Volume 10, Issues 2 & 3
Fall 2008

Slavery and the Birth of an African City: Lagos, 1760-1900. Kristin Mann. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007. 473 pp.

Professor Mann is a well known scholar across the Atlantic. Her lat-est volume about Lagos (Nigeria) is no doubt a meaningful contribution to scholarship. The uniqueness of her latest study is its clarity, succinctness, and lucidness. Grounded in facts and knowledge of existing literature in the field, Mann set out to re-explore areas studied by leading scholars such as Robin Law, Sandra Barnes, Pauline Baker and Martin Lynn to mention a few. Mann’s work is both rich in oral and archival sources col-lected over a decade in Nigeria, England, and the United States of America. These sources are meticulously woven with secondary sources in the field. Although she could be regarded as one of the pioneers of serious scholarly study of Lagos and its environs, she nonetheless presents a detailed historiographical analysis of the state of knowl-edge.

This made it easy to read and comprehend Slavery and the birth of an African city. Mann introduced a unique angle in analyzing the causes and conse-quences of the trans-Atlantic slave trade; the post-abolition period – emphasizing transi-tion from slave procurement to trade in palm kernel -linking the narrative of international slave markets to those of the regional suppliers and slave dealers. She vividly shows how Lagos was transformed from a satellite of the Benin Kingdom into a wealthy and successful town. The introduction of international slave trade and its profitability was significant in this transformation. Mann tells readers how the traditional ruling class and peoples of Lagos adapted to the new situation and how wealth transformed social strati-fication and class in Lagos.

The book is instructive in that she was very meticulous in her docu-mentation of sources and demonstrates her familiarity with local idioms and customs – an outcome of her momentary residency in Lagos and continuous relationship with La-gosians since 1970. She paints a vivid picture of central characters, both local and for-eign, in emergent urban Lagos before the beginning of the twentieth century. Further, the book organization is unambiguous and allows the reader to easily comprehend is-sues and events to be discussed. It is well sequenced, and clearly outlined for all read-ers. Divided into eight chapters, Mann focused on three main questions – how the slave trade was conducted’ who profited from it; and what those who benefited did with their new income. Her answers to these questions illuminate readers’ knowledge about the complex nature of the trade – slave trade and the trade in palm kernel that followed in post-abolition era.

Generally, the work detailed the role of the upper and lower class; the rich and the poor; the leaders and the followers. But more importantly, it chronicled how Lagosians adapted and responded to the new way of life – “Legitimate Commerce” and the “New Lords” (British). Her assertion that Lagosians were not passive is rooted in evidence - and the objective interpretation of the evidence; this is a challenge to Eurocentric views about the nature and dimension of the Atlantic trade and general Euro-African encounter that gave birth to colonialism

Despite few typos and spelling errors, the book is a lucid historical narrative detailing events, issues, and personalities that contributed to emergent urban Lagos. Perhaps the period covered and the title should reflect 1603 to 1900 instead of 1760-1900. The reason is that earliest history of Lagos can now be conveniently date to 1603 as Mann would agree. The period 1760-1800s remained a watershed in the trans-formation of Lagos and that she adequately elaborated to readers. This is indeed the African side of the events eloquently told by a Caucasian, who other than the color of her skin, can be referred to as an honorary Lagosian.

Hakeem Ibikunle Tijani
Morgan State University