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Periodizing the End of Slavery: Colonial Law, the League of Nations, and Slave Resistance in the Nigerien Sahel, 1920s–1930s

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 June 2021

Benedetta Rossi*
University of Birmingham


When, how, and why—if at all—did slavery end in the Nigerien Sahel? What processes facilitated the emancipation of enslaved persons? What were the strategies of colonial administrators, slave-owners, slave-traders, slaves, and slave descendants? In the first two decades following France’s occupation of the Central Sahel, legal abolition did not lead to the suppression of slavery, because laws were not at first enforced. But in the 1920s the internationalization of abolitionism that followed the creation of the League of Nations resulted in the activation of anti-slavery laws. This article argues that emancipation was initially propelled by the establishment of international surveillance mechanisms with the power to (de-)legitimize colonial rule at a time when no one was actively seeking to end slavery in this region. The first section highlights the ambiguities of European abolitionism and reveals the web of connections between the League of Nations, the French state, and French administrators on the ground. The second section develops a microanalysis of slave resistance, showing how some enslaved and trafficked persons, especially young women, profited from global institutional transformations to incriminate their owners and traffickers. The final section considers the contemporary recollections of an elderly woman, who in her youth experienced circumstances analogous to those described earlier in the article. Her perceptions, and those of others like her, exist today in a context marked by tension between circumscribed proslavery discourses and national grassroots abolitionism.

Temporalities of the Colonial Moment
© Éditions EHESS 2021

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This article was first published in French as “Périodiser la fin de l’esclavage. Le droit colonial, la Société des Nations et la résistance des esclaves dans le Sahel nigérien, 1920–1930,” Annales HSS 72, no. 4 (2017): 983–1021.


I would like to thank Jean Allain for helping me understand the function of the colonial chambre d’homologation, Mike Kirkwood for his insightful suggestions regarding the English version of the text, and Antoine Heudre for his precise and careful French translation. I owe a debt of gratitude to Nigerien colleagues and archivists, and to the friends and research assistants who supported my work in the region of Tahoua. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, they may prefer not to be mentioned by name. But it is thanks to their help that the labor and social history of Niger is being written, and I hope that Nigerien researchers will increasingly contribute to this endeavor. Finally, this research would not have been possible without the collaboration of many persons of slave and free descent in the hinterland of Tahoua, who shared their knowledge with me and guided my understanding of what their history meant to them. Research for this article was funded by a grant of the British Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-27-0147).


1. A circular of February 1901 abolished slavery and the slave trade in the French Sudan, but this initial measure had limited repercussions. It is discussed briefly by Jules Brévié in his Islamisme contre “naturisme” au Soudan français (Paris: E. Leroux, 1923), 243. In 1903 a law was passed that denied slavery recognition in French courts for the whole of Afrique occidentale française (French West Africa, hereafter “AOF”): this meant that masters could not continue to use French courts to reclaim fugitive slaves. The main law abolishing slavery in AOF was the law of December 12, 1905. Its first article declares that “Whoever, in the territory of Afrique-Occidentale Française and the French Congo, concludes an agreement aimed at alienating, with or without compensation, the freedom of a third party, will be punished with imprisonment of two to five years and a fine of 500 to 5000 francs. The attempt will be punished like the crime. The money, goods, or other objects or valuables received in fulfilment of the said agreement or as deposit for a forthcoming exchange will be confiscated.” Article 4 specifies that these dispositions did not affect in any way the rights pertaining to the marital or tutelary authority of a husband or father over his wives or children, as long as he did not impose a temporary or permanent servitude upon them. Decisions made by French courts would prevail in cases subject to the authority of both native and colonial courts. The text of the 1905 law was published in Journal officiel du Sénégal, January 18, 1906, pp. 51–52, Bibliothèque nationale de France (hereafter “BNF”) microfilm M-5530; governor-general Ernest Roume commented on this law in his opening speech at the session of the government council of AOF: Journal officiel du Sénégal, December 14, 1905, pp. 641–43, BNF microfilm M-5530. The first two articles were amended on August 8, 1920: “French Congo” was changed to “French Equatorial Africa,” and the Ministries of the Colonies and Justice were made responsible for the execution of the law. For a discussion of slavery’s legal abolition in AOF, see François Renault, “L’abolition de l’esclavage au Sénégal. L’attitude de l’administration française, 1848–1905,” Revue française d’histoire d’outre-mer 58, no. 1 (1971): 5–81. The abolition of 1905 was prepared through a series of studies and reports that have been published in Paul Lovejoy and Alexander Kanya-Forstner, eds., Slavery and Its Abolition in French West Africa: The Official Reports of G. Poulet, E. Roume, and G. Deherme (Madison: University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1994). I consulted the original files of these reports in Dakar at the Archives nationales du Sénégal (National Archives of Senegal, hereafter “ANS”), series K, “Esclavage et Captivité 1807–1915,” particularly K15 to K29. Martin A. Klein examines the ambivalence of the French administration with regards to abolition in the early 1900s in Slavery and Colonial Rule in French West Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 131–40.

