Academic journal article African Economic History

Ribats and the Development of Plantations in the Sokoto Caliphate: A Case Study of Fanisau

Academic journal article African Economic History

Ribats and the Development of Plantations in the Sokoto Caliphate: A Case Study of Fanisau

Article excerpt

Ribat, in the context of the Sokoto Caliphate, was a walled military settlement established for defending and protecting the frontiers and settled agricultural hinterland of any major population center. This type of institution was well known in the history of other Islamic societies.1 Indeed, the ninth century has been identified as the "golden age" of classic ribat construction in the early Muslim world, and at this period several of these structures were established in North Africa and central Asia. After this early "golden age," ribats continued to be built in Muslim lands, but it was only during the nineteenth century that they became widespread in hasar Hausa or what became known as the Sokoto Caliphate. Evidently, the leaders of this Muslim state, the largest state in nineteenth century West Africa, drew for inspiration on this history to foster the expansion of the new state.1

Most writers who have studied the Sokoto Caliphate have recognized the significance of ribats to the state. However, much of the scholarship devotes no more than a paragraph or two to this crucially important aspect of the caliphate's defensive strategy, with passing remarks on how the system worked in the emirates.3 In his major work on the Sokoto Caliphate, Murray Last has traced the development of ribats in metropolitan Sokoto, arguing that some at least were populated with slaves:

The establishment of ribats was part of the policy of establishing frontiers and providing strongholds round which settlement could flourish.... Likewise Bello encouraged the building within frontiers of walled towns where mosques and schools could be opened and trade and workshop started: with scholars appointed to these towns as Imams, judges, muhtasibs (legal inspectors) and teachers, Bello hoped to maintain both the practice of Islam and the military control of the area. Since much of Bello's support had come from cattle owing Fulani, the Fulani clans were persuaded to join the community of the Shaikh-They were taught agriculture and encouraged to breed horses, camels and flocks of sheep and goats and to reduce their herds of cattle. By this means BeUo balanced the economy of Sokoto...he thus also reduced the military risk....4

Similarly, although Joseph P. Smaldone has acknowledged that "many of these new frontier outposts were populated by slaves," he was more concerned with the military dimensions of ribats than with the role of the institution in the establishment of plantations.5

By contrast, Paul E. Lovejoy, whose writings have been largely on the entire Sokoto Caliphate, has perceived the ribat as a major factor in the growth of the plantation sector.6 Indeed, he seems to be the most influential exponent of this view. Lovejoy asserts that ribats influenced the location of plantations and that "throughout the caliphate plantations were associated with economic and political consolidation and with the maintenance of an active front line for defence and annual campaigns."7 According to Lovejoy, "the steady stream of slaves which flowed into Sokoto and Gwandu in the form of tribute was directed to officials, Fulani leaders, and scholars for use in agriculture. The military elite of the ribats remained on permanent alert and were not engaged directly in farming. Instead, plantations rapidly dominated agricultural production."

Although he avoided using the term "plantation," in his study of the governmental system in the Zaria emirate,' M. G. Smith first established this relationship thus:

Settlement patterns emphasized defensive values and were based on the compact distribution of population within walled towns, strung out along the principal caravan routes. Each of these towns had a few smaller settlements near it which owed allegiance to the village chief of the area in which they were sited. Many but not all of these hamlets were slave slave-villages (rumada); other rumada large enough to form towns of their own, would have the walls and other fortifications typical of a town (gari). …

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