African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame

African Voices of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Beyond the Silence and the Shame

by Anne Bailey
     
 

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It's an awful story. It's an awful story. Why do you want to bring this up now?--Chief Awusa of Atorkor

For centuries, the story of the Atlantic slave trade has been filtered through the eyes and records of white Europeans. In this watershed book, historian Anne C. Bailey focuses on memories of the trade from the African perspective. African chiefs and other

Overview

It's an awful story. It's an awful story. Why do you want to bring this up now?--Chief Awusa of Atorkor

For centuries, the story of the Atlantic slave trade has been filtered through the eyes and records of white Europeans. In this watershed book, historian Anne C. Bailey focuses on memories of the trade from the African perspective. African chiefs and other elders in an area of southeastern Ghana-once famously called "the Old Slave Coast"-share stories that reveal that Africans were traders as well as victims of the trade.

Bailey argues that, like victims of trauma, many African societies now experience a fragmented view of their past that partially explains the blanket of silence and shame around the slave trade. Capturing scores of oral histories that were handed down through generations, Bailey finds that, although Africans were not equal partners with Europeans, even their partial involvement in the slave trade had devastating consequences on their history and identity. In this unprecedented and revelatory book, Bailey explores the delicate and fragmented nature of historical memory.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Focusing on the stories passed down from generation to generation among the Anlo Ewe community in southern Ghana-an area once known as the Slave Coast-Spelman College historian Bailey offers a noteworthy, carefully researched contribution to the study of the African slave trade. Few accounts in the copious literature have adequately addressed the African viewpoint, says Bailey, and the oral histories she offers are designed to correct that silence. Examples include "the incident at Atorkor": sometime in the 1850s, a breakdown in the working (though unequal) relationship between white slave traders and a coastal African chief-the chief's kin were taken along with inland, "approved" captives-heralded a new phase in the slave trade, one in which African slave traders became nearly as vulnerable as their African captives. In compact chapters, Bailey considers the political and economic impact of the slave trade on the West African region; West and Central Africa's class-based practices of domestic slavery; and the issue of European, American and African agency in the slave trade. Though dense prose makes this a better choice for the scholar than the lay reader, Bailey brings unheard historical voices to the fore. (Feb.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Bailey (history, Spelman) spent several years studying local communities in an area of Ghana known as the Old Slave Coast, hoping to bring to light the African perspective on the Atlantic slave trade. Finding the oral record essentially mute, she speculates that the shame associated with slavery has led to this silence. She notes that domestic slavery in Africa, which predated the Atlantic slave trade, played a role similar to prisons in Western countries so that it was already taboo-a fact compounded by the active role African nations took in trading with Europeans. The book describes and analyzes the few stories that have been remembered and looks at the social, political, and spiritual ramifications of the slave trade for the African coast. She further attempts to validate this oral history by comparing it with known historical records. Though well written and intriguing, this is a speculative and highly personal account (Bailey's Jamaican ancestors were most likely slaves). Recommended for academic and larger public libraries. How could a country founded on the principles of freedom, independence, and equality for all condone slavery? Horton's very readable account examines this contradiction largely from the perspective of the enslaved. Relying heavily on slave narratives and primary documents from the era, Horton (history, George Washington Univ.) brings to life the horror of American slavery. He skillfully weaves the tales of individual slaves into the narrative, which looks at the institution from its beginnings in 1619 through its end in the 19th century. The book shows the heroic efforts made by generations of slaves to free themselves using whatever tools they had, from persuasion to violence, and also examines the often misguided efforts made by whites to help slaves (e.g., 19th-century colonization efforts). He challenges many widely held beliefs about slavery (e.g., that it was only a Southern institution) and shows how it evolved from a few slaves in Virginia to a labor system integral to the development of the United States. Accompanying a four-part PBS documentary series narrated by Morgan Freeman, this book is highly recommended for all libraries.-Robert Flatley, Kutztown Univ., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An ambitious attempt to determine from oral histories the effects of the slave trade on West Africa and its people, especially those in coastal Ghana. Bailey (African History/Spelman College) well realizes the tenuousness of the project. And although she states early that she wants to do a "full and thorough analysis" of oral records, she admits that she can "in no way" characterize her work as definitive. Her research and results are important but understandably very fragmentary, and, although her stated purpose is to focus on oral accounts, she expends much effort and space dealing with the textual records on both sides of the Atlantic, displaying a true scholar's familiarity with significant documents and with the published accounts of her predecessors. Bailey rehearses the history of the Atlantic slave trade, citing its evils, indignities, and cruelties. (See other recent treatments of this subject, e.g., Bury the Chains and The Queen's Slave Trader.) She moves on to the vexing questions of the involvement of Africans in the capture and sale of other Africans and the practice of slavery among the West Africans. (She also looks at the ongoing contemporary problem of the religious enslavement of women, voicing her strong disapproval of the tradition.) Bailey reminds us that the partnership between the West Africans and the white traders was not an equal one, and that the desire for economic security and for European trade goods were inducements too powerful for many to resist. She takes a hard look at the deleterious effects of slavery on the cultures both of the captives and of those who were left behind, finding lingering evidence even today in the political instability and religioussecrecy of the region and showing how the guns-for-slaves exchange exacerbated the violence among the West Africans. Bailey is not a graceful prose stylist-she raises syntactical and stylistic barriers for readers-but her research is important, her questions provocative, and her arguments sensible.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807055199
Publisher:
Beacon Press
Publication date:
01/02/2005
Sold by:
Penguin Random House Publisher Services
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
794 KB

Meet the Author

Anne C. Bailey is assistant professor of history at Spelman College. Born in Jamaica, she is the author of two historical novels. Bailey has spent time in and among various communities in Ghana, collecting numerous oral histories. She lives with her son, Mickias Joseph, in Atlanta, Georgia.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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