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The Oral History of Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate: An Interview with Sallama Dako

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 May 2014

Sean Stilwell
University of Vermont, stilwell/
Ibrahim Hamza
York University
Paul E. Lovejoy
York University


A powerful community of royal slaves emerged in Kano Emirate in the wake of Usman dan Fodio's jihad (1804-08), which established the Sokoto Caliphate. These elite slaves held administrative and military positions of great power, and over the course of the nineteenth century played an increasing prominent role in the political, economic, and social life of Kano. However, the individuals who occupied slave offices have largely been rendered silent by the extant historical record. They seldom appear in written sources from the period, and then usually only in passing. Likewise, certain officials and offices are mentioned in official sources from the colonial period, but only in the context of broader colonial concerns and policies, usually related to issues about taxation and the proper structure of indirect rule.

As the following interview demonstrates, the collection and interpretation of oral sources can help to fill these silences. By listening to the words and histories of the descendents of royal slaves, as well as current royal slave titleholders, we can begin to reconstruct the social history of nineteenth-century royal slave society, including the nature of slave labor and work, the organization the vast plantation system that surrounded Kano, and the ideology and culture of royal slaves themselves.

The interview is but one example of a series of interviews conducted with current and past members of this royal slave hierarchy by Yusufu Yunusa. As discussed below, Sallama Dako belonged to the royal slave palace community in Kano. By royal slave, we mean highly privileged and powerful slaves who were owned by the emir, known in Hausa as bayin sarki (slaves of the emir or king).

Research Article
Copyright © African Studies Association 2001

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1 See Lovejoy, Paul E. and Hogendorn, Jan S., “Oral Data Collection and the Economic History of the Central Savanna,” Savanna 7/1(June 1978), 7174.Google Scholar

2 The York/UNESCO Nigerian Hinterland Project is currently in the process of organizing and cataloging the biographies and histories of enslaved Africans in the diaspora, with the eventual goal of developing an accessible archive of material. See Lovejoy, Paul E., “Biography as Source Material: Towards a Biographical Archive of Enslaved Africans” in Law, Robin, ed., Source Material for Studying the Slave Trade and the African Diaspora (Stirling, 1997), 119–40.Google Scholar

3 See Yunusa, Yusufu, “Slavery in Nineteenth Century Kano” (B.A. Diss., Ahmadu Bello University, 1976).Google Scholar

4 The title of ∂an rimi was revived early in the reign Emir Ibrahim Dabo (1819-45).

5 Nast, Heidi J., “Space, History and Power: Stories of Spatial and Social Change in the Palace of Kano, Northern Nigeria, circa 1500-1990” (Ph.D., McGill University, 1992), 227–28.Google Scholar

6 Ibid.

7 These include Mahadi, Abdullahi, “The State and the Economy: The Sarauta System and its Roles in Shaping the Society and Economy of Kano with Particular Reference to the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries” (Ph.D., Ahmadu Bello University, 1982)Google Scholar; Sa'id, Halil I., “Revolution and Reaction: the Fulani Jihad in Kano and its Aftermath, 1807-1919” (Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1978)Google Scholar; Fika, Adamu, The Kano Civil War and British Over-Rule 1882-1940 (Ibadan, 1978)Google Scholar; Lovejoy, Paul E., “Plantations in the Economy of the Sokoto Caliphate,” JAH 19(1978), 341–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem., “The Characteristics of Plantations in the Nineteenth Century Sokoto Caliphate,” American Historical Review 84(1979), 1267-92; Hogendorn, J.S., “The Economics of Slave Use on Two ‘Plantations’ in the Zaria Emirate of the Sokoto Caliphate,” IJAHS 10(1977), 369–83Google Scholar; Hamza, Ibrahim, “Dorayi: A History of Economic and Social Transformations in the 19th and 20th Centuries Kano Emirate” (M.A., Usmanu DanFodiyo University, 1994)Google Scholar; Giginyu, Sa'idu Abdulrazak, “History of a Slave Village in Kano: Gandun Nassarawa” (B.A., Bayero University Kano, 1981)Google Scholar; Starratt, Priscilla, “Oral History in Muslim Africa: Al-Maghili Legends in Kano” (Ph.D., Michigan, 1993)Google Scholar, Nast, “Space, History and Power;” and Stilwell, Sean, “The Kano Mamluks: Royal Slavery in the Sokoto Caliphate, 1807-1903” (Ph.D., York University, 1999).Google Scholar

8 See Lovejoy, Paul E., Mahadi, Abdullahi, and Muhktar, Mansur Ibrahim, “C.L. Temple's ‘Notes on the History of Kano (1909):’ A Lost Chronicle on Political Office,” Sudanic Africa 4(1993), 40Google Scholar, and NAK SNP 7/10 6415/1909.

9 Stilwell, “Kano Mamluks,” chapter 4.

10 Ibid., 99-149. On the jihad in Kano, see Smith, M.G., Government in Kano, 1350-1950 (Boulder, 1997)Google Scholar; Sa'id, “Revolution and Reaction;” Abdullahi Mahadi, “State and the Economy.”