2. Glenda Sluga and Patricia M. Clavin, eds., Internationalisms: A Twentieth Century History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017); see also Roland Burke, Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2010); Barbara H. M. Metzger, “Towards an International Human Rights Regime during the Inter-War Years: The League of Nations’ Combat of Traffic in Women and Children,” and Kevin Grant, “Human Rights and Sovereign Abolitions of Slavery, c. 1885–1950,” both in Beyond Sovereignty: Britain, Empire and Transnationalism, c. 1880–1950, ed. Kevin Grant, Philippa Levine, and Frank Trentmann (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), respectively 57–79 and 80–102.

3. ANS, K60 (19), governor of AOF to the governors of the colonies, October 11, 1929.

4. Susan Pedersen, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 5.

5. On September 10, 1919, the co-signatories of the treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye revised the General Act of Berlin of February 26, 1885, and the General Act of Brussels of 1890. Article 11 of the new treaty stated that “the signatory powers exercising sovereign rights or authority in African territories will continue to see to the preservation of the native populations and the improvement of their moral and material conditions. They will, in particular, endeavor to secure the complete suppression of slavery in all its forms and of the black slave trade (la traite des Noirs) by land and sea.”

6. Sally Falk Moore, “Law and Social Change: The Semi-Autonomous Social Field as an Appropriate Subject of Study,” Law and Society Review 7, no. 4 (1973): 719–46.

7. Archives nationales du Niger (National Archives of Niger, hereafter “ANN”), 381, note on Muḥammad al-Mumin, Tahoua, January 5, 1951.

8. Benedetta Rossi, From Slavery to Aid: Politics, Labour, and Ecology in the Nigerien Sahel, 1800–2000 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 142–58.

9. Suzanne Miers, “Slavery: A Question of Definition,” Slavery and Abolition 24, no. 2 (2003): 1–16. For a recent analysis of similar strategies in the Central Asia context, see Elena Smolarz, “Speaking about Freedom and Dependency: Representations and Experiences of Russian Enslaved Captives in Central Asia in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of Global Slavery 2, no. 1/2 (2017): 44–71.

10. In his study of English capitalist industries, Marc W. Steinberg has shown that particular labor regimes are “embedded in legal institutions that bound both the ways in which the labor relationship can be perceived and the strategies by which the subordination of labor can be pursued”: Steinberg, “Capitalist Development, the Labor Process, and the Law,” American Journal of Sociology 109, no. 2 (2003): 445–95, here p. 484. See also Steinberg, England’s Great Transformation: Law, Labor, and the Industrial Revolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). In this article, I follow Christopher Tomlins’s understanding of the law as not external to the social phenomena that it regulates, but itself a particular manifestation of the moral axioms of its time: the law should be seen as “but one of society’s authorizing discourses.” Unlike other discourses, however, “law’s moral existence is founded … upon a claim to transcend all other authorizing discourses”: Christopher Tomlins, “Subordination, Authority, Law: Subjects in Labor History,” International Labor and Working-Class History 47 (1995): 56–90, here p. 67.

