The Slave Raid.

The slave raiders came just before dawn. They came by foot and on horseback, three grown men or ‘war-captains’ leading a heavily armed group of fifty ‘war-boys.’ The oldest of them was a battled hardened veteran of thirty-five years of age. To the others, whose average age was only nineteen, he was old. They called him ‘Iba’ or ‘Baba.’ They were part of the army of Bashorun Oluyole in Ibadan, a detachment of mounted warriors who normally fought with the seriki.

There had been a lull in the incessant wars that Ibadan fought with its neighbors in those days, and it was understood that at such times, the fighting men could supplement their livelihood and hone their fighting skills by embarking on ‘slave catching’ operations, especially those directed at small villages and hamlets that were not under the protection of Ibadan and which were not well protected.

First, the ‘war-boys’ arranged themselves at carefully spaced intervals to surround the entire village, leaving no gaps through which anyone might escape. Then, five of them went in with lighted brands and set fire to the thatched roofs of the huts. Thus, the first inkling that the sleeping inhabitants of Itokin knew of their fate was the smell of burning thatch and acrid smoke that choked them in their sleep.

They ran out into the waiting arms of their captors. Those who resisted or came out with weapons, mainly cutlasses wielded clumsily by men who were farmers not warriors, were cut down mercilessly. Then the ‘war boys’ went from one burning hut to the other as the sounds of gunfire and the wailing and moans of the wounded and the dying filled the air.

They searched and brought out those hiding inside or those who could not come out by reason of infirmity or age. Infants and toddlers were killed off instantly with spear thrusts through the chest. The ‘war boys’ knew they would not be able to feed them.

Many of the women, particularly the attractive young maidens, were raped on the spot. The three older warriors kept untouched one maiden each for themselves. These three were stripped naked and tied to a tree, awaiting the pleasure of the men at a later time.

After Ogungbayi ran off undetected, he hid behind a bush and watched what was happening to his family. He could see his mother and two sisters already fettered with ropes around their necks, wrists and ankles. They huddled on the ground as the barrel of a musket carried by one of the ‘war boys’ hovered over their heads. Ogungbayi could not see his younger brother, the toddler, Ogunbi. He wept bitterly. All the people he had known all his life were now prisoners of this desperate and heartless band.

He watched as one of the captured young women, who was yet to be fettered, broke away and made for the bushes. She did not go far, as Iba, the old warrior, came after her. He easily caught up with her with his long loping strides. Iba grabbed the maiden from behind with one hand, and with the other, struck her on the side of the head with a great blow that felled her. Then he pounced on her as she lay wailing on the ground, her voice raised in a loud shriek. Ignoring her distracting cries, he tore away her iro with one swift movement, and crouching over her, sank his teeth into her exposed breasts. This brought an even greater howl from the maiden. She had a strength that surprised the old warrior, and he could not subdue her or keep her still so he could ravish her in peace.

In this, he was helped by one of the ‘war boys,’ a teenager who could not have been older than thirteen years.

His name was Mutiu. Because he was small in stature, he was known as Mutiu Kekere, little Mutiu, or sometimes, just Kekere. Barely a teenager, he was a mere slip of a child with a smooth, almost beautiful oval face with doe shaped eyes and closely cropped hair. He was the smallest in the group, but he was one of the deadliest. Few dared to cross him, known as he was for his viciousness and violent outbursts. Though he was one of the youngest, all the men feared him. For one thing, he was the son of the late seriki of Ibadan and therefore was protected in high places.

From a young age, he had shown himself to be somewhat of a renegade. Following the footsteps of Mufu, his equally depraved elder brother, Mutiu had left his high-born family to cast his lot among thieves and vagabonds. His brother Mufu had died violently on the streets of Ibadan, five years earlier, in a fight over a woman who had been betrothed to him. But this had not deterred Mutiu from pursuing a career in the business of violence and death.

It surprised no one that Mutiu ended up in a slave raiding gang. His brother had been a ‘slave catcher’ too. Although he was nominally an Ibadan ‘war-boy,’ Mutiu had no appetite for conventional war or a desire to defend his hometown Ibadan from its enemies. All he cared about was following his gang on slave raids and other exploits for personal gain involving murder, drunkenness and rapine

In this, he imagined himself as honoring the memory of his slain brother, Mufu.