11 Stilwell, “Kano Mamluks,” chapter 2.

12 Ibid., 218-25. The system is also discussed extensively by Nast, “Space, History and Power,” and Smaldone, Joseph P., Historical and Sociological Aspects of Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate (Cambridge, 1977).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13 See, for example, Ubah, C.N., Government and Administration of Kano Emirate, 1900-1930 (Nsukka, 1985)Google Scholar, Lovejoy/Mahadi/Muhktar, “Notes on the History of Kano.”

14 See interview Alhaji Muhktar Kwaru, 31 July 1996, and NAK SNP 120p/1921.

15 Smith, M.G., The Economy of Hausa Communities of Zaria (London, 1955)Google Scholar; Lovejoy, “Plantations'” Lovejoy, “Characteristics;” Hogendorn, “Economics of Slave Use.”

16 Specific studies include Ibrahim Hamza, “Dorayi,” and Sa'idu, “Gandun Nassarawa.” Also see the discussion of specific plantations in Lovejoy, “Plantations.”

17 This slave title was created by Abdullahi Maje Karofi.

18 Lovejoy, “Plantations;” Lovejoy, “Characteristics;” and Hogendorn, “Economics.” In contrast, some scholars have argued that large slaveholdings and farms did not exist in Kano Emirate, or if they did, were relatively unimportant. Instead, these scholars preferred to focus on farming communities of “peasants” or “smallholders.” See Hill, Polly, Rural Hausa: A Village and Setting (Cambridge, 1972)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, idem., Population, Prosperity and Poverty in Rural Kano, 1900 and 1970 (Cambridge, 1977); Shenton, Robert, The Development of Capitalism in Northern Nigeria (Toronto, 1976), 7Google Scholar; and Watts, Michael, Silent Violence: Food, Famine and Peasantry in Northern Nigeria (Berkeley, 1983), 5879.Google Scholar

19 NAK KANOPROF 6/2 c. 111/1908.

20 SNP 15/1 Acc. 289, MacBride, D. F., “Dawaki ta Kudu Assessment Report,” 1937.Google Scholar

21 PRO CO 879/98/906 No. 906, Northern Nigeria, “Memorandum on Land Tenure and Land Revenue Assessment in Northern Nigeria, May 1908.”

22 On the history of royal gandaye during the colonial period, see Lovejoy, Paul E. and Hogendorn, Jan S., Slow Death for Slavery: The Course of Abolition in Northern Nigeria, 1897-1936 (Cambridge, 1993), 129-34, 182–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

23 NAK SNP 7/9 2949/1908.

24 NAK SNP 7/9 2949/1908.

25 See NAK KANOPROF 1708/vol 1, 5/6/1936), cited by Garba, Tijani, “Taxation in Some Hausa Emirates, c. 1860-1930” (Ph.D., University of Birmingham, 1986), 292Google Scholar; and NAK SNP 7/13 5785/1912 which provides the figures for Gaisgaina, Yokanna, and Sawaina. These are discussed in Lovejoy, “Plantations.”

26 Yunusa, , “Slavery in Kano,” 59.Google Scholar

27 Girwaran was 24 kilometers southeast of Kano City and was very close to Gogel, which was 25 kilometers southeast of Kano City, Dorayi was 7 kilometers south-southeast of Kano City, Darmanawa was located 5 kilometers south of Kano, Panisau was 8 km north-northeast of Kano, Waceni was 7.5 kilometers sorth of Kano, Takai was 88 kilometers southeast, and Farke 54 kilometers north-east of Kano. See Yunusa, , “Slavery in Kano,” 3940.Google Scholar Finally, Nassarawa was an especially large gandu, and extended outward about 3 kilometers from the city walls of Kano, see Giginyu, , “Gandun Nassarawa,” 107.Google Scholar

28 Denham, Dixon, Clapperton, Hugh and Oudney, Walter, Narratives of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the Years 1822, 1823, and 1824 (2 vols.: London, 1829), 2:275Google Scholar, and Barth, Heinrich, Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa (3 vols.: New York, 18571859), 1:609.Google Scholar

29 KANOPROF 1708 vol I, Revenue Survey Kano Emirate, 1935.

30 Yunusa, , “Slavery in Kano,” 5556.Google Scholar

31 A person who numbers houses and streets in the oldest parts of Kano city.

32 Located near what was in 1975 the Audu Bako Zoo.

33 Maje Karofi means died at “Karofi” and refers to Emir Abdullahi, who ruled Kano between 1855 and 1882. He was the son of Emir Ibrahim Dabo (1819-1845) and his concubine, Shekara.

34 Sallama Dako is in error here. As indicated above, Maje Karofi refers to Abdullahi, not Dabo, who was better known as “Cigari” or the “town taker.”

35 Mohammad Abbas was the son of Abdullahi Maje Karofi, and was appointed by the British in 1903.

36 Aliyu came to power in 1894/95 after defeating the son of Mohammad Bello, Tukur, in the Kano Civil War, otherwise known as basasa.

37 The grains have been separated (thrashed) from the chaff, and thus are ready to be stored or used as food.

38 The interviewer is wondering if the title of sallama is related to the expression “sallama aleckum” (peace be with you), which is a standard greeting when two or more people meet or enter into a room or household.

39 “Bambarra” (Bambara) groundnut. See Bargery, G.P, A Hausa-English Dictionary (Zaria, 1993), 692.Google Scholar

40 These were slave bodyguards and attendants of the emir.

41 Because, in theory—although not always in practice—a slave would then not be sold.

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