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Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas

Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas
    Book Description:

    Enslaved peoples were brought to the Americas from many places in Africa, but a large majority came from relatively few ethnic groups. Drawing on a wide range of materials in four languages as well as on her lifetime study of slave groups in the New World, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall explores the persistence of African ethnic identities among the enslaved over four hundred years of the Atlantic slave trade.Hall traces the linguistic, economic, and cultural ties shared by large numbers of enslaved Africans, showing that despite the fragmentation of the diaspora many ethnic groups retained enough cohesion to communicate and to transmit elements of their shared culture. Hall concludes that recognition of the survival and persistence of African ethnic identities can fundamentally reshape how people think about the emergence of identities among enslaved Africans and their descendants in the Americas, about the ways shared identity gave rise to resistance movements, and about the elements of common African ethnic traditions that influenced regional creole cultures throughout the Americas.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0518-0
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xii)
  3. PREFACE: Truth and Reconciliation
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Gold, God, Race, and Slaves
    (pp. 1-21)

    Slavery in the Americas was justified by racist ideology. Many scholars as well as the wider public believe that black Africans were enslaved because they were viewed by whites as inferiors. But the identification of race with slavery is largely a projection backward in time of beliefs and ideologies that intensified during the four centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, the direct European occupation and colonization of Africa during the late nineteenth century and into the second half of the twentieth, and the brutal exploitation of Africa’s labor and natural resources ever since.

    Before the Atlantic slave trade began, racism...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Making Invisible Africans Visible: Coasts, Ports, Regions, and Ethnicities
    (pp. 22-54)

    Studies of the African diaspora in the Americas began mainly during the early twentieth century among anthropologists: most notably Nina Rodriguez in Brazil and Fernando Ortiz in Cuba, and then a generation later by Frances and Melville Herskovits in the United States. Fieldwork was a primary methodology. They often studied communities of African descent in the Americas, linking them with particular regions or ethnicities in Africa by seeking out shared cultural traits. Their work is very useful, informative, and fascinating, and their methodologies are more sophisticated than some recent critics have been willing to acknowledge. Nevertheless, their approach poses problems...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The Clustering of African Ethnicities in the Americas
    (pp. 55-79)

    Despite the staggering number of Africans introduced into the Americas during the Atlantic slave trade and their crucial role in creating its wealth and forming its cultures, their origins in Africa remain obscure. There is still a widespread belief among scholars as well as the general public that Africans dragged to various places in the Americas were fractionalized and diverse, culturally and linguistically. Therefore, few of the newly arrived Africans could communicate with each other, and there was little or no basis for transmission of elements of the cultures of specific African regions and ethnicities to specific places in the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Greater Senegambia/Upper Guinea
    (pp. 80-100)

    This chapter challenges some of the prevailing wisdom among historians who minimize the demographic and cultural contribution of peoples from Greater Senegambia to many important regions in the Americas. During the first 200 years of the Atlantic slave trade, Guinea meant what Boubacar Barry defines as Greater Senegambia: the region between the Senegal and the Sierra Leone rivers. In Arabic, ‘‘Guinea’’ meant ‘‘Land of the Blacks.’’ It referred to the Senegal/Sierra Leone regions alone. In early Portuguese and Spanish writings, ‘‘Guinea’’ meant Upper Guinea. Early Portuguese documents and chronicles called the Gold Coast, the Slave Coast, and the Bights of...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Lower Guinea : Ivory Coast, Gold Coast, Slave Coast/Bight of Benin
    (pp. 101-125)

    In Lower Guinea, the European maritime traders named African coasts for the major products they purchased there. Liberia was called the Pepper Coast and later the Grain Coast. Coasts farther east were named the Ivory Coast, the Gold Coast, and the Slave Coast. They should be looked at internally and should not be treated as entirely separate regions based on what Europeans purchased there. A. A. Boahen includes the Ivory Coast with Lower Guinea.¹

    In dealing with African ethnicities, it is probably best to link the Mande and West Atlantic language group speakers with Greater Senegambia/Upper Guinea and the Kwa...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Lower Guinea: The Bight of Biafra
    (pp. 126-143)

    The Bight of Biafra is discussed here separately fromthe Ivory Coast, the Gold Coast, and the Slave Coast/Bight of Benin, the other regions also commonly considered part of Lower Guinea. Its geography, economy, and politics as well as the patterns of its transatlantic slave trade were distinct. The Bight of Biafra is located in the Niger delta and the Cross River valley. This region is now southeastern Nigeria. Extensive mangrove swamps made access by ocean-going vessels very difficult. Europeans did not get access to the interior until the mid-nineteenth century. Slaves were brought down to the coast by boats operating...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Bantulands: West Central Africa and Mozambique
    (pp. 144-164)

    The Atlantic slave trade in West Central Africa began very early and lasted very late. It has been estimated that between 40 and 45 percent of enslaved Africans brought to the Americas by the transatlantic slave trade were Bantu language group speakers from West Central Africa.¹

    The west coast of Africa juts far out into the Atlantic Ocean and follows an easterly course through the Niger delta. It then turns sharply south near the equator and becomes a much narrower region called Central Africa. Bantu language group speakers have lived in this region for thousands of years. In this chapter,...

  12. CONCLUSION: Implications for Culture Formation in the Americas
    (pp. 165-172)

    This book is only the beginning of the long, complex, challenging, but important task of restoring the severed links between Africa and the Americas. In order to understand the roots of cultures anywhere in the Americas, we must explore the pattern of introduction of Africans over time and place. It will, one hopes, lay the basis for a better-informed discussion of African cultural influences in various regions in the Americas. We can no longer be satisfied with simplistic, romanticized ideas about the identities of the African ancestors of African Americans. They were very unlikely to be speakers of Swahili. Nor...

  13. APPENDIX: Prices of Slaves by Ethnicity and Gender in Louisiana, 1719–1820
    (pp. 173-180)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 181-196)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-212)
  16. Index
    (pp. 213-225)