrait of
wholesale Arab enslavement of Africans, causing us to miss what did not fit
the demonizing narrative, for example the Swahili trade in Malagasy slaves.
Another way the literature on our period reflects abolitionist concerns is
its focus on the slave trade at the expense of slavery. Part of this stems from
the difficulties of reconstructing satisfactory social histories of African societies before the nineteenth century, but part is due to the moral imperatives
of the numbers game. Indeed, a dearth of sources has not stopped the
attempts to count an uncountable trade from an arbitrarily divided Africa.
Comparing the damage done by Europeans with that done by Arabs or
Muslims has left us with an almost wholly fabricated external slave trade
from Africa, and little idea of the scale of slave trading or the shape of
slavery within Islamic Africa south of the Sahara.
The major exception to a general disregard for the study of slavery
as a social institution in the Muslim world has been a relatively modest
Orientalist literature that approached the question mainly on the basis of
normative texts and ignored sub-Saharan Islamic Africa almost completely.
If abolitionists sensationalized the exotic, sexual, and brutal aspects of slavery in the Muslim world, most Islamicists tended to counter the charges by
painting slavery in the Muslim world as benign and paternalistic. In short,
they reproduced one kind of Muslim apologetic for slavery. If abolitionists
and Orientalists did not see eye to eye on everything, at least they could
agree that Islamic slavery was decadent and uneconomic, thus preserving the essential divide between the backwards East and progressive West.
Finally, and most important, abolitionists and Orientalists could agree on
the existence of something called Islamic slavery. Here the academics colluded with the ulama they studied to inscribe slavery as an indelible part
of Islam as a religion, rather than what it patently is, a part of humankinds
worldly history.

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further reading
Few major secondary works have been written on slavery in Islamic Africa
in the early modern period. Much more has been written on the nineteenth century, and much of what was written on earlier periods reflects
nineteenth-century patterns in basic ways. Nonetheless, the works listed
should allow for a deeper exploration of the topic treated here.
For a basic introduction to the historical trajectory of Islam in African
societies, the best work is David Robinsons Muslim Societies in African
History (Cambridge, 2004). Chapter 5 (pp. 6073) is a thoughtful, if brief,
discussion of Muslim identity and the slave trades. The best introductory
text on slavery in Africa remains Paul E. Lovejoys Transformations in
Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (Cambridge, 2000). The work is an
updated edition of a work first published in 1983.
If readers have time to encounter only one text on slavery in Islamic
thought, law, and practice, I recommend William Gervase Clarence-Smith,
Islam and the Abolition of Slavery (London, 2006), particularly chapter 2,
A Fragile Sunni Consensus. For two generations, the standard (though
problematic) introductory reference to slavery in Islamic law was Robert
Brunschvigs Abd in the Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960). It is an
erudite yet accessible synthetic article based mainly on classical texts, but
it gives little sense of process, practice, or debate.
The best discussion of legal controversies surrounding slavery in this
period in sub-Saharan Africa is John Hunwicks Islamic Law and Polemics
over Race and Slavery in North and West Africa (16th19th Century)
in Shaun E. Marmons (ed.) Slavery in the Islamic Middle East (Princeton,
1999). Hunwick also co-edited with Eve Troutt Powell (eds.) a useful collection of primary sources on Islam and slavery as well as enslaved Africans in
the Middle East entitled The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands
of Islam (Princeton, 2002).
For the East African coast and offshore islands before the nineteenth
century, the most important article is Thomas Vernets Le commerce
des esclaves sur la cote Swahili, 15001750, Azania 38 (2003): 6997. I
am aware of no English-language piece that transmits the results of this
important research.
E. Ann McDougalls Discourse and Distortion: Critical Reflections on
Studying the Saharan Slave Trade, Outre-Mers: Revue dHistoire, 336/337
(2002): 195229 is an excellent article that helps frame the distorting effects
of nineteenth-century literature on previous patterns of slavery in Islamic
West Africa. The same volume (pp. 24782) contains a fine recent essay
by Lovejoy on how Muslim identity served as a brake on trans-Atlantic
slave trading: Islam, Slavery, and Political Transformations in West Africa:
Constraints on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

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Finally, the substantial amount of material regarding enslaved African


Muslims in the New World is carefully surveyed by Sylviane Diouf in
Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the New World (New York,
1998). This reading might be usefully paired with a recent documentary
film, Prince Among Slaves, (Alexandria, VA, 2008) which explores the welldocumented life of a literate West African Muslim enslaved in Mississippi
in the late eighteenth century.

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CHAPTER 4

SLAVERY IN NON-ISLAMIC WEST AFRICA,


14201820
g. ugo nwokeji

introduction1

Slavery was an ancient institution known to have been widespread in


the Old World. As a part of the Old World, therefore, African societies
practiced slavery; it would have been an anomaly if slavery did not exist
on the continent. The Bibles Old Testament points to the existence of
slavery in Africa, given that Joseph and his fellow Israelites were enslaved
in Egypt before their escape (Exodus). Slavery existed in Christian Ethiopia
in the fourth century AD. The evidence for the antiquity of slavery in West
Africa is not as clear-cut, but it is clear enough that slavery existed alongside
various forms of servility in parts of the region well before the fifteenth
century, when the Europeans arrived there via the Atlantic Ocean. The
question to address, then, is not whether slavery existed in West African
societies, but how extensive it was and when it assumed significance in
the political economies, as well as its extent, character, and dynamics. The
transatlantic trade that ensued with European arrival at the west coast from
the fifteenth century onward marked a watershed in the development of
slavery in West Africa. Slaveholding in the region spread and intensified
during the following four centuries.
The relationship of slavery to the market highlights the correlation of the
transatlantic trade and the spread of slavery. Elements of this relationship
relevant to this study are threefold. First, slavery and the slave trade coexisted in most historical situations, including West Africa; indeed, slavery
cannot exist without some kind of traffic. Second, there is the question
about whether indigenous slave systems resulted from the Atlantic trade or
vice versa. Third, the means by which a person became captive was important, and sometimes crucial, in determining whether he or she was sent to
the Americas or held captive in West Africa. Clearly indigenous slavery coexisted with two external slave markets trans-Saharan and transatlantic.
1 An earlier version of this paper was presented to the University of California Multicampus Research
Unit Conference on World Slavery, University of California, Davis, May 2830, 2004. I am indebted
to the participants, especially Bill Hagen, for comments.

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The interaction of these overlapping markets had implications for slavery


in Atlantic Africa. Separating slavery from the market is, therefore, just as
superficial as separating it from the social institutions that underpin both
the market and slavery. Thus, anthropologist Bernard Siegel has argued
that slavery must be considered in its relationships to the entire social
structure. An effective description of a slave system must thus account for
interaction between the market and other social institutions, as well as in
the constitution and diversity of non-Islamic West Africa.
Non-Islamic West Africa in the period covered here was a much larger
universe than it is today. Many currently Muslim societies were not Muslim or had not become sufficiently so to be regarded as Islamic societies
before the nineteenth century. Although the religion had penetrated West
Africa by the eleventh century, Islam only became widespread in the late
eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. For example, Jesuit priests in the
Upper Guinea Coast in 1605 observed, Although these Jalofos practice
many rites of the sect of Mohammed, for they are neighbors to the Moors,
nevertheless the ordinary people embrace our holy religion with ease.
One priest, Baltasar Barreira, noted in 1606 that Islam took hold only
a few years ago among the Fula of northern Senegambia. Jean-Pierre
Oliver de Sardin argues that though there were traces of the Islamization
that took place during the era of Askia Mohammed in the early sixteenth
century, the mass of peasants converted, or reconverted to Islam only
with the Fulbe revival of the nineteenth century. Islamic holy wars that
started in Futa Jalon in hinterland Senegambia in 1725 only spread to
some coastal regions in the middle of the century, and it was as late as the
nineteenth century that Islam made a partial impact on northern Sierra
Leone, according to Bruce Mouser. And James Searing reminds us that the
forest remained the cultural frontier that marked the limits of Islam in
much of Senegambia up to the second half of the eighteenth century. In
much of West Africa, including Hausaland, the jihads of the late eighteenth
and nineteenth centuries were triggered by the belief that these societies
were not Islamic enough. The West African religious landscape was fluid.
The non-Islamic West Africa covered here is, therefore, significantly more
extensive than present-day non-Islamic West Africa.
antiquity of slavery in non-islamic west africa
Extant evidence for slavery before the eighteenth century rarely gives useful
insight into the character and extent of the institution. Some reasonable
assumptions about social processes and the history of the region can complement the available evidence. The first such assumption is that slavery
was known to Africans in West Africa. Although early European visitors
reported the existence of slavery in many regions, it is hazardous to take

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these reports at face value because they tended to conflate slavery with
other forms of servility and dependency. When such reports claim, as they
sometimes did, that an inordinate number of Africans were slaves, or that
all persons in a given African society were the kings slaves, or that all
Africans were slaves, they should be read as indicating the pervasiveness of
forms of servility rather than suggesting intensity of the institution.2
Such reports are often linked with perceptions that land-labor ratios
were very high and created the precondition for large-scale slavery consistent with the Nieboer-Domar hypothesis. Because powerful people would
have had to enslave those with access to land, slavery is likely to have been
widespread in historically under-populated Africa. But the demographic
picture of the West African coast emerging from contemporary estimates is
that coastal societies were generally characterized by high population densities, a fact confirmed by modern scholars ranging from archeologist Graham Connah and historian John Thornton. Average population density in
seventeenth-century Lower Guinea (from modern Ghana to Nigeria) was,
in the words of Thornton, probably well over thirty people per square
kilometer, or well over the average European density of the time. Historian Ray Kea has observed that population increase on the Gold Coast was
a salient feature of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Walter Rodney
reported that a continuous drift and migration of people from the western
Sudan had resulted in increased population in the area of present-day Sierra
Leone in the Upper Guinea Coast by the time of contact with Europeans.
This process continued in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. High
population densities were a feature of the seventeenth-century Slave Coast
west of Yorubaland, according to historians Robin Law and Patrick Manning and archeologist Kenneth Kelly. The land-to-labor ratio would not
have meant much in the putative Niger Delta during the fifteenth century, which, though lightly populated, was swampy and fishing oriented,
neutralizing the apparent impact of sparse population in fishing societies.
Even more to the point, the fact that adjacent agrarian Igboland, located
within only thirty-five miles of the coast, had sustained high population
densities for centuries before the transatlantic trade era shows that low
land-labor ratio was not a major factor even in the Bight of Biafra. Thus,
high population density was a feature even where it may not appear so at
first sight.
2 Early European observers widely held that every African was the kings slave. Commenting on
Benin in the mid-seventeenth century, an anonymous Dutch manuscript had this to say: There is
no-one he be the most or the least important who can call himself a freeman; everyone must
acknowledge he is a slave of the king, the more so since everything he has must be missed [sic] as it
pleases His Majesty. [W]hen a womans husband dies, if she has a son by him (be he big or small),
she is given to the son, whom she must serve. Thus a mother becomes the slave of her son. This
author assumes that the mother is given to her son to serve him, then makes a leap from service to
slavery. Nicholas Owen describes 1750s Sherbro marriage as slavery.

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Some societies in the hinterland may have been lightly populated, but
this was not the norm everywhere. From this perspective, slavery prior to
European contact where it existed at all would have been minimal
in societies on or near the coast. But abundant land could not in itself
have generated large-scale slavery in much of West Africa; indeed, it lagged
stratification as a cause of slavery, according to evidence from a crosssection of predominantly agricultural societies in Africa and Asia compiled
by Dutch scholars C. Baks, J. Breman, and A. Nooij specifically to test
the Nieboer-Domar hypothesis. The Sherbro of coastal Sierra Leone, for
example, may have had relatively abundant land as reported by Irish-born
Nicholas Owen, a slave trader resident in Sierra Leone between the early
1740s and late 1750s, but Carol MacCormack points out that slavery did
not emerge among them until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It
is risky, therefore, to assume that slavery was widespread and extensive in
the West African hinterland simply because land was abundant in many
places.
Thornton has argued that the absence of private ownership of land in
sub-Saharan Africa ensured that slavery was widespread and endemic in
the region. According to him, the absence of private ownership left slaves
as the only form of private, revenue-producing property recognized in
African law. Land was never in short supply; the critical ingredient to
acquire was labor, often in the form of slaves, to work the land. But
generalizing about absence of land ownership is precarious. The assumption
that landowners inability to sell land proves the absence of private land
ownership conflates land ownership with commodification of land. The
fact that Africans could not dispose of land freely does not necessarily
mean that they did not own land. Land ownership did exist in some
regions, where detailed fieldwork permits definitive statement. Among the
Balanta and Dioula of Senegambia, the land-tenure system allowed land
to pass down from father to son over generations, and, among the Dioula,
it also passed from mother to daughter. By the eighteenth century, Dioula
landowners often found it necessary to sell land to acquire cattle. These
cases may or may not be typical, but they do call attention to how little
we know about land ownership in early modern West Africa. An African
law of property if one is to adopt Thorntons singularization of African
jurisprudence merely imposed limits on an owners ability to dispose of
property, including land and slaves.3
Given the inadequacies of the land-labor hypothesis, what then motivated Africans to own slaves? Unlike Thorntons view that Africans had to
resort to slaves as the only source of revenue-generating private property,
3 I rely on the work of Robert Baum for the Dioula and all references to the Balanta are drawn from
the work of Walter Hawthorne.

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historian Anthony Hopkins has argued that Africans had a choice that they
self-consciously exercised by choosing slave over wage labor because slave
labor was cheaper. By contrast to these economic models, Paul Bohannan
and Philip Curtin have argued that noneconomic functions, rather than
production, drove African slavery as whole. A third approach, championed
by Fred Cooper and Richard Roberts, integrates economic and social
dimensions of slavery, casting the institution as one of production, domination, and exploitation. These views are not mutually exclusive, but the
focus on particular uses of slaves diverts attention from the range of uses
to which slaves were put. Slavery in most African societies was, in various
configurations, a means of labor recruitment, a system of domination
and exploitation, and an important means of expanding the lineage.
Africans also acquired slaves as status symbols, bureaucrats, and soldiers.
It is important to note that Africans did not draw a sharp distinction
between economics and other aspects of life. If they conceptualized the
various aspects of life as distinguishable, they also recognized that apparent
noneconomic uses did in fact often serve indirect economic functions. The
presence of slaves as status symbols enhanced the prestige of their master,
which could translate to economic advantage. Slaves acquired to augment
a population could enable a lineage to occupy land at the expense of
competing lineages, and the masters of these slaves could in time enjoy the
surpluses the slaves produced. Slave warriors could fight for their masters
to settle political disputes, but such disputes often had economic connotations. Above all, the booty they collected often had economic value. As
anthropologist Claude Meillassoux has persuasively argued, some slave
warriors must also have worked for their own subsistence at the least. Only
masters working for their slaves would have prevented slaves from working
in low-productivity economies, which most West African societies were.
When these apparently noneconomic slaves were used in war or political
activity, they served to establish the political class and . . . as the means
of its economic domination. As Miers and Kopytoff put it, [a]cquired
persons were valuable as economic, social, and political capital, as a type
of wealth that could easily be converted from one use to another and that
had the incomparable advantage of being also self-supporting. They were
the currency of political transaction tribute to chiefs, gifts among rulers,
or rewards to subordinates. The question then is whether nonproductive
slavery would have had the capacity to maintain and sustain massive
slaveholding.
However relevant the abundance of land or the control of its product
may be as a condition for slavery, the existence of large-scale slavery is still
dependent on the availability of a market for the disposal of the product
of slaves. Economic historians Joseph Inikori, Henry Gemery, and Jan
Hogendorn note that such a market could exist only in societies where

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a significant division of labor prevailed, with Inikori and Basil Davidson


arguing that much of West Africa did not meet the condition for largescale slavery before the arrival of Europeans there in the fifteenth century.
Thus, observations made by Boubacar Barry and Manning that the local
economies of Dahomey and Senegambia up to the nineteenth century
favored the export of labor, rather than widespread production-driven
enslavement, are roughly applicable elsewhere. Although slavery did exist
in West Africa before 1420, the small size of markets and insufficient
division of labor in the region suggest that slavery could not have been
endemic in Africa before the Atlantic trade era, as Thornton has claimed,
with the exception of the Gold Coast possibly also a few other places
and, of course, the Islamic West Africa that lies outside this chapters
mandate.
This chapter disavows widespread existence of slave-sustaining markets
in West Africa before the nineteenth century except on the Gold Coast,
where large-scale slavery existed by the fifteenth century and like Paul
Lovejoy, it posits the historical development and expansion of indigenous
slavery in the context of overseas trade. Slavery certainly existed in many
non-Islamic West African societies before the Atlantic trade era, but its
intensity was less than sometimes suggested. Slavery, however, did become
extensive in trading societies, especially those on the coast, during the
course of the eighteenth century, and it continued to develop into the
nineteenth.
Was the apparent absence of large-scale slavery outside the Gold Coast
before the fifteenth century real or just the consequence of a paucity of credible sources? In his study of the Upper Guinea Coast, Rodney argues that
references to slaves are generally absent in sixteenth- and even seventeenthcentury sources. By contrast, historian John Fage, though conceding the
Upper Guinea Coast case, argues that in the more hierarchical political
economies of Lower Guinea, such as Benin, Oyo, and Dahomey, frequent
references to slavery can be found. Thus, in place of a general theoretical
assertion on the incidence of slavery, Fage and Rodney offer two broad
empirical scenarios. Fage does not argue that slavery was widespread and
extensive in the same way that Thornton does. From Fages point of view,
[s]lavery and the commercial valuation of slaves were not natural features
of West African society, nor was their development and growth simply a
consequence of the European demand for slaves for American plantations.
And Rodney himself warns that, though his Upper Guinea Coast case is
made, the validity of [his] thesis as a whole is open to question. Both
men agree that the fact that slavery existed in one part of Africa does not
establish that it existed everywhere else. Because slavery existed in West
Africa but expanded after the takeoff of the transatlantic trade, it is useful
to reconstruct the history of the institution in two phases the period up

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to the seventeenth century and the period from the seventeenth century to
the 1820s.
slavery from 1420 to the seventeenth century
Slavery was significant in parts of West Africa in the first century and a half
of the transatlantic trade, but its outlines are not clear everywhere. Burial
sites at Igbo-Ukwu in Igboland, southern Nigeria, show that the dead
were buried with human sacrificial victims probably slaves as early as
the ninth century. Archaeologists and historians agree that these material
remains represent concentration of wealth, a high degree of craft specialization, and significant involvement in long-distance trade involving importation of goods from the Mediterranean and India, perhaps, via Gao on
the Niger bend, in present-day Mali. According to archaeologist Thurstan
Shaw, who excavated the sites,
Igbo-Ukwu must have been the center of a social institution which attracted to
itself considerable wealth. It is possible that this institution was an office which
combined the attributes of priest and king, and which was recognized over a
considerable area; the ceremonial regalia recovered belonged to its functioning.

Although the high concentration of wealth and occupational specialization


evident from the sites would have sustained a highly developed market that
could have absorbed large-scale slave-produced goods, questions remain
about the social statuses of the victims of the human sacrifice that the sites
uncovered, how widespread this degree of social differentiation was, and
whether the society developed large-scale slavery or slavery at all.
A high degree of social differentiation with possible implications for
slavery was also evident elsewhere. Oral tradition has it that the Soninke
kingdom of ancient Ghana located in inland Senegambia had by the eighth
century evolved a complex social hierarchy that had slaves at its base, similar
to the structures that Klein, Searing and Patricia and Fredrick McKissack
have described for Atlantic-era Senegambia. John Iliffe cites the Portuguese
who reached the Senegal River in 1444, and who reported that an African
king of the area raided his own and neighboring societies for captives
whom he enslaved in agricultural production and sold to the Moors in
exchange for horses and other goods. Around 1500, Senegambian slaves
employed in agriculture worked one day of the week for themselves and
the rest for their masters. According to Thornton, this is identical to the
arrangement that obtained among slaves working in Portuguese sugar mills
on Sao Tome Island during the same period. Early seventeenth-century
Senegambian Dioula masters constructed a chain of villages worked by
their slaves, who provided them with provisions and served as carriers
on their commercial expeditions. Thus, slavery seems to have had some

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importance in Senegambia, mainly due to the regions role as a part of the


gold-producing, gold-trading Mali Empire. Cape Verdebased Portuguese
Jesuit priest Father Manuel de Barros, who sometimes traveled to mainland
Senegambia and the Upper Guinea Coast, suggested in April 1605 the
existence of important person[s] with many slaves. Captives were one of
the important exports of the kingdoms of West Africa in their trade with
peoples from north of the Sahara since Ghana times.
Still, Senegambian slavery was not nearly as extensive as that of the Gold
Coast. Unlike the Gold Coast, Senegambia was never a slave importer in
spite of the latter having a smaller domestic population to draw from.
Indeed, Dioula traders of Senegambia even sold captives (as well as textiles
and other goods) to Gold Coast merchants, according to early sixteenthcentury sources. Robert Baums research in the Lower Casamance area
of the region reveals that the first account of kidnapping people for sale
in neighboring markets is in the seventeenth century, and that slavery
became important there only in the eighteenth. In what appears to be
an emerging consensus among historians of the western Sudan, Martin
Klein states that before the heyday of the Atlantic trade, slaves in most
societies of the region made up a small part of the population, lived within
the household, worked alongside free members of the household, and
participated in a network of face-to-face links. This system provided for the
gradual integration of slaves as junior members of masters kin. Although
certain Senegambian societies held and traded slaves, the institution was
insufficiently entrenched to make Senegambia a slave society before the
eighteenth century.
A similar pattern is apparent elsewhere. Although the Portuguese apparently did not find captives on sale in the Benin market during the 1520s
and instead bought Benin beads, the kingdom still practiced slavery. When
oba (king) Esigie embargoed the export of male Benin captives in the early
sixteenth century an embargo that remained in force until the early
eighteenth century it was to preserve the pool of slaves on which the
kingdom drew. Even then, the bulk of their products cloth and agricultural products serviced the demands of the Atlantic rather than the
domestic trade. We can infer that the industries that produced these goods
were probably small before the inception of the Atlantic trade. One 1690s
Dutch account has Benin importing captives from as far as Allada, further
west. Although slavery existed in western Bight of Benin before European
contact, the institution escalated only with the deepening social differentiation that accompanied Atlantic trade. In Dahomey, a principal power
in the region, Manning points out that slaves served in domestic-level
production and service throughout the eighteenth century, as the market
for slave produce was not yet well developed, except to the degree that
slave produce was sold to supply slave caravans. Anthropologist Bernard

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Belasco has asserted with respect to Yorubaland in central Bight of Benin,


where occupational division of labor was virtually nonexistent before the
transatlantic slave trade, that external trade was based on a narrow range of
goods with limited internal distribution and the dynamic force of change
lay principally in the accruals of tribal warfare and the enrichment of
certain warriors and their lineages through the acquisition of growing
numbers of slaves. As this statement clearly implies, most captives from
these wars entered the trans-Saharan trade rather than local society. Largescale slavery was also lacking in the Bight of Biafra. Robin Horton made
us aware forty years ago that the eastern Ijo city-states of Bonny, New
Calabar (Kalabari), and Brass, along with Old Calabar, which came to
control Atlantic slave exports from the region, were fishing villages at the
onset of the slave trade. With the particular case of Kalabari, he detailed
how these states transformed into major slaveholders in the course of
Atlantic trade. In the hinterland, the premier slave traders and slaveholders
the Aro probably had not even come into existence before the midsixteenth century. All foregoing instances point to significant slaveholding
in West Africa before the fifteenth century, but not to extensive slavery.
The only region of non-Islamic West Africa where we might conclude
that slavery was intensive and widespread before Atlantic contact is the
Gold Coast. Here, commercial activity was the most intensive in nonIslamic West Africa in the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. The
separation of craft and agricultural production was already well established
in parts of the region in the first half of the fifteenth century. By this time,
Gold Coast entrepreneurs put slaves into massive and productive use in
mining-based production for foreign markets. It is likely that the robust
domestic slave market, centered at Elmina, Axim, Winneba, and Great
Accra, as described by Portuguese and Dutch sources in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, was already in existence when Europeans arrived.
This market base, according to Kea, ensured the emergence of slavery as
the principal form of labor. It was also likely responsible for goods being
priced higher on the Gold Coast than any other African region, as James
Barbot and Thomas Phillips reported as late as the late seventeenth century.
As long as the slave-based gold economy held sway, the region sent few
captives to the Americas, a pattern that underlined the positive correlation
between a significant productive and commercial base on the one hand, and
slavery on the other. Large-scale slaveholding on the Gold Coast promoted
the importation of captives, not their export.4
The Gold Coast was the source of a much-sought-after commodity
gold, which had for centuries been the most valuable West African export,
4 The significant slaveholding practiced in European forts and in Cape Verde during the early
transatlantic trade era, described by Kea, Rodney, and David Eltis, is outside the purview of this
chapter.

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long before European contact. This product had been the economic mainstay of medieval Ghana and Mali empires, which in turn had controlled
its production and marketing. Mali was thought to have been the richest
society on earth at the height of its power in the fourteenth century. Kea
and Iliffe affirm that after the late fourteenth century, the production of
West African gold, which had passed through Muslim North African hands
to European consumers, shifted from Mali to Akan goldfields in the Gold
Coast. But the gold trade remained in the hands of Muslim traders who
acted as middlemen between West Africa and Europe. In the words of Iliffe,
Portuguese mariners groped down the West African coast towards the gold
sources after the 1415 Portuguese occupation of Ceuta on the Moroccan
coast had failed to secure a more direct route to the gold trade. They
probably secured about half of West Africas gold exports, which in 1506
provided about one-quarter of the revenue of the Portuguese crown. Such
a high level of trading activities was possible only because of golds impact
on the market structures and occupational specialization that underpinned
the delivery of gold to external markets. Such highly developed markets
were lacking in most other regions of West Africa before the eighteenth
century.
European demand for Gold Coast gold from the Atlantic seaboard added
further to marketing and production structures, including the sale and use
of slaves. In addition to Muslim merchants from the north who continued
to buy gold, Akan goldfields now had a European Atlantic market, raising
West African gold exports to a level never seen before. Ocean-going vessels
delivered gold and at lower cost, and thus in larger quantities. Portuguese
traders supplied more than twelve thousand captives between 1475 and 1540
in exchange for Gold Coast gold. Portuguese importation of captives into
the Gold Coast declined considerably after 1540, largely because of competition from traders from other European countries. Kea and Robin Law
report that the Dutch severally purchased captives at Allada and Angola for
sale on the Gold Coast during the second and third quarters of the seventeenth centuries. The English are also reported to have purchased captives
at Allada for enslavement by Gold Coast indigenes, according to Law.
Indigenous Gold Coast long-distance traders were also active importers of
out-of-area captives (ndonko). Resident Gold Coast brokers in Whydah to
the east acted as correspondents to Gold Coastbased traders. By the middle of the seventeenth century, African traders alone had imported between
eighty thousand and one hundred sixty thousand ndonko into the region,
according to Kea. Exports to the Americas did not begin until the 1640s,
did not reach one thousand per year until the 1670s, and lagged behind
those from the Bight of Benin until the 1770s. No other African region
imported anything near the numbers brought into the Gold Coast. It was
not uncommon up to the late seventeenth century for ships calling on the

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Gold Coast to do other trade there and then go to other regions to load up
on captives. English captain Thomas Phillips reported that while his Royal
African Company ship, the Hannibal, was loading such goods as gold and
corn on the Gold Coast in May 1694, two Danish ships, which were also
on the Gold Coast for a nonslaving business, proceeded to Whydah to buy
captives for the transatlantic voyage to the Americas. The Hannibal itself,
along with another Royal African Company ship, the East India Merchant,
did likewise about the same time.
Demand pressures and concomitant price increases called for increased
production of gold in both new and existing mines. Increased production
no doubt led to increased social differentiation, population concentration, and the development of support industries, such as provisioning. An
increasing number of slaves were employed not only in mining, but also in
forest clearing, agricultural production, and porterage services. According
to Kea, Gold Coast entrepreneurs also employed slaves to produce food
for a growing population, with 40 percent to 60 percent of the slaves
production going to their owners. One Tayi, a wealthy ohene of Eguafo,
established a large number of farming villages (presumably inhabited by
slaves) between the 1630s and early 1640s. Trade also came to depend
on slaves for porterage services. By the late seventeenth century, wealth
from this trade encouraged struggles for the control of the goldfields and
access to coastal ports. Slaves on the Gold Coast, along with other personal
dependents, lived in hamlets and villages serving specific towns, which
were the centers of political and economic power and religious and civic
ceremonies, as well as of craft and pageantry. Powerful states emerged, such
as Akwamu, Denkyra, and later, the most powerful of them all, Asante, the
armies of which consisted of slaves in part.
Outside the Gold Coast, large-scale slavery was virtually absent in nonIslamic West Africa before the eighteenth century. As Rodney has argued in
the case of the Upper Guinea Coast, it was the Atlantic slave trade that led to
the generalization of slavery and its intensification, and when slaveholding
eventually became extensive, it was most pronounced among the societies
most heavily involved in the slave trade in the region the Mande, Susu,
and Fula. When slavery emerged among the sparsely populated Sherbro of
Sierra Leone in the eighteenth century, it was in response to the transatlantic
slave trade, which the Sherbro had been involved in since the fifteenth
century, according to MacCormack. In the course of three centuries, the
transatlantic trade created a market and paved the way for the emergence of
slavery. Slavery developed from Sherbro efforts, to meet European demand
for labor-intensive products. Sandra Greene reports that the Anlo-Ewe of
the Gold Coast began to retain a significant number of slaves only after their
export of captives expanded during the mid-eighteenth century. Slavery did
not emerge among the Efulalu and several other societies in Senegambia

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before the eighteenth century, according to Baum. Wealth from the Atlantic
slave trade gave immense power to the elite in Senegambia, enabling them
to take control of institutions and generate captives, some of whom they
retained for their own use. As Searing puts it in his study of Senegambia, the
Atlantic trade became a dynamic force which put people and goods into
motion, transforming the economy and reshaping the geography of wealth
in the late seventeenth century. It also generated slavery in key sectors of
the economy commerce, agriculture, and the military. Transatlantic
trade expanded the economic significance of slaves.
slavery from the eighteenth century to 1820
As European trade increased in late-seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
West Africa, so did slavery. The sugar revolution in the Americas called for
massive infusions of slave labor, which only an expanded captive procurement area in Africa could meet. The value of captives came to surpass the
value of trade goods, and the Americas replaced Africa as Europes major
external source of precious metals. Richard Garner reports that Spanish
American mines supplied between twenty-five and thirty thousand tons of
silver between c. 1560 and 1685, and that these figures more than doubled
between 1686 and 1810. These developments forced Europeans to aggressively seek African trade in captives both on the Gold Coast and elsewhere
in Atlantic Africa.
A rapid increase in European trade with western Africa, mainly in captives, had a salutary effect on market structures of the regions outside the
Gold Coast. Evidence of large-scale slaveholding in the eighteenth century emerged as the Atlantic slave trade expanded drastically in the Bights
of Benin and Biafra and, eventually, in Sierra Leone and the Windward
Coast. As old ports became busier and new ones opened to service the traffic, traders acquired large numbers of slaves as paddlers, guards, porters,
and domestics. The populations of these entrepots increased massively, as
did those of inland slave-trading groups, which acquired slaves for purposes similar to those of their coastal counterparts. In Senegambia and
Sierra Leone, brokers of mixed African and European ancestry referred to
as mulattos were prominent. According to Owen, the influence of the
powerful Henry Tucker derived in part from his own slaves and their
children. There was also John Ormond, also known as Mungo John or
Mulatto Trader, whom MacCormack has described as a paramount chief
at Rio Pongas in todays Guinea. Ormond took over his fathers slavetrading operation at Rio Pongas sometime after 1758, and through slave
raiding depopulated the region between Rio Pongas and Grand Bassam.
He advanced European goods to the chiefs of Rio Pongas and raided
their villages if they failed to supply him with captives and other goods.
Large-scale slaveholding was not confined to brokers of mixed African and

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European ancestry. By the second half of the eighteenth century, Old Calabar slave traders had come to employ large numbers of slaves in multiple
sectors. Early in the 1730s, British slave trader Francis Moore reported
seeing a household of two hundred in a Senegambian village that consisted of one mans slaves, wives, and children. According to MacCormack,
one eighteenth-century Sherbro slave master in the upper Kagboro River
region, Ban Bondo Bondopio, acquired considerable numbers of slaves
from the Kono ethnic group, some of whom he sold into the transatlantic
trade. The rest either farmed for him in the interior villages or produced
salt in coastal villages. One of the salt-producing villages survives today as
Yondu, the Kono word for slave.
The role of female slave owners contributed to increased slaveholding.
Of particular note are women merchants, often of Euro-African ancestry
in Senegambia and Sierra Leone between the seventeenth and nineteenth
centuries. The most successful of these brokers, mainly Mandinka, Wolof,
Lebou, and Sherbro women and their mulatto daughters, held numerous
domestic slaves. Only fragmentary information about female slaveholders
exists for elsewhere in West Africa, especially in the hinterland. In the
Biafran coastal city-states on which written accounts abound, female slaveholders are largely absent from contemporary accounts, but oral traditions
of the inland Aro show that female slaveholders have existed since the
eighteenth century at the latest. For example, one Mgboro is remembered
mainly in the tradition relating to one of her slave boys, Ikelionwu, who
later became an important Aro hero. A major slaveholder himself, Ikelionwu founded in the mid-eighteenth century a principal Aro settlement
that survives to this day.
Slave-trading groups that used large numbers of slaves in productive
activities became fairly extensive among slave-trading groups during the
eighteenth century. This was the time when, according to some scholars, slavery developed into a mode of production in which slaves produced the surplus that supported a ruling class that did no physical labor.
In such societies, slaves were a significant part of the general population, and they often lived in separate settlements. Nonetheless, the fact
that European eyewitnesses tended to exaggerate the extent of slavery,
and that the magnitude of its expansion differed from society to society, calls for some caution in the use of the term slave mode of production in characterizing African slavery prior to the nineteenth century.
characteristics of slavery
Slavery in non-Islamic West Africa differed not only over time, but also
from society to society and even within societies. Compounding the problem of determining the extent of slavery, however, is a tendency to conflate

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it with other forms of servitude, such as pawnship and concubinage. Conflating slaves with these categories breeds confusion and thwarts efforts
to understand the nature and extent of slavery in Africa. Rather than a
single category embracing all the elements of the slave as defined in the
Americas, there was a broad class of acquired people and their descendants
embodying a series of different statuses . . . which or only some of which
may be called slavery, according to Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff
Slavery in most non-Islamic West African societies was, in various configurations, a means of labor recruitment, a status symbol, a system of
domination and exploitation, and an important means of expanding the
lineage. Because many other statuses include one or some combination
of these elements, it is important to establish a rule of thumb for distinguishing slavery. MacCormack has observed in the case of the Sherbro
that, though clients could change their patrons, wives could leave their
husbands kin groups, and junior kin could shift their residential affiliation to another cognate group, slaves could not change their masters.
With some qualifications, this distinction applies virtually everywhere in
West Africa. Slaves could and did initiate their change of masters, but this
process lacked any institutional basis, unlike wives change of husbands,
clients change of patrons, junior kins shift of residential affiliation, and
expiration of pawns bonds.
Three or four categories of slaves were found virtually everywhere. These
were trade or transit slaves, newly acquired slaves, domestic or familial
slaves, and slaves born within the household. In general, slaves who had
spent some time of service in a household were treated less harshly than
those recently acquired, whereas slaves born into the household were treated
most leniently and had more rights. Transit or trade slaves were those
acquired through kidnapping, war, or purchase, or were victims of famine
or convicts. They were found mostly in the residences of slave traders. Their
owners might decide to retain them, but they were treated as commodities
and liable to be sold. Among the Songhay-Zarma, male trade slaves were
so lowly they were employed in womens work, such as grinding grain and
drawing water. Only his labor counted, and it could be used wherever
it seemed most useful, according to Olivier de Sardin. It is best to refer
to individuals in this category as captives, as they had not undergone, or
were intended to undergo, the rite of passage welcoming them into the
household.
A second category comprised domestic slaves. Even though they were
often acquired with the intention of being retained and were in some
societies formally inducted into the household, they were usually sold if
they did not pass the muster of good behavior. These domestic slaves
had undergone a degree of incorporation in the household and possibly
the kin group, but they often did not attain full citizenship rights in their

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lifetimes. They were seen, at least in theory, as property that might be


bought, inherited, and sold, but owners enforcement of their property
rights tended to recede over time. Their children, born in their masters
households, formed the fourth category of slaves. According to Francis
Moore, who claimed to have spent five years in the Gambia River region
between 1730 and 1735:
if there are many slaves in the family, and one of them commits a crime, the master
cannot sell him without the joint consent of the rest: for if he does, they will run
away to the next kingdom, where they will find protection.

These slaves were treated as nominal members of the family. Moore testifies
further:
though in some parts of Africa they sell the slaves born in the family; yet this is
here thought extreamly wicked; and I never heard but of one person who ever sold
a family slave, except for such crimes as would have authorized its being done, had
he been free.

The Gambia region did, in fact, represent the rule rather than the exception. One uncommon category of slaves was made up of warriors and
administrators. Called the tyeddo in the parts of Senegambia where they
were commonly found, their privileges included pocketing much of the
slave-trade revenue and exemption from taxation. As kinless people, the
tyeddo were dependent on the aristocracy they served and whose royal
power they manifested. Although the origins of the tyeddo are uncertain,
the expansion of their power was a feature of the late seventeenth and
the eighteenth centuries. Eighteenth-century Wolof ruler Lat Sukaabe created a series of exclusive titles for the tyeddo. Slaves were also commonly
employed in the armies of Gold Coast states from the eighteenth century
onward, but slave soldiers role and experiences here do not seem to have
been adequately analyzed.
In the final analysis, the uses of slaves depended, in the main, on the
economic and social foundations of a given society. For example, in predominantly agricultural societies, slaves were employed mainly in agricultural tasks, whereas in trading societies, such as the Aro, the Dioula, and
coastal traders everywhere, they were employed in trading and often in the
production of provisions. Although most non-Islamic West African societies were agrarian and used slaves in agricultural work, trading societies
often held more slaves. Societies that combined agriculture with trading,
such as most coastal communities and many inland ones across the region,
used slaves in both sectors. Slave traders in the city-states of the Bight of
Biafra used slaves in agriculture and fishing and as canoe boys by the
second half of the eighteenth century. But enslaved persons could also be
used in craft, as in the case of the Aro, and in industrial production.

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The massive use of slaves in trading and riverine work sets West Africa
apart from New World societies of the early modern era. Historian Daniel
Vickers has argued that New England did not develop a large slave system
mainly because the fishing and ranching that dominated the economy of the
region required a spatially fluid work regime that did not lend itself to the
close supervision that made slave labor productive. Both Senegambian and
Aro merchants employed their slaves in trade. Senegambian aristocrats had
slaves as soldiers and administrators. Why, then, were West African slave
owners able to use slaves in essentially unsupervised activities whereas New
England owners could not? The answer is that the conditions of slavery
and the ideologies underpinning the institution were different in Africa
from elsewhere. It seems that slaves in Africa had more to gain from being
loyal to their masters than fleeing. Klein and Searing have pointed out that
apart from doing military and administrative service for the aristocracy, the
tyeddo collected taxes, represented the aristocracy in trade with Europeans,
and were placed in charge of territories in the northern and southern
margins of the Wolof kingdom. Yet, as Manning has related, being a royal
slave could also lead to human sacrifice in eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury Dahomey, or long service as food producers, household servants,
wives, and concubines for the royal family. Apart from the political and
administrative responsibilities and material gain that many royal slaves
enjoyed, they, like the rest of slaves in most societies, were often excluded
from ritual practices and inheritance, and the males were often barred from
marrying freeborn women.
Slave marriage highlights gender as a central element of slavery and
illuminates the role of labor and reproduction in it. African slaveholders
generally preferred women because of the dominant role of women in
sexual division of labor in the agrarian economies. Masters also needed
slave women to marry to their male slaves, given that marriage created an
opportunity for biological reproduction and thus the expansion of masters kin groups and labor pool. Of course, such a role also meant that
slave parents had no substantive parental rights over their children. Apart
from their labor and reproductive ability, slave women had a status that
obviated any questions over masters claims to their offspring. For this reason, freeborn men in most societies, especially those with strong matriclan
traditions, often sought slave women for marriage. Olivier de Sardin has
argued that although offspring of freeborn people posed the problem of
which group paternal or maternal would claim the child, for the slave
offspring, the ownership interests of the masters of the parents were what
counted. Marrying a slave woman gave a man unhindered ability to appropriate his wifes labor and reproductive power. Whereas a freeborn wife
could divorce her husband and return to her natal home, and fathers competed with matrilineages over the ownership of their children, a slave wife

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usually raised no such issues. Sandra Greene has concluded that Anlo-Ewe
free mens preference for slave wives was further reinforced by the tendency
of free wives to seek slave wives for their husbands, in order to free themselves from some of the labor demands of the husband. Slave wives were
believed to contribute to the labor and reproductive imperatives of the
family with greater enthusiasm than free wives. Lacking the protection of
kin, slave wives often gave all to their husbands. Their children too lacked
the matriclan protection available to freeborn children whose mothers were
married in customary fashion, with bridewealth payment. One must be
careful in categorizing these women as slaves. Although they were of slave
origin, it is unclear whether all or even most actually remained slaves
after being incorporated into their husbands households, despite lacking
the natal kin groups protection. There were, however, exceptions in West
Africa to the preference for the enslavement of women. Igbo society did
not have social space for female slaves. Any ambiguity in the status of a
female outsider was cleared with her marriage to a freeborn. There are now
also strong indications that men may have dominated the indigenous slave
populations in parts of the Upper Guinea Coast. To further illuminate
the composition of the slave population and other aspects of slavery, it is
necessary to examine how Africans became slaves.5
enslavement
Warfare and raiding were the most important means of enslavement.
Although warfare and raiding were not one and the same, as far as slave
capture was concerned, the distinction between was blurred. In the midnineteenth century, a German-born missionary and linguist, Sigmund
Koelle, found that war captives, kidnap victims, and convicts accounted
for 75 percent of a sample of overseas bound captives rescued by the British
Anti-Slavery Squadron. The preponderance of war captives in Koelles data
gets credence from accounts of contemporary observers over time and in
different regions. Although warfare and raiding were important sources of
captives everywhere, their importance seems to have fluctuated over time in
different regions. The one region where warfare and raiding seems to have
been of overriding importance is Senegambia. War became the principal
occupation in many parts of Senegambia by the eighteenth century. The
coastal societies of the region seem to have adapted their pre-slave-trade-era
cattle-raiding skills to slave raiding, with male age-grades specializing in
5 Although the Balanta evidence comes from a later period than dealt with here an 1856 census
the fact that, as in the Bight of Biafra, men rather than women dominated agriculture, and that, again
like the Bight of Biafra, the societies he studied supplied a higher proportion of female captives to
the Atlantic trade than was the norm, suggests that the census probably indicated a long-established
pattern in the area.

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war/raiding among the politically decentralized Balanta and tyeddo slave


warriors predominating in the armies of Wolof states. When added to the
number of the Africans that Euro-American slave traders captured and carried across the Atlantic, especially before the eighteenth century, captives
from warfare and raiding would have predominated among overseas-bound
captives.6
It has increasingly become evident that more women and children were
captured from raiding and warfare than has usually been assumed. Among
the Songhay-Zarma, according to Olivier de Sardin, adult males were
rarely taken [in wars and raiding], either because they defended themselves
desperately or because they were put to death. With a man, there was a
constant risk of escape. . . . the exchange value of a female slave was higher
than for a male slave. MacCormack reports that Sherbro and Mende
warriors in Sierra Leone would use the supposed roar of the Poro spirit to
scare Temne men into flight, thus abandoning their women and children
to the raiders. Relics of Mende defenses in 1826 left a British colonial
administrator in no doubt that raiders would have found only women
and children when they breached such defenses. In the Bight of Biafra,
the most effective warriors focused on headhunting. They cut off mens
heads as a matter of honor, an action that led to full-citizenship status and
prestige in their communities; thus prisoners tended to be women and
children rather than men. But though the male-female ratio of captives
sent overseas from the Bight of Biafra was closer to parity, the other major
slave-exporting regions of West Africa sent higher proportions of males, a
pattern that reflected a higher preference for female slaves as well as the
impact of the female-oriented Saharan market in the hinterland of those
regions. If warfare and raiding yielded perhaps more women and children
than men, while many more men than women were exported, West African
societies would have held an even higher proportion of slave women than is
6 Thorntons work shows that raiding was important right from Portuguese initial contacts. The
activities of Englishman John Hawkins in the 1560s are well documented. MacCormack informs us
that the invasion of the Sherbro by the Mane, a Mande-speaking group, in about 1545, displaced the
population, driving people closer to the sea. The Sherbro who had sought refuge in Portuguese ships in
advance of Mane invasions were carried away into slavery. Richard Drake, who had a long career in the
slave trade between midway through the first decade of the nineteenth century to 1838, describes several
slave raids involving Euro-Americans. Drake claims that as a young man he joined local raiders in the
Gambia River region sometime between 1804 and 1807. At Old Calabar a few years later, Drake also
claimed that his own uncle, Captain Willing of Boston, had gone still farther inland, on a negro hunt.
Tom McCaskie has questioned the authenticity of Drakes account in relation to Drakes purported
visit to Asante in 1839 and has shown this incident to be improbable. However, McCaskie cautions
against outright dismissal of Drakes account. I am grateful to Robin Law for drawing my attention to
the skepticism surrounding Drakes account. For the preponderance of war captives among Africans
sent into the Middle Passage, see accounts by William Snelgrave. Also see Francis Moore in the Gambia
River region in the 1730s, Nicholas Owen in the 1750s Sierra Leone, and Richard Drake in Abomey
between 1804 and 1807.

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currently supposed. The adult male slaves could only have been the product
of judicial convictions, political expatriation, and especially kidnapping,
which may have accounted for a higher proportion of the adult male
captives sent into Atlantic slavery than is usually allowed.
Kidnapping was certainly an important source of captives, despite the
fact that taking ones own kin was viewed as outrageous behaviour; culprits
were punished accordingly. Communities recognized that failure to impose
punishment would embolden the kidnapper. If insider kidnapping was
often illegal, kidnapping was more acceptable when it occurred across
jurisdictions. The kin of the kidnap victim often recognized the property
rights of the person keeping him in custody, as long as he was not the
person who had done the kidnapping. Of course, the affected kin group
could recover their kinsperson either by ransom or by force if they had the
means to do so.
Although the law intervened to free kidnapped people, the law and the
judicial process became a means of producing slaves. Across West Africa,
enslavement increasingly replaced execution as punishment for murder,
as well as for noncapital offenses such as adultery, witchcraft, and theft.
Redress to a murder victims lineage might require the perpetrators lineage to produce a suitable replacement for the victim. Depending on the
prevailing convention, the replacement could be a slave or any person of
comparable standing to the victim. Judicial enslavement escalated with
Atlantic trade. European visitors describe this process in graphic detail.
Many societies bowed to Atlantic demand pressures by increasingly adopting the enslavement option. Why kill an offender if there was money to be
made from his sale? In some societies, not only the alleged perpetrator of a
crime was punished; his relatives were also sold. Judicial systems in many
societies were placed in the service of the slave trade.7
7 Portuguese Jesuit priests who visited the Gambia River region in 1605 described the judicial
process of the Casanga. When people were found guilty of crimes, the apparent culprits died of the
red water ordeal, and all their wives, children and families become [the kings] slaves, and these
he sells to the Portuguese. In order to have more slaves to sell so that in exchange for them he can
have more of the goods which he needs . . . he also employed other tyrannical devices which they call
law. According to Frances Moore, agent of the Royal African Company in the Gambia River region
between 1730 and 1735, Since this slave trade has been used, all punishments are changed into slavery;
and the natives reaping advantage from such condemnations, they strain hard for crimes, in order to
obtain the benefit of selling the criminal: hence not only murder, adultery, and theft, are here punished
by selling the malefactor; but every trifling crime is also punished in the same manner. In Cantore
in the Gambia River region during the early 1730s, the king sold one man and his close relatives as
punishment. According to Moore, the man had fatally but accidentally shot another man while trying
to shoot a tiger. British government official Joseph Corry, who visited the Windward Coast in 1805
and 1806, reports that, whereas those proven guilty of crimes by the red water ordeal were killed,
all his family are sold for slaves. In Africa crimes are punished by forfeitures, slavery, or death; they
are however rare; but accusations are often used to procure slaves, whether for domestic purposes, sale,
or sacrifice to their customs. Death, as a punishment, is seldom the penalty of condemnation; and if
the culprit is rich, he can purchase his security.

