A look at the Bight of Biafra
The Bight of Biafra describes a region of the western African coast between the Niger River and Cape Lopez. This region encompasses the coasts of several modern African nations, including eastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and northern Gabon.
The Bight of Biafra which is also known as the Bight of Bonny starts from the bay of the Atlantic Ocean on the western coast of Africa and extends east, then south, for 370 miles (600 km) from the Nun outlet of the Niger River (Nigeria) to Cape Lopez (Gabon).
Major trading cities in the Bight of Biafra included Bonny and Old Calabar. From this region, slave traders embarked more than one million captive Africans over the course of the transatlantic slave trade.
The Bight of Biafra Quick Facts
|Language||Label||Description||Also known as|
|English||Bight of Biafra||The Bight of Biafra describes a region of the western African coast between the Niger River and Cape Lopez. This region encompasses the coasts of several modern African nations, including eastern Nigeria, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and northern Gabon.||Bight of Bonny|
The Bight of Biafra and the slave trade
The Bight of Biafra is synonymus with two things: The slave trade and the Biafra War.
It centered on the Niger Delta and the Cross River where extensive slave trade was conducted. From the 1700s onwards, it became a significant exporter of slaves and dominated the Trans-Atlantic slave trade along with neighboring Bight of Benin until the mid-nineteenth century.
A great numbers of slaves who originated from or were trade at the Bight of Biafra ended up in North America. In Louisiana, slaves from this coast were listed as Edo, Ibo, Ibibio, and Calabar.
It is estimated that 13% of all slaves that were exported from western Africa travelled through the Bight of Biafra. The Bight of Benin which lies to the west is estimated to have accounted for about 17% while Central Africa to the south is estimated to have account for up to 48% of all slave trade form western Africa.
Between 1525 and 1859, the slave trade from the Bight of Biafra accounted for over two-thirds of slaves exported to the New World.
The Bight of Biafra and the Republic of Biafra
The Bight of Biafra is synonymous with Biafra. In 1967, the Eastern Region of Nigeria seceded from the Nigerian State and adopted the name of its coastline, the adjoining Bight of Biafra to become the newly independent Republic of Biafra.
This independence was short-lived as the new state lost the ensuing Nigerian Civil War. By decree, the Nigerian government changed the name of the Bight of Biafra to the Bight of Bonny in 1975.
Where did the name Biafra originated from?
The etymology of “Biafra” is mired in historical controversy and suspicion. Over the years, it’s become known as the “lie about Biafra”.
As it turns out, the word “Biafra” is not of Portuguese origin as some people think, and does not come from any place or tribe within the region. It is simply a corruption by the cartographers of the sixteenth century of the word “Mascha”, which was the name of a mountain marked near this region on the map of Africa by Ptolemy. By 1515, “Mascha” had become “Mafra” and by some error, Biafra.
Map of the Blight of Biafra in 1940
The figure below shows the map of the Bight of Biafra in 1940. Each province was subdivided into several divisions, whose borders are not drawn, although their relevant headquarters are.
The circles indicate the origin of Nigerian braceros by division. The road network is a good proxy for population density.