Horses, Firearms, and Political Power in Pre-Colonial West Africa*
This chapter attempts an exploration of the relationship between different systems of military technology and different patterns of political organization in pre-colonial West Africa. The importance of slaves, both in the internal economies of West African societies and as a commodity for export, contributed to the institutionalization of warfare: for the procuring of slaves depended upon organized violence. The history of horses and cavalry in West Africa, it may be suggested, can be divided into two distinct periods, important changes being the introduction of new breeds of horses and new equestrian techniques during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As with horses, it is possible to argue that too much has been made of the military impact of firearms. There are obvious similarities between the impact of horses and that of firearms upon the practice of West African warfare. Horses and firearms were normally purchased with slaves, and the labour for maintaining horses came usually from slaves.