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By Dr.A.I Okoduwa Last Update June 4, 2020


The impact of slavery on African societies has been a major theme among Historicism. It is an African conclusion that the slave trade “ravaged black Africa like a bush fire wiping tut images values in one vast carnage”. The work impact of slavery in Ancient Benin Kingdom agrees with the widely held African point of view that the involvement in slave trade marked a turning point in African History. However, this work looks at the trade in slaves by communities especially Esan in Ancient Benin Kingdom and submits that there were some positive shifts in the economy and society despite the largely negative impact of the slave trade which lasted for over three centuries in Esan.

The coastal demand for slaves started with the arrival of the Portuguese who were on an exploratory voyage to India but had to touch West Africa. In 1441 Gonzalves, a Portuguese returned to Lisbon with 10 Africans. Soon other explorers and Nuno Tristao one of Gonzalves men went to Africa in 1443 A.D, and captured twenty nine blacks from canoes in which they were paddling offshore. But in 1448, the Portuguese decided to take part in commerce with the Africans rather than hunt them Thus frequent visits by the Portuguese began and in a few months, another slaver took 235 African  back to Lisbon. By the 18 century, other maritime nations including the Dutch. English and French had joined to participate in the Guinea trade. According to Norah Latham, although the Portuguese opened up the coastwise trade it proved so lucrative that all maritime nations of Europe hastened to participate in it. Increase in demand stimulated the productive responses and the adoption of various methods to recruit slaves for sale. A popular method was slave raiding and by 1730 AD male and female slaves were sent from Esan through the Okaijesan of lrrua s part of the annual tribute to the Oba of Benin. Such slaves were usually sold to the Europeans at the Benin port of Ughoton. Sometimes Esan merchants sold their slaves to Bini slave traders who paid visits to the area until they established Eko-Ekhelen meaning traders camp where some Binis resided to procure slaves from the surrounding areas. Such slaves were eventually sent to Benin through trade. Popular among the traders at Eko-Ekhelen was Omokhua whose descendants still live in the chiefdom up till today

The new type of slavery vas impersonal and it regarded the slave as a piece of Property that was bought or sold and could be killed without the owner having to account to anybody Slavery though as old as mankind and existed in various forms from one society to another was accentuated in West Africa with the European demand for Afric.ans whom they bought and took to the New World. The demand steadily rose from the period of Portuguese contact with Benin and by July 1499 about 920 slaves were laded un the Portuguese settler colony of Sao Tome apart from the number that were used to baiter for gold at great profit in Sao Jorge da Mina. Compared to later developments when the trans-Atlantic trade gained momentum, Ryder suggests that the number of slaves from Benin during this early period of the trade was not very large because its demand was governed by the supply of gold, which though subject to considerable seasonal fluctuation showed little overall increase from one year to another.’

The discovery of America marked a new phase in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. European traders transported slaves from West Africa to Spanish America, Caribbean Islands and by the 16th century Brazil to grow sugar in plantations and they later became the highest slave-importing nation of the world. Between 1500 and 1575 the Portuguese and Spanish had succeeded in transporting about 200,000 Africans as slaves across the Atlantic Ocean. The supply steadily rose and by 1650, over 350,000 slaves arrived Brazil. As Dantzig has argued, there was no service class simply waiting to be shipped from West Africa Instead, people were ferociously removed from their communities and sold as slaves to the Europeans. European traders depended on African middlemen in places like Ughoton in Benin and El-mina to buy slaves. Many people in West Africa were therefore faced with the choice to either participate in getting slaves or be enslaved.

