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On West Africa, Britain, and the West Indies in the Eighteenth Century

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Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Zanzibar and Mozambique

GWYN CAMPBELL. “The East African Slave Trade, 1861-1895: The ‘Southern’ Complex, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 22, no. 1 (1989): 1-26.

ABDUL SHERIFF.  Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar: Integration of an East African Commercial Empire into the World Economy, 1770-1873. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1987.

Introduction

The readings for this week are the second in a series of two case studies on specific regions of East Africa in the eighteenth century. East Africa is an area that includes Mozambique and the Great Lakes Region. Situated on the western Indian Ocean, this region corresponds to the present-day coasts of Mozambique, Tanzania, and southeastern Kenya, as well as Madagascar and various nearby islands like Comoros, Mayotte, Réunion, and Mauritius. The area also includes many hinterland regions of Eastern Africa, such as present-day Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda. In the late-eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the principal ports of Eastern Africa were Sofala in Mozambique and Zanzibar in Tanzania. These ports were occupied mainly by Swahili, Portuguese, Omani, and Indian traders. The readings assigned for this week are both secondary sources, one on south and one on north East Africa. The first is an article on slavery in late-nineteenth century Mozambique by Gwyn Campbell. The second is an historical survey by Adbul Sheriff entitled Slaves, Spices, and Ivory in Zanzibar.

Gwyn Campbell’s “The East African Slave Trade”

In his article, “The East African Slave Trade,” the historian Gwyn Campbell re-investigates the nineteenth-century history of what scholars often call the “southern” East African slave trade.[1] This slave trade took place on the coast and in the interior of present-day Mozambique from Kilwa southward. Campbell argues that slave-importing and exporting islands located in the western Indian Ocean, especially Madagascar, are “the ‘missing link’ in the history of East Africa in general and of the East African slave trade in particular.”[2] He observes that historians have appreciated the degrees to which some foreign markets have shaped the East African slave trade, such as those in the Persian Gulf and those in Cuba and Brazil before that export trade was closed around the 1850s. Nonetheless, historians have not fully appreciated the “trans-Mozambique Channel trade,” which flourished in the last three decades of the nineteenth century, carrying East Africans from modern-day Mozambique to burgeoning markets on Madagascar and then to its surrounding islands.[3] As a way to address this gap in the literature, Campbell positions Madagascar at the center of the history of the East African slave trade. He covers from the re-opening of the Merina Empire of Madagascar to foreign investment in 1861 to the French takeover of Madagascar in 1895.[4]

Campbell traces the history of the East African slave trade in the late-nineteenth century to a series of new “manpower” or “labor shortages” in the western Indian Ocean. French traders from the Mascarene islands addressed these labor shortages in their colonies by buying enslaved people from Swahili and Arab traders on the coast of Mozambique, and also by purchasing East African or Malagasy slaves from markets in Western Madagascar.[5] Likewise, the Merina Empire handled its own labor problems by importing and then often re-exporting East Africans from Mozambique, while also exporting certain peoples form the interior of Madagascar. Meanwhile, an entire cast of intermediaries emerged to facilitate Madagascar’s “two-way traffic in slaves.”[6] This cast included traders of Arab origin in Northwest Madagascar, called Antalaotra; traders of British-Indian origin in the same area, called Karany; and various kingdoms, republics, and private traders on the coast and interior of Madagascar. Examples of this last group are Sakalava and Bara chiefs, the Betsiriry and Antanosy slave communities, and independent Mascarene middlemen like the Samat and Rossier brothers, all of which generally worked in the southwest of the island.[7] Finally, Campbell adds to this diversity European, South African, and American traders working in the region.[8] Continue reading “Case Studies of East African History in the Nineteenth Century — Zanzibar and Mozambique”

Review of Ogenga Otunnu’s Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979

OGENGA OTUNNU. Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979. African Histories and Modernities. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. xv, 369. $109.00. Hardback. ISBN: 978-3-319-33155-3.

