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The uprooting of Africans from their soil and the horrors of the slave dungeons

 remain the dramatic reality for a people’s descent into a chasm of despair.

 
 

 

Books by Acklyn Lynch

 

 Nightmare Overhanging Darkly: Essays on Culture and Resistance  / Blueprint for Change

 

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“Time Longer Dan Rope”

Slavery, Resistance, and Revolt in the Americas

 By  Dr. Acklyn Lynch

 

Since the Middle Passage, Africans, in the New World, have preserved their gods and their orishas not only as residual memory…but both in the synergy and logic of survival and the modalities of revolt which directly rejected their oppressive conditions. They had discretely preserved their gods and their orishas, which undoubtedly influenced cultural expressions in dance, music, visual, and plastic arts. One must always remember that slave ships carried on board not only Black women, men, and children but also their gods, beliefs, and folklore. Africans did not leave the continent as a tabula rasa . . . a blank slate . . . but rather with the brilliance of peoples who were advanced in architecture, agriculture, arts, science, and technology for centuries. They shared their knowledge with Asia, Europe, and the Americas long before the arrival of Columbus in the New World and the European grandeur of the Age of Enlightenment and Renaissance.

The expansion of Christianity and Islam exploited the human and natural resources of the African continent in their quest for Empire . . . . The emergence of this expansion into the New World was the reflection of a continental thrust accentuated by greed and power for hegemony in the European world. The clash between Islam and Christianity in the struggle for dominance in the Mediterranean basin necessitated the opening up of the entire African continent to slavery, colonialism, and imperial designs. Africans in the Americas were subjected to three centuries of domination under the terror of this peculiar institution . . . slavery.

Walter Rodney in his work, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa writes,

In large parts of Europe, when communalism broke down it gave way to widespread slavery of the new form in which labor was mobilized. This slavery continued throughout the European Middle Ages with the Crusades between Christians and Muslims, giving an added excuse for enslaving people. Slavery in turn gave way to serfdom, whereby the laborer was tied to the land and could no longer be sold and transported. Because it took many years for the transition from slavery to feudalism to take place in Europe, it was common to find that feudal society still retained numbers of slaves.

Parts of China, Burma, and India also had a considerable number of slaves as the society moved away from elementary communalism, but there was never any time span when slavery was the dominant mode of production in Asia. In Africa, there were few slaves and certainly no epoch of slavery. Most of the slaves were in North Africa and other Muslim societies, and in those instances a man and his family would have the same slave status for generations, within the overall feudal structure of the society. Elsewhere in Africa communal societies were introduced to the concept of owning alien human beings when they were made captives in war. At first, those captives were in a very disadvantaged position, comparable to that of slaves, but very rapidly captives or their offspring became ordinary members of the society because there was no scope for perpetual exploitation of man by man in a context that was neither feudal nor capitalist.

Orlando Patterson in his work, Slavery and Social Death, agrees with Rodney in his argument on slavery in Europe and Islam when he writes,

Europe was hardly unique in this association of civilization with slavery. The rise of Islam was made possible by slavery, for without it the early Arab elites simply would not have been able to exploit the skilled and unskilled manpower that was essential for their survival and expansion. Even more than Western states, the Islamic world depended on slaves for the performance of critical administrative, military, and cultural roles.

However, he differs significantly with Rodney on Africa when he argues,

The same holds true for Africa and certain areas of the Orient. In both the pagan and Islamic regions of pre colonial Africa advanced political and cultural developments were usually, though not always, associated with high levels of dependence or slavery. Medieval Ghana, Song hay, and Mali all relied heavily on slave labor. So did the city states of the Hausas, Yorubas, and Ibibios, the Kingdoms of Dahomey and Ashanti at their peak, the caliphate of Sokoto and the sultanate of Zanzibar.

The uprooting of Africans from their soil and the horrors of the slave dungeons remain the dramatic reality for a people’s descent into a chasm of despair. As the doors of the slave castles were shut with hundreds of Africans being kept for unknown periods before they entered the door of no return, the human spirit was confronted with the beginning of a journey that defied the frontiers of prior knowledge, as their imagination could never have anticipated the Middle Passage and the plantation experience. They had no references in history, literature, folklore for this experience and Africans were totally unprepared for the journey. They had understood some aspects of slavery, but what was to come . . . simply was devoid of any comprehension. They would not only be exiled from their fragmented roots . . . but more tragically they were scorned in the night of self contempt. They would be an exiled people in a new world, burdened and challenged from the very outset by the paradoxical relationship between slavery and freedom.

Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois in his classic work, Black Reconstruction, writes,

The most magnificent drama in the last thousands years of human history is the transportation of ten million human beings out of the dark beauty of their mother continent into the new found El Dorado of the West. They descended into Hell; and in the third century, they rose from the dead, in the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen. It was a tragedy that beggared the Greek; it was an upheaval of humanity like the Reformation and the French Revolution . . .

