Concubinage and the status of women slaves in early colonial Northern Nigeria

Lovejoy, Paul E.
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The establishment of British rule in Northern Nigeria (1897- 1903) did not ameliorate the condition of female slaves, particularly concubines. The policy of Indirect Rule, as implemented under High Commissioner Frederick Lugard (1900-1906), required an accommodation with the aristocracy of the Sokoto Caliphate, which constituted most of the area that became the Protectorate of Northern Nigeria. As is well known, individual officials who opposed the conquest were deposed, but the aristocracy itself was kept in place. Indeed under colonial rule many of the powers of the aristocracy were enhanced. In order to achieve the support of the aristocracy, the Lugard Administration had to compromise on many issues, and one of the most sensitive of these was concubinage. The issue touched the nerve of patriarchal Muslim society. Women in general held an inferior position in society, both legally and in fact. Concubines and other slave women were even worse off than free women. For the British, the treatment of women was not an important issue and there was virtually no reluctance in accepting the status quo to the extent that other policies allowed. The problem was that concubines were slaves, and British policy was committed to the reform and ultimate demise of slavery. This article explores the tension between patriarchal Muslim society and British colonialism over the status of women. Concubinage was allowed to continue. It is apparent that women had to accept their subjugation, but sometimes they resisted.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 21 March 1988
Women slaves. Nigeria. Social conditions, Concubinage. Nigeria. History