Intra- chiefdom raids and kidnapping increasingly became the methods of procuring slave for sale in pre-colonial Esan. War or raid was a quick method of getting slaves although such wars were the source of tension and distress especially as they became numerous in the 18th  and 19th  centuries during the day of the Atlantic slave trade. Such inter-tribal or inter-clan were according to Okojie not motivated by the desire to raid for slaves but were the consequences of a grievance held by one group against another Dantzig also suggests that most of the slaves that were sold on the Gold Coast in the second half of the 18 century were rather the ‘by—product’ of many wars between coastal states and states of the immediate interior, or criminals explicitly condemned to slavery and transportation. But the use of war under various pretexts or provocations as a means to settle disputes became more common by the 19th century in Esanland. The fighting men on both sides fought and died or were taken as prisoners of war.  Even when, the first option was more common because “brave men fought to win or die”, just like when Irrua warriors invaded Ihumudumu village in Ekpoma and the village square was littered with the human heads of those who resisted captivity; some people, were taken captives. This attitude was present in the wars between Uromi and Irrua Irrua and Ewu, Opoji or Ugbegun. The women and children between the ages of five and thirteen years were usually taken away as captives. But the Ighene or Egbonughele jointly called Oboigbaoto or Okulokhimioto-the he-men of the village became the warriors. If a raid was successful, great jubilation greeted the returning warriors calIed Eyokulo under the Okakulo or war-leader who was not only a physically strong man but also a feared medicine man. Each warrior usually had his captives march in front of him. The important ones among such captives were taken as tributes by the Onojie while the war lords especially the Iyasele and the Ojomon retained others. Thus the spoils were divided and those prisoners that were not sold or redeemed by their communities were kept as slaves. It was in this vein that Ling Roth referred to the war leader in Benin as very powerful and wealthy

The element of surprise, which was and still is a strategy in warfare. was important in slave raids hence Okojie noted that inter-tribal wars and slave raiding worked on the element of surprise. Without it, the raider was either killed or taken captive himself if h was unlucky. Thus most slave raids were concentrated on vulnerable communities by their stronger neighbours. Such subject peoples paid tributes and rendered contributions in men and materials to their overlord . By the 18 century captives from wars were increasingly sold off to Benin traders as slaves because it became more profitable to sell them in exchange for the plastic beads of red, black and yellow colours which were locally called akpono and coral beads. The akpolo came into vague as part  of the price a man must pay for the clitoridectomy exercise, which his bride passed through before marriage. According to traditions the husband spent a lot of money. buying these beads (Akpono) which the girl wore round her waist, and coral beads round her neck. Though she wore no clothes the Akpono ‘as quite expansive to distinguish her from those girls who were yet to be betrothed. According to estimates an akpono was costing about one pound and a girl needed to wear between 12 and 15 or more around her waist It was after the first night at the husband’s that she became a woman and must from then on wear clothes

The desire to get captives for sale as we have seen stimulated wars, The 18th  and 19 centuries represented the peak of the trade in slaves between Benin and the Europeans. Notable among such wars were the lrrua-Opoji, Irrua-Ileh,  Benin-Uzea, Benin - Uromi, Okhuodua-Ewatto Okhuodua- Ubiaja, Akhueghu-Ogwa war and the numerous Emaudo raid on Ekpoma, Irrua and Ihumudumu. There were also the Nupe slave raids of the 19th  century. In the Ogwa- Ebelle  war Okoje recounts how Akhueghu the Onojie of Ebelle fought the Ogwa people. The reason for the war was that Onojie Akhueghu’s maternal sister Eihe vas earlier kidnapped by some Ogwa people. When she declared her identity she was perhaps released on account of that but the Onojie felt slighted. He attacked Ogwa with his fighting men and the renowned medicine man and warrior called Ogbebor was killed and several of the Ogwa minstrels found themselves slaves at Ebelle. However it was not in every case that people went to war to save a relation from enslavement Onojie Akhueghu‘s purported reason for going to Ogwa was an excuse. More Often agreements were made to redeem a beloved one from enslavement before the individual finally got to the stage of’ being sold out to slave dealers. Redemption price for such an individual sometimes exceeded two or three times the market price of a slave. Such was the case of Abhulimen the Ewu prince who was sold out by his father because of his troublesome nature. His younger brother Ojeifo who found out that Abhulimen was a slave in Northern Nigeria redeemed him in 1905.