Yet we are blind and led by the blind . . . We discern in it no part of our labor movement; no part of our industrial triumph; no part of our religious experience . . . Before the dumb ages of ten generations of ten million children; it is made a mockery of and spat upon; a degradation of the external mother; a sneer at human effort; with aspiration and art deliberately and elaborately distorted. And why? Because in a day when the human mind aspired to a science of human action; a history and psychology of the mighty effort of the mightiest century; we fell under the leadership of those who would compromise with truth in the past in order to make peace in the present, and guide policy in the future.

We have clearly before us why there has been a superficial rendering of slavery in our educational institutions from kindergarten through university. Du Bois challenges us to look seriously at this institution of slavery and the impact of the Trans Atlantic slave trade both on the metropolitan centers of Europe and North America as well as the immediate challenges of colonialism and neocolonialism which have emerged in Africa and its Diaspora, especially the Americas.

Slavery, as an institution, represents one of the most extreme forms of human domination as reflected in the power relationship between master and slave, The master, having purchased the slave as property,  is entitled to exercise total legal rights over the productive and reproductive life of a slave, even to the point of using or threatening violence in the control of that person . . . He also dominates the psychological well being of the slave, who must accept the cultural authority of his master in every manner of thought and action. In the New World, this social relationship was judicially implemented in Constitutions and Black Codes which specifically defined it in the terminology of race and class. The issue was not only coded in the language of freedom and slavery . . . but Europeans and Africans . . . White and Black . . . For three centuries an entire body of philosophical thought has been devoted to the validation of this peculiar institution in order to justify its morality and expediency.

Henri Wallon, in writing about slavery, states, 

The slave was a dominated thing, an animated instrument, a body with natural movements, but without its own reason, an existence entirely absorbed in another. The proprietor of this thing, the mover of this instrument, the soul and the reason of this body, the source of this life, was the master. The master was everything for him, his father and his God, which is to say his authority and his duty. 

These ideas percolated the dominant discourse on slavery from the fifteenth century through the twentieth century. It represented the dominant voice in the establishment of plantation society.

Orlando Patterson argues that 

all slaves experienced some sort of secular excommunication…because they were alienated from all rights or claims of birth, the slave ceased to belong in his own right to any social order… 

Thus, he refers to the slave as a genealogical isolate

. . . not only was he formally isolated in his social relations with those who lived . . . but he was culturally isolated from the social heritage of his ancestors”. since he was isolated from the social heritage of his ancestors . . . . Slaves differed from other human beings in that they were not allowed freely to integrate the experience of their ancestors into their lives, to inform their understanding of social reality with the inherited meanings of their natural fore bearers, or to anchor the living present in any conscious community of memory. That they reached back for their past, as they reached out for the related living, there can be no doubt.

Unlike other persons, doing so meant struggling with and penetrating the iron curtain of the master, his community, his laws, his policemen, his patrols and his heritage.

Slaves were heathens or infidels . . . but the resistance movement essentially negates this idea, because it calls on the collective consciousness based on the “ship mates” experience to invert the process by awakening African Gods and Orishas in the assertion of self. Warriors had to be bathed and cleansed in the spirit of Oludumare, Shango, Oshun, Yemanja, and Olokun.

Therefore it is at this level that we must begin to examine the significant role of resistance in the African consciousness as we engage in an ongoing war against tyranny. Africans as free men and slaves intuited the deception and duplicity of the Europeans in the pursuit of establishing the slave trade. At educational institutions throughout the Americas, it has been implicitly suggested that African leaders of the 15th and 16th centuries were simple, childish operatives who exchanged human cargo for trinkets, alcohol, arms, utensils, gunpowder etc. We were never informed that certain African leaders had a different idea of trading with the Europeans and some even fought against the trading in slaves.

The subjugation of the African economy was a slow process in the beginning (like globalization and the FTA). At the turn of the 16th Century, the King of the Kongo asked the Portuguese for masons, clerks, priests, physicians, and technicians but instead he was overwhelmed by slave ships sent from Portugal. He was incensed and opposed this trade . . . but the Portuguese played off one part of his kingdom against another and later forced them to specialize in the export of human cargo.

Queen Nzinga in 1630 as head of the Angolan state of Matamba tried to coordinate resistance against the Portuguese and their slave trading. However, by 1648, they gained the upper hand and she was isolated. In 1656, she had to resume business with the Portuguese and made major concessions to the decision making role of Europeans with the Angolan economy. The Baga people under the leadership of Tomba tried to organize an alliance in what is now the Republic of Guinea in order to stop the slave trade . . . but he was defeated by the local European resident traders, mulattoes, and other slave trading Africans.

In the 1720’s Dahomey opposed European slave traders and was deprived of European imports (like the Cuban embargo). Again Trudo, Dahomey’s King between 1706 and 1726 looted and burned European forts and slave camps; thereby reducing the slave trade from the “Slave Coast” to a mere trickle, by blocking the paths leading to sources of supply in the interior. The Europeans failed to unseat or crush him, but he was not able to get around the embargo. They pressured him tremendously and by 1730 because he needed firearms and cowries, he was forced to deal with the Europeans and agreed to allow the resumption of the slave trade. So much for then and now . . . Dahomey . . . and Cuba . . . the struggle continues. Thus the complexity of certain Africans in the slave trade must be carefully understood in any critical analysis.

