We have discussed how the French gained the upper hand in the competition for trade in the Bight of Benin. While LANDOLPHE was busy at the mouth of the river, however, it seems that the Portuguese and Brazilians were somehow still active in the Capital itself.
The fact that the King had been baptized shows that the influence of these people was still considerable. But their interest was not confined to Missionary work; from the Portuguese Island of Sao Tome, Portuguese and Brazilian Merchants engaged in the Slave trade, came to the Benin River and Warri.
They no longer held monopolistic concessions. Merchants from other Countries were now interested in the trade. The result was that the Governors of the Ports were in a position to exact more dues than formerly. At the same time the IJOHS were a menace to the river trade, preying on Ships and looting goods.
IYATSERE OKORODUDU was dead, the new IYATSERE was less active than his predecessor and the Ijohs could act with impunity. The Brazilians in particular were having such difficulties that the Governor of Sao Tome made an appeal to OLU AKENGBUWA.
“Your Highness, as a Christian King ought to be a friend to all Christians, help them and defend them against those who are not Christians, especially the Ijohs, and not take heavy Customs from them or allow the Captains of War and their Chief to take more than they were paid in the past”…
The Governor in appealing to the Olu as a Christian King did not under-rate the influence of Christianity in the realm.
There was still a Catholic Church in the Capital and all the Christian Festivals were observed. One of these was Christmas which Lieutenant King observed in Warri in 1820. “At Christmas a great procession went from the town to a small village carrying a Crucifix and other symbols of Christianity”.
There was always conflict in the mind of the King between his adherence to the Christian Religion and his responsibility towards his subjects.
When things went right he stuck to his Christian Faith; when there were difficulties, his Faith tended to be shaky and he resorted to earlier traditional practices.
#We shall come across one of these occasions in the incident in which a Fish Village (Ogheye) was burnt down in 1818.
SLAVERY, SLAVE TRADE AND THE PROBLEMS OF ABOLITION:
There is one aspect of the ITSEKIRI Society which we have not as yet discussed. Slavery was an institution which ITSEKIRI shared with most other African peoples.
ITSEKIRI people as a rule did not make other Itsekiri slaves. All their slaves were obtained from other States. Many of these slaves were Prisoners Of War (POW), some were purchased, some people voluntarily sold themselves or were unable to pay their debts.
Any Child born to a slave automatically became a slave. These slaves were either sold or kept by the Overlord for domestic purposes. While the slave trade was legal, the demand for the human cargo was insatiable and the Benin River and other ITSEKIRI merchants made much money out of it. When the Ships arrived in BOBI and EGHORO they were always sure of finding plenty of slaves to buy.
In 1807, the British declared the trade illegal and their example was followed by many other Countries though Brazilians and some Europeans continued to try to smuggle slaves out of Africa.
The Warri Kingdom under Olu AKENGBUWA was faced with the difficulty of finding new sources of revenue for the maintenance of the Court. This was probably responsible for some of the centralizing policies of the Olu which made him so unpopular.
An already poor State was facing a new financial crisis because of the reduction of the revenue which came from the slave trade.
The British Men-of-War patrolled the coast; other European Powers conceded to Britain the right to search any Ship found to contain the implements of the slave trade. These could be seized, and for some time the Benin River became virtually empty of Ships.
*Had the British the right to seize Ships in ITSEKIRI Territorial waters?
*Had the Olu the Naval Force to stop the British Men-of-War from enforcing the law against the slave trade when the ITSEKIRI Kingdom had no treaty with Britain granting them such a right?
AKENGBUWA was powerless over the International situation. The only thing that the Chiefs could do was that when any slave Ship arrived, they were hidden by the Chiefs who regarded the British Naval Captains as Pirates and certainly as wanting to deprive them of their chief source of wealth.
There was the additional problem that the Forcados River itself was no longer an important commercial highway as it had been before. This meant that trade had moved from the Warri area to the Benin River as we have mentioned.
With Chiefs becoming so wealthy and remote, they became more and more independent. Politically, this was threatening the position of the Monarchy.
#This was a problem which Olu AKENGBUWA could not solve. When compared with the reign of EREJUWA, the reign of AKENGBUWA marked the end of a wealthy ITSEKIRI Monarchy.
The social problem posed by the abolition of the slave trade was much more serious.
*What was to be done with the slaves now that they could not be sold? They became domestic slaves who were used for household purposes.
Although the lot of the slave in the ITSEKIRI Society was not an easy one, it yet offered great scope for those who had Initiative, Drive and Courage. A faithful slave was provided with a wife and a house.
#Industrious slaves worked or traded in their own account and could thus establish their own household, own their own slaves.
The possession of slaves who did most of the trading on behalf of their masters, gave the ITSEKIRI Chiefs and Merchants, a new source of power.
The slaves manned the trading Canoes which went into the creeks and the URHOBO and IJOH Countries to trade. Some of the slaves manned the Navy or War Canoes. Such Military and Naval slaves were powerful members of the Society. With their help, a Chief who owned them could defy Royal Edicts and precipitate Civil Wars.
The Royals however, as we shall see later, had their own powerful slaves who lived with them in the Capital. Powerful as they were, these slaves could never become King or Chief. They could not hold any ITSEKIRI Political Post. The less fortunate slaves could be used for human sacrifices, pawned or even sold.
They could be punished by mutilation of the ears, eyelids or chest for trifling offences. The male slaves dared not marry any Freeborn ITSEKIRI Woman but their daughters could be taken as Wife by a Freeborn Male.
*Did the slaves, weighed down by these disabilities, ever think of a revolution? We have no record of any slave revolt in the Warri Kingdom during the reign of Olu AKENGBUWA.
The slaves were loyal or forced to be so. The process of manumission was difficult. A slave which wanted his freedom not only had to pay a large sum for it, but he also had to leave behind all those things and property which he had acquired when in the services of his old master.
END OF PART FIVE