Various devices including tributes, payment for goods, services and fines were adopted by many Enijíe to get slaves. For example, those who were accused of capital Offences like murder, Ivio Uvun or stealing the seed yams another farmer had planted, climbing an oil palm tree on which another man was already up, abuses with the genitals and Cutting of kola nut trees were increasingly sold off as slaves especially when they were considered as recalcitrant. Servants or slaves who argued with their master or abused the masters’ trust were threatened with sale or were actually sold off. It increasingly became possible for an Onojie to invoke any of the laws, which governed Esan Society to enrich himself. For example, a person who was accused of committing adultery with the Onojie’s wife was Sentenced to death and his Property Confiscated by the Onojie. In the same vein murderers and childless people also had their properties taken away by the onojie. In such circumstances a message was at once sent from the Onojie to the Okhaemon of that village demanding eval-ale which meant the dead man’s farming implement or all he possessed in this world. That was what happened to Orii,
a very rice and influential man who was accused of murder in Irrua and  when the Onojie Eromosele C1878-1921 A.D sent for him,

Knowing what his fate would be if he went to Eguare and he dared not refuse to go, Orii began to buy himself He sent two of his children, malr and female. The Onojie accepted these with thanks and reminded him that he wanted to see him. He added more of his family until he had sent 14 persons that is 7 of each sex, each human being sent was accompanied with Ebo or lije nearly 1 9,000 cowries. Finally the great Eromosele sent that he was then satisfied and asked Oril to come for a formal burying of the hatchet and blessings. Wealthy Orii went to Eguare fortified with more gifts in money and human present. These were encouragingly accepted at Eguare but he was immediately tied up on the wooden cross to die a slow and shameful death at the present Usugbenu junction. Of course having been killed for an alleged murder his property automatically passed on to Eromosele, lord supreme of Irrua.

Another example which can also be mentioned here was that of the Onojie of Irrua Ogbeide C1840-1864 who was described in Esan idiom as Ogbeide gba agbon, ole he eihebhamen meaning Ogbeide, the one man against the world, named his child I am innocent. He raided Okurele village of Usugbenu in his domain and the village ceased to exist as a unit in Irrua. In the same vein the Onojie Eromosele C1876 — 1921 was held in high esteem by both Oba Adolo and Oba Ovonramwe of Benin not merely because he was the Okaijesan but for the large number of slaves he sent as tributes to Benin. In a funeral song about him, it was expressed that he was an avid slave dealer who had to be extra harsh to exact respect from his subjects.

Of this dead king I could tell what torment it was to serve him.  God grant they love him not in heaven for then would heaven be turned to hell. And yet he had a form so fair. That hell were heaven were he there.

Apart from slave raids, kidnapping was another popular method, which was adopted to procure slaves for sale by the 18th and 19th centuries. Usually, the targets were unprotected women and children. It was a specialized “human stealing”, a profession that required  much skill and intelligence. Kidnappers were locally called Oduomonmu meaning those who stole children like the Gbomogbomo of Yorubaland. Their usual method was to attack their vitims when they least expected and at times when the strong member of the society were away from home. Such victims were usually gagged slipped carried away. Sometimes kidnappers lay ambush on a caravan in their journey.’ between chiefdoms. Hence a caravan leader vas expected to provide enough armed guards for his troupe called otu-ekhen. They demanded restitution whenever such kidnappers were recognized as having come from neighboring areas. The insecurity which arose from the slave trade enhanced the enactment of none— aggression pacts, which however did not stop the numerous wars because the slave trade was a Lucrative business. The pacts expressed as “we do not see each other’s blood” or “because we are brothers” were frequently broken under various pretexts like retaliation. Ordinarily, settlements, which were founded by men of kindred relationship like brothers, treated themselves as members of same Egbele or family. Also settlements under the Okoven system were under oath to live like brothers. Therefore since Udo and Ubiaja, Emu and Ohordua, Egoro and Opoji were under three separate none- aggression pacts, if Opoji offended Ohordua, it was imperative that any of the two composite communities could invade any member of the other. For example Irrua, Uromi and Ebelle fought on the same side as Binis during the Akure war of 1818 AD, but during the succession civil war between Ogbebor and Erediauwa (later Oba Osemwede) the Esan people of Ewohinii supported Eradiauwa and fought against the Bínis because the prince’s mother was from Evohimi. Also during the Odin—Ovba (Adolo as Oba) and Ogbewekon conflict that culminated ¡n the Amahor war of 1853, Igueben, Ebelle Amahor and Ezen fbught against the Binis and the rest of Esan were for the Oba. Esan was not a united group of chiefdoms, a factor that allowed for intra-Esan raids in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Apart from the internal raids among Esan villages and one chiefdom attacking another, Esan experienced external raids from Benin in the South and the Nupe in the north. Like the internal slave raids and other forms of social dislocations which characterized the slave trade era in Esan, the external invasions created negative impact on Esan economy. The armed attacks during the reign of Oba Ozolua C1461 -1503 AD by Benin warriors on Ekpoma and Uromi have been discussed. Although the wars were not for slave per se the Benin warriors captured slaves including the young Uda who was taken from Ekpoma but was later redeemed and sent back home where he resuscitated the second Ekpoma dynasty. Meanwhile Oba Ozolua had expanded Uhi group of villages as a frontier garrison to keep an eye on or carry out raids into Esan territories. Apart from the raids by Oba Ozolua on Esan. Oba Akenzua I c 17 13—1 735 AD and his military commander, the Ezomo Ehennua warred with the Esan region in the 18th century.