The journey from "then till now” has been historically called the Middle Passage. Dr. Eric Williams, distinguished Caribbean scholar, writes in his major work, From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492 -1969,

The Negro slave trade became one of the most important business enterprises in the 19th century. It began about 1450 as a Portuguese monopoly, and became an international free for all by the end of the 17th Century.

“The Middle Passage” and the “Door of No Return” remain significant memories of those who attempt to "Return to the Source" (Sankofa),  in order to reconcile the trauma of an African Holocaust with transcendent visions of freedom and equity. From the slave castles to the slave ships, it was obvious that African slaves were entering a mediated zone in the human experience. They were impounded like animals in the bottom of slave ships with limited access to freedom of movement . . .  they were allowed to come on deck at specific intervals, when they stretched, danced, fought their jailers and jumped overboard, uttering cries of triumph as they cleared the vessel and disappeared below the surface. These early acts of resistance were logical responses to the horror of living in the slave "catches" and the violence imposed on them by their captors . . . . No place on earth, observed one writer of the time, concentrated so much misery as the hold of a slave ship . . . . Violence and ferocity became the necessities for survival and violence and ferocity survived.

The Middle Passage has been permanently etched in the consciousness of artists like Tom Feelings, Leroy Clarke, Valerie Maynard, Robert Hayden, Nicolas Guillen, Haile Gerima, Black Stalin, David Rudder, Bob Marley and Paul Robeson’s "Many a Thousand Gone.” The horror of the experience is not only explained by the courage of those who survived but by the reality of their captor’s demonic sensibilities. A ship’s captain held up by the adverse winds in the doldrums was known to have poisoned his cargo while he was drunk…Another killed some of his slaves to feed others with the flesh . . . . Fear of the cargo bred savage cruelty in the crew . . . . One Captain, to strike terror among his cargo, killed a slave and dividing the heart, liver, and entrails into 300 pieces, made each slave eat one piece, threatening those who refused with torture. 

Such incidents were not rare. Given the circumstances such things were inevitable . . . . The slaves died not only from the regime, but from grief, rage, and despair. They undertook vast hunger strikes . . . undid their chains and hurled themselves on the armed crew in futile attempts at insurrection. Their courage was tremendous . . . . But the system did not only consume slaves . . . . Every year one fifth of all the captors who took part in the African Slave trade died. The horror story extends beyond the frontiers of memory and humanity. All America and the Caribbean took slaves . . . and Robert Nesta Marley chants “Redemption Song.”

This early encounter with European captors compelled the captive to ask the question . . . Where am I going? Is this a descent into Hell? Who are these Europeans and from where does their inhumanity arise? Will I ever return home, and if so can I be whole? These tortured questions troubled them all the way to the Auction bloc as Paul Robeson’s beautiful voice caresses the wind with solid determination, "No More Auction Bloc for Me… No More." Slaves came to this most humiliating moment enchained and sometimes stark naked as plantation owners and auctioneers examined their body parts . . . . It was particularly devastating for African women, who did not have this prior experience, but more importantly had to bear witness to the powerlessness of the African man to protect her while she was standing on the auction bloc.

It was a dramatic moment for this clash of cultures to take place in New Marsalis. Highly decorated West Point Confederate General Dewitt Willson and the African met under strange but challenging circumstances. At a slave auction in New Marsalis, the auctioneer wanted to bring up the African, but only after all the other captives were taken off the boat . . . . Now the auctioneer had a Negro working with him who looked, walked and talked just like his master. He had the same build . . . . the same crafty eyes . . . . and wore the same type of clothes . . . . Some people claimed that it was his son by a colored woman Dewitt and others were waiting till the slaves came up, herded in a long line out of the hole. The slaves were naked and stood on the decks blinking . . . they had not seen the sun in a long time . . . . They looked pale and undernourished.

After they dispensed with the other slaves, they brought up the African who the auctioneer referred to as their chief. When the African came up he scared and frightened everyone. He was a huge man at least two heads taller than any man on deck. There were so many chains on him that he looked like a fully trimmed Christmas tree . . . .  His eyes were sunk deep in his head and he was carrying a baby. He was quiet now . . . not blinking . . . but shining in the sun . . . a magnificent species. 

General Dewitt Willson said immediately, “I’ll own him. He’ll work for me. I’ll break him. I have to break him.” After they sold the others, the auctioneer put the African up on the auction bloc with twenty men guarding. Dewitt went up and paid one thousand dollars cash for the African. The auctioneer said “sold.”

Then some strange things happened. The African took the chains and knocked off the head of the auctioneer spilling blood all over the place . . . . With a baby in hand, he began to clear out with the Negro guiding him, “This way, and this way!” Some men raised rifles to shoot the African, but Dewitt shouted, “Don’t shoot my property, I’ll sue. That is my property”.  

