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History of Africa
How was Msatulwa status enslaved?
Msatulwa Mwachitete was born to one of the 12 wives of the chieftain of the Chitete people in East Africa. The Chitete and Inamwanga rulers shared a common ancestral heritage and they shared similar customs though they regularly made war against one another as they considered the other as the enemy (Marcia, 60). According to Msatulwa, the Inamwanga people under the orders of their chief, Mkoma, invaded a village of the Chitete people on a day when every man in the village was drunk with traditional beer. This essay seeks to look into the life of Msatulwa Mwachitete in slavery, compares his subservient status in slavery with other treatment accorded other people captured during times of war and also compare this to slavery in other parts of the world as in the Caribbean and the US southern states.
In 1891, the Inamwanga ambushed the village in which the Chitete chief and his subjects lived and as much as the Chitete men tried to defend their village they were overpowered and defeated (Marcia, 62). Many women and children were taken as war prisoners by the warriors from Inamwanga and forced to carry the spoils of war stolen from the Chitete people. Msatulwa was very young at the time and had to be carried on his mother’s back. The morning after the Inamwanga people arrived victorious from the raid on the Chitete people and presented the captives before chief Mkoma. The man who had captured little Msatulwa and his mother had attempted to hide him from the chief but could not outwit him (Marcia, 63). Chief Mkoma gave his brother custody over Msatulwa and thus his life in slavery began serving the Inamwanga chief’s extended family.
What logic did he use to free himself and/or justify running away?
The same year, chief Mkoma freed Msatulwa mother from servitude on the account that she was a chief’s daughter asking her to return to her father’s house (Marcia, 66). This traumatized little Msatulwa further as he was left in the care of Mitanto, an Inamwanga man. Mitanto was fond of Msatulwa though his harsh wife made the life of Msatulwa quite difficult. The elders of the village informed the chief on how Mitanto’s wife had continuously mistreated the young Msatulwa and the chief gave his sister, Nandwara custody over Msatulwa. He had lived in Mitanto’s house for three whole years.
Msatulwa lived peacefully under the roof of his new mistress and though her very own children enjoyed his company, the other two outsiders, a child slave and an orphan were jealous of him. He spent three years under Nandwara’s thatched roof after which chief Mkoma summoned him and made him a migave which entailed that he loyally served Muenisungu, Mkoma’s sister and chieftainess. Muenisungu had been made chieftain over parts of the land under Mkoma’s authority (Marcia, 67). Msatulwa lived a peaceful life serving Muenisungu but he later began feeling that this was not his home and he desired to escape and be reunited with the rest of the Chitete people. This was the sole logic behind his quest for personal freedom.
What was slavery like for Msatulwa?
According to this narrative, Msatulwa’s life as a slave was not as terrible as one could have expected. Apart from the first three years in which he spent in the house of Mitanto where his wife mistreated him continuously, he had a rather peaceful life growing up in the houses of Nandwara and Muenisungu. Mitinto’s wife was so heartless to young Msatulwa that he almost died from a septic burn wound. Elders in the village intervened and had him taken up by one of the chief’s sister by the name Nandwara (Marcia, 65). Though she had some mischievous children under her custody too, she had the wisdom to conclusively figure out that she had no reason to be cautious in offering Msatulwa a mother’s love.
After three years of servitude at Nandwara’s hut and well on the verge of full maturity, Msatulwa was taken to Muenisungu’s hut, Mkoma’s sister and a prominent Inamwanga personality. Chief Mkoma chose Msatulwa to become a migave, an honorary title which meant that he was obligated to take exemplary care of Muenisungu (Marcia, 67). His mistress Muenisungu treated him with care and kindness which made his life quite pleasant though he longed to go back to the land of his people. His work serving Muenisungu accorded him a lot of opportunities to travel around and meet many people including the caravans of the Europeans who crisscrossed Africa at the time.
However, the customs of Inamwanga people did require him to persevere some inhumane treatment such as one he explicably recall as the poison ordeal. In two occasions, he was required to consume poisonous fluids and the poison’s reaction in his body served to determine the outcome of a family dispute (Marcia, 69). At one time a dispute arose between the chief and his brother and it was required that Msatulwa consume the poison such that if he vomited the poison the Mkoma’s brother would be absolved of any blame. In the second instance, one of the wives to chief Mkoma had been accused of marital unfaithfulness and Msatulwa was again expected to ingest poison so that the dispute could be resolved. In both instances, Msatulwa vomited the poison absolving both Mkoma’s brother and wife from blame.
How did it compare to the experience of other slaves and others with different forms of subservient status?
Slavery in precolonial Africa and more so among the people of the Inamwanga was harsh as in most instances if prisoners were not kept by their captives were sold off to Arab slave traders who were much crueler compared to the Inamwanga (Marcia, 64). As such one can comprehensively state that Msatulwa was accorded preferential treatment may be because of the ancient heritage that the Chitete and the Inamwanga shared in common. More so, Msatulwa was born of the house of the chief of the Chitete and chief Mkoma was obligated to treat him in a manner that was above that accorded to other subservient status.
Among the Inamwanga people, it was a common cultural practice to offer up slaves as sacrifices to the gods and this thought tended to keep Msatulwa in a lot of uneasiness. In the event that a chief died, it was required that one of his wives be buried with him as well as one elder. It was also customary that a chief be buried with two slaves, a woman and a man to duly serve him in the afterlife (Marcia, 68). The sacrificial ritual was such that the slaves had their throats slit just as animals. In the coronation of a new chief, the same was required of slaves and they were sacrificed to appease the gods.
Msatulwa’s life among the Inamwanga was unlike that of a slave as he was accorded a lot of preferential treatment such that he could travel along with European caravans upon making a request with his mistress. The title he was accorded as a migave essentially placed him above the status of other kinsmen of the Inamwanga as he was entrusted with the security of Mkoma’s favorite sister (Marcia, 70). Msatulwa’s life in slavery can thus be described as being rosy.
How did the slavery experienced by the narrator compare to what you know of slavery in other historical contexts: the US South, the Roman Empire and the sugar plantations in the Caribbean?
Slavery can be described as a phenomenon which has been common since the onset of ancient civilizations and was common in nearly every human society. As the most itinerant form of labor, the growth of societies heavily depended on slaves. As such, slavery in all continents and ages was favored as there were no family ties which tied slaves to be treated humanely. In the US, the southern states slaves had not only to endure voyages across the Atlantic but also had to survive the harsh weather that characterized the southern American states (Hudson, 131). The difference in cultures also made it very difficult for slaves in these states quite difficult as was the language barrier and skin color. In the Roman Empire, slaves were kept in such conditions that their manhood and courage was broken to tolerate the unendurable (Lavan, 130). It was a form of servitude in which conquered regions in Europe were broken to submit to the authority of the Roman Empire and included the most perverse of torture. In the Caribbean, slaves were used primarily as commercial exploits on the region’s vast cotton and sugar plantations (Altenhoff, 4). The slaves in this part of the world were used in such a manner that they were to ensure their masters had the most comfortable life possible.
Altenhoff, Sebastian. A Critical Analysis of the Depiction of Slavery in the Caribbean in Olaudah Equiano’s “Interesting Narrative.” Norderstedt: GRIN Verlag, 2011.
Hudson, Angela, P. Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South. North Carolina: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Lavan, Myles. Slaves to Rome: Paradigms of Empire in Roman Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Wright, Marcia. Strategies of slaves & women: life-stories from East/Central Africa. Michigan: L. Barber Press, 1993.