His slaves were legally shipped to Cuba and Brazil

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani looks back at her great-grandfather, the slave-trader:

Down the hill, near the river, in an area now overrun by bush, is the grave of my most celebrated ancestor: my great-grandfather Nwaubani Ogogo Oriaku. Nwaubani Ogogo was a slave trader who gained power and wealth by selling other Africans across the Atlantic. “He was a renowned trader,” my father told me proudly. “He dealt in palm produce and human beings.”

Long before Europeans arrived, Igbos enslaved other Igbos as punishment for crimes, for the payment of debts, and as prisoners of war. 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. Sometimes a family would sell off a disgraced relative, a practice that Ijoma Okoro, a professor of Igbo history at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, likens to the shipping of British convicts to the penal colonies in Australia: “People would say, ‘Let them go. I don’t want to see them again.’ ” Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, nearly one and a half million Igbo slaves were sent across the Middle Passage.

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. To win his favor, local leaders gave him their daughters in marriage. (By his death, he had dozens of wives.) His influence drew the attention of colonial officials, who appointed him chief of Umujieze and several other towns. He presided over court cases and set up churches and schools. He built a guesthouse on the land where my parents’ home now stands, and hosted British dignitaries. To inform him of their impending arrival and verify their identities, guests sent him envelopes containing locks of their Caucasian hair.

Funeral rites for a distinguished Igbo man traditionally include the slaying of livestock — usually as many cows as his family can afford. Nwaubani Ogogo was so esteemed that, when he died, a leopard was killed, and six slaves were buried alive with him. My family inherited his canvas shoes, which he wore at a time when few Nigerians owned footwear, and the chains of his slaves, which were so heavy that, as a child, my father could hardly lift them. Throughout my upbringing, my relatives gleefully recounted Nwaubani Ogogo’s exploits. When I was about eight, my father took me to see the row of ugba trees where Nwaubani Ogogo kept his slaves chained up. In the nineteen-sixties, a family friend who taught history at a university in the U.K. saw Nwaubani Ogogo’s name mentioned in a textbook about the slave trade. Even my cousins who lived abroad learned that we had made it into the history books.


  1. Kirk says:

    You want a real eye-opener, talk to a Nigerian whose family was involved in the trade, and start asking questions about the people they sold. It’s a fascinating vision into the trade.

    I think the closest I ever came to dying in a race-related event while in the Army was at an Equal Opportunity session where our rabble-rousing American black EO NCO decided to engage our two Nigerians to get support for his thesis that blacks in America were downtrodden and victims of “the Man”. Didn’t go the way he thought–Asking the junior of the two, who was one of our senior mechanics got him an earful, telling him and all the other blacks in the room what lazy fools they were, with the mechanic deriding the ancestors of the American blacks as having been sold to the white man because they weren’t even good slaves… Didn’t help when the other Nigerian, a junior officer, agreed with him.

    He wasn’t exactly a fan of American blacks, either–The mechanic was a guy whose father had come to the US back in the 1970s, with a bundle of clan/tribal cash to make a go of things (apparently, they’d been on the losing side in some Nigerian politics, and the clan/tribe was trying to diversify internationally, just in case…), and he’d basically lost it all because he tried opening and running several businesses in various “ghetto” communities. He lost everything, mostly to theft and crime, and got shot by American blacks at least twice, the last time essentially killing him after lingering for a year or two. Our mechanic turned out to hate American blacks, and when he got done recounting things, I’m not sure I blame him. His analysis was that most American blacks were descended from people who were rightfully made slaves and deserved everything they got, for sloth, alcohol abuse, and general douchebaggery. I remember one of his lines being something about it not being the American black’s fault, because they were the descendants of people who “…weren’t even very good slaves…”.

    Holy sh*t, was that an afternoon. We about had to put that guy into protective custody. It was probably a really good thing that he was just about ready to get out of the Army and go home to South Carolina where he and his wife were going to expand the business they’d started when he was at Fort Jackson…

    Tell ya the truth, if you were to come to me today and tell me that he’d joined the KKK, I’d be entirely unsurprised. As a group, he loathed American blacks to a degree that would probably have your average “racist” white saying “Hold on, now… I think you’re going too far…”.

    So, yeah… This ain’t exactly news to some of us.