But by that time the African had gone . . . . out of range . . . . So Dewitt and others got on horses and went after him. The African was traveling pretty fast carrying the baby, the chains and the Negro too. The Negro helped the African to get rid of his chains. For several weeks they couldn’t catch the African…  One evening, the African showed up at Dewitt’s home in African clothes with a spear and a shield and before Dewitt could respond, the African freed all of Dewitt’s Negro slaves. 

The next night he did the same thing at someone else’s home. The general described the event furiously, 

I was sleeping peacefully when I heard the noise outside by the slave cabins. God Damn, when I reached to the window, if I didn’t see all my niggers heading into the woods behind the African …And there was another too… never more than a few steps behind the big one, waving his arms and telling my niggers what to do and where to go.

Dewitt Willson then offered a ransom of one thousand dollars for any information concerning the African.

Finally, one night the auctioneer’s Negro came to Dewitt Willson and told him ‘“You want the African? I’ll take you to him . . . . I’ll go up to him and slap him on the cheek if you want it that way.” He took him to the clearing where the African was sleeping and Dewitt couldn’t figure out why there were no guards and why no one warned him. The Negro smiled and said, “There was only one guard, me.” The general asked, "why did you do this? Why did you turn on him?” 

The auctioneer’s Negro smiled and replied softly, "I am an American; I am no savage. And besides, a man’s got to follow where his pocket takes him, doesn’t he?”  Dewitt Willson nodded and thought about returning to his camp that night but he knew that he would have missed the opportunity to capture him the next day. Dewitt had his men surround the African who bolted on top of a rock straddling the baby. Dewitt shot the African from point blank range, “just above the ridge of his wide nose.” The African fell to his knees and with one last effort, he crawled toward the baby to kill the child with a rock, but the general, a marksman, shot him once again. Dewitt looked down at the pile of stones that the African had been talking to and at the dead man. He picked up the smallest white stone, before taking away the child.

In Paule Marshall’s, Praise Song for The Widow, she recreates folkore in a dialogue between young Avery Johnson and her great aunt in what happened when the Ibos landed on the Georgia Sea Islands near Tatem. The rich archival memory had been preserved for generations in stories about how the slaves were brought to the landing in small boats, as the slave ships remained out in the deep water. 

Aunt Cuney said, 

And the minute those Ibos was brought on shore they just stopped, and taken a look around . . . . A good long look . . . . Not saying a word . . . . Just studying the place real good. Just taking their time and studying it . . . . And they seen things that day you and me don’t have the power to see. ‘Cause those pure born Africans was peoples that could see in more ways than one. The kind can tell you ‘bout things happen long before they were born and things to come long after they’s dead. Well, they saw everything that was to happen ‘round here that day. The slavery time, and the war my gran’ always talking about, the ‘mancipation and everything… after that night up on to the hard times today.

Those Ibos didn’t miss a thing. Even seen you and me standing here talking about ‘em. And when they got through sizing up the place real good and seen what was to come, they turned my gran’ said and looked at the white folks what brought ‘em here. Took their time again and gived them the same long hard look. Tell you the truth, I don’t know how those white folks stood it. I know I wouldn’t have wanted ‘em looking at me that way. And when they got through studying ‘em, when they knew just from looking at ‘em how those folks was gonna do, do you know what the Ibos did? Do You . . . . 

They just turned, my gran’ said, all of ‘em – and walked on back down to the edge of the river here. Every las’ man, woman and chile. And they wasn’t taking they time no more. They had seen what they had seen and those Ibos was stepping! And they didn’t bother getting back into the small boats drawed up here ______ boats take too much time. They just kept walking right on out over the river (even with their iron chains around their ankles, wrists and necks) . . . .’ Nuff iron to sink an army. The chains didn’t stop these Ibos none. Neither iron.” 

The white folks looked on in a state of shock and Aunt Cuney laughed, “Those Ibos! Just upped and walked on away not two minutes after getting here, stepping and singing on their way home!!” 

Avery then asked Aunt Cuney, “But, how come they didn’t drown?”… Aunt Cuney, standing on consecrated ground, stood tall in silence, before replying, “Did it say Jesus drowned when he went walking on the water in that Sunday School book your momma always sends with you”. “No ma’am”, Avery said sheepishly. Aunt Cuney responded. “I didn’t think so. Anymore questions.”

Today we hardly ever tell folk stories to our children about the heroism of the slave experience . . . We have surrendered the battlefield of ideas to television, video games, and other consumer gadgets . . . . Memory has become vestigial . . . . interlaced with cotton candy sensibilities. We have forgotten everything beyond our parents and their habituated lives in the comfort zone of memorabilia . . . . The stories are no longer accessible because we don’t stand on consecrated ground in post- modern idolatry. 

