A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
west Africa slave trade
A tragic reminder of the slave trade
Lisa A. Lindsay, 39 Captives as Commodities: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade
found at hnn.us
Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History,
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, July 2004-present (Assistant
White American girls typically do not dream of becoming historians of Africa; nor did I. But growing up in Louisiana in the civil rights era, I couldn't help but notice the legacies of race and slavery-in the newly-integrated public schools I attended, as well as in the jazz and blues I was learning to play on the saxophone. Later in college and graduate school, I discovered an Africa that was historically connected to me as an American, somewhat familiar to me as a Southerner, and endlessly fascinating to me as a member of the human community.
In the mid-1980s, while I studied international politics at Johns Hopkins University, half a world away apartheid South Africa exploded in street demonstrations and government terror. The semester I took my first African history course, I was arrested with hundreds of others for protesting in front of the South African Embassy in Washington. My comrades and I built a shanty town on the Hopkins quad to urge divestment from South African stocks, and we even took our "port-a-shanty" to sully the premises of offending banks. My political indignation reflected my growing sense that Africa deserved Americans' attention and fueled my curiosity about the many ways Africans and Americans have been connected in the past.
As a graduate student I concentrated on the history of West Africa because in comparison to South Africa its recent past seemed rather less terrible, and because I had a vague sense that the slave trade had given American Southerners and Atlantic Africans something of a shared history. Since 1991, when I traveled to Nigeria for the first time, I have often noticed its similarities to southern Louisiana. My family's homeland is swampy, hot, and humid, with loquacious storytellers, lively music, thirsty mosquitoes, and spicy stews. In and around Lagos I found a region that is swampy, hot, and humid, where raconteurs share proverbs, music travels through the night air, mosquitoes never give up, and fiery pepper soup makes Tabasco seem like Cool-Aid. And then there's the petroleum-soaked political corruption, but maybe now I'm reaching!
The year I lived in Nigeria conducting dissertation research (1993-94), I witnessed three changes of government, two general strikes, countless fuel shortages, and a military coup. I got sick with dysentery, mysterious rashes, and malaria; scabies infected my hands and arms when I worked in a particularly dusty archive. (Flea soap did the trick.) The apartment my husband and I lived in had not been inhabited for a decade, and even after we renovated it there were daily electricity outages and weeks without running water. But people looked after us, as so often happens in Africa, offering care and support as well as adventures. It was through one friend that I got to play saxophone with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, Africa's most innovative and radical pop star, whose politically-charged, infectiously danceable music I had first come to love when I heard it in Baltimore.
Its vibrant rhythms-in music as well as in the daily human pursuits of survival, connection, and delight-are what propel my scholarship in West African history. In the classroom and on paper I try to convey both the distinctiveness of African history and the connections shared between Africa and the rest of the world. My first book was fundamentally comparative, placing southern Nigeria's gendered labor history in a wider context. My current project emphasizes the links within one family's history between West Africa and the United States. The goal in all of this work is to intrigue students and readers with what makes Africa different from America and at the same time provoke their empathy for fellow humans half a world away.
By Lisa A. Lindsay
This book's underlying concern is with a broad issue: what effect does the
expansion of wage labor have on relationships between men and women and on
understandings about how women and men structure their lives? Is the normative
pattern that emerged in Western Europe and North America, with men working for
wages and women reproducing the household in unpaid labor at home, a universal
one? Does long-term wage labor necessarily become a male preserve over time? …
Fundamentally, these are questions about the social reproduction of labor. …
Published: Thursday July 27, 2006 found at rawstory.com
Hip-hop fans, basketball courts and scores of American tourists are common sights in this former French colony. It is not unusual to see the Stars and Stripes in people's taxis, on their clothes, and, more tellingly, fluttering from the back of a warship docked in the harbour of the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
Many Senegalese like Americans because Americans are successful and rich, and they themselves are not. They also like them because many of those who come to the island of Goree, especially African-Americans, are overwhelmingly moved to tears.
