African Women: A Modern History

By Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch; Beth Gillian Raps | Go to book overview

2
Slave Women

The marriage pattern described earlier applied to free women, but some societies also captured women from other tribes or bought slaves for marriage.


Slaves, Marriage, and Social Hierarchy

Wife capture or purchase was widespread in the ancient kinship-based societies of what is today southern Côte d'Ivoire. These groups (the Ani, the Guro, the Alladian, and others), ranging in size from several thousand to several tens of thousands, lived in the forest or on its edges and along the coastal lagoons. From at least as early as the nineteenth century they had high mortality rates that threatened their survival and their productive capacity. The genealogies of the dominant lineages reveal that succession was often a problem because of a lack of survivors. Seeking slave women through force or purchase was considered worthwhile both to increase reproductive capacity (although it did not always do so) and, especially in matrilineal societies, to strengthen the father's line--the children of a female slave belonging without question to the father's family. Slave mothers, in contrast to free women, were permitted neither to leave nor to have extramarital relations. Similar customs have long prevailed in some of the small kinship-based societies of central Nigeria (the Cross River Basin area), where as late as the 1930s the Obubra were observed to capture children and purchase slaves. The pretext of paying bride-price for early marriages kept anyone from being prosecuted for purchasing slaves. In 1944, the price of a girl was about £30 (compared with £25 for a boy). The children came from large, poor families in nearby districts, and the custom was encouraged by the traditional authorities, who saw it as a means of fighting a decline in population due to labor migration and a defense against the frequent instability of marriages involving free women in that matrilineal society. 1 Other forest societies (the Igbo, for example) took slaves as well but forbade marriage between free

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