11. For a general discussion of the Code de l’indigénat in AOF, see Gregory Mann, “What Was the Indigénat? The ‘Empire of Law’ in French West Africa,” Journal of African History 50, no. 3 (2009): 331–53; Frederick Cooper, Decolonization and African Society: The Labor Question in French and British Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). See also Babacar Fall, Le travail forcé en Afrique-Occidentale française, 1900–1946 (Paris: Karthala, 1993), 47–52; Anthony Asiwaju, “Control Through Coercion: A Study of the Indigénat Regime in French West African Administration, 1887–1946,” Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria 9, no. 3 (1978): 91–124.

12. ANN, 381.1, district commander of Tahoua to the governor of Niger, June 29, 1931.

13. See, for example, Suzanne Miers and Richard Roberts, eds., The End of Slavery in Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988), 19–25 and 42–47; Fall, Le travail forcé en Afrique-Occidentale française; Cooper, Decolonization and African Society, in particular 23–56; Klein, Slavery and Colonial Rule, 35–36. See also Camille Lefebvre “Histories of a Conspiracy, Zinder 1906: Rethinking Colonial Occupation,” Annales HSS (English Edition) 72, no. 4 (2017): 945–81.

14. A close analysis of the debates and activities of these institutions can be found in Suzanne Miers, Slavery in the Twentieth Century: The Evolution of a Global Problem (Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2003), particularly 58–366. See also Joel Quirk, The Anti-Slavery Project: From the Slave Trade to Human Trafficking (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press, 2011).

15. This model has been described by Stephen Baier and Paul Lovejoy in “The Tuareg of the Central Sudan: Gradations in Servility at the Desert’s Edge (Niger and Nigeria),” in Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives, ed. Igor Kopytoff and Suzanne Miers (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977), 391–411; Stephen Baier, “Economic History and Development: Drought and the Sahelian Economies of Niger,” African Economic History 1 (1976): 1–16; Baier, “Ecologically Based Trade and the State in Precolonial West Africa,” Cahiers d’études africaines 20 (1980): 149–54; Baier and Lovejoy, “The Desert-Side Economy of the Central Sudan,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 8, no. 4 (1975): 551–81.

16. Following Tomlins’s definition, antislavery was not part of “society’s authorizing discourses” in this Sahelian region: Tomlins, “Subordination, Authority, Law,” 67.

17. On the tension between European and African legal cultures and institutions, see Richard Roberts, Litigants and Households: African Disputes and Colonial Courts in the French Soudan, 1895–1912 (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2005); Shamil Jeppie, Ebrahim Moosa, and Richard Roberts, eds., Muslim Family Law in Sub-Saharan Africa: Colonial Legacies and Post-Colonial Challenges (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010); Richard Roberts and Kristin Mann, eds., Law in Colonial Africa (Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1991). On the notion of legal “hybridity,” see Barbara Cooper, “Secular States, Muslim Law and Islamic Religious Culture: Gender Implications of Legal Struggles in Hybrid Legal Systems in Contemporary West Africa,” Droits et Cultures’59, no. 1 (2011): 97–120.