Who are our grandmothers, grandfathers, great aunts and uncles whose archival memory would situate the contextual experiences of migration and displacement? We need to recall the motifs of defiance, so that the underground poets could connect the legacy of the run away griots. We must challenge, as artists and academicians, the anachronistic and pernicious definitions of Africa as a closed universe with notions of identity as fixed and primordial.

Margaret Walker in her poem entitled “Lineage,” expresses the strength of those women who came before her like Aunt Cuney, Vyry, Harriet Tubman,  Sojourner Truth,  and Nanny.

My grandmothers were strong

They followed plows and bent to toil

They moved through fields sowing seeds

They touched the earth and grain grew

They were full of sturdiness and singing

My grandmothers were strong

 

My grandmothers were full of memories

Smelling of soap and onions and wet clay

With veins rolling roughly over quick hands

They have many clean words to say

My grandmothers were strong

Why am I not as they?

The slave experience relegated the African woman to double and triple exploitation, to grotesque sexual relations, an enforced promiscuity, to rape, to child raising that bore no resemblance to her previous mores . . . . The essential horror of her story has been charted in procreation as she was compelled to raise children in this abysmal reality for her master as captor and owner of her body, mind and soul.

Our concern for examining the spirit of revolt and resistance in the African consciousness in plantation society is simply to dispel the propaganda that Africans were docile, lazy, cowardly . . .  lacking the wherewithal to resist their oppressive reality. Quite the contrary, Africans fought not only on board the slave ships, but on the plantation for their freedom and independence. The slogan "Liberty or Death"  and  "Patria  O  Muerte"  resonated throughout the Hemisphere from the very beginning of this pernicious reality. Slaves demonstrated a stubborn and tenacious resistance throughout the region against a slavocracy to which they had been forcibly subjected. Some Africans committed suicide as self determined destinies in the Middle Passage, as they jumped overboard into the Atlantic Ocean. They believed that death would allow their souls to return to the land of their ancestors as the old Negro Spiritual resonates "Coming forth to carry me home.".

For some women there was voluntary abortion, the object here being to spare their children the yoke of slavery . . . . Many women poisoned their white masters and their children with toxic plants . . . with the  advice of their herbologists and medicine men . . . There were also deliberate incidents of sabotage at the work place, general strikes ( Du Bois’  Black Reconstruction ), which gave rise to the stereotypical picture of the Negro being lazy, ignorant, and cowardly (D. W. Griffith’s  movie, Birth of A Nation). Finally, slaves conducted armed resistance in rebellions and flight.

Revolts were extremely numerous from the 16th through the 19th centuries. This paper will examine the character, integrity, and the strategies of some of the revolts with emphasis on the consequences of their efforts. Slave revolts occurred in Haiti in 1520, 1679, and 1691; in San Domingo in 1523, 1537, 1548; and in various British West Indian islands in 1649, 1674, 1692, 1702, 1733, and 1739. Herbert Aptheker has documented the occurrence of six rebellions in the U.S.A. between 1663 and 1700; fifty during the 18th century, and fifty-five between 1800 and 1864, which included Gabriel Prosser (1800), Denmark Vesey (1823), and Nat Turner (1831). The latter coincided with the Jamaican revolt of 1831-32 (The western Liberation Uprising led by Samuel Sharpe).

Puerto Rico had uprisings in 1822, 1826, 1843, and 1848; Martinique in 1811, 1822, 1823, 1831 and 1833. This is far from an exhausting list, but many of the revolts were spontaneous and violent as a passionate reaction to systematic torture and brutalities in human work schedules. Others were carefully planned uprisings over long periods . . . . The leaders of these movements were religious people who had a concrete and specific attachment to the community. In the U.S.A. it was Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. In Jamaica it was Daddy Sharpe in 1832 and Paul Bogle in 1865, the Morant Bay Uprising. In South America especially in Brazil, this leadership role was taken over by the Muslim Imams and the Candomble priests with their syncretistic innovations to Orisha rituals.

The first type, the Imams can be explained in socio-economic terms . . . i.e., the African’s opposition to the whole concept of servile labor. The second was also a movement of  “cultural resistance… a symptom of black  protest against compulsory Christianization,” the importation of European customs and values. These rebellions led to large scale armed struggle aimed at the seizure of all or part of the colony as evidenced in Haiti, Brazil or Suriname.

It began on the night of August 14th 1791,  with Voodoo incantations as the medium of conspiracy. There was a thunderstorm and the Africans had gathered in the clearing at Caiman Forest. In spite of all the prohibitions (Black Codes), the slaves gathered to sing, dance, practice their rituals, and plan the insurrection. They remembered the efforts of Makandal and how they failed despite mass poisonings among the whites. They recalled the contradictions in Makandal’s leadership and the betrayals. They were now poised to move to a higher level under the leadership of Boukman, a Papaloi or High Priest, a huge man, who had been a headman on a plantation and one who followed carefully the political situation among the whites and the Mulattoes.