The war they began in 1720 was yielding a number of prisoners, the largest share of which went to the ruler and his general. who must have been aware that the sale of only 40 slaves could bring returns as great as that from 1O.OO pounds of’ ivory  when the ship Africa arrived. the Oba.. Confident of imminent victory, assured the factor that 250—300 slaves, two—thirds of them males could be supplied within three months. The Ezomo still more confident than his master, offered 300 within two months.

Ryder who quotes the Liverpool slave captain High Crow as describing the slaves to be ‘most orderly and well behaved of all the blacks’ emphasized that they were war captives from the Esan region. Also during the reign of Oba Adolor C1848-1888 Ilesha slave raiders under the leadership of Ogedengbe also entered lruekpen after overrunning Ora but were only stopped by Benin forces led by Ebohon. Perhaps, Benin’s action against the Ilesha slave raiders was based on the consideration that the area was part of the Benin enclave to draw tributes including slaves from. According to Okojie, Ebohon of Benin was a terrible enemy who was preying on many Esan clans in the second half of the 19th century.

Another external invaders of Esan communities were the Muslirn Nupe warriors. They entered Esan land in the 19th century through. Auchi. Although some people believe that the Nupe invasions of the 19th century were mainly motivated by the desire to Islamize the people in the south the idea can no longer be sustained in the face of what happened. Nupe invaders plundered and pillaged communities in their route. In Esan the Nupe were called Azanama meaning Muslims and they were noted ferocious slave raiders. Some of the slaves they captured were used in agricultural plantations in Idah. Strong ones were drafted into the Nupe army while others were used as domestic servants. Some others too were sold to the Europeans in exchange for firearms and other articles. By 1850 AD, Nupe raiders used firearms in their invasions of Ewu and Irrua chiefdoms. Such firearms were those that Mason and Nadel described as “cheap muskets” which the Nupe people purchased from the European merchants on the Niger coast. The use of firearms by Nupe invaders unleashed terror on communities that men rather went into hiding immediately the forces were sighted than to try to resist them. The use of guns was a new development, which the Nupe army had acquired earlier than the communities they invaded. In his slave- gun circle theory, Inikori emphasized that those individuals or groups of slave gatherers bought more firearms to capture more ‘ slaves to buy more firearms.

Apart from the use of firearms Nupe soldiers traveled very quickly and mostly on horses which were locally called Akasi. They took unsuspecting victims by surprise and as such captured women and the youths in hundreds. Okojie noted that the famous Kukuruku war between 1847 and 1850 AD was really a series of dare devil raids by the Nupe warriors. As a result of the devastating raids the word Gha-Azanama meaning see the Muslim raiders became most terrifying as it was followed with a flight to safety even before a shot was fired.  A typical Nupe raid was recorded by Edwin Hoyt from a European eye witness account. According to the account,