  2. Dave NYC says:


    That has been my experience with Africans as well, although mine comes from living and working in NYC for more than 30 years.

    Most Africans are contemptuous of black Americans, and if those Africans feel comfortable around you, they will really cut loose and tell you exactly how they feel. It’s not pretty.

    My first taste of this was when I attended university in NYC in ’88, and my roommate was from the Ivory Coast. His name was Yao, and he was a diligent student, basically completely committed to studying, with the intention of going back to his country and working in government after he got his degree.

    I soon realized that the African students did not socialize with African Americans; in fact they wouldn’t even deal with them if at all possible. Yao would occasionally say stuff like, “The blacks in America are so lazy! Why are they not in college. Instead they waste their time in the streets!”

    There was much more of that kind of stuff, and then in the ‘90s I started working with some Nigerians, and they had an obvious dislike of African Americans.

  3. Felix says:

    This may be a nit, but it seems very likely she’s missing a great or two in her great-grandfather. At 25 years per generation, her great-grandfather would have been born around 1900, give or take. But the stories about him put him a couple generations back from there. In any case, he would have post-dated all but the tiny tail end of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

  4. Graham says:

    I heard similar sentiments from a Nigerian [detecting a theme there] and a couple of Ghanaians in London in the mid 90s. Interestingly, a Kenyan added an extra layer of resentment at being lumped by white people in with not only West Africans, but the cast offs of West African societies at that.

    Interesting world out there beyond North America’s little conceptual bubbles.

    Also, some West African president years ago expressed the somewhat kinder sentiment that his country and others should remember who rounded up and sold all those slaves. He didn’t, IIRC, go on to disparage the slaves’ descendants, at least. It might have been Abdoulaye Wade I’m thinking of.

    In this account, I was particularly struck by the idea that local societies looked on it as something akin to penal deportation, just facilitated by an external country as middleman. What a colourful analogy.

    In future, I will think of the whole process as Third-Party Facilitated Penal Labour Relocation. Or as a creative solution to POW management. The world needs more gallows humour.

  5. Kirk says:

    “In this account, I was particularly struck by the idea that local societies looked on it as something akin to penal deportation, just facilitated by an external country as middleman. What a colourful analogy.”

    That’s pretty much what it was, from their standpoint. They didn’t quite “get” the nature of the slavery thing going on with the overseas sales–Slavery in Africa wasn’t a permanent or hereditary thing. You could work your way out of it, and there were some high-ranking people who had started out as slaves, or who had spent time as such. In some senses, it wasn’t even as bad as the Roman version, because there was no lasting stigma.

    I can’t remember which Nigerian it was that I talked to who described the whole thing as being an outlet for their society’s dregs, but he’d supposedly seen the tribe’s records on the matter, and you didn’t see them sell tribe members unless they were incorrigible drunks, wife-beaters, or just lazy. Which is not to say that there weren’t people who were taken as prisoners in tribal warfare and then sold off, just that they didn’t sell members of the tribe unless they’d proven to be incorrigible. Supposedly, he’d helped an American black trace their family back to the lineage of a king or chieftain, and what had happened was that the youngest son of that high-ranking guy had turned into a wastrel, drunk and lazy. He progressed downward into slave status, and eventually had been sold to a trader who took him to the coast and sold him off to the Portuguese. It was only sheerest luck that saw him wind up in North America instead of Brazil…

    Apparently, some of the tribes in Nigeria kept copious records for genealogical reasons, and you can still trace those out. The attitudes were interesting, because the African sellers did not see slavery the same way the traders did, and might not have understood the statuses that slaves held in the New World. For them, slavery wasn’t the “treat them like farm animals” thing that it was in the New World–You could work your way out of it, and if you did well, you’d be able to leave the stigma behind.

    My Nigerian informant said that he wasn’t sure that his ancestors would have sold their kin off if they’d have known what they were going into–They saw it as a “last chance” for the incorrigible, and did not grasp the true nature of their fate in the Americas. Of course, everyone else? Fair game, and no big deal to sell off. They deserved it, see, ‘cos they weren’t sophisticated and civilized…

    Strange attitude, to my eye, but it’s in keeping with tribalism.

