An ever-growing literature on West African slavery has, for obvious reasons, tended to concentrate on societies that developed complex forms of domestic slavery and/or were closely tied to the export trade. Three major collections on slavery published in the last ten years deal almost exclusively with such groups. The history of peaples who refused, at least in the beginning, to take captives for the purpose of selling them to outsiders or keeping them for themselves has been ignored. And yet these acephalous groups are very instructive. They illustrate how certain structural features and other cultural preferences may have impeded, or at least retarded, the development of indigenous slaving institutions.
This paper discusses the role of slavery in a marginal area of the Upper Guinea coast. Emphasis will be placed on how practices surrounding the acquisition and disposal of captives were embedded in local institutions. Because these practices developed in the context of Africans dealing with each other, and not exclusively in the context of their dealings with the Europeans, they reflected modes of thinking and organizations intrinsic to certain forest groups of west Africa. A comprehensive history of why the Jola of Lower Casamance, Senegal, were slow to develop various kinds of slaving practices emphasizes their resistance to currents of change affecting the political economy of this region before, during, and after the heyday of the Atlantic slave trade.