Rebellious Migrants: Forging Cosmopolitan Identity and Postcolonial Spaces in the Bight of Biafra, 1840-1960


ACLS Fellowship Program



Named Award

ACLS Centennial Fellow in the Dynamics of Place named award


“Rebellious Migrants” examines how the social mobility and reintegration politics of nineteenth-century Biafran recaptives, particularly the Liberated Africans that returned from Sierra Leone to Calabar, facilitated postcolonial forms of ethnogeneses in West Africa. Through contraband transatlantic petty trading that undermined Euro-African monopolies, and by inaugurating illicit intraregional servile labor migrations to Cameroon, Fernando Po, and Gabon, these Biafran diasporas-in-reverse negotiated ambiguous forms of liberty, developed enduring infrastructures of regional mobility, and forged intraregional kinship networks. These flows of bodies and commodities constituted rebellious imaginations of communities, social belonging, labor power, and identity, all of which enabled Africans to negotiate abolitionism, mediate European colonialism, and contest control over modes of production. Unrealized African visions of freedom, borderland spaces, and fluid social belonging defined the dialectical nature of Euro-African colonial encounters, as well as the sociocultural struggles that underpinned the domestication of capitalism.