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People were also enslaved for political reasons. As historian Edna Bay
has documented, victorious Dahomian princes in succession struggles regularly sent relatives and supporters of their unsuccessful rivals overseas, a
punishment considered worse than execution. A distinct group of Igbo
political repatriates were known to shipmasters in the late eighteenth and
early nineteenth centuries. Captain John Adams specifically refers to a
class of Heebos [whom] masters of slave-ships have always had a strong
aversion to purchase. These men had enjoyed an exalted rank . . . in their
own country. The line between judicial and political enslavement was
thin. The Ibibiukpabi oracle among the Aro a kind of supreme court for
the Bight of Biafra often became involved in political cases and political
intrigues. Local Aro traders knew the direction of public opinion, and the
oracles judgments often corresponded with them. The oracle served as a
siphon of captives, because litigants were sometimes eaten, a euphemism
for sale into Atlantic slavery, but more often they were asked to pay fees and
fines in captives. Those unable to pay the requisite fines were sold into slavery. The tendency to falsely accuse political rivals seems to have been fairly
widespread. Such enslavement processes preponderantly served Atlantic
slavery rather than the needs of enslavement in West African societies.
This review of enslavement processes suggests that Koelles sample of
recaptives those taken by British antislavery cruisers while en route to
the Americas may not be representative of those captives enslaved within
African societies. For example, few of the people enslaved due to debt were
sold into the Atlantic. Those convicted of witchcraft/sorcery were also
more likely to be retained than prisoners of war. Indigenous slaveholding
drew from the categories least represented by overseas-bound captives. The
means by which a person became captive was important and sometimes
crucial in determining the fate of the enslaved person. Sale into Atlantic
slavery was an extreme form of punishment, a process that Joseph Miller
captures metaphorically as a way of death in his study of West-Central
Africa. As the Koelle sample eloquently testifies, war captives and kidnap
victims were more likely to be exported, except perhaps in societies with the
ability to regiment large coerced-labor forces. By contrast, those enslaved
within Africa were drawn more from captives procured through less violent
means, such as debtors or orphans, or those sold by families out of economic
necessity. Debtors or kin groups could sell a debtor to raise funds for the
liquidation of the debts.
Indigenous slaveholders preferred people sold by their families on the
basis of economic necessity. These people were not usually stigmatized as
violent or malevolent; their kin sold them reluctantly. Captain William
Snelgrave, who made many trips to various parts of West Africa during the
first three decades of the eighteenth century, reported that coastal people
sold their slaves only in times of extream want and famine. Various

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societies evolved rules to regulate such transactions. Historian Robert Baum


has found that the Esulalu, a Dioula group in Senegambia, evolved a set
of religious and legal impediments to the enslavement of insiders. Yet they
made exception in the case of parents selling their children to pay off debts.
Orphans were sold when the extended family was unable or unwilling to
look after them, or if some family members got greedy. The Margi bartered
family members, especially children, for provision in times of famine,
according to Miers and Kopytoff. Among the Igbo, whatever the reason
for sale, members of both the individuals patrilineage and matrilineage had
to agree to it. Once agreed, a ritual was performed to separate the person
from his kin. Clearly, the enslavement process was shaped by whether the
victim was entering the internal or external slave trade.
treatment of slaves
Slaves experiences, status in society, and chances of manumission were
related to, among other things, the position of their masters and the personalities of both slave and master. Slaves of the elite enjoyed higher positions than slaves of lower-status individuals. For this reason, Klein has
gone as far as to contrast those who participated in the exercise of power
and those who did not as a more meaningful way of looking at social stratification than mere status. A tyeddo slave among the Wolof and Sereer was
often better economically than a freeborn. Those who participated in the
exercise of power included the aristocrats, their slaves, and those artisans
and griots (bards) who were clients of the aristocrats. The freeborn, says
Klein, ranked high on the prestige scale, but the vast majority did not participate in power or its rewards. For Miers and Kopytoff this phenomenon
contrasts with Western conceptions of the slave status, which necessarily
see a slave as a miserable, poor creature consigned both to the base of the
social scale and the meanest of tasks. A kind slave owner anywhere was
likely to treat his slaves more humanely than a cruel owner, and a slave
whom his masters judged to be enterprising and dependable would likely
have a better overall experience than one deemed to be lazy, dishonest,
or malevolent. An intelligent and forceful slave could manipulate himself
into a position of high importance. This position often came with vastly
improved status. Cruel and kind masters existed in contemporary Americas, but loyalty to their masters did not guarantee progress for enslaved
Africans; racism ensured they remained in the margins of society.
The master-slave relationship in West Africa rested on jural prescriptions
and conventions. The master had a responsibility to protect the slave from
outsider molestation, but his ability to provide this protection depended on
his social status. Masters in agrarian societies normally had a responsibility
to give the slave land for his or her subsistence. Invariably, however, the

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master expected surplus product. Religious beliefs guaranteed protection


for slaves in some societies. Even among the Sherbro whose regimen was
strict, we learn from MacCormack that slaves were protected from bloody
physical violence because the Sherbro believed that blood-letting defiled the
land and could be punished by the Poro society. By the nineteenth century,
according to Olivier de Sardin, the threat of magical punishment curtailed
the mistreatment or sale of domestic slaves (horso) among the SonghayZarma of the Upper Niger; slaves were feared because they were deemed
to have magical power.
Slave work differed from society to society and according to degree of
incorporation, but in general, domestic slaves did the same kinds of work
as the freeborn of their age. In Igbo and Senegambian societies, slaves were
worked harder than free people. In Senegambia as early as 1500, and in
the Bight of Biafra from the eighteenth century onward, slaves worked
for themselves on specific days of the week. Many were entrusted with
substantial responsibilities and could inherit their masters property. The
fact that many powerful men in the Bight of Biafra coastal city-states had
slave origin by the second half of the eighteenth century onward testifies
to a level of social mobility not seen in slave systems elsewhere.
Although slave-work regimes were often not unlike those of free people,
the slave status in West Africa often came with institutionalized social and
psychological disadvantages. People of slave origin in many societies lacked
some of the legal protections that nonslave persons enjoyed, and they
encountered wider marital restrictions and other disadvantages. Enslaved
people might, in extreme cases, be subject to human sacrifice, and though
free persons might also be sacrificed, slaves were particularly vulnerable.
Nevertheless, the absorptive element of African slave systems, more than
anything else, marked them out from New World systems, because slavery
in the Americas depended on racial exclusion and domination.
When slaves were accepted as kin in non-Islamic West Africa, it was
invariably as junior kin. There is thus some validity to the insistence of
anthropologist Claude Meillassoux that people of slave origin remained
perpetual cadets everywhere. As clients and affines, they were extensions of the wealth of kin groups, but they belonged in the groups
only marginally, according to Miers and Kopytoff. As highlighted in the
Songhay-Zarma, Sherbro, and Old Calabar cases, the kinship idiom was
used in reference to slaves; masters children called them father, uncle,
and aunt, but they were effectively perpetual minors. Among the Sherbro, slaves were separated from their natal kin groups. In the words of
MacCormack, They were full dependents, but with only some rights and
privileges. They could not build their own political faction from clients
and descendants, nor claim ancestral legitimacy for seeking high office.
Although the Aro case shows that slaves were marginal and lacked the

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ancestral legitimacy to seek high office, in certain situations down to the


eighteenth century, some individuals nevertheless reached high status in
society and even created political factions from their descendants and
dependents. The Aro maintained a tight system of tribute (ihu), by which
people annually paid allegiance to superior lineages. This practice was not,
however, an automatic signifier of cadet status on the part of people of
slave origin; it was not restricted to people of slave origin. Every Aro family
head slave, free, or immigrant maintained this obligation toward the
head of a superior family or elder. In fact, ihu marked free rather than slave
status, as only slaves proper people who had not established independent
homesteads were ineligible to give ihu. As will be shown in the discussion
of manumission, this was not an unusual situation; often, the means of
social mobility were institutionalized, though the stigma of slavery often
lingered.
Likewise, the Aro system does not conform to Miers and Kopytoff s
assertion that the change in the life of the enslaved was usually dramatic and total, and that he lost his social personality, his identity and
status [and] suffered a traumatic and sometimes violent withdrawal from
kin, neighbors, and community, and often from familiar customs and
language. Among the Aro diaspora, the enslaved populations routinely
adopted shrines and married from their natal homes. They also maintained
trade links, and noninstitutional, supernumerary kinship affiliations with
these societies. In time, the master class came to subscribe to these shrines,
which became the dominant media of worship among the Aro diaspora.
The social experience of people of slave origin was hardly consistent with
what Miers and Kopytoff characterize as playing dead. The Aro case
raises a point often ignored in analysis of slave incorporation in Africa. The
enslaved peoples relationship to society is not just one of incorporation
into a dominant culture; slaves also influenced the culture of host societies,
a phenomenon that stands Orlando Pattersons social death on its head.
Such patterns tend to support the argument that slavery in West Africa was
less cruel than slavery in the Americas.
But the overlaps between the experiences of free and enslaved people
in West Africa tend to confuse rather than to clarify the slave experience.
Both contemporary European witnesses and some present-day historians
label as slaves people who were not slaves. Some observers and scholars
may still consider as a slave a Senegambian person for whom his master
paid bridewealth on marrying his wards first wife but who himself paid
bridewealth for subsequent wives, whereas it seems more plausible to say
this person had metamorphosed from slave to client status. For Thornton,
the treatment of slaves in sub-Saharan Africa was akin to the treatment
of tenants and hired laborers. Rather than the West African slave experience being equivalent to those of European tenants and laborers, it is

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possible that Thornton has defined slaves too broadly to include nonslave
subordinate persons. There was no shortage of clients, some of whom were
comparable to tenants or pawns or indentured laborers, but these were
not slaves. A client could walk away from a patron and remain free as
long as he could find another patron or if he was powerful enough to be
independent; a pawn could theoretically do so upon the settlement of the
debt that placed him in pawnship. First-generation slaves especially were
invariably considered property and could be sold on the whim of a master,
among other possible indignities. Labor was not key to the slave condition
everywhere in non-Islamic West Africa before 1820. It was, for example,
more important in the centralized societies of Senegambia than among the
Igbo in the Bight of Biafra. The property interest of the master seems to
have been the characteristic that cut across all systems. An enslaved person
whether worked hard or not could not walk away without retribution
and/or the master trying to recover the slave or laying claim to compensation from whoever was harboring the fugitive. Slavery in West Africa
before 1820 in the magnitude that Thornton has depicted is not plausible
once other categories of dependency have been set aside. In any event, it
would difficult to conceive of a shift in status in the Americas comparable
to the West African case.
manumission
Under what conditions did slaves become free in Africa? Compared to the
rigid, closed Asian systems, African slave systems were open, that is,
opportunities for manumission were greater in Africa. Miers and Kopytoff
use the term social mobility to characterize the subtle, often gradual
manumission processes that marked most African slave systems. As with
other aspects of slavery, manumission mechanisms differed from society to
society. In Igboland and perhaps elsewhere, every man, including slaves,
automatically gained status by killing an enemy or ferocious animal. If
slave trader Richard Drakes account is to be taken seriously, in about 1805,
Asante warrior Quobah, enslaved by a Dahomey king, gained immediate
freedom by killing the lions menacing the society. Quobah had volunteered the dangerous undertaking in lieu of being sacrificed to Yallabar
spirits. Enslaved people in virtually every system could ransom themselves,
at least in theory. Self-ransom presupposed slaves prior involvement in
independent economic activity, or at least in some income-generating role
in one of the commercial enterprises that had become common in coastal
Bight of Biafran city-states by the second half of the eighteenth century.
In Senegambia as early as 1500, and in the Bight of Biafra from the eighteenth century onward, slaves worked for themselves on specific days of
the week. Belasco reports that slaves could ransom themselves among the

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Yoruba, even though no formal adoption into the masters lineage took
place. Assimilation was also possible, but usually only after the first generation. When free, ex-slaves could attain important ranks in nonlineage
associations. Because Yoruba slaves had so much time to work and accumulate wealth, manumission would have been relatively easy. Even among
the Sherbro, where slaves could not own property and incorporation into
the masters lineage was virtually forbidden, exceptions abounded. Over
several generations, according to MacCormack, the slave status could give
way to gradual incorporation. It was often to the economic advantage of the
masters to provide opportunities for their slaves. Economic independence
allowed slaves time to care for their children and, at the same time, work
for their masters. This practice freed the master from maintaining his slaves
and their children, while at the same time allowing him to wield influence
over them, including accessing their labor. Because few female slaves owned
land or other property, they did not benefit from the liberating effect of
property ownership.
Female slaves could, however, marry free men, which, as we have seen,
brought manumission or near manumission in most societies. Greene
observes that these women gained marginal incorporation into their husbands households, and the degree of their acceptance and that of their
offspring was tied to their commitment to the patriarch. Effiong Aye
reports that in Old Calabar, a slave woman who bore her master a child
would become free along with her offspring, whether or not she was married to the man. Young female domestic slaves among the Wolof and
Sereer could reduce their marginality through marriage and the production of offspring, which provided opportunities for ties into new social
units, even though full integration happened only to those born into the
society, according to Klein. By contrast, male slaves were often debarred
from marrying freeborn women. This phenomenon often took the form
of the absolute rule that Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardin found among
the Songhay-Zarma. A slave womans marriage to a free man was always
a step toward manumission. The picture that emerges from all societies
on which we have evidence is that slave women married to free men
became incorporated into their husbands lineages, and their offspring
were deemed free. However, the stigma of slave origin invariably lingered
with these wives and, to a lesser extent, their children. The offspring of
these unions generally became members of their fathers patriclans. The
only issue is the degree of their belongingness. By contrast, male slaves
could not usually marry free women, and when they did, they did not gain
automatic freedom, and their offspring were rarely regarded as freeborn.
The patrilineal bias in the incorporation of slaves and their offspring into
masters kin groups reflected the system of patriarchy that pervaded West
Africa.

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Manumission became increasingly difficult in most societies as slavery


expanded, especially in the nineteenth century. As the export market for
produce expanded in the first half of the nineteenth century, masters
increasingly came to value slaves role as laborers in the production of
commodities. Masters accordingly developed tighter regimens and became
more inventive in restricting access to manumission.
resistance
Slaves in West Africa did not always wait for their masters to free them.
Resistance, however, came at great personal cost, including the loss of some
opportunities for advancement in society. The incentive to leave African
slavery was less, because it seems to have been benign in comparison to
its New World counterpart. The kinship ideology was a major factor.
In comparison to New World slavery, there were many avenues through
which individual slaves found it more beneficial to work within the lineage
structure toward social mobility. Because slave was often a status, but
slaves rarely, if ever, formed a stratum, slaves did not form a collective
identity and social consciousness. Even if a slave was determined to flee, he
could not necessarily expect security or a free existence. The impression in
much of the literature is that resistance was a feature of the colonial period,
a result of the introduction of European social and ideological ideas such
as wage labor and Christianity. This view has a strong affinity with the
influential view of such scholars as Patterson and Eugene Genovese, which
claims that ideas of freedom are only a feature of the modern Western
capitalist world. Implying that freedom was not possible in precolonial
Africa, some scholars claim that only flight from slavery was practicable,
because there was no place to run in search of freedom. Elizabeth
Isiechei and Miers and Kopytoff argue that even flight was meaningless
in the forest regions due to the thickness of the forests. A comparison
with the situation in the Americas, where frequent incidence of resistance
is well documented, challenges these claims. The issues raised to explain
the supposed nonoccurrence of resistance were not peculiar to the African
condition. For example, Richard Dunn has argued that Jamaica experienced
the most frequent incidence of revolt in the Americas, not in spite of but
precisely because of natural barriers. If this is at all true, the reason for the
dearth of resistance in African slavery lies elsewhere.
It was virtually impossible for a person to exist for any significant length
of time without attachment to a patron, master, or kin group. If a person
could not prove affiliation to any of these, one was imposed on him, either
by the slave being returned to his old master or reenslaved by a new one. The
mechanism differed from society to society and over time, but the result was
similar; flight rarely resulted in freedom for the slave. Among the Sherbro,

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though the new master saw himself merely as a protector, among the
Aro, he saw himself as the new master if he was willing and able to keep the
fugitive. But to harbor a runaway slave was both potentially beneficial and
potentially destructive, depending on the relative powers of the principals.
Whereas the new Aro master was not bound to return the slave to his old
master, MacCormack reports that the Sherbro protector was bound to
do so through the intermediary of the chief or other responsible official,
provided the old master begged the slave to return, and upon doing so
was able to publicly speak well of the slave and offer the officials a kola
or other small gift for restoring the slave to him. Sherbro masters saw
this diplomatic approach as a pragmatic alternative to forcing the slave
back to his master and having to deal with his flight all over again. This
was certainly an attractive option for decentralized societies lacking a state
superstructure to enforce the law. Slaves in the vicinity of Sierra Leone after
1787 did have options, but slaves in the vast majority of societies during
the period covered here did not. Flight was often a dead end, and rebellion
would have been rare, if it existed at all. It is not a surprise therefore that less
has been written about resistance itself than about factors militating against
it before the nineteenth century. Without a doubt, resistance was more
common in the nineteenth century, but the context had changed. Slave
exploitation had intensified, opportunities for manumission had declined,
and the presence of Europeans and antislavery ideas perhaps stimulated
resistance.
It is of course possible that the inability to pinpoint cases of resistance
before the nineteenth century reflects a problem of sources rather than the
actual reality. If resistance really was unknown, there would have been no
need for masters to take measures to forestall resistance. Even such a simple
act as restraining a captive with a chain or other material underscores the
existence of resistance. It was necessary to restrain the captive because of the
likelihood that he might flee and/or harm his captors. Indoctrination measures and the kinship idiom were mobilized to ensure that slaves complied
with the existing order. Acts of resistance during the Middle Passage and in
the Americas are well established. Why would Africans resist enslavement in
the Middle Passage and the Americas but not resist enslavement in Africa?
conclusion
The character and course of slavery in Africa is usefully understood in the
context of trade as a whole. The Atlantic trade in particular provides a basis
for understanding the spread of slavery in Africa from the sixteenth century
onward. Slavery existed in West Africa before 1420 before the Atlantic
trade era but only in the Gold Coast had slavery become widespread
and extensive, to the point where it might have helped trigger an Atlantic

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slave trade in the manner argued by Thornton. If slavery in West Africa


did contribute to the beginning of this traffic, however, the Gold Coast
would have been the first and most important slave-exporting region. In
fact, the region did not become a significant exporter until the eighteenth
century as long as it remained the epicenter of slavery in West Africa.
It was the only region where a labor-intensive mining sector existed, and
where Europeans brought captives from other parts of Africa. Yet the
existence of large-scale slavery in the Gold Coast does not seem to have
had significant impact on the volume of captives that that region supplied
to the Atlantic market. If there are any generalizations to be made about
the relationship between indigenous slavery and Atlantic trade, it is first
that the absence of institutional obstacles to slavery and the slave trade in
West Africa facilitated the development of the transatlantic slave trade, and
second, that large-scale slavery was not the cause but rather a consequence
of Atlantic trade.
The unique history of Gold Coast slavery affects the interpretation of
the history of slavery in non-Islamic Africa and its interaction with the
Atlantic trade in another way. In general, fewer females than males were
exported to the Americas because females were absorbed by indigenous
African slave systems and the alternative Saharan market. Females were
easier to assimilate and less prone to violent revolts. Two regions the
Gold Coast up to the end of the seventeenth century and the Bight of
Biafra up to the mid-eighteenth century deviated from this pattern,
sending significantly higher proportions of females into the Atlantic market. We know in the Bight of Biafra that this was because of the marginality
of the Saharan market and the premium placed on male labor in the yamdominated agriculture. Gold Coast sources for this period hardly mention
female slaves and also place males at the center of the slave system. The
gender division of labor in pre-eighteenth-century Gold Coast has yet to
be studied closely. Non-mining sectors of its economy, especially smallscale farming and domestic service, have yet to receive the attention that
scholars have given to the gold economy. We might suggest that the high
proportion of females seen among captives leaving the Gold Coast resulted
from the male focus of slavery there due to the predominance of mining and plantation labor, where male rather than female labor prevailed.
Perhaps a female majority of slaves is to be expected within Africa for
predominantly agricultural societies in which women did most of the
productive work, but not in a society like the Bight of Biafra, where
men figured heavily in agriculture, or the Gold Coast, where the direct
labor for the mainstay mining economy was shouldered by men. Thus,
the high proportion of females among captives leaving the two regions
deviated from the norm as long as the Gold Coast maintained this pattern. The sharp fluctuation seen in the proportion of females leaving the

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Gold Coast in the seventeenth century is significant for our understanding of indigenous slavery and its interaction with Atlantic trade. In the
high gold age of the sixteenth century, Gold Coast markets offered more
females for export than males, but the proportion declined significantly
to 47 percent in the course of the seventeenth century, when gold exports
declined. By contrast, the proportion from the Bight of Biafra remained
fairly consistent over time, suggesting continuing reliance on male slaves,
as opposed to decreasing reliance on males on the Gold Coast occasioned
by economic change associated with the collapse of gold exports. This
evidence confirms the exceptional character of Gold Coast slavery during the early Atlantic trade era, a phenomenon that must figure in any
analysis of slavery in Africa up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.
further reading
C. Baks et al. Slavery as a System of Production in Tribal Society. Bijdragen Tot
de Taal-, Land en Volkenkunde, Deel 122 (1966): 90109.
Robert M. Baum, Shrines of the Slave Trade: Diola Religion and Society in Precolonial
Senegambia (New York, 1999).
Frederick Cooper, The Problem of Slavery in African Studies. Journal of African
History, 20 (1979): 10325.
Sylviane Diouf (ed.), Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies (Athens,
OH, 2003).
Richard Dunn, Sugar and Slaves: The Rise of the Planter Class in the English West
Indies, 16241713 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1972).
Sandra Greene, Gender, Ethnicity, and Social Change on the Upper Slave Coast
(Portsmouth, NH, 1996).
A. G. Hopkins, An Economic History of West Africa (London, 1972).
Joseph Inikori, Export versus Domestic Demand: The Determinants of Sex Ratios
in the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Research in Economic History, 14 (1992): 117
66.
Ray A. Kea, Settlements, Trade and Politics in the Seventeenth-Century Gold Coast
(Baltimore, MD, 1982).
Martin A. Klein and Paul E. Lovejoy, Slavery in West Africa, in Henry Gemery
and Jan S. Hogendorn (eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic
History of the Slave Trade (New York, 1979).
Paul E. Lovejoy, Transformations of Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa (2nd ed.)
(New York, 2000).
Patrick Manning, Slavery, Colonialism and Economic Growth in Dahomey, 1640
1960 (Cambridge, 1982).
Patricia McKissack and Fredrick McKissack, The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali,
and Songhay: Life in Medieval Africa (New York, 1994).
Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff, Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological
Perspectives (Madison, WI, 1977).

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G. Ugo Nwokeji, The Slave Trade and Culture in the Bight of Biafra: An African
Society in the Atlantic World (Cambridge, 2010).
Richard L. Roberts, Warriors, Merchants, and Slaves: The State and the Economy in
the Middle Niger Valley, 17001914 (Stanford, CA, 1987).
Claire Robertson and Martin Klein (eds.), Women and Slavery in Africa (Madison,
WI, 1983).
Walter Rodney, A History of the Upper Guinea Coast 15451800 (Oxford, 1970).
John K. Thornton, Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400
1800 (2nd ed.) (Cambridge, 1998).
James L. Watson (ed.), Asian and African Slavery (Berkeley, CA, 1980).

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CHAPTER 5

SLAVING AND RESISTANCE TO SLAVING


IN WEST CENTRAL AFRICA
roquinaldo ferreira

introduction
Scholars interpretations of African slavery has ranged from emphasizing
the weight of external influences, primarily commerce and contacts with
Europeans, to framing slavery as an institution that preceded contacts with
Europeans and derived from African systems of forced labor.1 The focus
on proving or discarding these two divergent frameworks, as well as efforts
to delineate causes and institutional contours of slavery, have prevailed
to the detriment of bottom-up social analyses of slavery. More recently,
however, a new breed of studies has begun illuminating the complexity of
bondage and resistance.2 As a result of this scholarship, the emphasis on
links between slavery and warfare has been replaced by analyses of mechanisms of enslavement that did not rely on perennial and large-scale military
violence.
This chapter focuses on regions under formal Portuguese control in
Angola to analyze slaving and resistance to slaving in Central Africa in
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It first provides an overview of
slavery in the African societies in relation to the emergent Atlantic slavery
in the region under Portuguese influence. It then surveys changes in the
coastal and internal slave trade so as to sketch an overview of changes in
the demographic makeup of Luanda and the Luanda hinterland. It then
looks at the transition from warfare to more commercialized mechanisms
of enslavement in interior regions that supplied slaves for coastal Luanda
and Benguela. Furthermore, it seeks to demonstrate African agency in the
1 Walter Rodney, African Slavery and Other Forms of Social Oppression on the Upper Guinea
Coast in the Context of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Journal of African History, 7 (1966): 43143;
Claude Meillassoux, The Role of Slavery in the Economic and Social History of Sahelo-Sudanic
Africa, in Joseph Inikori (ed.), Forced Migration: The Impact of the Export Slave Trade on African
Societies (London, 1982), pp. 7499; Martin Klein and Paul Lovejoy, Slavery in West Africa, in
Henry Gemery and Jan Hogendorn (eds.), The Uncommon Market: Essays in the Economic History of
the Atlantic Slave Trade (New York, 1979), pp. 181221; Paul Lovejoy, Indigenous African Slavery,
Historical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques, 6 (1979): 1962.
2 Jan Vansina, Ambaca Society and the Slave Trade, c. 17601845, Journal of African History,
46 (2005): 12; Jose Curto, Struggling against Enslavement: The Case of Jose Manuel in Benguela,
18161820, Canadian Journal of African Studies, 39 (2005): 96122.

111
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context of resistance to slaving by examining the emergence of runaway


communities. In addition to the formation of maroon communities and
slave flights, the chapter also analyzes nonviolent means to resist slavery,
including legal actions and help from relatives and rulers.
slavery in african societies
Although differing significantly from the more commercialized system
established by Europeans, African slavery was remarkably similar across the
communities most affected by the slave trade. In the Kingdom of Ndongo,
there were two categories of slaves: mubika and kijuku. Whereas the first
were captives of war generally destined for the transatlantic slave trade, the
latter could not be sold to Atlantic slavery and enjoyed a higher status.
Kijuku (Ijuku) formed communities in settlements where they toiled and
were governed by a free person designated by the king. They provided key
political and military support to the governing elite and were so powerful
as to participate in the process of selection of kings.3 In the Benguela
hinterlands, by the same token, slaves also enjoyed a special status, as
members of this class could become kings.4 Similarly, as demonstrated
by Anne Hilton, only captives of war could be sold into Atlantic slaving in
the Kingdom of Kongo.5
Scholars have focused on kinship, or lack thereof, as a central factor to
analyze slavery in Central Africa. As stated by Vansina, a person without
a lineage was a slave, a person with one was free.6 Once incorporated into
a lineage, slaves were treated as classificatory children.7 In the Kingdom
of Kasanje, the assumption is shaped by the broader institutional history
of the kingdom as a polity created by nomadic Imbangala groups that
shunned kingship and incorporated its members through kidnapping that
generated constant influx of new members. According to this viewpoint,
the intrinsically kinless nature of slaves, or at least kijuku slaves, was also
a function of the role that Kasanje played as an intermediary in the trade
between the Portuguese and regions to the east of the Kwango River. This

Beatrix Heintze, Angola nos Seculos XVI e XVII (Luanda, 2007), 4845.
Jan Vansina, How Societies Are Born: Governance in West Central Africa before 1600 (Charlottesville,
VA, 2004), 177.
5 Ann Hilton, Family and Kinship among the Kongo South of the Zaire River from the Sixteenth
to the Nineteenth Centuries, Journal of African History, 24 (1983): 191.
6 Jan Vansina, Ambaca Society and the Slave Trade, 6. See also Joseph Miller, Imbangala Lineage
Slavery, in Suzanne Miers and Igor Kopytoff (eds.), Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological
Perspectives (Madison, WI, 1977), pp. 20534; idem, Lineages, Ideology, and the History of Slavery
in Western Central Africa, in Paul Lovejoy (ed.), The Ideology of Slavery in Africa (Beverly Hills, CA,
1981).
7 Hilton, Family and Kinship among the Kongo, 191.
4

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would have favorably positioned Kasanje to easily incorporate individuals
brought into the several markets that existed in its territories.8
Such conceptual framework is by no means consensual, however, and it
has recently been challenged by Wyatt MacGaffey, who argues that those
[Africans] enslaved were not necessarily either outsiders or criminals.9 In
MacGaffeys view, both slaving and slavery were shaped by whether they
occurred in highly commercialized coastal regions or inland regions that
had not been entirely affected by the slave trade. Thus, the social condition of the slave varied accordingly, depending on where the person was
enslaved.10 Furthermore, politics played a key role in the production of
slaves, which also derived from matrilineal descent groups.11 As demonstrated by MacGaffey, the ultimate result of such a dynamic was the creation
of a system of government that admitted not only holding people as slaves,
but also the sale of enslaved individuals. In this context, as indicated by
Vansina and Thornton, a judicial system susceptible to the demands of the
elite and prone to producing slaves by nonviolent means was an essential
piece in the architecture of enslavement.12
slave communities: luanda
The major institutional and political landmarks of the integration of Angola
into the Atlantic economy in the sixteenth century have been extensively
analyzed, but significantly less attention has been devoted to the changes
brought on by the coastal trade to populations in regions under formal
Portuguese control between Luanda and Mpungo Ndongo to the east.
Information on Angolan demography is sketchy, preventing a clear picture of the Africans toiling under slavery in Portuguese Angola.13 However,
the fact that the region was both a supplier of slaves to the Atlantic and
a corridor through which thousands of Africans from east Angola were
taken to the coast might provide some clues on its demographic makeup.
Because not all enslaved Africans were taken to the Americas, one of the
outcomes of Angolan integration into the Atlantic economy was the creation of a significant slave population in the region, including at the two
8

Miller, Imbangala Lineage Slavery.


Wyatt MacGaffey, Kongo Slavery Remembered by Themselves: Texts from 1915, International
Journal of African Historical Studies, 41 (2008): 76. See also idem, Changing Representations in Central
African History, Journal of African History, 46 (2005): 195.
10 MacGaffey, Kongo Slavery, 47.
11 MacGaffey, Changing Representations in Central African History, 1979.
12 Vansina, Ambaca Society and the Slave Trade; Wyatt MacGaffey, Kongo Slavery; Thornton,
African Political Ethics and the Slave Trade.
13 For demographics studies focusing on the late eighteenth century, see Jos
e Curto, The Population
History of Luanda during the Late Atlantic Slave Trade, 17811844, African Economic History, 29 (2001):
159; Jose Curto, As If from a Free Womb: Baptismal Manumissions in the Conceicao Parish, Luanda,
17781807, Portuguese Studies Review, 10 (2002): 31.
9

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main slave ports at Luanda and Benguela. A later section in this chapter
will address how the amalgamated cultural and social landscape of these
regions influenced the way their African populations reacted to slaving.
This section will sketch out an overview of the demographic makeup of
the African population in Luanda and adjacent regions.
In the 1680s, approximately eighty Portuguese and Luso-African merchants lived in Luanda, and they exerted control over thousands of enslaved
Africans in and around the city. A missionary who visited Luanda at the
time reported a prodigious multitude of blacks, whose number is not
known.14 A few decades later, another missionary stated, the negroes
which inhabit this city [Luanda] and kingdom [Angola], except some few
that are free as being natives, they are all slaves to the whites.15 These
slaves played a pivotal role in the local economy by performing a variety
of occupations in Luanda and adjacent regions. They worked as fishermen
(together with free Muxiloanda people), carpenters, and soldiers in militias, and they transported Luanda settlers around the city in hammocks.
Many of the crewmembers of ships taking slaves to the Americas were slaves.
Near Luanda, slaves were also employed in the arrimos (farms) in the Bengo
region and along the Kwanza River, which supplied foodstuff for Luanda
and the transatlantic slave trade. In addition, many enslaved Africans
lived in the interior regions under Portuguese influence, which stretched
to the colonial outpost established in 1672 in Mpungo Ndongo, some
three hundred kilometers inland. Some of these Africans from the interior
spent long periods of time away from their masters, carrying out activities
related to slaving on behalf of their owners or Luanda and Benguela coastal
merchants.
In order to understand the composition of the Luanda slave population
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it is necessary to reconstruct
shifts both in the internal and the transatlantic slave trade, as well as military
operations in the Luanda hinterland, Benguela, and northern Kongo. In the
early seventeenth century, for example, Kimbundu-speaking people originating from the Luanda hinterland made up most of those toiling under
slavery in Luanda and adjacent regions. These Africans had mostly been
captives of the wars through which the Portuguese and allied Imbangala
forces staked out fragile control over regions in the Luanda hinterland.16
As demonstrated by Heywood and Thornton, after being organized along
14 Michael Angelo and Denis de Carla, A Curious and Exact Account of a Voyage to Congo in
the Years 1666 and 1667, in John Pinkerton (ed.), A General Collection of the Best and Most Interesting
Voyages and Travels in all Parts of the World (London, 1814), p. 298.
15 Jeronimo Merola, A Voyage to Congo, and Several Other Countries, Chiefly in Southern Africk,
in ibid, p. 295.
16 Joseph Miller, The Paradoxes of Impoverishment in the Atlantic Zone, in David Birmingham
and Phyllis Martin (eds.), History of Central Africa (London, 1983), pp. 11859.

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commercial lines, the Angolan trade was then driven by military operations
that seriously affected populations in the Luanda hinterland.17 Although a
significant number, perhaps most, of the Africans enslaved through warfare
were shipped to the Americas, many also remained in Luanda.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, the population of Luanda
became more diversified as the Luanda trade drew on alternative sources
of slaves in northern and southern Angola. Kikongo-speaking Africans
from the north already lived in regions surrounding Luanda in the first
half of the seventeenth century, as their numbers increased significantly
due to the intensification of commerce with Kongolese-controlled regions.
The circumstances that led to these changes stemmed from thriving coastal
commerce between African and Dutch merchants in northern Angola. This
trade consisted of sophisticated African-controlled commercial networks
and was fueled by highly sought-after products, such as textiles brought
from abroad by the Dutch. These trading networks were far more efficient
than the Portuguese-controlled Luanda trade, and the growth of the Dutchcontrolled coastal trade in northern Angola prompted enterprising African
merchants to seek to increase the number of slaves by spreading south into Mbundu regions and tapping into the supply of slaves for Luanda.
The situation took a toll on the Luanda trade, as slaves that would have
been delivered at the city would wind up in northern Angola. To prevent
this supply from being diverted to northern Angola and to protect their
own commercial interests, the colonial administration and allied African
forces fought several unsuccessful wars against the Matamba and Kongo
kingdoms.
In addition to the growing independent internal slave trade, the supply
of slaves to Luanda was thwarted by monopolistic practices by high-ranking
colonial officials that harmed private business and created an exceedingly
unfriendly business environment in the city. The results of inhospitable
conditions for merchants in Luanda were twofold. First, it indirectly bolstered the coastal trade in northern Angola by forcing Luanda merchants
to turn to those regions (Cabinda and Loango) to make up for the difficulties of conducting business in Luanda. Because of the trade via land
with Kikongo-speaking peoples from regions south of the Congo River,
enslaved Africans from those regions were already part of the Luanda population. However, growing trade by Luanda ships in Cabinda and Loango
further increased their numbers in the city. These Africans were known
in Luanda as Muxicongo. Indirect evidence of the significant number and
status of Muxicongo in Luanda was that slave holders paid close attention
to their attitudes toward the Middle Passage, remarking that Muxicongo
17 Linda Heywood and John Thornton, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles and the Foundation of the
Americas (Cambridge, 2007), chapter 3.

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were those who seemed to be the most affected and prone to depression
and suicide when faced with the prospect of being taken across the ocean.
By the end of the seventeenth century, difficulties in conducting slaving in Luanda triggered changes in the coastal trade anew. These changes,
in turn, stimulated further diversity within the Luanda slave population.
To make matters worse, prices for slaves skyrocketed due to the rise of
the demand for slaves in Brazil. According to reports from the late seventeenth century, there were ten purchasers for each prime-quality slave
(pecas da India) available in Luanda in 1699.18 Because of the rise of the
demand for labor for the slave trade, prices soared to levels that on occasion reached ten times those prevalent a few years earlier.19 With prices
of slaves increasing dramatically, government officials and well-connected
merchants dominated the trade in slaves to the detriment of private merchants. Against this backdrop, Benguela soon became an alternative focal
point of slaving, drawing on the Angolan central highlands for highly
valued but still relatively few slaves. Through persistent warfare, a basic
institutional framework was established that allowed for the growth of
commerce. In contrast to Luanda, where trade was bogged down by excessive regulations and a corrupt bureaucracy, Benguela was loosely controlled
by royal officials. Access to slaves was not yet as easy or voluminous as in
northern Angola, but the relative lack of bureaucracy created more propitious access to forced labor and lured not only Portuguese vessels but also
French and Dutch ships to the region.
Africans shipped from Benguela on Portuguese vessels were first taken
to Luanda so traders could pay taxes and duties to the Portuguese crown.
In Luanda, they were named after the port they had been shipped from
and became known as Benguela slaves. The internal trading networks
that the Benguela trade fed on were relatively underdeveloped and drew
on limited regions. As a result, these slaves might have shared a similar
cultural background. Some of the Benguela slaves living in Luanda were
captured during warfare in Benguela and were favored to serve in militias
run by Luanda merchants, but the majority was brought to Luanda as
payoff for loans contracted by Benguela merchants to invest in slaving.
In the late 1720s, when Luanda grew further reliant on Benguela, due to
diseases that diminished the Luanda slave population and a decline in the
supply of slaves from the Luanda hinterland, the number of Benguela slaves
increased in Luanda. These slaves formed communities, and eventually
several maroon communities were created that greatly disrupted commerce
between Luanda and the interior of Angola in the 1740s.
18 Carta do Governador de Angola on November 20, 1699, Instituto Hist
orico e Geografico
Brasileiro, lata 72, pasta 8, ff. 5252v.
19 Roquinaldo Ferreira, Transforming Atlantic Slaving: Trade, Warfare, and Territorial Control in
Angola (16501800). PhD Dissertation, UCLA, 2003, chapter 1.

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In addition to enslaved Africans from the Luanda hinterland, northern Angola, and Benguela, the Luanda slave population underwent further
changes when the slave frontier advanced eastward past the Kwango River in
the early eighteenth century. This development brought to the city enslaved
Africans known as Muluas, perhaps the least exposed to Europeans or
the highly creolized cultural milieu in the Luanda hinterland. Until then,
Luanda had relied on regions relatively close to the coast for slaves, and thus
the introduction of Mulua slaves broke with a well-established pattern. Perhaps more than the internal slave trade in the Luanda hinterland, this trade
was controlled by the Matamba and Kasanje kingdoms, which functioned
as intermediaries with the Lunda Empire in the far east and prevented
Luanda merchants from directing trade. Holo was originally subordinate
to Kasanje, but it took advantage of commercial links with traders from
the Lunda Empire to gain stature in the Luanda hinterland. In the 1730s,
high prices for slaves coupled with an increasing demand for labor in the
Atlantic prompted Luanda merchants to establish direct contact with the
rising Holo Kingdom. Luandas attempts to establish contact with Holo
involved elaborated diplomatic efforts but were eventually blocked by the
Matamba Kingdom, leading to warfare in the 1740s.
The conventional wisdom has been that the expansion of the so-called
slave frontier east of the Kwango River meant that the majority of slaves
were no longer from regions under control of the Portuguese between
Mpungo Ndongo and Luanda. However, the attempt to strengthen the
flow of slaves from regions east of the Kwango River did not mean the
demise of Luandas dependency on regions closer to the coast for slaves.
Populations living in regions under direct influence of the Portuguese did
remain targets of nonmilitary mechanisms of slaving. For example, a sample of early-eighteenth-century marital records from the Catholic Church
suggests that a significant number of married female slaves had either been
born in Luanda proper or in adjacent regions. Overall, however, the slave
population in Luanda continued experiencing a process of diversification.
In addition to Mulua and Creole slaves, there was still a visible contingent
of slaves from Kongo, as well as a renewed number of enslaved individuals
from the Benguela highlands, though it was significantly smaller than in
the early 1700s.
As for the Muxicongos, the flow of Kikongo-speaking slaves to Luanda
dwindled to a trickle in the 1720s, as the French and English excluded
slave ships from Luanda and Brazil from northern Angola ports. However, the Muxicongos would again become an important segment of the
Luanda population by the end of the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries, when the city began receiving thousands of slaves from Kongo
through caravans operated by African merchants. In the 1730s, the Benguela
coastal trade became a full-fledged operation, leading to fewer commercial

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contacts with Luanda and decreasing the number of slaves being sent from
Benguela to Luanda. Ships loading slaves in Benguela no longer stopped
in Luanda on their way to the Americas. In contrast to northern Angola,
trade with Benguela could not be undertaken via land, because the colonial
administration lacked territorial control over the Kissama region that lay
between them. Although Luanda continued receiving thousands of slaves
from Benguela in the late eighteenth century, few of these individuals were
kept in town, as most were destined for the slave trade to Brazil. Thus,
in the second half of the eighteenth century, the Luanda slave population
was very likely composed of a majority of Kimbundu-speaking peoples,
followed by Mulua slaves, a far smaller number of slaves from northern
Angola, and a very reduced segment of Benguela slaves.
from warfare to commercial slaving
Most historians rightly assert that warfare was at the core of slaving and
that most of the enslaved Africans shipped to the Americas were captives
of war.20 In Angola, however, different patterns of warfare emerged in
Luanda and Benguela in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the
Luanda hinterland, the only time large-scale military operations seem to
have correlated with a continuous growth in shipments of slaves was in the
first half of the seventeenth century. By then, systematic warfare marked
the process through which Portuguese and allied African forces carved out
control over the Luanda hinterland. Warfare served to both strengthen
colonial authority in the Luanda hinterland and generate slaves for the
Luanda trade. Portuguese forces were so focused on advancing in the
Luanda hinterland and setting up a network of administrative outposts
along the Kwanza River that early efforts to stake out control over the
interior of Benguela were neglected. The Portugueses hold of the asiento
contract to supply slaves for Spanish America provided the backdrop to
the thrust of military slaving. Furthermore, the drive toward the interior
also laid the groundwork for a highly amalgamated cultural milieu in
the Luanda hinterland.21 This milieu provided much of the framework for
the transition from warfare to more commercialized forms of slaving in the
eighteenth century.
In the second half of the seventeenth century, several military campaigns
were waged in the Luanda hinterland on the Matamba and Ndongo kingdoms. Military operations were also conducted in coastal northern Angola
20 Paul Lovejoy, Civilian Casualties in the Context of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in John
Laband (ed.), Daily Lives of Civilians in Wartime Africa: From Slavery Days to Rwandan Genocide
(Westport, CT, 2007), pp. 1751.
21 Heywood and Thornton, Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles.

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against the Kingdom of Kongo. These operations were sometimes conducted with logistical and military support from the allied Kasanje Kingdom and other Imbangala allies, in addition to far more uncertain military
support from Brazil. They were aimed at stopping independent commerce
in the Luanda hinterland and northern Angola and tried to both channel
internal slave trade networks to Luanda and strengthen Luandas stakes
in the northern coastal trade. The operations led to the establishment of
a military outpost in Mpungo Ndongo in the early 1670s, but they did
not attain significant results in terms of strengthening colonial control
over commerce, nor did they yield as many slaves as campaigns fought
earlier in the seventeenth century. Part of the reason why these campaigns
failed was because traditional African allies of the Luanda administration,
primarily in the Kasanje Kingdom, refocused their strategies away from
military cooperation with the administration and toward their own commercial interests. By the end of the seventeenth century, therefore, the
Luanda trade was more than ever dependent on trading networks largely
controlled by the Kasanje and Matamba kingdoms.
In the eighteenth century, large-scale military operations subsided as a
result of strains in the relationship with Kasanje and the colonial administrations inability to stand up to African polities. Although still playing a
pivotal role in providing slaves for Luanda, Kasanje not only withdrew support for Luanda military campaigns altogether, but also sided with rising
and competing commercial and military powers in the Luanda hinterland.
In contrast to the relative weakening of Kasanje, Holo, a small kingdom
that had broken off from Kasanje in the late seventeenth century, began
playing a pivotal, if short-lived, role in trading with the Lunda Empire.
Holo trading contacts with the Lunda Empire seem to have taken place in
the wake of successful military confrontations with Lunda forces. However,
the Holo rise was obfuscated by the reemergence of the Matamba Kingdom, which recovered from a military defeat to Portuguese forces in the
late seventeenth century to apparently surpass Kasanje as the main player
in commerce in the Luanda hinterland. In the late 1730s and early 1740s,
for example, Kasanje was forced to side with Matamba when Luanda
merchants explored the possibility of direct trade with the Holo Kingdom. Later, Matamba further reasserted itself by militarily blocking trading networks crossing Holo into Kasanje. Portuguese forces waged a war
on Matamba but failed to change the structure of internal trade in the
region.
The rearrangement of the political geography of slaving then taking
place in the Luanda hinterland affected Luanda on several levels. First,
the Angolan coastal trade was already undergoing dramatic changes, with
the rise of Benguelan direct commercial contacts with Brazil undercutting
Luandan stakes there. Until the opening up of the Benguela coastal trade,

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ships had to stop in Luanda on their way to Brazil for administrative


and practical reasons, such as purchasing foodstuffs for the transatlantic
voyage. However, in addition to turning Benguela into a safe haven for
merchants, the direct trade with Brazil meant that Benguela no longer sent
significant numbers of slaves to Luanda. Second, the city had just recently
been hit by epidemics that wreaked havoc in the slave and free population.
Furthermore, recent discoveries of gold in Brazil triggered an increased
demand for labor from the Atlantic, to which the citys commercial and
trading networks were unable to respond. Against this backdrop, Luanda
merchants began a strong push to provide logistical and financial backing
to open alternative commercial routes in the Luanda hinterland. The goal
was to open up the commerce with the Holo Kingdom, which would not
only reinforce the supply of slaves to Luanda, but also provide an ideal
replacement for the then-defunct alliance with Kasanje.
Although the military operations conducted in the Luanda hinterland
differed from campaigns that took place in the first half of the seventeenth
century, they were similar both in strategy and results to the operations
that occurred in the second half of the seventeenth century. Like the war
against the Ndongo Kingdom that led to the creation of a military and
administrative outpost in Mpungo Ndongo in 1672, direct enslavement was
not the main goal of the war on Matamba. In fact, operations only began
after Matamba reacted to the colonial administrations courting of Holo
by attacking a colonial outpost in Kambambe. A large number of slaves
and merchandise from Luanda merchants held there before being taken
to Luanda were seized by the Matamba forces, and the war was framed
as a punitive attack. An expedition sent from Luanda seems to have been
able to defeat Matamba forces, reach the banza (court) of the Matamba
king, and wreak havoc in adjacent villages. A large number of Africans
were enslaved by troops fighting on behalf of the Luanda administration.
However, Luandas stakes in commerce were not strengthened in the wake
of the operations. By the mid-1750s, for example, Matamba had fully
recovered, begun punishing subjects engaging in independent commerce
with Luanda, and blocked the trade from Kasanje to Holo.
In Benguela, the picture was more complex. Between the 1680s and
1720s, simmering military campaigns were at the heart of the process
through which Benguela was integrated into the Atlantic economy. Due to
inadequate military capabilities and lack of reliable support from African
rulers, campaigns became drawn out, possibly slowing down the growth
of commerce. At least once, colonial troops were on the verge of being
driven out of the main colonial outpost in Benguela. Attacks by Africans
were so bold that they sometimes directly targeted slave ships docked in
the city. These campaigns elicited a stream of enslaved Africans barely sufficient to feed the transatlantic trade. In contrast to the Luanda hinterland,

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where the colonial drive into the interior gave birth to a string of loosely
connected but commercially important colonial outposts (presdio), operations in Benguela resulted in only one such structure in Kakonda.
Furthermore, although military operations conducted between the 1680s
and 1730s helped establish the institutional framework for slaving, they
also led to a highly decentralized internal trade. At the end of the eighteenth century, for example, the number of traders pumbeiros participating in the internal trade in Benguela stood at approximately eighteen
hundred.
Furthermore, the lack of an internal structure to support commercial
slaving seems to have somehow contributed to the continuation of warfare
to enslave Africans in the Benguela highlands. By the end of the eighteenth
century, although colonial forces would sporadically venture into the interior to undertake military operations, most Africans taken to Benguela
were captured as a result of wars pitting Africans against each other. In
1798, for example, a single attack on an allied African ruler yielded six
hundred slaves. Remarks by Benguela authorities in the late eighteenth
century provide an indirect glimpse into the simmering nature of warfare
in the region. According to them, it was more difficult to control enslaved
Africans shipped from Benguela to Brazil than those shipped from Luanda
to Brazil, which might have been a result of continuous warfare.
In Luanda, difficulties in establishing direct links with the Lunda Empire
in the far east contributed to continuing dependency on the Luanda hinterland for slaves. In the absence of warfare, enslavement was carried out
through an array of methods, including judicial punishment, kidnapping,
and small-scale conflicts used to resolve trade and land disputes. These were
traditional methods of enslavement that might probably have preceded
the Portuguese presence in Angola. In 1781, for example, the African ruler
Namboangongo enslaved a subject of Ndembo Amuquiama because the
latter had committed a crime in his territory.22 According to local customary law, Africans retained the right to dispense judicial punishment,
even in regions under Portuguese influence. In the context of Atlantic slaving, however, these attributes took on a different dimension, because the
demand for labor led African authorities to abuse their powers. In practice,
the need to generate slaves altered the way crimes were perceived and punishment was meted out, often leading to enslavement of individuals who
had committed petty crimes and lacked sufficient support of local patrons
to guarantee their freedom. In 1800, for example, Joaquim Jose Ribeiro,
an African soldier who had deserted from the Benguela army and gone to
the Mbailundo territory, was sent back to Benguela as a slave by one of the
22 Carta do Governador de Angola on April 22, 1778, Arquivo Hist
orico Nacional de Angola
(AHNA), cod. 81, ff. 6666v.

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macotas (advisors) of the Mbailundo ruler. Ribeiros fault was the crime of
engaging in a personal relationship with a black woman who belonged to
the macota.23 To some extent, the same dynamic was at play in northern
Angola as well. In the 1850s, John Monteiro reported that the majority of
the enslaved people shipped from the region had not been made captives in
the context of war, but had rather been furnished by their own [African]
law.24
The pervasive nature of kidnapping, undeniably a function of the growth
of Atlantic slaving, was particularly threatening to ordinary free Africans,
because the erosion of traditional social institutions motivated petty traders
to resort to kidnappings as a way of conducting business. Several cases attest
to the continuous use of kidnappings to settle matters related to commercial
and land disputes without previously submitting these issues for judicial
consideration by African or colonial authorities. Despite the rising number
of cases of free people illegally enslaved, which sometimes hurt commerce
by Luanda merchants because they could degenerate into small-scale conflicts, authorities were slow to forcefully act against illegal enslavement
of free people. One of the few records of individuals punished due to the
illegal enslavement of free Africans took place in 1772, when Governor
Inocencio de Souza Coutinho sent a slave to Pernambuco for stealing
others [free people] and selling them into slavery.25 In 1827, the governor of Angola complained that Joaquim Jose Leal had been condemned
to only one year in the galleys after stealing in this city [Luanda] and
selling to Brazil seven blacks, some of which were free.26 Nbelenguenze,
who had just recently being released from gales jail in Luanda due to
accusations of robbing travelers on the roads from Luanda to the interior, was again arrested after kidnapping a teenage subject of the soba
Ndala Tando.27
More significantly, enslavement might have affected the African social
fabric to the point of provoking changes in the nature of pawnship, an
African institution through which Africans were used by their fellows as
collateral for credit. As opposed to West Africa, where the issue of pawnship has been extensively analyzed by historians, pawnship has received
scant attention by scholars of Central Africa.28 In Luanda and adjacent
23

Ofcio do Governador de Benguela on October 19, 1800, AHNA, cod. 442, ff. 153v.155.
John Monteiro, Angola and the River Congo (London, 1875), p. 59.
25 Carta de Inoc
encio de Souza Coutinho on August 8, 1772, AHNA, cod. 249, f. 10.
26 Carta do Governador de Angola on November 8, 1827, AHNA, c
od. 159, f. 38v.
27 Carta do Capit
ao Mor de Ambaca on March 28, 1798, AHNA, cod. 366, ff. 7374v.
28 For comparison purposes, see Paul Lovejoy and David Richardson, The Business of Slaving:
Pawnship in Western Africa, c. 16001810, Journal of African History, 42 (2001): 6789; Robin Law,
On Pawning and Enslavement for Debt in the Precolonial Slave Coast, and Toyin Falola and Paul
Lovejoy, Pawnship in Historical Perspective, both in Paul Lovejoy and Toyin Falola (eds.), Pawnship,
Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa (Trenton, NJ, 2003), pp. 2769.
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regions, several cases of Africans who filed lawsuits to regain their freedom
suggest that these individuals had been used by their families as pawns
but subsequently ended up being taken to Luanda as slaves. The following
episode illustrates how pawnship could evolve into slavery. A free African,
Lourenco Kambuta Kabangayala, was accused of kidnapping Kambinza, a
free woman, from Axila Bangi, an African ruler. Kabangayala argued that
he had taken Kambinza with the consent of the ruler. Bangi, on the other
hand, claimed he had originally received Kambinza as a pawn due to debts
that her relatives had contracted with him. Further inquiries suggested that
Kambinza in fact had sought refuge with Kabangayala after finding out
that Bangi wanted to sell her as a slave.29
Due to the increase in cases of Africans who were illegally turned into
slaves, the Luanda administration cracked down on people who offered
their relatives as pawns for credit. In 1770 and 1791, for example, the
colonial administration passed a law dictating that free blacks were not
allowed to use their relatives as collateral for loans, bringing upon them the
harsh sentence of captivity.30 In the early nineteenth century, however,
the colonial administration acknowledged that pawnship remained at the
heart of illegal enslavement. According to colonial officials, many [of
those unfairly enslaved] were used as collateral for credit by their parents
or relatives.31 That many Africans who were originally pawns ended up
as slaves in Luanda is illustrated by the case of Andre Gaspars child, who
claimed to be free after being taken to Luanda by Garcia Antonio. The child
had been enslaved by Garcia Antonio, who asserted that he had enslaved
Gaspars child with the fathers agreement. Gaspar denied allowing his son
to be enslaved, but might have used him as collateral to pay debts or obtain
credit.32
resistance
Like enslaved Africans elsewhere in the Atlantic, Africans brought to slavery
in regions under Portuguese control fought slavery through violent means.
In Luanda, for example, attempts to escape slavery were recorded from the
onset of the slave trade in the early seventeenth century. Many runaway
slaves who fled the city would join Ndongo armies led by Queen Njinga.33
The incorporation of these slaves into the Ndongo army was arguably
29

Acord
ao da Junta on June 15, 1769, AHU, Angola, cx. 53, doc. 37.
Registro de Bando do Governador Francisco de Souza Coutinho on November 7, 1770,
Biblioteca Municipal de Luanda (BML), cod. 24, ff. 66v.; Carta de Jose de Seabra da Silva on
November 21, 1791, AHNA, cod. 253, ff. 3336.
31 Instruc
o es on August 14, 1794, AHNA, cod. 273, ff. 149151.
32 Carta do Governador de Angola on January 18, 1826, AHNA, c
od. 96, ff. 16v.17.
33 Ant
onio de Oliveira Cadornega, Historia Geral das Guerras Angolanas (Lisboa, 1939), vol. I, 1323.
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facilitated by the fact that the slave trade drew primarily on Ndongo communities at the time. In the army, they would play an important role,
as they knew sensitive information that helped Queen Njinga fight Portuguese forces. However, the Luanda hinterland was by no means the
only region where runaways sought refuge, as the Kingdom of Kongo was
also said to be a common destination for runaways. The Luanda administration even used this practice as pretext to wage wars on Kongo.34 Furthermore, runaways would also try to make their way to Kissama, which was
located south of Luanda and beyond the control of the local Portuguese
administration.35
Many Africans fully understood that being taken to Luanda as slaves
could well mean a journey of no return across the Atlantic. Much of the
resistance mounted by slaves was aimed at the prospect of being embarked
on slave ships and cannibalized by white men. In 1652, for example, Luanda
merchants argued that ladinos (assimilated) Luanda slaves would run away
if they saw other slaves being taken away from Luanda to Sao Tome.
According to the merchants, previous cases had shown that when ladino
slaves were shipped from Luanda, their fellows escaped to nearby villages
and joined enemy African rulers.36 Deportation to Brazil played right
into Africans fears of being separated from their community in Angola.
According to Governor Miguel Antonio de Mello, for slaves who live in
Luanda there is no other punishment so deeply felt and feared than being
sent away to serve their captivity in America [Brazil].37 As elsewhere in
Africa, the reaction to deportation was in part related to fears of being
cannibalized in Brazil.38 In Cavazzis words, there is no one who could
describe how deeply blacks fear this punishment, mainly women, who
imagine endless torments and misery.39 Blacks deported by Queen Njinga
displayed great fear because they believed that the whites bought them to
devour them.40 According to a report from the late seventeenth century,
Africans taken to slave ships absorbed by thoughts about their fate in Brazil
34

Cadornega, Historia Geral das Guerras Angolanas, vol. II, p. 136.


Cadornega, Historia Geral das Guerras Angolanas, vol. I, pp. 1912.
Assento dos Oficiais da Camara de Luanda on January 6, 1652, BML, cod. 6, ff. 105v.106v. See
also Cadornega, Historia Geral das Guerras Angolanas, vol. I, pp. 1323.
37 Extrato de Carta do Governador de Angola on August 25, 1801, Arquivo Hist
orico Ultramarino
(AHU), papeis de Sa da Bandeira, maco 824.
38 Robin Law, Ouidah: The Social History a West Africa Slaving Port (Athens, OH, 2004), p. 151;
Rosalind Shaw, The Production of Witchcraft/Witchcraft as Production: Memory, Modernity, and the
Slave Trade in Sierra Leone, American Ethnologist, 24 (1997): 85676; Stephanie Smallwood, Saltwater
Slavery: A Middle Passage from Africa to American Diaspora (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 165. For Central
Africa in the late nineteenth century, see also Beatrix Heintze, Propaganda Concerning Man-Eaters
in West Central in the Second Half of the Nineteenth Century, Paideuma, 49 (2003): 12535.
39 Ant
onio Cavazzi, Descrica o Historica dos Tres Reinos: Congo, Matamba e Angola (Lisboa, 1965),
vol. 2, pp. 146, 171.
40 Cavazzi, Descrica
o Historica dos Tres Reino, vol. 2, p. 146.
35

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and began banzando (getting depressed), which makes many of them die.
Others are so impacted [by the impression they will be eaten in Brazil] that
they have to be taken to the religious person in charge of baptizing them,
while others attempt to flee [on the way to the dock].41
By the end of the seventeenth century, attempts to flee Luanda were
so pervasive that a governor reported business troubles to his agents due
to the frequency with which Africans escaped. He stated, It was very
difficult to keep slaves in Luanda because they knew the land and could
easily hide. Frequently, slaves would also take advantage of the absence or
death of their owners to flee. In 1692, for example, a priest appointed to
be the chaplain of a slave ship sought to evade the assignment by arguing
that his slaves would run away if they knew he was absent.42 However, the
death of an owner was undeniably a moment that Africans seized upon to
regain freedom by escaping. Many slaves were allowed to live away from
their owners, a situation also highly conducive to such flights. In 1782, the
owner of a farm in the vicinity of Luanda stated that 130 of his slaves had
escaped when he took a trip to the interior of Angola because they received
the news that he had passed away. According to him, it was a custom in
the country, not ignored by them [authorities] that in case of arrest or death
of owners slaves would flee, and that this was the cause of the flight of one
hundred and thirty slaves from the farms and fields of the supplicant.43
Another fact that made it possible for Africans to escape slavery was
that Luanda merchants commonly sent slaves to carry out business in
the interior of Angola. In 1798, for example, Miguel Assazala confessed
that he was a slave after being arrested with his family in Mbaka. Assazala
said, He had been in hiding for several years in the district [Mbaka],
where he had been sent by his master with goods to trade in the sertoes
(interior). His example suggests that Africans who drifted away were able
to settle down and form families while at large. Assazala, for example,
stated that the woman arrested with him was in fact his wife and that
the six young Africans were their children. Although he admitted that he
was a slave, Assazala refuted colonial officials accusations that his wife and
the children were slaves by arguing that the womans relatives had freed
them.44
In the first half of the eighteenth century, the number of Africans running away from slaving in Luanda and adjacent regions was so high that
several maroon communities were created in regions close to Luanda.
Benguela slaves accounted for most of the maroons who settled in these
communities. These communities were similar to Ndembo communities
41
42
43
44

Copia de Peticao, undated but around 1698, BML, cod. 12, ff. 8990v.
Provisao do Conselho Ultramarino on January 28, 1694, AHU, cod. 94, ff. 253253v.
Peticao de Jose Pinheiro de Moraes Fontoura in 1782, AHU, Angola, cx. 65, doc. 81.
Carta do Capitao Mor de Ambaca on November 5, 1798, AHNA, cod. 366, ff. 143v.144.

