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Legitimate (Palm Oil) Trade

Author: nick on 14-09-2013, 18:00, views: 10 823

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Once started, slave trade continued unabated despite strong opposition by the humanitarians and abolitionists. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, the spread in the same century of new ideas in Europe such as the French Revolutionary ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and Thomas Paine's Rights of Man and political and strategic considerations, among other things, rendered slave trade obsolete. Consequently, Britain abolished her own slave trade in 1807 and then worked relentlessly for the abolition of the slave trade of other nations (Isichei, 1982:149).

 

With the abolition of slave trade, Britain also turned her attention to the trade in palm produce and forest products. Ikot Abasi had been noted for its rich production of large quantities of palm oil in the hinterland. Attracted by this and the prospects of Egwanga/Opobo as an important sea port, British, French and German firms established their factories on the river estuary, some of them moving in from Bonny. These included Mclver, Miller Brothers, Thomas Harrison, Stewart and Douglas Hutton and Cookson (Jaja 1991: 4). By July 1882, Consul Livingstone reported five great English firms doing immense trade in the Opobo River (Livingstone, 1882).

 

Early trading firms on the Oil Rivers, which merged into the African Association Company in 1889
 
1. Couper Johnstone and Company of Glasgow.
2. Thomas Harrison and Co. of Liverpool.
3. Hatton and Cookson of Liverpool.
4. Richard and William King of Bristol.
5. Stuart and Douglas Ltd. of Liverpool.
6. Taylor; Laughland and Co. of Glasgow.
7. George Watts of Liverpool.
8. Holt and Cotterell of Liverpool. British and Continental African Company of Liverpool. (Source: Pedler 1973: 139)

The firms bought and exported palm produce and forest products and imported manufactured European goods for sale to the local people. Manilla was the major currency used in the trade transaction. Sometimes, European goods were sold to African middlemen or given to them in trust (Udoessien, 1987: 21). The trust system enabled the African middlemen to collect European goods on credit. And after selling them, they paid back to the companies the agreed amount.

 

This method was intended, probably, to encourage the middlemen or local produce dealers to continue with the trade.

 

The Legitimate Trade
 
On arrival, the ship captain paid 'comey' (custom fee, calculated according to the ship's tonnage) to the local chief to ensure his protection and assistance, and gave presents ('dash' or 'shake hands'), consisting of hats, pieces of cloth, guns, coats or heads) to the chiefs and major local contractors.
 
A pilotage fee for bringing ship in and out through the river bar, and a roofing fee for thatching the hulk (calculated in bars) were also paid.
 
The practice was fast, sharp and very competitive. The traders, known as the 'palm oil ruffians' made and broke agreements, seized 'pawns' (captives) and palm oil canoes, played consuls, missionaries, companies and Africans against one another and out-cheated each other and their 'customers'. Local middlemen, in return, adulterated the palm produce and rebuffed reproachment by pointing at the European manufactured produce, gun powder, gin, etc., which were not always of good standard.
 
(after Cowan 1935/36: Pedler. 1974 and Thorpe. 1956)
 

The African middlemen traders
 
Chiefs of coastal towns could read and write first, in Portuguese, and later, English, and conducted private correspondences with their overseas partners in 18th century. The inhabitants of the Oil Rivers trust entirely to their memories which, necessity and use have enabled them to cultivate and strengthen to an extraordinary degree.
(G. Williams. History of the Liverpool Privateers's, 1897)
Consul Charles Livingstone to FO in 1872:
The black brokers are strict protectionists and allow no trade with white or black except what passes through their hands, at their own price, and each tribe on the river or coast, does the same with its next inland neighbour.
(in Eneyo, 1991: 104)
Once a month, a whole fleet of Bonny canoes went upstream Imo River, loaded with European trade goods, and returned with a thousand puncheons of oil at the time, which was sold to the waiting European ships at Bonny (Ibid.).
 

Treaties
Treaties like the one below, were signed with the chiefs of coastal communities to ensure protection of European trading interests.
 
April 10, 1870.
 
We Egoo, King of Egwanga and the Qua country, bordering on River Compotora, or Opobo, herein grant to Europeans the full right to come into this our country, to remain or to leave, to trade, or for any other peaceful purpose; and we herein pledge ourselves to protect the Europeans now here, or any others, against any parties or people attempting to molest them.
 
Witness our hand this JO"' day of April, 1870.
Signed by Uko, for his father Egoo.
His
* Uko
 
Signed by Ecquoroquo, for his King.
His * ECQUOROQUO
Mark
 
Witness for Ecquoroquo, Acpquau,
ARCHIBALD MACACHEN,
 
Witness for UKO, for his father Egoo,
D. C. WILLIAMS.
 
Source: Hertslet, Treaties, 1880

The need for the complete eradication of slave trade, the promotion of legitimate trade and the protection of the British nationals, notably, traders and missionaries, led to the appointment of Consuls to the Bights of Benin and Biafra (renamed Bight of Bonny in 1970) (Crowder, 1966: 55), who embarked on intensive signing of anti-slave trade and protectionist treaties with the coastal chiefs.

 

In carrying out the duties, the first Consul, John Beecroft, reversed the British policy of non intervention in the internal affairs of African states and inaugurated a policy of empire building in Nigeria. He also introduced a foreign court and a foreign legal system in Nigeria by establishing the Court of Equity in Bonny in 1854 to deal with trade disputes. After his death in that same year, his successors established similar courts at Calabar, Benin, Brass, Okrika and Opobo Rivers between 1856 and 1870 (Jones: 78).

 

British Treaty
 
A British treaty with the King and Chiefs of Opobo, from Dec. 19. 1884, provided full and exclusive British jurisdiction over the British subjects or foreign subjects enjoying British Protection and their properly. It was signed by Consul Edward Hewett and 16 Opobo chiefs and was witnessed by the British Vice Consul and Chairman of the Court of Equity on the Opobo River, R. D. Boler.
 
(FO 93/6/16 in Jaja, 1991: 73)

 

For all practical purposes, the Court of Equity served as local government and as a tribunal for dealing with all matters of common interest, trade disputes and the collection of debts in its area of jurisdiction. By so doing it crippled the traditional institutions of the people. And though the Court was abolished in 1885, following the declaration of the Protectorate over the Niger Delta and the decision to transfer the control of local affairs to the native rulers, its influence remained and it later influenced the establishment of the Warrant Chiefs System in south-eastern Nigeria (Afigbo, 1972: 4).

 

The appointment of consuls and other measures taken against slave trade did not immediately bring the trade to an end. In the Dane Gun Market of Ukam, for example, slaves continued to be sold openly (Ita, 1983: 4) and exported, some of them to Calabar for work in the plantations (Ikime, 1981: 103). It was only through the co-operation of traditional rulers, such as Chief Akpan Ekpo, the head chief of Ikot Osung Otuk Ukam, and the spread of Christianity that slave trade was finally brought to an end in the second half of the 20th century (Ita, 1983: 14).

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Category: Early History and Trade Contacts

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