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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The Slave Trader as Historian: Robert Norris and the History of Dahomey
Author:Law, Robin R.ISNI
Periodical:History in Africa
Geographic term:Benin
Subjects:Dahomey polity
traditional polities
historical sources
History and Exploration
External link:https://www.jstor.org/stable/3171786
Abstract:The 'Memoirs of the reign of Bossa Ahadee, King of Dahomy', by Robert Norris, first published in 1789, is a history of the West African kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Benin) during the reign of Tegbesu ('Bossa'), dated by Norris to 1732-1774 (though the correct dates are now known to be 1740-1774). In addition to its purely historiographical interest, Norris' work remains an important source for the history of 18th-century Dahomey. Its value as a historical source, however, is problematical. On the one hand, Norris, as a slave trader who had operated in Dahomey for several years, had claims to be an exceptionally well-informed observer of Dahomean affairs. On the other hand, his slave-trading interests were also a source of bias. He did not write the 'Memoirs' as a disinterested reporter, but as a propagandist for the slave trade. Another source of distortion concerns Norris' assessment of the relative achievements and characters of Tegbesu and of his father and predecessor Agaja. This article examines the question of how far Norris' account can be taken as reliable in its detailed narration of events. It also indicates the other relevant material which is available for comparison with his account. The observations are organized in accordance with the structure of Norris' account, comments being offered successively on the eight chapters of the 'Memoirs'. Notes, ref.