9 Abisi Tribute: Slaves, Women and Children


During war time with the Zara emirate, Abisi say that those who were captured on their bush farms would be shipped to the Emirate cities of Jemaa or Zaria. They would be enslaved to work for the Emir`s cavalry feeding the horses while women were taken by Hausa.
To change that situation, they had to pay tribute every year, the /ugindo/.
This tribute imposed by the Emirate was initially of seven slaves provided by each section according to their size: Agiram and Agurasin provided three individuals for both, Ekantin, two, and Nigertin and Igallik, one each.
Finding people to send away was no easy task and different choices could be made.
Some slaves were obtained either from neighboring populations, such as the Amo or the Rukuba who as Arnett, 1929 was told: used to buy slaves from Birom and sell them to Zaria people at profit”.
Abisi say that they also sent away delinquents or persons accused of witchcraft. Sometimes ruse would be used.
The person would innocently be asked to accompany a messenger going to the Hausa Jekada to which he was surrended.
Arnet also add that the Rukuba “…in hard times would sell their own children”. The Abisi did the same, choosing first orphans and adopted children.

Paying Tribute: Children and Women first

Adoption (/idami/: to give) is when “… you give a child to someone who will care for it.”
abisi boy 240
These adoptions happened mostly between families of the same section or patrilines. A family could ask another to “give” one of her boys to help in the fields.
This procedure differs from getting children, mostly boys, from foreign groups, which was still an ongoing practice in 1973 when five adopted boys from Rukuba, Ribam and Kurama were obtained in exchange for grains (sorghum).
Extreme poverty seemed to be the motive for theses transactions but sometimes, it is the need to get more boys in a house that motivates exchanges between comrades of outside groups.
These children were integrated into the domestic groups and have, in principle, the same rights as the other children. But this practice are also seen as a form of domestic slavery, these individuals being referred to, never in their presence, by the same word /akwↄ/, or slave, as those who were handed over to the Hausa-Fulani.
Children of foreign origin and orphans (/upiniŋ/) would be the first to be given in tribute and it seems that they may have been already discriminated because some say they were less fed, they had “difficulty eating”.
Giving a child to fulfill the section’s duty took place indirectly, people wishing to avoid parting with those of their own house.
Indeed, when a section chief had to choose the person and in absence of suitable individuals, he demanded the return of one of his daughters married into another section to give her in tribute.
The husband, not wanting to dispose of his wife could give one of his children instead and preferably orphans or foreign children in his house. In this context, the subordinate social status of women and children to men and chiefs could be used to pay the tribute.
An anecdote also illustrates that family ties remained strong despite the horror of slavery. Once the Abisi mystic chief (uyikut) was captured by a Hausa-Fulani warrior. His return was negotiated in exchange for one of his married daughters. She was taken to Jema’a where she had a child.
After the “Pax Britannica”, the man came back to abisi and although he was assimilated to the Hausa ways, he maintained traditional joking relationships with his /kwi/ his maternal uncle.

From Humans to Horses and Grain

Later, negotiations between Abisi and the Emirate replaced slaves by horses and grains.
Arnett 1920 (p. 16) writes:
“The pagan tribes were quite differently treated. Their principal taxes were paid in slaves, with a money assessment as well from the more settled tribes.
For example, the Katab tribe under Sarkin Kauru paid an annual tax to the Emir of 100 slaves, and one hundred bags of cowries ( C20,000 to the bag)
A large proportion of the slaves collected as also of the taxes from the Hausa towns was forwarded annually to the Sultan of Sokoto.
After the British occupation in 1901, Arnett adds: “Pagan towns which had previously paid slaves were ordered to pay cowries instead.”
Slavery predation had quite an impact on Abisi organization; hard negotiations and deceptions were introduced in everyday life, everybody from men to women and children were at risk and suspicion must have created a tensed atmosphere.