STREAM: Slavery and Marriage in African Societies

STREAM: Slavery and Marriage in African Societies

Stream organisers: Benedetta Rossi (University of Birmingham, UK) and Joel Quirk (University of Witwatersrand, South Africa).

In what ways have slavery and marriage been intertwined in African societies? How should the nexus between marriage and slavery be theorized and researched? How have laws and conventions linking slavery and marriage been mobilized politically and socially, by whom, and with what consequences for men and women, parents and offspring, slave and slave-owners? How have political rhetorics involving marriage been deployed to portray slavery in a particular light, or vice-versa? How have the boundaries surrounding ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ behaviour been drawn in relation to both slavery and marriage within Africa, and with what effects?

We would welcome submissions focusing on intersections between marriage and slavery in different African regions and at different moments in time. Contributions could  therefore explore a wide range of phenomena. Some of the main themes that might be considered here include:

–       The slavery-marriage nexus: contributions exploring historical and contemporary practices and institutions in which marriage and slavery overlap or become fused into one category, such as Islamic concubinage.
–       The normative and institutional labour associated with competing classifications and codifications, such as ‘native marriage’, ‘servile marriage’, ‘bush wife’, ‘domestic slavery’ or ‘conjugal slavery’, together with the ways in which these classifications have evolved between pre-, colonial and post-colonial contexts.
–       Discourses surrounding sexual and conjugal slavery: contributions studying a variety of discourses that criminalize, or alternatively legitimize, the performance of acts of a sexual nature between slaves and slave-owners (especially under legal slavery), or discourses that designate as ‘slavery’ forms of sexual and conjugal association arising from violent conflicts and wartime captivity.
–       Patterns of activism and intervention. When and how has the intersection between slavery and marriage been diagnosed as a political, theological or moral problem, and what types of remedial interventions have followed from this diagnosis? What have been the strengths and weaknesses of government and civil society interventions at different times and places?
–       Theoretical and methodological contributions: contributions discussing how sexual and conjugal slavery in Africa can be theorized and researched, including contributions on analytical and legal categories and definitions, and their operationalization.


Confirmed Panels


Panel One: When Marriage is Slavery: The Marriage-Slavery Nexus and its Political Consequences in Uganda

  • Moo marriage, native marriage, and forced marriage in Lango Society, northern Uganda, Apio, Eunice, (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)
  • Marriage after Wartime Sexual Slavery: Why don’t ex-abductees in Acholi region marry each other?, Kiconco, Allen, (University of Witswatersrand, Johanesburg, South Africa)
  • A Historical Defence: ‘Historical’ Marriage by Kidnap as a Defence to Modern Day Forced Marriage, Seymour, Eleanor, (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)
  • (Sexual) slavery in Northern Uganda? Description and Prescription in Research on Slavery and Gender Violence., Rossi, Benedetta, (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)

Panel Two: Intersecting Legal and Social Definitions of Slavery and Marriage in Africa

  • Embodied Subjugation: Comparative Status in Slavery and Marriage, Bullard, Alice, (BULLARD LAW, Washington DC, United States)
  • “Practices and institutions similar to slavery? The invention of ‘servile marriage’ in colonial Africa.” Quirk, Joel, (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Marriage and Slavery: Histories of Colonial Regulation and Activist Intervention in the Congo, Smith, Toni, (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)
  • The Marriage-Slavery Nexus In Nigeria: The Socio-Political Discourse And Implications, Okonye, Anthonia, Hafunjoh, (National Open University of Nigeria, Abuja, Nigeria)

Panel Three: Marriage, Bridewealth and Captivity in Colonial Situations

  • Marriage payments in colonial situations: Fang bridewealth and French Marxist Anthropology, Martino, Enrique (Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany)
  • ‘They Gave Me Nothing, No Present as a Bride, He Treated me as a Slave and not a Wife’: Contesting Marriage, Slavery and Divorce in Twentieth-Century Abeokuta, Southwest Nigeria, Asaaju, Morenikeji, Grace, (Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria)
  • ““If I free my batlauka, who will cultivate my fields?” Captivity and marriage on the South African Highveld, 18th-19th centuries. , Morelli, Ettore, (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, United Kingdom)
  • Slavery in Post-Proclamation Gold Coast: a woman’s issue, Brivio, Allesandra, (University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy)

Panel Four: Legacies and genealogies linking marriage and enslavement in Africa.

  • Slavery and Marriage in Sierra Leone, Whyte, Christine, (University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom)
  • The Echo’s of the past: Marriage, Slavery and Political Authority in Sierra Leone 1880-1930,  Delius, Sarah, (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Kinship and slavery: how past marriages organize the present, Lempereur, Samuel, (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium)
  • When marriage is less an agreement than a blessing: unilateral unions of slave descendants in Madagascar, Regnier, Denis, (University of French Polynesia, Faa’a, French Polynesia)



We welcome panel and paper abstracts including empirically grounded proposals on any aspect of the relation between slavery and marriage in Africa. Organisers: Benedetta Rossi ( and Joel Quirk ( For panel and paper submissions please follow the instructions on the website 

Please note that this stream focuses specifically on overlaps and interconnections between slavery and marriage. Potential presenters interested more broadly in African marriage should consider joining the stream ‘Marriage in Africa’ coordinated by Kate Skinner and Benjamin Lawrance.

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