  6. Longarch says:

    They didn’t quite “get” the nature of the slavery thing going on with the overseas sales–Slavery in Africa wasn’t a permanent or hereditary thing.

    And of course, the foreign slave merchants did not sabotage their own profits by explaining all the ugly details.

  7. Alistair says:

    Canada has wine. Wow.

  8. Graham says:


    And all produced by free labour, too! At least now. Can’t vouch for any early experiments by loyalists, but in the wine industry that evolved since the 1970s, pretty sure.

  9. Alistair says:

    I’m just….gonna need a moment here….

  10. Kirk says:

    I’m not sure why Canada having a wine industry should be so dislocating, Alistair… We have, within written historical memory, the fact that one of the primary reasons the Romans wanted Britain as being their potential as a wine-growing region, and the Medieval Viking naming of the Nova Scotia region as “Vinland”, which sort of implies the growth of grapes in the region…

    Which kind of makes me wonder: Where the hell did the grapes come from, in North America? Phoenician transplants during the last warm period? It would seem an unlikely thing to have parallel domestication of, when you think about it… Then again, maybe not. I wonder if anyone’s given any study to the issue–Is it possible that the Native American varieties came over with the first humans?

  11. CVLR says:

    Kirk, there are interesting parallels all over the place. Stepped pyramids on every continent. Structures pre-dating the Younger Dryas. Ruins in very deep water. It’s some weird stuff.

  12. Kirk says:

    CVLR–I agree about the anomalies. There’s enough out there that it can’t all just be cranks, and a bunch of unanswered questions need to be answered.

    I think my number one question is who the hell was mining all the copper in Michigan? Some estimates have the amount of copper extracted pegged at about a half-billion (with a “B”…) pounds, starting somewhere around 2450 BC, and ending circa 1200 BC.

    First time I heard of this, I was like “Yeah, pull the other one…”, but I’ve done some reading and talked to people who know about the sites, and it all appears to be genuine. Which is mind-boggling. That’s a lot of copper–Where the hell did it all go?

    There’s no sign of it here in North America that I’m aware of, archaeologically speaking, sooooo… WTF?

    My other big question is, why the hell would anyone give enough of a damn to cover this stuff up, or conceal it from general knowledge? A lot of it is pretty open, like the prevalence of stone structures in New England that pre-date the Colonies, and which seem to share some characteristics with stuff found around the Mediterranean.

    You’ve also got those tantalizing references to the “giants” of yore, whose remains are reported all through the literature of the 19th Century, and then whose existence seemingly evaporates. There are documented hand-overs of the remains found in New Mexico and Nevada that supposedly went to the Smithsonian, but there’s not a damn thing in the museum records supporting that. But, news stories in the local papers all describe that happening. So, what was it? A social phenomenon of amusing lies that everyone was telling, or what? If there was a “vast conspiracy” to cover all this crap up, then… Why? What’s the damn point? It’s all (literally…) ancient history, so why must we defend the “conventional account” so desperately?

    If that’s what’s going on, that is. Whole thing may be a bunch of fabulists, but it’s damned hard to tell without replicating the research yourself.

    I have met first-person sources who describe seeing what the apocrypha describe, though. Most memorably, a guy who spent a lot of his spare time documenting stuff he found in the New England area, and his growing conviction that a lot of it which everyone just assumed was Colonial in origin actually pre-dated the conventional historical account. He had a bunch of stuff backing that idea up, like the rate of weathering on the stones, the construction styles, and accounts from remnant Indian oral histories of the sites being there before they got there…

    Whole thing is fascinating. I have to ask why anyone would have that much investment in the “conventional history” to automatically discount all this stuff, because to me, an open mind needs to be kept open. What’s recorded in the books ain’t necessarily so; I have personal experience with that, in my own lifetime.

    Which again raises the question: Why? What’s the point of obfuscating what really happened, or covering up the anomalies?

  13. Graham says:

    I had imagined that native new world grape species/varieties were just there as descendants of common ancestors from the old supercontinental days. But I suppose it is possible that they came over with the ancestors of Indians. I don’t know how hardy the vines would have been for that long a trek in both distance and time, for much of it through climates not so convivial. Probably for generations of time.

    Apparently in more recent times, accessible to scholars, new world peoples did not make grape wine. They certainly fermented other plants, so no lack of desire for alcohol.