In the middle of this tropical storm in the thick forest, Boukman gave his last instructions. He stimulated his followers by a prayer spoken in creole, which like so much spoken on such occasions has remained,

The God who created the sun which gives light, who uses the waves and rules the storm, though hidden in the clouds, he watches us. He sees all that the white man does. The God of the white man inspires him with crime, but our God calls upon us to do good works. Our God who is good to us orders us to revenge our wrongs.

He will direct our arms and aid us. Throw away the symbol of the God of the whites, who has so often caused us to weep and listen to the voice of LIBERTY, which speaks in the heart of us all.

The symbol of the God of the whites was the cross which, as Catholics, they wore around their necks. That very night the insurrection began. The slaves destroyed tirelessly . . . . They were seeking their salvation in the most tireless way . . . . the destruction of that which they knew was the cause of their suffering; and if they destroyed much, it was because they had suffered much. They burned down the sugar plantations. They knew concretely that as long as the plantations remained intact, their living conditions would never change. From their masters they had known rape, degradation and at the slightest provocation death. They returned in kind. C.L.R. James stated that “the slaves had revolted because they wanted to be free…but no ruling class ever admits such things” . . . so they labeled the resistance as barbaric, savage, primitive, and emotional.

The cruelties of property and privilege are always more ferocious on a daily basis than the revenges of poverty and oppression . . . . But the propaganda of history never admits to this, especially when discussing, "How the West Was Won." The whites committed horrendous acts of cruelty against men like Makandal, Ganga Zumbi, Cudjoe and other rebel leaders who demonstrated enormous courage, strength, and determination in their organized resistance to prevent their extermination. The Mackandal revolt never came to fruition but it led to Boukman, Toussaint, Dessalines, and Christophe.

In 1788 the Le Jeune case exposed the realities of slave law and justice in San Domingo.

Le Jeune was a coffee planter of Plaisance. Suspecting the mortality among his Negroes was due to poison, he murdered four of them. and attempted to extort confessions from two women by torture. He roasted their feet, legs and elbows, while alternately gagging them thoroughly and then withdrawing the gag. He extorted nothing and threatened all his French speaking slaves that he would kill them without mercy if they dared to denounce him.

The slaves reported him and a commission was established to investigate the accusations. The commission not only found that the testimony of the slaves was true, but they actually found  the two women burned and chained, with elbows and legs decomposing, but still alive; one of them had her neck so lacerated by an iron collar that she could not swallow. Le Jeune’s evidence on the poisonings was found to be a hoax . . . . The women died . . . he disappeared and the Governor and the Intendant not only reprieved him but ordered 50 lashes for the 14 Negroes who testified to the Commission. The Governor wrote, “To put it shortly, it seems that the safety of the colony depends on the acquittal of Le Jeune.” So much for colonial justice . . . then and now.

Angela Davis in her book, Women Race and Class, writes about a young woman called Nellie who was whipped for the offense of impudence. She fought and cursed the overseer who was determined to brutalize her. He overpowered her and succeeded in tying her arms to a tree before beating her.

The cries of the now helpless woman while undergoing the terrible infliction, were mingled with the hoarse curses of the overseer and the wild cries of the distracted children. When the poor woman was untied, her back was covered with blood . . . She was whipped, terribly whipped, but she was not subdued and continued to denounce the overseer.

This reminds me so much of Fannie Lou Hamer in prison in Mississippi during the early part of the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties as we fought for voting rights and democracy. Women resisted slavery at every turn and often urged haste in the organizing of slave uprisings. An Africa woman from Virginia in1812, said that the slave uprisings would not rise too soon for her as she wished to God that it was all over and done with . . .  that she was tired of waiting on white folks. 

Angela maintains,

One might better understand now Margaret Garner, fugitive slave who, when trapped near Cincinnati, killed her own daughter and tried to kill herself. She rejoiced that the girl was dead-- 'now she would never have to know what a woman suffers as a slave'- and pleaded to be tried for murder, ‘I will go singing to the gallows rather than be returned to slavery.

This true story fuelled the writing of Toni Morrison’s, Beloved. During slavery the women fought back on equal terms with the men. In the Haitian Revolution, when Chevalier, an African chief, hesitated at the sight of the scaffold, his wife shamed him. "You do not know how sweet it is to die for liberty!" And refusing to allow herself to be hanged by the executioner took the rope and hanged herself. To her daughters going to the public execution with her, another woman gave courage. "Be glad you will not be the mothers of slaves.”

The whites committed frightful atrocities not only against the Africans but also the Mulattoes. They killed a pregnant woman, cut the baby out and threw it into the flames. It was the core of Richard Wright’s short story, “Bright and Morning Star” and Max Roach’s brilliant composition, “Triptych” in his Freedom Now Suite. The latter emerged from the story of a pregnant cultural worker and resistance fighter in the South who was about to be lynched by the Klan . . . . However before they lynched her, they cut open her stomach and the baby fell out. It screamed at that dramatic moment . . . . FREEDOM NOW.

