From slavery to freedom: the Oromo slave children of Lovedale, prosopography and profiles
By Sandra Carolyn Teresa Rowoldt Shell
A dissertation submitted in fulflment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosphy in Historical Studies
Faulty of the Humanities
University of Cape Town, 2013
Dedication This thesis is dedicated to the memory, courage and resilience of the Oromo children
In 1888, eighty years after Britain ended its oceanic slave trade, a British warship liberated a consignment of Oromo child slaves in the Red Sea and took them to Aden. A year later, a further group of liberated Oromo slave children joined them at a Free Church of Scotland mission at Sheikh Othman, just north of Aden. When a number of the children died within a short space of time, the missionaries had to decide on a healthier institution for their care. After medical treatment and a further year of recuperation, the missionaries shipped sixty-four Oromo children to Lovedale Institution in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. From 1890, Lovedale baptised the children into the Christian faith, taught them and trained them. By 1910, approximately one third had died, one third had settled in the Cape of Good Hope, one third had returned to Ethiopia and one had headed for the United States. The present study is a cohort-based, longitudinal prosopography of this group of Oromo slave children, based on the core documentation of the children’s own first passage accounts, supplemented by numerous and varied independent primary sources. This prosopographic technique yielded a profoundly different and more complex picture of their first passage, which emerged as a longer, more intricate and more varied ordeal than hitherto recognised. Boys experienced longer first passages, came from higher altitudes, were sold more times, endured longer periods of enslavement within the domestic system, received harsher treatment, attempted escape more frequently, and had a higher mortality rate throughout their lives. Girls, on the other hand, were rushed to the coast, presumably to expedite the higher prices that young, beautiful, intact Oromo slave women traditionally achieved in the Arabian slave markets. These findings suggest the need for a revision of ideas of the long-term physiological and psychological legacies of the first passage, as well as a re-examination of the much explored topic of mortality following the first passage. Their education at Lovedale established the children as a productive and resourceful cohort. The return of some of them to Ethiopia caused a contretemps on the eve of World War I involving the governments of four countries: the Cape, Britain, Germany and Ethiopia. This story constitutes a unique record and chronology of African slavery, its associated institutions and effects.