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Slavery, memory and orality : analysis of song texts from northern Ghana

Saboro, Emmanuel


Emmanuel Saboro


David, 1946 Richardson

J. R. (John R.) Oldfield


This thesis explores memories of slavery and the slave trade among the Bulsa and Kasena of northern Ghana and focuses on late nineteenth century internal slave trafficking. Previous studies on memories of the slave trade in Ghana have focused on the transatlantic slave trade and the trauma of the Middle Passage and have relied on the use of conventional historical methodology such as shipping records, missionary and traveller accounts and the perspectives of colonial officials leaving out the experiences of the descendants of those who were mostly considered as victims. This thesis, by contrasts adopts an interdisciplinary approach and engages with new material from the interior of Africa where most slaves were captured and aims at shifting the focus from the use of conventional historical methodology by seeking to establish the voices of descendants of enslaved communities in northern Ghana through a critical study of their songs.

Drawing largely from extensive field work through recording of traditional performances and interviews within these cultures and from a corpus of about 140 with a representative sample of 100 songs, this distinctive body of oral sources aims to contribute to the general body of literature relative to the historiography of slavery and the slave trade in Africa in two significant ways: (1) by the use of the oral tradition and (2) by emphasizing the impact of the emotional and psychological dimension of the slave experience which has often been ignored by historians. A close study of the songs does emphasise the nature of violence that accompanied the enslavement process thereby defeating the prevailing argument that African slavery was benign and less oppressive. The songs also suggest an attempt by these communities who were mostly perceived as victims to rewrite their collective history through songs that celebrate communal valour and triumph over tragedy. The songs also reveal that communities were not just passive victims who acquiesced in the plight of their enslavement, but reflect ways in which communities have also translated what was otherwise a tragic epoch of their history into communal triumph.


Saboro, E. (2014). Slavery, memory and orality : analysis of song texts from northern Ghana. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Feb 26, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History, The University of Hull
Award Date Jan 1, 2014


Thesis (4.3 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2014 Saboro, Emmanuel. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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