bonny ibhawoh on treaty-making in upper canada and british west africa


Bonny Ibhawoh, ‘Cultural Negotiations and Treaty Making in Upper Canada and British West Africa’, Ife Journal of History 6, 1 (2013).

Historians often refer to the British Empire, focused primarily eastward after the loss of the American colonies, as the “second empire.” Unlike the “first empire,” this second empire of the nineteenth century ceased to be an empire largely composed of communities of free peoples of British origin with political and economic ties to Britain. It was now an empire of peoples who were not British in origin, incorporated into the empire by conquest and ruled without representation. In spite of this difference, however, both the first and second British empires shared a common character in the ways that colonists engaged with indigenous people. Central to this engagement were treaties that supposedly created legal agreements between European powers and indigenous people. These treaties represent a historical phase in which colonial powers purported to deal with indigenous people as autonomous partners rather than as subjects or conquered peoples. They are therefore crucial to understanding the nature of colonial encounters. This paper explores some of the salient parallels and contrasts in colonial treaty making in Canada and West Africa. Focusing on colonial treaties with the Yoruba people of West Africa and aboriginal communities in Upper Canada, it investigates the conditions and contingencies that shaped the role of indigenous people in treaty making. It examines how native agents, in different contexts, found means to empower themselves. While some of these processes were unique; others were similar in both contexts. It argues that fruitful comparisons must attend carefully to specifics — the differing processes and outcomes of treaty making in each colonial context was the result, not only of disparate imperial agendas, but also of the initiatives and responses of indigenous people.

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