‘My Nigerian great-grandfather sold slaves’

Amid the global debate about race relations, colonialism and slavery, some of the Europeans and Americans who made their fortunes in trading human beings have seen their legacies reassessed, their statues toppled and their names removed from public buildings.

Nigerian journalist and novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani writes that one of her ancestors sold slaves, but argues that he should not be judged by today’s standards or values.

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My great-grandfather, Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku, was what I prefer to call a businessman, from the Igbo ethnic group of south-eastern Nigeria. He dealt in a number of goods, including tobacco and palm produce. He also sold human beings.

“He had agents who captured slaves from different places and brought them to him,” my father told me.

Nwaubani Ogogo’s slaves were sold through the ports of Calabar and Bonny in the south of what is today known as Nigeria.

People from ethnic groups along the coast, such as the Efik and Ijaw, usually acted as stevedores for the white merchants and as middlemen for Igbo traders like my great-grandfather.

They loaded and offloaded ships and supplied the foreigners with food and other provisions. They negotiated prices for slaves from the hinterlands, then collected royalties from both the sellers and buyers.

Slave factories, or compounds, maintained by traders from four European nations on the Gulf of Guinea in what is now Nigeria. 1746 engraving by Nathaniel par
Image captionSeveral European nations had slave compounds in what is now Nigeria

About 1.5 million Igbo slaves were shipped across the Atlantic Ocean between the 15th and 19th Centuries.

More than 1.5 million Africans were shipped to what was then called the New World – the Americas – through the Calabar port, in the Bight of Bonny, making it one of the largest points of exit during the transatlantic

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