Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Amistad Revolt

The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 216
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Amistad Revolt
    Book Description:

    From journalism and lectures to drama, visual art, and the Spielberg film, this study ranges across the varied cultural reactions--in America and Sierra Leone--engendered by the 1839 Amistad slave ship revolt. Iyunolu Folayan Osagie is a native of Sierra Leone, from where the Amistad's cargo of slaves originated. She digs deeply into the Amistad story to show the historical and contemporary relevance of the incident and its subsequent trials. At the same time, she shows how the incident has contributed to the construction of national and cultural identity both in Africa and the African diasporo in America--though in intriguingly different ways. This pioneering work of comparative African and American cultural criticism shows how creative arts have both confirmed and fostered the significance of the Amistad revolt in contemporary racial discourse and in the collective memories of both countries.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-2725-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    The many stories surrounding the Amistad revolt and its aftermath are compelling arguments in the nineteenth-century arena of identity politics and in twentieth-century discourse on the formation of political consciousness. The revolt and the subsequent trial cases in the United States are relevant to people living in both the United States and Sierra Leone, even to this day. Analysis of the social and political factors that precipitated the debate on slavery and the question of human rights, first in the United States and more recently in Sierra Leone, shows that the Amistad revolt of 1839 initiated key dialogues about race,...


    • CHAPTER ONE The Amistad Story in the American Context
      (pp. 3-23)

      By the nineteenth century, when the Amistad¹ tragedy unfolded, the traumatic realities of pillage, death, and enslavement were lived experiences in most of Africa. To mention one particular instance, many Africans from around the Vai-Mende country were taken captive to Dombokoro, or Lombokoro or Lomboko,² and sold to Laigo and Luiz, two notorious Spanish slave dealers.³ Dombokoro was on the western coast in the Gallinas country, what today is the border area between Sierra Leone and Liberia. In Lomboko, Spanish and Portuguese slave dealers built several forts where captured Africans were imprisoned for months at a time, as circumstances demanded,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Slave Revolts and the Production of Identity
      (pp. 24-52)

      Confusion about how we view the Amistad story can in part be resolved by examining it in the context of its Sierra Leone experience. Just as important, however, are the slave revolt contexts of the Americas from which the Amistad emerged in the first place. The historical specificity of slavery in the Western Hemisphere produced its own framework of intergroup relationships. Recent studies in social psychology speak to the centrality of interpersonal relations in the formation of the individual’s self-concept. Such studies suggest that group identity is fundamental to the construction of self-identity.¹ Thus, “interdependent or relational self-concept is defined...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER THREE The Amistad Returnees and the Mende Mission
      (pp. 53-68)

      The contact between Europe and Africa, established through peaceful patterns of trade from West Africa to North Africa to the Mediterranean and European worlds, dated back to at least the eighth century. These patterns dramatically changed around the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when explorers, seeking a trade route to India, made direct contact with Africans on the west coast of Africa. Needing watering places en route to the East, the Europeans developed ties with the indigenous coastal peoples, ties which seemed limited to peaceful transactions of legitimate trade. European goods, such as textiles, beads, and durable metal wares, were exchanged...


    • CHAPTER FOUR Sculpting History: African American Burdens of Memory
      (pp. 71-97)

      Since the 1980s, an increasing number of scholars and performance artists have been using a variety of media to make the story of the Amistad a living memory. Through pamphlets, public lectures, plastic arts, the fine arts, fiction, drama, poetry, film, and even a floating museum (a model of La Amistad at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut), the Amistad is fast becoming a greater presence in public memory.¹

      In his foreword to Black Mutiny, William Owens captures the reasons why the Amistad story might have meaning in today’s world:

      No institution in America has its origins in an event of such...

    • CHAPTER FIVE National Identity: The Dramatic Return of Memory in Sierra Leone
      (pp. 98-118)

      The literature on collective memory suggests that a society’s selection and ascription of significance to a historical event is not an arbitrary process.¹ In public discourse, memory is constructed and deployed to achieve a number of strategic ends. How a particular society understands its past is significant to how that society constructs its present values. The past is “a social construction shaped by the concerns and needs of the present.”² In other words, because the past helps us interpret our present-day reality, we are careful to select material that will in fact serve the purpose of interpreting the present. Past...

    • CHAPTER SIX Hollywood Images, African Memories: Spielberg’s Amistad and Sierra Leone Culture and Politics
      (pp. 119-135)

      The American mainstream motion picture industry has impacted society politically, economically, and socially. As a powerful social institution, Hollywood’s cultural elite influences society through its creation of cultural symbols and its authoritative control of the dissemination of those symbols. From its beginnings in the 1900s through the 1960s, the movie colony, as Leo Rosten labeled Hollywood in his 1941 publication, was not only ruthlessly capitalistic but also ideologically conservative.¹ Hollywood film producers shared the social values of the dominant society. Their representations of Africans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other non-European groups generally reflected their uncritical acceptance of dominant ideological...

  7. Afterword
    (pp. 136-138)

    Attempts by scholars, activists, and artists to represent the contested, elided, and often unacknowledged historical past not only expose the deeply submerged problem of race relations between Africa and the West, but also bring us closer to transcending our cultural, social, and political differences. In Africa, the experiment of slavery throughout the nineteenth century and the systematic colonization of Africans by Europeans into the twentieth century plunged the continent into structural underdevelopment. Recently, President Bill Clinton’s task force on race relations and his apologies to the people of Africa for American participation in the slave trade are attempts, at the...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 139-160)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 161-174)
  10. Index
    (pp. 175-180)