18. A similar methodological focus on the practical and strategic usage of legal procedures is developed in Renata Ago and Simona Cerutti, eds., “Procedure di giustizia,” special issue, Quaderni storici 101, no. 2 (1999), in particular pp. 307–11. M’hamed Oualdi has focused on the positions of the various parties involved in legal cases that cut across different legislations, see Oualdi, “Le ‘pluralisme juridique.’ Au fil d’un conflit de succession en Méditerranée à la fin du xixe siècle,” Revue d’histoire du xix e siècle 48 (2014): 93–106. For an analysis of the law “in action” in twenty-first century Egypt, see Baudouin Dupret, Le jugement en action. Ethnométhodologie du droit, de la morale et de la justice en Égypte (Geneva: Droz, 2006). Lauren Benton’s critical analysis of the “hierarchical model of legal pluralism in which state law subsumed … all jurisdictions” is also valuable; see Benton, “Colonial Law and Cultural Difference: Jurisdictional Politics and the Formation of the Colonial State,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, no. 3 (1999): 563–88, here p. 563. See also Emmanuelle Saada, “Citoyens et sujets de l’Empire français. Les usages du droit en situation colonial,” Genèses. Sciences sociales et histoire 53, no. 4 (2003): 4–24.

19. ANN, 381.1, minister of the Colonies to the governor-general of AOF, October 27, 1922.

20. ANN, 381.5, governor-general of AOF to the lieutenant-governors of the colonies and the superintendent of the government general of Niger, circular no. 158, December 8, 1922.

21. Michel Foucault discusses official inquiries as a typical example of power-knowledge that developed in nineteenth-century Europe and legitimated the state’s control over the population: Foucault, “Truth and Juridicial Forms,” in The Essential Works of Foucault, vol. 3, Power, ed. James Faubion, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: New Press, 2000), 3145.

22. Emmanuelle Sibeud, Claire Fredj, and Hélène Blais, introduction to “Sociétés coloniales. Enquêtes et expertises,” special issue, Monde(s) 4, no. 2 (2013): 622.

23. ANN, 381.5, governor-general of AOF to the lieutenant-governors of the colonies and the superintendent of the government general of Niger, circular no. 158, December 8, 1922.

24. ANN, 381.1, lieutenant-governor of Niger to the district commanders, circular no. 24 BP [bureau politique], February 12, 1923.

25. ANN, 381.1, report by Captain Marty, district commander of Tahoua, requested by the circular no. 24 BP on slavery, Tahoua, April 11, 1923.

26. ANN, 381.1, Captain François, district commander of Agadez, to the lieutenant-governor of Niger, March 8, 1923.

27. ANN, 381.1, Captain Garner, district commander of N’Guigmi, to the lieutenant-governor of Niger, February 28, 1923.

28. See, for example, the report from the district of Tessaoua, which denounces the British administration’s alleged inability to bring about immediate emancipation, in contrast to French policies and “active propaganda aimed at freeing the slaves, and [our efforts] to make servants and vassals understand that they are free and should stop working for their masters or making customary payments to them.” ANN, 381.1, administrator of the district of Tessaoua to the lieutenant-governor of Niger, March 20, 1923.

29. See, for example, the arguments of the lieutenant-governor of Niger in response to the clarification requests from the district of Bilma: “The high slave/free population ratio prevents us from encouraging emancipation all at once because, as you remark, an immediate reorganization [of society] might harm the economic development of your district and upset the tranquility of the region. Hence for the current year you should limit yourself to facilitating the liberation of captives enslaved after our occupation and of youths and children born after that date. The strict application of these measures will force slave-owners, still too numerous, to reflect on our determination to end slavery once and for all. You will then proceed to the completion of your work progressively.” ANN, 381.1, acting lieutenant-governor of Niger to the district commander of Bilma, June 7, 1923.

30. ANN, 381.1, acting lieutenant-governor of Niger to the governor-general of AOF, June 1, 1923.

31. The text of the convention can be found on the website of the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

32. ANN, 381.1, telegram no. 1735 AGI, United Nations: questionnaire on slavery and servitude, May 11, 1931.

33. As solicited by ANN, 381.1, telegram no. 1735 of May 11, 1931.

34. For example, the report from the district of Bilma argues that when the master (le patron) travels, the slave (le captif) “takes advantage [of his absence] to steal shamelessly, and this is how certain slaves have been able to make considerable profits. … The district commander often receives complaints from masters regarding the [dis]honesty of captives or former captives, but no complaints are made or actions taken with a view to alienating the freedom of ex-slaves, and no transactions involving them take place. The current situation of ex-slaves is that of a worker who does not receive a salary, but is fed and clothed, in exchange for which he owes his labor [to his master]. Upon the death of the master he can stay with his master’s descendants or leave them as he wishes. In fact these are captives in name only, and those who are still called ‘captif’ are in the same situation as emancipated slaves who remain with their former owners voluntarily.” ANN, 381.1, Captain Lafitte, district commander of Bilma, to the governor of Niger, August 3, 1931.