The inhabitants of the towns in the route fled across the river on the approach of the enemy. A few days after the arrival of the fugitives (who were escaping) a column of - smoke rising in the air, about five miles above the confluence marked the advance of the Nupes; and in two days afterwards the whole of the towns and five or six others were in a blaze. The shrieks of the unfortunate wretches that had not escaped, answered by the loud wailing’s and lamentations of their friends and relations at seeing them carried into slavery and their habitations

In 1847 Nupe raiders invaded Ewu, Irrua, Uromi and Ekpoma Chiefdom and their victims were young  men, women, children and livestock including goat, sheep and fowls. As part of defence, an alarm system of the throaty and shrill cry of Uku khu ku ! Gha Aranama meaning “Hell Here come the the Nupe slave raiders” came into use in pre-colonial Esan to warn people. When Nupe raids were carried out in the night the invaders set tire to the raffia roofs in an entire village. As people ran out in contusion, they fell easy prey. The raiders also attacked Ugboha via Inemen with their usual fury, and nearly all Eguare took to their heels. In fact Nupe raids were not restricted to Esan as the reached Uzairue Auchi and Aviele through Agenebode, Okpekpe and Akoko — Edo before they got to parts of Esan. Apart from being ordinary raids the slaves or the conquest of pagan peoples for- the purpose of Islamizing them, the Nupe raids can perhaps be seen from the background of an attempt by Muslim north to seize back the trans-Saharan trade which was on the decline especially as a result of European trade in West Africa. According to Bovill, although the French advance towards Timbuktu effectively prevented the export of slaves from the Sudan an easterly route came into use in the 19th  century pioneered by Arabs from Augila and traded in slaves thereby maintaining some hold on the trade in West Africa,

Apart from their incessant raids of Esanland some people of Nupe origin settled in some parts of Esan to raid their neighbours and were known as slave dealers. Prominent among such settlements was Emaudo in Ekpoma. One Idubor who came there from Ada-Udo founded it. Ada-Udo said to be an ‘Hausa’ land by some and in Yoruba land by others. Sounds Etik or Ibibio. Idubor was the leader of a band of soldiers who worked their way into the area on a marauding mission. On reaching Ekpoma the Onojie encouraged them to settle down and work as mercenaries. They assisted the Onojie in his wars against Ebohon, the Benin guerilia leader, they assisted the Onojie of Opoji when he was driven from his village. They were a ready army for any Onojie who needed their Services to raid another. For example, they assisted the Onojie of Egoro to fight his wars. To some extent they adopted Ekpoma customs but continued to send tributes of slaves. Palm oil, goats and cowries to the ruler of ldah. The Emaudo settlement expanded as more Yoruba and Hausa elements stayed among the earlier settlers. Eniaudo had no frends and as a threat to other Ekpoma villages whose people they kidnapped at the least Opportunity. They sold such victims to the visiting slave dealers amongst them, Attempts b the Onojie to bring them into a mutual co-existence with other Ekpoma people Proved futile, until the establishment of colonial rule

Apart from their use of firearms and their surprise attacks Nupe raiders were noted for their Preparedness for war. They mesmerized other people with war charms as they sized their victims. This was an attitude Austin Aiabor also found existed anion the Emaudo setters who he said possessed a shrine with an Osun or pot that was usually visited by the warriors before they left for the raids. In the same veir they went to battle with ropes. which they used in tying their victims who were later taken to Emaudo and sold to visiting slave dealers.

Among the consequences of the slave trade was the rise of African beneficiaries. They were the affluent members of the society and developed an enclave economy, which flourished on luxury goods like iron bars, cowries, beads, manufactured wares and firearms. Therefore the vast majority of Esan like other West Africans at the time did not enjoy the benefits from the trade especially as there was little or no trickle down from the top to the bottom. At the apex of this affluent group was the Onojie. Others were the war leaders (ekakulo) and the chiefs Ekhaemon. They possessed more followers than the ordinary man. They had personal slaves Igbon and servants and large families with which they -maintained-’control over the ordinary people. They sometimes established camps of wards of their own which remained as part of the various chiefdoms. Like they were in Esan, Ling Roth described the war leader in Benin as very powerful and wealthy. According to him, his hall was “elegantly encrusted with cowries” and he possessed more than ten thousand slaves. Martin also reported a similar wealthy group led by the king  in  Loango in the 17th and 18th  centuries. According to him, the king had ‘nouveaux riches.’ In contrast to this group was the vast majority of Esan who had little to distinguish them as slaves or freemen. It is true that nobody was denied food, shelter or  clothing but there was inequality in the distribution of and access to basic human need. A poor person locally called uhunmu had to be in service to the wealthy Okporia or he was considered a deviant known as Ozuza and as such was sold off from the community as a slave.

