chapter  VII
33 Pages

NATIVES

THE most striking revolution in West Africa has been in the status of the native. From being a commodity, an article of trade, he has become a person, a human being. Less than a century ago, the bulk of the natives were slaves, and even those who were nominally free held their freedom by a precarious tenure. Slavery was part and parcel of West African life, and so well established was the institution that the Africans regarded it with little abhorrence. In fact the natives preferred its continuance, and they were willing to run the risk of being enslaved themselves for the chance of making slaves of others. Even primitive tribes which did not own slaves were glad of the existence of slavery, for it gave them the opportunity of disposing advantageously of their witches and evildoers, who would otherwise have simply been put to death. In the case of more advanced tribes slavery was an indispensable feature of their social, political and economic life. Every country in the world has passed through that stage where slavery was the base of society. 1 Prisoners 0 f war were at first butchered, but later their productive powers were recognised and their lives were spared so that they might labour for their captors. The ranks of the slaves were added to in various ways. Evil-doers and debtors and those who craved the protection of the great in the face of some pressing danger all fell into the category of slaves. In West Africa the

basic reasons for the existence of slavery were the absence of free labour, of a portable currency and of adequate means of transport. The result was that slaves were the labour force, the currency and the transport agents of the region. The simple prohibition of slavery and slavetrading would have meant chaos. Abolition alone would have retarded the development of the region for half a century as happened in the analogous case of the West Indies. The positive substitution of free labour, a portable currency and adequate means of transport for the existing slave institutions prepared the way for the gradual abolition of slavery itself. In this gradual abolition the actual procedure was marked out and enforced by legislative enactment and executive ruling, so that nothing might be left to chance. Throughout British West Africa slavery is dying, and although in some parts it shows signs of an unhealthy activity, its decease is only a matter of time.