Legacies of Slavery in North-West Uganda
The African slave trade was a period spanning three centuries in recent history, where African slaves were brought and sold not only in Africa, but in Europe and the Americas. Many believe that the white man came to Africa and started this terrible trade but, in fact, the Africans had been enslaving each other and selling their captives to neighbouring African countries long before Westerns came to Africa.
In Uganda, the legacies of slavery can still be felt today. Especially in a group of people known as Nubians’ or ‘Nubi’. These Nubia, including General Idi Amin Dada, are believed to be the descendants of former slave soldiers from southern Sudan who “came into what is now Uganda in the late 1880s under the command of a German-born officer known as Emin Pasha, Governor of Sudan’s Equatoria Province at the time of the Mahdi’s Islamic uprising”.
Many of these people were called ‘One-Elevens’ because of the three vertical lines scarred on their faces. These scars are said to have originated when 19thcentury Sudanese slave soldiers to identify the slaves. They were also adopted by different tribes, such as Lugbara, the Madi and the Kakwa. Today, it is these scars that emphasises the legacies of the slave trade.
Military slave trade was only one of the many forms of slavery in North West Uganda, but it was one that had a lasting effect on the population. “The Sudanese slaving system fed on a longstanding racial theory of ‘martial races’, biologically and culturally suited for warfare … The very name ‘Sudan’, and indeed the term ‘Nubian’ (and their cognates, ‘Nubi’, Nuba’, ‘Nubia’, ‘Sudi’), although they have referred to various peoples and places at different times, all derive from terms which connote, basically, both ‘slave’, and ‘black”.
When we first look at the ‘One-Eleven’ scars they seem to be an empty, floating signifier, connoting at different times ‘slave’, ‘British soldier’, ‘trader/smuggler’, ‘Amin supporter’ symbol, but when we look more closely at them, they appear to have a deeper root. The links which binds them is the Sudanese slaving tradition which occurred in the 19thcentury. It is the background of these slaving traditions and the relationship between them and outsiders, both in the past and present, which makes them vital to our understanding of their lasting legacy to this period.
Leopold, Mark (2006) Legacies of Slavery in North-West Uganda: The Story of the ‘One-Elevens’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, Edinburgh University Press.