35. ANN, 381.1, district commander of Tahoua to the governor of Niger, June 29, 1931.

36. ANN, 5E2.5, Gérard Esperet, head of the financial bureau, Étude sur la situation du travail servile au Niger, October 31, 1931.

37. ANN, 5E2.5, Esperet, Étude sur la situation du travail servile au Niger, October 31, 1931, 3.

38. ANN, 5E2.5, Esperet, Étude sur la situation du travail servile au Niger, October 31, 1931, 30.

39. ANN, 5E2.5, Esperet, Étude sur la situation du travail servile au Niger, October 31, 1931, 33. The French official position on compulsory labor is described in the preface to the law of August 21, 1930 (Décret portant réglementation du travail public obligatoire aux colonies), cited in Fall, Le travail forcé en Afrique-Occidentale française, 321–25.

40. See Jean Allain’s analysis of the Ethiopian case in “Slavery and the League of Nations: Ethiopia as a Civilised Nation,” Journal of the History of International Law 8, no. 2 (2006): 213–44.

41. These experts were allegedly persons with experience of African, Asian, and Arab slavery and were appointed at the request of their governments. In 1931 a committee of seven was selected, including a woman as stipulated by the LN’s Council for the Representation of Women. The experts were the Italian Tullio Zedda, secretary to the government of Eritrea, who was later replaced by Ercole Vellani, head of the Office of Studies and Propaganda in the Italian Ministry of the Colonies; Albrecht Gohr, director-general of the Belgian Ministry of the Colonies and formerly an official of the Congo Free State; Neytzell de Wilde, former president of the Legislative Assembly of the Dutch East Indies and an official of the Dutch Ministry of the Colonies; Julio López-Oliván, minister plenipotentiary at the Spanish Foreign Office, and formerly director-general of the Protectorate of Morocco and the Colonies; Virginia de Castro e Almeida, the Portuguese delegate to the LN’s International Institute for Intellectual Cooperation; Lord Lugard, formerly the British military administrator of Uganda, governor of Hong Kong, and governor of Nigeria. Lugard had served on the Temporary Slavery Commission and on the ILO’s Committee of Experts on Native Labor from 1925 to 1941. The French member was Gabriel Angoulvant, former governor of Ivory Coast and governor-general of AOF, a man known as an “authoritarian technocrat” who “advocated concessionary companies, compulsory crop growing, and forced labor for … large-scale development projects,” according to Miers, Slavery in the Twentieth Century, 199.

42. ANN, 381.1, minister of the Colonies to the governor-general of AOF, January 10, 1935. On the idea of the contract in French emancipation policy, see Klein, Slavery and Colonial Rule, 178–79; Cooper, Decolonization and African Society, 51.

43. ANN, 381.1, lieutenant-governor of Niger to the governor-general of AOF, February’22, 1935.

44. ANN, 381.5, circular no. 29 CM [cabinet militaire], to all districts and divisions, January 29, 1936. My emphasis.

45. ANN, 381.5, governor of Niger to the district commanders, circular no. 29, January 28, 1936. This round of reports was requested by the Advisory Committee of Experts on Slavery, which had replaced the LN’s Committee of Experts on Slavery. Unlike its predecessor, this was a permanent structure, but met only every two years “if necessary.” Members were still selected by their governments, and included three from the old committee (the Dutch de Wilde, the Italian Zedda, and the Belgian Gohr). Théodore Marchand, former governor of Cameroon, replaced the former French member, Angoulvant, who had died; Portugal’s José d’Almada, colonial advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, replaced de Castro e Almeida, whose involvement had been limited; the British replaced the aging Lugard with George Maxwell, a barrister who had served in Malaysia; and the Spanish member was Isabel Oyarzábal, delegate to the ILO and to the LN’s assembly. See Miers, Slavery in the Twentieth Century, 217–18.