According to Ugandan native, historian of Africa, and scholar of global refugee and forced migration studies, Ogenga Otunnu, nations of the world can be classified according to four typologies of state power. They can be despotically and infrastructurally strong, despotically and infrastructurally weak, despotically strong but infrastructurally weak, and, most ideally, despotically weak but infrastructurally strong. Since its creation as a predatory, kleptocratic, despotic, and conflict-ridden state at the onset of the African colonial period, in 1890, Uganda has oscillated among the first three typologies but it has never achieved the fourth. In Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979, Otunnu explains this situation by analyzing the history of Uganda from the precolonial period to the fall of Idi Amin in 1979. He argues that Uganda suffers from a severe and persistent crisis of legitimacy or a “legitimation deficit.” This deficit is shared by the state, its institutions, its incumbents, and their challengers. It is the result of factors that are contemporary and historical as well as foreign and domestic. Most importantly, this deficit remains “the most significant factor accounting for the intense political violence” in the country today (1, 321). Addressing this crisis is vital to stemming political violence and turning Uganda into a rights-based and developed nation that is inclusive, representative, and respectful of its citizens.

The work under review here is the first installment in a two-volume series about the origins, persistence, and effects of political violence in Uganda. (Otunnu’s second book has the same title, is due out in 2017, and will take the narrative from 1979 to 2016.) The dates featured in this title—1890 to 1979—form the core of Otunnu’s chronological focus. Three eighty-page chapters explore Uganda’s colonial era (1890-1962), the Obote regime (1962-1971), and the Amin regime (1971-1979). And yet, Otunnu wisely sets the stage for these three main sections with an opening chapter that surveys the history of several polities in precolonial Uganda, from roughly 1500 to 1889. The societies analyzed here—Bunyoro-Kitara, Buganda, and Acoli—showcase the diversity of social and political structures that were inherited and/or disrupted by the British colonial regime. Otunnu traces, for instance, how a kingdom like Buganda evolved form an independent monarchy in the precolonial period to an agent or “mask” of British imperial power in the colonial period. Similarly, Otunnu demonstrates a traditional system of legitimacy that the Ugandan state has yet to successfully revive. As he argues, the many precolonial and decentralized polities of Acoli in the north fit the ideal model of a state that was despotically weak but infrastructurally strong. As such, Acoli was characterized by democratic traditions and practices, government accountability to civil society, widespread feelings of legitimacy, and a lack of both corruption and violence.

Continue reading “Review of Ogenga Otunnu’s Crisis of Legitimacy and Political Violence in Uganda, 1890-1979”

All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas

In taking their cues from the extant primary-source materials, scholars have written about African “ethnic” communities in the colonial Americas since almost the moment that they began writing about the transatlantic slave trade and its origins. Researchers today are occasionally surprised to discover that even scholars of the Jim Crow-era, such as Ulrich B. Phillips, wrote about these various “ethnic” groups in the Americas. As early as 1918, Phillips gestured to a theory of ethnogenesis—the idea that distinct African identities underwent a collective transformation on American plantations. “Ceasing to be Foulah, Coromantee, Ebo or Angola, ” Phillips wrote, African people in the diaspora became “instead the American negro.” This statement was one of the earliest expressions of what the historian Michael Gomez has more-recently called the “process whereby Africans [in the Americas] moved along a continuum from ethnicity to race.”[1]

