I finished the Intro and the first chapter Saturday…again, as with Hartman’s book, every page contains deep thought provoking information. After each paragraph or two, my spirit enters the text and begins to create its own world…it takes a while to exit off of a slave ship, especially when the voyage sails into contemporary, modern times of today.
If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard “my family didn’t own slaves” or “we just need to get beyond all that old history” or “that was your generation hung up on all that”, I’d be drowning in dimes. Reidiker is writing with such clarity that it is undeniable to show there is not a disconnect from history. It is my stance that history is fluid and continuous…you don’t get to your tomorrows by cutting off your yesterdays. With clarity he connects what we take for granted and “assume” what has been true all along or some “destiny” that the fruits of capitalism was built on and continues to be built on the expansion of slavery and subjugation and exploitation. We’ve got to swallow the bitter with the sweet.
The author identifies four “dramas” played out repeatedly over the course of the 18th century aboard slavers…the first between the captains and the tough-scoundrel crew; the second, between the crew and the enslaved; the third, from conflict and cooperation among the diverse ethnic groups of the enslaved; and the fourth, among the abolitionists and the societies of America and Britain.
His intent is to concentrate on the slave ships as the stage for all these dramas that drove commerce…he looks upon the slave ship as the key that drove Europe’s commercial revolution and economic globalization. He claims (I’m still in the intro) that his research focuses on the actual deck of the slave ship.
I can’t recall the title but I wrote about it here…a piece of fiction that opens with an enslaved African woman attacking the captain of the ship to defend herself against what she perceived as a beast…and I remember asking myself if I’ve ever been taken aboard the slave ship from a female view point? I read Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage some years ago and alsmost suffocated by the voyage he took me on but it was a masculine experience…altough at the time of reading it I was too involved and overwhelmed by being transported into the experience that gender was of little relevance.
Ottobah Cugoano wrote Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery, originally published in London, 1787; reprinted by Penguin in 1999. Cugoana was an African who went through the Middle Passage and wrote about it later. I’ve not heard of him and would like to check his life and writing out later.
I’m starting this one tonight. Its been on my Amazon list for a while now. This is a library book.
Tuesday Update: I’m going to attempt to blog along as I read…often times while reading I come across a phrase, new info, etc. that spurs me off into another direction. I’m going to attempt to use my post as notes to comeback to later. So some posts might simply be a question or a phrase or even just an image that I may select to explore later.
For example, in the introduction of this current book, Rediker references an author I’ve never heard. Normally I would stop reading here and google to see what I can find, which leads to getting lost on line and taking time away from reading the book. I’ll see how this works out for me.
Find out more about Ottobah Cugoano.
This was a difficult book to read. Every page held grief and sorrow mixed with the historical content. If it was the sorrow of the author’s, it was mine, or a combined and collected sorrow, I cannot say for sure; more than likely it was all of the above.
Throughout most of the book I wondered where the author was leading me…surely she would not open up this wound and just leave it to fester after I ended the last chapter, would she? could she? Upon starting the 2nd to the last chapter I was silently pleading with her not to leave me there. I just could not be abandoned in the hull of a slave ship emotionally when I expect so much of myself in the physical world.
The sole academic intent of the book was the examination and exploration of slave routes in Ghana. It is mixed with the author’s exposure of her own vulnerabilties which I found endearing as it did not place “academia” outside of what transpires in our personal lives. I found it very brave and courageous for her to lay herself out as much as she did. At times in tears, anger, indifference…I believe much research from academic scholars would benefit from such open raw honesty.
Hartman is searching for some solid structure and solid recognition of the descendants of slaves on the African shores/rituals/psyche…something as identifiable as the slave forts that remain along the coast of Ghana. During some encounters she comes across as out right accusatory of her host country as continuing to benefit from the proliferation of slavery as a tourist attraction. Even though I would jump at the opportunity to visit the slave castles and the “door of no return”, she has expanded the discourse in my own head as to how and why I want to do so. Even though she does not discover some solid historical piece to fill the emptiness and ambivalence that each African American has to reconcile…being descendants of enslaved people in a country founded on such promise…that warring of two souls that DuBois is so famous for speaking on in his book The Souls of Black Folk, Hartman does discover something even more valuable…something that speaks to the future of all common folk yearning to be free and grounded. Hartman did come in like a skilled surgeon in the last pages of the last chapter and did not leave my wound open oozing puss and for that I’m most grateful.
Something I’m considering doing as a result of this book is burying all my cowrie shell jewelry…a symbollic act that states I will not be buying anymore cowrie shell jewelry for adoration until I can process this all in my own time and mind. I’ve known about the cowrie shells as currency for a few decades now, but she is the first scholar I’ve known to share how it translated to the slave trade itself. 176,000 cowries could purchase a healthy male sold in the 19th century. 176,000 cowries. 176,000 dead sea creatures.