HOLLY HANSON. “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda: The Social Consequences of Non-Free Followers.” In Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle, 161-173. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.

MICHAEL W. TUCK. “Women’s Experiences of Enslavement & Slavery in Late Nineteenth- & Early Twentieth-Century Uganda.” In Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle, 174-188. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.


The readings for this week are the first in a series of two case studies on specific regions of East Africa in the nineteenth century. East Africa is an area that includes Mozambique and the Great Lakes Region. Situated on the western Indian Ocean, this area corresponds to the present-day coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania, and southeastern Kenya, as well as Madagascar and various nearby islands like Comoros, Mayotte, Réunion, and Mauritius. The area also includes many hinterland regions of Eastern Africa, such as present-day Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. The readings assigned for this week are two selected chapters from an edited volume by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle entitled Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa. They are both about slavery in Uganda in the nineteenth century.

Hanson’s “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda”

In this piece, Hanson explores the social consequences of a new form of chiefship emerging in the Kingdom of Buganda, located in the present-day nation of Uganda. She explores this subject from its probable origins in the mid-eighteenth century under King Namugala to the early colonial period. This new form of chiefship was known as ekitongole in the singular and ebitongole in the plural. Essentially, these ebitongole are organized, specialized, and institutionalized groups of non-free war captives (read: slaves) that were acquired in Buganda’s wars of imperial expansion. These wars went on from about the late-seventeenth through the nineteenth century. The ebitongole were a way to organize the labor of war captives on new and unoccupied land. This form of labor organization was fundamentally different from the ways that labor had been structured previously. Rather than Baganda followers being named after chiefs or significant historical events, the ebitongole were named for the type of labor that they were expected to perform, whether that be clearing forests, hunting animals to protect local communities, making war, gathering ivory, growing provisions for the caravan trade, or engaging in some other form of work entirely.

Hanson argues that the ebitongole profoundly destabilized the Buganda Kingdom by breaking down the social order that had prevailed before their creation. The ebitongole challenged prior social structures in several key ways. First, chiefs had previously competed against one another to obtain followers, and they did so by appealing to the recognized prestige of the kabaka or Buganda King. Now, however, the chiefs did not have to compete for the kabaka’s authority since they had less of a need to obtain the allegiance of free followers. Likewise, the kabaka were no longer reliant on labor tribute from the chiefs because they had their own ebitongole. Meanwhile, the ebitongole undermined established traditions of gift exchange between the chiefs and the kabaka, and hurt the kabaka’s ability to maintain the kingdom’s balance of power through distributing land. The erosion of these reciprocal relationships between the kabaka and chiefs is epitomized by the high turnover rate of kabaka between 1670 and 1812, as well as the proliferation of new chiefs at the expense of those who traditionally held land. Lastly, since the rise of the ebitongole made Buganda chiefs less dependent on having free followers, they also eroded the status of free or ordinary Ganda citizens. Everyday people had less of an ability to leverage political allegiance to their social advantage.

According to Hanson, the rise of the ebitongole coincides with sources that attest to escalating violence in the Buganda Kingdom. “Nineteenth-century visitors to Buganda,” she explains, “observed a kind of daily coercive violence which suggests a social order falling apart.”[1] In addition, she notes throughout the piece that the social changes that accompanied the rise of the ebitongole were particularly devastating to women; however, she unpacks this statement in only a paragraph. Apparently, the rise of ebitongole coincided with a dramatic rise in the number of non-free women in Buganda, particularly those who became attached to the palace.[2] Hanson proclaims that “stolen women” in ebitongole also increased the rate that polygamy was practiced. Hanson closes this chapter by noting that the ebitongole begun to change by the reign of Kabaka Mwanga (1886-1897).[3] At this time, the kabaka was forced to recognize the power of young and armed men who were essentially managing their ebitongole as private armies. Ebitongole began taking in free people of Buganda, while also raiding other local people to sell them into the slave trade. By this time, the social decline of the Buganda Kingdom had become far more complete. “Extraction of wealth through violence,” Hanson concludes, “became the primary activity of ebitongole.”[4]

Essentially, Hanson’s chapter is a case study about how the rise of a new form of domestic slavery, derived from imperial conquest, can erode traditional social structures while perpetuating violence and insecurity. A few criticisms I have about the chapter are the following: Hanson offers no background on these wars of expansion that she mentions periodically. I felt that a brief summary of these wars would have gone a long way to explaining the historical origins of the ebitongole. On that note, I am still confused about exactly when the ebitongole emerge, what sources we can use to make that judgement (dynastic histories?), and how we measure rates of violence before the era of Mwanga? Is this only oral tradition before the nineteenth century? Next, the chapter does not give us any information about who “ordinary” Baganda people are or who the non-free captives and slaves are that form the ebitongole. Hanson does not discuss where these people came from or who is capturing them. Finally, I do not think Hanson paid enough attention to women, considering the fact that she repeatedly mentions how their social status decreased. In reading the introduction to this essay, I got the impression that it would include a detailed discussion of women.

