The ends of slavery in Barotseland, Western Zambia (c.1800-1925)
This thesis is primarily an attempt at an economic history of slavery in Barotseland, the Lozi kingdom that once dominated the Upper Zambezi floodplain, in what is now Zambia’s Western Province. Slavery is a word that resonates in the minds of many when they think of Africa in the nineteenth century, but for the most part in association with the brutalities of the international slave trades. In the popular imagination and academia, the functions and significance of slavery in Central Africa have received scant attention. Moreover, Central African bondage, in the form of ‘lineage’ or ‘domestic’ slavery, has long been considered more benign than that practised elsewhere on the continent. For too long have these assumptions, rooted in both colonial and functionalist misunderstandings, clouded our understanding of the realities of slavery in pre-colonial Central Africa. One of the central purposes of this thesis therefore is to demonstrate not only the inapplicability of this outmoded paradigm to Barotseland, but of its blanket application to Central Africa as a whole.\ud \ud The thesis is presented in three substantive parts. In the first, following the introduction, a methodological chapter reflects on the challenges involved in researching slavery. That is followed by a historiographical survey, which locates the thesis within a broader intellectual landscape. The second part commences with a study of the ecology of the Upper Zambezi and its floodplain, the heartland of the pre-colonial kingdom, elucidating geology, climate, flora and fauna, before reflecting on the interactions of environment and human agency in the history of the region’s peoples. The chapter following traces the evolution of the Lozi state and the political history of the kingdom up to the 1870s, developing the argument that slavery was central to the turbulent nineteenth-century in the floodplain. The subsequent chapter, on the place of slavery in Lozi society, continues the argument, presenting a new understanding of the meaning of Lozi slavery. The third part of the thesis consists of three consecutive narrative chapters. The first of these opens in 1878. Besides charting a time of intrigue and rebellion and early colonial intrusions, it explores in depth the development of a vast programme of public works with the view to foregrounding both the economic significance of Lozi slavery and its fundamentally exploitative nature. The second narrative chapter begins in 1897, on the eve of the colonial era, and follows the events which led to the formal abolition of slavery in 1906 and the shifting balance of personal, political and economic power which underpinned it. The final chapter charts the slow decline of slavery over the next two decades. The long persistence of Lozi slavery, it is here argued, speaks volumes for its former centrality to both the Lozi economy and to Lozi understandings of their society and themselves.