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north of Luanda, also formed by Africans escaping from slaving, but they
were far less cohesive because they were less geographically isolated, and
they received a continuous flow of escaped slaves. In addition to disrupting the trade to Luanda, maroon communities were feared because they
welcomed slaves seeking to escape caravans bound for Luanda either when
they stationed in the Luanda hinterland or near the city. Several campaigns
were waged against the maroons, but to no avail. In 1711, for example,
fifty soldiers were sent to battle the Benguela communities, but most of
the runaways escaped into the Libolo region.45 In another campaign, in
1720, 230 soldiers were sent to take on maroon communities.46 By the
1740s, however, the merchants voiced their discontent through the local
chamber, stating that the insults of the Quilombo of black people from
Benguela that exist in the sertao of this kingdom [of Angola], whenever
they wish they come to the roads and take as captives slaves that belong to
the moradores [settlers].47
The resilience of the Quilombos was due not only to the growth of
the slave trade from Benguela, but also to maroon communities seeming ability to gain support from local African rulers, some of whom
were arrested by government forces for complicity with runaways. In
fact, one of the slaves that fled from Luanda (Calumba) would become
a leader of a major maroon community composed not only of enslaved
Africans, but also of free individuals that were located in Benguela.
Calumba
was very shrewd and brought under his control slaves of several owners, in addition
to free people, to the point that his community was made up of twenty something
libatas. He commanded respect of many people, to the point of replacing and
appointing African chiefs and allowing that the members of his community robbed
travelers and traders going to the sertoes. He was known as regulo (ruler) and was
feared by the most powerful of the rulers.48

In Benguela, one of the most loyal allies of Calumba was a local chief
Luceque who lent support to the rebel despite warnings from the colonial administration.49 The relatively high number of Africans taken as
captives during the operations to extinguish Calumbas community sixtyfour individuals speaks to its magnitude. In the main campaign on the
45

Consulta do Conselho Ultramarino on March 2, 1736, AHU, cod. 23, ff. 221v.222v.
CCU on February 16, 1726, AHU, cod. 22, ff. 178v.179v.; CCU on March 2, 1736, AHU,
cod. 23, ff. 221v.222v.
47 Registro de Carta do Senado da C
amara [de Luanda] on October 21, 1742, BML, cod. 18, ff.
37v.38.
48 Carta do Governador de Angola on December 20, 1734, AHU, Angola, cx. 27, doc. 156.
49 Carta do Cabo Jo
ao Silva Coutinho on November 17, 1734, AHU, Angola, cx. 27, doc. 156.
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Quilombo, the damage inflicted to it notwithstanding, Calumbo was able
to escape to Kilengues.50
By the end of the eighteenth century, to the dismay of Luanda officials,
the number of maroon communities continued to increase, despite frustrated attempts to offer amnesty to those who returned peacefully, as well
as campaigns to attack maroon communities located near Luanda. The
fate of slaves who were not able to reach runaway communities was often
in the hands of African rulers who might or might not allow them to take
refuge in their territories. Sometimes the runaways were incorporated into
African communities and strengthened rulers armies, which were used to
attack traders operating on behalf of Luanda merchants. In 1733, for example, the Mbwila ruler would take them [runaway slaves] in as his slaves
and allow them to attack travelers conducting business between Luanda
and the interior of Angola.51 Runaways could almost certainly count on
finding refuge among the Ndembo communities just north of Luanda. In
1784, for example, Luanda merchants reported significant financial damage
due to the large number of escaping Africans making their way to Ndembo
communities in Namboangongo territory.52 However, they were sometimes
welcomed in regions further inland, as in the case of Ndongo rulers who
controlled islands on the Kwanza River and received many runaways in the
late eighteenth century.53 By contrast, allied African rulers did not hesitate
to apprehend and turn in runaways to colonial authorities.54
It is worthwhile to point out, however, that running away or joining a
maroon community were not the only ways to resist slaving and slavery.
Enslaved Africans relied on a variety of means to fight to regain their freedom. Some of these means included relatives and rulers using direct negotiations with traders or bringing cases before the colonial judicial system. In
the late eighteenth century, for example, the ruler of Kissangi province
in the presdio (colonial outpost) of Kakonda attempted to buy back
the freedom of one of his subjects, Juliana, who was a black woman
captured during a skirmish and sold as a slave in a market in Kakonda.
To achieve his goal, the ruler offered two pecas da India (prime slaves) and
ten cows to the Portuguese trader who had purchased Juliana. The African
ruler had been defeated in the war that led to Julianas enslavement, and his
effort was motivated by the fact that he was acquainted with her relatives.55
50 Carta do Governador on December 20, 1734, AHU, Angola, cx. 27, doc. 156; Carta R
egia
on November 24, 1735, AHU, cod. 546, f. 92v.
51 Carta do Governador de Angola on November 28, 1733, AHU, Angola, cx. 27, doc. 82.
52 Portaria para o Capit
ao Mor do Presdio de Encoje on July 22, 1784, AHNA, cod. 272, ff.
91v.92.
53 Carta do Capit
ao do Presdio das Pedras [de Pungo Andongo] on April 18, 1798, AHNA, cod.
366, ff. 86v.87.
54 Carta do Governador de Angola on January 23, 1809, AHNA, c
od. 322, f. 205v.
55 AHNA, c
od. 270, f. 77.

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Other times, however, African rulers would use more forceful methods such as seeking to gain support from the Luanda administration to
release their subjects. In 1798, for instance, fourteen subjects of the Holo
ruler were taken by two Luanda merchants, Jose Rodrigues Alentejo and
Tomaz Bezerra.56 By then, the Holo Kingdoms military power had been
significantly reduced by the erosion of central power resulting from independent trade carried out by pumbeiros from Luanda merchants. Holo,
however, increasingly served as an alternative source of slaves because of
the declining supply from the Kasanje Kingdom. To regain the freedom
of the Africans, the Holo ruler sent actual slaves in exchange for the free
men. However, the two merchants kept the free Africans and the slaves and
fled to Mbaka. Taking advantage of the key role that Holo played in the
trade with Luanda at the time, the Holo ruler filed a complaint in Luanda,
prompting officials to take measures against the two merchants.57 One of
the merchants, Alentejo, was arrested in Mbaka with seven of the fourteen
Africans, while Bezerra was able to make his way to Luanda, presumably
with the others.58
In 1811, Sungo, a follower of the African ruler Mulundo, who had been
taken to Benguela as a slave by followers of another ruler, was seen by
friends while he was being held captive by a Benguela merchant. His fellows
traveled back to the interior of Benguela and told their ruler what they
had seen. As a result, Mulundo requested that colonial officials in Kakonda
contact Benguela authorities and request Sungos release.59 African rulers
efforts to regain their subjects freedom sometimes even included traveling
to Luanda. In 1808, for example, the African ruler Nbomba Assamba went
to Luanda from Massangano to seek the freedom of one of his subjects.
Several others had already been shipped to Brazil, and the African ruler
refused financial compensation offered by the Luanda government. When
he returned to Massangano, he took justice into his own hands and arrested
several merchants traveling in his territory.60 Despite these examples, the
majority of enslaved Africans were not able to rely on rulers for help against
slaving.
Africans living in chiefdoms and villages ruled by allied African authorities were, however, able to use the legal system (Tribunal of Mukanos) in
place in the regions under formal Portuguese control between Luanda and
56

Carta do Governador de Angola on December 26, 1798, AHNA, cod. 97, ff. 66v.68.
Carta do Capitao Mor Regente de Ambaca on March 6, 1799, AHNA, cod. 366, ff. 172v.173v.
58 Carta do Capit
ao Mor das Pedras e Regente de Ambaca on March 14, 1799, AHNA, cod. 366,
ff. 173v.174; Carta do Capitao Mor Regente de Ambaca on April 15, 1799, AHNA, cod. 366, ff.
177178.
59 Ofcio do Comandante da Expedic
ao ao Sertoes de Benguela on September 16, 1811, AHNA,
cod. 445, f. 97; Ofcio do Comandante da Expedicao ao Sertoes de Benguela on September 23, 1811,
AHNA, cod. 445, f. 97.
60 Carta do Governador de Angola on May 11, 1808, AHNA, c
od. 240, ff. 63v.64.
57

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Mpungo Ndongo. The mukano tribunals stemmed from an African legal
system that was referred to as Kituxi and Epanda by Portuguese sources
in the mid-eighteenth century. To take mukanos means to be part of a
lawsuit or litigious cause that is settled verbally according to the customs
of the country. In another definition, the system was broadly described
as every civil and criminal lawsuit.61 It was applied to fortuitous cases
such as a fire that causes the ruin of houses and loss or cutting of houses.62
In Benguela, the local expression was Olimbo, although mukano was also
used due to the influence of the Portuguese.63 The term mucano would
also be used to refer to fines that Africans would pay each other due to
their crimes. Thus, the black woman Esperanca, also known as Mulupa,
resident in Dombe Grande, petitions against the black man Muhululu for
forcing her to pay mucanos several times.64
As described in the late eighteenth century, the system worked as follows:
A family of blacks, because one of his relatives died of a disease that they
ignore, and because a neighbor, already seen as a culprit for being wealthier,
comes under suspicion [and is] declared author of the death. He is then
taken to a Capitao Mor to be judged in a Mukano trial.65 Capitaes Mores
were officials appointed by Luanda-based Angola governors to command
colonial outposts in the Luanda hinterland. The first step for enslaved
Africans seeking to regain their freedom was to make an oral or written
presentation of their case to Capitaes Mores. If their petitions were rejected,
they could still appeal directly to the governor of Angola. In Luanda, an
official, usually a Catholic priest, was charged with the task of hearing
cases by Africans. In the interior, even though the Luanda administration
recognized African rulers rights to judge mukanos, by the mid-eighteenth
century, Capitaes Mores played a pivotal role in the trials.66 In Benguela, for
example, the constraints placed on African rulers authority prompted the
soba (traditional ruler) of Kilengues to file a complaint with the colonial
administration on the ground that the local Capitao Mor was violating his
right to judge mukanos.67
In the late seventeenth century, reports suggest that the number of cases
of mukanos that governors of Angola had to judge was so overwhelming
that it kept them from dealing with other administrative affairs. However,
61

Carta do Governador de Angola on April 30, 1798, AHNA, cx. 2841.


Copia do Captulo do Regimento dos Capitaes Mores on February 24, 1765, AHU, Angola,
cx. 44, doc. 22.
63 Carta do Governador de Angola on April 30, 1798, AHNA, cx. 2841.
64 Despacho do Requerimento de Mulupa on January 29, 1824, AHNA, cx. 138, f. 61.
65 Mem
oria sobre o Abuso Pernicioso do Comercio deste Sertao on November 12, 1786, AHU,
cx. 71, doc. 60.
66 Carta do Governador de Angola on April 30, 1798, AHNA, cx. 2841.
67 Ofcio do Governador de Benguela on July 20, 1781, AHU, cx. 64, doc. 35; Informac
ao in
1793, AHU, Angola, cx. 79.
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it is virtually impossible to determine how effective the system was or how


many people were able to take advantage of it. Many of those who might be
entitled to use the system came from regions outside Portuguese control,
and language seems to have been a particularly challenging obstacle. In
1748, for example, Father Pantaleao Rodrigues, who was fluent in local
Angolan languages, was appointed as the judge and translator for the
continuous mukanos happening in this city [Luanda].68 Four years later,
the number of officials dealing with cases of mukanos was increased from
one to two, a result of the growing number of lawsuits filed by Africans.69
As late as 1825, the colonial administration reported difficulties in collecting
the testimony of an African from the Kongolese region due to language
barriers.70
Nonetheless, examples of mukanos trials, mostly from the early nineteenth century, are plenty. In 1826, for example, authorities in Luanda
reported that Joana Pedro, Maria Mateus, and others from Massagano
were arrested and sent to Luanda; one of them died and only one reached
Luanda. Another person arrived to Luanda a few days later. And these
Africans were not the only ones in Luanda facing the same situation.71
Around the same time, the colonial administration ordered the official in
charge of the outpost in Massagano to release several Africans who had
been condemned to slavery after a probable dispute over loans led a local
merchant, Antonio Pires Fragoso, to file a lawsuit against them with local
colonial officials.72 The struggle of Kiakulo, a former slave woman from
Calumbo, who had to fight twice against slavery to remain free, demonstrates that mukanos could be effective. After she was taken to Luanda in
April 1825 by Joao Francisco to be sold and shipped to Brazil, Kiakulo was
able to argue her way out of slavery before the colonial administration.
One year later, she was taken to Luanda by another slave dealer, and she
was once again able to regain her freedom by arguing that she had been a
slave but that her master had passed away.73
conclusion
Despite the existence of slavery prior to the onset of the transatlantic slave
trade, African slavery differed in significant ways from the commercial
system of slavery established by the Portuguese. Although demographic
information on precolonial Angola is sketchy, it is possible to trace changes
68
69
70
71
72
73

Carta do Governador de Angola on February 12, 1738, AHU, Angola, cx. 30, doc. 75.
Provisao Regia on July 10, 1752, BNRJ, doc. I-12, 3, 31, ff. 105v.106v.
Carta do Governador de Angola on November 14, 1825, AHNA, cod. 157, f. 220.
Carta do Governador de Angola on July 6, 1826, AHNA, cod. 96, f. 45v.
Carta do Governador de Angola on March 9, 1826, AHNA, cod. 96, f. 31.
Carta do Governador de Angola on February 20, 1826, AHNA, cod. 96, ff. 25v.26v.

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in the demographic makeup of Luanda and the Luanda hinterland because
these regions were directly exposed to shifts in the internal and, primarily,
external slave trade. In addition to the slave trade to the Americas, enslaved
Africans were also employed in a variety of activities, such as fishery, commercial activities, and domestic service, which gave birth to a significant
Creole population in Portuguese Angola. Slave populations in Luanda and
the Luanda hinterland grew increasingly diverse in the seventeenth century and first half of the eighteenth century but became far more reliant
on eastern Angola and the Luanda hinterland in the eighteenth century.
Thus, the Luanda hinterland continued to be a key slave-supplying region.
Although these Africans were enslaved primarily through military means
in the first half of the seventeenth century, slaving relied on means other
than large-scale violence in the eighteenth century. In addition to violent
resistance, enslaved Africans were also able to rely on rulers, relatives, and
friends to regain their freedom. Many of those who lived in regions under
formal Portuguese control were also able to take advantage of the colonial
legal system to reclaim their freedom.

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CHAPTER 6

WHITE SERVITUDE
william g. clarence-smith and david eltis

Despite marked geographical and temporal differences across the Western Hemisphere, white servitude remained a distinct and significant phenomenon to the end of the early modern period. The area is defined broadly
to include the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and the specific cases of Russia and Eastern Europe are covered in greater detail in
other chapters in this volume. White servitude was present to some degree
throughout this vast area, but in a highly asymmetrical pattern of distribution. The largest concentrations were found around the Mediterranean,
in Russia, and in the Middle East. Slavery proper was characterized by a
lifetime of enforced labor, together with a chattel status that was passed
on to descendants. Servitude is defined more widely to include serfdom,
penal labor, the transportation of destitute minors, and, with reservations,
indentured labor.
Free labor in the modern sense scarcely existed in Christian Europe before
the nineteenth century, and yet the continents experience was very diverse.
Serfdom virtually disappeared from Western Europe, whereas it intensified
and expanded in the east. Chattel slavery persisted in southwestern and
central Europe, and yet it all but vanished in northwestern Europe. Russias
chattel slaves were all technically transformed into serfs by 1725, but at a
time when the latter status was fast sinking to approximate that of slaves.
Penal servitude was on the increase everywhere in Europe, and the lot of
impoverished children and other marginal social groups worsened. Masterservant contracts were normally enforced in terms of the criminal law, and
vagrancy laws were draconian, at least on paper.
The majority of the worlds white chattel slaves were held in the Islamic
Middle East by the end of the eighteenth century. This status was unambiguously licit, whereas the sharia did not permit serfdom, convict labor,
or forced labor, even if applied to peaceful infidel subjects. Slavery was thus
the most common form of labor coercion, although Muslim rulers regularly
flouted the holy law regarding other types. As the formerly abundant supply
of mainly Mongoloid Turkic slaves from the steppes contracted sharply
from the fourteenth century, a result of Islamization and state formation,
white slaves tended to replace them. There was also a substantial black
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white servitude

133

servile population almost everywhere, together with Indians in Persia and


Turkistan and a few Chinese slaves in East Turkistan. The proportion of
blacks probably increased from around 1700, as other supplies contracted.
White servitude was far less common in the Americas, where the black
equivalent came to be extremely widespread, and many Amerindians were
also pressed into servitude. Numbers of convicts, destitute children, and
indentured workers remained small, and indentured servants, important in
the early years of north European colonialism, cannot unproblematically
be included under the label of servitude. Only a handful of white Muslims
arrived as chattel slaves in the New World colonies, mainly in the sixteenth
century. Not one of the nearly nine million slaves freed in the Americas
between 1791 and 1888 was known to have been white, though a few were
of mixed race. Indigenous peoples of the Americas held white slaves, but
in small numbers.
As for sub-Saharan Africa, white servitude was even more unusual. The
very occasional white woman made it into the harems of powerful African
men, such as the Arab girl from Damascus encountered by Ibn Battuta
in the 1350s, in a governors household downstream from Timbuktu.1 The
Portuguese deported a few Jews and convicts to their possessions, and
miscegenation affected the slave population of Dutch South Africa. No
white person was recorded among the millions freed in sub-Saharan Africa
from the 1890s, although some did have Arab, Berber, or European blood
in their veins.
Grand totals of white slaves in the Old World probably exceeded those
of African descent in the New World before the late seventeenth century.
This is based on a conservative estimate of one hundred thousand white
slaves for the Islamic Middle East and North Africa in the peak period
of the early seventeenth century, to which can be added an equal number
for Russia, where slaves comprised 5 to 15 percent of the population
prior to their conversion into serfs. Thereafter, however, black captivity
in the Americas expanded rapidly, with the overall share of the enslaved
population reaching slightly more than half of the total North American
population, including the Caribbean. Only Russian serfdom could rival
this dramatic increase in black servitude in the Americas.
Similarly, the transatlantic traffic in black slaves probably did not consistently surpass levels of white slave imports until the end of the seventeenth
century. The transatlantic slave trade peaked later, was much more concentrated, and was better documented. The collection of white captives,
by contrast, was dispersed from the Newfoundland Banks to Siberia over
many centuries, and there was no single method of transporting them to
1 Muhammad b. Abdallah ibn Battuta, Travels in Asia and Africa, 13251354: Selections (London,
1983), p. 334.

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the location of their ultimate use. Records are extremely poor, even if more
could perhaps be done with what exists.
Potential for growth in the white servile population fell from around
1700. Rising Western military might curtailed the ability of non-Western
populations to obtain Christian captives, even if this persisted on a small
scale into the nineteenth century. Provisions for exchanges of prisoners
between Muslims and Christians, and between Sunni and Shii Muslims,
became routine and were better enforced in the eighteenth century. Europeans finally ceased enslaving heretics and came to be more likely to free
Muslim slaves who converted to Christianity. East European serfdom was
thus the most dynamic element in white servitude, but growth depended
on the natural reproductive capacities of the existing servile population.
white servitude in the new world
Few white Muslim slaves were sent to the Americas, for Iberian kings strictly
and repeatedly prohibited such exports from 1501. This was partly for
immediate security reasons, and partly to avoid religious contagion
among Amerindians over the longer term. A few white slaves slipped
through the net, however, as it proved impossible to prevent settlers from
bringing their personal retainers with them. Even the Spanish crown sent
the occasional Muslim oarsman to work in Caribbean galleys when hands
were in short supply. The Inquisition at times accused such people of
attempting to spread Islam in the New World, but references dry up from
the mid-seventeenth century. The north European powers never appear to
have imported white Muslim slaves, although they did have recourse to
black Muslims.
Some white captives were held by indigenous Amerindian groups and
peoples of mixed descent in frontier areas of European expansion. In total,
such individuals could not have amounted to more than a few thousand,
equivalent perhaps to a few weeks supply of captives arriving from Africa
in St. Domingue in the 1780s or Charleston between 1804 and 1807. That
said, these cases provide a fascinating insight into varieties of slavery.
Captures by Amerindians were unevenly distributed. The Spanish conquest of Mesoamerica and the central Andes was rapid and overwhelming,
and the epidemiological consequences of that expansion were devastating,
so that Amerindians had little opportunity to capture whites. However,
the same was not true of tropical lowlands claimed by Spain and Portugal,
where several Amerindian groups held out till independence and beyond,
notably in the Amazon basin. Similarly, in the temperate Americas, white
settlement proceeded slowly enough for indigenous groups to capture significant numbers of whites. This was also the case in Siberia, a neo-Europe
similar to the temperate Americas.

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Captives were typically taken in wars or raids and were most likely to be
women and children, as men were usually killed on capture. As explained
in the series introduction, the aim of this captivity was not primarily
the extraction of labor, but rather the expansion or maintenance of the
captors group through assimilation. Under threat from both disease and
territorial incursions, some groups relied heavily on captives to maintain
their numbers. The captives might be so numerous that the identity of
the host society altered fundamentally, as, for example, in the case of the
Iroquois and the Comanches. Their way of life came to occupy a middle
ground between the original cultures and those of multifarious captives,
including a few whites.
Those of European descent who managed to flee spawned the genre of
captive narratives. These were primarily written by women, given the
sex ratio of permanent captives, and most autobiographical accounts were
authored by short-term captives. Much less common is first-hand information from those who assimilated, such as Mary Jemison, who lived
for seventy-eight years among the Senecas. Many, like Jemison, chose to
remain with their captors. Others, taken as children, would have lived and
died without further contact with European society.
Widening the focus to other forms of white servitude, various chapters
in this volume demonstrate that peoples of all colors were subjected to
multiple forms of bondage in the early modern Atlantic, among them
convicts. Transportation was never seen primarily as a way of supplying
labor, however, for its main function was to rid the mother country of
undesirables, whether because of criminal behavior or political and religious
dissent. Some slave vessels saw service as convict ships, but the number of
prisoners carried across the Atlantic was tiny in comparison with African
slaves. The labor performed subsequent to exile was no more than a way
of fortuitously reducing the cost of the ocean voyage for governments,
whether incurred directly or by paying merchants to undertake the task.
The temporal profile of European penal servitude in exile was similar to
that of the rise and decline of the transatlantic slave trade, except that it
began, peaked, and ended about eighty years later than the slave trade.
Some blacks were caught up in the system in the seventeenth century, and
again in the early nineteenth century, but victims were overwhelmingly
white.
Iberian empires were quick to use convicts. White galley oarsmen, probably mainly convicts, were employed in the Havana harbor in the midsixteenth century. Their successors built and maintained the impressive
fortifications in the same location, down to at least the late eighteenth
century. The Portuguese sent convicted felons to exile in their overseas
possessions from the early sixteenth down to the mid-nineteenth century.
These degredados were employed in public works wherever the Portuguese

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established imperial outposts, and might have been paid something for their
services. By the early nineteenth century, the Portuguese were sending out
southern Italian convicts to their colonies, some of whom prospered and
became famous, such as the Nosolini family in Guinea and the Albasini
family in Mozambique. The Iberians usually held deportees under state
control for employment in public works, but they often rented them out
to companies and private individuals.
North European nations, with the striking exception of the Dutch,
entered the business of exporting convicts from the early seventeenth century, selling the labor services of convicts to the highest bidder in the New
World. For the English, transportation began as a publicly subsidized but
privately operated institution, with convicts sold on the open market as
indentured servants at the end of their journey. These flows were supplemented from time to time with batches of people taken prisoner in civil
wars or during the conquest of Ireland. Transportation became publicly
funded after the switch from the Chesapeake to Australia in the aftermath
of U.S. independence, but only because of the greater distance and cost
of getting to the antipodes, and the initial lack of any market for convicts in the early years of Australian settlement. The French were relatively
slow in adopting penal exile, but long maintained it in Guyane. They also
redirected part of the flow to their Pacific colony of New Caledonia in
the nineteenth century. The Russians sent convicts to Siberia from the
late sixteenth century; the gulags of the Soviet Union, in many ways a
continuation of this old Russian system, will be taken up in a subsequent
volume.
Servitude of this type was less constraining than slavery proper and was
not hereditary. If any convicts escaped and returned home, they were liable
to capital punishment, but their loss of freedom in the New World was
usually temporary. Although those convicted of serious crimes served for
life, the vast majority of detainees were sentenced to limited terms. They
were not subject to the laws of slavery that almost every early modern
community in the Americas enacted. Prisoners may have been unfree,
exiled, and subject to abuse, but their offspring were not the property of
the person who had paid for their labor. In short, they were not chattels, and
those who had served their term could find employment as free workers.
When Royalist prisoners set to work in Barbados during the 1650s claimed
that to sell and enslave these of their own Countrey and Religion was a
thing not known amongst the cruell Turks, they were wrong, both about
the Turks and in equating their situation with chattel slavery.
The same was true of destitute minors exported to reduce the cost of child
support to the community or sometimes as undesirables. For such child
migrants, bondage normally lasted only into early adulthood. Children of
conversos, converted Jews, were sent by the Holy Office of Inquisition to Sao

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Tome in the Gulf of Guinea, mostly to meet an early death. If they survived,
they were usually freed as adults, were not subject to slave codes, and did not
pass on their status as coerced workers to their descendants. The English
planned to dispatch penniless children from London to North America
under the auspices of the Virginia Company in the early seventeenth
century. Children dependent on charity long remained at risk of forced
emigration, with Dr. Barnardos homes for orphans sending thousands of
children to Canada as late as the mid-twentieth century.
Whether indentured servants should be placed in the category of servitude is a moot point. They were subject to sale without their consent,
physical chastisement, and restrictions on their personal liberty during
their period of servitude. Contracts were sanctioned and enforced under
criminal rather than civil law, and many cases of kidnapping of young
people emerged. However, as explained elsewhere in this volume, contracts
rested on a market transaction in which future labor services were pledged
in return for a passage across the Atlantic. For the most part, the relationship was voluntarily entered into by laborer and contract-holder. In origin,
it emerged as an extension of annual agreements that were the norm in
parts of the metropolitan economy, and the arrangement was overseen by
courts on both sides of the Atlantic. Moreover, the term of servitude was
limited, normally for three years in the French colonies and four in the
English, with skill levels and age playing major roles in setting particular
conditions. Plantation slaves would willingly have switched status with
indentured servants, had the opportunity presented itself.
Indentured servants greatly outnumbered convicts in the English,
Dutch, and French Americas, even though overall numbers of both amounted to less than five percent of transported slaves. Servants formed the
basis of the early plantation economy and were an important part of the
colonial labor force even in the early stages of the sugar revolution. When
black slaves came to dominate the field-labor force, indentured servants
remained the major source of skilled labor for plantations well into the eighteenth century, when enslaved peoples of African descent took over this
function too. A market for indentured servants, both skilled and unskilled,
continued into the nineteenth century in mainland North America.
white servitude in christian europe
By the early sixteenth century serfdom had largely disappeared from western Europe, even as it intensified in eastern Europe, and especially in Russia.
There remained isolated cases of serfdom in mining regions of Scotland
and Germany, but the institution eroded gradually, even in southwestern
Europe. It was formally abolished at the very end of the period as part of
the great social upheavals resulting from the French Revolution.

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In contrast, penal servitude expanded steadily through this period in


most European countries, although it was never large in comparison to
slavery in the New World. Rather than being motivated by a desire for
coerced labor, this formed part of a process of penal reform. New offences
were defined, and punishments for old offences were changed from public
shaming, corporal punishment, and execution to working for a term of
labor, often in exile in the colonies, as noted earlier. Conviction meant
social death in that the state appropriated the convicts property. He or she
had no subsequent standing in law, and the term of service was for life.
The French accepted criminals from other European polities, especially
German principalities and east European states, so that gangs of chained
men periodically traversed Europe from the mid-sixteenth to the mideighteenth century.
Penal servitude was particularly significant in supplying manpower to
the galleys of national navies, a notoriously dangerous and unpleasant
occupation. Although the Dutch distinguished themselves by eschewing
this option, the Restoration government in England owned and operated
galleys powered by captive oarsmen and serviced by captive dockyard labor.
Nevertheless, the largest employers of such labor were in southwestern
Europe. Louis XIV brought the French galley fleet to its acme, with some
twelve thousand oarsmen and forty-two vessels operating out of both
Atlantic and Mediterranean ports, although this costly and anachronistic
effort scarcely strengthened Frances naval power. Other significant players
were Spain, the Italian states, and Malta.
Criminals were not the only oarsmen. Huguenots were sent to the galleys after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, with Jean Marteilhe writing the most widely read personal account of the system. Catholic
prisoners of war might occasionally be pressed into service, as with
Spaniards serving on French vessels. There was also a scattering of free
oarsmen, in effect, debt peons. These mainly Italian bonevoglie were quite
numerous in French galleys in the sixteenth century but had virtually disappeared by the dawn of the seventeenth century, although they persisted
longer in Italy itself. Security risks and fluctuating supplies of Muslim
slaves led to a greater emphasis on convicts in the early modern era, but
white slaves continued to be employed, as noted later, and black slaves were
at times imported. Galleys thus carried ethnically and religiously heterogeneous crews with widely differing legal statuses that were indicated by
varied hair styles for instant recognition.
There was no equality under adversity, for the most strenuous tasks were
reserved for slaves. The convict did not become a slave, could not be resold,
and did not transfer his status to his children. He could be replaced on the
galleys by a slave purchased by his family, although the French refused to
extend this privilege to Huguenots. White convicts no longer able to row

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were sent to the Caribbean as indentured laborers, with their contracts sold
for what they could fetch. As galleys declined in the eighteenth century,
the French also turned to imprisoning or executing more criminals. As for
worn-out or supernumerary slaves, they were normally sold as chattels in
Mediterranean markets, or, if African, more probably in the Caribbean.
The French freed seven white galley slaves and sent them to the Caribbean
in 16859 but did not repeat the experiment.
Chattel slavery became effectively extinct in Anglican and Calvinist
northwestern Europe. Despite the presence of a handful of black and Asian
slaves brought back from the colonies, such slaves landed in Dutch ports
were liable to be liberated in the late sixteenth century. The 1569 Cartwright
decision held that flogging a slave (a Russian) could not be justified. In the
famous Somersett case of 1772, Chief Justice Mansfield stated that any
slave by the act of walking on English soil became free, though the courts
did not prevent the slave Grace returning to Antigua as a slave in 1827.
Moreover, there were no signs of white slavery in England or the Netherlands. In 1604, the Dutch repatriated the 1,400 Muslim oarsmen whom
they found on a captured Spanish fleet, though these unlucky men were
reenslaved while crossing France. That said, the Dutch were not averse to
executing Muslim captives. Admiral Lambert threatened to hang his prisoners in 1624 if the Algerians did not release Dutch slaves held in Algiers.
Not only did he carry out this threat, but he then seized more Algerians
and hanged them as well, perhaps contributing through his ruthlessness to
the signing of an accord two years later.
Further east, in Lutheran Europe, white slavery did persist, at least in the
German-speaking lands. Great droves reached Hannover in 1683, following
successful campaigns in Morea and Hungary, and Balkan wars remained the
chief source of supply for German states. The best records come from lists
of Muslims accepting baptism, but one observer noted that the majority
refused to renounce their faith. No overall estimate exists, but thousands
were recorded, including in places such as Leipzig. Muslim slavery persisted
late into the eighteenth century, albeit on a small scale.
Chattel slavery was more developed in Catholic southwestern Europe,
where there had been a marked late-medieval resurgence in the exploitation
of slave labor, following the Black Death. France is included in this designation, although no country was more divided over the issue. There was a
long tradition that French soil conferred freedom to all those who stepped
upon it, and some black slaves arriving in France in the late sixteenth
century were set free. A royal declaration of 1571 reaffirmed that the soil
of France granted liberation, though this was prudently glossed in 1607 as
applying only to those who had accepted baptism. Special legislation had
to be passed to allow Caribbean slave owners to visit with their personal
slaves without risking the loss of their human property.

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Black slavery was initially significant in southwestern Europe, but it


coexisted with an older white slavery, which soon became predominant
again. Blacks, coming both via the Atlantic and across the Sahara, were
particularly common in Sicily, southern Iberia, the Canaries, and Madeira,
working in domestic service, proto-industrial units, mines, and agriculture.
Philip Curtin considers that imports of black slaves into Europe fell sharply
at the end of the sixteenth century, and this seems to fit the Sicilian case.
However, Alessandro Stella suggests that blacks remained numerous in
southern Iberia till around the 1640s. Adult males were occasionally shipped
in from the tropics for galley work, but they were expensive and suffered
from excessive mortality and morbidity. A trickle of nonwhite slaves, mostly
children, continued to arrive in Cadiz and Lisbon from Africa, Asia, and
the Americas down to the mid-eighteenth century. In 1761, however, a
Portuguese law forbade any further imports, on the grounds that the
colonies were desperately in need of labor, and in 1773, all born to a slave
mother were thereafter to be free. Most black slaves in the Mediterranean
were thus acclimatized Muslims, captured in a free or servile condition,
although recently enslaved Animists were also occasionally seized from
Muslim owners.
Among southwestern Europes white slaves were some Jews and heretical
Christians, who were nevertheless called Turks. When practicing Jews
fled from Iberia to Muslim countries in the 1490s, they became allies of
the enemies of the faith. Whether captured or purchased, they were thus
kept as slaves, with a particularly significant group of them in Malta.
Also enslaved were Orthodox Christians from the eastern Mediterranean,
especially Greeks, whom the Italians called half-Turks when they worked
directly for the Ottomans. Milo, probably the Greek island of Milos
in the Cyclades, was the main mart for purchasing such people in the
1680s. Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Christians taken as slaves from
Ottoman galleys had to perform the same service on Catholic ones. To
be sure, Colbert instructed the French consul in Genoa in 1677 to abstain
from buying Turcs chretiens, but the latter ignored these instructions due
to a pressing need for oarsmen.
Indeed, such was the demand for galley labor that the occasional Catholic
was to be found among the Turks. Many were Poles, originally enslaved
by Crimean Tatars, or Croats and Hungarians. Although two fourteenthcentury popes had asserted that Catholic rebels against papal authority
could be enslaved, such strictures did not apply to these people, who were
usually freed on proving their religious status. The Spanish crown strictly
forbade the purchase of any Catholic in 1628, but there were still some
in Italy in 1680. As for Catholics who had adopted Islam, they generally
kept very quiet, fearing the harsh penalties meted out by the Inquisition
to renegades. Moreover, although social convention held that the baptism

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of Muslims should entail liberation, this was not enshrined in law and was
often not observed.
The great bulk of slaves in southwestern Europe by the mid-seventeenth
century consisted of white Muslims, whether captured or bought. Purchases
occurred chiefly in the eastern Mediterranean, even though the Ottomans
in theory did not permit traders of any faith to sell Muslim slaves to
the infidel. Some ulama fulminated against sales of Muslims in North
Africa, although these seem to have been unusual. Captures in the eastern
Mediterranean were limited by treaties and the considerable power of
the Ottoman navy, and thus tended to occur in large bursts during major
breakdowns in the balance of power. In the western Mediterranean, capture,
whether at sea or on land, was on a smaller scale but more constant, resulting
more from regular corsair raiding than from sustained campaigns. When
treaties became inconvenient, Christian privateers switched between flags
of convenience.
Ports in Italy, Malta, and Croatia specialized in preying on Muslim ships
and shores, with the navies of two crusading Catholic orders to the fore.
The Knights Hospitalers of Saint John of Jerusalem, expelled from Rhodes
by the Ottomans in 1522, took refuge in Malta and sought their revenge.
The Knights of Saint Stephen were founded by the Medici rulers of Tuscany
and approved by the pope in 1562. They had their headquarters in Pisa and
their naval base in Livorno (Leghorn). Their registers show 10,115 slaves
captured between 1568 and 1688, but their ledgers are incomplete, and the
real figure was probably 15,000 or even 20,000. As a new Tuscan dynasty
curbed the exploits of the Knights of Saint Stephen from 1737, the papal and
Neapolitan navies stepped into the breach. Other Italian raiding centers
were Sicily, Sardinia, and Genoa. As for the fearsome Uskok (Uscocchi)
privateers of Croatia, they had their chief lair in Segna, on the Dalmatian
coast.
Farther west, the Iberians were other great fishers of men, initially
within their own borders. The fall of Malaga in 1487 yielded some ten
thousand slaves, and the revolt of Grenadan Moriscos in 1569 led to captivity for thousands more. In the confusion surrounding the 1610 expulsion
of Spains Moriscos, yet more were enslaved. The Iberians also conducted
frequent raids from their forts scattered along the North African coast, with
the Spaniards taking several thousand slaves when they seized Tripoli (in
Libya) in 1510. Forays by sea were equally significant, with the corsairs of
the Balearics enjoying a particularly fearsome reputation. Assaults generally
declined in the eighteenth century, however, following the advent of the
Bourbon dynasty in Spain in 1700 and the rise of the marquis of Pombal
in Portugal from 1750. Iberian reformers abandoned the ancient dream of
reconquering North Africa and sought instead to establish stable and
peaceful treaty relations with Morocco and the Barbary States.

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Neither France nor Venice captured many Muslim slaves in any century,
reflecting a tradition of alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, Venice
was well known for holding fewer enslaved Muslims than other Italian
states, and for freeing them if the Sublime Porte demanded it. France not
only played off the Ottomans against the Habsburgs but was also precocious
in signing treaties with the Barbary States. The French possessed many
Muslim slaves but were heavily reliant on purchases from foreign suppliers,
especially in Genoa, Livorno, Malta, and even in the eastern Mediterranean.
The French preferred to obtain Bosnian Muslims whenever possible, as
they held Balkan peoples to be the best slaves.
Land battles in southeastern Europe yielded yet more Muslim slaves.
As the Habsburgs first stopped and then reversed the Ottoman advance
in the Balkans from around 1500, captives became ever more plentiful in
Austria, Hungary, and Croatia. Some were sold across the Adriatic into Italy
or north into Catholic and Lutheran parts of Germany, but many were
held in the Austrian heartlands. Similarly, the Russians captured numerous
Muslim slaves as they reversed the earlier pattern of Tatar domination,
seizing the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Sibir in quick succession in
the sixteenth century. While a military stalemate followed, communities
of battle-hardened Cossacks regularly seized Muslims all along the lengthy
frontier. The 1725 Russian assimilation of slavery into serfdom meant little
in these rough settlements, and Cossacks continued to take de facto Muslim
slaves well into the nineteenth century.
Total numbers are not known, but Salvatore Bonos thorough trawl
through the patchy evidence leads him to an estimate of four to five
hundred thousand in Italy alone from 1500 to 1800, suffering from high
mortality rates. He also advances a much lower figure of ninety to one
hundred twenty thousand raided slaves for the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries excluding shipwrecked and purchased individuals. Among Italian
cities, Naples probably had the largest number of Muslim slaves, with up to
twenty thousand around 1600, and ten to twelve thousand in 1661.2 Overall,
Bono tentatively suggests that Muslim slaves in early modern Christendom
may well have been as numerous as Christian slaves in Islamdom, although
much more work is necessary to test this hypothesis, especially in Spanish
and Maltese archives.
The state took the pick of captives and employed them mainly in galleys
and related maritime tasks in southwestern Europe, despite the increase
in the proportion of convicts noted. The Spaniards used numerous servile
Muslim oarsmen in attempting to repress the Dutch independence struggle in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries and still had
2 Salvatore Bono, Schiavi musulmani nellItalia moderna, galeotti, vu cumpra, domestici (Naples,
1999), pp. 27, 356, 83.

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some galleys in service in 1751. The theoretical French ratio was one slave
to three convicts in the 1680s, though the actual number of slaves might
have been higher. Although sail gradually replaced oars in the eighteenth
century, France continued to buy slaves for the galleys till 1748. In Italy, the
ratio of slaves to other oarsmen was often closer to one to two, and galleys
survived longest in Italy and Malta, which lacked an Atlantic coast.
State-owned slaves also labored in a variety of public works under
appalling conditions. Especially notorious was the plight of Muslim slaves
in Almadens poisonous mercury mines, which reverted to the Spanish
crown in 1645, and in which service was equivalent to a death sentence.
The quarries of southern Italy employed many other unfortunates as late
as 1754, and the construction of extravagant buildings and new roads was
prominent. Perilous work in hospitals was often assigned to Muslim slaves
who were made to collect and bury bodies when the plague decimated
Marseilles in 1720. As late as 1812, the authorities kept eighty-six slaves
in Cagliari, employed for no pay in the most unpleasant public works,
and simultaneously held to bargain for possible exchange with Sardinians
enslaved in North Africa.
Much less is known about the slaves of private masters, who seem to
have shrunk as a proportion of the total in the course of the seventeenth
century. They generally enjoyed better conditions than state slaves and had
a higher chance of liberation on conversion, especially if they acted in a
domestic capacity. The numerous slaves of Romes cardinals and religious
officials were something of an elite, but there were also many employed in
more humble artisanal and agricultural tasks. A 1581 document concerning
575 Morisco slaves in Malaga showed that about two-thirds of them engaged
in directly productive labor, mainly in agriculture. Officials sometimes
commandeered private slaves, as in Sicily in 1642, but more often purchased
them when necessary.
Muslim slaves of private owners were mentioned as far afield as Brittany
in seventeenth-century France, and the last known French reference dates
from 1695, when a Muslim slave escaped from his master. In Iberia, private
servitude persisted longer. A Portuguese royal decree of 1773 declared that
the children of white, mestica, and black slave women by free men were all
henceforth to be born free, but that their mothers would remain enslaved
for their lifetime. As for Italy, a Palermo court in Sicily decided in 1812 that
a Moorish male fugitive slave should be returned to his princely master,
and that baptism did not legally entail freedom.
Unfortunately, there are few accounts by Muslims of their experiences
of slavery. In Italy, letters from Muslim slaves to the authorities have been
preserved, and their most common requests were to have their own prayerhouses and cemeteries. This was often allowed in Italy but was prohibited in
Spain, where the Inquisition discovered a clandestine mosque in Cartagena

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in 1769. A Muslim slave, building a road in 1767 in the Guadarrama region


near Madrid, wrote to the sultan of Morocco that he and his fellows worked
without rest or relief, were constantly beaten, and received poor food and
clothing. The scarcity of such materials may reflect low levels of literacy
and the small numbers who escaped or were ransomed, but it is also the
case that scholars with a command of Arabic and Ottoman Turkish have
yet to turn their full attention to sources that do exist.
Resistance mainly took the form of individual sabotage, murder, and
flight, but sometimes entailed cooperative actions. Shipboard revolts were
particularly feared by Christian captains, and with good reason, for the
exploiters of slaves quite often found themselves taken into slavery by their
erstwhile victims. There was only one known major rebellion on land, in
Malta in 1749, when the number of slaves on the island was estimated at
nine thousand. The Knights brutally put down this rebellion.
The redemption of Muslim slaves held in Christendom was a pious and
meritorious act for Muslims. Some rulers even eschewed ransoms, accepting
only the exchange of slaves in treaties with European states. Internationally
negotiated returns of Muslim captives became more common from the Karlowitz Treaty of 1699 in the Balkans, although it proved difficult to oblige
private Christian owners to agree to cede their slaves for a fair price.
In 1810, a Luso-Algerian treaty led to the return of nearly one hundred
Muslim slaves held in Portugal as part payment for Portuguese slaves
detained in Algiers. Semi-professional private ransomers emerged, often
merchants with Sufi connections. Alms collected in mosques, pious
bequests, and the revenues of waqf charitable trusts all served to purchase
the freedom of fellow believers.
The French Revolution swept away white slavery together with other
feudal relics. The French freed slaves in Genoa on taking over, and
Napoleon Bonaparte famously liberated the two thousand or so remaining
slaves on Malta in 1798. However, it is not so well known that he prudently
declared that they should remain prisoners of war, to be exchanged for
European captives in North Africa. Moreover, he balked at extending
liberation to Egypt. In 181415, the Congress of Vienna took a decision
in principle to put an end to all slavery in the Mediterranean, though the
Ottoman delegation abstained. This helped to justify the British refusal to
return Malta to the Knights of Saint John. Some Europeans nevertheless
tried to turn the clock back, and it was not until 1888 that Pope Leo XIII
unequivocally condemned the peculiar institution.
white servitude in the ottoman empire
Ottoman conquests from the late fourteenth century flooded the heartlands
of Islam with a variety of Christian slaves. The collapse of the rump of

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the Byzantine Empire in 1453, followed by that of Christian states in the


Balkans, yielded huge numbers of captives, augmented by daring raids
well beyond the limits of Muslim conquest. The Balkan frontier began
to stabilize from the end of the sixteenth century, giving rise to a shifting
border zone, which continued to be a source of slaves, albeit on a smaller
scale. Unfortunately, no historian has attempted to quantify these flows,
although some kind of rough estimate should be possible from existing
documents.
Supplies from the Black Sea appear to have been larger. Muslim Tatar
raiders, especially those settled in the Crimea in loose vassalage to Istanbul,
harvested the Christian steppes and forests with ruthless efficiency, sacking Moscow outside the Kremlin walls in 1571. A compilation of partial
statistics and patchy estimates indicates that Crimean Tartars seized a little
fewer than two million Russians, Ukrainians, and Poles from 1468 to 1694.3
Additional slaves from the Caucasus, especially Circassia, were channeled
through the Crimea and were obtained by a mixture of raiding and trading. Spotty sixteenth- and seventeenth-century customs statistics suggest
that Istanbuls slave imports from the Black Sea may have totaled around
2.5 million from 1450 to 1700.4 In addition, there was an overland trade
into Anatolia from the Caucasus.
The conversion of Persia to heretical Shii Islam from the early sixteenth
century opened up a third external source of white slaves for the Ottomans.
As bad Muslims, the inhabitants of the Safavid Empire were fair game,
even if some ulama continued to express scruples about enslaving schismatics. Such doubts were overcome by declaring Shii Persians and Azeri
to be apostates, which was punishable by death and the forfeiture of their
dependants. An Ottoman-Persian treaty of 1736 declared an end to the
practice of mutual enslavement by Sunni and Shii armies, with the Persian
negotiators pressing most strongly for this innovation. However, Kurdish
raiders, under loose Ottoman suzerainty, long continued to enslave Shii
believers as well as Yazidi syncretists.
Raiding and warfare were supplemented by levies on the empires own
population, most infamously in the form of the devshirme, a tribute in
Balkan and Anatolian Christian youths. This flouted sharia prescriptions
on the treatment of peaceful conquered dhimmi, or people of the book,
provoking bitter laments in Balkan folk songs. The system, wound down
during the first half of the seventeenth century, officially netted around
two hundred thousand youths between 1400 and 1650, and many more
3 Alan W. Fisher, Muscovy and the Black Sea Slave Trade, in Canadian-American Slavic Studies,
6 (1972): 57594.
4 Halil Inalcik, An Economic and Social History of the Ottoman Empire, Volume 1, 13001600,
(Cambridge, 1997) pp. 2835.

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unofficially.5 Not only Christians, but also Jews might still be lawfully
enslaved if they broke their pact with Muslim rulers, which entailed the
payment of heavy additional taxes and subjection to sumptuary and other
discriminatory legislation. This loophole was at times manipulated by the
unscrupulous or the fanatical.
Ottoman sources of slaves shrank in the eighteenth century, albeit not
to the extent that has sometimes been asserted. The second unsuccessful assault on Vienna, in 1683, was probably the last occasion on which
the Ottomans took substantial numbers of captives from Christian foes,
allegedly some eighty thousand in all. Subsequently, the Austrians pushed
southeast, insisting on the mutual release of prisoners of war. The Russians
curtailed Crimean raiding after 1694, pressed ever further south, and seized
the Crimean peninsula itself in 1783. However, Christian rebellions within
the Ottoman Empire continued to yield slaves, with the last large haul
obtained by suppressing a Greek uprising for independence on the island
of Chios in 1822. Moreover, Polish deserters preferred enslavement to being
sent back to the tsarist army.
The Sublime Porte also compensated by drawing increasing numbers
of white slaves from the densely populated Caucasus. Chechen, Daghestani, and Kurdish Muslims frequently raided their Armenian, Georgian,
and Ossetian Christian neighbors. They also raided Muslims of a different
sectarian orientation from their own, as the Caucasus was riven with disputes between petty Sunni and Shii khans. Many captives were sold to the
Ottomans. Furthermore, Christian elites in the Caucasus provided slaves
as tribute to the Sublime Porte or simply sold their enemies and serfs to
Muslim dealers. The Circassians of the northwestern Caucasus provided
particularly large numbers of slaves, despite nominally passing from Christianity to Islam in the course of the eighteenth century and becoming
Ottoman vassals. Circassians not only sold some of their numerous slaves,
whom they encouraged to breed, but also reduced free compatriots into
slavery, in terms of harsh local customary law. This Circassian trade lasted
till 1909, with a brief interruption in the early 1850s.
High rates of manumission were a redeeming factor of Ottoman slavery in the Balkans and Anatolia, where white slaves were concentrated.
Although the evidence comes from the nineteenth century, it is reasonable to suppose that customary law was similar in early modern times.
Manumission after nine years was the rule for white slaves, compared to
seven for blacks, who were thought to be less well adjusted to the cold
climate. Although this was a customary provision, it seems that sharia
courts enforced it. Moreover, when owners arranged a marriage for their
young slaves, it was common to free them at this time. However, these
5

Peter F. Sugar, Southeastern Europe under Ottoman Rule, 13541804 (Seattle, WA, 1977) pp. 568.

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liberal customs were not applied in the Arab provinces of the empire, and
a British observer of the nineteenth century noted that they increased the
demand for fresh imports of slaves.
This makes it all the more difficult to estimate the size and demographic
profile of the white slave population of the early modern Ottoman Empire.
Drawing on war captives for a long period and having access to a wellorganized slave trade biased toward female slaves, sex ratios would have
been fairly even. Slave procreation was possible and many adults were freed,
which would have made for a relatively young servile population. Urban
numbers were clearly large, but there has been a tendency to underestimate
the scale of white rural slavery, at least in the Balkans and Anatolia.
Part of this urban bias springs from historians fascination with
Ottoman elite slavery, both military and civilian. The Ottomans inherited an Islamicate model of military and administrative slavery, but gave
it a new twist in the form of the Janissary infantry units that conquered
much of southeastern Europe. This probably inspired the smaller servile
Spanish-speaking genizario military units, who operated in the southwest
borderlands of North America. In the Ottoman case, Janissaries were relatively privileged men who often owned their own slaves and stood a good
chance of being manumitted. However, they were forced to convert to
Islam, were circumcised, and were culturally brainwashed to forget their
families and cultures of origin. They could not marry, were subjected to
brutal discipline, and often found an early grave. The Janissaries were overwhelmingly recruited from Balkan youths levied through the devshirme,
although a few of these youths went into elite cavalry units or served in
the palace. As the devshirme declined in the first half of the seventeenth
century, the Janissaries were gradually transformed into a free corps with
much-relaxed discipline. However, some purchased slave boys from the
Caucasus continued to be enrolled as soldiers, and the administration was
largely staffed by white slaves well into the nineteenth century.
White military slavery loomed even larger in the Arab provinces of the
Ottoman Empire in the form of self-perpetuating elites of purchased and
converted slaves, typically serving as cavalry rather than infantry units.
These servile cavalrymen were usually purchased from the Caucasus, and
the system persisted in Egypt after the Ottomans had defeated the Mamluk
state in 1517. Indeed, Circassian Mamluk power revived from the late
seventeenth century, because Ottoman Janissary forces declined in military
efficacy, allowing Egypt to become autonomous. When Napoleon seized
Egypt in 1798, he boasted that he had overcome a Mamluk army of ten
thousand Circassians and Georgians.6 Mainly Georgian Mamluks also
became the de facto rulers of Iraq from the 1740s to the early 1830s.
6

M. Ader, Histoire de lexpedition dEgypte


et de Syrie (Paris, 1826), p. 393.

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The harem, a source of endless fascination to early modern European


intellectuals, was another center of elite slavery. Few concubines actually
shared the rulers bed. Even if they did, they were denied sexual access
to the sultan after they had borne him one son, and were vulnerable to
sudden shifts in palace intrigues. Although the early-seventeenth-century
empire was called the sultanate of the women, only one concubine could
become the power behind the throne: if her son was the victor in the vicious
succession struggle that followed the death of the reigning sultan. Many
concubines never even reached the sultans bed-chamber but were denied
the possibility of having a family life, as were the domestics in the small
army of female slaves who attended upon the inhabitants of the harem.
As for eunuchs, initially employed as harem guards but increasingly
as trusted officials, they could be of any race, with blacks becoming more
common from the seventeenth century. A handful of eunuchs became truly
powerful, but they were as vulnerable to political changes as concubines.
Furthermore, the traumatic operation that robbed adolescents of their
manhood was reported to kill between 15 and 90 percent of the victims,
according to the skill and experience of those who performed the operation.
In theory, eunuchs were meant to be purchased only after having been
castrated by infidels in the abode of war, but the operation was often
performed on slave boys in the abode of Islam. Indeed, in a minority of
cases, it was Muslims who wielded the knife. Castration was prohibited in
1715 in Egypt, apparently with little effect.
The bulk of white slaves in public employment ended up in far less privileged positions, notably toiling in gangs on colossal construction projects.
The most dreaded occupation, as in Christian ports, was the punishing and
dangerous work of rowing galleys. However, the fear of servile uprisings,
stoked by a number of incidents, led to a partial substitution of slaves by
conscripted labor, with some free labor as well. Moreover, as sailing ships
came to prevail in the Ottoman fleet from around 1700, galley service
declined rapidly.
Of the urban white slaves in private hands, a fair number worked in
proto-industry, commerce, and domestic service in the main towns of
the Balkans and Anatolia. Slave artisans were common, especially in the
flourishing textile workshops of Bursa, where a fifth to a third of the
population around 1500 was servile, and where an estimated six thousand
changed hands every year. There were similar concentrations of servile
artisans in Istanbul, Edirne, Sofia, and Ankara. This type of work usually
entailed liberation after a fixed period or on completion of a specified set
of tasks, which enhanced productivity and lowered costs of supervision.
Other skilled male slaves acted as business agents for their masters. Freed
skilled slaves became clients of their former masters and could look forward
to a comfortable level of remuneration for their skills. Household drudgery

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was most common for urban female slaves, for wealthy individuals copied
the harems of the sultans, complete with servile concubines and eunuchs.
Ottoman agrarian slavery has been surprisingly little studied, perhaps
because it has so frequently been assumed to have been negligible, or even
nonexistent. In the Arab lands of the empire, rural slaves were likely to
be black, but in the Balkans and Anatolia, they were mainly white. There
were servile plantations, notably in the vicinity of Istanbul to satisfy the
gargantuan appetites of the immense capital city. Typically on reclaimed
land ceded to members of the military elite, estates often grew rice or
cotton. Furthermore, surviving inheritance registers indicate that there
were many holdings of limited size, each employing only a small number of
agricultural slaves. Far too little is known about this system of smallholder
slavery, which was more generally characteristic of the Islamic Middle
East. Descendants of agrarian slaves tended to become free rent-paying
tenants, so that white agrarian slavery declined over time until an influx of
Circassian settlers in the mid-nineteenth century injected new life into the
system.
The intimate details of the lives of white slaves in the Ottoman Empire
are hardly known, with the significant exception of some of the great
concubines and eunuchs. Even then, there is a lack of personal narratives
by those subjected to servitude. Similarly, the history of resistance to slavery
has hardly begun to be written. There are no signs of any major rebellions,
but many indices of slaves employing the weapons of the weak. For
military slaves, the Bektashi Sufi order, suspected of Christian and Shii
deviations, provided an institutional haven.
white servitude in iran, afghanistan, and turkistan
After the new Safavid dynasty had made Shiism the religion of the Iranian Empire at the dawn of the sixteenth century, Persians and Azeri
were enslaved by their Ottoman Sunni adversaries, as noted earlier. More
dangerous than the Ottomans, however, were Sunni Turks from Inner
Asia, whether Uzbek khans or ferocious nomadic Turkmen tribes centered
around the southeastern Caspian Sea. According to one estimate, a million Persians had been taken as slaves to West Turkistan by the nineteenth
century.7 Sunni Muslims of the Caucasus also raided for Shii slaves, especially in Azerbaijan. In addition, Pushto and Baluchi raiders from the east
believed it to be meritorious to enslave Shii opponents, including Hazara
Mongols of central Afghanistan. However, customs of manumission were
quite generous among the Sunni, often after ten years in Uzbek areas.
7 Richard A. Pierce, Russian Central Asia, 18671917: A Study in Colonial Rule (Berkeley, CA, 1960),
p. 312 (n. 23).

