University of Colorado Historian Maps the Oyo Kingdom of West Africa in the Early 19th Century

Henry Lovejoy, an assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder, recently published a study that includes the mapping of the African kingdom of Oyo, which was located in present-day southwestern Nigeria, parts of Benin and Togo.

At its peak, the Yoruba kingdom of Oyo was one of the largest and most influential West African states. It was established in roughly the 13th century, and is best known for its cavalries that would patrol the forested savannas and capture people to be sold to slave traders. An estimated 128,000 people were captured by these cavalries, enslaved and sent to the Americas — particularly Brazil and Cuba.

Dr. Lovejoy’s research produced a series of 21 maps of Africa during the early nineteenth century. Present-day maps cannot be applied to pre-colonial Africa, and what other maps do exist are inconsistent or fragmented at best. He was able to plot the creation and disappearances of towns surrounding and within the Oyo kingdom when it was at its largest and to show the coming and goings of slave ships. Using these techniques, Dr. Lovejoy was able to show the general uncertainty surrounding Africa’s internal geography at this time, including the approximate ebb and flow of Africa’s pre-colonial boundaries and the general human migrations at play due to the slave trade.

The study, “Mapping Uncertainty: The Collapse of Oyo and the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, 1816–1836,” was published on the website of the Journal of Global Slavery. It may be accessed here.


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