It is true that the standard of living differed from person to person or from one family to another but in 18 and 19 century Esan, power came to be measured by might and the wealth from European goods. It was to meet this local demand that the trading ship coming to West Africa was like a mobile supermarket with

  1. Textiles woollens and linens manufactured in Europe,
    Cottons manufactured before the nineteenth century,
    mostly in India, and silks manufactured either in Europe
    or Asia, all kinds of firearms gun power and shot, knives,
    and cutlasses, many kinds of European made iron
    mongery and hardware, iron, copper, brass, and lead in
    bar form; beads and trinkets; spirits mm, brandy, or gin
    according to the country of the trader, and many kinds
    of  provisions.

These goods according to Dumont were foreign knick-knacks over which African elite frittered away their human and material resources. Apart from European goods the wealthy Esan person beginning with the Onojie possessed the humpless cow locally called emina as a symbol of status since it was generally regarded as a prestigious animal The more the number of emin a person had the more he was looked up to as okporia. It was to this end that the Onojie was entitled by law to have a calf out of every two or three a cow delivered in his domain. Poor people or uhunmu did not possess cow but they reared goats (ebhe) and sheep (oghogho).

Another consequence of the slave trade in pre-colonial Esan was that it led to foundation of new settlements. The trade in slaves itself was a source of intra Esan interaction and between her and neighbouring peoples. By the middle of the 18th century colonies of strangers existed in different past of Esanland. For example Esan attracted trader’s settlements of Ekekhen Igueben Eduekí and Emaudo to mention but a few during that period of the slave trade. Traders and soldiers from Benin founded the first three settlements in the l6th century. The early settlers were attracted to procure commodities including slaves from the area through trade for the Oba over the centuries. Igueben was acclaimed to have been a very fertile ground to grow crops including yam and pepper. In time, many of those in the out-lying villages like Emu Uromi, Ugboha. Oria and Irhue who either were running from slave raiders or had grievances in the villages around or who found lucrative trades with the Benin settlers moved into the new settlement to establish their permanent homes. In the same way Edueki was formed by one Egbon who was a trader in slaves for the Oba. According to Butcher, “he used to purchase criminals or insolvent debtors and send them to Benin. Esan evidently being a fruitful source of supply, and Igor a base conveniently near Benin territory he settled here permanently, and his descendants identified themselves with the rest of Igor

Lifes in these vllages were organized along the pattern, which obtained in any other Benin village with the Odionwele or eldest man as the head of administration. The festivals like Eho. Igue. Everre were celebrated as they were done in Benin. Family greetings, which identify all Benin people with their family roots, were also practiced in Ekekhen. Some of the prominent leaders who were remembered included Osa, Emokhua, Ogbeide N’ Emamwen and Odukpaye in Ekekhen. These people and several other traders contributed to the expansion and growth of trade between Esan and Benin. In fact the slave trade provided an opportunity of mixing various people from different background together

Another consequence of the slave trade was the heavy losses in human resources. Various people have speculated on the number of slaves carried to the New World. According to ‘Walter Rodney, West Africa lost between forty to fifty million of its population because of the Atlantic slave trade. But Fage is of the view that the total number of Africans landed in the Americas were of the order of 14 or 15 million Paul Thatcher believes that West Africa lost many of its people possibly as many as 20 million slaves were transported to America. According to PhiIip Curtin, West Africa’s contribution to the Atlantic slave trade is in fact unlikely to have been more than about 6 million. The above views emphasize that there is no consensus in the number of people West Africa lost due to the slave trade. This is because during the period of the slave trade, records were not kept of those who died in the raids the long trek From the interior to the coast and those who died in their shipment to the New world. Despite this weakness it is agreed generally, that West African economies suffered major setbacks in demographic changes due to heavy losses in human resources. maJority of the people taken away were within the age brackets of’ 15-45 ears. These were the most productive Segment of the labour force. Even though the trade in slaves was not a one way export business in Esan since long distance traders from the area also imported slaves some of who were retained and others sold for profit: such purchases were on a much smaller scale to replace lost human resources.

