Alcohol and Empire: "Illicit" Gin Prohibition and Control in Colonial Eastern Nigeria

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University of Wisconsin Press

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African Economic History

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DOI: 10.2307/3601949


Historians have examined the social and economic role of alcohol in the making of colonial societies. We have a fairly substantial literature on the contribution of alcohol in defining the frontiers of commerce, law, culture, identity, and consciousness in colonial Africa. Significant attention has also been drawn to the role of alcohol as a tool of imperial control and a source of revenue for the empire, but the analysis has yet to fully illuminate alcohol as a site of rural struggle during the colonial period. This article uses a case study of Eastern Nigeria to examine the prohibition of "illicit" gin, known as ogogoro or kai kai by the British during the nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties. The region is an excellent site for examining the important link between the prohibition of what colonial official called "illicit distillation" and colonial revenue. Thus, the article offers an understanding of prohibition, rooted not just in the moral and health imperatives upon which officials based the prohibition policy, but more importantly on its perceived impact on colonial revenue, which derived largely from custom duties and taxes on imported alcohol. By focusing on the prohibition of local gin production in Eastern Nigeria, the significance of alcohol as a contested terrain and site for local resistance is revealed.


African Economic History, Vol. 31 (2003): 111-134. DOI.

Chima J. Korieh was affiliated with Rowan University at the time of publication.