46. I analyze these relations and their transformations throughout the period 1800–2000 in Rossi, From Slavery to Aid. See also Rossi, “Without History? Interrogating Slave Memories in Ader (Niger),” in African Voices on Slavery and the Slave Trade, ed. Alice Bellagamba, Sandra E. Greene, and Martin A. Klein (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 536–54.

47. In AOF the term bellah loosely designated slaves and slave descendants within Tuareg societies, and was used by Songhay speakers in the French Sudan. In Hausaphone contexts Tuareg slaves and ex-slaves are referred to as buzu, buzaye, or bugadje. The colonial sources cited in this article use the terms bellah and buzu interchangeably.

48. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 4, case of Abdelkader and Ahmed ag Mohamed.

49. Muḥammad al-Mumin was the leader of the Kel Eghlel of Abalagh. He and his younger relative Muḥammad Ibrahim were influential religious scholars, respected by the colonial administration who relied on their advice and called upon their services in the Tahoua region. They also shared their knowledge (and their important manuscript collection) with some of the main scholars of Tuareg societies in Niger, including H. T. Norris, Edmond Bernus, Johannes Nicolaisen, and Ghubayd Agg-Alawjeli (Ghoubëid Alojaly), all of whom refer to these two shaykhs of Abalagh in their works. I had conversations with Ibrahim in Abalagh on October 9 and 10, 2005.

50. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 8, case of Mohamed Ould Belahi.

51. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 8, case of Mohamed Ould Belahi.

52. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 9, case of Oumar ag Ibrahim.

53. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 9, case of Oumar ag Ibrahim.

54. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 7, case of Sibilla ag Kibebe.

55. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 7, case of Sibilla ag Kibebe.

56. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 7, case of Sibilla ag Kibebe.

57. See Benjamin N. Lawrance and Richard L. Roberts, eds., Trafficking in Slavery’s Wake: Law and the Experience of Women and Children (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012). See also Claire C. Robertson and Martin A. Klein, eds., Women and Slavery in Africa (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983); Joseph C. Miller, “Domiciled and Dominated: Slaving as a History of Women,” in Women and Slavery, ed. Gwin Campbell, Suzanne Miers, and Joseph Miller, vol. 2, The Modern Atlantic (Athens: Ohio University Press), 284–312.

58. For an analysis of the migration of male slaves in Tahoua and generally in the West African context, see Benedetta Rossi, “Migration and Emancipation in West Africa’s Labor History: The Missing Links,” Slavery and Abolition: A Journal of Slave and Post-Slave Studies 35, no. 1 (2014): 23–46. For a study of other contexts where women of slave descent were able to migrate in substantial numbers, see Marie Rodet, Les migrantes ignorées du Haut-Sénégal, 1900–1946 (Paris: Karthala, 2009).

59. I describe these types of ethnic identities and relations, and specifically the settings of Sabon Gari Kaora and Agouloum, in Rossi, “Being and Becoming Hausa in Ader,” in Being and Becoming Hausa: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Anne Haour and Benedetta Rossi (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 113–39. For a discussion of the relations between Hausaphone (including Azna, Asna, or Asena) and Tamasheqophone groups in the Tamaske area, see Francis Nicolas, Tamesna: Les Ioullemeden de l’Est ou Touâreg “Kel Dinnîk,” cercle de T’âwa, colonie du Niger. Notes de linguistique et d’ethnographie berbères, dialectes de la tamâžəq-taulləmmét (Paris: Imprimerie nationale, 1950), 48–59.

