The Journal of African History

Research Article

A West African Cavalry State: the Kingdom of Oyo

Robin Lawa1

a1 University of Stirling

Following an earlier article in this Journal, by Humphrey Fisher, dealing with the role of the horse in the Central Sudan, this article considers the role of cavalry in the kingdom of Oyo. It is suggested that the use of cavalry may have been adopted by Oyo during the sixteenth century. Oyo never became self-sufficient in horses, but remained dependent for its horses upon importation from the Central Sudan, while local mortality from trypanosomiasis was considerable. Evidence relating to the operations of Oyo armies supports the view that cavalry was of substantial military value, while at the same time illustrating the limitations of the military efficacy of cavalry. The acquisition and maintenance of large numbers of horses represented a considerable economic burden for Oyo, and the high cost of maintaining a large cavalry force may have inhibited the establishment of a royal autocracy in Oyo. The decline of the cavalry strength of Oyo in the early nineteenth century was due, it is suggested, to economic difficulties.