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).