550 years ago, the Portuguese began a cruel business in live human beings known as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. The island of Goree, two miles off the Senegalese coast, was its centre. Pretty soon, the French, the Dutch and the British were involved as well. At the height of the trade, Liverpool (whose streets once boasted a 'Goree Plaza') became Europe's largest slavery port.
Goree was probably the worst place in the world to be at that time if you were African. Shocking accounts survive of sick slaves being thrown alive into shark-infested waters, while others were 'fattened' for their long voyages to places like America, crammed together on overcrowded boats.
Today, 150 years after slavery officially ended, the paradise island of Goree must surely rank, with some irony, as one of the most wonderful places on earth to be African -- or to be anyone, in fact, as the billionaire financier George Soros, who has a house there, could testify.
This wonderfully lived-in, perfectly-preserved 18th century time capsule of Tuscan coloured houses supports its thousand or more soccer-mad inhabitants in a luxurious life of swimming, fishing and skinning the endless tide of tourists ferried in from Dakar every hour or so. All in all, this horrific crime scene (and World Heritage site) is one of the most enchanting places you could ever hope to visit.
Sadly, however, it is no longer necessary to cast your mind back to imagine what it must have been like for the slaves all those years ago, haggled over, crammed onto wooden vessels and set adrift on an endless expanse of sea. These days all you have to do is keep your eyes open.
On Goree island, there is a chillingly-named 'Door of No Return' -- an infamous open portal through which all that is visible is a blank horizon reaching all the way to America. Recently Presidents Clinton and Bush and even the Pope have stood there in order to make their apologies. But if you squint hard enough you may still see ancient wooden vessels go by, packed with cargoes of desperate human beings.
Or, more strikingly perhaps, warships from familiar-sounding countries like Portugal, France or Spain.
For in these same languid waters off Senegal -- and yes, even around Goree island -- an illicit trade in transporting human beings is again a deadly, lucrative business involving both Europe and Africa. Once more, people are being packed like sardines into primitive wooden vessels, to face death or an uncertain future abroad.
They go willingly this time, squeezing onto fragile, exposed, over-crowded fishing boats as they risk everything to head to Europe for the chance of a better life. Forty percent of them are doomed, through dehydration or drowning, never to arrive. That is three times the percentage said to have died during the nightmarish journeys of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
They come from all over the continent and embark from West Africa for the same reason the slave trade was centered here -- its proximity to the Atlantic coast of Europe. But the wooden pirogues built to carry six to eight people and crammed with as many as forty can barely manage the voyage of thousands of kilometers to the Spanish-owned Canary Islands. Although over 10,000 Africans arrived on Spanish beaches this year, thousands more died on the way.
They are eager to work, having lost any hope of finding work at home on a continent shackled by conflict, bad government and global trade protectionism. But the countries that once sent ships to kidnap them (with the zealous assistance of local chiefs), and fought each other for the spoils, have now assembled a joint armada off the coast of West Africa with orders to turn them back.
One of those countries, Britain, this year approaches the 200th anniversary of its abolition of slavery. Britain has a cosy view of itself as firmly abolitionist, and reminders of the past are a bit of an embarrassment. The Liverpool City Council recently debated whether or not to change the street-name of its famous 'Penny Lane' -- the inspiration for the well-known Beatles ditty but also, unfortunately, named after the wealthy slave-trader James Penny.
The fact that the Senegambia region, as it used to be known, is again the scene of human tragedy involving pitiful migrant labour is another embarrassment. But who in years to come will ever apologise for this?
This March, a boat with the mummified bodies of 11 men was found 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean from Senegal, drifting off the Caribbean island of Barbados. It is thought that 52 workers originally boarded the vessel last December, after paying up to $1,500 each for the journey.
A note from one of them, believed to be Diao Souncar Dieme from Bassada in western Senegal, read, "I would like to send to my family in Bassada a sum of money. Please excuse me and goodbye. This is the end of my life in this big Moroccan sea."
Adam Alexander writes from South Africa
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