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Iranian armies retaliated by taking Sunni and other heretics as slaves,


so that the net flow depended on the balance of power at any given time.
The Ottoman-Persian treaty of 1736 may have restrained Iranian captures
of Kurds and Turks, but it did not apply to Sunni enemies to the north
and east. Moreover, Ibadi Khariji heretics were enslaved when Persia
intervened in an Omani civil war from the 1720s to the 1740s. However,
Iranians were generally prepared to free Muslim slaves who converted to
their Twelver brand of Islam, and Shii law strongly recommended the
freeing of all slaves after seven years. Moreover, Shii law insisted that
slavery by birth was conditional on both parents being slaves.
White Christian slaves from the Caucasus were also numerous in Iran.
A Safavid army reputedly brought back thirty thousand people from the
Caucasus in 15334, Georgians, Circassians, and Armenians. Similarly, a
Qajar force allegedly captured fifteen thousand Georgians after taking Tiflis
in 1795. Most Caucasus slaves were probably obtained through tributary
and commercial relations, similar to those that prevailed in relations with
the Ottomans. That said, Christian Armenians came to have a special
protected status in Iran, once Shah Abbas I (r. 15871629) had settled large
numbers of them as free subjects close to his capital in Isfahan.
Other white infidels supplied slaves to Iran and Turkistan. Russians were
frequently the victims of the endemic violence that pitted Christian Cossacks against the Turkic Muslims and Mongol Buddhists of the steppes.
Sold on to the settled areas farther south, Russian captives were more
numerous in Turkistan than in Iran, giving rise to much correspondence
between Russian tsars and Uzbek khans in the seventeenth century. Pushto
raiders in Afghanistan took most of their slaves from the Animist unbelievers of Kafiristan northeast of Kabul, only forcibly Islamized under the
name of Nuristan in the late nineteenth century. As for the Zoroastrian
slaves noted in Turkistan, they may have come from either Persia or India.
South Asians formed a significant segment of the early modern servile
population of Iran and Turkistan. Mughal armies seized numerous Hindus
and Jains from frontier areas or rebellious communities and exchanged
them for Inner Asian horses, vital for the survival of Muslim rule in India.
Thus, the Persians supposedly swapped horses for as many as two hundred
thousand Indian rebels in 161920. Indian slaves, numerous up to the earlyeighteenth-century decline of the Mughals, should perhaps be counted
among the areas white slaves, as notions of white and nonwhite are
hard to establish in this area. To add to the complexity of the situation,
black African slaves were imported through the Persian Gulf, while small
numbers of Chinese slaves appeared in East Turkistan.
In occupational terms, many white slaves of the Safavids were employed
in relatively privileged positions, as concubines, Mamluks, and officials,
whether castrated or not. However, Christian slaves from the Caucasus

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may also have been significant in the relatively intensive agriculture of


Azerbaijan. Reliance on servile soldiers and officials rose sharply in Iran
under Shah Abbas I, who broke with the millenarian and tribal roots of
the Safavid dynasty. Under his successor Shah Safi (r. 162942), concubines
replaced princesses as the mothers of rulers on Ottoman lines, and hereditary families of elite administrative slaves emerged, unlike the Ottoman
case. There were estimated to be one thousand military slaves and three
thousand eunuchs serving the Shah in Isfahan alone. Saru Taqi, an Azeri
eunuch originally castrated as a punishment for homosexuality, a violation
of the sharia, wielded great power as grand vizier from 1634 to 1645. Over
time, superficially converted Georgians came to dominate the military slave
corps in Iran, as they did in Iraq.
Turkistan relied little on military and administrative slaves but employed
particularly large numbers in productive tasks, even if the ethnic division
of labor remains far from clear. As with Indians, some Russian captives
were valued for their proto-industrial skills in the cities, which contributed
to a great reluctance on the part of Uzbek khans to grant them freedom.
However, other Russians were unskilled agricultural laborers. Persian Shii
captives worked in increasing numbers as herders in Turkistan and on the
grain and cotton estates of the oases, especially as supplies of Indian slaves
contracted sharply in the eighteenth century. By the 1810s, Persians were
reported to be the chief agrarian laborers in the Uzbek khanates.
white servitude in the maghrib
Although the regencies of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli were technically under
Ottoman suzerainty, the Sublime Porte exercised very little real authority
in this area, with the Barbary corsairs increasingly making and breaking
their own international agreements. In the far west, Morocco was never
part of the Ottoman Empire and was unique in having direct access to
the Atlantic. However, the Moroccan corsairs of Sale and the Rif again
enjoyed a high level of de facto autonomy for much of this period. Where
corsairs were less influential, Maghribi slavery depended more on blacks
transported across the Sahara, such as those who played an important role
as Mamluks in the Moroccan army for much of this period. Thus, it was
noted that the Troubles in Barbary were greater than ever on account of the
Natives hatred to the Black standing Army kept up by the new Emperor;
whose Insolencies were become so insupportable that the Country was in
general up in Arms against them.8
8 Saint James Evening Post, Nov. 4 to 6, 1729, British Librarys Burney Collection of Early English
Newspapers (henceforth BL).

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White captives in the Maghrib were overwhelmingly taken in naval raids,


as the Mediterranean and North Atlantic formed a maritime border zone
between Islam and Christianity. Barbary corsairs initially launched devastating attacks on communities dwelling along the western Mediterranean
and Atlantic coasts of Europe. Spain, Portugal, France, and Italy bore the
brunt of these attacks, which netted thousands of captives at a time well
into the seventeenth century. Occasional raids on the coasts of Ireland,
Wales, the English Channel, and even distant Iceland supplemented these
Mediterranean sources, especially in the early seventeenth century, when
the corsairs of Sale, in Morocco, took to square-rigged sailing vessels.
Direct seizures of Europeans living in coastal communities became less
significant from the second half of the seventeenth century, especially in
distant lands, but such raids long persisted in areas close to the Maghrib.
Southern Italy and eastern Spain were the main victims, together with the
islands of the western Mediterranean. As late as 1798, Barbary corsairs took
nine hundred slaves from a small island off southern Sardinia. Indeed, they
exploited the disorders of the Napoleonic wars to step up land raids on
Mediterranean shores. Moreover, as the Maghribi gradually whittled down
the number of Iberian coastal enclaves from the late seventeenth century,
they placed defeated Christian settlers under the yoke. In a strange reversal
of fortunes, even French slave traders operating along the Senegal River of
West Africa were at times seized and marched north across the Sahara.
Captures at sea, from as far as the great European fishing fleets on
the Newfoundland Banks, compensated for reduced numbers taken on
land. The amount of shipping leaving European ports in the Atlantic and
Mediterranean expanded dramatically in the seventeenth century, with six
to ten thousand merchant vessels a year, each vessel carrying perhaps fifteen
men, sailing within easy range of Barbary corsairs. Among such vessels were
some on their way to West Africa to purchase slaves. Ships wrecked on the
North African coast yielded an additional, albeit much smaller, quota of
captives, allowing Berber communal villagers access to white slaves.
The peak of white slavery in the Islamic western Mediterranean was
probably reached around 1700. Over time, European nations signed treaties
to protect their shipping, providing their vessels with duly certified passes.
Indeed, the registers for these passes form an impressive and so far little
exploited set of records for European shipping. Governments, port communities, and religious institutions also made growing efforts to redeem
captives. Although the latter development created a greater incentive for
Muslims to capture Christians for ransom or exchange, the pass system generally reduced the supply of new captives, albeit in return for protection
money that allowed for the fitting-out of raiding vessels.
It was only from the late eighteenth century that Europeans and North
Americans took more drastic action to curtail white slavery in the Maghrib.

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The Portuguese and the English blockaded the Straits of Gibraltar for long
periods at a time. As the Napoleonic wars dragged to a close in Europe,
Western newspapers called vociferously for naval action to liberate the
Christian slaves of Maghribi corsairs. The Congress of Vienna in 181415
solemnly pledged to put an end to Muslim slave raiding and slavery. The
carrot was that Muslim merchant ships were allowed to ply their trade
peacefully, and the stick took the form of naval expeditions. Anglo-Dutch
and Anglo-French naval forces attacked Barbary ports in 1816 and 1819
respectively, and the United States forcefully imposed a treaty on Algiers
in 1815. The French seizure of Algiers in 1830 ended a process of cajoling,
intimidating, or battering the Barbary states into freeing their Christian
slaves.
Relations between Christians and Muslims were more savage than in the
eastern Mediterranean, where the Ottoman Empire was part of the concert
of Europe. A French fleet sailed into Algiers in the late seventeenth century
and began an indiscriminate bombardment of the city. In return, the
regent threatened to use the French accredited agent, who was attempting
to negotiate the release of captives, as a cannon ball, and did so when the
bombardment continued. The French responded by slaughtering thirty
Algerian galley slaves on board; they quartered the corpses, tied the body
parts to wooden boards, and by the waves floated them towards the
town.9 This behavior was influenced by a perception of the inhabitants
of Barbary strongholds as common pirates, rather than the duly licensed
privateers that they claimed to be. The frequently expressed opinion that
Barbary corsairs were in a state of permanent jihad holy war against
Christian powers is at best a partial truth, however. It was contested by
some ulama, for no caliph declared a jihad, and rapine was all too clearly
the main motive for piratical forays.
The voluminous literature on Barbary slavery yields some assessments as
to the scale of these captures and the slave populations that they supported,
although the records do not match what is available for the Americas. The
wealthy were ransomed, and even the poor could be redeemed by charitable bodies, but numbers returning to Europe were small overall. According
to Robert Daviss careful calculations, a million to a million and a quarter Christian captives entered the Maghrib from 1530 to 1780. Of these
unfortunates, it is estimated that fewer than 5 percent escaped or were
ransomed. From 1520 to 1830, Algiers alone imported about six hundred
twenty-five thousand. Indeed, Algiers struck newcomers as distinctly European in appearance, just as Kingston in Jamaica was described as looking
quite African.
9 Richard Lapthorne to Richard Coffin, July 21, 1688, in Fifth Report of the Royal Commission on
Historical Manuscripts: Part 1, Report and Appendix (London, 1876), p. 379.

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Attrition rates for white slaves were estimated at 20 percent a year in


seventeenth-century Maghrib, and this meant that large inflows of newcomers were necessary to sustain the existing servile population. Given
the age of captives seized from European sailing ships, the hostile epidemiological environment of North Africa, and the harsh working and
living conditions, the crude mortality rate among whites was probably
higher than among blacks in the Americas, even on sugar plantations. As
long as captives were primarily taken in raids on land in the sixteenth
century, there would have been a fairly normal population pyramid, for
the sea passage that followed capture was relatively short. The number of
white females among captives no doubt accounts for the whiteness of the
population of the city of Algiers that contemporaries noted. From the midseventeenth century, the sex ratio of white captives came to be overwhelmingly male, even if a few female passengers were taken from ships, and some
women were still seized on land. One estimate suggests that well more than
90 percent of the white captive populations of the Maghrib after 1650 were
men. White captives in North Africa were thus at the opposite end of the
demographic spectrum from Russian slaves.
This pattern coexisted with a black slave trade across the Sahara in which
the majority of the victims were women, so that sexual relations between
white and black slaves in the Maghrib blurred the boundaries between the
two kinds of servitude. Mawlay Ismail, sultan of Morocco, deliberately
mated white males with black females. Similarly, an entrepreneur outside Algiers sold mulatto children resulting from forced couplings between
black women and European captives. Conversely, The Basha even ordered
the Blacks to ravish the women [prisoners] in presence of their husbands, but the women resisted preferring death to the embraces of the
Negroes.10
One estimate suggests that half of the Barbary captains between 1580 and
1680 were of European origin. An Ottoman observed in the early eighteenth
century that these renegadoes are neither Christians, Musulmans, nor
Jews; they have no faith, nor religion at all.11 The cosmopolitan elites of
the Barbary ports even included the odd Japanese and Chinese adventurer.
Renegade Christians often maintained close links with their areas of origin
and might negotiate a further turning of their coats with the Inquisition
or the Knights. Whatever their nominal faith, they lived by the usanza del
mare, Mediterranean lore predating any world religion.
Contrary to stubbornly held stereotypes, many of these renegadoes,
perhaps the majority, were free Christians and Jews rather than manumitted
slaves. Infidels were discouraged from converting to Islam when there were
10
11

London Evening Post, August 1416, 1729, BL.


Stephen Clissold, The Barbary Slaves (London, 1977), p. 101.

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galleys to be rowed, as custom held that Muslim slaves should not perform
this harsh task. Even when such constraints faded, converts were mainly
skilled artisans and soldiers, nubile women, and the male concubines
of homosexual corsairs. Moreover, Maghribi Muslims strictly adhered to
Islamic orthodoxy in refusing to accept conversion as a passport to freedom.
Numbers of white slaves who both converted and were manumitted thus
remained very low, typically restricted to concubines who bore children to
their masters, together with a few privileged and trusted men. This was a
far cry from the relatively liberal customary law of freedom prevailing in
Anatolia.
The numerous captive accounts written from the seventeenth to the
early nineteenth century, not one of which can be authenticated as written
by a woman, reveal extremely harsh conditions, compared by Robert Davis
to Soviet gulags. Food was scarce and bad, work on construction sites and
galleys was exhausting, and discipline was severe. Sixteenth-century corsairs
branded slaves, in violation of the sharia, and prolonged beatings on the
soles of the feet were the usual punishment for slaves. An Amsterdam
newspaper reported in 1728 that Christian slaves were employed to seal off
streets infected by the plague.12
Treatment probably improved slightly in the eighteenth century. As
ransoming became more significant, the asset value of captives increased,
providing an incentive for better treatment. Furthermore, Christian groups
established permanent hospitals and agencies to minister to various religious and national segments of the white slave population. When Muley
Abdallah overcame rival claimants to the throne of Morocco in 1730, one of
his first edicts allowed the Spanish Fathers for the Redemption of Captives
to establish a hospital. He gave them free and protected access to his
dominions.
White captives, with only a slim chance of escape, ransoming, or manumission, could be driven to rebellion, especially when they had rising
expectations. In Algiers in 1763, four thousand
Christian slaves . . . rose and killed their guards and massacred all that came in their
way. All the . . . gates of the town were shut; a general massacre was apprehended,
but after some hours carnage, during which the streets ran with blood, quiet was
restored. 13

conclusion: contrasting styles of servitude


Although whereas adherents of Islam and Christianity recognized the civilized status of their opponents, incorporation as a slave occurred whenever
the opportunity presented itself, for religion made the other a quintessential
12

The Flying Post, November 28, 1728, BL.

13

Georgia Gazette, June 2, 1763, p. 5.

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outsider. However, the power of Islam and Christendom was balanced


enough in the Old World to prevent either from gaining very large numbers of captives. Moreover, the difficulty of finding in the other culture a
cooperative agent hindered the passage of Europeans into Islamic slavery
through trade and limited numbers moving the other way. By the time that
Islam began to lose significant ground in the late eighteenth century, Europeans had found satisfactory alternative sources of slaves for an increasingly
racialized system in their American colonies. In any case, some Westerners
were beginning to view all kinds of slave trade and slavery as immoral.
Christianity and Islam both erected ideological barriers against enslaving those with shared religious beliefs, which further depressed sources of
white slaves, although concepts of heresy allowed for significant breaches
of such norms. Western Europeans continued to seize and enslave Orthodox believers in the eastern Mediterranean, especially if they could show
that captives had collaborated with their Muslim overlords. In Islam,
apostasy was a catch-all concept that justified the enslavement of a wide
variety of bad Muslims well into the twentieth century.
Both Muslims and Christians saw Animists as eminently eligible for
enslavement, whereas Jews were caught in an uneasy intermediate status. Some thirteenth-century Catholic theologians asserted that Jews were
enslavable as the collective murderers of Christ, but this view was not
always shared. Catholics placed some Jews in limited servitude in the sixteenth century and truly enslaved others, especially collaborators with
Muslims. Similarly, Jews were theoretically protected from enslavement by
the sharia, but only as long as they were not judged to have broken their
pact with Muslims. As for captive whites taken into American or African
aboriginal societies, they were initially outsiders, with enslavement as a
potential institutional device to convert them into insiders.
In terms of closed and open forms of slavery, the British and Dutch
ran some of the most closed systems the world has ever known in the
Americas, making any escape from servitude extremely hard. Paradoxically,
however, they put an effective end to servitude in northwestern Europe
itself, the ultimate act of openness. In the Catholic and Islamic worlds,
slavery was hardly questioned, but rates of manumission were high, and
conversion might entail freedom. Social integration, over time and between
generations, was encouraged by institutions such as religious brotherhoods
and clientage. In short, Catholic and Islamic slavery combined hard labor
and high attrition rates with the possibility of the reduction of social
marginality over time.
The racialization of slavery, correlating strongly with closed systems,
was an anomaly in the long history of servitude, for slaves had traditionally
come from any and every human group. The racialization of slavery developed most strongly in the colonies of northwestern Europe. Contradictory

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attitudes toward race and slavery were highlighted by cases of crews of


British slave ships seized by Maghribi Muslims, with the last known case
occurring in 1796. Petitions from home ports seeking the release of these
seamen demanded British government action in the name of Christian
charity and humanity. Similarly, Robinson Crusoe could spend time as a
Guinea trader and then two years as a captive of a Turkish rover without
his creator showing a hint of the irony of his situation. For eighteenthcentury Britons, eligibility for enslavement and the identities that supported it meant that there was no irony. Not until the abolitionist era
did observers compare norms of inter-group behavior within Europe with
norms that governed relations between Europe and non-Europeans. This
was tantamount to saying that nobody should be eligible for enslavement,
and abolition was in a sense merely the widening of the definition of
eligibility for insider status.
Catholic areas witnessed a slower, more incomplete, and more uneven
racialization of slavery. As late as 1773, the marquis of Pombal fulminated
against metropolitan Portuguese cohabiting with slave women of every
color. The French went further down the racial road than the Iberians and
Italians, erecting the most explicit distinction between black slaves in the
Americas and white slaves in Europe. Nevertheless, the fact that there were
white slaves in France set that country off from England and the Netherlands. Moreover, the Catholic Church exerted a powerful influence on rates
of manumission, creating a large black and mixed-race free population as
a buffer between slaves and masters in the New World.
In the Islamic case, the racialization of slavery was even less developed,
although Bernard Lewis argues that the common colloquial Arabic term
for slave, abd, gradually came to be coterminous with black by the
nineteenth century. However, the three consonants that are the roots of
the word abd carry the principal meaning of worship. The Arabic legal
term for slavery is al-riqq, literally the yoke, the root consonants of which
were never employed to denote any human group other than slaves. The
tradition inherited from Ibn Sina (Avicenna) was that both extremely fair
and extremely dark people were naturally servile. Slaves in Islam continued
to come from all the major races of humankind into the twentieth
century, even including Arabs, and they were all mixed up together. In
addition, slaves of any color could reach the highest posts in society as
military and administrative slaves or as concubines and eunuchs. All this
made it particularly hard to racialize the institution.
Indeed, early modern white servitude in itself forms a major counterweight to exaggerated views of the racialization of slavery. The rise of an
oppressive second serfdom in eastern Europe, together with the tenacious persistence of white chattel slavery in the Islamic Middle East and
Catholic Europe, accounted for millions of individuals in all. There may

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have been fewer convicts, destitute children, and indentured servants, and
even fewer white chattel slaves in indigenous American and sub-Saharan
African societies, but they all added to the variety and geographical scope
of white servile experiences. It is abundantly clear that servitude in the
Western Hemisphere was in no sense an exclusively black preserve in the
early modern era.
further reading
There is no single overarching treatment of this topic. For convicts and
children in the Atlantic, see Timothy J. Coates, Convicts and Orphans:
Forced and State-Sponsored Colonizers in the Portuguese Empire, 15501755
(Stanford, CA, 2001). The crucial text on Muslim white slaves in Europe,
mainly in Italy but also beyond, is Salvatore Bono, Schiavi musulmani
nellItalia moderna, galeotti, vu cumpra, domestici (Naples, 1999). Other
important works on this topic are Steven A. Epstein, Speaking of Slavery:
Color, Ethnicity and Human Bondage in Italy (Ithaca, NY, 2001), Catherine
W. Bracewell, The Uskoks of Senj: Piracy, Banditry and Holy War in the
Sixteenth-Century Adriatic (Ithaca, NY, 1992), and Moulay Belhamissi, Les
captifs algeriens et lEurope chretienne, 15181830 (Algiers, 1988). The best
general survey of Russia remains Richard Hellie, Slavery in Russia, 1450
1725 (Chicago, 1982).
For a general introduction to white slaves in the lands of Islam, see
William G. Clarence-Smith, Islam and the Abolition of Slavery (London,
2006). Essential for European captives in North Africa are two books
by Robert C. Davis, Holy War and Human Bondage: Tales of ChristianMuslim Slavery in the Early-Modern Mediterranean (Santa Barbara, CA,
2009), and Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 15001800 (New York, 2003). Still valuable are Ellen G. Friedman, Spanish Captives in North Africa in the Early
Modern Age (Madison, WI, 1983), and John B. Wolf, The Barbary Coast:
Algiers under the Turks, 15001830 (New York, 1979). For white captives in
the Americas, see William Henry Foster, The Captors Narrative: Catholic
Women and Their Puritan Men on the Early American Frontier (Ithaca, NY,
2003).
Elite Ottoman slavery is treated in Leslie P. Peirces The Imperial Harem:
Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire (New York, 1993). This
can be supplemented by Halil Inalcik, Servile labour in the Ottoman
empire, in Abraham Ascher et al. (eds.), The Mutual Effects of the Islamic
and Judeo-Christian Worlds; The East European Pattern, pp. 2552 (New
York: 1979), and Alan W. Fisher, Chattel slavery in the Ottoman Empire,
Slavery and Abolition, 1 (1980): 2545. Two important works focusing on
a later period are Y. Hakan Erdems Slavery in the Ottoman Empire and

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Its Demise, 18001909 (London, 1996), and Ehud R. Toledano, Slavery and
Abolition in the Ottoman Middle East (Seattle, WA, 1998). Elite slavery in
early modern Persia is the province of Susan Babaie, Kathryn Babayan, Ina
Baghdiantz McCabe, and Massumeh Farhad, Slaves of the Shah; New Elites
of Safavid Iran (London, 2004).

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PART II

SLAVERY IN ASIA

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CHAPTER 7

SLAVERY IN SOUTHEAST ASIA, 14201804


kerry ward

introduction
Concepts of Slavery in Southeast Asia and Problems of Definition
The concept of Southeast Asia as a distinct regional entity has been debated
by historians for several decades. Indonesias national motto, Unity in
Diversity, could well be applied to Southeast Asia as a whole. The historical analysis of slavery in Southeast Asia can contribute to this debate because
general patterns of slavery and bondage seem to apply across this broad
region. From the fifteenth to the end of the eighteenth century, the institution exhibits similar patterns, albeit with distinctive and important local
variations. Modern Southeast Asia incorporates Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines.
Sinicized (Chinese-influenced) Vietnam and the Hispanized Philippines
have been included in the analysis of Southeast Asia on the basis of shared
precolonial structures and historical trends. All these societies were characterized by bilateral kinship, relatively high status for women, wealth in
people rather than land, strictly hierarchical social relationships, low population densities, highly personalized concepts of power, relatively fluid
ethnic definitions in the period before large-scale state formation (around
the seventeenth century), and complex local and regional trading patterns.
Such social features have implications for the definition of relationships
of bondage and dependency. As a field of study, Southeast Asian slavery
is still coming into focus, and the purpose of this chapter is to outline
some of the main elements and questions rather than provide a definitive
discussion. Problems of definition are complicated by the fact that slavery
existed within a spectrum of bondage, forced labor, and diminished rights
in all Southeast Asian societies. Discussions about the distinctiveness of
Southeast Asia still raise the question of what defines slavery in the region.
Slaves could live their lives in hereditary, permanent, temporary, or contractual forms of slavery, depending on the societies in which they lived
and the different forms of slavery they could experience through entering
into the regional slave trade. Debt bondage was by far the most common
form of slavery, so much so that historians debate whether debt bondage
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was actually slavery or the basis of social relations within some Southeast
Asian societies. The pervasive existence of debt bondage in Southeast Asian
societies existed alongside other forms of bondage. Therefore, one of the
features of slavery in Southeast Asia was the variety it exhibited within societies and over time. Social relations of obligation and reciprocity existed
through vertical bonding of power and status between individuals; slavery
constituted the most extreme form of obligation and vulnerable status on
the part of the slave. Southeast Asian societies were governed by laws and
customs that embedded these vertical relations of bondage and reciprocity
as the basis of social, economic, and political relations.
Although it is inadequate to define Southeast Asian slavery in terms of
contrast with the features of South and East Asian slavery, it is useful to
point out some of the fundamental differences between slavery in these
three regions. Southeast Asian slavery was not complicated by relations
of dominance and subservience based on caste, as was the case in South
Asia. East Asian slavery in the early modern period altered depending on
dynastic change from Ming to Qing rulers. The feature of powerful slaveeunuch administrators in China, although diminishing during this period,
was absent from Southeast Asia except perhaps in Dai Viet. Slaves in East
Asia were generally a very small minority in these densely populated societies. Slavery was widespread in Southeast Asian societies, but until the
incorporation of Europeans into the region, slavery was not what is commonly defined as chattel slavery, that is, slaves as disposable property
with severely compromised legal status as persons in relationships of violent domination. Scholars analyzing indigenous forms of Southeast Asian
slavery have generally recognized that Western models of slavery are not
relevant to these societies.
The attempt to construct an analysis of slavery and bondage in this region
that does not draw on Western models begins with sources. Barbara Watson Andaya has sensitively argued that the problem of recovering womens
voices in indigenous and colonial sources makes the challenge of writing
gendered history particularly difficult in terms of balancing the perspectives
of men and women. The same could be said for the problem of sources
in the study of slavery in early modern Southeast Asia. Indigenous written sources, including histories, chronicles, literature, religious texts, and
legal codes, reflect the perspective of the master class rather than that of
the under-classes. Slaves are often depicted within indigenous and colonial
sources that are equally problematic in terms of reflecting a European perspective on slaves and slavery in the region. Nevertheless, scholars rely on
these sources and on travel accounts, diverse colonial records and ephemera,
and archaeological evidence for European perspectives on indigenous slavery and on European colonial slavery in the region. Indigenous sources
also include the archaeological evidence from religious and secular sites

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(including temples and graves), sculptures, tombstone inscriptions, and


other forms of decorative art; these are used to piece together fragments of
slave experience in the various societies of Southeast Asia.
As the brief discussion of sources implies, the demographic history of
Southeast Asian slavery is highly speculative and problematic, as indeed
is the general demographic history of the region. Although scholars have
attempted to estimate the population figures for certain cities or states,
it is impossible to extract accurate numbers from indigenous or colonial
sources. Considering that one cannot calculate the population as a whole,
estimating the number of slaves in any part of Southeast Asia is an equally
improbable task. Figures exist for specific places, but one then runs into
the problem of how the person tabulating these figures defined slavery.
For example, Raffles tabulated that there were a total of 27,142 slaves on
the island of Java, including 18,972 in Batavia and its environs in 1814.
His figures are based on European and Chinese slave owners only, as he
did not include indigenous slavery in his definition. It is suggested that
most urban centers in Southeast Asia had a majority of slaves in their
populations because slaves were the basis of labor. Indigenous sources are
also unreliable for population figures in general, although historians have
tried to estimate indigenous populations. To tabulate these figures and
extrapolate the approximate ratio of slaves is well beyond the scope of this
chapter.
A better idea of the extensive incidence of dependent relations, and
bondage in particular, may perhaps be derived from linguistics. Linguistics
is also an important part of the scholarly apparatus in defining slavery
and bondage in Southeast Asian societies during the early modern period.
In attempting a regional survey, one must rely on the detailed analysis
of case studies by a variety of scholars. The linguistic map of Southeast
Asia is immensely complex, and an introduction to the regional languages
helps illustrate the complexity of defining slavery. The five major language families of Southeast Asia are composed of Sino-Tibetan (Burma),
Tai (Thailand and Laos), Austro-Asiatic (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam),and Austronesian and Polynesian (Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and parts of Vietnam and Thailand). The Indonesian archipelago
alone has around two hundred indigenous languages, and there are innumerable dialects throughout the whole region. Indeed, the development
of national languages has been part of the attempt of nation-building in
modern Southeast Asian countries.
Within Southeast Asian language families, different words existed for
slavery, and within the region, different languages modulated these terms
for both slaves and the institution of slavery. Anthony Reid argues that
hierarchical social relations are fundamental to Southeast Asian languages because people automatically place themselves in vertical social

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relationships. The fact that the same word can be used for both the first
person singular and for slave indicates that status relationships are constantly being negotiated in speech. In Malay/Indonesian, saya; Javanese,
kula or kawula; Thai, kha; Khmer, khnjom; Burmese, kyun-taw; and Vietnamese, toi all have this double meaning. Given how fundamental relations
of hierarchy, bondage, and reciprocity are within Southeast Asian societies,
this feature of the languages is not surprising. The following survey is by
no means comprehensive, but it does give an indication of the linguistic
variety of the Southeast Asian terminology of slavery.
Surveying the terms used for slave in Southeast Asian languages shows
how subtle the social relations of bondage were within these societies.
Sanskrit terms in Buddhist scriptures used for slavery included dasa, the
general term for various types of servitude from debt bondage to chattel
slavery. Other terms included kalpikara (bondsmen), kapyari (proper slave),
kalpiyakara (proper bondsman), parivara, and a ramika. Another class of
slaves, who were mainly state slaves and convicts donated to the monasteries
in lieu of capital punishment, were fotuhu (Buddha households). According
to Michael Aung Thwin, the Burmese word for slave was kyun, but this was
also a more general term for servant or subject, which by extension applied
to everyone below the king. Three categories of bondage existed, kyun-taw
(crown bondsperson), hpay`a-kyun (serfs), and kyun (private bondsperson).
In Thai, the term kha was used both as subject of the king (everybody) and
as the social category below free citizens corresponding with slaves. In Cambodia, different Khmer terms were used to differentiate debt slaves, prey
ng`eer (as opposed to prey chea free people), from other forms of state/royal
slaves, pol. In Vietnamese, the lower classes were divided into the categories of free person, dan-dinh, and those in various states of dependency,
including slave, no-ty; public slaves, quan no-ty; and slave heavy laborers,
khao-dinh.
The linguistic and social diversity of archipelagic Southeast Asia is also
mirrored in multiplicity of terms for slave. Several Malay law codes set
out the definition of a slave. According to Matheson and Hooker, there
were five main categories of slaves in the eighteenth-century Malacca Laws
(Undang-Undang Melaka). Biduanda and sakai translated as royal servant
but included ethnic connotations, as both these words were the Malay terms
for the aboriginal people of the Malay Peninsula. Muda-muda, the Malay
word for children or youths, also appears as a category of bondspeople.
Hamba raja was the term applied to royal slaves. Masuk (h)ulur, menjadi
ulur referred to people condemned to slavery for committing a crime.
Hamba orang, abdi, dengan, and buduk were more generic terms for slaves
as opposed to free people, merdehika. In Bali, where slavery was widespread,
various Balinese terms for specific types of slave existed. Sepangan was the
general term, whereas debt slaves were called tetonggon. Categories of slaves

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owned by the rajas included panjeroan, prostitute slave woman; women


convicted of witchcraft, ngeleyak; and anak bebinjat, illegitimate children.
In the Philippines, the general terms for slave or servant were oripun
in Visayan, and alipin in Tagalog, but within these languages were many
more specific terms for types of bondage.
This discussion provides merely a glimpse into the diversity of the linguistic terms for slave and slavery. But it must also be remembered
that slaves in Southeast Asia often came from outside the region, and
indigenous people were exported to other parts of the world, which makes
even more complex the mix of languages involved in Southeast Asian
slavery. One must include the major European languages of traders who
were themselves involved in the slave trade or were slave owners, particularly
Dutch, English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish. Trade among Southeast
Asian societies, China, and Japan also adds to the linguistic complexity
of relationships of bondage, given the fact that the purchase of slaves by
traders was common in the region.
religious and philosophical aspects of slavery and bondage
The early modern era was a period of profound religious, cultural, and
social change in the entire region that fundamentally influenced the social
and legal institution of slavery. The cultural complexity of societies in
Southeast Asia meant that the major philosophical traditions were all part
of the evolution of slavery in the region during the early modern period.
One of the characteristics of Southeast Asian societies is their capacity
for cultural borrowing and adaptation. The early modern period was one
of intense cultural, religious, and philosophical ferment that was increased
with the process of state formation in the region. It is therefore difficult
to analyze slavery within Southeast Asia without direct reference to the
basic philosophical tenets of the major religions in the region, namely,
Hindu-Buddhism, Neo-Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity. A brief
periodization of the transmission and spread of these religions in Southeast
Asia is necessary in order to make sense of how these religions shaped
the societies that adopted them and thereby altered their preexisting practices of indigenous slavery. The period of Indianization of Southeast
Asia, wherein Hindu-Buddhism was first adopted by local societies, took
place by the end of the first millennium of the Common Era. Theravada
Buddhism had displaced earlier Mahayana Buddhist and Hindu practices in mainland Southeast Asia by the fifteenth century. At the same
time Neo-Confucianism displaced Hindu-Buddhism in Vietnam as a state
philosophy but did so with the retention of Buddhist beliefs among the
population. The coming of Islam to Southeast Asia was most profoundly
felt in the archipelagic regions of the Malay Peninsula, Indonesia, and the

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Philippines from the thirteenth century, although Muslim traders had been
in the region for several hundred years. The Portuguese and Spanish incursions into Southeast Asia introduced the Catholic version of Christianity
into the region, which was adopted as the dominant religion in various
parts of the Southeast Asian archipelago, most particularly in the Philippines from the early sixteenth century and in parts of the eastern Indonesian
archipelago.
When Hindu-Buddhist philosophies were partially incorporated into
Southeast Asian societies in the period before 1000 CE, the caste system
that developed in South Asia was not adopted in the region. The South
Asian designation of Harijan (some low caste or untouchable groups) was
sometimes associated with a form of slavery. But although slavery was
commonly practiced on the island of Bali, the only remaining HinduBuddhist society by the fifteenth century, it was not associated with the
caste system. In Buddhist philosophy, slavery exists as both a metaphor of
the human condition and as a socioeconomic relationship linked to the
sangha (monastic institutions) and to the royal court. Slavery was justified
within the doctrines of karma (merit) and samsara (the birth and death
cycle of reincarnation). One was enslaved within the confines of the human
ego until liberated into a state of nirvana (enlightenment).
Confucianism in Vietnam, first spread by Chinese influence and conquest, was modified by preexisting Vietnamese social structures that prevented the total application of patriarchal structures in the society. Nevertheless, the basic tenets of Confucian thought the duality of heaven
and earth as represented in yin and yang embedded hierarchical power
relations in the cosmos. Social rank and hierarchy are deeply rooted in
Confucianism through the moral precept of filial piety. In general, the
harmony of society was protected by the mutuality of moral rule and obedience throughout society from ruler over ruled, parent over child, male
over female, and old over young, with master over slave being subsumed
within these categories.
There was no specific doctrine on the status and treatment of slaves in
Confucian texts, although slavery was a common theme. Because Confucianism is fundamentally about obedience to superiors, it is not surprising
that Confucian texts exhort slaves to obedience and respect for their masters. The inferiority of slaves was indicated by external markers of physique
and dress. Nevertheless, Confucianisms fundamental humanism mitigated
the position of slaves by stressing their humanity and the mutual obligation
of master to slave.
An idealized construct of the master-slave relationship lies at the heart of
Islamic theology, whereby all true believers are the slave (abd) of Allah and
all abd are equal in His eyes. Slavery is set out in early Muslim law (sharia)
in terms of very specific conditions for the master-slave relationship. Slaves

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were both people and property under sharia, and therefore masters had a
moral and legal obligation to feed, clothe, protect, and educate their slaves
in Islam. Slaves had the right to marry and were protected under sharia.
Slave women who were concubines were accorded a particular status within
the household, which was further elevated by bearing the children of her
master. Theoretically, people of the book (Jews, Christians, Muslims, and
Zoroastrians) could not be enslaved under Islamic law, but slave owners
were not obliged to manumit their slaves who converted to Islam, although
this was seen as a meritorious act.
The relationship of Christianity to slavery is complex, and historically
the Bible has been used both to uphold and to deny the morality of the
institution of slavery in many parts of the world. Nevertheless, from the
beginning of the fifteenth century, the papal institutions of the Roman
Catholic Church consistently exhorted against the enslavement of native
peoples by Catholics, particularly by the Spanish and Portuguese overseas. Several papal bulls and letters to monarchs coming from generations
of popes in Rome condemned slavery. Although the Catholic Church
and monarchs were firmly committed to the conversion to Christianity
of indigenous peoples in their colonies, this did not prevent them from
importing slaves from anywhere else. Christianity and slavery certainly
coexisted throughout the Philippines.
historical patterns of slavery
The early modern period was one of extremely rapid and far-reaching social
transformation within Southeast Asian societies. Widespread demands for
labor in expanding economies and states generated an expanding regional
slave trade. Although the open and closed model of slave societies has been
of great use in analyzing slavery in the region, it is important to recognize
that the regional slave trade was part of this system. Slaves could move
between different systems of slavery within their own lifetimes; thus, the
life experience of enslavement was not static. In his comparative study
of Asian and African systems of slavery, James Watson defined a set of
guidelines for the cross-cultural and timeless definition of the term slave.
Slaves are acquired by purchase or capture, their labor is extracted through
coercion and, as long as they remain slaves, they are never accepted into
the kinship group of the master. Slavery is thus the institutionalization
of these relationships between slave and owner. Watson further modified
this definition into two major modes of slavery, comprising both open
and closed systems. A closed system of slavery is defined as a society in
which slaves remain a distinct group of labor apart from the free members
of society. Slaves were perceived as separate on the basis of ethnicity and
were only able to reproduce within society among their own kind or

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by supplementing their numbers through capture or trade. Slaves were


permanently stigmatized, inferior, and were completely outside the kinship
system of the dominant members of society. Watson identifies this system
as primarily characteristic of Asian slave systems, particularly in China and
India. In contrast, he argues, open systems of slavery existed mainly in
Africa. Open systems of slavery were characteristic of societies in which
slaves were sometimes indistinct from free persons in legal and social terms,
or they were incorporated into the kinship lineages of their masters over
time. Societies with open systems of slavery were extremely fluid and
absorptive of outsiders because labor was so valuable. This form of social
organization existed where people were the main indicators of wealth and
power in society, rather than land and alienable property.
This bifurcated definition of slave systems has remained fundamentally
important for the analysis of slavery in Southeast Asia. Although Watson
himself admitted that modifications were necessary in his argument about
an open African system and a closed Asian slavery, because the case of Southeast Asia was contradictory and characterized by open slavery, he argued
that the exceptions proved the rule. Southeast Asian societies exhibited
open slavery because they had similar social organizations to African societies, where wealth was defined in people rather than land. Anthony Reid
further refined Watsons model of slavery by demonstrating that Southeast
Asian societies could be either closed or open, could display characteristics
of both, and furthermore, could change over time from one system to
another. This presented a major critique of Watson by inserting historical
time into the analysis, rather than relying on static anthropological models
that posited no change over time.
Southeast Asia exhibited two models of societies in which the closed
system of slavery operated in very different ways. One model represented
the relatively heavily populated, labor-intensive, wet-rice-producing agricultural states, which had highly centralized capital cities that characterized
the classical states of mainland Southeast Asia, like Angkor in Cambodia,
Pagan in Burma, and Ayudhya in Thailand. The other was the stateless
form of societies that predominated in the highlands of the mainland or in
parts of archipelagic Southeast Asia.
Southeast Asian societies all defined wealth in people, regardless of
whether they exhibited open, closed, or transitional systems of slavery.
Closed systems involved the immutable separation between social categories of nobility, free, and slave. In stateless societies, social position was
exhibited in highly ritualized forms of property, labor, and social duties.
The aristocratic class, by definition, was able to draw upon the labor of
slaves. Slaves were permanently distinct on the basis of appearance, clothing, diet, sexual restrictions, and hereditary status. In closed systems of
slavery, sexual relations between free and slave were considered polluting

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for the former and were strictly punished; both parties were often executed
as an act of purification. These societies included the islands of Nias, the
Melanau of Sarawak on the large island of Borneo (Kalimantan), the Toba
Batak of Sumatra, and the Sadan Toraja from the north of the island of
Sulawesi in the eastern archipelago. Slaves in these societies were relegated
permanently to certain forms of labor, including carrying water and cutting wood, and those tasks that were considered ritually impure, like the
handling of the dead. Further distinctions were made between agricultural
slaves and household slaves. The former were relatively free compared to
the latter because household slaves lived in close proximity to their masters.
The closed form of slavery was also characterized by the right to kill slaves
for ritual purposes. Among the Toraja, it was customary for dead chiefs to
be accompanied into the afterlife by a number of their slaves, who would
continue to serve them. Slaves could also be legally killed as symbolic
replacements for retributive justice in the case where the crime committed
by a free person necessitated the death penalty. However, in Sadan Toraja,
some slave lineages, particularly household slaves, were not alienable and
could not be redeemed or sold, because of their importance to the ruling
lineages. Slaves recently brought into the society were much more likely to
be those who were sold, sacrificed, or executed for judicial purposes.
Open systems of slavery were characterized by a much more flexible
relationship between slave and free. Slaves were not necessarily distinct
on the basis of ethnicity from the free population. Nor were there the
same kinds of ritualized enforcement of separation on the basis of purity
between slave and free. This system therefore involved a variety of means
for changing status of members of the society from slave to free, or from
free to slave. The most obvious was that of debt bondage leading to
enslavement. Debt bondage was often hereditary, creating a permanent
slave lineage. But this status could also be reversed with the redemption
of debt or by manumission. Slavery in these societies operated mainly
as a mechanism to display wealth and to control labor. Open systems of
slavery in Southeast Asia became much more common from the fifteenth
century, with the growth of agricultural states and as commercialization
and urbanization increased in the trading entrepots of the region and
simultaneously created disposable wealth from trade and an intensified
demand for manual labor. The city-state of Melaka, which was founded in
the late fourteenth century and quickly became one of the premiere trading
ports in the world, had no indigenous free-labor market and relied on slaves.
A flexible system of slavery was essential to the fabric of these cosmopolitan
trading entrepots in order to accommodate increased labor demands. After
the Portuguese conquest of Melaka in 1511, the rising Islamic trading states
of Aceh and Makassar also used slaves as the basis of labor. Slaves were
considered the most important personal commodity in these societies and

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an essential marker of status and wealth. Slaves were both hired and traded
on open markets, and slaves themselves could participate in such markets
by purchasing slaves for themselves, thereby lessening their own labor
obligations. Escaping manual labor enabled some slaves to eventually enter
the free population. Formal manumission was therefore not necessarily a
marker of status or socially desirable in these societies. Debt bondspeople
could increase their own material wealth by selling themselves to a richer
master. Of course, debt bondspeople could also be sold off by their masters.
Slaves did not ultimately have freedom of movement or control over their
individual destinies. However, there was a social obligation not to sell debt
bondspeople outside their natal society.
Various factors affected slavery in Southeast Asia, including commercialization, state formation, and religious conversion. Increasing commercialization and concurrent social and economic changes in the region,
beginning in the sixteenth century and increasing in intensity from the
seventeenth century, meant that some societies shifted from closed to
open systems of slavery. Whereas slavery in Nias before the seventeenth
century was characterized by a closed system wherein slaves were not alienable within the society, the archipelagic slave trade spread to Nias. Nias
slaves became important export commodities, and the women were highly
regarded for their beauty and were extremely sought after in the regional
slave markets.
The introduction of Islam to Southeast Asia also altered patterns and
practices of slavery in the region. As societies converted to Islam, peoples
perceptions of insiders and outsiders changed. Religion became one of the
markers of social status. Non-Muslim status became an important element
in defining eligibility for slave status. Muslim slaves were not alienable,
and non-Muslim slaves were supposed to be encouraged to convert. This
changed the patterns of the slave trade and ownership in the region. NonMuslim societies became increasingly targeted as suppliers in the regional
slave trade, particularly the island of Bali, which consisted of small fragmented polities. The conversion of societies to Islam from the top down
could result in quite radical shifts in the practice of slavery. For example,
the conversion of the Bugis ruler in South Sulawesi in the early seventeenth century was accompanied by the emancipation of all hereditary
slaves, thereby shifting the basis of slavery in society from closed to open.
Local Bugis were no longer enslaved, and slaves were brought in from elsewhere. The role of women in open systems of slavery, and particularly in
Islamic societies, encouraged the incorporation into the dominant group
of children born to concubines within a master-slave relationship. This is
diametrically opposite to the form of reproduction within closed systems
of slavery, where sexual relations between slave and master were taboo.
Social mobility through labor and reproduction were therefore embedded

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features of the open system of slavery. In short, slavery in Southeast Asia


provides an incredibly rich example of how systems of slavery can change
over time.
Watson criticized the analysis of slavery based on a slavery-to-kinship
continuum on the basis that it presumed slavery was a linear process in
which most slaves would eventually become kin; it therefore did not distinguish adequately between the status of slavery and kinship. Nevertheless,
he recognized that his models would not have universal application and
that societies could exhibit characteristics of either system on a continuum.
A review of the major forms of enslavement illustrates this point.
Debt Bondage
Debt slavery existed within a spectrum of Southeast Asian forms of bondage
and obligation. It was not something foreign to the everyday life of ordinary
people in these societies. People could sell themselves or members of their
family into debt slavery through a variety of means. Peasants and poor urban
dwellers often bonded themselves during times of economic hardship. It
was preferable to live as a debt slave than to starve. The reason debt
bondage is considered a form of slavery is because the debt was transferable.
People could be sold to someone else through the transfer of their debt
obligation. However, the debt bondsperson could themselves often initiate
this transaction to exchange one master for another. The primary definition
of bondage depending on vertical ties to an individual; to whom one
was bound was more important than the legal status of bondage. Debt
bondspeople perceived their social relationships through their ties to their
masters, rather than considering their common identity with other debt
slaves. Debt slavery could be temporary, but often the debt was not repaid
and was inherited by the debtors family. It was this aspect of debt bondage
that shifted the status of some people into hereditary slavery. The social
metaphor for slavery was that of extended household relationships.
Debt bondage was by far the most widespread and common form of
enslavement in early modern Southeast Asia. Anthony Reid states early
modern travelers observed that debt bondage was so common that men
would gamble themselves into bondage. In the Toba-Batak region of Indonesia, men who wanted to gamble would carry a special rope with them
to the gambling arenas as an indication that their gambling debts could be
paid, if necessary, through their own debt bondage.
War Captives
War captives were another major source of slaves. Southeast Asian societies
were often deeply divided among themselves and prone to both internal

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succession crises and internecine war as well as regional wars of conquest.


This was a major element in generating slaves in the region. The enslavement of conquered or raided populations by ethnically different peoples
was one of the oldest and most common forms of gaining slaves as in
most parts of the world. Two different patterns emerged: First was the
capture and raiding of aboriginal populations or hills people from stateless
societies or weak states by members of a stronger state. The second pattern
was the conquest of soldiers and villagers of neighboring states in wartime,
where ethnic differences were apparent but different perceptions of race
were in play. But over generations, war captives were usually assimilated
into the population of the conquering society as debt slaves.
Slavery in Angkor (Cambodia) may be traced though literary sources
and temple inscriptions. Slaves were often captured during raids on the hill
peoples. These slaves were considered savages by the dominant population,
ethnically distinct and inferior to the Khmers who ruled Angkor. Sexual
relations between slave and free were considered defiling and were frowned
upon. War captives furnished the largest number of slaves in the early
period of Cambodian history. Although the capture of aboriginal people
and neighboring ethnic groups constituted the most numerous sources, war
captives came from as far away as India. War captives were generated by
royal armies and private mercenaries and were either retained by the ruler
or sold to private individuals. War slaves were often tattooed or branded to
set them apart from the free population, particularly if they had attempted
escape. Mabbett speculates that over time the proportion of foreign slaves
diminished and the enslavement of local Khmers increased. The balance
of slavery shifted away from acquiring war captives toward localized debt
bondage as the state stabilized. The evidence for slavery in the history of
Angkor is scanty, but the temple reliefs depicting slaves as war captives and
royal construction laborers are some of the most vivid images of slavery in
early Southeast Asia.
In Burma, the enslavement of Thai and Lao war captives during the
sixteenth century, and of Thai and Arakanese during the eighteenth century, created extra labor for the ruler, who then distributed some of these
captives to clients and monasteries. European mercenaries, particularly
Portuguese, were also sometimes captured. Over several generations, these
captives were assimilated into the Burmese population, usually becoming
indistinguishable from the local population.
Judicial Enslavement
Judicial enslavement was also widespread in Southeast Asian societies. The
first major Vietnamese law code, Le Code, dating from the 1430s, specifically
outlined the crimes for which enslavement could be the punishment.
Forced labor and involuntary servitude were the second category of the

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Five Penalties, the first being corporal punishment; the third, exile; and

the fourth and fifth, varieties of execution. The fourteenth-century Agama


Sanskrit law code of the Madjapahit Empire of central Java detailed that
enslavement to the king could result from nonpayment of penal fines
imposed upon an individual. In the Philippines, a 1433 indigenous legal
code, the Keliatntiaw text of the Panay state, emphasized slavery as punishment for violating laws. The Islamic legal codes that are grouped together
as the Undang-undang Melaka, and the various Melaka-derived texts of the
fourteenth to eighteenth centuries, make numerous references to bondage
being the punishment for specific crimes. These law codes derive from
other Islamic legal codes in substituting fines, corporal punishment, and
bondage for all but capital crimes. The Three Seals Laws of King Rama
I compiled in 1805 cites the punishment for bankruptcy as enslavement.
Royal Slaves
Royal slaves formed a smaller category of bondage. The general sociopolitical pattern of Southeast Asia constituted power as control over people
rather than over land or disposable property. Therefore, as explained earlier,
the relationship of rulers to the population they controlled was expressed
in vertical ties of obligation and bondage that often used the metaphor
of master-slave relations. Apart from personal slaves who lived in close
proximity to the ruler, the most common form of royal bondage was the
extraction of corvee labor from free subjects. This form of labor extraction
by the ruler must be distinguished from slavery. Burma, Thailand, and
Cambodia all experienced periods of strong states when corvee was as
heavy a burden as slavery. Royal slaves were most likely to be part of
the royal household or permanently engaged in laboring directly for the
state as craftsmen or builders. The social position of royal slaves could
therefore vary tremendously, with some royal slaves being in positions of
great political influence and enjoying a high standard of living. For example,
from 1613 to 1885 in Burma, Portuguese artillerymen were incorporated into
the Burmese army as a distinct hereditary group, intermarrying locally,
but remaining separate through clothing, religion, and function. Slave
concubines could also rise to prominence in the royal household as the
favorite partner of the ruler, or by giving birth to a particularly talented
child who could take advantage of their royal parentage, despite his or her
illegitimacy. Nevertheless, the chief characteristic of royal slaves remained
their status as alienable and transferable property. Rulers could transfer their
slaves to private individuals, usually aristocratic or wealthy supporters, or
as donations to monasteries and temples.
As mentioned, in states where competition for labor was intense, royal
corvee demands were heavy burdens upon ordinary people. One way to
escape this fate was to sell oneself as a slave to a private individual. As

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the slave of another, individuals could escape laboring for the state. In
strong states, this set up a dynamic of competition between the ruler, the
aristocracy, and private subjects over the control of labor. Rulers actively
tried to minimize private slavery. Where the state made use of corvee, it
was sometimes preferable to be enslaved to a wealthy individual, whose
labor demands might not be onerous, than to be a free peasant submitting
to the confiscation of labor or produce to the state.

Private Slaves
Slaves were an essential category of labor particularly in the maritime
entrepots of Southeast Asia. Asian and foreign merchants alike utilized
slave labor to do business, and in many cases purchased female slaves as
temporary wives or concubines for the duration of their stay. In the case
of Chinese merchants and laborers who settled permanently in Southeast
Asian societies, they often bought slave women for wives. Consequently,
Chinese and their families acculturated to the local society over generations. Not all people who purchased slaves were wealthy; travelers observed
that manual labor was considered of low status, so that anyone who could
purchase a slave to perform these tasks did so. Again, the essential characteristic of private slaves was their alienability as property. Even if one sold
oneself into slavery, ones master could sell ones labor to another, transferring the debt to the new master. The position of being a slave was generally
to relinquish ultimate control over ones daily life, although customary laws
governed the boundaries of master-slave relations.
Temple Slaves
A final category comprises monastery and temple slaves. Slaves were often
given by rulers and private individuals as donations to the Buddhist monkhood or sangha in order to accumulate karma (merit). Slaves were also
attached to temple-building projects as artisans and laborers. Temple slaves
in Buddhist societies could also labor in the fields or engage in trade on
behalf of the sangha, thereby relieving monks from secular labor to exclusively perform their religious duties. As with private slaves, sangha slaves
were exempt from corvee labor for the state; this could set up a dynamic
of competition for labor between the most powerful institutions within
Buddhist states. Yet one of the primary functions of rulers in these states
was to ensure the well-being of the sangha and to endow it with property,
including slaves, in order to accumulate karma on behalf of the society as
a whole. The rulers obligations within Buddhist states with strong sanghas therefore generated considerable tension in the control over people as

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property. Rulers were obliged to donate their own slaves, thereby increasing
the labor power of the sangha at their own expense.
slave trades, networks, and markets
There was a chain of trading networks linking the sale of indigenous
produce to the trade in guns and opium by Europeans, and finally to
the tea trade in China. The expansion of the slave trade by professional
raiders like the Sulu Sultanate, the Bugis, and the Butonese also disrupted
other preexisting trading patterns through the size and scope of their
raiding networks to slave markets in port cities like Batavia, Makassar,
and Manila. As slavery was also part of the social fabric of most Southeast
Asian societies, it is not surprising that there was a vigorous and longstanding slave trade throughout the region. The Southeast Asian slave trade
developed rapidly during this period. Precolonial Southeast Asia was, by
virtue of its geographical position, at the crossroads of two major maritime
trading networks of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea. Indeed,
one of the earliest names for the region was the land below the winds,
indicating the importance of the coastal region of Southeast Asia as the
meeting place between the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean as well
as the bottleneck between the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, and
the Pacific. The complex web of trading networks linking Southeast Asia
to the rest of the world existed within both maritime and overland trade.
The famous Silk Route across central Asia to China and farther on to
Europe was also connected to the Southeast Asian trading networks. These
ancient trading networks existed for at least a thousand years before the
development of the Atlantic Ocean trading systems. By the beginning of
the fourteenth century, Southeast Asian trading networks were already part
of the very fabric of the societies of the region. Commercialization further
intensified during the early modern period to the end of the eighteenth
century.
The previous discussion of methods of enslavement points to the trading of slaves within Southeast Asian societies. But transfers of slaves among
Southeast Asian societies were also an important source of slaves. Some
societies flourished through slave trading, but all societies had slave trades.
As outlined earlier, raiding stateless hill peoples was one of the major sources
of slaves in mainland Southeast Asia. Outsiders were often the captors in
this slave trade, selling slaves to the settled lowland states. However, with
the increasing importance of firearms in the region from the fifteenth century, which intensified with the growing European presence, hill dwellers
sometimes sold their own marginal people to traders in exchange for guns.
With the spread of Islam in archipelagic Southeast Asia, non-Muslim peoples of the islands interiors were targeted as slaves for the interior trade

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of coastal Islamic polities or as commodities for the regional slave trade.