Tuck’s “Women’s Experiences of Enslavement & Slavery”

In this piece, Tuck explores both the role of female slavery and women’s experiences with enslavement in Buganda society throughout the late nineteenth century. He does so by introducing a new data set: descriptions of the lives of 55 women from Buganda, written up by Catholic priests from Saint Joseph’s Foreign Missionary Society on the occasion of the women’s baptisms.[5] While Tuck admits the sources have their limitations, he claims that they “give us the best view we have of women’s actual lives in slavery.”[6] For example, the records allow us to estimate the ages, names, places of origin, methods of enslavement, number of enslavements, numbers of children, and marriage statuses for many of the women. They also contain short narrations about the women’s backgrounds. These narrations make it possible for Tuck to draw conclusions about women’s experiences and compare them with claims made in the secondary literature. They also make it possible for Tuck to find patterns of enslavement for women in Buganda during the late-nineteenth century, and to form a more clear picture of what enslavement meant for Baganda during this time.

Tuck draws two sets of conclusions from studying his data set. The first has to do with the experience of enslavement for women and girls, and the second has to do with the many meanings of female enslavement in Buganda as a whole. For the first set, Tuck concludes that enslaved girls and women were treated as interchangeable objects. They were sometimes transferred many times and were enslaved and exchanged for a variety of reasons. Typically, slavers expected them to live as household domestics, responsible for cultivating and cooking food, and not as legitimate wives or “slave wives.” Enslaved women were not necessarily used for sex, and Tuck says “concubines” is not an accurate descriptor.[7] Women from Tuck’s dataset showed almost no obvious commonalities and evidence for their assimilation with their new cultures was low. From this as well as other evidence, Tuck says that female enslavement was pervasive and, “for women of the region the late nineteenth century was a time of widespread vulnerability and dependence.”[8] Whether kidnapped, bartered, sold, pawned, gifted, or inherited, enslaved women and girls found themselves in foreign places and in strange relationships. Usually, they were without the benefit of traditional modes of social power such as the dowry, the recognition of formal marriage, or kinship networks.

Tuck’s second set of conclusions refers to the role of female enslavement in Buganda more generally. Tuck concludes, “Ultimately women were the social glue that bound men to one another in patron-client relationships, and also which bound families, clans and lineages to one another.”[9] In other words, female slavery was central to Buganda at this period. Not only does Tuck conclude that “men did not willingly live without women,” but males also established and maintained social bonds through the gifting or exchange of female slaves. Tuck shows that female slavery overlapped with patron-client systems. In fact, systems of female enslavement bolstered the patron-client order because subordinates and superiors could mutually affirm their obligations by exchanging women. Moreover, most slave deals in Buganda were conducted between private individuals rather than at public slave markets, further supporting Tuck’s idea that female slavery was a primary mechanism for maintaining personal relationships.[10] Finally, Tuck’s work supports Hanson’s findings that the the 1880s was a period of heightened violence in Buganda. The large number of women who were stolen by individual raiders, instead of royal war parties, testifies to “the lawlessness of the border areas” and the newfound freedom chiefs had to pillage these areas with impunity.[11]

Overall, these chapters by Hanson and Tuck reveal that systems of slavery in Buganda had undergone drastic change by the end of the nineteenth century. Slavery in Buganda was not a static institution before the colonial period began. Rather, slavery became more ubiquitous and its structure both shaped and was shaped by the erosion of centralized political authority. As female slavery expanded, long-distance trade networks became more and more prevalent in the region, and whole new communities of enslaved laborers such as the ebitongole emerged, older notions of social and political control also disintegrated. The kabaka, the chiefs, and these enslaved women and girls all had at least one thing in common: by the late-nineteenth century, they were realizing that the social practices upon which Buganda society had long been based were beginning to fail them.


[1] Holly Hanson, “Stolen People & Autonomous Chiefs in Nineteenth-Century Buganda: The Social Consequences of Non-Free Followers,” in Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007), 169.

[2] Ibid. 166.

[3] Ibid. 170.

[4] Ibid. 170.

[5] Michael W. Tuck, “Women’s Experiences of Enslavement & Slavery in Late Nineteenth- & Early Twentieth-Century Uganda,” in Slavery in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, edited by Henri Médard and Shane Doyle (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007), 174.

[6] Ibid. 174.

[7] Ibid. 181.

[8] Ibid. 185.

[9] Ibid. 183.

[10] Ibid. 179.

[11] Ibid. 177.