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Concubinage and the Status of Women Slaves in Early Colonial Northern Nigeria

Paul E. Lovejoy
The Journal of African History
Vol. 29, No. 2 (1988), pp. 245-266
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/182383
Page Count: 22
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Concubinage and the Status of Women Slaves in Early Colonial Northern Nigeria
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Abstract

Court records from 1905-6 offer a rare view of the status of women slaves in early colonial Northern Nigeria. It is shown that British officials found it easy to accommodate the aristocracy of the Sokoto Caliphate on the status of these women, despite British efforts to reform slavery. Those members of the aristocracy and merchant class who could afford to do so were able to acquire concubines through the courts, which allowed the transfer of women under the guise that they were being emancipated. British views of slave women attempted to blur the distinction between concubinage and marriage, thereby reaffirming patriarchal Islamic attitudes. The court records not only confirm this interpretation but also provide extensive information on the ethnic origins of slave women, the price of transfer, age at time of transfer, and other data. It is shown that the slave women of the 1905-6 sample came from over 100 different ethnic groups and the price of transfer, which ranged between 200,000 and 300,000 cowries, was roughly comparable to the price of females slaves in the years immediately preceding the conquest. Most of the slaves were in their teens or early twenties. The use of the courts to transfer women for purposes of concubinage continued until at least the early 1920s.

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