Edo Warrior Kingdom Opposed Atlantic Slave Trade
By Naiwu Osahon (Last update 09/10/2017)

Although over 30 per cent (about a third) of the Atlantic Slave Trade took place in the territory under Edo control, the Bight of Benin region of West Africa, the territory was too vast for the kingdom to police on a day by day and minute by minute basis, to prevent the trade. It was taboo, however, to capture or sell an Edo citizen and because the kingdom reasonably monitored this well, the African Diaspora has no concentration of Edo citizen slaves. Edo Chiefs had thousands of slaves captured in their territorial expansion wars but would not sell any. The Edo belief and saying was: “What level of hunger and deprivation would make an Edo Chief sell his slaves?” Rather than sell, Edo Chiefs helped thousands of slaves to escape from White holding camps in Edo territory. In fact, Edo Oba Eresoyen was shot at in his palace by a White slave merchant because he refused to help with the re-capture of escapee slaves from the White merchant’s holding camps, hiding in Edo Chiefs farms in Edo kingdom.

European slave trade in West Africa started with the acquisition of domestic servants in 1522, and warrior kingdoms like Edo (Benin) had plenty of them captured as war booties, but would not sell them. The slave trade was very unpopular with the Edo people. They thought it was silly to sell fellow human beings. Their Obas and nobles were vehemently opposed to the business of slave trade and to the export of the productive fighting male. The Edo, of course, could not control the day to day happenings of the slave merchants, who apparently largely acted under cover at first in the vast territories under Edo hegemony. However, it was forbidden to sell or take a native Edo (Bini) into slavery and so elaborate identification marks on faces and chests were eventually contrived. The Bini, therefore, were hardly ever captured by Arabs or Europeans into slavery.

Alan Ryder, writing on this in his book: Benin and the European, narrated the experience of the Portuguese merchant, Machin Fernandes in Benin as early as 1522: That was during the reign of Oba Esigie.

“Of the whole cargo of 83 slaves bought by Machin Fernandes, only two were males – and it is quite possible that these were acquired outside the Oba’s territory – despite a whole month (at Ughoton) spent in vain attempts to have a market opened for male slaves. The 81 females, mostly between ten and twenty years of age, were purchased in Benin City between 25 June and 8 August at the rate of one, two or three a day.”

None of the 83 slaves was an Edo person, according to Ryder, and no Edo person could have been involved in the sales. It was taboo in Edo culture. Edo Empire was vast, with a great concentration of people from different ethnic backgrounds, Yoruba, Ibo, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Urhobo, Igalla etc., making a living in the lucrative Ughoton route that was the main centre of commercial activities in the southern area at the time, of what later became Nigeria.

Alan Ryder, recording the experiences of yet another European merchant, the French trader and Captain called Landolphe, in Benin in February 1778, said, “the Ezomo (leading military Chief) was the richest man in Benin, owning more than 10,000 slaves, none of whom was ever sold.” The author then commented: “His (the Ezomo’s) refusal to sell any of his slaves is also noteworthy for the light it sheds upon the attitude of powerful Edo chiefs towards the slave trade: however numerous they might be, a great man did not sell his slaves.” Says Edo people: “vbo ghi da Oba no na mu ovionren khien?” Meaning, “what need does the Oba want to satisfy by putting out his slave for sale?”


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Re: African American Tourists Visit Oba Of Benin (photos) by bigfrancis21: 10:36pm On Jul 04

Two factors checked the spread of Portuguese
influence and the continued expansion of Benin,
however. First, Portugal stopped buying pepper
because of the availability of other spices in the
Indian Ocean region. Second, Benin placed an embargo
on the export of slaves, thereby isolating itself
from the growth of what was to become the major
export from the Nigerian coast for 300 years. Benin
continued to capture slaves and to employ them in
its domestic economy, but the Edo state remained
unique among Nigerian polities in refusing to
participate in the transatlantic trade. In the long
run, Benin remained relatively isolated from the
major changes along the Nigerian coast.
The Portuguese initially bought slaves for resale on
the Gold Coast, where slaves were traded for gold.
For this reason, the southwestern coast of Nigeria
and neighboring parts of the present-day Republic of Benin (not to be confused with the kingdom of Benin)
became known as the “slave coast.” When the African
coast began to supply slaves to the Americas in the
last third of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese
continued to look to the Bight of Benin as one of
its sources of supply. By then they were
concentrating activities on the Angolan coast, which
supplied roughly 40 percent of all slaves shipped to
the Americas throughout the duration of the
transatlantic trade, but they always maintained a
presence on the Nigerian coast.
The Portuguese monopoly on West African trade was
broken at the end of the sixteenth century, when
Portugal’s influence was challenged by the rising
naval power of the Netherlands. The Dutch took over
Portuguese trading stations on the coast that were
the source of slaves for the Americas. French and

Nigeria: Atlantic Ocean

English competition later undermined the Dutch
position. Although slave ports from Lagos to Calabar
would see the flags of many other European maritime
countries (including Denmark, Sweden, and
Brandenburg) and the North American colonies,
Britain became the dominant slaving power in the
eighteenth century. Its ships handled two-fifths of
the transatlantic traffic during the century. The
Portuguese and French were responsible for another
Nigeria kept its important position in the slave
trade throughout the great expansion of the
transatlantic trade after the middle of the
seventeenth century. Slightly more slaves came from
the Nigerian coast than from Angola in the
eighteenth century, while in the nineteenth century
perhaps 30 percent of all slaves sent across the
Atlantic came from Nigeria. Over the period of the
whole trade, more than 3.5 million slaves were
shipped from Nigeria to the Americas. Most of these
slaves were Igbo and Yoruba, with significant
concentrations of Hausa, Ibibio, and other ethnic
groups. In the eighteenth century, two polities–Oyo
and the Aro confederacy–were responsible for most
of the slaves exported from Nigeria. The Aro
confederacy continued to export slaves through the
1830s, but most slaves in the nineteenth century
were a product of the Yoruba civil wars that
followed the collapse of Oyo in the 1820.



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