MultiSession Looking for the Tracks: The Quest for African Sources on Slavery and the Slave Trade, Part 2: Looking for the Tracks: The Quest for African Sources on Slavery and the Slave Trade

AHA Session 255
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Clark Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Martin Klein, University of Toronto
Tchimmou's Return: Memories of Status and Status of Memories
Benedetta Rossi, University of Liverpool
In Remembrance of Slavery: Tchamba Vodun
Dana Rush, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Yesterday's Slaves: Democracy and Ethnicity in Benin
Eric Komlavi Hahonou, Roskilde University
The Audience

Session Abstract

The vast majority of the sources for the history of slavery within Africa and the export trade in slaves have come from European archives or from European observers, particularly slave traders, missionaries and colonial administrators. Some of the most important research has been based on the collection of statistical data on the export trade culled from archives in Europe and the Americas. This has provided valuable information about the numbers shipped, the sex distribution, age distribution, ethnicity, shipboard revolts, where the slave came from and where they went. It does not, however, tell us everything we want to know. The papers presented here are the result of an effort to find and make known African sources, which can contribute to a fuller understanding of how Africans experienced the slave trade. We have been particularly interested in slave voices. Most of those presenting have been part of a project organized by Sandra Greene, Carolyn Brown, Alice Bellagamba and Martin Klein. We have run conferences in Bellagio, Toronto and Buea in Cameroon. Over 80 scholars participated in these conferences.  Their research, a sample of which will be presented in these two panels has come from different sources. They have used life histories collected by missionaries and oral investigations, some with descendants of slaves and masters, some with persons still involved in forms of servitude.  Court cases involving slave witnesses have been particularly fruitful, but there are other legal sources that have been plumbed, for example, wills. Some researchers have found slave voices in colonial archives, for example in petitions or when there were unwanted movements of former slave populations. Other papers look at religious systems. Religious beliefs and practices have been particularly valuable in exploring not only the fears engendered by slave trading, but the ways in which people remember the slave trade. Others have found valuable information on values and memories in proverbs, songs and folklore, which are particularly valuable in helping us understand value systems and buried memories. We are also interested in the heritage of slavery, whether that is simply the stigma of servile origin or the perpetuation of some form of servitude. One of the presentations will be a short film, in which there are interviews with people of slave origin in any area where the development of democracy has enabled the overturning of social hierarchies which persisted through the colonial period. Almost all of the presentations are original, though some follow up on or generalize more broadly on research which was presented at earlier conferences.