In his peculiar if depraved way of reasoning, Mutiu thought Mufu would have understood. The musket Mutiu carried everywhere he went was the same musket that belonged to this brother Mufu, and which according to eyewitness accounts had been the instrument of his untimely death. This musket had been given to the young, eight-year old Mutiu by Taju, his brother’s protégé, who had been at the scene of Mufu’s violent death.

Mutiu Kekere was mean, vicious, and totally without conscience or remorse. Many of the older men thought he was mad and avoided his fits of anger.

This boy, Mutiu, stepped up. With a vicious sweep of his two arms, he slammed the butt of his musket against the side of the girl’s head. She lay still, stunned. This was too much for her young husband who was watching the scene while he was held from behind by two of the marauders. He broke free and leapt at the old warrior who was bent on ravishing the girl. The angry villager rained heavy blows with his fists on the crouching figure who was at that time trying to pull down his sokoto.

But this was the last thing the enraged husband would ever do in this life. There was a loud bang, followed by the smell of gunpowder and a puff of smoke from a musket shot. At point-blank range, Mutiu, the teenage ‘war boy’ had shot the husband in the head with the same musket with which he had brained the dead man’s wife.

As they watched Iba rape the still, unresisting figure on the ground, a madness took over the boys. It was the fever and insanity of war, which sometimes took over the most rational of young men in the thick of battle.

One of them, Taju, a tall muscular lad of eighteen, ran to Iba, his body trembling with heat and lust. He tapped the old warrior on the back and said roughly, ‘Iba, get off. You’ve had enough.” Then with his two strong hands, Taju gripped Iba by the shoulders, heaved him up and tossed him bodily aside. Then pulling down his own sokoto, he fell on the still unmoving maiden. Twelve of the boys took their turn ravishing her, among them Mutiu.

But when they had finished and their eyes had cleared, only a few of them experienced any satisfaction or joy at what they had done. Many of them were ashamed and avoided each other’s eyes. It was then that they noticed that the figure on the ground lay quite still in the same spot, unmoving, with no sign of life.

“She is dead,” said Iba, his senses returning to him.

His voice was low and subdued, devoid of his usual brash warrior’s impudence. Now, there was a hint of remorse and regret.

He lifted the body, walked some distance with it, and tossed it into a smoldering pile of flame and smoke. It was an unidentifiable structure next to one of the burning huts. It could have a granary for corn, but now it was covered with burning debris.

Then, someone noticed the body of the husband who had died trying to protect the honor of his wife. His body still lay on the ground next to the very place where his wife had been brutally raped. His head was a mass of blood, tissue, and bone mixed with sand. Crawling ants had gathered, and flies buzzed around the gory mass. One of the boys pulled the corpse feet first and dumped it beside his wife in the burning pile.

In the end, the village of Itokin was completely destroyed and the habitation of its captured and slaughtered inhabitants left in smoldering heaps of ash and burning thatch. A thick brown smoke hovered over the desolate village and a band of vultures gathered to feast on the bodies of the dead.

As the attackers began to drive their fettered captives before them into the bush, the shrieks of these

scavenger birds filled the air, marking the village as a scene of death. The men looked up. There was no light in the sky. A veritable darkness

had descended on the village at noon. For as the vultures circled overhead and the smoke thickened and wafted towards the clouds over the burning village, the light from the sun was cut off and a brooding shadow fell like a fatal canopy over that gruesome scene.

Many of the men of the village who had offered resistance to the marauders still lay wounded on the ground. They were all killed, one after the other, before the slave raiders moved off. Their throats were slit. Two ‘war boys’ held down each injured man while a third wielded a sharp curved knife, stepping aside as blood gushed from the severed neck artery. For the ‘war boys’ had no need for captives who could not walk unassisted. Many of the elder people in the village were left inside the burning huts to perish.

The young Ogungbayi, aged nine, was the only person in the village to escape. He hid out in the bush for five days, but he witnessed the entire scene of horror, brutality and rape that engulfed his village on that fateful dawn.