This was the case with the upland Toraja of Sulawesi, the Batak of Sumatra, the Dayak of Borneo, and the people of Luzon in the Philippines.
Merchants carried slaves on their vessels to major slave markets in trading entrepots like Melaka, Banten, and Patani from the fifteenth century
onward.
Unlike the trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa, slaves were usually
carried on local vessels as one of many commodities being traded. The
vision of hundreds of slaves packed in minute spaces and chained below
the decks of ships is one unique to the European and Arab transoceanic
slave trades, not of the regional trades within Africa or Asia.
Islamization of Southeast Asian societies often ended the slave trade in
local people but stimulated the trade in outsiders. Such was the case in the
Javanese sultanates from the fifteenth century. When Islamization ended
the trade in the local population, these societies looked beyond the island
to non-Islamic societies like Nias, the Malukus, and the Sunda Islands for
slaves. The conversion of the ruler of Aceh to Islam under Sultan Iskander
Muda (r. 160736) resulted in the subjugation of non-Islamic neighboring
polities, generating approximately twenty-two thousand captives as slaves
into Aceh. Some island sultanates expanded rapidly with their involvement
in the oceanic slave trade. The Sulu Sultanate in the eastern archipelagic
zone that now comprises part of Indonesia and the Philippines flourished
partly as a result of this regional slave trade; they raided the populations of
parts of the eastern Indonesian archipelago and the Philippines for slaves
using fast-moving fleets of perahus (local vessels). The Sulu Sultanate is
one of the prime examples of the complexity of the slave trade in Southeast Asia because slaves were a major commodity in the development of
the society.
Certain Southeast Asian societies, such as the Sultanate of Aceh, were
involved in the Indian Ocean slave trade that linked the region to Africa,
South Asia, and the Middle East via Islamic trading networks. Slaves from
Madagascar, the East African coast, and the Middle East were traded
in Aceh in the fifteenth century by traders from South Asia, and to
Melaka by Sundanese traders. African slaves will be dealt with separately
later. A tiny minority of Europeans were themselves enslaved in Southeast Asian societies, mostly as war captives, but they became important
as mercenaries; in Aceh, some Portuguese slaves were highly valued for
their medical knowledge. South Asian societies were intimately linked to
Southeast Asian trading networks and slave supplies. Bengali traders were
involved in the transIndian Ocean slave trade. Southeast Asian slaves were
exported to Sri Lanka, and indigenous Sri Lankans traded to Southeast
Asian societies.

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The involvement of Chinese traders in the Southeast Asian slave trades


was ubiquitous and constituted a particular market for the trade in slave
women from non-Islamic societies. Chinese men who lived permanently
in the trading entrepots were mostly unable to procure wives from China
during the early modern period because of the prohibitions against travel
and emigration. They resorted to buying slave women as concubines and
wives. The children of these relationships were mostly raised as the legitimate free heirs of their father, and stable family units evolved over time,
localizing the Chinese trading communities. Chinese traders also acted
as middlemen for the slave-trading networks in the region. Slaves were
one of many commodities from which traders gained huge profits, despite
the high death rate of slaves during their capture and voyaging. Slaves
traded overland in northern mainland Southeast Asia were also part of the
commercial trading networks of the region, although less is known about
such traffic.
slavery and european colonialism to c. 1800
Europeans entered Southeast Asia from the early modern period with their
own notions of slaves and slavery. From the sixteenth century, Europeans
in the region increased the numbers of slaves overall, stimulated the slave
trade, and redefined racial differentiation in those territories where they
took control. Europeans consolidated the practice of chattel slavery in
Southeast Asia and extended the slave networks throughout the region,
linking Southeast Asian slavery to Africa and the Americas. At its height,
Portuguese influence in Southeast Asia in the late sixteenth century linked
its imperial capital Goa in South Asia to Sri Lanka, Melaka, and the
famous spice islands of the Malukus. The Portuguese relied on slave labor,
which they acquired through local purchase, regional trade, or directly
from Africa. The Spanish established in Manila and the Dutch in Batavia
depended on slaves they purchased locally or whom they hired through
subcontractors. Royal decrees applied throughout the Spanish Empire forbade the enslavement of the indigenous population of the colonies. In the
New World, this stimulated the slave trade in Africans. Portuguese slave
traders supplied the Spanish American colonies with slaves from Africa,
whereas in the Philippines, they purchased both African and Indian slaves.
Manumission rates were high in Spanish colonies, and by the seventeenth
century, most were freed to labor for wages. Spanish rulers of the Philippines instituted a form of corvee labor that became more significant than
slave labor because it was obligatory for free indigenous men. Debt slavery
persisted and even increased during the eighteenth century, as colonial taxes
and tribute promoted economic hardship among the marginal indigenous
population.

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Europeans entering the region recognized the existence of local systems


of slavery and adapted them to their own use. Although the use of slave
women as concubines was illegal in the Dutch East India Company territories, it was known to be widespread. The manumission of slave women
for purposes of matrimony was not uncommon among the lower ranks
of European colonists, as it was for merchants of all nationalities in the
region. Many travelers commented that slaves were ubiquitous in indigenous societies but were generally well treated and better off than servants
in Europe. However, European powers also introduced fundamentally different relations of slavery as legal property; they imposed their own legal
systems, including law codes often based on Roman law. These European
slave codes were applied as law within their territories, and their European
subjects were obliged to live by these laws even outside their residence in
these colonies.
Nevertheless, the practice of slavery and the use of slaves especially by
the urban elite, whose slaves were used for conspicuous displays of wealth
were very similar to indigenous Southeast Asian patterns of slavery. The
European elite and their Eurasian wives in Dutch Batavia became so
infamous for their conspicuous consumption of wealth that the Dutch
East India Company introduced sumptuary laws. These were designed
to impose a rigidly visible hierarchy that ensured the preeminence of the
company elite, in strict order of rank, over rich burghers. The Mossel code
entitled Measures for Curbing Pomp and Circumstance, promulgated in
1754, reserved a particular section for slaves that is illuminating in terms
of the social role of slaves among the European elite. Only the wives and
widows of the supreme governing council and court were allowed to be
accompanied in public by three female slaves. These slaves might wear diamonds, gold hairpins and chains, and gold and silver gauze cloth. Senior
merchants wives were allowed two slave women attendants, who were
ordered to wear less expensive clothing and jewelry. Other women were
allowed only one female attendant in public. The number and dress of slave
men who accompanied their masters in public were similarly restricted,
even to the point of what color they could wear. The numbers of slaves
in these elite households were very high; fifty or more was not unusual in
the wealthiest Dutch colonial families. These slaves were assigned to the
most trivial household tasks, such as carrying their masters pipe or betel
box. Others were assigned to more usual domestic duties of cooking and
cleaning.
The Dutch East India Company introduced a completely novel form
of slavery into Southeast Asia in the form of Company slaves. Unlike
royal slaves in indigenous Southeast Asian societies, slaves working for
the Company did not have the same association with a supreme master.
Considering the fundamental importance of personal ties in Southeast

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Asian societies, indigenous slaves must have made major adjustments as


they came to realize they were the slaves of a corporation rather than of a
single master. These slaves were purchased by the Company and held in
ownership as assets to be used for Company purposes. They were housed
in slave lodges or in the Companys castles, fortresses, and factories, and
they performed manual labor of all types. The participation of Europeans
in Southeast Asian slavery also extended the scope of the slave trade beyond
the established patterns of the region. For example, Southeast Asian slaves
constituted one-fifth of the slave population imported to the Cape of
Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa. Slaves from Southeast Asia,
South Asia, East Africa, Madagascar, and Mauritius were the basis of the
heterogeneous colonial labor force in both urban centers and the rural
economy. During the seventeenth century, most slaves were of Asian origin,
but this pattern changed by the late eighteenth century, with slaves mostly
being imported from the southwest Indian Ocean zone. The proportion
of Asian slaves declined over the Dutch colonial period. By the time the
British conquered the Cape and ended the official slave trade in 1808, there
was a slight majority of locally born slaves. The Dutch established nutmeg
plantations on Banda after its conquest in the early sixteenth century, first
deporting the Bandanese population en masse and then reimporting them
as slave labor to work European-owned plantations. Slave labor was also
the basis of production in the clove-producing islands of Ambon. The
mining sector, particularly gold and silver mines in Sumatra, used slave
labor, although the mortality rate in these enterprises was high whether
run by indigenous societies or European colonists. The Dutch East India
Company was dismantled at the end of the eighteenth century as the Dutch
were displaced in Southeast Asia, most especially by the British, who by
then were beginning their crusade against slavery worldwide.
conclusion
Slaves fulfilled roles at every level of society, but their social status varied
in accordance with their position as slaves and the system of slavery in
which they existed. Slaves were used for a multitude of economically and
socially productive roles in Southeast Asia. The almost ubiquitous presence
of debt slavery and bondage meant that slavery permeated society at every
level. Most slaves in indigenous Southeast Asian societies were not denied
rights of property and could themselves be slave owners. They could also
have spouses and families and legal rights in family, something denied
to those who toiled under chattel slavery. Slaves held positions at every
level of society, depending upon their relations of bondage. They could
be powerful royal administrators and palace retainers or public laborers;
favorite court concubines and mothers of recognized royalty or domestic

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servants; officials at every level of state, including high-ranking military and


naval officers or lowly servants, foot soldiers, and common sailors; ritually
important skilled craftsmen or temple sacrifices; powerful merchants or
ordinary market women; highly prized cosmopolitan translators or easily
replaceable urban workers, maritime fisher-folk, or rural laborers.
Southeast Asian slavery exhibited a myriad of different dimensions and
was not static in any of the societies in which it existed. Furthermore,
people who were enslaved often entered the regional slave trade that then
thrust them into forms of servitude in which master-slave relations could
have entirely new meanings for them. Many systems of slavery in Southeast Asia had detailed reciprocal social and economic obligations between
masters and slaves that were enforced in both customary and written law.
When slaves were transported from their own natal societies, their experience of slavery was often more oppressive. This was particularly the case
for Southeast Asian slaves who entered into slave relations governed by
European attitudes and laws.
One of the understudied dimensions of slavery is that of age. Fragmentary evidence suggests that youthful slaves were the most highly sought after.
The obvious factors supporting this are the increased labor and reproduction potential of younger slaves. Written evidence abounds on the high
value of sexual attractiveness in younger slave women who were destined
for concubinage. However, one must also consider that the possibility of
young slaves adjusting to new social situations was far greater than those
wrenched from already established lives. Conversely, the value of older,
sick, and physically impaired slaves was much diminished.
Manumission took place in Southeast Asian forms of slavery through
numerous mechanisms. Slaves could purchase other slaves in order to escape
the burden of manual labor. Many societies included legal provisions for
slaves to manumit themselves or to insist upon being sold to another
master. Religious conversion to Islam or Christianity or the bearing of a
masters child by a slave woman could often be the legal or affective route
to manumission, or at least the manumission of ones children. The old
and sick were sometimes manumitted to release masters from the burden
of caring for them.
It is often through legal records that contain cases involving slaves,
and sometimes testimony from slaves themselves, that one glimpses the
perspective of slave experience. The widespread nature of escape as a form
of resistance attests to the fact that slavery in Southeast Asia was not
necessarily perceived as a benevolent institution in society. Most Southeast
Asian legal codes had extensive provisions and punishments for many forms
of slave resistance. Insolence, theft, assault, rape, murder, and escape by
slaves were detailed in Southeast Asian law codes with harsh punishments as
fundamental violations of the social hierarchy. Crimes committed against

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slaves were punished to a lesser degree, proportionate to the inferior social


status of slaves within society. This was as much the case for indigenous
Southeast Asian slave codes as for the governing European colonial law
codes.
By the end of the eighteenth century, patterns and practices of Southeast
Asian slavery had changed considerably from those of the early fifteenth
century. Increasing tendencies toward state formation and successive dislocation; the commercialization of the region, including the intensification of trade in guns and drugs; the beginning of territorial conquest by
European powers; in short, the incorporation of Southeast Asian societies
into world capitalism in ways that were previously unknown all stimulated
slavery within the region. Paradoxically, it was at the beginning of the
nineteenth century that European powers, particularly the British, began
to suppress the slave trade worldwide. In 1811, the slave trade was outlawed
in those parts of the Indonesian archipelago under European control,
although formal emancipation in what became the Dutch colony of the
Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia) did not take place until 1860. This, of
course, applied only to those areas under Dutch control. European powers
debated the desirability of abolishing indigenous slavery, but they had a
vested interest in not disrupting indigenous social relations to the point
where it affected economic production. It was during this very period that
the slave trade in the Sulu Sultanate reached its peak. Slavery in this part
of the southern Philippines archipelago was only suppressed around 1900,
particularly after the Spanish occupation of the Sulu capital Jolo in 1875.
Slavery was abolished in all British territories worldwide in 1834, following
the abolition of the slave trade in 1808. But like other European powers,
the British took much longer to suppress the indigenous slave trade in its
territories. It was only in 1883 that the British forced the sultan of Perak
to abolish slavery, and other Malay sultanates were forced to do the same,
although the official abolition by statute of slavery in Burma only took place
in 1926. Emancipation followed the formal colonization by the French in
Cambodia in 1884 and also in Vietnam and Laos. Siam (Thailand), the only
Southeast Asian state never directly colonized by Europeans, nevertheless
embraced modernization in the form of the abolition of slavery. The
reforming King Chulalongkorn (r. 18681910) abolished slavery by decree
in 1905, after several decades of emancipation of slaves that began with those
born in the first year of his reign. Suppression of the institution of slavery
within Siamese society therefore took place through natural attrition over
generations. By the time slavery was declared illegal, the social transition
toward freedom for the subjects of Siam had already taken place. Despite
these legal decrees, slavery persisted well beyond formal emancipation in
Southeast Asia. Indeed, the late twentieth century has seen an increase

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of slave trading and slavery, particularly sexual slavery, in the region and
worldwide.
further reading
Travel accounts constitute one of the main sources that historians use to
glean information about slavery in the region during this period. One of
the first English examinations of slavery in Southeast Asia was contained
in Thomas Stanford Raffless History of Java (London, 1817) and focused
on Dutch colonial slavery and the archipelagic slave trade from the islands
of Bali and Sulawesi, which supplied the slave markets in Java. It was not
until the twentieth century that the first academic analyses of slavery that
included Southeast Asia were written. The first of these was Herman J.
Nieboer in Slavery as an Industrial System: Ethnological Researches (The
Hague, 1910), who defined a slave as the property of another person,
living at a lower political and economic status than most people within
the society, and performing compulsory labor. Bruno Lasker wrote the
first monograph on Southeast Asian slavery, entitled Human Bondage in
Southeast Asia (Chapel Hill, NC, 1950). Laskers treatise against indigenous
slavery and bondage was published six years after his Peoples of Southeast
Asia (London, 1944), which was written as an emotional appeal for the
liberation of Southeast Asians from Japanese domination during World
War Two, and in support of progress in the region in the name of the free
world. Southeast Asian slavery was also analyzed within the growing field
of comparative history, particularly as the study of slavery moved beyond
concentrating on the New World. Robin Winks argued this position in
introducing John Gullicks analysis of Debt-Bondage in Malaya as part
of his edited compilation, Slavery: A Comparative Perspective (New York,
1972). James Watsons edited collection on Asian and African Systems of
Slavery (Berkeley, CA, 1980) examined indigenous systems of slavery from
an anthropological perspective. He argued, following Nieboer and Moses
Finleys analyses, that slaves were social outsiders. The definition of the
institution of slavery was firstly the social marginality of slaves and secondly their status as property. Martin Kleins edited collection, Breaking
the Chains: Slavery, Bondage, and Emancipation in Modern Africa and Asia
(Madison, WI, 1993), examines patterns of servitude in Africa and Asia
prior to emancipation and argues that many precolonial and premodern
forms of bondage persisted beyond the existence of formal slavery in both
Africa and Asia. James Warren, in The Sulu Zone 17681898: The Dynamics
of External Trade, Slavery, and Ethnicity in the Transformation of a Southeast Asian Maritime State, second edition (Singapore, 2007), redefined the
concept of region, periodization, state formation, and slavery in Southeast
Asia. Anthony Reids edited collection, Slavery, Bondage and Dependency

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in South East Asia (New York, 1983), brought together the threads of earlier research and adopted Watsons concept of open and closed systems of
slavery. Reid also stressed the necessity to examine Southeast Asian slavery
in indigenous terms and argued that slavery needed to be differentiated
from other forms of vertical social bonding based on differential status and
mutual obligation that formed the basis of these societies. The centrality of
control and mobilization of productive and reproductive labor, rather than
land, in Southeast Asian societies accounted for the fundamental importance of dependency and bondage in these cultures. Colonial slavery had
to negotiate preexisting systems of slavery in order to perpetuate this form
of domination in the early modern period. David Kelly and Anthony Reid
turned their attention to examining the indigenous concepts of freedom
in both historical and contemporary political terms in Asia in the edited
collection, Asian Freedoms: The Idea of Freedom in East and Southeast Asia
(Cambridge, 1998). Although the study concentrates on the evolution of
the notions of freedom in the region, the editors recognize that, paradoxically, it is important for the analysis of indigenous notions of slavery. The
study of gender in Southeast Asia and of womens history has been somewhat neglected. Barbara Watson Andayas edited collection, Other Pasts:
Women, Gender and History in Early Modern Southeast Asia (Manoa, 2000),
is an important contribution to this growing field. The position of women
as slaves and concubines is examined by several authors, although none
focuses primarily on slavery. Slavery also constitutes an essential element
of the examination of Dutch colonialism in its imperial capital Batavia,
the spice producing islands of Amboina, and other parts of the Dutch
Empire. See, for example, Markus Vinks article, The Worlds Oldest
Trade: Dutch Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Indian Ocean in the Seventeenth Century, Journal of World History, 14 (2003): 131177, on Dutch
slavery and slave trade which situates slavery in Southeast Asia within its
most significant oceanic networks.

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CHAPTER 8

SLAVERY IN EARLY MODERN CHINA


pamela kyle crossley

Chinas social history offers vivid confirmation of the insights of David


Brion Davis, Orlando Patterson, Eric Foner, and others that the existence
of an ancient, stable, conceptually absolute institution of slavery is a
powerful impetus to the production of an equally absolute conception of
freedom. Although a wide spectrum of unfree labor, dependency, and
coercion is discernible in Asian history generally and in China particularly,
there is no precise parallel to the Roman legal construction of slavery.
In China the absolute legal definition of slave status, or the associations
with race and culture that might have inspired an equally absolute ideal of
personal or national freedom, never emerged. On the other hand, influence
of Roman legal dichotomies of slave and free in the shaping of European
and American scholarship on coercion need not so obscure our view of other
traditions that slavery is not plainly visible to the modern eye. The cognates
of many forms of European slavery persisted in China for millennia. They
left a wide trail in law and in the popular lexicon. They also supplied a
dimension to modern notions of ethnic identity.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, China was conquered
and then governed by the Qing Empire, which survived until 1912. The
empire was initiated in 1636, at what is now the city of Shenyang in the
province of Liaoning, but at the time was territory wrested from Ming
China by the founders of the early Qing Empire. As a conquest state, the
Qing was heavily dependent upon captured and otherwise coerced labor
on its farms, in its mines, and in its military support units. In addition, it
embraced a Central Asian tradition of military slavery that disseminated
the ideal of personal dependency to the highest levels of society. In 1644 the
Qing conquered north China, and in the ensuing forty years consolidated
control over south China. A century later, the Qing had also conquered
Mongolia and eastern Turkestan (now the province of Xinjiang). As the
expansion came to a close in the mid-eighteenth century, Qing society and
economy entered a transition from an expanding military enterprise to
stable civil rule. The combination of Central Asian, Northeastern Asian,
and Chinese institutions of coercion produced a wide spectrum of slavery
and servitude across all strata of society and diverse economic spheres.
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However, like many early modern societies, economic and social change
resulted in a weakening of many traditional patterns of deference and
dependence. In some ways these trends were accelerated by overt attempts
by the imperial government to attenuate some of the most pervasive structural and ideological underpinnings of social abasement. Though the status
of most enslaved or legally encumbered people within the empire remained
unchanged, the trend toward greater commercialization of the economy
and liberalization of labor markets was discernible and continuing.
the conundrum of property
If the essential core of slavery is the physical coercion of labor from individuals who are invisible as legal persons, a good deal of Chinas social history
will come under the slavery rubric. Two other elements, however, are
more difficult to locate in the Chinese case. The first is the issue of property. Legal and popular definitions of property in China do not compare
neatly with those of traditions derived from Roman law. In China as in most
other places of premodern times, rights of use or possession of land, things,
and people were relative and conditional. Words in Chinese statutes that
are agreed to represent property rights do not distinguish between ownership and control. The basic imperial legal code containing criteria for
recognition of ownership is extant only from the period of the early Tang
Empire (seventh century CE). It is assumed to reproduce the fundamental principles of the legal code of the Han Empire (203 BCE220 CE),
which is lost. Certainly, the Tang code was the model for the imperial
legal structures of the medieval and early modern periods in China. For
example, the extant elements of the late imperial codes relating to the crime
of fraudulently selling the property of another reproduce an element in
the imperial code of the Tang. The law, as interpreted and applied, made
criminal the alienation of property from a person who had acquired sole
rights over its use and income. How those rights were acquired or came to
be recognized could be a very complex matter, but the rights themselves
clearly could be and frequently were assigned to an individual and were
not corporate. In performance, Chinese legal practice produced a common
sense of personal property that was similar to conceptions of property
in other parts of the world including Europe without generating an
exact semantic equivalent to property ideas derived from Roman law. The
difference is particularly striking with respect to slavery. Though Chinese
law and social institutions provided for instances of complete control by
some people over others to whom they had no family relationship, people
in China could not be reduced to res (a thing or object), because no res was
defined in the law. Perhaps the closest that Chinese law came to engaging such an idea was in 1614, when Ming officials at Guangzhou learned

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that the Portuguese at Macao off their coast kept Africans as chattel; Ming
imperial law immediately forbade the sale of any Chinese to the Portuguese
as slaves but otherwise made no further comment on the lawfulness or the
morality of the practice.
A second conceptual consideration after property is that in European
societies, definitions of coerced labor and legal legibility applied only to
those outside the family. Theory and practice of familial institutions
in China is perhaps too diffuse to construct meaningful dichotomies of
the familial and nonfamilial. Adoption of males, particularly of the same
surname, for purposes of continuing the paterline was common and legal.
What might also have been common but was nevertheless strictly prohibited by law for the entire imperial period in China was misrepresentation
of the origin of adopted children for purposes of permitting children of
slave or base origin to trespass upon the class status of the commoners or
nobles. The prohibition of class trespass by detailed legal prescription of
sumptuary distinctions, demand for proof of identity through genealogical
documentation for all degree candidates and government officials, the physical mutilation of criminals who must forever after remain of base status,
and heavy punishment of the fraudulent misrepresentation of the identities
of adopted children were all characteristic of the wall erected in imperial
Chinese law between base or slave status and that of the commoner. Such
institutions became more pronounced in the sense that punishment for
class infractions became more severe in the early modern period than
in the medieval and early periods. Such increasing severity may have been
a response to the gradual crumbling of traditional distinctions under the
influences of commercialization of agriculture, urbanization, and massive
migration across the expanse of the Qing Empire. In any event, the normal
role of ascribed familial relationships in the mitigation of slavery is less
useful in the Chinese than in most Western cases. The discussion in this
chapter rests heavily on the facts of coercion and personal legal obscurity,
rather than issues of property and family.
the legacy of baseness
The history of dependency and coercion in China also presents elements
that do not compare easily to the social or legal histories of Europe or North
America. Concubinage, for instance, became well defined in Chinese law
and social tradition. There is a margin at which concubinage and slavery
could be blurred in the circumstances of some individuals known from
the historical record, but as general phenomena concubinage, sex slavery,
domestic servitude, and slavery can all be distinguished. In addition there
are plentifully represented forms of servitude into which individuals entered
deliberately, often by signing a contract to this effect as their last socially

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visible act. This was ostensibly voluntary, yet for tenants unable to pay
rent (the source of the greatest quantity of self-sales), there was very little
volition involved when traditional interest rates were so steep that a single
failure to make a timely payment led ineluctably to catastrophic delinquency. Eunuchs, too, appear to have been poised irreducibly between
the realms of voluntary and involuntary servitude. Some mature men
made a conscious decision to undergo castration in hopes of economic
advancement. In many more cases, however, the decision was dictated by
economic circumstances or by criminal conviction, or the procedure was
inflicted upon boys too young to resist and possibly unable to understand
the consequences. Whatever the cause of a mans castration, once made a
eunuch, the man could never again enter society as a free person unless
like some escaped slaves he contrived to hide his true status. Concubines,
eunuchs, and rapacious interest rates were not unique to China, yet the
incidence of each contrasts to many societies for which the history and
development of servitude and dependency are more familiar.
Coercion and dependency in the Qing Empire that governed China
in the early modern period was partly derived from long-standing institutions of China. In very early China (circa BCE 2200 to BCE 1050),
there was already a considerable servile class in agriculture and in public
works. However, extant records provide little evidence of rigid, formal,
heritable stratification at the time, nor evidence of caste. Legal institutions
supporting a differentiation of class powers and identities are characteristic
of the Zhou period (circa BCE 1050 to BCE 206) that followed the Shang.
Certainly, by the time of the creation of the first unified, imperial order in
China (the Qin, in BCE 221, followed by four hundred years of rule by the
Han Empire), a coerced, state-owned population was defined and spread
across the agricultural, military, and official domains.
An enduring feature of Chinese social organization, and one apparently
derived from pre-imperial times, was the differentiation of society into
base (or mean, jian) and common populations. The commoners
variously referred to in the documents as level (ping), mass (shu), or
good or improvable (liang) people were the overwhelming majority of
the population. They included government officials and elites of the learned
professions, large landholders, merchants, artisans, farmers, charioteers,
foot soldiers, and actively employed men (or women) in any honorable
profession. Commoner status was, like aristocratic status, achieved at birth
and was inalienable except by action of the state. Below the commoners, the
base people also were normally born into their station (sometimes by being
the congenitally deformed offspring of commoner parents) but could also
decline to it by becoming prisoners of war, convicted criminals, or being
identified as the idle, which usually referred to surplus agricultural labor.
Poor people generally and the base population specifically performed

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the menial, nonagricultural tasks that were popularly despised. They guarded the fields, slopped night-soil, pounded earth (for building of walls
and houses), gathered firewood, burned charcoal, and dug ditches and
graves. Their range of possible criminal behaviors was greater than those of
commoners, because of the increased possibility that they would show disrespect for their very numerous betters. Their punishments if they should
commit the same crimes as commoners were much more severe. Not all
base people were slaves, but the law stipulated that commoners could not
be enslaved unless they or their relatives should be convicted of a crime
(including idleness) and thereby be reduced to base status. When the state
sought slaves, it ostensibly was restricted to finding them among the base
population. Those who profited from the sale of slaves (who could legally
be sold only to the state) were required to sell only base persons or face
conviction themselves and demotion to base status.
The law, however, clearly represents a tiny fragment of the history of
coercion and outright enslavement in early and medieval China. In times
of war and in times of grand state projects such as the construction
of the Grand Canal in the late sixth and early seventh centuries and its
rebuilding in the Yuan period (12721368), and the rebuilding of the Great
Wall in the Ming (13681644) the state need for coerced labor obviously rose in proportions unrelated to the convict populations or to birth
rates among the base class. Some periods of imperial expansion or prolonged military conflict, such as the early formation of the Qing Empire in
the seventeenth century, brought large numbers of captives into the slave
ranks. But in other times, suppliers to the slave markets were left to their
own devices to increase the pool of prospective slaves. Prisoners of war
and convicted criminals were marked in some way, typically removal of
a nose or an ear, or application of a tattoo. In early times, convicts were
specifically described as being nameless (wu minghao) and literally not
human (feiren), the latter closely approximating terms used of slaves and
of the congenitally deformed. Popular culture of imperial times referred
frequently to the reputed eagerness of criminals to reap profits in the slave
market by kidnapping commoners and lopping off a foot to convert their
victims to credible merchandise. The threat to the innocent, who could
be taken unawares while traveling or while their relatives were absent from
home, was a theme of literature and a recurring scenario in law courts.
Movement from slave to nonslave status was infrequent, but not impossible. Anecdotal representations of slaves, whether of base or of common
origin, who rose high in the official or military ranks and eventually
achieved nonslave status do exist. In very early imperial times the terms
of release from slavery were specified: If a high-status slave surrendered
two bureaucratic or military ranks, he could buy personal release, and
surrendering one could secure the release of a parent. In all likelihood these
releases were achieved by baseborn, unmutilated enslaved men taken into

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influential parts of government service who either distinguished themselves


in battle (typically by beheading enemies) or performed unusually meritorious service to aristocratic overlords. Thus baseness was a prerequisite to
enslavement, but not its substance. Those specifically referred to in legal
documents of the pre-imperial period as slaves (males as nu, women as bi)
were appositely described as half human and half thing. Once enslaved,
they were forbidden to own property or to be paid for their work. They
never made their own decisions about when to work or what to work at.
They lived in the compounds of their overseers. They could have no recognized marriages or legitimate children. Their illegitimate children were
born slaves. Killing the not human was a light offense, and depending
on the circumstances perhaps no offense at all. They could not sue in the
courts and could not appear as witnesses in legal cases against their proprietors unless the latter were charged with treason. In such cases, vindication
of the proprietor would mean death by strangulation for the slave.
Existing alongside the overt slavery that was present in China from
earliest political history were other sets of servile classes and dominated
persons. A group often referred to as bondsmen (li) in early times, more
often pu in medieval and early modern documents, were legally distinguished from slaves. They appear in the records subsumed under the
households or military units to which they were assigned. They were
evidently regarded as menials but do not otherwise appear to have been
deprived of the legal visibility that would have approached the condition of
the enslaved. In many ways, their status, whether male or female, resembled
the status of women generally. It is perhaps not surprising that slaves are
one of the few categories of belongings that women of means were attested
to have commanded. From the beginning of imperial times in China to
the early modern period, women could not own land or buildings (except
as widows, when their holdings were extensions of their husbands estates)
and were never paid for working in their own families. Only in unusual
circumstances did they make their own decisions about where to live, what
to work at, or whom to marry. Before the eighteenth century, a married
womans labor was customarily not rewarded with wages or goods paid
to herself, and female participation in skilled trades outside of agriculture
or silk processing was rare. The same was true of children, both male and
female. In early imperial times, men typically listed their wives and children
as property (as women frequently listed their slaves), to be distributed after
death along with their lands, animals, and buildings.
contracts, self-sale, and redemption
From at least the early medieval period all possession of persons was negotiated across two independent operative spheres, that of formal law and
that of private contracts. The direct weight of imperial coercion gave force

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to the law. The approval of local gods, the value of personal credibility, and
fear of retribution by family or associates of the other party gave force to
contracts. County magistrates, who had the responsibility for adjudicating civil disputes, were typically left to decide cases on the basis of their
understanding of local custom, of the moral principles in the philosophical
classics, on their assessment of the characters of the plaintiffs, or just their
intuition. Only criminal cases such as treason and murder came under the
jurisdiction of the imperial system of legal review and appeal. Household
issues, which would include normal cases relating to servitude, slavery, and
base or common status, were regarded as minor issues (which Bernhardt
and Huang identify with civil law) and were handled at the level of the
county magistrate, with no possibility of appeal to more elevated strata of
the government.
In the law, all land was under the authority of the ruler and could not be
privately sold or bought. In the world of private contracts, control of land
constantly changed hands. This was often but not always understood as the
sale of rights of use or occupation, rather than of the land itself. Indeed,
by early modern times it had become a commonplace of Chinese land
negotiations to acknowledge multiple ownership the tenant might own
the topmost layer (the dianpi, or earth skin), the landlord a deeper stratum
(which would include surface water), and the state the deepest stratum
(including underground water sources). Much land negotiation was done
on a general principle of pawning; the present owner would surrender its
use to one to whom he was indebted, with the understanding that he might
redeem it at a future date. This principle of implied redemptive rights by
the seller permeated all transactions in medieval and early modern China,
including the sale (and self-sale) of individuals into slavery or servitude.
The history of farm tenants pawning themselves into slavery in lieu of
payment in goods or cash is rich, not unexpected in an economy in which
the traditional interest rate on loans from rural landowners was 20 percent
per month.
Disputes about alienated or converted property or allegations of fraud
would go to county-level magistrates for adjudication. Because the legal
statutes before the Qing did not recognize private land ownership, the
magistrates were in the ironic position of having to use extralegal local
precedents, customs, character assessment, and personal inclination to craft
legal resolutions of the issues. Extant documentation shows that all these
dynamics applied to arrangements for slavery. In the law, private slaveholding was not recognized. Yet it is clear that when magistrates were not
resolving extralegal land disputes, they were expending a certain amount
of time examining extralegal disputes over flight, abduction, illicit sale
of commoners into slave status, fraudulent sale of slaves belonging to
another, disputed slave status, and challenges against servitude, all of which

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originated in private agreements but could end up in the magistrates courts


for an ostensibly legal remedy.
Though a tiny fraction of these contracts survive, they are sufficient
to allow us to understand the practices, standards, and informal institutions developed for the negotiation of status and trade. Slaves as well as
bondsmen, concubines, and wage laborers were bought and sold under
contracts that stipulated the price, the physical description of the person
sold, and the legal disclaimers of buyers and sellers. From the seventh century it was stipulated that sales of slaves (and livestock) between individuals
would be reported to the local authorities, but the evidence suggests this
was only casually observed. Sales documents for slaves, however, did formulaically state that the individual was of base status. The provision and
the ways around it for the illegal slave traders were woven into popular
literature, as when the medieval monk Huiyuan (a historical figure but
here having a fictional adventure) contrives to have himself sold as a slave
in order to acquit himself of monetary debts in his present life and moral
debts in a previous life. When a gang leader who Huiyuan wishes to handle
the sale protests that he does not have the proper documents relating to
Huiyuans baseborn provenance and will open himself to prosecution if
he sells the monk, Huiyuan advises him to swear that it was in his own
household that Huiyuan was born as a slave, which would seal the monks
commercial viability. Later Huiyuan even dictates the contract (which,
among the conventional obligations, also condemns him to be reborn as
an animal) under which he is to be sold.
From roughly the same period, we have a surviving customary wedding
prayer that very vividly illustrates the different categories of slaves, as well
as the esthetics of slave acquisition. Consistent with other documents for
the period, the prayer carefully distinguishes between the status of house
slaves (who are desired to be Chinese in this Chinese household) and farm
and field slaves, who should be foreigners. Beautiful slaves (no gender
specified) will take care of the entertainment, and as a final flourish, the
link between perceived physical deformity and servility provides the punch
line of the recitation:
Gold and silver to fill my coffers year after year,
Wheat and rice to fill my barns at every harvest.
Chinese slaves to look after these treasures,
Foreign slaves to tend my livestock,
Fleet-footed slaves to attend me when I ride,
Strong slaves to till the fields,
Beautiful slaves to strum the harp and fill my wine cup,
Slender-waisted slaves to sing and dance,
Midgets to hold the candle by my dining couch.

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Records for virtually the entire imperial period indicate that slaves were
held, both by the state and by private individuals, for not only agricultural
labor, mining, and household tasks, but also for entertainment. Slaves in the
entertainment category included acrobats and wrestlers but are best represented in art and literature by the singing girls and all-woman orchestras.
These women were often not of Chinese origin but were purchased in the
stretches of Central Asia where stringed instruments and whirling dances
were part of the indigenous traditions. Overt slavery in China also encompassed a category overwhelmingly women, but including some boys and
men who were used primarily for sex. This was an explicit status, which
affected the normal rules of sexual dominion over slaves. For instance, a
general-purpose woman slave kept in a household was in general subject
to any demands made upon her by the householder or his family. But once
she had been sexually dominated by the father of the house, she was off
limits to the sons, being then subject to normal familial rules of incest and
avoidance. Sex slaves, however, were rarely found in commoner households
and were understood as being available to anybody their gentry overseers
made them available to.
sex and slavery
From the Han legal code forward, the normal appellation for sex slaves was
the music households (yuehu), as music and dance had been associated
with sexual entertainments from very early times. In the medieval and
early modern periods, music households normally functioned as official
brothels attached to military garrisons. The enrollment and distribution
of sex and entertainment slaves was regulated by the imperial government
directly. This formal, overt aspect of sexual slavery was reinforced by the
relationship of female sexual servitude to the penal system. The code
of collective responsibility universally supported under all empires based
in China meant that the conviction of a single male criminal usually
supplied numerous women (his wives, daughters, and perhaps even his
mother) to the states sexual slavery system. Under the Ming dynasty, the
imperial government maintained networks of establishments for storing
liquor, drinking, and dining, which catered to bureaucrats and students
advancing through the examination system. These systems maintained
complete records on their entertaining girls and paralleled the traditional
music houses in garrison towns.
State sexual slaves are to be distinguished from the less formal categories
of privately coerced females, from prostitutes to concubines. Diaries, travel
writings, and popular literature from the twelfth century to the early twentieth century amply attest to a very wide range of statuses and conditions
associating with singing women and prostitutes, whether female or male.

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In medieval China and Japan, certain women who were celebrated as beautiful and talented courtesans acquired wealth and independence. It is clear,
however, that such women were rare. The historian of Chinas medieval
social and cultural history, Jacques Gernet, referred to the majority of prostitutes as being subject to protection, meaning that they were dependent
and coerced subjects of male-dominated institutions.
Without doubt, private sex slavery was the dominant form of coercion
in the cities (overshadowing the conventional and traditional state involvement), and the explosive urbanization of China during the medieval and
early modern period was accompanied by a proportional growth in sexual servitude. In addition to the independent stars of the prostitution
world, there were a greater number of contract workers, primarily women,
who were extensively trained as musicians and dancers. They were beautifully dressed and heavily made-up, and exclusively employed by private
restaurants that kept them out of the main banqueting rooms downstairs
but made them available to favored clients who were ushered upstairs. In
general they represented a privileged minority in the prostitution world.
The majority of prostitutes, including most males who worked the trade,
congregated in the markets and along the most heavily traveled streets.
Their extravagant makeup and colorful clothes, along with their demeanor,
instantly identified them to clients. They announced themselves as belonging (shuyu) to specific taverns and guest houses to which they brought
their clients once business had been agreed. This population of prostitutes was entirely without independence. It is a safe assumption that some
proportion were under a private contractual agreement to an employer or
creditor, but it is unlikely that the degree of literacy among the women
involved was high, or that magistrates regarded the contracts as having
any real significance. A woman wishing to extract herself from prostitution
had no means of doing so. Women who made enough money in the sex
trade to have redeemed themselves from slavery were already independently
employed and in no need of redemption. For the majority, there was no
choice but to work for the owner until death, or until advancing age caused
her or him to be put out on the streets without support.
The contrast between prostitution and concubinage an exclusive agreement for sexual service between one man and one woman is clear. Concubines were domiciled, and in the conditions of their daily life sometimes
enjoyed the comforts and security of wives. Once bought, concubines were
not to be sold, and though inferior to wives, their lives in the household
and their fates were governed by the same rules of familial order as were all
other residents. Yet legal rulings, combined with philosophical literature
prescribing social mores, clearly held concubines well below the moral status of a wife. Concubines found guilty of crimes such as disrespect or theft
were punished more severely than wives, and the intentional or accidental

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killing of a concubine incurred much lighter penalties than the killing of


a wife. On the other hand, the status of concubines was far above that of
slaves. Concubines were not of base birth, their sons were legitimate and
of equal status with the sons of wives, and concubines could not be sold,
as slaves or bondservants could be. Nor were concubines prostitutes. As
the historian Matthew H. Sommer has demonstrated for the early modern
period, prostitution outside the official brothel systems was part of the complex world of private law and private crime, its existence not acknowledged
in the legal code and thus never explicitly prohibited.
Surviving contracts show marked regularities in the distinctions between
slaves on the one hand and concubines, tenants, and serfs on the other.
Girls sold as servants by their parents typically had the phrase inserted into
the contracts, If something should happen to the girl while she is in the
masters home, it is her fate, and will not provide a pretext for reopening the
negotiations. This closely resembles phrases routinely inserted into slavery
contracts. Such a servant girl, however, if she should win the approval of
the head of her assigned household, could achieve the rank of concubine.
Bondsmen and tenants had contracts stipulating terms of service or the
interest rates for loans that they were to work off. Concubines were purchased under contracts that roughly paralleled the dowry arrangements
made for wives. All of these are to be distinguished from slaves, for whom
no promotion or redemption was possible apart from outright manumission by their lord. Yet commoners desperate to sell themselves as servants
in order to escape starvation or find some physical security often wrote the
terms for themselves that were, in essence, slave terms, in order to find a
buyer.
ming economic change and informal servitude
The first century and a half of the Ming period from 1368 to about
1540 were marked by increasing trade, intensifying commercialization of
the Yangtze River system and the eastern coast, rising immigration of both
rural landowners and rural laborers to the growing cities of the wealthy
regions, and a general sharp rise in population that more than compensated
for the huge demographic losses of Chinas period of Mongol rule. The
second half of the Ming was marked by different patterns. Technological
innovations in textile and agricultural industries became less frequent, and
both Japan and Korea challenged China in the most technologically sophisticated industries, such as cotton production and processing, steel, printing,
and some household goods. Population leveled off at a maximum of about
150 million people, but the previous expansion had raised land prices while
lowering wages. Ming remained one of the worlds most formidable military presences, and certainly its single wealthiest society. But the patterns

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of growth, innovation, and upward mobility that had marked the dynastys
first half were less marked in the second, despite the fact that the rate of the
deceleration or actual decline varied dramatically from region to region.
The last five decades of the Ming saw growing social disorder, official
corruption, and mismanagement of strategic affairs. These were all accompanied by an increasing number of individuals and families assuming
servile and sometimes slave status as their sole means of survival. Though
the numbers cannot be rendered precisely, known circumstances suggest a
substantial rise in the number of individuals in servitude. In all likelihood
those regions, such as the coastal Fujian province, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang,
where there was very intense concentration of land and wealth in the hands
of a small group in many areas, demonstrably not more than 10 percent
of the population were the areas where large landowners were able to
bypass the labor market by forcing tenants into effective serfdom, and by
providing subsistence to the dependent population. Such areas were probably leaders in specialized and commercialized agriculture, and at the same
time the source of girls sold into sex slavery.
The early modern period is remarkable in the long history of coercion
and dependency in China because, despite the persistence of formal legal
distinctions between slaves and the common population, the ranks of agricultural servants were increased by the gradual merging of the status of
slave (nubi) and hired worker (gugong, or guyong). Ming law continued, as
previous imperial law had done, to require that individuals sold into slavery
(that is, sold to the state to work imperial estates or labor on public works)
should be of base status. Accordingly, Ming law provided the usual status variations on punishments for similar offenses. Specifically, slaves who
happened to kill (intentionally or unintentionally) the head of the household were to be decapitated, whereas hired workers who committed the
same crime were to receive the more lenient punishment of strangulation.
But in practice Ming landowners and magistrates were treating increasing
numbers of hired workers, or those who appeared to be hired workers, as
outright slaves. There is no evidence that the Ming government encouraged
such practice, and much that it attempted to discourage it beginning in
1397, when an edict forbade any commoners other than officials of the
three highest ranks from commanding bondservants.
The apparent reason that landlords felt able to reduce hired workers to
servitude was that there was no shortage of hired workers or indentured
servants. Tax rates and demands for corvee from the Ming were crushing.
The early Ming state had engaged in sponsorship of enormous projects
in architecture, literature, and commercial voyaging, while attempting to
meet a continuing serious challenge from Mongol federations in the north
and in 1592 helping Korea repulse the huge invasion from Hideyoshi
Toyotomi. To increase government resources, a standing exemption from

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the corvee for tenants on state lands was rescinded. So eager was the Ming
government to prevent tax and corvee evasion that it empowered local
families of wealth and standing to fill the role of tax captain (in Martin
Heijdras translation), giving them even more leverage over remaining
independent holders in their counties. In the first years of the Ming,
the government had dramatically increased the number of independent
landholders by distributing lands formerly entailed by the Mongols for
use as estates and pastures. But a little more than a century later, many
independent small holders were unable to meet the taxation demands, and
as a last resort sold first their lands, then themselves, to local landlords with
sufficient means to make the loans.
Technically these commoner families were unable to sell themselves as
slaves, and so they agreed to open-ended contracts in which they were
described as gugong (workmen) or guyong (workers, which could mean
women workers). In practice these families were slaves. They could not
negotiate for wages (indeed, they were paid no wages, because they could
never clear their debts) and they could not leave the landlords to whom
they had contracted themselves. Literary, juridical, and anecdotal evidence
suggests that in some areas of the Yangtze valley it was also assumed
that they could not resist the demands of the landlord for sexual rights
over the women and girls of the household. The impression left by these
conventions was so strong that in some commercialized agricultural areas
the quasi-servile class assumed a sort of ethnic identity that persisted into
the twentieth century, despite the fact that over the years a few members
of these groups acquired modest wealth and status.
In the sixteenth century the magistrates of central and coastal China were
increasingly dealing with suits in which the status of certain individuals had
to be finally resolved as slave or free before the case could be ended. This
was often the result of assigning punishment for some crime ranging from
murder to escape or attempted escape. A few such cases of disputed status
required the magistrates to determine whether or not the plaintiffs were
genuinely slave (and of base status). Examining the contracts under which
the farmers had sold themselves into servitude rarely provided the definitive
evidence, however, because individuals who languished in servitude, or who
were born while their parents were servants, might be considered to have
declined to slave status. The imperial government attempted to clarify
the issue for magistrates by distinguishing between long and short
contracts. Contracts that specified no date of termination, or that stipulated
anything in excess of fifteen years, were regarded as long. The subjects of
these contracts could legally be treated as slaves for purposes of sentencing
and determining whether they had the status to sue anybody else in court.
Only contracts that clearly specified a service period of fifteen years or
less could be regarded as short, therefore marking their subjects (and

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their descendants) as free hired workers rather than slaves. The immediate
numerical effect of the ruling cannot be determined from the documents,
but the impact of the new policy was clear: In the Yangtze delta and other
commercialized agricultural regions, hundreds of thousands of formerly
commoner families who had fallen into a legal twilight zone were now
regarded by their local magistrates as effective slaves.
qing conquest and military slavery
The conquest of China by the Qing Empire took place in stages, each of
which bore a distinctive relationship to changing concepts of servitude and
the social institutions of dependency and coercion in China. The Qing
Empire was formed in 1636, at what is the modern city of Shenyang (in
Manchu, Mukden) in Liaoning province. This ended a period of early state
formation in which the local regime was transformed from an informal
magnates operation into a khanate and finally into an empire. In 1618
the early state, then a khanate, had declared war on the Ming. By 1621
it had established a new capital in the former Ming provincial capital of
Shenyang and afterward continued to push westward, toward the Great
Wall. The acquisition of western Liaodong, eastern Mongolia, and portions
of traditional Northeast Asia came quickly. In 1644 a consortium of Qing
nobles conquered the Ming capital at Beijing. Central China as far as
the Yangtze River was taken by 1646, but it took another four decades to
consolidate Qing control over southern and coastal China.
The Qing rulers saw their empire as built upon certain traditions of
slavery, and they featured slavery terms prominently in their political discourse. The source of the values behind this slave system was not China,
but Mongolia. The Manchus, who comprised the Qing aristocracy, military elites, and some of the major leaders of the bureaucracy, were not
Mongols, but the Northeast Asian populations from whom the Manchus
were largely derived had lived on the eastern perimeter of first Turkic and
then Mongol political orders. Like most peoples of the area, they were
equally familiar with the nomadic economy of the Mongols and the distinct agricultural economies of China and Korea. The Turkic and, later,
the Mongol worlds had their own traditions of slavery and indentured
servitude. War captives traditionally made up the greater part of the slave
populations of nomadic Central and Inner Asia, but a minor theme in
Central Asia was the voluntary assumption of slave status by individuals
or lineages seeking economic sustenance or physical security. The caste
system differentiating base from good that was characteristic of early
China had no counterpart in the Turkic or Mongolian spheres. An enduring class of displaced persons, known in the Mongolian and, later, in the
Manchu tradition by the general term of baisen, were an important source

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of slaves, but more commonly of indentured artisans. Persons who had


become alienated from their lineage groups either by being abandoned
or outcast or by surviving the destruction of a lineage, or monks leaving
the monasteries were often distributed to the nobles to work as house
people (in Chinese records, jiaren or jianu), a common term among the
Turkic, Kitan, and Mongolian groups of the ninth through thirteenth centuries, when jianu is a frequently attested element in the personal names
of these peoples. Others, perhaps on the basis of demonstrated aptitude,
were concentrated in centers of trade or political capitals to be trained
in skilled trades blacksmithing, decorative iron working, glassmaking,
carpentry, tanning, carpet manufacture, and so forth. Such groups parallel
the enslaved artisans in Central Asia that produced the advanced craftsmanship of the Timurid Empire. In the Northeastern lands dominated
by the ancestral regimes of the Qing Empire, artisans crafting weapons,
especially arrows, were enslaved and bound to live at the home bases of the
local magnates.
In contrast to China, Central Asian traditions did not always conflate
slave status with a loss of social identity. Indeed, from at least the time of
the first Turkic empire, whole federations appear to have proudly referred
to themselves as slaves, and it was common for the followers of a war
leader to refer to themselves as slaves of their leader for the duration of the
campaign. The meaning of this terminology was complex and clearly not
always consistent. In general it signified the total dependence of the warrior
(or the overt slave) upon the lord (ejen), who as figurative father of his
followers was their sole support, their protector, and the object of their
love (for such were the terms used to express political affiliation in Central
and Inner Asia). Before the early modern period, there appears to have
been no strict, stable terminology distinguishing household slaves from
bondsmen or military slaves. The connotations of estate affiliation through
the ordo, loyalty, and political identity were common to all categories of
dependency and servitude through the Mongol period. Dependency and
identity were entwined. The Qing ancestral khanate commanded its military and laboring populations through creation of socio-military units
called banners, in which whole families were registered. The banner
populations referred to themselves as slaves of the khan (later, of the
emperor), a self-appellation that would continue in use by Manchu soldiers, officials, and even private citizens of Manchu descent in the Qing
period.
But slavery and dependency were not merely emblematic in the early
Qing. It is not too much to say that the economy and political institutions developed under the Qing founders constituted a slave state. The
deployment of resources was not military exclusively or, in the early period,
primarily. The ancestral regime of the Qing was a commercial enterprise for
the enforcement of the trade dominance of its ruling lineage. The factories

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in which ginseng was reduced, textiles dyed, pearls refined; the farms where
prize horses and dogs were raised; the depots where the pelts of farmed or
captured sables were prepared; all were in large part operated by coerced
labor. The documentation from Korea, particularly on the growth of a
coerced labor population under the Qing, is clear, and slave narratives also
describe the conditions under which the captive population served. Like
their Mongol predecessors, the Qing regarded war captives (including the
victims of clandestine raids when no formal war was being conducted) as a
primary source of slaves. In the early process of regime formation of the late
sixteenth century in Northeast Asia, tens of thousands of villagers were subsumed (gui, submitted, was the term most often used in Chinese annals
to describe this process). Their fate depended upon the current labor needs
of the leaders of the new regime, the particular skills they might have, and
whether or not they were likely to resist or escape. Most able-bodied men
from the villages were put to military service. Men literate in Chinese (of
whom there were few in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries)
were assigned to the khans court; men with knowledge of cannons or who
were particularly skilled at riding were assigned to special military units.
Those with relatives influential in yet-unconquered or uncommitted rival
federations were kept as hostages. All were slaves (in Manchu, aha) under
the orders of the nobles to whom they were assigned and were entitled to
no compensation. Their children would be born with the same status.
By 1630 the khanates territories were largely consolidated, and the major
issue was how to maintain the dramatically increased population of dependents generated by further expansion through the agricultural areas of
northern Korea and northeastern Ming. The khan himself pursued the
acquisition of a new servile population with alacrity. Raids into sparsely
populated northern Korea netted thousands of farmers who were transported north of the Yalu River to work the fields under the constant scrutiny of
armed guards. But it was northern China, particularly Zhili and Shandong
provinces, that produced the largest number of captives. The khanates
annals beginning in 1629 refer to hundreds of thousands of captured people and cattle rounded up in lightning abduction campaigns that the disorganized Ming forces could do virtually nothing to suppress. The Qing
not only conquered Liaodong province and absorbed its populations of
Chinese-speaking farmers, merchants, and soldiers for its own use, but it
increased its campaigns for the extraction of more forced labor from Korea
and China. According to the most noted scholar of Qing slavery, Wei
Qingyuan, soon after the second khans accession to the throne in 1626,
the population registers enumerated more than two million domestic and
agricultural slaves, compared to a probable common population of fewer
than six million.
Not only was political affiliation (willing or unwilling) with the Qing
normally expressed in terms of slave to ruler, but the manipulation of

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slave and servile conditions became a mechanism for centralization of the


power of the nascent Qing emperorship. In the Northeast, as in Central
Asia, ownership of slaves was the exclusive privilege of the aristocracy. A
nobles power proceeded from the size of his estate and his absolute discretion to deploy it as he saw fit. The second khan and first Qing emperor,
Hung Taiji (162743), consistently interfered with the ability of Manchu
aristocrats (his active or potential rivals for power) to control their slaves.
His simplest measure was to establish a schedule setting the upper limit
on household slave-owning among members of his ruling council of aristocrats. He himself, as khan, had personal control of ten thousand slaves.
High-ranking princes were henceforth limited to 950 slaves, and junior
princes to 270. More subtly, he established rudimentary rules for monitoring aristocratic behavior toward slaves, including a gradation of punishments that transferred slaves from the aristocrats to the court if infractions
occurred. Beating, starving, raping, and other mistreatment of slaves who
had committed no crime were to be punished with harsh fines, frequently
to be paid in slaves. Slaves could, and did on a few occasions, report to
the court on treasonous acts by their masters. They were rewarded with
money, silks, sables, and, of course, slaves of their own.
Prior to the conquest of Beijing and north China in 1644, development
of Qing law and political organization closely followed the principles of
slave ownership and patrimonial identity that had informed the earliest
khanate. The population of imperial slaves was seen as divided between
the bannermen (gusai niyalma), or families of military slaves, and the
bondservants, or families of slaves engaged in a very wide variety of roles
in management of the imperial treasury, palaces, and estates. Bondservants
(boo i aha) all belonged to the ruler directly, and as they comprised the
overwhelming numerical majority within the slave ranks, it is reasonable to
associate them with the ten thousand personal slaves that Hung Taiji had
granted himself in 1628. The bannermen were divided into first four, and
subsequently eight, large divisions (gusa, banner). These banners were
awarded to sons and grandsons of Nurgaci on a traditional patrimonial
basis, clearly derived from the Mongol patrimonial institution, the ulus. As
part of his concentration of power at the expense of the other princes, Hung
Taiji appropriated to himself three of the banners in 1631. These banners
were not only part of the imperial forces but were explicitly the personal
legacy of the emperor. In the conquest of China between 1644 and about
1685, a large portion of the banner population was dispersed throughout
China, settled in garrison communities (usually but not always walled),
and charged not only with defense but also with policing. A remnant population of considerable size remained in the Northeast, partly as a defense
against possible Russian aggression and partly as a productive agricultural
resource of the banner system; their attachment to imperial estates added

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an extra theme of serfdom to their underlying status as military slaves.


