Indeed, it was through the slave trade, and not missionary work, that the Portuguese established their influence in the area. The Christian missionaries tried to plant Christianity in Andoni area in the 16th century. But the faith had no root and so disappeared from the area by the end of the 17th century. It was not until the early years of the 20th century that it reappeared and got established (Ejituwu, 1991: 89). Slave trade, on the other hand, persisted. It flourished in Ikot Abasi and other parts of Nigeria even after the Portuguese had been replaced by the Dutch, the English, the French and other slave traders from Western Europe and the Americas. By the eighteenth century, Britain had become the leading slave trading nation in the world.
Slave trade, it should be noted, was not a Portuguese innovation; it preceded the arrival of the Portuguese in the area. The Andoni, for instance, bought slaves from their hinterland trading partners for use as labourers and other economic pursuits or for incorporation as wives (Ibid.). With the arrival of the Portuguese, the Andoni bought slaves not only for their private use, but also for sale to the newcomers. The Andoni thus became the first middlemen in the trade between the Ikot Abasi people and the Europeans. They were later replaced by the Umani (Bonny) and the Aro, who became dominant in the trade, and remained so up to the middle of the 19th century (Jeffreys, 1935: 1).
Those sold as slaves, as in the pre-Portuguese era, included war prisoners, debtors, breakers of taboos, persons convicted for murder, adultery, and so on (Waddell, 1863: 929; Ita, 1983: 7). As the trade with the Europeans called for more slaves, the Andoni, Umani and Aro middlemen traders and their hinterland partners supplanted their limited sources by battering upon strangers living in their midst. They also started to raid nearby communities (Ina, 1989: 54).
The black traders of Bonny and Calabar ... come down about once a fortnight with slaves; Thursday or Friday, is generally their trading day. 20 or 30 canoes, sometimes more and sometimes less, come down at a time. In each canoe may be 20 or 30 slaves. The arms of some of them are tied behind their backs with twigs, canes, grass rope, or other ligaments of the country; and if they happen to be stronger than common, they are pinioned above the knee also. In this situation they are thrown into the bottom of the canoe, where they lie in great pain, and often almost covered with water. On their landing, they are taken to the Traders Houses, where they are oiled, fed, and made top for sale ... No sickly slave is ever purchased; when the bargain is made they are brought away. They appear to be very dejected when they are brought on board. The men are put into irons, in which situation they remain during the whole of the Middle Passage, unless when they are sick.
From the evidence of W. James to the Lords Committee on the Slave Trade in Africa (in Isichei, 1978: 48).
The intensification of slave trade led to the establishment of slave markets at Uruakwak, Ibekwe, Essene, Ukam, Ubium, and Ndio in the Ibibio hinterland; at Opuoko in Ogoni and at Ohambele, Azumini and Okoloma in Ndoki (Jeffreys, 1935). Slaves bought from these markets were escorted along the foot paths, creeks and rivers to Egwanga, and particularly to Essene, for sale to the foreign slave traders.
In exchange for slaves and forest products (palm oil, gum, rubber and ivory), the European traders offered a variety of manufactured goods such as coral beads, smoking pipes, brass bugles, knives, guns and gun powder and large iron pots used for storing water and cooking on important occasions. Exchange could be done by barter or by the use of manilla and other commodity currencies (Ekundare, 1973: 48-49).
Slave trade introduced far reaching changes in Ikot Abasi area both as regards the distribution and composition of the population and as regards the balance of economic and political power. In addition to the Ibibio inhabitants, Ikot Abasi witnessed influx of Andoni, Ogoni, Umani, and Igbo speaking peoples. Economic power, and, by implication, political power, came to be exercised by the rich slave trading middlemen. Essene, Ukam and other slave markets in the area became important trading centres. With guns bought from the Dane Gun Market of Ukam or those obtained from Europeans on the coast, the slave traders raided many communities for slaves. This created a lot of instability and insecurity in the district (Ina, 1983: 7).
Went up the river in fitted out armed canoes, 'to catch men' lying under the bushes in the day when they came near a village, and taking hold of every one they could see. These were handcuffed, brought down to the canoes, and so proceeded up the river, till they got the amount of 45, with whom they returned to the New Town where, sending to the captains of the ship, they divided them among the ships. About a fortnight after they went again, and were out eight or nine days, plundering other villages higher up the river.
As described by Isaac Parker in 1790 (in Forde, 1956: 7)