The discussion around African “ethnicities” has a long history in the literature of American slavery. Nonetheless, as a scholarly conversation, it has received an unprecedented amount of attention over just the past quarter century. Case studies by authors like David Littlefield and David Wheat (Rice and Slaves, Atlantic Africa and the Spanish Caribbean), surveys by authors like Michael Gomez and Gwendolyn Midlo Hall (Exchanging Our Country Marks, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas), and compilations by editors like Paul Lovejoy and David Trotman (Trans-Atlantic Dimension of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora) have all contributed to a renewed interest in studying African diasporic identities through the framework of “ethnicity.” For many of these historians, “ethnicity” serves the simple function of moving our dialogue beyond homogenous portrayals of African peoples in the diaspora. “Ethnicity” helps scholars avoid speaking in the analytically flat categories of “African,” “Black,” or “Negro.” In this sense, the conversation is both well-intentioned and necessary. However, in another sense, the language of “ethnicity” brings with it a series of assumptions that threaten to limit our ability to understand African identities. I address a couple of those limitations in this essay. In doing so, I argue that that framework of “ethnicity” is useful, provided scholars localize their studies, interrogate their sources, and emphasize the inherently creole, dynamic, fluid nature of all diasporic groups.[2] Continue reading “All Creole Cultures: Identity, Community, and the Limits of Talking About African “Ethnicities” in the Early Americas”

Review of James Sweet’s Domingos Alvares

JAMES H. SWEET. Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011. Pp. xvii, 320. $30.00. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-4696-0975-1.

The subject of James Sweet’s biography and self-described intellectual and “Black Atlantic” history, Domingos Álvares, was an African healer and diviner. He came from Naogon, a village of the Mahi confederacy in the West African region of Agonli Cové. This Gbe-speaking area was on the interior of the so-called “Slave Coast” in the early-eighteenth century and it is now part of central Benin. Álvares was probably born around 1710 to parents who were priests—or vodunon—of the Sakpata, a group of deities mainly associated with smallpox. When the expanding kingdom of Dahomey conquered Agonli Cové, its ruler, Agaja, sold these priests into the Middle Passage out of a fear for their ritual abilities. Such was the inciting incident in an Atlantic odyssey that took Álvares to two additional continents over the course of two decades.[1]

Álvares was an Atlantic globetrotter. Around 1730, he was shipped from the port of Jakin to Goiana in Pernambuco, northeastern Brazil, where he became a slave on a sugar plantation. Afterward, he was taken south, first to Recife and then to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, where he purchased his freedom and became a renowned healer with a congregation and disciples. Nonetheless, in 1742, he was accused of being a fetisher and sent to Lisbon, Portugal, to stand trial before the Inquisition Court. After imprisonment, torture, interrogation, and banishment in Castro Marim, a hamlet in the Algarve of southern Portugal, Álvares appeared before the court once again in 1747. Finally, he disappeared from the historical record sometime around 1749 after being ordered to Bragança in northern Portugal, the location of his second exile.[2]

In Domingos Álvares, Sweet has reconstructed this biography from many primary sources. He used oral traditions, censuses, slave trade database statistics, ethnographies, newspapers, maps, genealogies, colonial legal documents, parish records, and travel accounts. When these materials were rare, he extrapolated from secondary literature on pre-colonial Africa, the slave trade, anthropology, historical linguistics, and more. Regardless, his story would not have been possible without Inquisition transcripts. Foremost among these was a more than 600-page dossier in the Portuguese national archives, originally produced by the Holy Office during Álvares’ trials. This case file contains copies of Álvares’ confessions, some Fon-Gbe terms that suggest his African origins, and depositions from nearly four-dozen eyewitnesses.[3]

For Sweet, his Domingos Álvares is a model for overcoming one of Atlantic histories shortcomings—its inability to “accommodate African historical perspectives” on their own terms. Here he takes aim at the work of scholars like Ira Berlin, Linda Heywood, and John Thornton, who have defined Africans in the Atlantic World by the degree to which they were in dialogue with “European ideas and institutions.” These scholars are often uninterested in challenging “the boundaries of European empire and colonialism.” Instead, they seek to trace the Americanization of Africans, and so they emphasize when Africans speak European languages, read Enlightenment texts, dress in European clothes, or appeal to European institutions like the Catholic church or imperial Crown. In theory, Sweet embraces the premise of the “Atlantic creole,” to borrow the phrase of Berlin, as an individual whose power derives from their ability to adapt and cross cultural boundaries. However, Sweet demands that Africa be a more central component of this creolized identity.[4]