Though not the only component of the state farm-labor system, these
agricultural bannermen were part of a larger state serf population that was
stationed in the Northeast as well as parts of Mongolia and what is now
Xinjiang province. The demographic historians James Z. Lee and Cameron
Campbell have estimated all state serfs to have constituted 5 to 10 percent
of the entire population of the Qing Empire.
Regulations designed to keep the banner populations occupying China
specialized in military affairs were established soon after the conquest
and were from time to time elaborated and enforced by the Qing court.
Bannermen were forbidden to marry with the local population, to live
outside the garrison, or to work at any occupation not connected to the
garrison. Their officers were expected to be literate in Manchu and to speak
the language fluently. They were to be regularly examined in archery and
horsemanship as well as academic subjects. In the late seventeenth century
the elaborate education program drawn up for bannermen suggested an
intent to develop a class of imperial functionaries, roughly paralleling the
Ottoman osmanli. This never developed, however. The state did not pay
for elementary education, and very few bannermen were able to prepare for
the examinations. Horses and expensive equipment necessary to keep the
bannermen trained as archers, riders, and later musketeers were either
never bought or were quickly sold (along with vast portions of garrison
grazing, training, and burial land) by garrison commanders attempting to
meet expenses in the absence of full support from the imperial treasury. By
the mid-eighteenth century the court abandoned the ambitious plan and
instead concentrated on restoring the bannermen as an effective military
force. But similar problems frustrated the new plans as well.
By the eighteenth century the banners had been far surpassed in effectiveness by the new, hired military force recruited from the professional soldiers
and ambitious farmers of China. The banners continued to be deployed for
the restoration of local order, but in many cases they were a source of disorder themselves. Housing was a chronic problem in some garrisons, and all
garrisons suffered from sporadic interruptions in the monthly allowances
of rice and silver with which the bannermen were supposed to support
themselves and their families. Bannermen occasionally rioted, even in the
capital of Beijing, when frustrated with the failures of support and shelter.
Beyond that, the court was clearly caught between an inability to support
the growing banner population on the one hand, and fears of releasing
trained and hungry soldiers into society on the other. Schemes to relocate
large segments of the garrison populations to state farms in the Northeast (all worked by imperial agricultural slaves) dissolved when a majority
of the relocated absconded. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth
centuries the court tried various strategies for mollifying the bannermen

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or encouraging them to leave the banners and become civilians (chu qi


bian min), usually by gaining permission to live permanently outside the
garrison. In general, released bannermen rarely made successful transitions
to civilian life. There were exceptions, particularly in families connected to
the banner officer class who had drained some of the garrisons resources
for their own use. But most bannermen were absorbed into the populations of the urban homeless or the poorer entertainers of the streets and
teahouses. Whether in the garrisons or out, bannermen and their progeny
persisted in describing themselves as slaves (aha, in Chinese nucai) of
the Qing imperial court. Their self-description gained such currency that
through the nineteenth century the term slave (nu) was understood as
a reference to the bannermen. For the Taiping rebels who fomented the
worlds deadliest civil war in 1850s, the bannermen were slaves of Satan
and Beijing was the slaves nest.
qing reformation of civil slavery
Although financial necessity forced the Qing court of the eighteenth century to weaken the foundations of imperial military slavery, a dramatic
increase in coerced agricultural labor occurred during the late Ming, on
the eve of the conquest. The experience of conquering China, beginning
with the acquisition of the Ming province of Liaodong in 1621, dramatically changed Qing views of slavery and its practice. Previously the khanate
had relocated captive populations destined for slavery into Qing territories.
Now, it kept the population of newly conquered Liaodong in place. The
occupying forces commenced to share the housing of the locals, partly for
purposes of security, but primarily because it was impractical to attempt to
build the necessary housing for the army of occupation. This development
and dismantling of the cohabitation policy has been extensively described
by Gertraude Roth Li. Though the Liaodong natives found the policy coercive, intimidating, burdensome, and obnoxious, it was not slavery, nor was
it termed so by the occupation government. On the contrary, the khanate
now carefully distinguished between its slaves the bannermen, imperial
bondservants and the indentured population trusted with military, legal,
and financial affairs and civilians (min). The first were conquerors, the
second were the conquered. The first were trustworthy, the second were
perfidious. The first were official sharers in the bounty of the khan, the
second were the source from which the bounty would be extracted.
Although the Qing refused to refer to civilian Chinese as slaves, they
were nevertheless determined, from the 1660s on, to assume guardianship
over Chinese traditions. This included not only various institutions of
agricultural and domestic servitude, but also the social hierarchy that had
divided the base from the common, and had further divided both from

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the virtuous elite. The new rulers could not afford to alienate the officials,
landowners, and indeed the general population of the newly conquered
areas. Troops entering Chinese towns were reminded of the strict Qing law
forbidding bannermen to rape or abuse the locals, and specifically to refrain
from enslaving them. Unlike the earlier case of the Ming transition from
the Yuan, the new court was not in a position to distribute land to farmers
to buy their goodwill. On the contrary, the Qing were in need of much
more land for their garrisons than could be gained by dissolving the Ming
imperial estates. Instead of confiscating land, they admitted local Chinese in
conquered territories to the banners (ostensibly to become slaves) under the
peculiar status of land-bringing capitulators (daidi touchong). These small
independent owners could turn their land over to the new government but
continue to work it while paying rent on it, but no tax. Should the land
be sold in the future, the higher-ranking of these share-croppers would be
able to make their own decision to go with the land to the new owner or to
stay with the imperial estate and work a new plot. They could accordingly
negotiate for their keep whenever the land changed hands. As of 1681 the
estate slaves also gained the right to petition to change status and become
commoners (gou shen wei min, an exact parallel of the phrase chu qi bian
min used of the bannermen).
These policies seem characteristic of a legal predisposition in the Qing
that inverted the practices of the Ming. In the cases of disputed status during the earlier dynasty, magistrates had presumed slave status in the absence
of an authenticated contract specifying a short period of service. The first
decade of Qing rule saw many cases of slaves attempting to resist their
masters, particularly the right of the former to be able to move and register in another locality. Post-conquest reconstruction, policies encouraging
the development of exhausted or abandoned land, new roads, and reconstruction of irrigation systems encouraged working families to relocate. A
hallmark of slave status was the lack of any right to request re-registration,
or any other change that would separate them from the landowners service.
Qing magistrates presumed that a petitioner was free unless the landowner
could present documentation clearly specifying otherwise.
The Qing also bargained for some goodwill by a general shuffling of
land from the large landowners to independent holders. They did this by
reviewing the record of legal disputes in areas where the abusive reclassification of hired workers as serfs or slaves had been most blatant. In central
China, the conquest interrupted late Ming rent strikes by tenants against
landlords who demanded large security deposits on rented land, imposed
surcharges, and otherwise manipulated the renting relationship in attempts
to force tenants into debt, and from there into virtual slavery. In 1650, still
in the early stages of the process of pacifying and attempting to win some
goodwill in the region of the Yangtze River and eastern coast, the court

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posted notices inviting families who could show they had been cheated of
land or of independent status to reclaim the land from their abusers. This
was followed in 1660 by an edict (clearly aimed at landowners accused of
falsely enslaving workers in the last years of the Ming) forbidding the sale of
servile laborers by the their employers and establishing severe punishments
for infractions.
The efficacy of these regulations is doubted by most historians, if only
because the same edicts were periodically reissued during the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, suggesting that they never succeeded
in having the desired effect. The most characteristically Qing reaction
to the complexities of servile status was the series of policy pronouncements that are sometimes referred to as the Yongzheng Emancipations.
The Yongzheng emperor (r. 172235) in the first eight years of his rule
attempted to reduce or even eradicate agricultural serfdom specifically the
poorly defined but in practice irresistible impositions by landlords of slavelike conditions on poor and indebted workers. This problem remained
widespread throughout central and eastern China. The emperor a striking polemicist who rarely passed by an opportunity to frame his policies
in florid moral rhetoric condemned the practices as contrary to all values
of benevolent government and of an ethically cultivated ruling class. He
condemned not only the usual abuses of crushing rents and landowner
arrogation of slave-holding rights, but the fact that the landholders had
for generations wantonly imposed themselves sexually upon their tenant
families. Time after time, he lamented, the government had ordered that
all predations upon the tenants and hired workers should cease, and they
had only been ignored. As a solution he decreed all tenants in the offending
provinces legally free and established in 1727 an inquisition into landowner
abuses. He declared that imperial law would not permit landowners to
beat tenants, rape them, or forbid them to leave the locality. In addition,
messengers in local magistrates offices, jailers, doormen, beggars, musicians, fishermen living on their boats, and workers examining or hauling
corpses all of whom had accrued putative base status were also to be
considered independent and entered on the tax rolls. The emperor subsequently initiated a program, continued after his death, to have families
locally classified as familials (jiaren slaves or serfs) re-registered as free
households (kaihu) in most parts of the empire.
As with earlier laws on the same topics, these reforms failed. There is
no evidence of hired workers suddenly becoming dominant in the commercialized agricultural sector. However, it is clear that over the course of
the eighteenth century legal and informal impositions upon tenants and
workers by landlords became less frequent. Certainly, the activity in this
direction by the Yongzheng emperor (who died prematurely in 1735) cannot have impeded such a development. Nevertheless, the more prominent

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impulse behind this development was likely the changes in the rural economy of the eighteenth century. Renewed profitability of staple crops and
the kinds of commercial crops well managed by small holders was a help.
Wages were low for the entire Ming period and remained low in the early
Qing. Evidence indicates that from the very early Qing conquest period in
China, landowners of very large estates calculated that the cost of keeping
their dianpu (land slaves, or serfs) was greater than paying them wages
and letting them find a way to keep themselves. Mass manumissions ended
some rent strikes, and in other cases accompanied overt capitulation to
the occupation government. Still, status disputes remained a significant
enough problem that in 1786 the imperial government finally established
a firm dividing line between the free and the unfree. Henceforth all workers were to be considered free unless they actually lived in the employers
house and did household work. Those working the fields or the outlying
buildings and living outside the employers house were free laborers who
could negotiate wages and seek the magistrates permission to relocate.
The phenomenon of absentee landlordism was affected both by the
problems of slave-status negotiations and the Qing responses to it. In early
modern China, absentee landlords (ji zhuang hu) were a formal category
of landowner who had applied for permission to own land apart from
the county of his residence. Wealthy landowners were inevitably absent
from a majority of their holdings and frequently promoted some of the
tenants as managers of the estates. Until the sixteenth century landlords
had traditionally played an active role in cultivation and were responsible
for instructing tenants and workers on newly introduced crops (such as
corn and yams), machinery, cropping techniques, pest control, hygiene,
and, of course, ethics. They called the working men together for lecture
sessions, often using the block-printed illustrated books on agriculture
and technology that were popular. In such circumstances, historians argue,
the paternalistic character of relations between landlord and tenant (or
serf ) was reinforced. By the same token, absentee landlordism promoted
more independence in the tenants even as changes in the economy offered
more opportunities to negotiate for higher wages or even to sell land, if
they could prove they owned it. The weight of state pronouncements in
the early eighteenth century may have helped accelerate these trends, so
that by the end of the eighteenth century a distinct change had occurred,
particularly in comparison to the late Ming period. Independent holders
had risen in number; emancipated laborers were abundant. Coerced residence, unremunerated work, and an absence of personal protections did
not disappear from the Chinese countryside. But the Yongzheng emancipations were part of a change that markedly lowered the level of landlord predation while markedly raising the level of agricultural workers
independence.

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The motivation for the Yongzheng emperors actions has been a matter
of debate among historians of the period. The Qing governments constant
search for revenue was clearly at issue; all persons and households reregistered as independent (kai) and common (liangmin), and thereby
not liable to future enslavement, became taxpayers. There are parallels here
with later developments. In the later eighteenth century, the Qianlong
court encouraged legal rulings commuting death sentences to enslavement,
frequently so that the convicted could be sent to perform coerced labor in
the mines of the Northeast or in the mines, fields, and military installations
of newly occupied eastern Turkestan (today the province of Xinjiang). A
century later the court attempted (but failed) to manumit the bannermen,
expecting new revenue from taxation of the previously tax-exempt banner
lands, as well as taxes to be paid by independent former bannermen. In
these episodes and others, the Qing government showed a propensity for
adjusting legal criteria of baseness and servitude, as well as the institutions of
enslavement, to serve its changing economic needs; newly taxable lands, free
families newly liable to taxation, and coerced labor were among the benefits
the state expected to enjoy from selective manumission, commutation, and
eradication of the authority of informal contracts.
Huang Pei, a specialist on the Yongzheng emperor and his reign, saw the
emperors program as having more meaning than a search for incremental
benefits to the imperial treasury, however. He argued that the purpose
of the reforms was to extend the powers of the emperor and disrupt the
informal powers of landlords in some regions. This explanation is consistent with the history of imperial restriction of aristocrats and landed
gentry in times when Qing rulers were particularly keen to undermine
rivals. As we have seen, this was not the first time the Qing court had
specifically used the ostensible protection of the enslaved as a means of
drawing power away from perceived independent power bases within the
realm. And it is also true that the Qing court was particularly wary of the
combined political power (which tended to express itself as factionalism
among imperial bureaucrats) of landowners from the wealthiest and most
cultured regions of China.
William T. Rowe has suggested an additional explanation. He points out
that the Yongzheng manumission of the ambiguously positioned tenants
was in fact a way of clarifying status. This clarification, he argues, was the
emperors real goal, because it was the prerequisite to the reconstruction
of the traditional social hierarchy in China. The emperors unhappiness,
in Rowes interpretation, was caused not by the fact that so many hired
laborers were forced to live as slaves, but that so many men and women of
commoner birth were forced to live as if they were base. The distinction
between good and base was what the emperor wished to restore. The result,
as Rowe notes, was not the attenuation of base status in Qing society in

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comparison to the Ming, but its explicit authorship by the state. Indeed,
as part of the emancipation program, the Yongzheng court pledged itself
to apprehend true slaves who might try to flee and return them to their
lords. And if the point should not be clear enough, the court also issued
prescriptions for the proper way for inferiors to address their superiors,
with a schedule of punishments for failure to perform proper deference.
The object, Rowe suggests, was a reinstatement of deference based on clear
ascriptions of status.
This is a striking suggestion, as it places the treatment of servile agricultural workers among the many other ambiguities of the eighteenth century
to which the Qing court was hostile. Indeed, the Yongzheng emperors
demand that the status of the serfs of central China be clarified was very
similar to the later demand by his son, who became the Qianlong emperor,
that the genealogical identities of a group of mixed descent within the banners (the hanjun, or Chinese-martial bannermen) be clarified by making
them either Manchu or Chinese. In both cases the problem identified by
the court is that arbitrary practices had obscured what are essential differences between groups. In both cases, the state undertook to rediscover,
reveal, and in the future enforce ostensibly natural distinctions (a policy
that resembles its approaches to gender legislation, family administration,
rectification of literature and art, and classification of cultural minorities).
In neither case did the group in question disappear. But their numbers
diminished dramatically by the end of the imperial period. More important, the state had succeeded in placing itself as the sole arbiter of identity
and status, both of which had previously been negotiated in local, personal, informal, and sometimes subjective frameworks. This was part of a
generalized phenomenon of the eighteenth-century Qing court. It demonstrated itself hostile to ambiguities of gender, culture, genealogy, language,
or moral values, particularly loyalty. It became the source of new criteria
of status, righteousness, and beauty. Overall, these are the characteristics
of the end of the period of conquest and expansion under the Qing. In
the eighteenth century, a century of relative stability and relative prosperity
was beginning. The state was making the transition from a conquest state,
in which ambiguities were necessary and advantageous, to a civil state
that legitimated itself through the realization of essential differences in
status.
conclusion
In institutional terms, the great pattern of the seventeenth century in
China, with regard to slavery, was the transition from progressive subjectivity and negotiation of slave status under Ming practices to incremental
clarification and objectivization of multiple slave statuses under the Qing.

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Coterminous with this was the introduction of peculiar Qing institutions


of household and military slavery with proximate origins in the Mongol
legacy of the Northeast. Despite the fact that slavery in China in the early
modern and modern periods affected the lives of millions of people, slavery
as a conceptual reference was never salient enough to define and promote a
rhetoric of freedom that would accompany the movement toward nationalism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nor has slavery
in China attained prominence as a topic of academic inquiry. Despite
the vigorous development of critical studies, cultural history, womens and
gender studies, demographic studies, and many other analytical fields that
would touch easily on slavery, the question of enslavement and coercion
in China is omitted with few exceptions - from studies of premodern
society.
There would appear to be two possible explanations. One is the conceptual axiom, inherited from Marxist and Marxian scholarship, that slavery
in China was a characteristic of ancient Chinese society and could not have
been important in subsequent eras. Elements of Marxist discourse first
became prominent in the May Fourth Movement (191925), when socialist scholars such as Guo Moruo interwove interpretations of imperialism,
socialism, and nationalism to create a new narrative of Chinas history.
Because, in that paradigm, slavery comes after primitive communism but
before feudalism, China between the dates of about 2200 and 500 BCE is
considered to have been a slave society. Thereafter, in this view, China
moved to a feudal phase that persisted in various forms until the seventeenth century at the earliest, when a transition to proto-capitalism
began. Despite the theory behind this interpretation, documents suggest
that the sharpest rise in the numbers of persons in servitude and slavery in
China, and undoubtedly the greatest absolute numbers of serfs and slaves,
occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The facts present a
certain parallel to the growth of coercion and dependence under European
colonialism in Africa and the Americas, but they are disconsonant with
Marxs concepts of historical stages. As a consequence, the Chinese nationalist movement was replete with metaphors of the Chinese as intruded
upon and exploited by Manchu invaders, but not with descriptions of
China as enslaved or unfree under the ownership of emperors. Nationalism and personal enfranchisement were very loosely linked, if at all, in the
speech and writing of most revolutionary propagandists. This is a vivid
contrast to modern Korean history and historiography, in which institutional and moral continuities from traditional slavery to coerced industrial
labor under Japanese colonization in the twentieth century has informed
both the study and the characterization of nationalist movements.
The tendency to see slavery as an ethnic issue, unconnected to China
generally but defining peoples such as the Manchus and the Mongols,

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persisted well after the revolutionary movements that ended the empire
in 1912 and attempted to establish a unified national republic. With the
nationalist adjustments to Marxist historical patterning supplied by Stalin
and Mao, Chinese scholars after 1949 were able to confidently contrast the
feudal and proto-capitalist condition of the Chinese to the status of the
populations of Tibet and southwest China (particularly the Yi and the Naxi
peoples of Guangxi), who in the scholarly estimation continued to live in
slave societies. Putative slave societies were clearly in need of overt control and reorganization by Chinas revolutionary government, in order to
hoist them over the feudal and capitalist stages and straight into socialism.
The basic contours of this rhetoric have not changed very much in Chinas
historical professions, despite the practical abandonment of state socialism.
Nevertheless, below the rhetorical level historians in contemporary China
generally have recognized that institutions characterized as slavery varied
greatly across time and culture but cannot be proved to have been more
common in ancient times than in more recent centuries. Although chattel
slavery was not part of Chinas history, a complex of slave and coercive
institutions in China had the same general relationship to cultural, economic, and technological change that they had elsewhere in the world,
despite their general absence from the discourses of modernity, nationalism, and liberation among Chinese nationalists of the early twentieth
century.
further reading
The volume of work dedicated to topics of servitude and coercion is
small. For the early period of Chinese history the seminal work is C.
Martin Wilbur, Slavery in China During the Former Han Dynasty, 206
B.C.A.D. 25 (originally published in 1943, most recently reprinted in
1968). See also E. G. Pulleyblank, The Origins and Nature of Chattel
Slavery in China, Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient,
I (1958): 185220; Robin D. S. Yatess important essay Slavery in Early
China: A Socio-Cultural Perspective, Journal of East Asian Archaeology, 3
(2002): 283331. For the Qing period, the classic study is Wei Qingyuan
et al., Qingdai nubi zhidu [The Slave System of the Qing Period] (Beijing,
1982). See also Angela Schottenhammer, Slaves and Forms of Slavery
in Late Imperial China (Seventeenth to Early Twentieth Century), in
Gwyn Campbell (ed.), The Structure of Slavery in the Indian Ocean, Africa,
and Asia (London, 2004), pp. 14354. An important specific study of
formal and informal enslavement is Joanna Waley-Cohen, Exile in MidQing China: Banishment to Xinjiang 17581820 (New Haven, CT, 1991).
The institutional and material conditions of palace eunuchs are given
unprecedented examination in Norman Kutcher, Unspoken Collusions:

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The Empowerment of Yuanming Yuan Eunuchs in the Qianlong Period,


Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 70 (2010): 44995.
The institutional background of the Qing bondservant system is still
best referenced in Preston M. Torbert, The Ching Imperial Household
Department: A Study of Its Organization and Principle Functions, 16621796
(Cambridge, MA, 1977). Bondservant status is also the background to
Jonathan D. Spence, Tsao Yin and the Kang-hsi Emperor: Bondservant and
Master (New Haven, CT, 1966). Early forms of Qing servitude and tenancy
are also examined in Gertraude Roth [Li], The Manchu-Chinese Relationship, 16181636 in Jonathan D. Spence and John C. Wills, Jr. (eds.),
From Ming to Ching: Conquest, Region and Continuity in SeventeenthCentury China (New Haven, CT, 1979), pp. 138. On the Qing banner
system and bannermen, see Mark C. Elliott, The Manchu Way: The Eight
Banners and Ethnic Identity in Late Imperial China (Stanford, CA, 2001)
for the early period and Pamela Kyle Crossley, Orphan Warriors: Three
Manchu Generations and the End of the Qing World (Princeton, NJ, 1990)
for the late period. On banner status and its relationship to metaphors
of dependency and submission, see Pamela Kyle Crossley, A Translucent
Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology (Berkeley, CA, 1999).
A demographic and social study of banner-related servitude is Cameron
Campbell and James Z. Lee, Free and Unfree Labor in Qing China
Emigration and Escape among the Bannermen of Northeast China, 1789
1909, in The History of the Family, 6 (2001): 45576. In State, Peasant,
and Merchant in Qing Manchuria, 16441862 (Stanford, CA, 2006), esp.
pp. 2151, Christopher Mills Isett puts the legal and economic status of
banner populations working the imperial estates into historical context.
Important research and analysis has been presented as part of works
focused on social and economic history, legal history, and womens history.
An invaluable study of medieval law in practice is Valerie Hanson, Negotiating Daily Life in Traditional China: How Ordinary People Used Contracts,
6001400 (New Haven, CT, 1995), which provides in-depth discussion of
the effects of contracts. Slavery, servitude, and labor in the context of late
Ming economic history is very thoroughly presented in Martin Heijdra,
The Socio-Economic Development of Rural China during the Ming, in
Denis Twitchett and Frederick W. Mote (eds.), The Cambridge History of
China, Volume 8 (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 417578. A work of similar scope
dealing with the Qing period, and with very thorough discussion of labor
and servitude, is William T. Rowe, Social Stability and Social Change,
in Willard J. Peterson (ed.), The Cambridge History of China, Volume 9
(Cambridge, 2002), pp. 473562.
The study of Qing law has recently deepened and broadened, encompassing new facets of encoded status and dependency. Important recent
studies for general background and significant specifics on slavery include

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Marinus J. Meijer, Slavery at the End of the Ching Dynasty, in Jerome


Alan Cohen et al. (eds.), Essays on Chinas Legal Tradition (Princeton,
NJ, 1980), pp. 32758; Kathryn Bernhardt and Philip C. C. Huang (eds.)
Civil Law in Qing and Republican China (Stanford, CA, 1994); and Philip
C. C. Huang, Civil Justice in China: Representation and Practice in the Qing
(Stanford, CA, 1996).
Matthew Harvey Sommer, in Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial
China (Stanford, CA, 2000) is significant for, among other things, bridging
legal history, social history, and gender history, bringing new depths to the
study of dependence. It complements the rich scholarship on marriage,
households, prostitution, and property rights as they relate to women
primarily. See the seminal volume Rubie S. Watson and Patricia Buckley
Ebrey (eds.), Marriage and Inequality in Chinese Society (Berkeley, CA,
1991), and more recently Susan Mann, Precious Records: Women in Chinas
Long Eighteenth Century (Stanford, CA, 1997).

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PART III

SLAVERY AMONG THE INDIGENOUS AMERICANS

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Map 9.1. Culture Areas of Indigenous North America.

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CHAPTER 9

SLAVERY IN INDIGENOUS NORTH AMERICA


leland donald

Before contact with Europeans, most North American indigenous communities were familiar with captives taken in intergroup fighting as a potential
source of additional community members. Such captives were the proximate or ultimate source of most of those in statuses of servitude, including
slavery, in the majority of Native American communities in early historic
times.1
Statuses of servitude, especially slavery, within Native American communities have not attracted a great deal of scholarly scrutiny, partly because
the positive pole of the idea of the noble savage continues to color both
the popular and scholarly image of Native Americans sufficiently to often
cause surprise and even resistance to the suggestion that not all precontact
and early contact indigenous communities were egalitarian. That various
forms of bondage, including slavery, did occur in some indigenous communities is also frequently dismissed, or their importance in some aboriginal
communities minimized.2
Careful scrutiny of the earliest available sources on indigenous North
American societies, however, reveals that statuses of servitude were of considerable significance in some, although certainly not all, such societies.
Two major questions are pursued here. First, as best we can tell, what happened to captives prior to European impact on indigenous societies? How
were the fates of captives likely altered as a result of significant European
influence?
I emphasize similarities and broad, widespread patterns, but considerable variation existed within this framework of similarities that cannot
be considered here. Because of major variations across the continent, a
regional approach is adopted. The main focus will be on the two regions
where the data are best, eastern North America and the north Pacific coast
1 Here indigenous North America includes all peoples living on the continent north of what became
the Mexican/United States border at the time of the first European contacts with the continent and
their descendants. The peoples immediately south of this artificial boundary are strongly connected
to those just north of it, but the nature of the sources and conventional scholarly divisions of labor
dictate this usage here.
2 This point is briefly expanded later in the treatment of Lewis Henry Morgans views on the
Iroquois.

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of North America, but some consideration is given to other parts of the


continent.
eastern north america
In aboriginal terms, eastern North America includes a band just west of
the Mississippi River east to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and south from
a west-to-east line that includes the region around the Great Lakes, a
band just north of the St. Lawrence River, and the Canadian maritime
provinces. Although there is a great deal of cultural and environmental
variation within this large area, practices relating to servitude were broadly
similar within it in late precontact times. This discussion focuses on two
major subareas: the Northeast and the Southeast.3
Contact with Europeans began sporadically on the coast in the sixteenth
century, and by the mid-seventeenth century all the eastern North American peoples had experienced some indirect consequences of this contact
even if they had not yet encountered Europeans directly.
In late precontact times eastern North American societies practiced
agriculture to some extent. The importance of agriculture to the subsistence
base was considerable throughout most of the Southeast and of moderate
importance in most of the Northeast. Despite the prevalence of agriculture,
no peoples ignored the potential of hunting, fishing, and gathering these
were mixed subsistence economies.
In all these societies the major basis of social relationships was kinship,
and the standard picture of these societies is that they were relatively egalitarian, although the presence of hereditary elites is recognized in many
Southeastern communities. Traditional political units were either independent local communities, often loosely allied along ethnic or linguistic lines,
or chiefdoms, groups of communities forming a single polity but lacking
many of the attributes of the state.
There is ample evidence for intercommunity conflict and fighting
throughout the area in late precontact and early postcontact times, much of
which took the form of raids on enemy communities with a common major
objective being to kill or capture members of the attacked community. If
captives were successfully taken, they had one of four fates: They failed to
survive the journey to their captors communities (they were killed if they
could not keep up, tried to escape, or members of the attacking party could
not restrain their emotions); they were tortured and killed fairly soon after
their arrival at their captors community; they were adopted into a family
and kin group, usually to replace a specific deceased member; or, in a few
3 See Map 9.1 for the location and approximate boundaries of these two and other indigenous North
American culture areas.

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cases, they remained in the community, unadopted, in a marginal status


outside the kinship system, performing menial tasks for their captor or
some other community member. As Lucien Carr remarked more than a
century ago about the early historic sources for this region, [b]y almost all
of the old chroniclers captive and slave are used as convertible terms.4
One of the tasks of interpretation of these early sources is to determine
what statuses of servitude, if any, captives held in these communities.
The Northeast
From the time of Lewis Henry Morgan, whose 1851 account of the Iroquois
is usually regarded as the first scientific description of an indigenous
North American people, the native peoples of the Northeast5 have been
regarded as egalitarian peoples whose communities were not incorporated
into multicommunity polities.6 In this view there were alliances between
communities, but not chiefdoms or states, and within communities, leaders led by influence and persuasion and lacked the ability to command.
There were no hereditary elites. Morgan was so struck by what he saw as
the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the Iroquois kinship group and
community that he took their kinship institutions as the model for all
native American societies, going so far as to deny that the Aztec had a
state and hereditary rulers at the time of their conquest by the Spanish.7
Scholars since Morgan have usually agreed with him about the egalitarian
nature of Northeastern native societies, but he was wrong about the Aztec,
and not all North American indigenous societies conformed to his vision
of Native American society.
In earliest contact times, and almost certainly before contact, many
indigenous communities contained individuals who were not regarded as
full members of the community and others whose community membership
was not due to birth or marriage. Both types of people originated as captives
4 Lucien Carr, The Mounds of the Mississippi Valley Historically Considered, Annual Report of
the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1891 (Washington, DC, 1893), p. 512.
5 This includes the Canadian maritime provinces, New England, parts of southern Quebec and
Ontario, and the mid-Atlantic states. (See Map 9.1.)
6 Lewis Henry Morgan, League of the Ho-de-no-sau-nee, Iroquois (New York, 1851). Morgan was
not the first to recognize the egalitarian character of many native American societies; egalitarianism
was one of the principal themes of the positive image of the noble savage to which early accounts of
Indian societies contributed significantly. But Morgan fashioned these ideas into a scientific account
and produced a coherent theoretical explanation of indigenous American society. In the process he
bequeathed elements of the noble savage to most subsequent scholarly views of Native Americans. For
Morgans relationship to the noble savage concept see Leland Donald, Liberty, Equality, Fraternity:
Was the Indian Really Egalitarian? in James Clifton (ed.), The Invented Indian (New Brunswick, NJ,
1990), pp. 14567.
7 For liberty, equality, fraternity see Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society (Cambridge, MA,
Harvard University Press, 1877, reprint edition 1964) pp. 4667; for Morgan on the Aztec see ibid.,
pp. 16487.

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taken in war. In the Northeast a significant motivation for intercommunity


fighting was the mourning-war. Indeed, little evidence can be found to
support territorial conquest as a major traditional motivation for warfare
during this period which is what many anthropologists would expect
of horticultural, kinship-organized peoples. The nature of mourning-war
strongly influenced the fate of captives.
Among Northeastern peoples, a death diminished the kin group. To
restrengthen the group (as much its spiritual powers as its numbers) the
dead person was requickened via appropriate ritual someone took up
the deceaseds name and with it their position and duties in the kin group
and community, revitalizing the group. Important kin-group figures were
usually replaced by other kin-group members, but captives were often
adopted to fill lesser places. The grief a death caused the surviving relatives
often remained strong, and frequently some mourners demanded that a
raid be conducted to produce deaths in and captives from an outside
community. The object of such a raid was to obtain scalps (signifying
enemy deaths) and captives to relieve the grief of those in mourning, not
simple revenge on those responsible for the death. Community leaders
assigned any captives to kin groups in mourning. The older women of
the group decided if the captives were to be adopted or killed under
torture.8
The origins of adoptees were remembered, but there is ample evidence to
support the idea that if adoptees behaved as kin should, their new relatives
treated them as such, although those that failed to live up to expectations
might suffer mistreatment or worse.9 For example, Lafitau, writing of his
experiences among the Iroquois in the early 1700s, recounts the rejection
with horror of a suggestion by a well-meaning missionary that a female
captive marry a member of the household. As the woman had been adopted
into the proposed husbands kin group, the missionary had inadvertently
proposed an incestuous marriage.10
8 For mourning-war see Daniel K. Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois
League in the Era of European Colonization (Chapel Hill, NC, 1992), pp. 328; for a good account of
warfare and the treatment of prisoners see Bruce G. Trigger, The Huron: Farmers of the North, 2nd ed.
(Fort Worth,TX, 1990), pp. 5064.
9 Reuben G. Thwaites (ed.), The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents, 75 vols. (Cleveland, OH,
18961901). Among their wealth of ethnographic and historical information, these volumes contain
much on all aspects of captivity and the adoption of captives. References in the Jesuit Relations to
adoption and prisoners cited in Bruce Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People
to 1660 (Montreal, 1976) and Daniel K. Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse offer a good entry into
this material.
10 Joseph-Franc
ois Lafitau, Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive
Times, William N. Fenton and E. L. Moore (eds.) (Toronto, 1974), Vol. 1, pp. 3389; Lafitaus general
account of the adoption of captives among the Iroquois is also informative, see Fenton and Moore
(eds.), Customs of the American Indians, (Toronto, ON, 1977), 2: 1712.

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The fate of captives who were neither killed or adopted is less clear.
Some individuals remained in a kind of social limbo for years, apparently
without a meaningful status within the community, as they lacked kin ties
there, performing menial tasks for those to whom they were assigned. The
numbers of such individuals within a community seems to have been very
small, certainly much smaller than either the number of captives who were
killed or who were adopted.11
Other captives who survived but were not adopted into their captors
communities appear to have become pawns in diplomacy between indigenous groups. Captives were often presented to other groups as a part of
exchanges designed to cement alliances. When many Northeastern groups
established relationships with European communities, they attempted to
bind up these new ties with traditional forms of alliance-building, including the giving of captives to new (or old) allies. Such attempts have recently
been discussed in connection with aboriginal alliances with the French by
Brett Rushforth, who also describes the initial French resistance to such
indigenous tactics and the eventual transformation of these captives into
slaves in many Quebec households.12
As the European presence in North America increased, the peoples of
the Northeast became increasingly embroiled in the expansion of European activity in their region. Although Northeastern natives were not
passive respondents to European initiatives, the consequences of the growing European presence were great. Regarding captivity and servitude, the
major changes were dramatic population declines brought about primarily
by the introduction of the infectious diseases of the Eastern Hemisphere,
and an increase in warfare due both to population decline (increasing the
calls for mourning-wars) and struggles relating to the control of various
aspects of trade with Europeans, especially the fur trade.
These changes began in the sixteenth century, and by the early eighteenth
century were enormous. Some peoples had been virtually destroyed in the
process, and other communities contained as many or more adoptees as
locally born individuals. Raiding for captives had grown in frequency and in
the distance involved in individual expeditions. The Iroquois, in particular,
ranged widely over the Northeast and even beyond.
11 William A. Starna and Ralph Watkins, Northern Iroquoian Slavery, Ethnohistory, 38 (1991):
3457, argue that adopted captives are best regarded as slaves, suggesting that the vocabulary of
kinship applied to them was simply a mask of their true status. They consider adoptees to conform to
Orlando Pattersons social death conception of slavery (Orlando Patterson, Slavery and Social Death
[Cambridge, MA, 1982]) and that they were economically exploited as well. The evidence in such
sources as the Jesuit Relations supports the interpretation that many adoptions of captives were genuine
and that the labor expected of them was the same as of other community members of the same gender
and age. Starna and Watkins also overlook the ritual of capture, torture, and adoption as a rite of
passage and social rebirth, rather than one of social death.
12 Brett Rushforth, A Little Flesh We Offer You: The Origins of Indian Slavery in New France,
William and Mary Quarterly, 60 (2003): 777808.

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The best-studied intergroup conflicts in the Northeast are those between


the Iroquois and Huron, which ended with the virtual destruction of the
Huron and their disappearance as an independent people in the 1660s. This
conflict illustrates the importance of captives and captivity during the early
historic period. Between 1631 and 1663, seventy-three recorded Iroquois
attacks on the Huron suggest that at least fifteen hundred Huron captives
were taken from a population of around nine thousand. The records for
conflicts involving the Iroquois from 1603 to 1701 indicate that the Iroquois
captured around sixty-five hundred Huron and Algonquin speakers and
suffered the loss of around two thousand captured to these peoples. The
Jesuit Relations suggest that by the late seventeenth century as many as
two-thirds of the population of some Iroquois communities were adopted
captives. The influx of captives maintained Iroquois population levels at
near-steady state for a number of decades despite their own losses to disease
and warfare, and adoptees played this role in many other Northeastern
groups as well.13
The very large number of adoptees created new problems. The old methods of enculturating and absorbing captives into their adopting groups were
strained. Probably more captives than before did not fully accept their new
identities and longed for escape, leading many more to attempt and succeed in escaping. The cultures in these communities were becoming creative amalgams of the adopting culture and the cultures of various captives.
Traditional native cultures were newly forged, not simply continuations
of local cultures with adjustments to the European newcomers.14
As European settlement increased, the number of British and French
prisoners taken in Indian raids increased as well. These European captives
were treated much like indigenous captives: Many were killed shortly after
capture or tortured to death in their captors community; many were
also adopted or ransomed. Some adoptees, especially if they were children or female, seem to have become comfortable in their new homes
and actively participated in their new culture. They sometimes refused to
return to the settler world when given the opportunity. Others were not
successfully drawn into Indian culture and were eager to escape and rejoin
the European world. These unwilling adoptees were more likely to have
been adult males when captured, but not exclusively so. A literary genre of
captivity narratives developed. Dozens of these narratives were published,
and they offer an additional source of information about the nature of
13 The data on number of captives and so on are drawn from Jos
e Antonio Brandao, Your Fyre
Shall Burn No More: Iroquois Policy toward New France and Its Native Allies to 1701 (Lincoln, NE,
1997), especially pap. 7281.
14 For the assimilation of Huron captives by the Iroquois, see Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic,
pp. 82631; for the process of the assimilation of captives and the increasing strain as the proportion of
captives increased, see Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse, pp. 6674.

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indigenous servitude in early historic times, even though they are shaped
by the conventions of the genre.15
The Southeast
Aboriginally the Southeast includes the area south of the Virginia-Carolina
border and west to a north-south band beyond the Mississippi River and
takes in the southern parts of the Missouri and Ohio River valleys. European
encroachments began in the sixteenth century with Spanish excursions
into Florida. The earliest important expedition into the core of the region
was by Hernando De Soto in 153943. By the seventeenth century the
Spanish were interacting with Southeastern peoples from Florida, and
from their settlements in the Southwest, the French were in contact along
the Mississippi. The English were increasingly active from the Atlantic
coast. Accounts of these are much less satisfactory than those available for
the comparable period in the Northeast.
The usual interpretation for the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is
that of peoples organized into a large number of small-scale polities of the
type anthropologists call chiefdoms collections of a few (or occasionally a
considerable number of ) communities who recognize a central office, but
the person who holds this office lacks the power to command and must
lead by persuasion. Ties between individuals are still primarily based on
kinship, and loyalties to political entities are weak.16
These societies were not egalitarian, but the ranking that was present was
based more on achievement than ascription. Warfare was not uncommon in
the Southeast, and as in much of the rest of indigenous North America, the
taking of captives was an important outcome of intercommunity violence.
During earliest contact times, the fate of captives in the Southeast was
much like that in the Northeast: Many were tortured to death; some were
adopted to replace dead relatives; and an uncertain proportion remained in
a vague status that left them as outsiders lacking kin ties to other community
members. In the historic sources they are often termed slaves, but whether
15 Alden T. Vaughan and Daniel K. Richter, Crossing the Cultural Divide: Indians and New
Englanders, 16051763, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 90 (1980): 2399; although
they, like many others, tends to overestimate the success Indians had in assimilating European captives,
particularly adult men; James Axtell, The Invasion Within: The Contest of Cultures in Colonial North
America (New York, 1985), pp. 30227 is a good account of Europeans who preferred to stay with
their Indian captors; Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great
Lakes Region, 16501815 (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 2613, 32330, although he is discussing the Great Lakes
area rather than the Northeast, gives a more complex account of European captivity and is a useful
corrective to Axtell.
16 The standard overview of early historic Southeastern aboriginal culture remains Charles Hudson, The Southeastern Indians (Knoxville, TN, 1976); for early historic Southeastern chiefdoms, see
pp. 20223.

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this meant more than dependent is problematical. In 1709 John Lawson


published one of the few explications of slave in our sources:
Their Tongue allows not to say, Sir, I am your Servants; because they have no
different Titles for Man, only King, War-Captain, Old Man, or Young Man . . . As
for Servant, they have no such thing, except Slave, and their Dogs, Cats, tame or
Domestick Beasts, and Birds, are calld by the same Name: For the Indian Word
for Slave includes them all. So when an Indian tells you he has got a Slave for
you, it may . . . be a young Eagle, a Dog, Otter, or any other thing of that Nature,
which is obsequiously to depend on the Master for its Sustenance.17

However we label unadopted captives, they held a disadvantaged, subservient status outside the kinship groups that comprised the majority of
the community. Their number is uncertain, as are their economic or other
roles. The standard interpretation is that, as the Southeastern indigenous
economies were subsistence economies, these captives could not have made
a significant economic contribution to their masters households.18
Cherokee captives, however, are described as working in the fields assisting the women, accompanying men on the hunt, dressing deer skins,
carrying burdens, running errands, and collecting the bark needed to build
houses.19 This array of tasks is reminiscent of those we will encounter later
among Northwest Coast slaves.
The oldest important sources that contain references to the labor of
slaves describe them as laboring in the fields and having had a foot
mutilated to prevent their escape.20 The latter practice suggests that these
captives were regarded as valuable enough to take serious precautions to prevent escape. The practice of mutilation continued in some places until the
17 John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina; Containing the Exact Description and Natural History
of That Country: Together with the Present State Thereof. And a Journal of a Thousand Miles, Traveld
Thro Several Nations of Indians. Giving a Particular Account of Their Customs, Manners, &c. (London,
1709), p. 201.
18 Hudson, Southeastern Indians, pp. 253257 for a fuller treatment of the standard interpretation;
the negligible economic value of captives is on page 253. The fullest treatment of the fate of captives for
a particular people is Theda Perdue, Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society 15401866 (Knoxville,
TN, 1979), pp. 318. Perdue agrees with Hudson that Cherokee captives were not economically
important (pp. 34, 1214), arguing instead that these disadvantaged people functioned as necessary
deviants who showed the disadvantage of the lack of kin group membership and thus helped
establish and strengthen group identity among the Cherokees (page 18). This writer does not find this
convincing.
19 Theda Perdue, Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society, p. 15. Perdue argues that these tasks
were not significant economically and would not have violated the strong gender division of labor
practiced by the Cherokee, although this argument is made from general principles and is not based
on evidence about what captives did.
20 Lawrence A. Clayton, Vernon James Knight, Jr., and Edward C. Moore (eds.), The De Soto
Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando De Soto to North America in 15491543, 2 vols. (Tuscaloosa, AL,
1993), 2: 312, 400, 439. The various entries relate to different places and suggest that both practices
were widespread.

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early eighteenth century, suggesting that some captives were worth keeping even then.21 Therefore, sparse historical evidence indicates that captive
or slave labor may have been more significant in some indigenous communities than most have thought. This possibility is reinforced if we look at
prehistory.
From 900 to 1350, societies known as Mississippian flourished in many
Southeastern river valleys. By the time of earliest contact, these societies
were in decline, often dramatically so. Mississippian culture had developed
from a base of earlier mixed-subsistence societies that had some maize
agriculture. Maize agriculture flourished during the Mississippian period,
although hunting and gathering remained important. It is likely that the
post-1350 decline was in significant part due to climatic conditions detrimental to the high levels of maize production these communities had
obtained.
The highly stratified Mississippian societies had as their focus ceremonial
centers of sometimes imposing size. The largest of these was probably
Cahokia, near present-day East St. Louis, Illinois, whose city center, which
contained more than twenty thousand people at its greatest extent, was a
fifty-acre artificial plaza dominated by a temple mound an earth pyramid
covering sixteen acres at its base, and more than one hundred feet high.
Altogether there were at least another hundred smaller temples and burial
mounds surrounding the plaza and major mound.22
Mississippian societies are usually described as chiefdoms, partly because
the evidence suggests that most lacked political stability, but many might
wonder if the larger and more longer-lasting of these polities shouldnt
be called states. Labels are less important than recognizing that the elites
of these societies managed extensive trade networks, conducted relationships with other similar polities, and commanded sufficient labor to build
and maintain large construction works in the form of temple and burial
mounds, plazas, and defensive works. They were also able to keep agricultural products flowing to the ceremonial centers from the smaller settlements surrounding them.23
The nature of the management of the labor used to maintain the
extensive building program and agricultural production of the Mississippian polities during their heyday is difficult to determine. Archaeological
insights and thin historical data that reflect accommodations to both the
21

John Lawson, A New Voyage to Carolina, p. 198.


Melvin L. Fowler, A Pre-Columbian Urban Center on the Mississippi, Scientific American
(August 1975): 92101.
23 For Cahokia and references to the literature on the Mississippian more broadly see Rinita A.
Dalan, et al., Envisioning Cahokia: A Landscape Perspective (DeKalb, IL, 2003) and Adam King, Etowah:
The Political History of a Chiefdom Capital (Tuscaloosa, AL, 2003). Charles Hudson, among others,
points out the possibility that at least some of the Mississippian polities may have been states in
Southeastern Indians, pp. 2056.
22

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precontact population and production declines, as well as the impact of


contact, provide minimal information on the character of labor organization and control. Servitude as it appears in the written sources is most
likely merely a remnant of what it was like during Mississippian times
when social, economic, and political activity was on a much larger and
complex scale a scale requiring more control over labor than kinship ties
may have been able to provide.
By the latter part of the seventeenth century there was a thriving Indian
trade in all of the Southeast, with English, French, and Spanish rivalries
for control and trading partners. The two most important commodities
obtained from native peoples were deer skins and slaves. The techniques for
harvesting and handling both deer skins and captives were well developed
before contact.24 What was added by European newcomers were new types
of goods to be exchanged for local commodities and an increased demand
that spurred intensified warfare and hunting.
The trade in Indian slaves was important throughout the late seventeenth
and early eighteenth centuries, when thousands of Indians were made
captive and traded to various Europeans. Most of this slaving was done
by aboriginal groups. The use of Indian slaves as laborers in colonial
enterprises and their exportation outside the Southeast is a part of the larger
story of slavery in the Western Hemisphere from the seventeenth century
onward, but the impact of this large-scale enslavement of indigenous North
Americans on their communities was significant.25
From at least the seventeenth century, infectious diseases killed large
numbers of people and greatly disrupted community life.26 Warfare produced large numbers of deaths and removed others from attacked communities into captivity.27 The cumulative results of these twin scourges
24 James H. Merrell, The Indians New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact
through the Era of Removal (Chapel Hill, NC, 1989), 36.
25 For a study of the Indian slave trade that looks at its wider geopolitical context, but that
also gives some consideration to its impact on indigenous communities see Alan Gallay, The Indian
Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 16701717 (New Haven, CT,
2002).
26 The exact scale of the population decline is uncertain. Studies of aboriginal population
size before contact have gone from being very conservative, suggesting small precontact populations, to revisionist studies that raise estimates of precontact populations and hence the scale
of the postcontact decline to very high numbers. The estimates of both the high counters
and the low counters are based on considerable speculation. The usual starting point into
the estimates is Henry F. Dobyns, Their Numbers Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America (Knoxville, TN, 1983); for a lively critique of Dobyns
high counter approach and references to all sides of the controversy, see David Henige,
Native American Historical Demography as Expiation, in Clifton (ed.), The Invented Indian,
pp. 16992.
27 It is impossible to estimate the total number of Southeastern Indians killed in postcontact warfare,
but Alan Gallay offers a conservative estimate of southern Indians sold in the British slave trade between
1670 and 1715 as 24,000, The Indian Slave Trade, p. 299. This excludes those sold in the French and
Spanish slave trades as well as deaths due to warfare and disease.

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was a reconfiguring of indigenous cultural geography. European settlement gradually replaced aboriginal settlement, but even before the arrival
of European settlers, many native communities disappeared or reformed
themselves significantly. Often, surviving inhabitants became part of newly
forming communities and ethnic groups, forging new and developing relationships with other community members, with other native communities
who were also reforming themselves, and with Europeans both near and
distant.28
New indigenous elites arose in many native groups, obtaining status by
developing skills to deal with outsiders, especially Europeans, and by their
ability to take advantage of new opportunities within their communities.
Some of these new opportunities involved the development of enterprises
closely modeled on those being developed in the region by Europeans and
included the exploitation of slave labor, initially both Native American and
African, but eventually largely African. Some of these new elites operated
plantations similar to those of their European neighbors. When they were
forcibly removed to west of the Mississippi between 1829 and 1838, some
took their slaves along with their other household goods.29
the north pacific coast
From the perspective of cultural geography, the north Pacific coast of North
America runs from the Aleutians south along the coast, well down into
what is now northern California, and extends from the coast for varying
distances, sometimes as much as several hundred kilometres. The preEuropean-contact cultures found in this long, relatively narrow region are
conventionally grouped into a number of culture areas. Various statuses
involving servitude or unfree labor were found in most of the traditional
indigenous societies of this region, although slavery as such was most
important and most fully developed in the Northwest Coast culture area,
which begins at Yakutat Bay in the north of the Alaska panhandle and
continues south along the Pacific coast in a fairly narrow band to below
the Columbia River, perhaps even to northernmost California. Because of
the importance of slavery there, this section focuses primarily on slavery
on the Northwest Coast.
28 The best study of ethnogenesis in this period is Patricia Galloway, Choctaw Genesis, 15001700
(Lincoln, NE, 1995). Another important study of a changing Indian group as it was integrated into the
developing Southeast is James Merrell, The Indians New World.
29 The best treatment of the development of slavery along European lines among Southeastern
Indians is Theda Perdue, Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society; for other Southeastern groups
see Michael F. Doran, Negro Slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes, Annals of the Association of American
Geographers, 68 (1979): 33550; Daniel F. Littlefield, Africans and Creeks: From the Colonial Period to
the Civil War (Westport, CT, 1979).

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The Northwest Coast Culture Area

Because traditional Northwest Coast societies are not the type usually
associated with well-developed slavery, a brief description of these cultures
will provide useful background. More than two dozen distinct languages
belonging to at least seven major language families were spoken by one or
another of the regions communities. The complex cultural and linguistic
situation existing at European contact represents a complicated history that
is incompletely understood.30
The aboriginal cultures of this region were based on fishing, gathering,
and hunting subsistence technologies. The riverine and maritime resources
available were quite rich. Various fish, shellfish, birds, and sea mammals
were important, but the most important source of food for a majority
of coastal groups were the five anadromous species of Pacific salmon that
spawn in the regions rivers. Land-based game was much less significant.
There were important plant foods, but the most noteworthy plant resources
were the huge stands of large trees, especially cedar, which were used for
building houses, making canoes, and so on. The resource base was rich,
but regional and local variation as well as seasonal and yearly variation
made extracting a secure living from this environment a more demanding
challenge than many outsiders have thought. Nevertheless, this culture
area was one of the most densely populated in native North America. The
best recent estimate suggests a population possibly as high as one hundred
eighty thousand at contact, giving a density of more than forty persons per
one hundred square kilometres, a figure considerably higher than for most
other parts of indigenous North America, including some populations that
practiced agriculture.
Almost all local populations undertook an annual round of seasonal
shifts from one primary resource locus to another, so the size and structure
of the face-to-face community depended on the season. For most Northwest Coast people, the main focus was the winter village those who
resided together during the winter months when subsistence activity was at
its lowest, and ceremonial and social activity at its height. After the winter
season the community dispersed into units based on kinship to exploit
various resource loci in turn. Most often the winter village was the basic
sociopolitical unit. There was virtually no political unity or coordination
above the winter village level, and political coordination and cooperation
within the winter village community could be very weak. In the late eighteenth century, just after contact, there were several hundred independent
local groups.
30 For documentation and a fuller treatment of the Northwest Coast focusing on slavery, see Leland
Donald, Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America (Berkeley, CA, 1997). The entire
Northwest Coast section of this essay is based on that book.