    Maybe they tried and new world grapes weren’t good, or somehow that plant never drew their attention when they were looking for fermentables. One can get pretty slammed with maize derivatives.

    Wine seems to start with the Spanish bringing in their version of winemaking. Plenty of places in the Americas whose climate would support it.

    When it comes to settler wine production, my suspicion is that marginal climates like Canada started with other fruit wines and moved on to grape vine cultivation much, much later. Quebec still produces a lot of fruit wine. Had a particular label of strawberry wine once and have hoped to stumble on it again ever since. Come to think, England, another marginal grapevine climate, has managed to make many other fruit wines.

    A lot of the grapes used in the Americas are hybrids with European grapes, too. So there’s that.

    Interestingly, there was some huge plant disease crisis in Europe in the 19th century, so now most vineyards in the main producer countries use vines that had to be grafted with North American vines. There are few vineyards left with ungrafted vitis vinifera of old stock, and the disease is still out there. That might be the fault of 19th century hybrid experimentation, actually. The French must have been beside themselves with panic. The Franco-Prussian war would have been a trifle by comparison.

    To be fair, Canadian wine until probably the 90s [I'm relying on my father and an associate of his from memory here] was plonk comparable to the stuff the Germans used to export exclusively- like Blue Nun or Black Tower, which for a time were a huge factor on the Canadian and US markets in their own right. I have actually been meaning to try them. There’s always the chance the wine people are just being snobs and those things actually taste good. I like things like German riesling, gewurztraminer, and almost any rose, and I would not have a hope of detecting all the tastes and aromas one is supposed to taste or smell in finer reds. They might taste better or worse to me, but they taste like wine. Not blackberries with hints of oak and cinnamon.

  14. Graham says:

    This was interesting: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_World_wine

    Among other things, it explains why North American in particular and New World wines in general are marketed and spoken of with primary emphasis on the type of grape, not the region/terroir of origin. I have a colleague who really hates that.

  15. Ezra says:

    Tipoo Tip too. Renowned slave owner and slave trader. Worked quite well with the Arabs and some whitey. African slave traders their descendants not ashamed of their ancestors and what they did. Actually quite proud of them.

    Nigerians and other West Africans who come to the USA their one main peeve is that their kids begin to adopt bad habits of American black kids.

  16. Alistair says:

    No….no….it must be some kind of beer that merely…looks like wine….that’s it! Yes! It’s just beer that comes in different bottles. Natural confusion. Anyone could make that mistake. Canadian Beer. Makes sense…..from the Canadian hop, which looks like a grape to the untrained eye…


  17. Sam J. says:

    “…I think my number one question is who the hell was mining all the copper in Michigan?…”

    Maybe it was these guys.

    Look at this site. It covers a bunch of stuff that I can’t vouch for nor am I saying it’s all real. Look at the bottom of the page for,

    “…An elongated skull was unearthed in a Copper Island burial mound. No other data available…”


    I will say that some of this is real. I also believe that the melonheads are real and supposedly their DNA has been tested and the mtDNA does not match any known DNA we have. They have cranial stitching that is different from all other skulls. I have also seen videos and pictures of baby melonhead mummies that have the same cranial shape so it doesn’t come from binding.

    That being said someone could have made up a bunch of dummies and made videos of them. To counter that these have been found WAY back in history. An archeological dig in Malta found quite a few of these with thousands and thousands of normal skulls.



  18. Graham says:

    New product: bierwein.

    In the really tall bottle.

  19. CVLR says:

    Kirk: “I have met first-person sources who describe seeing what the apocrypha describe, though. Most memorably, a guy who spent a lot of his spare time documenting stuff he found in the New England area, and his growing conviction that a lot of it which everyone just assumed was Colonial in origin actually pre-dated the conventional historical account. He had a bunch of stuff backing that idea up, like the rate of weathering on the stones, the construction styles, and accounts from remnant Indian oral histories of the sites being there before they got there…“

    That’s very interesting. Have they written any books? Do they have any blogs?

  20. CVLR says:

    Sam, I always wonder how you manage to find the most interesting things. I could even swear I’ve seen you at a certain place that’s turned off most of the time.

    As a zeroth observation, it’s a bit eyebrow-raising that a binding could cause an increase to the volume of a skull.

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