60. For examples of this type of relation, see Rossi, “Without History?” 547–48.

61. The name, or nickname, “Tadoutchi” indicates an association between this woman and a plateau, hill, or mountain (ta doutchi meaning “the one of the rocks,” or “the one of the mountains”). In the Bagey-Tamaske-Agouloum culture area, such nicknames are often given to individuals believed to hold supernatural powers. For example, I collected testimonies describing the supernatural powers of a woman known as ta karfi, or “the one of the jar,” believed to have powers over the rain which she transmitted to her son Ibrahima Mai Ruwa (Ibrahima chief of the rain): fieldnotes, Kongo, September 13, 2005; Sabon Gari Kaora, September 19, 2005; Agouloum, September 20 and 21, 2005; Kongo, October 18, 2005.

62. Rossi, From Slavery to Aid, 175–92.

63. Sarki Tuba was renowned for his magical powers, partly related to the potency of Arnei, the Sarki Bori, a buzu from a specialist well-digging group. He had close ties with the village of Agouloum Toudou, which is the main settlement near Sabon Gari Kaora, where Tadoutchi is from; fieldnotes February 19, 2005 (including interview with Alio Aga, the brother of Tuba); March 2, 2005; September 21, 2005; December 2, 2008.

64. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

65. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

66. ANN, 381.1, verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

67. ANN, 381.1, record of the complaint, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour. As these events took place toward the end of the rainy season, they would have found frequent ponds along the way.

68. ANN, 381.1, record of the complaint, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

69. ANN, 381.1, proceedings of the Barao case, record of the confrontation, Tahoua, August 22, 1930, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

70. ANN, 381.1, proceedings of the Barao case, record of the confrontation, Tahoua, August 22, 1930, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

71. ANN, 381.1, proceedings of the Barao case, record of the confrontation, Tahoua, August 22, 1930, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

72. ANN, 381.1, record of the witness hearing, November 15, 1930, Tahoua, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour.

73. ANN, 381.1, record of the witness hearing, November 15, 1930, Tahoua, note attached to verdict no. 12, case of Barao and Aggour. The “Arab” group referred to as “Taitoff” in these documents are better known in the literature as Taitoq or Taytoq, see Nicolas, Tamesna, 75; H. T. Norris, The Tuaregs: Their Islamic Legacy and Its Diffusion in the Sahel (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1975), 4 and 14.

74. ANN, 381.1, public prosecutor of the chamber of the court of appeals of Niger to the president of the same court at Niamey, overturning of verdict no. 12, Niamey, December 10, 1931.

75. ANN, 381.1, public prosecutor of the chamber of the court of appeals of Niger to the president of the same court at Niamey, overturning of verdict no. 12, Niamey, December 10, 1931.

76. On these trade networks, see Stephen Baier, An Economic History of Central Niger (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980); Baier, “Ecologically Based Trade and the State in Precolonial West Africa,” Cahiers d’études africaines 77–78 (1980): 149–54; Baier and Lovejoy, “The Desert-Side Economy”; Paul Lovejoy, “The Kambarin Beriberi: The Formation of a Specialized Group of Hausa Kola Traders in the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of African History 14, no. 4 (1973): 633–51.

77. This is based on my research in Ader, see in particular fieldnotes and interviews with Alio Aga (son of Aga) and Cheffou Tuba (son of Tuba) conducted in Tamaske on February 19, 2005; fieldnotes March 2, 2005 (in Agouloum Toudou); fieldnotes September 9, 2005 (in Keita).

78. A similar subterfuge is described by Susan Rasmussen in an article on slavery amongst the Kel Ewey of Aïr: the master of Atakor (a pseudonym) lied to his slave, still a child at the time, when he tried to sell him. Atakor found out that his master was lying and was able to avert a sale that would have brought him to Hausaland; see Susan J. Rasmussen, “The Slave Narrative in Life History and Myth, and Problems of Ethnographic Representation of the Tuareg Cultural Predicament,” Ethnohistory 46, no. 1 (1999): 67–108.