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The primary mode of social relations was based on ties of kinship. In


the north there were matrilineal-descent groups organized into exogamous
moieties, clans, and lineages. In the central part of the culture area there
were non-unilineal descent groups, whereas in the south, kin groups were
shallower and less important.
The arts were richly developed, and the worlds museums contain many
examples of the fine carving of the regions artists. The plastic arts were
embedded in an extravagant ceremonial complex that was explained and
supported by an elaborate mythological tradition. Ceremonial performances combined music, the visual arts, and drama into impressive pieces
of ritual theatre.
The occasion of many such performances were feasts now known as
potlatches events at which a host distributed large amounts of property
to invited guests. By accepting their gifts, guests gave public recognition
to some claim of the host. Feasts were given to recognize the death of an
important person (validating the heirs claim to the deceaseds position),
when a new house was built, to recognize the coming of age of a child,
and on many other important occasions. At major feasts, not only were
large amounts of food consumed and given away, but the scale of the
property dispersal could expend most of the hosts material wealth. Gifts
often included canoes, slaves, and other major wealth items, and property
could be destroyed as well as given away.
Communities were divided into three ranked hereditary strata titleholders, commoners, and slaves. Feasts were given by titleholders for
other titleholders. Commoners were invited to witness the proceedings and
often received some of the less important property through the titleholders
they followed, but feasting was focused on titleholders. Titleholder was
an hereditary status, associated with kin-group leadership. But titleholders
were expected to demonstrate their claims to position, and one of the most
important ways to do this was to skillfully amass a large amount of property
(helped by commoner followers) for distribution at a feast. Feasts could
have a strongly competitive atmosphere, with titleholders trying to outdo
and shame other titleholders with spectacular property giveaways. Rivalry
over status and the scale of the property dispersals that accompanied it
have become synonymous with the Northwest Coast in the anthropological literature although the intensity of rivalries and the magnitude of
property giveaways (and destruction) increased dramatically after European
contact.
Winter villages contained members of all three strata. Probably fewer
than 25 percent of a local groups population would belong to the titleholder
category, and from 5 to occasionally as much as 25 percent would be slave.
The remainder of the community were commoners. Titleholders attempted
to marry other titleholders, and in other ways formed the dominant sector

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of each community. For example, resources were normally owned by kin


groups, but access to resources was usually controlled by the kin units
head. Although not usually described as such, the three strata can be seen
as classes.
In summary we have small-scale societies (few winter villages exceeded
one thousand persons) of the type that anthropologists often label tribal.
Social, political, and economic life was kin-group based. Subsistence was
based on fishing, gathering, and hunting. There was no political unity
above the local community level, and not even the local community was
always politically unified. But we also find marked social stratification
that looks very much like class and well-developed slavery. This is not a
combination of culture traits expected in indigenous North America or
elsewhere.
Captives as Slaves in the Northwest Coast Culture Area
Ideas about property were highly developed. Almost anything, corporeal
and noncorporeal, could be owned, including resource locales, houses,
house sites, canoes, the right to use a particular type of ceremonial mask,
the right to perform a ceremony, particular words, the right to tell a
particular story, the right to use a specific name, and human beings.
There was a term in all the Northwest Coast languages that easily translates into English as slave. Most of those taken in warfare became slaves.
This meant that their owner had the right to kill them, assign them any task
they desired, punish them if they failed to obey, exchange them for other
goods, or give them away. Slaves were often poorly dressed and had obvious
characteristics such as special haircuts, and there were often special names
for slaves. The children of slaves were slaves. To be a slave was shameful,
both for the slave and for the kin group to which they had belonged. In
some languages the word for slave can be etymologically related to the
word for to cut off or to be cut off, emphasizing that slaves had been
forcibly removed from their natal communities and kinship group. Any of
the commonly used definitions of slavery intended to apply cross-culturally
fit the slaves found on the Northwest Coast.
Owners of Slaves
At some time slaves were probably present in every Northwest Coast community, and, because slavery is a relationship, so were slave owners. Most
of the data suggest that only titleholders could own slaves. The reasons for
this are at the heart of Northwest Coast social and economic distinctions.
One might say that only the wealthy could own slaves, but it would be
equally accurate to say that only slave owners were truly wealthy. Wealth
was not simply a matter of possessions. Titleholders inherited the right to
their positions, but they had to validate the rights to their titles. Slaves

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played an important role in amassing the wealth necessary to validate a


title and were often part of the wealth given away or destroyed at a title
validation ceremony. Possession of slaves was a significant indication of
a persons importance and status, and the possession of slaves reflected
spiritual power or worth and material wealth equally.
In many instances slaves were not the property of particular individuals
but were the common property of a kinship group. The principal titleholders of kinship units managed all the groups property, including slaves, for
the benefit of the entire group. Most sources describe slave owners as adult
male titleholders, but female titleholders frequently directed the labors of
slaves and often had slaves assigned to them as servants and attendants.
Often many of these owners of slaves, both female and male, were probably simply enjoying the privileges of being important members of their
kinship group.
Producing and Trading Slaves
War and birth were the major sources of slavery. The birth rate for female
slaves seems to have been low, so slaves were produced mostly by war. There
were many motives for intergroup fighting, but slaves were a common
outcome. In the northern part of the culture area especially, the desire for
captives was a common motive for an attack on another community. There
was an active trade in slaves, and it is likely that many of a groups slaves
had not been captured by the group but obtained in trade.
Almost anyone could be taken captive in war. People from communities
who spoke the same or a very similar language were often enslaved. Raids
for slaves sometimes ranged widely, but close neighbors people with
whom one had a number of other important kinds of relationships were
very common victims.
Within an attacked settlement anyone was a potential slave, although
women and children were preferred. Many of those captured were already
slaves and merely changed owners. But members of the free strata, including
titleholders, were also enslaved. There were exceptions, but ex-titleholders
were often treated like other slaves. The victims relatives sometimes tried to
ransom the newly enslaved, and a member of a prominent titleholder family
probably had a better chance of redemption, but many ex-titleholders spent
their lives in slavery. Europeans were also readily enslaved if the opportunity
arose.
Both the ethnographic and historic record contain many instances of
transactions involving slaves, most involving exchanging slaves for other
types of property. Slaves might also be a part of the goods exchanged when
marriages were arranged, especially those of titleholders, and might also
be included as parts of compensation payments for murder, as part of the
exchanges at formal peace ceremonies, and as gifts dispersed at feasts.

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Analysis of the available records of exchanges of slaves for other goods


shows several extensive slave-trade networks. In the northern part of the
culture area, one was focused on the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian peoples
and extended south to northern Vancouver Island and adjacent parts of
the mainland, north along the coast beyond the culture area, and northeast
into the interior of Alaska and British Columbia. The other major network
was focused on the Columbia River. None of the data connect these two
networks via transactions in slaves, but this may be because of missing
information.
Slaves, along with canoes, might be described as the big bills of Northwest Coast transactions. They were part of transactions involving prestige
and ceremonial items (coppers, important ritual items, songs) and of transactions involving items with use-value or potential value in the trade with
Europeans (guns, furs, moose hides, blankets). Some sources state that
prices varied according to age or gender, but no clear picture of price
trends is possible with the information available.
Uses of Slaves: Slave Labor and Ritual Use
Most discussions of Northwest Coast slavery treat slave labor as insignificant to the overall economy or to owners of slaves, arguing that slaves were
kept for prestige and that they were, if anything, an economic drain, as the
work that they did could, at best, meet the expense of keeping them. Analysis of a wide range of ethnographic and historic sources shows, however,
that slave labor was of considerable significance to those who held them
and to the households in which they lived and worked.
Slaves performed a wide variety of tasks. Hauling water and cutting
wood are among the most commonly mentioned. The biblical phrase
hewers of wood and drawers of water is invoked or implied in many early
observations of slaves. Obtaining firewood was an ongoing task because
of the enormous amounts of wood necessary to keep the large wooden,
uninsulated Northwest Coast houses warm, especially in winter. Other
tasks frequently mentioned include subsistence activities (picking berries,
collecting shellfish, digging roots, fishing, hunting, and preserving food);
household work (child care, cooking, serving food, and acting as household
servants); and a range of miscellaneous tasks (accompanying the master or
mistress on their travels, carrying burdens, acting as lookout or watchman,
acting as a messenger, and paddling canoes). None of these activities was
done exclusively by slaves. Commoners and some titleholders participated
to some degree in all although the one ethnographic source that includes
detail on work emphasizes that titleholders did much less labor than did
commoners and slaves. In at least some Northwest Coast cultures the
sources are weak on economic issues there was an important distinction
between ceremonial labor and common labor. Slaves were excluded from

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ceremonial labor, which might include house building; burial; ear, lip, and
septum piercing (wearing labrets was a mark of titleholder status in some
of these societies); tattooing; and the carving of poles, masks, and other
ritual objects.
Although slave labor was deployed in a wide range of tasks, one was
of particular value. For a majority, although not all, of Northwest Coast
households (which were large and the major unit of production), the
most important subsistence task was catching and preserving salmon. The
crucial labor bottleneck was in processing, not catching, salmon. There was
a fairly rigid gender division of labor associated with salmon harvesting
men caught salmon, women processed and preserved them for storage.
Female slaves contributed their labor to processing and preserving, and
male slaves could also be put to these or other female tasks. Ownership
of slaves could considerably increase a kin groups productive ability in
this and other ways. Titleholders could command and control slave labor
in a way that they could not command and control commoner labor,
because commoners, as fellow kinship group members, had expectations
of consideration and reciprocal treatment that slaves lacked.
In addition to being exploited for their labor, slaves were also used in
rituals. They were often killed as a part of important ceremonies, especially
in the northern part of the culture area. Throughout the region the funeral
feast for a communitys leading titleholder usually included the killing of
one or more slaves. Slaves were also commonly killed at the funerals of
other important titleholders. These killings showed the heirs power and
wealth and provided the deceased with servants in the afterlife, but they
did not involve the systematic torture found in eastern North America.
Slave killing during rituals was not as widespread or common in other
types of ceremonies but did occur at times in some northern groups. Many
Northwest Coast ceremonies, including funeral feasts, involved the giving
away of property by the events sponsor in the case of a funeral the
heir. Slaves were often among the property distributed. Because slaves were
among the most valuable types of property, they went to the most important
of those in attendance. Slaves to be killed or given away during ceremonies
were sometimes acquired specifically for the occasion, and sometimes those
killed were selected from among the elderly or sick.
Antiquity of Slavery
Slavery was well established at the time of first direct European contact,
but the antiquity and origins of slavery are less certain. The only direct
evidence of the existence of slavery well before contact would come from
archaeology. None of the available evidence can be used to infer the presence
of slavery before late precontact times with any confidence. What archaeology does indicate, however, is that many other aspects of late precontact

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Northwest Coast culture were in place long before contact. This includes
a strong marine-subsistence orientation with sophisticated salmon capture
and storage technology and marine mammal hunting, winter villages with
large plank houses and summer/fall seasonal food procurement sites, extensive social stratification, high levels of warfare, considerable intraregional
trade, and a distinctive art style. All of these cultural features began to
develop on parts of the Northwest Coast between 500 BCE and 500 CE.
The succeeding five hundred years saw them develop into early versions
of the areas historically known cultures. This suggests that slavery also
developed during this time frame.
Linguistic evidence strongly supports the emergence of slavery alongside these other traits. Vocabulary items relating to slaves and slavery can
be traced back before language divergence in some Northwest Coast language families to the same 500 BCE to 500 CE time period. Given the
archaeological and linguistic evidence and the fact that slavery appears well
integrated into early contact cultures, we can be fairly confident, although
not absolutely certain, that slavery was a part of Northwest Coast culture
from its formative period.
Changes in Slavery 17801880
The first direct contacts between Europeans and aboriginal peoples of the
Northwest Coast came in the 1770s, rather late compared with much of
North America. By the 1880s all of the territory of these peoples was under
the control of either Canada or the United States, and aboriginal slavery had
all but disappeared. The most publicized contact event was Cooks 1778
voyage, which led to a rapidly developing maritime fur trade involving
ships from several nations from one ship in 1785 to ten ships in 1786
to one hundred and four ships in the period 17904. These ships crews
eagerly sought every kind of fur, but their prime interest was sea otter, the
mainstay of a brief triangular trade between the Northwest Coast, China,
and Europe/eastern North America. Northwest Coast peoples were initially
most interested in metal, but they soon also sought cloth, blankets, and
clothing and ships biscuit and molasses, as well as guns and ammunition
and whiskey. With the decimation of the sea otter, interest necessarily
shifted to other types of fur, and the maritime trade was gradually replaced
by one based on land posts. The first important land post was permanently
established by the Russians in Sitka in 1804, but others came later in the
1820s and 1830s.
In the 1840s there was an increase in Euroamerican interest in settlement, and the regions division into political units began. In 1846 the
British and Americans settled the boundary between their respective territories, and soon after British colonies and American territories were formally

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established. Settlement began slowly, but the pace increased, especially in


American territory. With the 1867 acquisition of Alaska by the United States
and the 1871 joining of the Canadian Confederation by British Columbia,
the political map was fixed. The remainder of the period of interest here
saw the consolidation of the political arrangements already made. The
lives and institutions of the native peoples of the region were increasingly
interfered with, and subordinated to the interests of incoming settlers and
governments.
In precontact times the trade in slaves as in other goods was between
neighboring or at least nearby communities. Various goods, including
slaves, sometimes traveled considerable distances the result of a series of
local exchanges. Trade records strongly suggest that slave trade connections
were more widespread and involved longer trading journeys in late rather
than in early historic times and also suggest an increase in distance and
the amount of the trade in slaves in the early historic period over the
late precontact period. For example, by the early nineteenth century the
trade network centred on the Columbia River, extended south to northern
California, and involved the Klamath as slave raiders and traders.
During the maritime fur-trade period, there was minor involvement
of Europeans in the slave trade: The Spanish bought some children to
send back to Mexico for religious training; a few natives hitched rides on
European ships, taking along a slave or two to sell in another community
when the ship came in to trade there; and at least four American ships
captains are known to have engaged in the slave trade on their own behalf.
But the historic period slave trade was mostly in the hands of native people.
In the land-based fur-trade period, the slave trade was, in places, a
significant part of the fur trade. Native middlemen had become important,
and many were as eager to trade furs for slaves as for European trade goods.
At times the demand for slaves was so high that European traders lost
valuable furs to indigenous traders who offered slaves for them.
Some slave trading was the result of entrepreneurial activity: The native
middleman hoped to conclude a series of transactions with a profit in
slaves or furs. The profit in furs might then be turned into trade goods.
The Hudsons Bay Company never completely succeeded in establishing
a monopoly in the coastal fur trade, so there was enough competition to
allow at least some indigenous traders to profit from it.
There was also native demand for slaves. There was some local demand,
both for labor and for ceremonial purposes, but there was also important
external native demand for slaves. Slaves were one of the items of greatest
demand by many of the people who lived inland from the Northwest
Coast, and who were important suppliers of furs to coastal middlemen.
The Hudsons Bay Company and others sought to reach this interior

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source of furs from the coast, and by building interior posts from bases
east of the Rockies, but for the maritime fur-trade period and the earlier
portions of the land-based trade, coastal middlemen were fairly successful
at protecting their interior markets. The sources for the coast document
this demand, but those for the interior have little to say about this trade,
making it difficult to know what happened to slaves traded or to be sure of
the motivation of inland customers for slaves. The best hypothesis is that
population losses due to smallpox and other epidemics played a major role
in the interior peoples demand for slaves. There were certainly devastating
population losses due to disease in the first third of the nineteenth century,
and a well-documented smallpox outbreak in the early 1830s coincides
with the high point of the interior/coast slave and fur trade. The interior
peoples badly needed to rebuild their decimated populations, and the
coastal traders need for furs enabled some of them to do so, although their
numbers never recovered to pre-epidemic levels.
Both furs and slaves were valued in precontact times, but they became
more desirable in early historic times. The slave trade and fur trade grew
alongside each other. Slaves were of sufficient value for raiding to obtain
them to become a common motivation for warfare, and contemporary
sources accurately refer to predatory warfare. A cycle of raids for slaves,
trade of slaves for furs, and trade for furs to Euroamericans became part of
the rivalry between important titleholders. In addition to the increase in
frequency of raids, the distances involved also increased. In earliest contact
times most raids were relatively close to home. The longer-distance raids
so often highlighted in the literature arose later.
Throughout the historic period slaves continued to perform the same
kinds of tasks that they did earlier. Social change introduced some additional tasks. It has been hypothesized that as the fur trade developed, the
demand for slave labor increased, as slaves were used to acquire, process,
and transport furs.31 This is plausible, but almost nothing is known about
the organization of work associated with fur production and trade. Later
in the historic period, slaves were hired out to paddle canoes and transport
goods for Euroamericans.
One other change regarding slave labor deserves mention. In the earliest contact period, those exploring the coast were sometimes offered the
sexual services of young women. These mariners often thought that the
wives and daughters of important men were being offered them, but these
women appear to have usually been slaves. As the fur trade developed,
prostitution developed alongside the whiskey trade, and other negative
31 Robin Fisher, Contact and Conflict: Indian-European Relations in British Columbia, 17741890
(Vancouver, 1977), p. 19.

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consequences of contact induced change. By the early nineteenth century,


not all women engaged in prostitution were slaves, but female slaves were
probably the mainstay of the business. Aboriginal women and men
exploited their female slaves, and female slaves were important in prostitution at least through the 1860s, when one careful local observer suggested
that female slaves had become more valuable than male slaves because of
their value as prostitutes.
A final comment on slave labor: Even late in the nineteenth century,
many aboriginal people were disdainful of hired labor, because they associated the control and direction of an employees work with the masters
control of the slaves work.
Even in the earliest historic period, in some communities, slaves were
sometimes freed rather than killed on ceremonial occasions. But slaves
continued to be regularly killed at ceremonies until at least 1870, and
attempts, sometimes successful, were occasionally made to kill slaves at
rituals for at least another decade. There is a gradual pattern of increasingly
replacing the killing of slaves during rituals with freeing them. Information
about this comes from communities where Europeans had trading posts
and where, by both influence and force, post residents could sometimes,
but not always, influence the outcome of intended ritual killings. Those
planning to kill slaves during a ceremony sometimes listened to their
European neighbors and desisted, partly at least, because they wanted
approval rather than disapproval, and perhaps also because in some ways
freeing a slave was also destroying property.
But ritual slave killing was an important way for titleholders to demonstrate their power and fitness to hold their titles. The ritual destruction of
human life was a dramatic and significant way of demonstrating wealth
and power, so slave killing was given up with reluctance. Increasing outside interference and the increasing rarity of slaves brought about the end
of ritual slave killing. That it continued so late into the historic period,
well after the American and Canadian authorities began to assert control
over the internal affairs of native communities, suggests both the importance of these customs in aboriginal culture and that resistance to outsider
interference and control was protracted.
Although slavery was legally abolished in 1834 in British territory and
in 1865 in American territory, there is little evidence that the authorities
in either jurisdiction took strong steps to end aboriginal slavery before or
after these dates. Runaway slaves were not returned to their owners, and
the freeing of slaves was encouraged, but there was little active interference
with slavery within native communities. The numbers of slaves was in
decline from the 1860s on, but some slaves were still held in the 1880s and
perhaps a little later. There seems to have been a belief that slavery would

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wither away of its own accord, especially as intercommunity warfare was


suppressed.
The North Pacific Coast outside the Northwest Coast
Northwest of the Alaska panhandle, the coastal strip is occupied by Eskimoand Aleut-speaking peoples. Considered part of the Arctic culture area
because of linguistic and cultural similarities, these peoples also shared
important aspects of their culture with the Northwest Coast, and slavery
was an institution of some importance among them. Aleut slavery looked
much like Northwest Coast slavery, although only some slaves passed their
status on to their children. The Pacific Eskimo also practiced slavery, but
it was less important than on the Northwest Coast or among the Aleut.
Ritual slave killing was probably absent among the Pacific Eskimo.
Athapaskan speakers in the interior of Alaska, the Yukon, and northern
British Columbia took few if any prisoners in intergroup fighting, so
potential slaves were rare. Some of these groups were, as described earlier,
the destination of slaves traded from the coast to the interior in the early
nineteenth century. One interior Athapaskan group, the Tutchone, did
practice slavery and is discussed later.
East of the Northwest Coast, in the western part of the Plateau culture
area, many groups are described as holding small numbers of slaves. The
best information relates to the various Salish-speaking peoples of British
Columbia Salish languages are spoken on the Northwest Coast and
the Plateau. Some interior Salish participated in the coastal slave-trade
networks and held small numbers of captives in servitude. But the adoption of captives often occurred, and only sometimes were captives held
permanently in servitude; the children of these slaves were rarely slaves
themselves. The ransom or return of captives to their home communities
was frequent on the Plateau, but infrequent on the Northwest Coast. Ritual
slave killing occasionally occurred among the Plateau Salish, but nothing
like the widespread practice on the Northwest Coast. Northwest Coast
influences are obvious in the treatment of captives on the Plateau, but the
overall picture of captivity and slavery is more like the rest of indigenous
North America than the Northwest Coast.32
In most of the California culture area, the taking and holding of war
captives was relatively rare, although the sources are not very satisfactory on
this topic. Along the northern California coast, a cluster of peoples shared
some cultural affinities with the Northwest Coast culture area, and a form
32 Leland Donald, Slavery and Captivity: A Comparison of Servitude on the Northwest Coast and
among Interior Salish in Don E. Dumond (ed.), Chin Hills to Chiloquin: Papers Honoring the Versatile
Career of Theodore Stern, University of Oregon Anthropological Papers 52 (1996): 7586.

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of bondage that is often termed slavery existed. The best described of


these peoples, the Yurok, also appear to have had the most developed form
of bondage in the cluster.33
The Yurok had a strong wealth and property orientation, and most disputes within and between communities were settled by the payment of
compensation. Families were responsible for the actions of their members.
If a family owed another family or individual compensation for property
destruction or damage, insult, or homicide, there was a fixed scale of
compensation depending on the injury. Payment was in valuable items
such as dentalium shell money, canoes, or ceremonial regalia. If the family
could not pay its compensation debt, it could turn over to the aggrieved
party a member of the family who became what is usually termed a debt
slave. This persons labor was owed to their owner, with whom they
resided. A person in debt bondage could be transferred to another owner
as part of a similar claim for damages and compensation. The status was
humiliating to the individual and his or her family. A person might be held
in debt bondage for years, perhaps being released if the family eventually
paid a portion of the debt. Some individuals also placed themselves into
debt bondage in order to obtain food if their family were starving or if they
had run up large debts that they could not to pay.
Sometimes an owner acquired a female debt slave as a wife for his male
debt slave. Any children of the couple were the owners. Those held in debt
bondage seem to have accepted their lowly social status and do not appear
to have attempted to escape. Runaways to other Yurok communities would
not find acceptance, because to take them in would incur financial liability
to the owner. Debt bondage was apparently fairly rare in Yurok society.
The best estimate is that less than 1 percent of a typical community were
debt slaves, but this is based on guesswork.
Prisoners taken in intergroup fighting did not become slaves. They were
held by their captors until peace was made between the warring parties and
then returned to their home communities without ransom. Altogether,
northwestern California debt slavery is quite unlike the hereditary slavery
found farther north on the Northwest Coast.
East and north of the Northwest Coast lived groups of Athapaskanspeaking peoples. At the time of first contact with Europeans, these
hunting-gathering populations exemplified the features of egalitarian values and institutions thought to be distinctive of band-level peoples who
forage for their subsistence.
33 Robert F. Heizer, Indian Servitude in California, in Wilcomb E. Washburn (ed.), Handbook
of North American Indians, Volume 4, History of Indian-White Relations (Washington, DC, 1988), pp.
41416; A. L. Kroebers notes on the Yurok in William Elmendorf, The Structure of Twana Culture,
Research Studies, 28, Monographic Supplement, 2 (1960), especially pp. 31819, 321, 3447.

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In this interior region resources available for exploitation by hunting


were scanty and dispersed, and both the noble savage image and anthropological theory about low productivity hunter-gatherers predict egalitarian
social systems. Yet we have good evidence that at least one people in this
region was far from egalitarian. Dominique Legross ethnographic and ethnohistoric research shows that among the Tutchone in southeast Yukon,
social inequality was significant and prominent.34
Legross reconstruction of Tutchone social life begins in the midnineteenth century, when Tutchone society was still free from any significant and direct Euroamerican economic, political, and cultural meddling.35 They had the simplest of subsistence technologies traps and
deadfalls used to take land mammals, and nets and weirs used to capture
their most predictable and abundant resource, salmon. The population
of about eleven hundred people was divided into some seventy localized
resource exploitation groups. Most of these groups were small: a third
contained a single nuclear family, another third probably contained no
more than two such; fewer than a dozen were by Tutchone standards
large, containing ten or so nuclear families.
The Tutchone were organized into exogamous matrilineal moieties.
Within each moiety the taboo on marriage, even on any potential sexual encounter, was strictly enforced, but both marriage and sexual relations
were allowed between members of opposite moieties irrespective of generation or genetic closeness. The preferred form of marriage was with
a bilateral cross-cousin. These technical details of Tutchone kinship and
marriage are emphasized because such forms of marriage are associated
with simple, egalitarian societies.36 Nonetheless, Legros shows that not
only was inequality important among the Tutchone, but that those who
dominated others did so in part by successfully manipulating the culturally
ideal practice of bilateral cross-cousin marriage.
Tutchone society was divided into three ranked strata: the rich, the
poor, and the slaves. Rich families made up about 15 percent of the
whole population. Rich families formed the core of the ten or so largest
resource exploitation groups; they controlled the best resource sites, and
they monopolized trade with the Northwest Coast Tlingit. Poor families
comprised about 75 percent of the population. They were either attached
to a rich leaders group or lived in very small groups in the poorer resource
areas. Slaves made up about 10 percent of the population. All belonged to
rich Tutchone.
34 Dominique Legros, R
eflexions sur lorigine des inegalites social a` partir du cas de Athapaskan
tutchone, Culture, 2 (1982): 6584; idem, Wealth, Poverty, and Slavery among 19th-Century Tutchone
Athapaskans, Research in Economic Anthropology, 7 (1985): 3764.
35 Legros, Wealth, Poverty, and Slavery, p. 38.
36 Claude L
evi Strauss, The Elementary Structures of Kinship (Boston, 1969).

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The rich dominated and exploited both poor and slave. Although there
was a little social mobility, rich status was largely inherited, and the rich
were able to pass their advantages on to their children. As Legros writes,
The Tutchone case demonstrates that socioeconomic inequalities may be present
among hunter-gatherers even in one of the harshest environments in the world.
Tutchone population density was one of the lowest known anywhere, and its spatial
distribution was characteristic of the simplest societies of hunters and gatherers.
Their production techniques, their products, and the goods they exchanged had
nothing exceptional. Yet, they were divided into socioeconomic strata. A few
rich families monopolized the best extraction sites and access to extra-local trade,
and defended their monopoly through the use of naked force. Moreover, these
families used the resources they had appropriated to further exploit poor families,
going so far as to make some poor individuals their slaves in the full sense of the
word.37

the southwest and the plains


The Southwest and Plains are usually treated as two distinct culture areas.
Discussion of these regions will be combined here. These areas are very
different in terms of their prehistory and many important historic-era
cultural features, but in the context of captivity and servitude, a combined
approach to the two regions has advantages, because of the integration of
the Southwest and the southern Plains into a complex system of trading
and raiding that also influenced developments in the central and northern
Plains.38
Throughout both the Southwest and the Plains, captives were taken
in precontact times. Some of these captives were adopted (this includes
taking captive women as wives), and others were probably traded. For the
Southwest, sixteenth-century evidence suggests the adoption of captives,
and that some were eaten in ritual cannibalism. Whether there were also
forms of bondage in precontact times is uncertain. Some scholars argue
that the notion of people as chattels was introduced into the Southwest by the Spanish, but it is equally likely that some captives remained
37

Legros, Wealth, Poverty, and Slavery, p. 62.


In contemporary geographic terms the Southwestern culture area is usually taken to include all
of New Mexico, all but the northwestern corner of Arizona, the California portion of the Colorado
River valley, the western and southernmost parts of Texas, a bit of southeastern Colorado, and adjacent
portions of northern Mexico, although the Mexican portion of this culture area is not considered here.
The Plains culture area is usually taken to coincide with the great plains geographic region. In the west
it includes the eastern slopes of the Rockies continuing down into central Texas and continues east to
about the 100th meridian. The prairies east of the Plains proper are sometimes considered a separate
culture area, but their western regions are often treated as part of the Plains culture area, and this
inclusion is followed here. To the north the Plains region includes the southern parts of the Canadian
provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and southwestern Manitoba. (See Map 9.1.)
38

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unadopted, uneaten, and untraded in the kind of social-limbo, dependant


status encountered before in eastern North America.39
The first important Spanish intrusion into the Southwestern culture
area was the Coronado expedition of 15401, and Spanish activity in the
region intensified from the 1580s onward. This led to the conquest of the
agricultural Pueblo villages along the Rio Grande and elsewhere in New
Mexico and Arizona, and the gradual establishment of Spanish settlements.
Aside from the immediate consequences of conquest for the Pueblo peoples,
important wider events with consequences for the indigenous peoples of
the greater Southwest, the southern Plains, and eventually the entire Plains
region were the introduction of the horse and the growing Spanish demand
for captives.
Indian peoples in the vicinity of Spanish settlements began acquiring
horses soon after the Spanish occupation began. By the 1650s some Apache
were trading captives for horses with the Pueblo Indians.40 Direct ApacheSpanish trade began with the Apache offering bison hides and meat in
exchange for maize and cloth. By the middle of the seventeenth century,
after the Apache had obtained horses, they offered bison hides and meat,
horses, and captives in exchange for maize, cloth, horses, and metal goods.
Trade networks focusing on the Spanish settlements spread rapidly, and by
the mid-seventeenth century the Eastern and Northern Shoshone (based in
southern Idaho and western Wyoming) were also trading with the Spanish
New Mexican settlements. These Shoshone were particularly desirous of
metal goods, horses, and mules, but the trade involved such long distances
that the high bulk of bison hides and meat important to the Apache-Spanish
trade made them unattractive as trade goods for more distant Indians, so
captives were the principal good offered the Spanish in this trade.41
As trading and raiding activity expanded and intensified, various Plains
peoples also became involved with French and English traders from the
east, who also sought to trade for captives. Those who were raided for captives did their own raiding in turn, and captives flowed in many directions
to both indigenous and European customers. The following examples illustrate the complexity of this traffic in people: From the mid-1600s Apachean
speakers on the periphery of the southwestern Plains were taking captives
from the Caddoans to sell in the Southwest.42 In the mid-eighteenth
39 Albert H. Schroeder and Omer C. Stewart, Indian Servitude in the Southwest, in Washburn
(ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 4, History of Indian-White Relations, p. 410 for
sixteenth-century evidence, p. 414 for possible Spanish introduction of idea of captives as chattel.
40 John C. Ewers, The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture (Washington, DC, 1955), p. 3.
41 Frank R. Secoy, Changing Military Patterns on the Great Plains (Seattle, WA, 1953), pp. 24, 38.
42 James H. Gunnerson, Plains Village Tradition: Western Periphery, in Raymond J. DeMalllie
(ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, volume 13, Plains (Washington, DC, 2001), p. 239.

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century these same Apacheans were also raided by Pawnee and Osage, who
traded their captives to the Louisiana French, who were more interested in
human slaves than furs.43 British traders encouraged Muskogeon speakers
from the Mississippi River area to raid Quapaw to obtain captives to trade
to the British.44 And, much farther north, in the 1740s, Cree and Assiboine allies of the French raided the Sioux and supplied many captives to
the French.45 Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, many
Plains people were taken into the European slave systems of eastern North
America, in addition to the Plains and Southwestern people who entered
the Spanish system in the Southwest and Mexico.
The possession of horses transformed many aspects of Plains cultures,
not just their trading and warfare patterns. All these changes were based
on alterations of subsistence practices, because horses enabled the Plains
peoples to exploit the large bison herds much more effectively. Horses
reached the northern and central Plains groups early in the eighteenth
century.46
On the Plains, raiding and trading captives was important throughout
most of the historic period, although in the northern Plains, raiding for
horses may have become more significant than raiding for captives later
in the period.47 Even if this is the case, the adoption of captives, especially women and children, remained important throughout the historic
period as a major mechanism for replacing members of the community
lost through deaths due to warfare or epidemic disease. As with almost
all other indigenous North American peoples, losses due to diseases introduced from outside the continent by Europeans had a devastating effect.
The Piegan, for example, estimated that they lost more than half their
population in the smallpox epidemic of 1781. The idea that adopting
captives was a device for replenishing population numbers is not only
an interpretation of outsiders. In the late 1780s a respected Piegan leader
counselled the men undertaking raids to seek both horses and captives, and
to minimize their own casualties the latter admonition being somewhat
counter to the Plains warriors ethic of bravery and disregard for personal
safety. In this instance captives for adoption were eagerly sought even
when the Piegan were planning to raid their bitterest enemies, the Northern and Eastern Shoshoneans, whom they called Snakes, suggesting their
43 William R. Swagerty, History of the United States Plains until 1850, in DeMalllie (ed.),
Handbook of North American Indians, volume 13, Plains, p. 264.
44 Gloria A. Young and Michael P. Hoffman, Quapaw, in ibid., p. 499.
45 Jennifer S. H. Brown, History of the Canadian Plains until 1870, in ibid., p. 303.
46 Ewers, The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, pp. 47.
47 Ewers, The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, p. 315.

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confidence in being able to incorporate even these despised enemies into


their community.48
Both male and female children were sought as captives, but for adults,
only women were desirable captives adult men were potentially dangerous
if allowed to live within the captors community. But the status of women
and the Plains gender division of labor were also important. As Ewers
notes for the pre-horse and early horse Blackfoot, female captives provided
needed assistance in the communal hunt, performed laborious household
chores, and carried burdens when the camp was moved. Ewers suggests
that the horse made the life of women easier, as horses took over much of the
burden of carrying. Nevertheless, female labor remained very important
in Plains households. Ewers also argues that social differentiation and
economic inequality increased within Blackfoot society as the size of horse
herds grew.49 As some men grew richer, polygyny may have increased as
the number of horses grew. Subsidiary wives seem to have been particularly
disadvantaged if the Piegan situation is at all typical. Young Piegan women
often reacted to the prospect of becoming a junior wife of a man by running
away with a younger man.50 Captive women were in no position to resist
such marriages. This suggests that many captive women who married their
captor or one of his relatives were still in a markedly dependant status.
It is also the case, however, that in most Plains societies the situation of
women, free or captive, was very disadvantaged compared with men.
Women are sometimes described in the ethnographic literature as the
chattels of their fathers, brothers, and then their husbands. Among the
Comanche, for example, chattel-property included horses, women, dogs,
and unadopted captives.51 For female captives the transition from captive
to wife (or wife to captive?) did not necessarily entail a significant change
in status as a dependant.
Captives who were adopted usually became full members of their captors
group. Even women captives who became wives were in a similar position
to many wives born into the community. Among the Kiowa there were four
ranks of people the two highest being labeled as rich, the two lowest
as poor. Captives were typically adopted by a family of the two highest
ranks but were regarded as being of the third rank, although meritorious
behavior enabled them to move up to the second rank. Many of the Kiowa
48 The Piegan were one of the peoples in the Blackfoot alliance. The speech referred to is given in
detail in David Thompson, David Thompsons Narrative, 17841812, Richard Glover (ed.) (Toronto,
1962), pp. 2478.
49 Ewers, The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture, pp. 310, 31516.
50 Such subsidiary wives were seen principally as labor to be directed by senior wives. Thompson,
David Thompsons Narrative, 17841812, p. 257.
51 Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains (Norman,
1952), p. 41.

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captives were Mexicans taken in raids south of the Rio Grande.52 For the
Teton and many of their fellow Sioux, captives were adopted by families
and considered to be tribal members once they had learned to speak their
adopters language, and male captives were often adopted to take the place
of sons killed in battle, being integrated into the entire kin network once
adopted.53 The Comanche, at least, had a formal ceremony for adopting
adult male captives in whom they had confidence. This involved oathtaking and formal affiliation with a Comanche family. Such men were
regarded as fully Comanche, and some became respected warriors.54
To focus on the Southwest again, one major difference between the
Southwest and the Plains was that even by the early eighteenth century,
Spanish control over the Southwest, especially in its New Mexican core,
was much greater than what the French, British, or Americans achieved
on the Plains prior to the nineteenth century. Spanish influence on the
settled agricultural villages was strong, even if not complete, and Spanish
influence over the fate of captives was significant. The Spanish were eager
to trade for Indian captives, and many remained in the Southwest, held
in various forms of servitude. Aside from captives held within Spanish
households, often technically as indentured servants rather than slaves,
there arose a new social or ethnic identity, the genzaros usually nonPueblo Indians, who were ransomed captives or mixed-bloods living in
Spanish fashion in their own communities. Indians held in servitude by
the Spanish and the genzaros fall outside the scope of this chapter, but they
were important in the continuing relationships between the Spanish and
the various indigenous peoples who were not under Spanish control, but
who both traded with and raided the Spanish settlements and those that
they controlled.55
Spanish treatment of captives strongly influenced the treatment of captives by nearby indigenous people who were not under their direct control. This is illustrated by the Navajo, speakers of one of the Apachean
Athapaskan languages. Like the other Apachean-speaking groups who
entered the Southwest sometime between 1200 and 1500 CE, they came to
the region as hunters and gathers, but, while retaining their Athapaskan
distinctiveness, adopted agriculture and some other Pueblo customs. After
the Spanish arrived they also quickly took up horses and the herding of
52 Jerrold E. Levy, Kiowa, in DeMalllie (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, volume 13,
Plains (Washington, DC, 2001), p. 912.
53 Raymond J. Demallie, Teton, in ibid., Plains (Washington, DC, 2001), p. 806; Raymond J.
DeMallie, Sioux until 1850, in ibid., p. 727.
54 Wallace and Hoebel, The Comanches, p. 242.
55 For an excellent account of the genzaros, Spanish treatment of people of indigenous origin that
they held in various forms of servitude, and Spanish/Indian relations in the Southwest, see James F.
Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands (Chapel
Hill, NC, 2002).

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sheep and goats, developing the same mixture of trading and raiding relationships with the Spanish that they had with the Pueblo peoples.
The Navajo practiced slavery in postcontact times. Earlier, captives were
taken in war, and at least some of these captives were adopted, but the fate
of unadopted captives is uncertain. Historic Navajo slavery and SpanishAmerican slavery in the Southwest had many similarities, suggesting that
Navajo slavery was modeled on the Spanish-American variety. Linguistic
evidence also suggests that Navajo slavery had shallow historical roots
and was poorly integrated into Navajo culture. The principal differences
were that Navajo owners could, in theory, kill their slaves, that former
slaves sometimes acquired social prominence, that slaves were narrowly
rather than widely distributed through the society, and that slaves could be
inherited.56
In historic times Navajo acquired slaves through both war and purchase, rarely trading slaves to outsiders. The eventual assimilation of slaves
into Navajo communities as free Navajo can be seem from the ample
evidence of captives and slaves obtaining membership in a matrilineal
clan, and in the fact that several clans are acknowledged to be of captive
origin.57
In the Southwest and the Plains, captive taking and captive holding
remained significant until well after the American Civil War. Many captives became adoptive kin, others are best described as unfree labor. By the
middle of the nineteenth century, the external demand for Indian slaves
was gone. But population losses due to warfare and disease continued, and
some new labor demands developed women were critical labor in producing robes, and external demand outstripped most Indian communities
productive capacity. One solution to obtaining and controlling the needed
additional labor was an increase in multiple marriages. This maintained
or increased the demand for female captives as additional wives and thus
intensified warfare.58
In conclusion, in indigenous North America in most domains of culture
and society, within a pattern of broad regional similarities, there was a
considerable range of variation. This was true of the fate of captives taken
in intergroup conflicts who were the source of most of those in statuses
of servitude within Native American societies. In many of these societies,
captives were most often adopted into kin groups, and they and especially
their children eventually became ordinary members of the community. But
56 David M. Brugge, Navajos in the Catholic Church Records of New Mexico, 16941875 (Tsaile, NM,
1985), pp. 12744 is the fullest treatment of Navajo slavery known to me. See also Brooks, Captives and
Cousins, pp. 24150.
57 David F. Aberle, Navaho, in David M. Schneider and Kathleen Gough (eds.), Matrilineal
Kinship (Berkeley, CA, 1961), pp. 11011.
58 William R. Swagerty, History of the United States Plains until 1850, pp. 2778.

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not all captives were adopted, and in many communities a few remained
in poorly described and understood social-limbo statuses of servitude. In
one region of indigenous North America, the Northwest Coast, captives
were rarely adopted but usually became slaves in the full sense of the word.
This was also true in a few other societies in the north Pacific coast region.
Northwest Coast societies were typical small-scale nonstates in most ways
and had a fishing, hunting, and gathering subsistence base, but they also
had hereditary ranked strata much like classes, and full-blown slavery. From
a world perspective, these societies and a few of their neighbors, such as
the Tutchone, show that under appropriate conditions even very smallscale societies can develop statuses of bondage and exploit those held in
servitude as fully as in the much larger-scale and better-known societies
that have practiced slavery.
further reading
James F. Brooks, Captives and Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the
Southwest Borderlands (Chapel Hill, NC, 2002).
Leland Donald, Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America (Berkeley, CA, 1997).
John C. Ewers, The Horse in Blackfoot Indian Culture (Washington, DC, 1955).
John R. Jewitt, Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt while
Held as a Captive of the Nootka Indians of Vancouver Island, Robert F. Heizer,
ed., Ballena Press Publications in Archaeology, Ethnology and History, No. 5
(orig. 1815).
Joseph-Francois Lafitau, Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times, William N. Fenton and E. L. Moore, eds. (Toronto,
ON, 197477). Two volumes.
Dominique Legros, Wealth, Poverty, and Slavery among 19th-Century Tutchone
Athapaskans, Research in Economic Anthropology, 7 (1985): 3764.
Theda Perdue, Slavery and the Evolution of Cherokee Society 15401866 (Knoxville,
TN, 1979).
Daniel K. Richter, The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League
in the Era of European Colonization (Chapel Hill, NC, 1992).
Brett Rushforth, A Little Flesh We Offer You: The Origins of Indian Slavery in
New France, William and Mary Quarterly, 60 (2003): 777808.
Bruce Trigger, The Children of Aataentsic: A History of the Huron People to 1660,
(Montreal, 1976).
Alden T. Vaughan and Daniel K. Richter, Crossing the Cultural Divide: Indians
and New Englanders, 16051763, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian
Society, 90 (1980): 2399.
Richard White, The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great
Lakes Region, 16501815 (Cambridge, 1991).

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CHAPTER 10

INDIGENOUS SLAVERY IN SOUTH AMERICA,


14921820
neil l. whitehead

introduction
This chapter examines the forms of servitude and slaving practiced by
indigenous peoples in South America. The principal focus of the chapter
is the contrast between indigenous conceptions of captivity and obligatory
service on the one hand, and the intrusion of European forms of slavery
and servitude on the other. The evidence from the archaeological record,
as well as from the history of European conquest in South America, points
to indigenous systems of captivity and obligatory service as being quite
prominent in many native social orders. The eminence of chiefs and kings,
the ritual and political necessity for human sacrifice, and the obligatory
nature of exchange relationships were reinforced by and used to justify
the presence of human captives. Culturally, the figure of the captive, or
sometimes pet, was, and still is, important not just at the level of political representation, but also cosmologically, because the key relationship
between humanity and divinity is one of predation for many native peoples. Animal pets are socially liminal and arise from the killing of the pets
kin, usually in a hunting expedition. This killing implies an obligation to
take on the roles of the deads kin in feeding and housing the pet, and it is
this set of relationships that are also used to picture the status of the human
captive.1 Likewise, indigenous forms of warfare and marriage, which are
usually seen in native thought as analogous mechanisms for the exchange
and flow of persons between groups, heavily foreground the obligatory
1 The ritual position of captives, whether animal or human, was often socially analogous in native
society. Like pets, captives could be well treated and incorporated into the domestic structures and
activities of the household. In turn dreaming is a mode of relationship with those who are not kin, and
everything that appears in dream is designated enemy. In this way dreams establish the possibility of
communication among persons, animals, and spirits. But the nature of the relationship between the
dreamer and the dreamed is that of master and pet. The dream enemy is said to be a pet of the dreamer
or his magic-prey. In this state of subjection, the dreamed becomes ally, not enemy, and such dream
pets are also similar to shamans familiar spirits in other Amazonian groups. See Carlos Fausto, Of
Enemies and Pets: Warfare and Shamanism in Amazonia, American Ethnologist, 26 (2000): 93356;
Anne Christine Taylor, Wives, Pets and Affines: Marriage among the Jivaro, in Laura Rival and Neil
L. Whitehead (eds.), Beyond the Visible and the Material (Oxford, 2001), pp. 4556; Loretta Cormier,
Kinship with Monkeys: the Guaja Foresters of Eastern Amazonia (New York, 2003).

248
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and servile status of wife-takers over wife-givers. To make the prestation


of a woman in marriage created a debt on the part of those receiving the
wife such that this, a fundamental social fact, became an idiom through
which many forms of imperial tribute systems and their associated labor
regimes were understood. Thus there is an important contrast between
the emergent systems of servitude as they were practiced by the strongly
hierarchical state societies such as the Incan state, and those seen among
the chieftaincies and ethnic confederations, to which they were nonetheless related. However, these forms of tributary servitude are in turn to be
contrasted with the commodified market-orientated systems of colonial
labor that the Europeans developed in the Americas. In the latter case, the
obligations of servile labor were transferable through a monetary exchange,
rather than being defined by ideas of kinship or ritual and political obligation. Among chieftaincies and ethnic confederations, war captives might
be integrated into daily life in a number of ways that reflected ideas about
warfare and social exchange between groups more generally, including ritual obligations to rulers or theocratic elites that might involve obligatory
periods of labor, not unlike the systems of feudal serfdom that occurred in
Europe. The key point is that in neither case was the labor of the captive
or commoner alienable for monetary gain, that labor remained invested
in the social person, because the servility of labor was enforced by kinship
or ritual obligation, not the institution of law. Indeed, the Spanish system
of encomienda which granted title to a period of labor, or tribute of its
product, by fixed units of the native population reflected an adaptation
to, and compromise with, existing indigenous social systems, especially in
the Andean and northwestern regions of South America. Notable attempts
to make grants of encomiendas in regions where this kind of hierarchical
social system was not present almost always failed because they did not
match existing social realities. In these contexts a commodification of various kinds of war captives became the standard way in which native slaves
were produced for the colonial invaders, and over time the range of raiding
and its focus on the capture of persons expanded to meet the ever-widening
colonial demands for native labor.
Thus consideration of the advent of European institutions of slavery
in South America both allows a clearer appreciation of indigenous forms
of obligatory service and also recasts the meaning of European slavery
in a comparative framework. The commodification of captives, the profitable labor regimes that controlled them, and the existence of specific
types of commodity market and economic production mark off European slavery of Africans and Native Americans from the kinds of social
and cultural practices already present in South America in 1492. Therefore, this chapter discusses forms of captivity and obligatory service in
both the imperial contexts of the Andes and the chiefdoms and ethnic

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formations of Amazonia and the Caribbean. This highlights the importance of the cultural disjuncture in European and native South American
ideas of servitude and the ownership of persons. This is sadly illustrated in
the many observations from the colonial literature, especially during the
sixteenth century, of the summary enslavement of persons sent voluntarily
as guests and ambassadors aboard European ships. For example, a trading
ship leaving the coast of Brazil in 1515 was described thus: Below decks
the ship is loaded with brazilwood and on deck it is full of young men
and women . . . They cost the Portuguese little, for most are given freely;
the people here think that their children are going to a promised land.2
Such treacherous actions quickly led to hostile attitudes being adopted by
the native population. For native groups, the gift of a person was made
in order that a kin relationship might emerge with the strangers, so that
they could gather intelligence on the ways of the paranghiri (spirits from
the sea), and also encourage the return of this new and powerful potential
affine and trade partner, as did indeed sometimes occur.3
For these reasons particular emphasis needs to be given to the conceptual and ideological continuities among South American cosmologies in
thinking about persons, bodies, and domestic animals, as well as their corresponding cultural and social usage by shamans, chiefs, and warriors. At the
same time, the way in which such ideas of human bondage and obligation
were affected and supplanted by European practices allows a better exposition of the forms of native servitude. Native groups also were co-opted
into both the hunting down of runaway black slaves from the European
commodity plantations, and the provision of domestic servants for the
households of slave owners. Thus, some institutions of colonial labor control, such as the encomienda, entailed obligatory household service, which
relied upon and often directly adopted the existing forms of native labor
units, or kin groupings. Moreover, this was consciously part of a colonial
strategy of limiting the labor demands on native peoples so as to better
sustain political control over them. Generally, the native population was
highly alert to the difference between domestic service and the regimes of
enslavement in the manner of the plantation labor enforced on black slaves.
Among the many groups that were involved in the enslaving of native
people for the Europeans and in the control of the black slave population of
the plantations, the Caribs of northeastern South America are particularly
prominent and will be considered in some detail as a way of depicting the
2

Quoted in Hemming, Red Gold, 11.


Walter Ralegh left Hugh Goodwin and Francis Sparrey, both teenage boys, in the custody of
Topiawari, an important chieftain of the lower Orinoco, and himself took back to England the
chieftains only son, Cayoworaco, and two other natives who spent many years imprisoned in the
Tower of London alongside Ralegh (Neil Whitehead, The Discoverie of the large, rich, and Beautiful
Empyre of Guiana, by Sir Walter Ralegh (Norman, OK, 1997), p. 30).
3

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changing nature of slavery and slaving in indigenous society. This also will
allow a fruitful contrast with the changing contexts of obligatory service
in the Incan world. The Caribs were certainly not the only example of
active involvement in colonial labor regimes, and certainly consideration
of the development of the Brazilian plantation economy would be no
less relevant. The important link between these cases is the presence of a
plantation economy with a burgeoning and largely unsatisfied demand for
slaves. The Caribs, as well as their Brazilian counterparts, such as the Tupi
or the Manoa, rose to dominance as a result of their engagement with the
colonial regime; the nature of their slaving cannot be understood without
reference to those changing conditions, particularly apparent in the way in
which native labor was only minimally used on Caribbean plantations but
was used extensively in Brazil after 1600.
predation, warfare, and marriage
Before it is possible to appreciate the nature of slaving and servitude as it
developed among the indigenous peoples of South America in the period
14921820, it is necessary to examine notions of predation, warfare, and
marriage, because they were closely entwined and were the basis on which
colonial regimes co-opted native groups into the commodification of captives and affines as slaves. For example, among the Tupi peoples of Brazil,
the status of the kawewi pepicke, captives destined for sacrifice through cannibalistic ceremony, was often assimilated to that of a pet, in that they
were members of a household, albeit with tenuous ties of kinship or sentiment. Nonetheless, Tupi war captives were often married off to their captors
and could live for some time, perhaps even years, before they were eventually sacrificed or, as happened on occasion, escaped with their enemy
wife. It is also important to note that Tupi warfare itself was predicated
on the live capture of the enemy warrior as much as his death, whether in
combat or sacrifice subsequent to capture.
The Portuguese exploited this situation by insisting on the rescue of
such potential cannibal victims. The subsequent enslavement of those rescued within the ingenios (factories) of the sugar industry was held preferable
to their anthropophagic demise, a view often vigorously contested by such
rescued victims themselves. In time such rescues would occur for whole
villages, as the fiction of Christian redemption from savage pagan ritual
masked a useful means for commodifying war captives.4 The children of
4 This is still a missionary tactic. Catholic and Adventist missionaries in Peru in the first half of
the twentieth century became involved in the trading of Arawak children accused of sorcery as a
way of rescuing them from possible execution or enslavement; see Fernando Santos-Granero, The
Enemy Within: Child Sorcery, Revolution and the Evils of Modernization in Eastern Peru, in Neil L.
Whitehead and Robin Wright (eds.), In Darkness and Secrecy, The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and
Witchcraft in Amazonia (Durham, NC, 2004), pp. 272305.

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such captives, who might be held alive for an extended period, were not
considered servile in any way and might rise to eminence within Tupian
social systems. It is therefore evident that the ritual production of such captives was not linked to any need for labor as such, but rather to the conduct
of warfare, which was seen as a generalized medium of exchange between
social units, fueled by the cosmological promise of divine accession through
the exercise of military and cannibalistic sacrifice. To consider such war captives as slaves, despite the extreme physical restrictions placed on them,
does not adequately describe the complex social situation of such individuals. Moreover, it also recapitulates the colonial propaganda that sought
to justify its own regimes of captivity and forced labor, partly by claiming that such slavery already functionally existed among native groups.
Rather, warfare ritually produced raw women who had to be socialized, or
cooked, through marriage, and cooked men, who fed the body politic
in emulation of the divine forms of predation that the forms of political
authority symbolically invoked and imitated. In this way military aggression was made politically acceptable through the symbolic links between
sacrificial cannibalism, warfare, and cosmology; it became thereby a key
cultural site for the expression of violent masculinity, itself justified and
enjoined by the predatory nature of the cosmos. This predator cosmos was
envisioned as a situation in which divine beings fed off humanity, which
necessitated humans if they were to achieve divinity to emulate these
predatory gods in combat and anthropophagic ritual. In this context the
practice of marriage was itself linked to the practice of warfare because ones
enemies were also potential affines, a kin relationship with the potential for
social intimacy as well as social distance. As a result warfare was typically
conducted against those communities with whom one might also intermarry. Conflicts thus united groups into regional systems of exchange in
which war captives, potential brides, and affines all participated. Conceived of in this manner, the differences between raiding, trading, and
marriage appear more as ones of the intensity and the form of reciprocity,
rather than as fundamentally distinct realms of social and cultural life. The
negative reciprocity of raiding was thus on a continuum with the more
balanced reciprocity of trade and the highly positive reciprocity of marriage. The key point to understand is that all facets of such relationships
were part of the reciprocal relations between groups and were understood
as such.
In the context of Carib society, the social category designated by the
kin term poito summates this relational continuum, because it could mean
son-in-law, client or trade partner, servant, or eventually slave.
However, even when this most negative meaning of the term was applied,
it was persistently confusing to the Europeans and thus often the source
of dispute, because the selling of a captive to a European did not imply

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that commodified relationship that was the basis of the colonial political
economy of slavery. Rather, it was more like a temporary grant or gift,
given in expectation of a reciprocal gift at some future point in time, and
so unlike European notions of juridical contract, with such a transaction
being seen as a one-time payment that terminated any social obligation
between buyer and seller.5 Thus, when a few years had passed, the native
vendor might well consider it time to retrieve the slave and reaffirm what
it was never even possible for him to sell or transfer the social relatedness of the captive to him and to the wider society from which they both
came.
In this light it can be seen that under European influence, trading relationships moved more often into the sphere of negative reciprocity, as
European trade goods offered high profit margins in exchanges for native
goods and even for natives themselves. As a result, by the eighteenth century
the term poito had passed into colonial documents of this region as the word
for a native slave, rather than the term indio esclavo, which had preceded
it. The capture of women for marriage certainly was a precolonial practice,
but for the reasons given, cannot be assimilated to European notions of
slavery.
poitos and macos from exchange to slavery
The slaving of native groups by native groups thus can be understood as an
extension of trading activities, for only by trade and intermarriage could
those populations from which the slaves were taken be defined as poitos.
Thus the Caribs would have stood in an affinal relation to the people they
raided by virtue of the fact that they married the women and sold the men
related to these women, their potential brothers-in-law. Furthermore, the
slave status of the poito would have been more pronounced under European influence, both on account of the possibility for profit involved in a
commodified slave trade, and because of the trading advantages that Caribs
had developed through their European alliances. Nonetheless, evidence as
to the existence of a limited form of pre-Colombian obligatory service
among native peoples consists of the continual reference of the historical
record to a class of persons, variously referred to as macos or poitos, the
former term being of Arawak origin, the latter of Carib.
It should be said at the outset that the nature of such obligatory service bears little relation to the forms of exploitation and subjugation that
African peoples suffered at the hands of the European slavers. The term
poito, which appears in various orthographic forms, is found among many
5

In North America this misapprehension gave rise to the term Indian giver.

