By Nigel Pocock and Victoria Cook
Last updated 2011-02-17
West African Trader
Very little is known about Antera Duke, a slave-trading chief from the Efik people who lived in Old Calabar, which is in modern day Nigeria. We know that he was literate and numerate, both speaking and writing in English, and that he kept a diary in pidgin English. Most of the diary has not survived, but the pages relating to 1785-1788 were copied and provide an extremely valuable primary source which reflects the slave trade that went on within Africa.
Duke's diary charts a double life. He was both a leading member of his community and a slave trader. The Efik enslaved criminals from their own people, purchased people from neighbouring towns and villages and went on expeditions to capture people to enslave. The slave ship captains, mostly from Liverpool in this region, would collect small groups of captives from each trader. In return, the traders would receive imported Western goods such as iron bars, knives, guns, gunpowder, beads and cloth.
Duke records putting on 'white man trousers' and entertaining the captains of the British slave ships with whom he traded. Slave ship captains described how the chiefs in Calabar lived in two-storey European style houses made from materials which were sometimes imported from Britain. One was called Liverpool Hall.
Duke's diary also describes frequent mass executions of household and other captives to celebrate feasts and honour the dead.