An Oct. 5-9, 1999, conference sponsored by
NYU's Institute for African-American Affairs.
Coverage by undergraduate journalism students.


continued from page 1

Paul E. Lovejoy
Professor Paul Lovejoy explains the Nigerian Hinterland Project.

Though this may seem like a vast stretch of land, Lovejoy explained the significance of thi s information: It gives rise to the possibility that someday, Africans around the world will be able to have a fuller understanding of their ancestral background.

In his presentation, Lovejoy expounded on the emergence of the Nigerian Hinterland Project, for which he serves as executive committee director. The region includes the interior of the Bights of Benin and Biafra. (A bight is the bend in a coast forming an open bay.)

Nigerian Hinterland Project

The Nigerian Hinterland Project, which was outlined Oct. 5 at the NYU "Slave Routes" conference by its director, Prof. Paul Lovejoy of Canada's York University, is an investigation into the history of enslaved people who originated in the interior of the Bights of Benin and Biafra. Affiliated with the UNESCO Slave Route Project, Lovejoy's institute has seven distinct aims in its research:

  • To build archives of primary sources related to the Nigerian diaspora and its origins, and to increase access to them;
  • To compile a database of enslaved Africans, including a summary of biographical information on individuals and direct quotations about the individuals;
  • To map out a historical atlas of slavery, which would summarize information on the slave trade and slaves' roots in formats accessible on CD-ROM and the Internet;
  • To study the ports of the Nigerian Hinterland in relation to European and American ports;
  • To explore the Muslim diaspora and its connection to the routes of the slave trade, slave routes, in part by using the collection of Arabic documentation on enslaved Africans in Islamic areas;
  • To examine the ethnic identities in the diaspora and the Nigerian Hinterland by looking at their language groups (Aja/Fon, Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa and Kanuri); and
  • To study links between the diaspora and the Nigerian Hinterland.

Those wishing to learn more about the project's goals and upcoming events can see the project's site.

Nigerian Hinterland Project

Some 40 percent of all slaves who ended up in the Americas - North and South America and the islands making up Hispaniola - can trace their origins to this region. The project concentrates on the massive population displacement, exploring the effects on historical developments in Africa and elsewhere. The program currently involves a network of scholars and institutions and explores the ways in which enslaved Africans contributed to changes in world culture, especially in Atlantic regions.

Lovejoy stressed the importance of several aspects of the project, including an effort to create an archive of material on the subject, so that later generations can continue the research.

Lovejoy also touched upon the societal makeup of Africa just before the slave trade began, sharing information that, though known for some time, has relevance to present research on African history. As he explained in a 1983 book entitled Transformations in Slavery: A History of Slavery in Africa, Africans lived in societies of complex social structures, complete with political figures, religious leaders, and even slavery and other forms of dependency.

Responding to a question about these forms of dependency in pre-European Africa, Lovejoy said, "There was an absolutely fundamental difference between slavery in Africa and slavery in places such as the Americas."

As he explained it, the power of an African chief was calculated in direct proportion to the number of his subjects. Lovejoy explained that warfare was often a means of acquiring new subjects. The vanquished would enter the tribes as slaves but, like any other tribal member, had opportunities to be liberated at some future point.

This would change with the emergence of the slave trade. Instead of keeping prisoners of war as slaves and eventually allowing them to integrate into society, African chiefs began to trade them to white men in exchange for European goods.

In a way, he said, European goods had become a new way for an African chief to display his power -- that is, more so than sheer numbers of subjects. As European goods became more and more fashionable in Africa and the demand for slaves grew -- especially in Europe, the Americas, and even the Orient -- African tribes began to fight each other for the sole purpose of capturing their neighboring tribe members and selling them directly to white slave traders.

Unfortunately, Lovejoy said, this trend would continue until the societal structures all along the western coast of Africa and west central Africa had changed, forming patterns of instability and poverty that plague African peoples across the continent to this day.

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The Nigerian Hinterland Project

Essay by Paul E. Lovejoy entitled "The African Diaspora: Revisionist Interpretations of Ethnicity, Culture, and Religion under Slavery"

Biography of Paul E. Lovejoy on

Literature by Paul E. Lovejoy on