Another consequence of the slave trade era in Esan was that of disruption of production generally In Esan as in other parts of West Africa, the period of the slave trade was a period of plundering and pillaging by an oligarchy of war lords. The fear and uncertainty (to lives and Property) due to intermittent raids wars, loss of able—bodied men and women made meaningful economic development impossible. For example agriculture suffered particularly because of the insecurity posed by kidnappers and by the loss of able-bodied men and women. Peter Okigbo suggests that in all parts of West Africa, the slave trade impeded the development of agriculture beyond the requirements of day to day living.  For example, cassava which was already cultivated in Femado po by 1850 AD did not spread inland of West Africa until colonial rule established peace.

Economists teach that m the organization of a community, capital assets and its build up play a vital role in economic development. Those people that escaped with their lives during wars or slave raids ended up losing their capital assets. For example night raids, which were mostly carried out in pre—colonial Esan, were preceded with the flaming of rooftops. The usual method was to prepare special arrows with their tips covered with lint that was soaked in alcohol. When lighted, such arrows shot from the Ekpede crossbow in Esan like in Benin usually covered a distance of between fifty to seventy yards. The shafts of the Ekpede were made of palm wood called Ifenmen which were fletched by feathers or leaves so as to ensure that the arrow went afar. This was the same pattern of arrow Smith found in Yorubaland, Benin, Agbor, the Cameroons, Gabon and Ugowe where all had wood and were of roughly the same shape and style.

Those who escaped from wars and raids nursed or carried out revenge against their attackers. A  Successful raid offered booty in material and slaves. Thus the economy was affected to the extent that as long as the Atlantic slave trade existed it was extremely difficult to carry on normal economic pursuits as it became more profitable to be a warlord than to remain just a farmer. The war-lord had opportunities of becoming an Okhaemon- the Onojie’s representative in his village. It was a non-hereditary position. The warlord also had opportunities of acquiring his own booty as a reward for his personal efforts. Fage has therefore wrongly argued that the Atlantic slave trade led to sustained economic growth within the polities that were engaged in it. The ruling elites it is submitted profited materially from the trade. For example it was argued that they acquired some European goods and other luxury items, which they could not otherwise have obtained. African rulers also grew wealthy as a result of the slave trade and with their new wealth increased their powers over their subjects as well as over their weaker neighbours. This view carefully examined shows the benefit of a few at the expense of many. There is no doubt that there was growth in commercial activities in pre-colonial Esan like in Benin during the slave trade era when European goods found their way from the coast to the interior and local products including slaves were bought by the Europeans. But distinctions must be made between economic development and commercial growth. Economic development suggests growth in all sectors of the economy with a corresponding benefit to all renumbers of the society. This did not happen in Esan, Benin or Etsako where material and monetary wealth (cowries) from the trade had a negligible effect on the entire population as the wealth was spend on prestige improvement and consumption purposes like lavish entertainments by the few. This commercial growth is not synonymous with economic development. Instead, it marked a change in the nature of Esan economy.

In conclusion, the slave trade era in Esan witnessed the growth of an enclave economy, which was dominated by the oligarchy. They were the minority, the power and the economic elite of the time. The wealth, which flowed to them enable them to live a life of splendor they were the ivory bangle on them arm, it as locally called ahanma. Led by the Onojie they possessed many wives, servants and slaves. Built big compounds and reared the humpless cow locally called emina. They engaged in the Esan trade with Benin and as such adopted various methods to procure slaves which were required by the Europeans who carne to the Benin port of Ughoton. To maintain their status— quo they raided each other’s community’ for booty. This also explains Benin imperial ambition over neighbouring peoples including Esan. Esan economy was therefore characterized with growth in commerce without a corresponding increase in development...

By Dr.A.I Okoduwa
Department of History and International
Studies Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma.

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