It’s easy to roll your eyes at people demanding that we teach the history of Africa and other non-Western locales. But I support such a move, so long as the history is honest.
Of course it wouldn’t be honest; we are a society of liars.
Here is Madam Efunroye Tinubu (c. 1810 – 1887) :
Madam Tinubu was a wealthy and powerful chieftess of the Egba clan (Youruba people, Nigeria.) She made her money through the slave trade, and resisted the British Colonial Government because it was interfering with he ability to make money by selling humans into bondage.
Tinubu Square in Lagos, the capital of Nigeria, is named in her honor.
Cosmic Yoruba has some interesting things to say about the next chieftess of the Egba, Efunsetan Aniwura:
“…she was a WSW [note: woman who has sex with women] who never married, never had any children and was referred to as lakiriboto [a woman with no vaginal opening] …
“Efunsetan Aniwura rose to become a very powerful and wealthy trader in the 19th century, she is one of the few Yoruba women that has withstood the test of history. Oral tradition states that she had three large farms, and that no less than 100 slaves worked in each at a time. Apparently she owned over 2,000 slaves in her lifetime.
“Like other Yoruba women traders, Efunsetan travelled across the land trading with all sorts of people. Her speciality was in arms and ammunition, she would lend these to warriors when they were going on military expeditions and it seems she also went to war a few times herself.”
Cosmic Yoruba notes that “oral tradition” is often dodgy, and we can’t believe everything we hear. She rejects various stories about Efunestan going crazy and terrorizing her slaves, on the grounds that they don’t make much sense, and further speculates:
“I wonder if this is a classic example of history erasing a woman’s achievements. I will never get tired of pointing out how our current ideas on how our female ancestors lived are very different from the reality. We believe that they all married, lived “under” their husbands, never divorced, spent their lives in the kitchen while the men went out to work, never enjoyed sex, were all straight and so on. Powerful women like Efunsetan, who may have never married or had children and may have even been queer will have their stories snipped and trimmed, molded to become a warning for other women…so as to discourage them from craving power perhaps.”
Cosmic Yoruba has done a lot more research about traditional Nigerian life than I have, so I am inclined to trust her. Besides, her accounts line up with most other accounts I have read.
Cosmic Yoruba ends with songs praising Efunestan:
“The woman, who instils fear in others,
the fearsome one, who slaughters slaves to celebrate Id-el-Kabir.
Efunsetan is one force, Ibadan is another.
The valiant that challenges the Almighty God,
if the most high does not answer her on time,
Efunsetan leaves the earth to go and meet him in Heaven…”
Have you heard the story that Africa was a developed, thriving place full of wealthy economies and fabulous cities, until evil Europeans showed up, enslaved a bunch of people and colonized the rest?
Cities did exist in Sub-Saharan Africa, but they were few and far between. They were in the sorts of places you would expect them to, like the intersections of major trade routes or major ports. There were a few major trade items, like gold, ivory, and human beings. There were empires with wealthy individuals.
But the overall level of economic development throughout the sub-continent was very low. Those who claim that Europeans are responsible for the current levels of African development need to explain why African development was so low before the Europeans got there.
Edited to add: hey, look, we have a new graph! It is far superior to the old one, though it covers a different time range, so well still have to use both:
Back in the year one, most of the world was engaged in hunter-gathering, small-scale agriculture, or herding. The GDP of most of the world reflects this. Africa at least has gold to export, unlike the steppe. Africa is still less developed than Western Europe (and this is including northern Africa, which is quite different from Sub-Saharan Africa.)
By 1300-1400, various estimates put British per cap GDP around $1,000, with the average for Western Europe as a whole a little lower, but still more than the current per capita GDP of many modern Sub-Saharan countries. And it’s more than SSA had in 1400, well before European colonialism began. If anything, Africa’s GDP only took off after colonialsim; there is no sign that colonialism caused economic collapse.
According to Peter Frost, “In sub-Saharan Africa, high polygyny rates are associated with ‘female farming’ societies, and such societies began to spread outward from a point of origin near the Niger’s headwaters some 6,000 to 7,000 years ago (Murdock, 1959, pp. 44, 64-68).”
In The African Outlier, Frost quotes Draper, 1989 (PDF): “Much of rural African subsistence is based on the work of women in their gardens; men make only modest contributions. Typically, rights in land are held by men by virtue of their membership in kinship or village units. A man who wishes to add another wife is under few constraints (provided his kinship group has the land and bridewealth), since women, in effect, pay their own way. They produce food, and they rear children. In rural areas, when a man marries an additional wife, he is awarded additional fields for this woman and her children (Bryson 1981). The importance of male labor to support such households is reduced. In former times, before colonially imposed peace, the male role in defense was important. But since central governments have been present, men who remain in rural villages spend their time in leisure, in management of household labor, or in local political affairs…”
And in The Beginnings of Black Slavery and The Beginnings of Black Slavery II, Frost argues that, “… It looks like black slaves began to enter the Middle East in growing numbers some time before 0 AD, the result being a slow but steady increase in the region’s black population throughout the early Christian era and into the Islamic era.”
He goes on to argue that polygamy basically drove the slave trade. Do the math; if one man has 5 wives, then four men have no wives. What do you do with your extra men? Attack the next village over, capture their women and sell all of their extra men into slavery.
There are other possible explanations, but I happen to find Frost’s convincing.
The idea that things were going swimmingly until Europeans showed up and started enslaving everyone is pure a-historical baloney. In fact, did you catch this little bit above: “Madam Tinubu … resisted the British Colonial Government because it was interfering with he ability to make money by selling humans into bondage.”
According to the Wikipedia page on Colonial Nigeria, “British influence began with prohibition of slave trade to British subjects in 1807. The resulting collapse of African slave trade led to the decline and eventual collapse of the Edo Empire. ”
So Nigerian heroes were actively resisting British influence in Nigeria because the British were trying to stop them from enslaving people, and the slave trade is supposed to be the fault of the colonizers?
Let’s teach history.