While Sweet sees Domingos Álvares as a model for critiquing a Eurocentric approach to Atlantic history, he also sees Álvares’ life as an embodied critique of European colonial ideologies in his own time. “Wherever he traveled,” writes Sweet, “Domingos offered this political discourse of health and healing as an alternative to imperial discourses.” Instead of his African culture being stripped by the social alienation of war and enslavement—as many scholars have argued—Álvares retained and used his native culture throughout his journey. Both his freedom and healing “shifted over time,” defying imperial categories in the process. For example, his healing crossed boundaries by appealing to slaves and freed people, reinforced and threatened colonial legitimacies, and wavered between the criminal and the blessed. Ultimately, the story climaxes in a confrontation between Álvares and his inquisitor in which Álvares is punished for daring to put “African divination and spirit possession on the same therapeutic plane as the rituals of the Catholic church.[5]

In sum, Domingos Álvares is the biography of an African intellectual who challenged European epistemologies, written by an historian who wants to challenge those epistemologies in the scholarship today. As such, Sweet is likely to be critiqued by empiricists for bending his evidence toward his interpretation, especially in moments where he reads Álvares’ intentions into the omissions of the Inquisition records, or when he takes what might be coerced testimony as honest recollection. Others will be uncomfortable when Sweet makes analytical leaps from African oral traditions that are two hundred years removed, or when he reduces Álvares to the level of an ambiguous yet politicized symbol, calling him “an exemplar of modernity but also its fiercest opponent.” But despite these predictable critiques, Sweet has set a bold and remarkable new standard for integrating Africa into the Atlantic. Many will be excited to see how this standard is taken forward, especially in those cases where there is no hefty inquisition file to draw upon.[6]

Notes:

[1] James H. Sweet, Domingos Álvares, African Healing, and the Intellectual History of the Atlantic World (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2011), 5, 7, 14-15, 20, 24, 26.

[2] Ibid. 26, 129.

[3] Ibid. 2-4, 7.

[4] Ibid. 2, 4-5, 235 n4.

[5] Ibid. 6, 105, 177.

[6] Ibid. 233.

Research Guide to the Study of Maroons and Marronage in the New World

Image: The Statue of the Unknown Maroon is situated before the presidential palace on the boulevard Champ de Mars in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Also known as “Neg Mawon” in Haitian Kreyòl and “La Negre Marron” in French, this statue was commissioned by the Duvalier government in 1968-1969 to commemorate the slaves who founded the nation. It was created by the Haitian sculptor and architect Albert Mangones.

Summary Paragraph: (cont’d in full post)

Secondary scholarship about maroon communities and the phenomenon of marronage in the New World is vast, interdisciplinary, and extends back at least to the 1920s. Marronage is a widespread phenomenon that cannot be rooted in a single location or bracketed within a single period of time; marronage took place all over the New World during the early-modern era, and many ancestors of the maroons still exist today. As a result of this extraordinary diversity, much of the literature regarding maroon communities is particularistic, and much of it is written in languages other than English, namely Spanish, Dutch, and French. Continue reading “Research Guide to the Study of Maroons and Marronage in the New World”

Essay on the Historiography of Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World

Comparative Slavery Image

Fewer twentieth-century historiographical debates have been more engaging than the debate over comparative slavery in the colonial or Atlantic World. Since the early writings of scholars like Mary Williams and Frank Tannenbaum, historians have been actively engaged in debating the exceptionalism of the American slave system, and in comparing the severity of slave systems across contexts. More than anything, the historiography of comparative slavery is a methodological exercise. Comparing slave systems has required historians to address the larger question, “how does one measure the severity of a slave system?” Continue reading “Essay on the Historiography of Comparative Slavery in the Atlantic World”

Review of Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois

LAURENT DUBOIS. Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, York: The Dial Press, 2004. Pp. viii, 357. $17.95.