79. Fieldnotes, May 4, 2005.

80. This and what follows is closely drawn from my interview with Tchimmou, May 4, 2005, and owes much to her own words; the name of the village is deliberately not given. Jajaye is a mildly derogatory Hausa term for individuals belonging to Tuareg clerical groups, literally meaning “red.” Tamasaghlalt is a variant of Tamasheq spoken by some groups in the Tahoua and Abalagh regions; see Jeannine Drouin, “Nouveaux éléments de sociolinguistique touarègue. Un parler méridional nigérien, la tamasaghlalt,” Actes du Groupe Linguistique d’Études Chamito-Sémitiques (GLECS) 24–28 (1979–1985): 507–20.

81. Sue Peabody, “Microhistory, Biography, Fiction: The Politics of Narrating the Lives of People under Slavery,” Transatlantica. Revue d’études américaines 2 (2012):

82. Martin A. Klein, “Studying the History of Those Who Would Rather Forget: Oral History and the Experience of Slavery,” History in Africa: A Journal of Method 16 (1989): 209–17; Marie Rodet “Listening to the History of Those Who Don’t Forget,” History in Africa: A Journal of Method 40 (2013): 27–29; Eve Troutt Powell, “The Silence of the Slaves,” in The African Diaspora in the Mediterranean Lands of Islam, ed. John Hunwick and Eve Troutt Powell (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2002), xxvii–xxx; Ehud R. Toledano, As If Silent and Absent: Bonds of Enslavement in the Islamic Middle East (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007); Alice Bellagamba, “Reasons for Silence: Following the Inner Legacy of Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Contemporary Gambia,” in Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space, ed. Ana L. Araujo (London: Routledge, 2012), 35–53; George Michael La Rue, “Seeking Freedom in Multiple Contexts: An Enslaved Sudanese Woman’s Life Trajectory, ca. 1800–1834,” Journal of Global Slavery 2, no. 1/2 (2017): 11–43. For a recent collection of African sources on slavery and the slave trade, see Bellagamba, Greene, and Klein, African Voices on Slavery.

83. Martin A. Klein, “Slave Descent and Social Status in Sahara and Sudan,” in Reconfiguring Slavery: West African Trajectories, ed. Benedetta Rossi (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2009), 26–44, here pp. 30–39.

84. This is a reference to Ann McDougall, “A Sense of Self: The Life of Fatma Barka,” Canadian Journal of African Studies 32, no. 2 (1998): 285–315.

85. See Galy Kadir Abdelkader, ed., Slavery in Niger: Historical, Legal, and Contemporary Perspectives, March 2004,

86. In May 2014 Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was quoted by CNN as saying that “slavery is allowed in my religion, and I shall capture people and make them slaves,” See also Anthony Celso “The Islamic State and Boko Haram: Fifth Wave Jihadist Terror Groups” (working paper, Foreign Policy Research Institute, 2015); Charlotte Alter, “Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Tell of Horrors in Captivity,” Time, October 27, 2014,

87. Jean Allain, “Hadijatou Mani Koraou v. Republic of Niger: Judgement No. ECW/CCJ/JUD/06/08,” American Journal of International Law 103, no. 2 (2009): 311–17; Helen Duffy, “Hadijatou Mani Koroua v Niger: Slavery Unveiled by the ECOWAS Court,” Human Rights Law Review 9, no. 1 (2009): 151–70; Benedetta Rossi, “African Post-Slavery: A History of the Future,” International Journal of African Historical Studies 48, no. 2 (2015): 303–24. For a general assessment of the political mobilization of slave descendants in Africa, see Lotte Pelckmans and Christine Hardung, eds., “La question de l’esclavage en Afrique. Politisation et mobilisations,” special issue, Politique africaine’140, no. 4 (2015), especially 5–22.