Assault Sorcery and Slavery: Indigenous and African Clandestine Knowledge and Practice in the Essequibo during the 18th Century

Friday, January 4, 2019: 1:30 PM
Spire Parlor (Palmer House Hilton)
Vikram Tamboli, University of London
This paper re-examines the Berbice Slave Rebellion of 1763 and British and Spanish sources on the “Carib” forces that were brought from the Essequibo, in modern day Guyana, to assist the Dutch in hunting escaped slave rebels on the Corentyne river border with modern day Suriname. Reframing the quintessential narrative of ethno-racial cooperation and loyalty between peoples of African descent and indigenous inhabitants of the Guyanas, the essay engages the narrative of conflict, betrayal, and violence that still structures Afro-Guyanese and Amerindian-Guyanese socio-cultural, economic, and political relationships. Building off the important work of Neil Whitehead and Marjoleine Kars, the paper uses archives of the Public Records Office and the London Missionary Society in London and Archivo de las Indias and the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Sevilla and Madrid to delve into a history of the circulation of secret knowledge and practice. The paper digs deeper into questions of assault sorcery and spirit possession, namely Kanaimà, which developed in tandem with the violence of enslavement, rebellion, and recapture (both African and Amerindian). It forms part of a larger book project on the history of “trafficking” in bodies and goods that traces a long history of conspiratorial and spiritual thought in the Guyanese-Venezuelan borderlands. Tracking this history of trafficking to a moment of imperial upheaval and slave rebellion, the project aims to extend the scholarship on the politics of rumor, racial thinking, and illicit trade in the Americas, Africa, and South Asia.
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