Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

And now you know the rest of the story

But…but…but…it’s UNPOSSIBLE.

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.

Last year, I travelled from Abuja, where I live, to Umujieze for my parents’ forty-sixth wedding anniversary. My father is the oldest man in his generation and the head of our extended family. One morning, a man arrived at our gate from a distant Anglican church that was celebrating its centenary. Its records showed that Nwaubani Ogogo had given an armed escort to the first missionaries in the region—a trio known as the Cookey brothers—to insure their safety. The man invited my father to receive an award for Nwaubani Ogogo’s work spreading the gospel. After the man left, my father sat in his favorite armchair, among a group of his grandchildren, and told stories about Nwaubani Ogogo.

“Are you not ashamed of what he did?” I asked.

“I can never be ashamed of him,” he said, irritated. “Why should I be? His business was legitimate at the time. He was respected by everyone around.” My father is a lawyer and a human-rights activist who has spent much of his life challenging government abuses in southeast Nigeria. He sometimes had to flee our home to avoid being arrested. But his pride in his family was unwavering. “Not everyone could summon the courage to be a slave trader,” he said. “You had to have some boldness in you.”

My father succeeded in transmitting to me not just Nwaubani Ogogo’s stories but also pride in his life. During my school days, if a friend asked the meaning of my surname, I gave her a narrative instead of a translation. But, in the past decade, I’ve felt a growing sense of unease. African intellectuals tend to blame the West for the slave trade, but I knew that white traders couldn’t have loaded their ships without help from Africans like my great-grandfather. I read arguments for paying reparations to the descendants of American slaves and wondered whether someone might soon expect my family to contribute. Other members of my generation felt similarly unsettled. My cousin Chidi, who grew up in England, was twelve years old when he visited Nigeria and asked our uncle the meaning of our surname. He was shocked to learn our family’s history, and has been reluctant to share it with his British friends. My cousin Chioma, a doctor in Lagos, told me that she feels anguished when she watches movies about slavery. “I cry and cry and ask God to forgive our ancestors,” she said.

Huh. And all this time I’ve been led to believe slavery existed exclusively in the states of the old Confederacy here in America—an evil unique to my ancestors alone, a blot which will and should stain all Southerners unto eternity. Why, next you’ll be telling me that the slave ships coming here were mainly run by Brits and New Englanders, or that slavery still exists in the Muslim world without exciting the slightest murmur of condemnation from Westerners who will nonetheless sneer most heartily at anyone with a Southern accent they may meet.

The part I bolded above highlights a key truth as regards A) both the condescension and moral smugness Southerners still face from “damn Yankees” even now, and B) the author’s anguish over his family history. Namely: it’s foolish and unjust to condemn the people of bygone eras by the standards of our own. My sarcasm above aside, it’s a fascinating article in a pretty improbable spot.

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5 thoughts on “And now you know the rest of the story

  1. Slavery still existed in a northern African nation thirty years ago. It probably exists today, but I don’t know of my own knowledge. This nation — or rather, collection of ever-changing tribal territory contained within lines someone drew on a map — is nominally Islamic, but I think that’s just a veneer over traditional religion and customs.

    This nation was once ruled by a European colonial power. (Of course it was. Weren’t they all?) I suppose that’s the root cause of this modern slavery, the repercussions of white oppression.

    1. @ SteveF

      “Slavery still existed in a northern African nation thirty years ago. It probably exists today, but I don’t know of my own knowledge. ”

      Saudi Arabia and Yemen abolished slavery in 1962, followed by Kuwait and Algeria in 1963, Tunisia in 1966, Ethiopia and Mauritius in 1969, and Oman in 1970. Mauritania did not abolish slavery until 1981, and only criminalized it in 2007. Niger only got around to criminalizing slavery in 2003. And so on.

      “This nation was once ruled by a European colonial power. (Of course it was. Weren’t they all?) I suppose that’s the root cause of this modern slavery, the repercussions of white oppression.”

      That’s sarcasm, I hope! The practice of slavery predated the European arrival in Africa and the Middle East by many centuries – and can be traced back to ancient times in the region. Tribal customs in traditional African and Middle Eastern societies explain much about its presence, but perhaps the single biggest driver of the practice has been Islam, a system of belief under which practicing Muslims are permitted – even encouraged – to capture and enslave non-Muslims (infidels) as the spoils of jihad (holy war).

      The capture, buying, selling and use of slaves is now, de jure, prohibited – if not criminalized – across Africa and the Middle East, but de facto the practice persists and is still quite common and popular in these places, albeit now in the shadows rather than the light of day.

      The Muslims are the biggest slavers in history – a fact you most-assuredly won’t read in any modern (leftist) history text, as the Cultural Marxists have disappeared that inconvenient truth down the memory hole of forbidden knowledge. If you wish to know the truth of the matter, you will have to go further back to a time before political-correctness had taken hold of academia.

  2. I assume SteveF’s post is snark.

    Did Nwaubani ever discuss his criteria for whom to capture? Big, dumb oafs?

  3. Didn’t North American Indians also engage in slavery, usually of rival tribe members but sometimes of white folks?

    1. Yes. Not only that, the French governor of Canada used to pay them to kidnap white colonists and take them north and sell them.

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