Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, Nigerian writer, in a history-type article, says men of the Igbo tribe enslaved their kinsmen long before Europeans arrived.


In an article she wrote for The New Yorker, the ‘I Do Not Come to you by Chance’ author shared how her great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, made a name from the slave trade.

“Long before Europeans arrived, Igbos enslaved other Igbos as punishment for crimes, for the payment of debts, and as prisoners of war,” Nwaubani wrote.

“The practice differed from slavery in the Americas: slaves were permitted to move freely in their communities and to own property, but they were also sometimes sacrificed in religious ceremonies or buried alive with their masters to serve them in the next life.


“When the transatlantic trade began, in the fifteenth century, the demand for slaves spiked. Igbo traders began kidnapping people from distant villages.”

The award-winning writer went on to share how the family came by its surname.

“My great-grandfather was given the nickname Nwaubani, which means “from the Bonny port region,” because he had the bright skin and healthy appearance associated at the time with people who lived near the coast and had access to rich foreign foods. (This became our family name.)


“In the late nineteenth century, he carried a slave-trading license from the Royal Niger Company, an English corporation that ruled southern Nigeria.

“His agents captured slaves across the region and passed them to middlemen, who brought them to the ports of Bonny and Calabar and sold them to white merchants.

“Slavery had already been abolished in the United States and the United Kingdom, but his slaves were legally shipped to Cuba and Brazil.”

The knowledge of her family’s history has made Nwaubani feel “a growing sense of unease”.


“African intellectuals tend to blame the West for the slave trade, but I knew that white traders couldn’t have loaded their ships without help from Africans like my great-grandfather.”

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