Avengers of the New World: The Story of the Haitian Revolution (... Cover Art

Avengers of the New World is the first book written by Laurent Dubois, the historian, anthropologist, and literary scholar of France, the French Atlantic, and the Caribbean. Dubois wrote Avengers as a new history of the Haitian revolution (1791-1804), updating the anticolonial work of the Caribbean scholar C.L.R. James with Atlantic and African scholarship and social and cultural methodologies. Whereas James tended to “essentialize the differences” between groups within San Domingo, and focus on defending the actions of black revolutionaries and condemning those of planters from within a racialized discourse, Dubois is interested in creating an understanding of the revolution’s wider context within the “Age of Revolutions.” Continue reading “Review of Avengers of the New World by Laurent Dubois”

Review of The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James

CYRIL LIONEL ROBERT JAMES. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: The Dial Press, 1938. Pp. xi, 396. $3.75.

james_blackjacobins_vintage_LorenEutemy.jpg

Introduction:

The Black Jacobins is the seventh and most famous work written by C.L.R. James, the late Afro-Trinidadian historian, journalist, playwright, professor, social theorist, and essayist. It is a vivid and nuanced historical narrative of the San Domingo Revolution, popularly known as “the only successful slave revolt in history,” and its “courageous leader,” Toussaint L’Ouverture, from the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 to the declaration of independence for Haiti in 1804. Written in anticipation of widespread African decolonization, with sincere Marxist-socialist leanings and a defining sense of solidarity for oppressed peoples, The Black Jacobins is widely hailed as a classic critique of imperialist and colonialist historiography. Continue reading “Review of The Black Jacobins by C.L.R. James”

Review of Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams

ERIC WILLIAMS. Capitalism and Slavery. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944. Pp. ix, 245. $29.95.

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Capitalism and Slavery is the first and most important work by the late Trinidadian scholar and statesman, Eric Eustace Williams. Based on a dissertation written at the University of Oxford in 1938, entitled “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the British West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery,” the work is an “economic study of the role of Negro slavery and the slave trade in providing the capital which financed the industrial revolution in England and of mature industrial capitalism [eventually] destroying the slave system.” More generally, the book documents the historical shift of Britain’s political economy from monopolistic commercial mercantilism based on tropical, Caribbean islands with black-plantation slavery to laissez faire commercial capitalism based on white free-labor factories in temperate, Continental regions. Continue reading “Review of Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams”

Review of Black Society in Spanish Florida by Jane Landers

JANE LANDERS. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Forward by Peter H. Wood. (Blacks in the New World.) Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999. Pp. xiv, 390. $29.00.

Introduction:

Cover for LANDERS: Black Society in Spanish Florida

Black Society in Spanish Florida is the first book written by Jane Landers, colonial Latin Americanist, historian of the Caribbean and the Hispanic southeast, and assistant professor of History at Vanderbilt University. In the text, Landers presents the first English-language, conceptual history of black society on the Florida peninsula during the first and second Spanish tenures (1565-1763, and 1783-1821). Continue reading “Review of Black Society in Spanish Florida by Jane Landers”

Review of History of the Upper Guinea Coast by Walter Rodney

WALTER RODNEY. History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800 (Oxford Studies in African Affairs)New York: Oxford University Press, 1970. Pp. ix, 283. $7.00.

History of the Upper Guinea Coast is the refurbished dissertation of the late Guyanese historian and political activist, Walter Rodney. Originally written in 1966 for a PhD in African History at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the text is a chronological/conceptual history of a section of the West African coast (between the Gambia and Cape Mount) from its first contact with Hispano-Portuguese sailors in the mid-fifteenth century until approximately 1800. Continue reading “Review of History of the Upper Guinea Coast by Walter Rodney”

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