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different Carib-speaking peoples. It has variously been translated as slave,


client, brother-in-law, son-in-law, and sisters son, and this range
of meanings covers a continuum from the potential equal (brother-in-law)
to the totally inferior (slave). The suggestion here is that only under European influence might the situation of the Carib poito or Arawak maco
have come to approximate that of the plantation black. In pre-Columbian
times, only where the affinal relation was customarily one of domination
and submissiveness would the term poito take on potential connotations of
servant or slave. Among Arawak speakers the term maco seems to have
had a similar meaning. In both contexts the labor such macos or poitos
would have performed was likely the kind of obligatory assistance given
by kin in collective labor in agriculture or house-building, as well as daily
labor in hunting, fishing, or tending agricultural fields. Various authorities
mention the existence of a group known as Macos living all over the
Upper Orinoco and Vaupes area. The implication here is taken to be that
macos, of whatever linguistic affiliation, are the remnants of hunting and
gathering groups destroyed or assimilated by more powerful, agriculturally
based societies such as the Arawaks and Caribs. This process is hypothesized as taking place via the killing of adults and the kidnap of children who
became assimilated as macos or poitos. Thus, just as poito may express an
ambiguous status between captive and son-in-law, so, among Arawak
speakers, the term maco is used in the same way. The missionaries Jose
Gumilla and Jacinto de Carvajal6 say the name poito was reserved for those
groups continually attacked by the Caribs. Felipe Gilij says the word maco
was the equivalent of poito in the Casanare and Meta region. It therefore
seems relatively clear that macos and poitos formed unique, open-ended
social categories in Carib and Arawak society. It is far more difficult to tell
how important or prevalent they were on the eve of European discovery.
Julian Steward argued that both Arawak and Carib societies were not sufficiently advanced to allow the formation of a slave class, whereas Irving
Rouse and Miguel Acosta-Saignes maintain that among the Caribs of the
Antilles, captured women did represent such a class, as with the Caribs and
Arawaks of the mainland, but that the scope of slavery was curtailed because
of limited productive capacity, and that this limitation manifested itself in
the fact that the children of slaves were free.7 Whether or not Rouse
is correct in assigning a limited economic capacity as the reason for the
6 Felipe Gilij, Ensayo de Historia Americana (Caracas, 1965 [first published, 1781]); Jos
e Gumilla, El
Orinoco Illustrado Y Defendido (Madrid, 1745).
7 Miguel Acosta-Saignes, Estudios de etnologa antigua de Venezuela (Caracas, 1961); Irving Rouse,
The Island Carib, in Julian Steward (ed.), Handbook of South American Indians, IV (Washington,
DC, 1948), pp. 50765; Julian Steward, The Native Population of South America, in idem (ed.),
Handbook of South American Indians, V (Washington, DC, 1949), pp. 65588.

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underdevelopment of slavery among the Caribs and Arawaks, it does


seem to have been the case that, once accepted, captives were well treated.
Felipe Gilij says that, among the Caribs, young captives learned to speak the
language and became totally assimilated, being very well treated, whereas
among the Arawaks, macos were similarly well treated, being distinguishable
only by a particular hair style.8
Nonetheless, it is difficult to be certain about the status of macos and
poitos because the European presence drastically changed the situation by
introducing the specter of profits into slaving raids. Even the earliest chroniclers may have been witnessing an institution already somewhat changed
from the pre-Columbian form. Moreover, there was a difference between
the way in which relationships between groups may have exhibited certain
kinds of hierarchy, which emerged from distinct economic orientations
and systems of exchange, as well the status of individual war-captives,
potentially marriageable, but thereby also fit for sacrifice as a classificatory
brother-in-law or domestic service in the kinship idiom of a son-in-law.
Little more can be said about the aboriginal situation, but examination
of the history of European involvement is less problematic and tends to
confirm the notion that what once might have been a limited practice
became, for the Caribs, an activity from which alone that nation derives
its livelihood.9
the european transformation
Within two decades of the arrival of the Europeans in South America,
the enslavement of natives had become an established, lucrative business in
which all nations were involved. The most important buyers, initially, were
undoubtedly the Spanish, who used native labor in the pearl fisheries of
Cubagua and Margarita and the mines and plantations of the Antilles. For
example, Las Casas informs us that on the Shore of Pearls, the Spaniards
committed most wonderful depopulations: for they gave themselves wholly
to their wonted Robberies, enslaving also infinite numbers of men, on
purpose to sell them for money, against all the faith and pledges which
they had given them for their security.10 Yet there seems little doubt
that the European slavers were aided in their efforts by both Caribs and
Arawaks of the coastal region. For example, Walter Raleigh informs us that
8 Gonzalo Fernandez de Oviedo y Valdes, Historia general y natural de las Indias, II (Madrid, 1959),
p. 267.
9 Commander of Essequibo to West India Company, 1746, BGB BC, II, 46.
10 Bartolom
e de Las Casas, The Tears of the Indians: Being an Historical and True Account of the
Cruel Massacres and Slaughters of Above Twenty Millions of Innocent People, Committed by the Spaniards
in the Islands of Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, &c (London, 1656), p. 44.

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the Spanish bought slaves from Carib and Arawak groups living on the
Barima, Pomeroon, and Essequibo Rivers:
Among manie other trades those Spaniards used in Canoas to passe to the rivers of
Barema, Pawroma, and Dissequebe, which are on the south side of the mouth of
Orenoque, and there buie women and children from the Canibals, which are of that
barbarous nature, as they will for 3. or 4. hatchets sell the sonnes and daughters of
their owne brethren and sisters, and for somewhat more even their own daughters:
heerof the Spaniards make great profit, for buying a maid of 12. or 13. yeeres for
three or fower hatchets, they sell them againe at Marguerita in the west Indies for
50. and 100. pesoes, which is so many crownes.

Raleigh also says that there was an important slave market on the Orinoco,
between the Cari and Limon Rivers, where there was Carib settlement.
Apparently Arawak middlemen bought slaves from the Caribs here and
exported them to the West Indies.11 It is not surprising then to learn that
the main cause of population decline in Trinidad in the sixteenth century
was Spanish slaving through direct capture, associated deaths, and the
flight of remaining populations. Hypocritically, the Spanish claimed that
it has been the fault of the Caribs that the Island has been depopulated,
having had many more inhabitants than at present. However, as the other
European nations created stable enclaves in the area, they too became
buyers in the slave trade. For example, it was reported to the Council of
the Indies in 1614 that English and Caribs had been stealing friendly
Indians on the Orinoco to work the Jamaican plantations, whereas in
1686 the governor of Cumana reported that the Caribs of the Guarapiche
River
sell to the French, like merchandise, the Indians they capture for having tasted
this devilish profit, the very Indians of the Missions will no longer be safe from
them, nor will anyone else in the country. And in order to fulfil their ambition
and that of the French, they will make joint incursions with the latter . . . as they
have done in other parts, and as the Dutch have also done with some settlements
on the River Orinoco in the region of the mainland.

Initial Spanish slaving was undoubtedly disastrous for the native population of the Caribbean coast and Trinidad; it was stopped on the orders
of the crown in 1652. In terms of Spanish imperial policy, this cessation
of the armed conquest and initiation of reduccon (evangelization by the
missionaries) represents the attempt of the crown to bring its colonists
firmly under political control. Therefore, as a strategic resource in the battle for colonial territorial possession, the native population was not to be
wasted at the whim of the colonists. The native population was considered
11

Whitehead, Discoverie, 179.

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unsuitable for plantation labor because of their supposed indiscipline, tendency to take off into the forests without warning, and alleged incapacity
for sustained effort. Furthermore, the fact that importation of blacks from
Africa had become economically viable meant that native enslavement was
seen as superfluous. However, where the conditions were right, commodified native slaves emerged, even being used by the native population. For
example, the Arawaks of the lower Orinoco used slaves in their production of tobacco for trade to the Spanish. Notably, these slaves were blacks
imported from Africa and given or sold to the Arawaks by their Spanish
trading partners. As this implies, the emergence of commodified slaves was
thus linked to a particular kind of labor requirement plantation work
producing commodities for a distant market. Such forms of economic
production were apparently not developed in the pre-Columbian world,
whose indigenous economic systems were largely directed to the production of use-value rather than profit-value, production being largely geared
to the needs of the domestic household, not market trade.12
Nonetheless, both the high cost of imported slaves during the eighteenth
century, as well as the later suppression of the regimes of black enslavement
in the nineteenth century, meant that the slaving of the native population was still an economically attractive activity among newly contacted
peoples from the pampas (grasslands) of Argentina and Paraguay to the
Amazon frontier in Brazil. Accordingly, the descimiento (descent) of wild
Indians from the headwaters of the Amazon tributaries by the euphemistically dubbed tropas de rescate (rescue militias), complete with enthusiastic
ecclesiastical participation, was a constant feature of Brazilian and Portuguese relationships with the native population. Slaving by native groups
in the Brazilian Amazon also increased accordingly, and the emergence of
notorious slaving groups from among the Manoa or Carib were part of this
market.
After 1652 in the Spanish colonies, the missionaries assumed exclusive
responsibility for continuing the pacification of the natives. But, following the lead of the conquistadors, who had used the charge of cannibalism
to license their slave-taking, the missionaries found that their promises to
suppress the trade in Amerindian slaves, orchestrated by the Dutch and
Brazilians in the northeastern region, gave them a considerable appeal,
because these groups want to know whether the Spaniards can defend
them against the slave dealers. This was highly ironic, as it was the Spanish who had initiated such a slave trade in the New World in the first
place. Nonetheless, the missionaries of the eighteenth century were correct
in identifying the Caribs and Dutch as principal protagonists of a native
12 Linda A. Newson, Aboriginal and Spanish Colonial Trinidad: A Study in Culture Conflict (London,
1976). First quote from AGI C 971, 21/1/1612; BGB BC, I, 35; second quote from BGB BC, I, 193.

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slave trade, and the changes that Carib society had undergone through
the pressures of colonial contact since the sixteenth century had by now
produced a clear contrast with earlier times, as even the missionaries themselves acknowledged: this trade in Poytos has so completely altered the
Caribs that their only occupation is constantly going to and returning from
war, selling and killing the Indians. It is evident that the growth of the
slave trade between the Dutch and the Caribs only reached its peak in the
1700s, as the trade in forest products declined following the switch to a
plantation-based economy in the Dutch colonies. This change, in itself,
resulted in a larger market for native slaves, as did the successful colonization of the Antilles by the English and French, where the possession of
native domestic slaves became quite the fashion. Coupled with these factors, the Carib leaders, whose followers expected some kind of return for
their allegiance, found that profits were relatively easily gained as a result
of this trade, as the testimony of successive commanders at Essequibo
demonstrates.13 Why, then, did the other European powers persist in promoting a slave trade in native persons when the Spanish acted to suppress
it in northeastern South America? As may be seen from the extracts of the
letter from the governor of Cumana to the king of Spain, quoted earlier, an
important element in intercolonial rivalry was access to, and control of, the
native population. For the Spanish this was to be achieved by destroying
the basis for autonomous native existence outside of the colonial state, that
is, through the reduccon of native groups to the mission regime. For other
European powers, particularly the Dutch, another method of control was
necessary because they lacked the manpower and religious infrastructure
of the Spanish. To this end the Dutch sought to establish alliances through
trade, including that in native slaves. By establishing economic links with
various native groups, they aimed to counter the Spanish claims to political
authority over the population of the New World. In the struggle for the
control of Guayana, the Caribs were a particularly crucial group in this
regard because of their widespread trading links throughout the Orinoco
region. Indeed, at least until the 1750s after which time the effects of the
survey work of the Real Expedition des Limtes, sent by the Spanish crown
to survey territorial borders and inventory populations, and which seems
to have discouraged Carib slaving in the interior it was reported from
the Capuchin missions of the Orinoco that
the Dutch are buying Poytos in Cuyuni, for they do not hesitate to carry on
that illicit traffic nearer the Missions and, as you well know, Captain Bonalde
encountered a Dutchman about a days journey from the mission of Miamo,
buying poytos, or Indians, which the Caribs were selling him; and although he did
not actually find him in the house of the Caribs, nevertheless, three . . . Indians,
13

BGB BC, II, 148, 149 letter of Fr. Garriga; Whitehead, Lords of the Tiger Spirit, pp. 15171.

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or Poytos, some cutlasses and some glass beads were found in his hut and were
distributed among the Indians of Miamo. Apart from this we well know how
frequently the Dutch go to the Paragua, Caura and headwaters of the Caroni, so
that they maintain their position there every year.14

Clearly then, it was the political implications of Carib slaving, rather than
its moral aspects, that were the basis for Spanish opposition to its practice
during the eighteenth century. Although, as has been mentioned, both the
French and English dabbled in native slavery until the end of the colonial
era, the involvement of the Dutch was of more importance because of the
proximity of Essequibo to Spanish territories and the extensive links that
they had with the Caribs of the Orinoco.
dutch and carib slaving
Although the Dutch colonies of Essequibo, Demerara, and Suriname
largely owed their existence to the African slave trade, the scope of native
slavery was always severely opposed by the authorities within their territories. Thus it was always Dutch policy to encourage the slave-taking of
natives among those tribes living outside the colony, so as to avoid disruption of trade at the West India Companys trading posts and instability in
their political relations with the local population.
This policy was enshrined in law, first by treaties made in the 1650s
declaring tribes living within the colony to be inalienably free, and later by a
series of ordinances aimed at controlling arbitrary slave-taking by individual
colonists. For example, on the August 23, 1686, the governor of Essequibo,
Samuel Beekman, issued a proclamation forbidding the unlicensed taking
of native slaves. Five years later the commission of his successor, Abraham
Beekman, explicitly stated that there was to be absolutely no trade in native
slaves, as the directors of the West India Company felt that his predecessor
had not been strict enough in controlling their export. Then, in 1717,
against a rising tide of disputes within the colony over the taking of native
slaves, another proclamation was issued. This stated that each colonist was
entitled to no more than six Indians, who might be got from the Orinoco
by purchase or exchange, and for each of whom a tax of six guilders
was to be paid in addition to the usual tax on slaves of 210 guilders.
Once within the Essequibo colony, they were not to be removed from
their river of first residence or sold to any other inhabitant of the colony
without a further tax being due to the West India Company. Although
these regulations were certainly disobeyed on occasion, there was more
than political and economic expediency underwriting native liberties in
Essequibo. These laws were also developed and enforced to protect the
14

BGB BC II, 146.

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West India Companys monopoly on the slave trade in blacks. This was
not just a question of economic profit being affected, but also a question
of political authority because, for the West India Company, the control of
the supply of labor to their colonies was the basis of the authority of its
representatives, the governor, and his administration. It is in this context
that the apparent Dutch concern for native liberties must be judged. Yet it
is clear that the scale of native slavery within Essequibo, even if unhindered
by the West India Company, would never have matched that of African
blacks, because it was universally felt that the native people were unsuitable
for plantation labor and were better utilized domestically as household
servants or as providers of manioc, game, and fish. For example, the Court
of Policy, in Essequibo, advised the West India Company in 1731:
the Plantation Belwijk, sometimes buys one or two red slaves in a whole year,
but they are mostly children of about eight or ten years old, who are bought for
about twelve or thirteen axes and choppers, together with a few provisions. The
red slaves, too, cannot work together with a black slave, and are mostly used on
the plantation for hunting and fishing, the women looking after the cassava for all
the daily consumption of the plantation.15

So too it can be seen that whereas the numbers of black slaves increased
dramatically in the eighteenth century, the numbers of native slaves kept
pace with the small increases in the European population in Essequibo. In
1691 there were 48 Europeans, 58 Indian slaves, and 165 black slaves living
at the fort of Kyk-over-al, in Essequibo, representing almost the entire
population of the colony. By 1762 the population of the entire colony had
expanded to only 346 Europeans and 244 Indian slaves but a staggering 3,833
black slaves. Clearly then, considerations of the economic monopoly of the
West India Company, the unsuitability of native labor, and the political
expediency of maintaining good relations with the indigenous groups of the
Essequibo region combined to limit the numbers of native slaves actually in
the colony itself. However, slave-taking was not discouraged as an adjunct
to other commercial activities among the Spanish natives of the nearby
Orinoco.
There were many heavily used trading routes employed by the Caribs
and Dutch in their infiltration of the Orinoco region, and it is clear that the
Dutch traders were often prepared not only to travel with a Carib escort
to the Orinoco, but also to live there to oversee their trade.
For example, the prefect of Capuchins on the Lower Orinoco reported
that
in the River Aguirre there was a Dutchman domiciled with the Caribs more than
eight years, buying slaves from them. There were also others in the same traffic in
15

BGB BC II, 14.

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Puruey, Caura and Parava from where they used to send to Essequibo and Surinam
parties of twenty to fifty slaves, though they discontinued in alarm at the arrival
of the Real Expedition in the Orinoco.16

In 1778 the prefect again reported:


the Dutch come overland from Essequibo, accompanied by porters carrying large
baskets filled with articles of barter for the Slave Traffic . . . numbers of them have
lived for more than ten years permanently among the Caribs, carrying on their
Slave Traffic: and these without moving send the slaves to their agents in Essequibo,
and receive in return merchandise arid other articles by which they are enabled
to purchase more from the Caribs. The least time they remain in these places is a
year, but more generally they reside there for two or three years.17

According to many of the colonial sources, the favored practice for seizing slaves was the night attack, and John Gabriel Stedman,18 a mercenary
captain in Suriname during the 1760s, gives vivid descriptions of such
tactics as well as many other insights into the relations with the native
population and slave-hunting practices. Edward Bancroft, a wealthy expatriate planter, emphasized Dutch culpability in the matter of the Caribs
involvement in the native slave trade:
They have, however, usually lived in harmony with the neighboring tribes, until of
late when they have been corrupted by the Dutch, and excited to make incursions
on the interior Indians, for the sake of making prisoners, who afterwards are sold
to the inhabitants of the Dutch colonies.19

It is difficult to tell precisely whether all Carib groups were involved


in the slave trade to the same degree. Certainly those within Essequibo
were concerned with not only the taking of native slaves, but also the
policing of the black slave population. Spanish accounts tend to emphasize
the involvement of Carib groups all along the Orinoco, but, although
this may be judged mere propaganda on their part, given the traditions
of taking captives in war, it seems likely that many groups were in fact
involved, especially during the eighteenth century. Thus slave-taking was
not necessarily a large-scale enterprise despite the range of indigenous
groups involved but may have been undertaken sporadically by quite small
groups of men who relayed their captives, via central collection points
manned by Dutch traders, into the colony of Essequibo. In particular,
Spanish sources indicate that there was a slave market on the Mazaruni,
and in 1769 two Capuchin missionaries, with an escort from the garrison
16

17 BGB BC II, 148.


BGB BC IV, 19.
John Gabriel Stedman, Narrative of a Five Years Expedition against the Revolted Negroes of Surinam:
Transcribed for the First Time from the Original 1790 Manuscript, Richard Price and Sally Price (eds.),
(Baltimore, MD, 1988).
19 Edward Bancroft, An Essay on the Natural History of Guiana, in South America (London, 1769),
p. 257.
18

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Table 10.1. Debts to be collected by the postmaster of Cuyuni


Name of Indian
slave trader

Status of
transfer

No of

Creditor

Tribeco
Tucanaura
Arimamene
Uararcicamo
Aritama
Cumdara
Asabue
Arimamacaca
Marrarban
Causamama
Marrana
Canarua

delivered
delivered
delivered
delivered
delivered
delivered
gift
delivered
delivered
delivered
delivered
delivered

8 slaves
3 slaves
3 slaves
3 slaves
2 slaves
2 slaves
1 slave
1 slave
2 slaves
3 hammocks
8 hammocks
2 hammocks

governor of Essequibo
governor of Essequibo
To son of Governor of Essequibo
To son of governor of Essequibo
To son of governor of Essequibo
To son of governor of Essequibo
To son of governor of Essequibo
To son of governor of Essequibo

Note: Appended to this document was a note saying that other Caribs, whose names could
not be distinguished because of the poor condition of the document, had delivered a total of
thirty-seven slaves. The record of transactions was for a period of eight months.
Source: Extracted from AGI C 258,1758.

of Santo Tome, raided this market and liberated 140 Indians.20 Similarly,
Dutch documents, captured by the Spanish during a raid on another slave
trading post on the Cuyuni River, indicate that slave-taking may have
been very much a question of the individual initiative of Carib big men.
Table 10.1 shows a list of transactions from among the captured documents.
The names given in the document are those of Carib big men involved
in the trade, whereas it was the role of the postmaster to record all trade
transactions, receive deliveries of goods for storage, and make the customary
payments.
It would thus seem that the numbers of native captives being brought
out of the Orinoco was considerable, for if seventy-five slaves were brought
in at this one post over as short a period as eight months, then perhaps up
to one hundred would pass through in a year. In addition to this one post,
the Dutch West India Companys posts at Arinda and Moruca were also
the focus of a brisk trade in native slaves, whereas the independent posts,
set up by the slave dealers themselves in the interior, might be expected to
have at least matched, and probably exceeded, the volume of trade at the
tightly regulated Company posts.
Taken together then, and over a period of a number of years, the volume
of this trade in native slaves could easily have been in the thousands.
However, the impression given by the recorded transactions for the post
20

AGI C 30, 19/4/l758; AGI C 30, 6/6/l769.

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on the Cuyuni is that normal slaving practice was for a few individuals to
deliver small quantities of slaves over a long period of time, rather than
for armadas of Carib kanawa (war-canoes) to appear on the Orinoco and
carry off hundreds of people at a single stroke. The latter scenario was
the impression often misleadingly conveyed by Spanish authors, although
such a phenomenon was not unknown. Despite the potential uncertainties,
there does seem to be a general agreement in the Spanish sources that the
volume of Carib slaving was likely to have been around five hundred
captives a year. The following extract to the commandant of guayana from
the prefect of Capuchin missions is typical in this regard:
. . . it will not be too much to say that the Caribs sell yearly more than three
hundred children, leaving murdered in their houses more than four hundred
adults, for the Dutch do not like to buy the latter because they well know, that
being grown up, they will escape. Indeed, we know this, as some fugitives were
seen in the Missions, and could be recognized by the brands of their masters which
many of them have on their bodies for the Essequibo Company have ordered
that the Indian slaves shall be branded on pain of losing them.21

Other government reports estimate at maximum seven hundred slaves a


year taken from the Orinoco, but most agree on some figure between three
and four hundred, with around twice as many dead as the result of the
raids.22 In short, it would seem that the number of captives being taken
out of the Orinoco was significant, and the aftermath of these activities was
also very disruptive, costing many lives. According to Jose Gumilla, Carib
and Dutch traders were liable to make a considerable profit on the sale of
poitos, paying two hatchets, two machetes, some knives, and glass beads for
captives on the Orinoco, and receiving some ten axes, ten machetes, ten
knives, ten bags of beads, and other general trade goods from the Dutch
buyers. Gumilla also indicates that the seizure of captives might follow
previously peaceful trading:
They take their captives on one or two armed pirogues (large canoes) to their
territory, and continue their voyage up river, without harming neighboring people,
who may also be an enemy; and to their allies they say they are not to blame for
burning and capturing that village, because if the village had received them well
and sold them provisions for their journey they would not have harmed them; but
that, having removed their weapons with such discourtesy they wished to punish
them, for they had not treated them with the same courtesy they had shown other
peoples. This is the ruse by which they ensure another attack for the following
year, which always succeeds . . . 23
21
22
23

BGB BC II, 145.


AGI SD 632, 26/6/1735; AGI SD 583, 7/4/1733; AGI C 30, 4/12/1790.
Joseph Gumilla, El Orinoco Illustrado y Defendido . . . , 2 vols. (Madrid, 1745), II: 324.

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Dutch sources also indicate that, among the Caribs of Essequibo at least,
the slave trade had clearly altered the traditional economy, as had other
Dutch commercial activities. For example, there is the testimony of various
governors as to a decline in the lucrative trade in roucou, a red dye used in
Europe for coloring food and clothing, because of the high prices Dutch
traders were prepared to pay for native slaves. Moreover, fully aware of the
number of native slaves that would become available, itinerant traders and
avaricious settlers would sell guns and alcohol hoping to promote further
internecine raiding. Edward Bancroft itemized Carib-Dutch trade in the
1760s as being in pirogues, hammocks, wax, balsam, woods, but chiefly
slaves.24
Similarly, in the Spanish territories, at the other end of these native trade
networks, the prevalence of slave-dealing was of continual concern to the
Spanish authorities, who were also eager that the newly founded missions
would be able to maintain a steady stream of new converts. For example,
it was reported to the king of Spain in 1739 that
there are twenty leagues of river on which many Caribs are established and especially those of Aguirre, Caroni and Tacorapo, who carry on traffic, the latter sailing
up the Caroni . . . communicate by land at no great distance with the Indian Caribs,
who are established above Angostura, on the Rivers Caura, Rio, Tauca, Puruey,
Curumtopo and other places, where they sail up river to seize Indians of other
tribes, whom they sell, both males and females, as slaves to the Dutch . . . the
Dutch in return for these and other products furnish the Indians not only with
various kinds of merchandise . . . but also with guns, gunpowder, ammunition and
other supplies with which they wage war, making their conversion and that of
other numberless Indian tribes more difficult. Fearing as they do the power and
cruelty of the Caribs, they do not venture to receive, although many would like to
do so, the Missionary Fathers.25

Again, in 1750, it was reported by the prefect of the Capuchins to the


commandant of Guayana that the slave trade had completely changed
the Caribs:
and not only the Caribs of the forests but even those of the Missions, participate
in these wars, without our being able to control them in any way and whenever
we are making an effort to do so, they immediately desert us in great numbers.

Carib slave-taking also seems to have been very extensive. He continues,


I am unable to name all the nations which the Caribs pursue with the object of
enslaving them. But the tribes dwelling on our frontiers and the most generally
known are the Barinagotos, Macos, Amaricotos, Camaracotos, Aruacos, Paravins
and Guiacas, and so great is the spite of the Caribs against them on this account
that they work for the Spaniard.26
24
26

Bancroft, Guiana, 263.


BGB BC II, 147.

25

BGB BCC, 185.

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Jose Gumilla reproduces the words of a Guayquieri who, responding a


with laconicism which will serve as an epitaph for the Guayquieri nation,
told of long wars with the Caribs who finally took all these people off into
slavery. Similarly, Felipe Gilij lists over a dozen nations that he supposed
to have disappeared as a result of the Carib-Dutch trade in native slaves.27
However, it needs to be emphasized that it was not only the Caribs who
actively engaged in the slave trade. The case of the Manoas in Brazil has
already been mentioned and, within the colony of Essequibo itself, the
Akawaio were also heavily involved. Edward Bancroft records:
They frequently make incursions on their interior neighbors, like the Carribbees,
for slaves: and the vicinity of their residence particularly exposes them to reprisals
from those injured tribes. To prevent this, all the avenues to their houses are
guarded by sharp pieces of wood planted in the earth, and poisoned, except only
one obscure winding path, which they use themselves, and make known to their
countrymen by private marks.28

The Arawaks at this time, possibly because of a disproportionate decline


in their numbers as a result of their proximity to the Europeans and a
consequent loss of military strength, were no longer slave-takers, according
to Bancroft. Though, as Acosta-Saignes points out, groups as distant from
the Dutch and Brazilian traders as the Guahibos and the Guaypuinaves
in western Venezuela were eventually drawn into this trade.29 In sum, the
Caribs, although deeply involved in the native slave trade, were by no means
the only group to be so. As in the matter of cannibalism, a term which
derives from their name, the Carib have been chiefly associated with slaving
in the regional literature. But this association was rooted in the geopolitics
of Dutch and Spanish colonial rivalry and has led to a persistent distortion
of the historical and ethnographic record in which Carib cannibalism and
slave-taking is seen as evidence of their innate savagery, rather than as a
response to the depredations of European colonial regimes. In short, there
seem few parallels between the conditions of captivity and servitude in
the pre-Columbian world and the nature of slavery in the Americas after
colonial arrival.
chieftains, empires, encomiendas
In the Incan world the royal house was owed tribute by its subjects. Such
tributary relationships were not the invention of the Incan dynasty but
reflected common institutions of obligation and service in domestic and
ritual spheres that were prevalent among the chieftaincies and other hierarchical societies of this region, as they were to varying degrees elsewhere in
27
28
29

Gumilla, Orinoco, II, p. 314; Gilij, Americana, I, p. 133.


Bancroft, Guiana, p. 268.
Ibid, pp. 323, 336; Acosta-Saignes, Venezuela, p. 73.

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South America. However, the formal nature of the tributary relationship


was much more developed in the Andean world, and to a perhaps surprising extent, was later adopted directly into Spanish systems of colonial
control. For example, if we consider the nature of chiefdom polities in the
Andes, then it is evident that part of the eminence and authority of the
cacique (chief or lord) derived from the labor of a common class of persons.
This might have been in the form of specific kinds of work reserved for
particular individuals, but more generally, a pattern of obligatory collective labor was evident. In the former case the hunting and gathering of
natural products wood, water, game, fish was typical, whereas collective labor was more likely directed toward the maintenance of the chief s
household, compound, and fields as a physical, no less than a symbolic,
entity. Significantly, in view of what was said earlier about the intertwining
of warfare, marriage, and authority, in the case of such chiefdoms the regulation of marriage contracts and the enforcement of marital obligations
was an important facet of the chiefly role. This might even extend to the
formal attachment of whole families to the rulers household, although the
indications are that this was not a permanent condition, but rotated among
tribute-giving communities. Native merchants and traders were exempted
from collective labor obligations such as work in the maize fields, but they
still owed tribute derived from their extracommunal activities in the form
of prestige goods goldwork, beadwork, ceramics, and so forth. As well as
these forms of obligatory labor, the chiefly household would also comprise
the yanakuna (servants) who were specifically exempted from these kinds
of communal obligation so that they could labor entirely for the cacique.
It appears that the proportion of such yanakuna in any given settlement
might have risen as high as 10 percent, but this statistic may also be related
to the highly dynamic and unsettled conditions of the colonial conquest.
Other populations might be physically brought into the compound to perform chiefly service, known as mitmajkuna, as well as mamakuna, women
ritually obligated in temple or shrine functions, and kamayujkana, itinerant
specialists in cultivation or handicrafts. All these specialized forms of labor
were part of the rulers household, and were tied there by common codes
of obligation and service.30
In the context of the Incan Empire, such relationships were also employed, but given the vast extent of roads, fortifications, irrigation works,
temples, shrines, the military ambitions of an expansive dynasty, and the
need to evince domination and control through the possession of prestige
and exotic goods the nature of obligatory service was correspondingly
rigorous and far-reaching. The Inca still owed certain sustaining duties to
30 Frank Salomon, Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: The Political Economy of North
Andean Chiefdoms (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 12734.

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his subjects, as befitted a solar deity, but the term asymmetric reciprocity
is aptly applied to the flow of ritual and material obligations between the
Inca and his peoples.31 Under the reign of the eleventh Inca, Huayna Capac,
the empire reached its greatest extent, spanning more than three thousand
miles of the Andean mountains from present-day Chile in the south to
Colombia in the north. The challenge of maintaining political authority
over this vast region was increased dramatically when Huayna Capac died
in 1525 from a sudden epidemic, probably smallpox emanating from the
as-yet-unseen conquistadors. The two sons of Huayna Capac, Atahualpa
and Huascar, eventually fought a civil war over control of the empire, and
as a result Gonzalo Pizarro was, as in the case of Hernan Cortess conquest
of Montezuma, able to readily recruit lesser native lords to his cause against
the backdrop of imperial crisis and conflict. Insofar as the Spanish conquest
led to a political decapitation of the Incan Empire, it left intact the system
of obligatory service that underwrote it, and chiefly authority more widely.
This led to a strategy of co-opting existing forms of native fealty and
obligation, and using them to achieve the ends of Spanish colonial rule.
In the first Spanish settlements in the New World, principally in the
Greater Antilles, the costs of conquest had been borne largely by the
crown. The first settlers were encouraged to remain by the award of repartimientos (allotments) of natives to assist in farming or mining enterprises. Such repartimientos were in the encomienda (custody) of the
encomendero (grantee). Even in the relatively uncontrolled contexts of the
early Caribbean, such a grant of labor carried with it explicit duties and
restrictions, such as religious instruction and limits on the amount of
labor time that might be devoted to the personal service of encomendero.
Indeed, the system was immediately the subject of controversy in Spain and
was abolished by royal decree in 1520. However, the conquest in Mexico
opened up new vistas of vast pools of native labor, but Spanish hegemony
was politically barely established and lacked the kinds of social and economic consolidation that the award of encomiendas to the conquistadors
would achieve. In recognition of this relatively weak position of the Spanish
colonizers, Cortes actually made grants of tribute, rather than labor, from
the encomiendas, as it was necessary to keep the few Spaniards physically
close for defensive purposes. This system was then endorsed by the Spanish crown in ordinances setting up the governance of Mexico in 1526. The
prohibition of personal service was therefore quite explicit in the establishment of the encomienda system, as was the prohibition of forced labor.
The encomienda system was also transplanted to Peru under the licenses
of conquest granted Pizarro in July 1529. As with Cortes, Pizarro needed
31 Maria Rostworowski, in Laura Minelli (ed.), The Inca World: The Development of Pre-Columbian
Peru, A.D. 10001534 (Norman, OK, 2000).

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to keep his company of conquistadors grouped in distinct communities so


that the citizens of each municipality could form an effective militia.
The result then, in both Mexico and Peru, was the historically unprecedented phenomenon of the encomienda; native people living in designated
locales, or subject to a named cacique, held to be under the protection
of the encomendero, who himself was forbidden to live in their territories.
Native people retained their ownership of the land, and the crown and
its officials also had jurisdiction over them, offsetting the temptation on
the part of the encomendero to exploit the natives excessively. In return the
encomienda had to deliver tribute, as it had probably done to a cacique in
pre-Columbian times. However, the potential for increased exploitation
through forced labor and unwarranted demands for tribute and service
meant this ideal encomienda might also be easily corrupted, as it was not
always clear how much and what kind of tribute might be owed to the
encomendero, who was to labor in the mines, roads, and fortifications, or
when the grants of encomiendas might expire. These factors meant that the
experience of native people under the encomienda might differ significantly,
and the annals of the colonial courts are filled with disputes related to these
issues. Nonetheless, the limits to the predation of the encomenderos were
real enough, not least because, ultimately, native labor was the property
of the crown and their souls the property of the Catholic Church in
which case, any analogy between the plight of the native encomienda and
the slaves of the European plantation economies is not very appropriate. It
is only in a rhetorical sense that the term slavery can to be applied to the
social and legal relationships of the encomienda.
conclusion
This consideration of indigenous slavery in South America raises some
interesting issues for a comparative study of slavery and servitude, in particular, whether or not the term slave is useful to describe pre-1500 native
institutions and practices. The term itself carries with it many connotations
reflecting the long history and continuity of forms of servitude in a variety
of Old World contexts. The interaction sphere of the Mediterranean world,
with its tenuous but persistent connections to Asia, Africa, and the fringes
of Europe, meant there has inevitably been a periodical borrowing and imitation of social and cultural practices with regard to enslavement through
time. However, just as the absence of certain infectious diseases meant
their effect in the Americas were startlingly severe, for Huayna Capac, the
last Inca, so too the nature of native South American social and cultural
tradition was such that Old World forms of bondage were unknown and
unanticipated, even if forms of dominance and obligation were apparent
in other ways.

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Eltis and Engerman (this volume) suggest that, historically, capture in


war has always been a justification of slavery, but the evidence from South
America does not accord with the idea that this practice was globally
prevalent. As has been indicated, the conduct of war and the taking of
live captives, intimately linked to the practice of other forms of social
communication and exchange, was dedicated to the ritual reproduction
of sacrificial complexes. As a result war captives were eventually sacrificed
rather than used in the provision of servile labor. In this way the nature of
obligatory service in South America seems more reminiscent of European
serfdom than slavery. As Eltis and Engerman in the introduction to this
volume suggest, serfdom has a history going back to at least ancient
Greece and formed the basis of agricultural production and rural social
structure alike in Western European medieval countries. Although the
main element of the European feudal contract, military protection, was
not emphasized in South America to the same degree as in Europe, the role
of the cacique was certainly to provide military and shamanic defense of the
community, along with regulation of marriage contracts, public works, and
the enforcement of custom. In this way the Spanish encomienda can be seen
as having intensified the restrictive nature of pre-Columbian serfdom,
just as happened with the eastward expansion of the Russian and Prussian
states in eighteenth-century Europe.
The issue as to whether or not the forms of obligatory service and
captivity experienced in South America are properly termed slavery is also
critical, because it bears on the important question of whether slave status
is historically derived from the nature of kinship relations or through other
social processes. The capture of slaves with a view to sustaining a population
demographically would seem to suggest key linkages between ideas of
kinship and those of servility. In the Americas at least, such raiding was
definitively a reaction to the population losses induced by severe epidemic
disease, and the depiction of such captives as potential slaves relates to the
presence of a European market, rather than to indigenous understandings of
the purpose and status of war captives. To suggest that slavery was a normal
component of kinship structures is therefore misleading, and the experience
of South American peoples suggests that it was the commodification of
captives during European colonial occupation that was the reason for the
emergence of slaves as a distinct social class. It is important to note that
most indigenous societies in any case had no labor requirement beyond
domestic needs that a slave class might fulfill. It was only the establishment
of plantations and the presence of powerful strangers without kin or family
to support their households that made a market in native bodies feasible
and profitable.
Such comparison strongly suggests that slavery is best understood as
a condition of involuntary bondage and servitude in which the ownership

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of persons takes precedence over other forms of social ties. The historical conditions under which this practice emerged in South America were
clearly the advent of European colonial conquest and the entrepreneurial
opportunities that this new world presented. Both the ferocity and extent
of the Atlantic slave trade, as well as the rise of powerful chieftains among
native groups, were thus directly related to this colonial political economy.
Although forms of captivity and obligatory service were present and prevalent throughout South America, this was not slavery a better analogy
is with feudal serfdom. In the absence of capitalist commodity markets,
legal and ethical possibilities for financial accumulation and material ownership, and developed punitive technologies of discipline and punishment,
situations of bondage and servility in indigenous South America never coalesced into the practice of slavery. Despite notable social differences and
historical trajectories among South American peoples, the similarities in
the forms and practices of captivity and servitude nonetheless provide a
strong contrast with European practices of slavery.
further reading
Most of the original documentary material is relatively difficult to access;
however, as a result of a diplomatic dispute over the border between
Venezuela and British Guiana at the end of the nineteenth century, a
sizable collection of translated documents from the Dutch and Spanish
archives was published by the British government in Arbitration with the
United States of Venezuela, 7 vols. (London, 1899). These are referred
to using the following abbreviations: BGB: British Guiana Boundary,
BC: British Case, BCC: British Counter Case. Material referenced
from the Spanish archives in Seville is abbreviated thus: AGI: Archivo
General de Indias, C: Audiencia de Caracas, SD: Audiencia de Santo
Domingo.
Early printed materials may also be somewhat difficult to locate, but
there are an increasing number of modern editions of key texts relating to
the occupation of South America. For example, Neil Whiteheads edition
of The Discoverie of the Large, Rich and Bewtiful Empire of Guiana by Sir
Walter Ralegh (Norman, OK, 1997) and Janet Whatleys edition of Jean de
Lerys History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil (Berkeley, CA, 1998) both
provide original accounts of discovery and the early relations with the native
populations along the Atlantic seaboard of South America. Likewise, there
are a number of accounts of the conquest in Peru, but of particular interest
is a postconquest account by one of the Incan royal family, Garcilaso de la
Vega, in the Royal Commentaries of the Incas, and General History of Peru
(Austin, TX, 1966).

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There are also excellent popular works that give both detailed ethnological information and historical narrative of the sequence of conquest,
such as John Hemmings volumes, The Conquest of the Incas (London,
1970) and Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians (Cambridge,
MA, 1978), as well as good introductions to cosmology and beliefs, as in
Gary Urtons Inca Myths (London, 1999). More detailed scholarly overviews
will be found in Frank Salomon and Stuart Schwartzs edited collection,
The Cambridge History of Native American Peoples, Vol. 3, South America
(Cambridge, 1999).
Scholarly works with a more particular focus on political and economic relations include Alexander Marchants From Barter to Slavery: The
Economic Relations of Portuguese and Indians in the Settlement of Brazil,
15001580 (London, 1966); Linda Newsons Aboriginal and Spanish Colonial Trinidad: A Study in Culture Contact (London, 1976); Frank Salomons
Native Lords of Quito in the Age of the Incas: The Political Economy of NorthAndean Chiefdoms (Cambridge, 1986); and Elsa Redmonds edited volume
Chiefdoms and Chieftaincy in the Americas (Gainesville, FL, 1998). Neil
Whiteheads study of the Carib, Lords of the Tiger Spirit: A History of the
Caribs in Colonial Venezuela and Guyana, 14981820 (Dordrecht, Holland,
1998) provides detailed information on slaving, warfare, and trade between
native groups and the colonial regimes of northeastern South America.
Warfare and cannibalism are also the subject of scholarly attention, as
in Eduardo Viveiros de Castros study of the Tupian cannibalism and war
complex, From the Enemys Point of View: Humanity and Divinity in an
Amazonian Society (Chicago, 1992), and Neil Whiteheads discussion of
the effects of colonial contact on captivity and cannibalism, Hans Staden
and the Cultural Politics of Cannibalism, Hispanic American Historical
Review, 80 (2000): 74172. On native warfare and slaving more generally
see War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding States and Indigenous Warfare, Neil
Whitehead and R. Brian Ferguson (eds.) (Santa Fe, NM, 1999).

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PART IV

SLAVERY AND SERFDOM IN EASTERN EUROPE

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CHAPTER 11

RUSSIAN SLAVERY AND SERFDOM, 14501804


richard hellie

Medieval Russia (Ukraine, Belorussia, Great Russia) did not know serfdom.
There was free land everywhere, and no elite social group that depended
on agriculture for its livelihood. Population was very sparse, but perceived
labor shortages could not be made up by attempts to enserf the peasants
en masse. As the number of political jurisdictions multiplied, they had
disputes over labor, but there were no political or judicial institutions
that could enforce serfdom by binding peasants to the land. Those who
indirectly depended on peasant agricultural output had to go to find the
peasants to tax them. Agriculture, moreover, was of the slash-and-burn
type, with the result that peasants farmed a different site roughly every
three years. Landlords were few in the pre-1350 era, and any landlord
who tried to control peasant labor had to contend with a peasantry used
to moving, and who would pick up and move away from any landlord
desirous of collecting rent. Slavery, by contrast, was an ancient institution
in Russia and effectively was abolished in the 1720s. Serfdom, which began
in 1450, evolved into near-slavery in the eighteenth century and was finally
abolished in 1906. Serfdom in its Russian variant could not have existed
without the precedent and presence of slavery.
There are significant juridical differences between slavery and serfdom.
In the first place, the slave is an object of the law, whereas the serf typically
is the subject of the law. As an object, the slave, like a dog or cow, may be
protected from the cruelty of an owner by the law, for example, but it is as
an object, rather than as the subject of the law. The slave has few rights,
not even the right to claim the clothing he is wearing as his own. The serf,
on the other hand, owns not only his own clothing, but typically most of
his means of production as well: his livestock, his agricultural implements,
his seed, and often the fruits of his labor. The slave only has the rights to
come and go that his owner allows him, and typically the same is true for
the serf: He may only move where his landlord permits him to move. The
serfs juridical status in the Russian case was further refined: (1) He was
bound to the land, that is, he was a fixture on the land like a building that
the owner had no right to move elsewhere, and the serf was supposed to
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be in place when the next possessor of the land came along; (2) completely
contradictorily, the serf could be bound to the person of his lord, in which
case his legal and social status differed little from that of a slave, which
meant that the possessor of the land the serf was working could move him
(or even sell him) without regard to any attachment to the land; (3) the
serf sometimes was the direct subject of the state, but gradually this was
whittled away until the serf became the subject of his lord and was even
forbidden to address the state.
In addition, the material circumstances of slaves and serfs were similar.
The lives of both were short, with the life expectancy at birth of less than
thirty years of age. Infant and child mortality rates were extraordinarily
high. The precise components of this are not yet fully understood, but
certainly one element was the infamous peasant smoky hut.1 Since the
time they migrated into Rus in the second half of the first millennium of
the Christian era, most Russians lived in smoky huts. To save 80 percent of
their fuel, the Russians constructed the famous Russian stove, a multichambered brick or stone and mortar apparatus that extracted most of the
heat and radiated it out of the back of the stove into the room. The soot
blackened the roof and walls. The heating season was about half a year,
during which the peasants sat and slept on benches around the walls, all
the while breathing the stove effluent with its carbon monoxide and carcinogenic particles. This shortened everyones life span, from the newborn
to the few aged. Typically the Russians lived on dirt floors and kept their
animals with them during the coldest times of the year. Living in the slurry
and excrement also did not enhance quality and duration of life. Finally,
the diet before the nineteenth century was extraordinarily monotonous:
rye, barley, cabbage, cucumbers, onions, garlic, meat, or milk, perhaps fish
and game once in a while. Around the middle of the seventeenth century,
the Russian elite began to live in better structures, sometimes built of stone
and brick, which probably vented their stoves outside. Their dwellings had
floors, they did not keep animals in the house, and they ate slightly better
than their social inferiors. House slaves and after the 1720s, house serfs
partook of these better conditions compared with the farming serfs living
in smoky huts.
If material conditions of the two groups were similar, Russian serfdom
continuously borrowed from the institution of slavery as long as the two
institutions coexisted. It thus makes sense to consider them together. This
chapter will nevertheless first consider slavery, then serfdom.
1 The following paragraph is based on Richard Hellie, The Russian Smoky Hut and Its Probable
Health Consequences, Russian History, 28 (2001): 17184.

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slavery
Slavery preceded serfdom and indeed was an ancient institution among the
Slavs before the settlement of Russia. The Slavs began to move into Ukraine
and Russia around the sixth century. Before that time, the peoples living in
the south (Iranians, Turkic peoples) had regularly enslaved one another, as
had the peoples living in the north (Finns, Balts). Those people who became
the Eastern Slavs (Ukrainians, Belorussians, and Great Russians) migrated
into what is now Ukraine, Belorus, and Russia in the sixth through the
thirteenth centuries and gradually absorbed or suppressed the indigenous
peoples. This mix of different peoples may have been important for the
subsequent history of slavery (and slavelike serfdom) because it resulted
in a blurring of the conventional insider-outsider distinction so crucial for
slavery. In addition to these settled and migrating peoples, the Vikings must
be added to the picture. The Swedes first conquered Novgorod in the north,
then Oleg in 882 conquered Kiev and thus created the Kievan Russian
State, the unification of northern and southern Rus under one rule. The
slave trade was one of the primary motivating forces of the Viking world.
In Rus, it went along the route from the Varangians to the Greeks, from
Sweden to Byzantium. Thus it surely is not accidental that the major cache
of written materials (birchbark documents) from Kievan Rus were found
in Novgorod at the intersection of Slave and High Streets. Novgorord
carried on a very lively slave trade for centuries, and the slave market at
Slave and High Streets was one of the busiest places in Novgorod for the
half millennium between the tenth and fifteenth centuries. That was why
a professional reader and writer set up shop at that intersection, reading
and writing birchbark messages for the illiterate citizenry of Novgorod.
Quite a bit is known about slavery from the Old Russian law code, the
Russkaia Pravda, compiled beginning in 1016 and completed a century and
a half later. The Russkaia Pravda was the fundamental law of Russia from
that time until the compilation of the Sudebnik in 1550. Articles 110121
could be termed a slavery statute, which was compiled during the reign of
Vsevolod, in the 1170s, although the norms resulted from an earlier period.
From the Pravda, we learn that slaves originated through several means. If
he or she was purchased from a third party in the presence of witnesses,
he or she is a slave. Captivity (almost always of outsiders) must have been
the source of most such slaves. If a man married a slave woman without
stipulating that he would remain free, he became a slave of the wifes owner.
He could also become a slave by becoming an overseer or house steward
unless he stipulated in advance that he would remain free. Unpaid debt
could also result in enslavement. Curiously, the female slave in the Pravda
was worth more than the male, something that might indicate that female

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slaves were viewed as sex objects. Most of the other slavery articles involve
a slaveowners responsibility for the actions of his chattel, in the same spirit
that a dog owner is responsible for his canine.
The East Slavs who settled Rus were grouped into thirteen tribes. Oleg
began the process of consolidating the tribes under one rule out of Kiev,
and it was completed in the 1030s. A century later, Kievan Rus began
to disintegrate in 1136 and revert to independent principalities centered
around the old tribal groupings. Slave raiding into adjacent principalities
became one of the major activities of the independent principalities, which
continued to fragment, until in the fourteenth century there were fifty such
sovereign principalities, all raiding one another. In the twelfth century there
were so many slaves that they were housed in barracks and put to work
farming the land.
Slavery took on fresh life with the coming of the Mongols to Rus in
the years 123640, as the Mongols effected their policy of carting off into
slavery a tenth of the population, typically those with skills the Mongols
could put to use. Moscow after 1300 began the process of reconsolidating
the Russian lands, and by the 1390s it was apparent that the days of the
independent principalities were numbered, although it took Moscow until
1514 to complete the task. This was crucial for the history of slavery because
the rise of Moscow gradually reduced the number of candidates for military
enslavement. By this time, however, the East Slavs had become thoroughly
accustomed to the institution of slavery and owning slaves to perform
numerous tasks.
On the East European Plain, household slavery was the major form,
rather than productive slavery (such as that performed by the farming
slaves after 1136). These were the people who hewed the wood, drew the
water, did the laundry, cooked, and performed other such menial tasks for
their owners. However, soon after 1300 Muscovy figured out that slaves
could perform other tasks as well. Thus over the next couple of centuries, a
group of elite slaves was created that did the major administrative work in
many of the grand princes of Moscows households, as was done in some
other places in medieval Europe. Moscow administered its ever-expanding
empires through a system of governors who went out to feed (collect
Moscows revenues as well as funds for themselves, both while they were
provincial administrators and when they returned to Moscow to serve in
the cavalry). All of the governors had slaves who did much of their work
for them, even holding trials.
In the fifteenth century other forms of slavery developed as well. In
the second half of the century landownership began to be something
that the elite valued (in addition to governmental-military posts), and
they purchased slaves to run their estates. Information from the sixteenth
century demonstrates that these slaves were often skilled individuals with

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normal families, the very slaves that the government was most interested
in registering.
The fifteenth century was a period of enormous social innovation in
Muscovy. One new development was a form of slavery I translate as limited service contract slavery. Its likeness in ancient Parthia was called
antichresis. It worked as follows: A person, two-thirds of the time a male,
who was temporarily down-and-out approached someone and asked him
for a loan for a year. In exchange for the loan, the borrower agreed to
work for the creditor in lieu of paying him interest. If the borrower could
not repay the loan within a year, he became the permanent full slave of
the creditor. Apparently, repayments were very few, so that both the lender
and the borrower were aware when the transaction was being consummated
that a permanent full slave was being created. Presumably, about the only
way out for the debtor would be to take a loan from a third party to
pay off the first creditor. As with all other slaves, if the limited service
contract slave married, his spouse became a slave. The offspring of such
matches were perpetual, full, lifetime slaves. Until the 1590s, there were
no provisions for any slaves to be automatically manumitted by the passage of time, as was true in the Roman Empire and Islam (logically, the
outsider within three generations in the Roman Empire, or six years in
Islam, becomes an insider, and, as now ineligible for enslavement, should
be freed). Russians never came around to the idea that the passage of time
made an outsider into an insider and thus unsuitable for enslavement. This
was graphically illustrated in the 1590s, when all slaves were required to be
registered (or re-registered), and slaves were processed whose ancestors had
been enslaved a century and a half earlier. Similarly, in 1812 the romantic
novelist, great historian, and governmental adviser N. M. Karamzin wrote
a memo, On Old and New Russia, to Alexander I in which he discussed
the problem of serfdom. Karamzin alleged that the problem was insolvable
because the serfs of 1812 were of two origins. Some had once been free peasants who were enserfed and thus really deserved to be free. The ancestors
of others had once been slaves (a century and more previously), and their
descendants in 1812 did not deserve to be freed. As it was impossible to
differentiate in 1812 the origins of the serfs, the only thing to do was to do
nothing and emancipate no one.
In the sixteenth century the popularity of limited service contract slavery
increased and gradually came to replace full slavery. The demographic
profiles of the two categories of slaves were identical, with twice as many
males as females among both adults and children, so I assume that many
full slaves also had sold themselves into slavery. The only difference was
that the limited service contract slaves still held out of the hope of freedom,
whereas the full slaves did not. The same was true for the hereditary slaves,
the offspring of both. Lest the reader think that limited service contract

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slavery was a form of indenture, we should note that Muscovy also knew
indenture as a separate form of servitude: The person sold himself to a
buyer for a specific number of years for a specific sum (neither mandated
by law); upon the expiration of the term, the owner was obliged to free the
indentured slave, typically with a sum of cash, perhaps with a wife. The law
specified that the owner was not to harm the indentured slave, something
that was not specified for other slaves. Nowhere is it stated that owners
could not kill their slaves, but a number of historians have assumed that
there must have been some such injunction.
The 1590s were the decade of greatest change both for slaves and for serfs.
This followed a period of incredible chaos for Russia: the Livonian War and
accompanying exorbitant taxation, 155883; paranoid Ivan the Terribles
mad debauch known as the Oprichnina, 156572; famines and plagues,
15689; all of these depopulated the Moscow center and Novgorod area to
the point that censuses found formerly populated areas 85 percent vacant.
For the peasants, this led to the introduction of the Forbidden Years, which
will be discussed later. The Forbidden Years enhanced the approximation
of peasant-serfs to slaves, with the difference that the former had to pay
taxes whereas the latter were typically tax-exempt. As the government of
Boris Godunov (acting in the name of the mentally challenged Tsar Fedor
Ivanovich) witnessed its taxable population shrinking as its peasants fled
north and east of the Volga and south of the Oka (migration-colonization,
which some in the government desired), it decided to curtail the shrinkage
into the ranks of slaves. This might have been done by abolishing at least
some of the forms of slavery, but this would have denied needy Russians
access to welfare, of which Muscovy knew no other than slavery. The
solution was to change the juridical essence of limited service contract
slavery by extending the limitation, from one year (but in reality it was
often perpetual) to the lifetime of the owner. When the owner died, the
limited service contract slave had to be manumitted. This expropriated the
owners, who no longer were able to pass the limited service contract slaves,
who almost universally became full slaves, to their heirs. The slaveowners
tried to get around this, typically by creating multiple ownerships from
multiple generations, which the limited service contract slave could never
outlive. The government was adamant and insisted that after the death of
the primary owner, the limited service contract slave had to be freed. By the
mid-seventeenth century, such freedmen were about the only free people in
Muscovy, but this was only nominal. The government did not calculate
on the fact that a period of slavery created tremendous dependency in the
slaves. The result was that most of the freedmen sold themselves back into
limited service contract slavery shortly after manumission, either to one
of the heirs of the recently deceased owner or to someone else. Thus the
juridical changes of the 1590s did little or nothing to enhance the tax rolls.

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In the 1590s one may calculate that the enslaved population (including all
varieties of slaves) comprised 5 to 15 percent of the entire population.
After the 1590s the infamous Time of Troubles ensued. Depending on
how they are defined, they extended from 1584 to 1618, with the most common dates being 1598 (the extinction of the seven-centuries-old Riurikid
dynasty) to 1613 (the inauguration of the Romanov dynasty, which was to
last to the Revolution of 1917). Several important events involving slaves
(and serfs) occurred during the Time of Troubles. Two major events were
major civil disorders led by slaves, Khlopko and Bolotnikov. The years
16013 witnessed perhaps the worst famines in Russian history. Numerous slaveowners who could not feed their slaves drove them out of their
households. In response, Boris Godunov decreed that slaves had a right
to be fed and clothed by their owners, and those who were not had to
be manumitted. The decree did not provide food that did not exist, so
many slaves fled to the southern frontier, the Oka River region south of