In the struggle, resistance, at times, was more subtle than revolts, marronage, and sabotage. It involved, for example, the clandestine acquisition of reading and writing skills and the imparting of this knowledge to others. In Natchez, Louisiana, a slave woman ran a “midnight school,” teaching African slaves between the hours of eleven and two o’clock in the morning until she had "graduated" hundreds. Undoubtedly, many of them wrote their own passes and headed in the direction of freedom.

There were also revolts in the north east of Brazil, especially around Salvador, Bahia. They were organized by the Hausas in 1807, 1809, 1813 and the Nagos. The Yorubas also engaged the slave legacy by providing leadership and resources through their religious organizations. The quilombos in Brazil and palenques in Venezuela, Colombia, and Peru, etc. were beach heads of resistance as these rebellions emerged. Unfortunately, none of these rebellions succeeded like the Haitian revolution. They became deeply involved in a return to their cultural moorings through the orishas and the pursuit of a syncretistic approach to the Brazilian paradigm. There was movement towards assimilation and preservation which intensified and complicated the double consciousness of the Hispanic experience.

The first example of Marronage was in 1575 . . . . A quilombo, called Palmares, in north eastern Brazil . . . . Its history spans the 17th century as it was finally destroyed in 1695. Palmares was a collection of settlements which made up an African political system under the leadership of Ganga Zumbi. He was treated with all respect due to a monarch and all the honors due to a Lord. He lived in the Royal enclave called Macoco, the capital of Palmares. Palmares resisted one attack after another from the Portuguese army. The Republic stands out as a remarkable example of the African creation of a centralized kingdom with an elected ruler out of a large number of people of various ethnic groups from Africa and Brazil.

Maroons not only fought successful wars against colonial governments, but were able to make treaties which protected their land rites, their cultural autonomy, and their pursuits of economic self sufficiency. They negotiated certain protectionist peace arrangements with governors and administrators but they also agreed with the plantocracy that they will not accept new run away slaves. This arrangement became prevalent in Jamaica, Colombia, Mexico, and Panama.

In 1823 in Demarara (Guyana) the largest slave rebellion in that country’s history took place under the leadership of Tacky. At Le Resouvenir Estate, the slaves rose, demanded immediate emancipation, and very nearly seized control of the country. The slaves insisted on no violence to whites and immediate freedom because there was no moral justification for slavery.

Marronage is not solely an economic or political phenomenon, but also bears witness to cultural resistance. During the 19th century, the Guyanese maroons prayed in Catholic style, while facing east towards Cayenne (French Guiana) as though it were a holy city. The Boni runaways from French Guiana were influenced by Catholic missionaries; the Djukas of Dutch Guiana have four villages inhabited by Jewish maroons. This phenomenon deserves further attention. Many of the maroon republics have disappeared either through destruction by colonial armies or being taken over by white settlers like Palmares in Brazil.

The first group of African slaves, who went to the interior forest in 1663 in Suriname, were sent there voluntarily by Portuguese Jews who didn’t want to pay head taxes. Interestingly, the slaves never came back .In 1712, when the French naval forces entered Dutch Guiana, the big landowners fled to the capital. The slaves took advantage of their absence to loot their master’s homes and they retreated further into the forest. In the course of time the bands grew larger and in 1749, they engaged the Dutch in a ten year war. Their leader ADOC gained independence for all those who were under his command. 

In 1757 another insurrection also broke out; it was led by an African slave named ARABI, probably a Muslim. Four years later in 1761, Arabi and Adoc were able to extract terms from the Dutch which gave them the right to form Republics on the condition that they gave no further asylum to fugitive slaves. In 1763, the Saramacas people also fought for their independence.

Today, the maroons of Dutch Guiana have no geographical or political unity, but they exist as a group of tribes. The Saramacas are the largest group, and then the Djukas (also called the Auca), then the Boni, the Quinta Matawaki, The Paramaccas and the Poligudu. They exist as isolated Republics with clans and hierarchies based on matrilineal systems. There is a Supreme Chief or Gran Man, A Council of Elders and an Assembly, which is responsible for governance and democratic decision making.

Domingo Benhos established a kingdom in Colombia at San Basilio, near Barquisimeto. Bayano in Darien was regarded with the reverence of a king . . . he too, signed a treaty. Yanga in Mexico made the same arrangements. Cudjoe became leader of the Leeward band of maroons in Jamaica and made the same arrangements.

Not even Cudjoe’s name in Jamaica carried with it a great sense of power than that of Nanny, rebel leader and military tactician, who by sheer force of personality and her powerful oaths of loyalty breathed courage and confidence into her followers. The dread her name inspired among the whites can be judged by the joy with which they greeted the news of her supposed death in 1733. A slave called Cuffee claimed to have killed her and was given a reward. The claim was false and Nanny was very much alive; she survived the end of the first maroon war in 1740 and received from the government of Jamaica 500 acres of land for herself and her people

In February 1739, a treaty was signed between Colonel Guthrie and Cudjoe who led the Leeward maroons. The treaty ensured liberty and freedom for Cudjoe and his followers and their right to ownership of their land up to 1500 acres. The runaway slaves who joined Cudjoe in the past two years were given the choice to return to their masters. Cudjoe’s maroons could sell their produce in neighboring towns. New runaway slaves who came to Cudjoe’s town had to return to their masters. Jamaica sent some of their maroons back to Freetown, Sierra Leone and others to Nova Scotia, Canada to begin new reconstructive efforts.