Those of the villagers who survived the attack were tied together with stout hempen ropes and leather straps, and were quickly herded into the bush. There, in a nearby clearing in the forest, waiting for the ‘war boys,’ was a group of slave dealers. There were twelve of them, hard faced merchants and battle-hardened former soldiers, heavily armed with muskets, swords and daggers. Two of them were turbaned Hausas on horseback.

The exchange of goods was swiftly made. The captives were handed over to the slave dealers. In return, the warriors received two crates of guns and ammunition, and twelve heavy bags of owo eyo or cowrie shells, the currency of the day.

There was talk among the men of how much they should keep and how much to take back to Ibadan. Apparently, they had to report back to Oluyole, the Bashorun at Ibadan, who received a cut from whatever loot and booty the ‘war boys’ got from their activities, either in war, unsponsored brigantry or slave-catching capers such as these.

As Ogungbayi watched from his hiding place in the bush, he heard other names mentioned – Ogunmola, Ibikunle and Latosisa. These names belonged either to the leaders of the group or other war captains in Ibadan whose palms would need to be greased by the ‘war boys.’

After this transaction, the ‘war boys’ went back to the farmlands surrounding the burning village. They began to cut down the ripe corn on the stalk and to dig up the yams in the ground waiting for the harvest. The boys from Ibadan were hungry. They had an army to feed.


The slave dealers also wasted no time. They hastened to be on their

way. Quickly, they counted the captives. There were seventy-six in all, twenty-five grown men, forty women, and eleven children above six years of age. Working in a very rapid and efficient manner, they produced heavy iron shackles for the wrists and ankles and wooden locks and fetters for the necks of the captives. They quickly shackled the captives together in groups of seven and pulled them to their feet, shouting at them to start moving. They took care that those in the same conjoined group were of roughly the same height, but they did not separate the men from the women. Then, with a shout of command in Hausa from one of the turbaned horsemen, the convoy moved and headed south in the direction of the coast.

‘Yala!’ the Hausa leader shouted again, as they moved off.

But the very next day when they had barely left the burning village behind, the slave convoy was apprehended by a war party under the command of a rising young war captain and native of the nearby town of Ijaiye. He and his group of warriors had been attracted by the smoke from the burning huts and the cries of kites and vultures circling overhead, those opportunists and sensors of war and death.

They seemed to have appeared from nowhere. One moment, the convoy was trudging along a narrow bush path, the captives in the middle, and the armed guards on both sides and to the front and back of them. The next moment, there were armed horsemen on both sides of the long chain formed by the convoy, levelling muskets and arrows at them. There must have been at least two hundred of them.

One of the slave convoy guards reached rashly for his gun. There was the loud boom of a musket and he lay dead on the ground, a great bleeding wound in his chest. The rest of the slave detail kept their hands to themselves. There were so many of these intruders that they looked like an army, which indeed they were. Most of them rode horses, but many were on foot, armed with bows and arrows. The horsemen carried heavy lances and spears, and many had muskets strapped to the flanks of their horses, which on closer look could be seen to be the small ponies favored by the warriors of Ijaiye. It was clear that this was a well-trained disciplined group of tough looking warriors.

They were warriors from Ijaiye and they were heard addressing their leader as Kurunmi. The Ijaiyes were known to be the best fighting men in Yorubaland after the Ibadans. They did not give quarters and never retreated in battle. Under the leadership of their young leader Kurunmi, who had already made his mark in military circles for his success against the Ilorin, the discipline and heroism of warriors from Ijaiye were well known. It was this same Kurunmi who was destined to be made Aare ona Kakanfo or generalissimo by his friend, the Alafin Atiba.

Hearing his name, the slave dealers knew what they were up against and did not attempt to resist or give Kurunmi’s men any excuse to shoot them down. The Ijaiye horsemen came nearer, and completely ignoring the armed slave dealers, went to the captives. They looked at each man, woman and child with great interest. Then their leader jumped down from his pony. He was very young. At that time, Kurunmi could not have been older than twenty-nine years of age.

“Are there any of you here,” he loudly addressed the shackled captives, “who are from Ife?”

A few of the captives shouted back in the affirmative. They were closely inspected and their facial marks examined. They were also asked to speak a few words to see if their dialect and accents matched those of Ife.

