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Power, Honour and Shame: The Ideology of Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate


This article takes issue with ahistorical typologies that depict all slaves as ‘dishonoured’ persons. It demonstrates that royal slaves in Kano emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate were initially valuable to the elite because they were indeed dishonoured outsiders. But, over time, slaves tried to limit their exploitation by developing their own systems of honour and status. The article traces when, where and how royal slaves in Kano acquired and attempted to acquire ‘honour’ as officials, kin and members of a broader social world. However, it concludes that, although slaves did indeed develop systems of honour, their ability to acquire an honourable identity was nonetheless limited by their status as slaves, which they remained despite their power and position.


Cet article exprime son désaccord avec les typologies ahistoriques qui dépeignent tous les esclaves comme des personnes «déshonorées». Il montre que l’élite attachait initialement une valeur aux esclaves royaux de l’Emirat de Kano, rattaché au Califat de Sokoto, parce qu’ils étaient en effet des étrangers déshonorés. Au fil du temps cependant, les esclaves ont tenté de limiter leur exploitation en élaborant leurs propres systèmes d’honneur et de statut. L’article retrace le moment, le lieu et la façon dont les esclaves royaux de Kano acquirent et tentèrent d’acquérir de l’«honneur» en tant qu'officiels, parents et membres d’un univers social plus large. Il conclut cependant que, bien qu’ayant effectivement élaboré leurs propres systèmes d’honneur, les esclaves jouissaient néanmoins d’une capacité limitée à acquérir une identité honorable compte tenu de leur statut d’esclave, statut qu’ils conservaient en dépit de leur puissance et de leur position.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Patricia. Crone 1980. Slaves on Horses: the evolution of the Islamic polity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Martin. Klein 1998. Slavery and French Colonial Rule in West Africa. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paul E. Lovejoy , and Jan S. Hogendorn 1993. Slow Death for Slavery: the course of abolition in northern Nigeria, 1897–1936. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Joseph. Smaldone 1977. Historical and Sociological Aspects of Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

P. R. C. Weaver 1972. Familia Caesaris: a social study of the emperor's freedmen and slaves. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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