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The Edo, like other groups in the region, practiced traditional rituals involving local gods, which the Europeans called juju, a name that spread across West Africa; as Christian missionaries converted most of southern Nigeria, juju persisted as a set of parallel beliefs.By the late eighteen-hundreds, the British had colonized much of Nigeria, but the Oba engaged them in a trade war and refused to allow them to annex his kingdom.The smugglers knelt in the sand and prayed, then stood up and ordered the migrants to push off. She had travelled six months to get to this point, and her face was gaunt and her ribs were showing. Ninety-four per cent of them remain on the continent, but each year hundreds of thousands try to make it to Europe.She wondered if God had visited her mother in dreams and shown her that she was alive. The Mediterranean route has also become a kind of pressure-release valve for countries affected by corruption and extreme inequality.Europe’s strategy had failed; by 2013, smuggling networks connected most major population centers in the northern half of Africa to Tripoli’s coast.As African migrants head toward the Mediterranean, they unwittingly follow the ancient caravan routes of the trans-Saharan slave trade.A dirt path at the western end of the market leads to a shack where I saw a middle-aged woman dressed in purple selling chips, candy, soda, and beer. Her father was a bricklayer, but he died in a car accident when Blessing was a little girl.The family was close to penniless, and Doris was left to raise her four children alone.

They waded in and held the boats steady as a smuggler directed other migrants to board, packing them as tightly as possible.

The men who enter debt bondage come from all over Africa, but the overwhelming majority of females fit a strikingly narrow profile: they are teen-age girls from around Benin City, the capital of Edo State, in southern Nigeria—girls like Blessing.

I visited Nigeria last fall, during the coronation of the new Oba, the traditional ruler of the Edo people, who will preside over spiritual matters until his death.

The Oba chose the name Ewuare II, in tribute to a predecessor who assumed the throne around 1440.

During the reign of Ewuare I, Benin City became the center of a powerful kingdom, which was eventually surrounded by more than nine thousand miles of moats and mud walls.

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