The Span of ‘Slavery’: Considering Systems of Domination and Labour in the Lake Chad Basin

Author(s): Scott MacEachern

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "Archaeological Approaches to Slavery and Unfree Labour in Africa" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

"The kings of the Sudan sell their people for no reason, and quite apart from any wars…" (Ahmad al-Ya’kūbī).

The Lake Chad Basin was one of the anchor points of the trans-Saharan slave trade, through the millennium after al-Ya’kūbī wrote about the rulers of Kanem in the 9th century AD. This region had no equivalent to the gold-fields of West Africa, so that the trafficking of enslaved humans plays a central role in analyses of state development. However, the term ‘slavery’ seems inadequate to describe the variety of systems of domination and coercion historically subsumed under that rubric in the region: chattel and war slavery, sexual enslavement and forced marriage, capture and forced labour in egalitarian communities, and so on. This complexity continues to the present day, where rural groups say that children are periodically kidnapped for house labour and where the depredations of the Boko Haram insurgency have led them to be labelled hamaji, ‘slave raiders’. This paper will consider material and historical evidence for the span of ‘slavery’ in the Lake Chad Basin, and particularly whether one explanatory model fits these varied phenomena.

Cite this Record

The Span of ‘Slavery’: Considering Systems of Domination and Labour in the Lake Chad Basin. Scott MacEachern. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 452434)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -18.721; min lat: -35.174 ; max long: 61.699; max lat: 27.059 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 25300