These lucky ones, and there were just twelve of them, were separated from the rest. Their shackles were removed and they were placed on the backs of the horses of a few of the riders.

All this while, the slave band had kept quiet, fearful of antagonizing this superior force. But now, with part of their lucrative cargo slipping out of their hands, one of them, a Yoruba man with Offa tribal marks, spoke up. Inwardly he was seething, barely able to contain his anger and indignation. But outwardly, he tried to be reasonable. He turned to Kurunmi.

‘But we have paid good money for these people you are taking away’ he blurted. ‘How are we going to get our money back?’

For a moment, there was a pause as Kurunmi looked at him. He appeared to be deciding on a reply. Then he turned away, totally ignoring the question. He strode back to his horse which was eagerly champing on a bit of turf.

Kurunmi mounted the horse. He steadied himself as he held the reins, while the horse kept its head down, reluctant to leave the juicy piece of grass he was munching. Then sensing the tug of the reins from its impatient rider, the horse sprang on its hind legs and gave a soft neigh. Kurumi steadied him with a pat on the side of the neck, and the horse

put its front hooves down. Then with a movement of his upraised hand, the Ijaiye leader motioned to his men.

Those who had dismounted swiftly jumped back on their horses. They tried to form a rough military formation, but with the thick bush, shrubs and trees close around them, their efforts were only partially successful. Then, without a word, and as suddenly as they had appeared, Kurunmi and his men rode away.

What had happened was that Kurunmi, the young war captain of Ijaiye, had a commission from the Ooni of Ife, who was alarmed that slave catchers from Ibadan, Ijebu and Egbaland were taking as slaves men, women and children of Ife, despite a solemn agreement by the leaders of the various Yoruba city states that citizens of Ife, the spiritual capital of Yorubaland, should be immune from capture and sale as slaves in any part of Yorubaland.

The Ibadan ‘war lords’ and their ‘war boys’ were especially notorious for flouting this agreement, and lately, this had caused friction between Ife and the young Kurunmi of Ijaiye on the one hand, and Ibadan under Bashorun Oluyole on the other.

The remaining captives wailed and cried, and pleaded in vain for the Ijaiye horsemen to rescue them too, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. Kurunmi’s men simply told them it was only Ifes that they were authorized to release.

As they rode off following the command of their leader, the Ijaiye men were quiet and orderly. The last the slave group saw of them were the backs of the dozen rescued men and women as they bounced up and down on the horses that bore them to Ijaiye and freedom.

For the remaining captives, the nightmare had only begun. The march to the coast was a horror none of them could have imagined. The slave party kept a brutal pace. Those who tried to slow down the group by their weakness or weariness, or those who straggled, were mercilessly whipped. Their guards had them hidden in the bush during the day, and made them travel all night. There was little food for the captives and an even more limited supply of fresh clean water. If any of the captives were pressed and wanted to relieve their bowel or their bladder, they had to do so standing up. They were not given water to wash their bodies or clean their teeth during the fifteen days it took them to get to the coast.

Three of the captives drowned at the crossing of the Majidun river near Otta. The other captives suspected that these men and women drowned themselves deliberately to escape the horror and deprivations of a life of captivity.

None of the captured villagers had any idea where they were headed. There was whispered talk among the guards which was interpreted by some of the sharp-eared among the captives that they were to be taken in great houses that moved over the waters to the land of white men across the great ocean.

In the end, sixty-one men, women and children among the captives from the village of Itokin in that year 1845 reached the coast at Badagry. These captives who had survived the forced march through the forest, which was even more gruesome than the horrors of their capture and the destruction of their village, ended up in a slave market on the island of Topo, off Badagry.

The children were immediately bought by various private individuals from Lagos to be used as domestic help in their households. Six of the more attractive of the young females were bought by a trader from Ikorodu to be resold as domestic servants and concubines to rich merchants in that bustling and newly important town.

The rest were sold off to the captain of a waiting American ship in a mass auction organized under the auspices of a noted Ijebu slave dealer from Lagos, a young man named Odumosu, who was an agent and partner of the notorious Madam Tinubu, an Egba woman of considerable power and influence who had already made her mark in the bustling port city of Lagos. .

A Time of Troubles, Chapter 1, A New City by the sea, pp 5-14.