The extended experience of military and cultural resistance has manifested itself in the challenges offered by Africans in the shaping of the New World . . . whether it is the contradictions of Toussaint in Haiti or Sam Shape (The Western Liberation Uprising of 1832) or Ganga Zumbi in Palmares . . . whether it was the brilliance of Nanny or the focused vision of Dessalines as he moved beyond treachery . . . whether it was the millions of Africans who died for freedom in the Americas . . . Liberty or death in the New World and the elimination of slavery as an oppressive institution . . . became the strident, unending war cry . . . .

This journey has left us with a myriad of unanswered questions on leadership . . . the role of the Mulattoes . . . political opportunism . . . trade and the articulation of a people’s best interest . . . the propaganda of history . . . the cultural significance of an African presence in the post modern world . . .  and the preservation of our archival memory . . . ordinary folk have left with us messages from plantation experience that we must reflect on seriously . . .  sayings that are witty . . .  ironic and relevant . . . forgotten voices from below . . . but a collective memory immersed in the spoken word . . . .

*Poor man never vex

 *Man you can’t beat; you have fe call him fren

*Time longer Dan Rope

 *Everyday you goad a donkey, one day him will kick you

*Beware of those who carry tales

*When six yeye meet story done

*When black man tief, him tief five cents…when

*Backra tief, him tief de whole estate

 *he river carries away an elderly person who does not know his own weight 

(never overestimate your power)

*Not because cow don’t have tongue, him don’t talk

*You never tek popgun to kill alligator.

1Olokun is a hermaphroditic deity of both male and female identification. Its realm is the bottom of the ocean, below Yemanja, where light does not permeate and photosynthesis does not occur. Olokun is an important deity for displaced Africans because Olokun guards the bones/remains of our ancestors who jumped from the slave ships to avoid domination and who died in the Middle Passage, because of diseases or resistance. Olokun rules the unknown as well as representing our link to Middle Passage ancestors. Olokun represents strength and faith when the outcome cannot be known.

Bibliography

Bastide, Roger, African Civilizations in the New World

Beckles, Hilary. Slave Voyages: The Transatlantic Trade in Enslaved Africans

Beckles, Hillary & Shepherd, Verne (ed.) Caribbean  Slave Society and Economy

Beckles, Hillary & Shepherd, Verne  (ed.)  Caribbean Freedom: Post Slave Society and Economy

Beckles , Hillary & Shepherd , Verne. Caribbean Slavery in the Atlantic World

Davis, Angela.  Women Race and Class

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth

Fouchard, Jean. The Haitian Maroons

Harding, Vincent. There is a River

Hart, Richard. Slaves Who Abolished Slavery: Blacks in Rebellion

James, C.L.R. Black Jacobins

Kelley, William Melvin. A Different Drummer

Knight, Franklin . Slave Society in Cuba During the 19th. Century

Lewis, Gordon.  Puerto Rico: Freedom and Power in the Caribbean

Lynch, Acklyn. Nightmare Overhanging Darkly : Essays on Culture and Resistance

Marshall, Paule. Praise Song for The Widow

Patterson, Orlando. Slavery and Social Death

Rodney, Walter. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa

Sherlock, Philip & Bennett, Hazel. The Story of The Jamaican People

Williams Eric. From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean, 1492 -1969

Time Longer Dan Rope challenges us to look deeply into our history, listen to our inner voices, excavate ancient memory in order to shape the future and confront the present.  Sankofa Unity Ashe (Axe)  Presented June, 2003 Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, UNESCO Conference on Slavery

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Warmth of Other Suns

The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

By Isabel Wilkerson

Ida Mae Brandon Gladney, a sharecropper's wife, left Mississippi for Milwaukee in 1937, after her cousin was falsely accused of stealing a white man's turkeys and was almost beaten to death. In 1945, George Swanson Starling, a citrus picker, fled Florida for Harlem after learning of the grove owners' plans to give him a "necktie party" (a lynching). Robert Joseph Pershing Foster made his trek from Louisiana to California in 1953, embittered by "the absurdity that he was doing surgery for the United States Army and couldn't operate in his own home town." Anchored to these three stories is Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Wilkerson's magnificent, extensively researched study of the "great migration," the exodus of six million black Southerners out of the terror of Jim Crow to an "uncertain existence" in the North and Midwest. Wilkerson deftly incorporates sociological and historical studies into the novelistic narratives of Gladney, Starling, and Pershing settling in new lands, building anew, and often finding that they have not left racism behind. The drama, poignancy, and romance of a classic immigrant saga pervade this book, hold the reader in its grasp, and resonate long after the reading is done.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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