Slavery in West Africa and the Caribbean Essay
Since the slaves did not found it, they could not be eligible. Even running for political office, which is theoretically possible, is a bit off-limits in his mind. W inter in Senegal does not bring snow or rain; it brings sand. The dry winds of the Harmattan blow the Sahara desert across West Africa and then across the Atlantic in a steady, gusting stream from December to March.
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It was February this year, in the middle of the Harmattan, when we were turning circles in the sand, looking for a village called Ndiankha Youssoupha in Sine-Saloum. They would indicate a direction, always saying that it was just a few kilometres away. But after nearly an hour we were still looking for it. The horizon unfolded in stretches of gold, brown and dusty green as the path took us through a sandy forest of stumpy baobab trees and towering palms whose leaves whispered secrets in the breeze. We continued past a glimpse of water, a reminder that we were not that far from the coastal mangrove swamps that define the region.
After that, there was a succession of harvested fields, their leftover stalks making the landscape feel half-finished, almost empty but full of things that had been left behind. Eventually, we found Ndiankha Youssoupha, a village like all the others — cement-block houses arranged in compounds, a small mosque, the requisite donkeys, sheep and goats, and, at its centre, a gloriously tall, old tree.
At a house near that tree, I was ushered through a small courtyard into two rooms covered in photos of the deceased religious leader Baye Ibrahima Niass. There I met Lamine Diankha, the village chief, an elderly man in a striped tunic.
I had come to Ndiankha Youssoupha because its name appeared on a long list of villages that had possibly been founded by former slaves. I had been advised by some researchers and notable locals not to confront the subject of slavery directly. Instead, I should skirt around the issue before coming at it from the side. I should start by asking about the village history generally. Here, the villages often carry the names of their founders.
What does the oldest person, the keeper of history, know about the founder? What was their relationship with the people in their old village?
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I should try to recognise the subtext. Most of all, I should prepare myself for failure. So here in Ndiankha Youssoupha, I followed the protocol and started with lots of questions about the founder, one Ndap Diankha. I asked Lamine Diankha why Ndap left his village, and what were his biggest challenges in leaving. People who had been enslaved in a particular village might leave and form their own villages to escape the influence of their former masters.
There were other village chiefs after him. Then he told me a story. During the First World War, the French came looking for people to take up their fight and assembled nearly , West African soldiers. But Ndap decided not to send his own sons to war. A light bulb clicked in my head. He said that Youssoupha, the son of the slave Ali, was his father and the second chief of the village.
How could Youssoupha have gone from slave to chief? Lamine Diankha explained that he had come home from the war with a new consciousness. He and his brothers and cousins knew then what they might not have known before — that slavery was over and had been for years. You have two feet and I have two feet. We are the same. I asked if Lamine Diankha knew where his family came from originally — anything more about who they were before they were Diankhas. He explained that his father Ali had been kidnapped as a small child; they think he was Diola because that was the language he spoke.
Ndap was all he knew. T he US story of slavery seems to colonise all the other slavery stories. But slavery in Africa existed both before and after it did in the US. It is impossible to say when exactly slavery began in Africa, or for that matter, in any of the ancient societies where men often controlled the bodies and labour of other men — from ancient Babylon to the Tang Dynasty in China to the Roman and Aztec Empires.
In West Africa, the sale of slaves across the Sahara was well-established by as early as the ninth century. Along the Senegal River, in the Kingdom of Tekrur, the early penetration of Islam and trade with the Maghreb guaranteed a steady commerce in gold and slaves from the south, according to the 12th-century Moroccan geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi, a commerce that continued for centuries.
In the s, the Portuguese learned to master the tempestuous currents of the Atlantic Ocean and piloted their caravels south, looking to cut the North African middlemen out of the trade in gold, ivory and spices.
They found an additional lucrative trade, too — the transport of slaves — first to Europe and then across the Atlantic to the New World. Other Europeans would soon follow their lead in a commercial shift that would change the world. But not all slaves were destined for export across the Atlantic or the Sahara.
Many stayed in Africa. Some were sold and resold. Others were sold once and integrated into new societies and cultures. The French abolished slavery in their colonies in , yet for many years that edict did not apply to most of what would become West Africa, but only to a few specific places that had long been held by the French. An additional decree abolishing slavery that would apply to all of French West Africa was passed in But enforcement was uneven at best, as we can see from the story of Ndianka Youssoupha.
Some people did not claim their freedom, a freedom that already belonged to them, until decades after the abolition. At the turn of the s, slaves made up a third of the population of the Sine-Saloum, according to estimates by Klein.cfcdornelles.com.br/includes/vte/taken-in-the-dark-3-his-return.php
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He noted that after abolition in , many slaves left, moving to other regions, joining the French military or trying to return to their native lands, some as far away as modern-day Mali, Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone. Going home was the riskiest endeavour. And even if they were brave enough to do that, there were still a lot of unknowns. But many more former slaves remained in the places where they had been enslaved.
Rodet said many families did not transmit their history to their children, preferring instead to forget. Omar Ba is a folk historian from Sine-Saloum, but he cannot say when many of his stories, maybe even most of them, happened. Was it 50 years ago? A hundred years? Five hundred? His history of slavery is full of tales that have been passed down from his elders. He told me of a village that held slave markets, even after the French controlled the region, which might place the story in the second half of the 19th century.
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Omar Ba said that during this period, slave markets were illegal so villagers kept their trees overgrown to hide their business. Omar Ba, who is almost 60 years old, said that his grandfather had a neighbour, a cow herder, who traded one of his prized cows for a young boy in that village. But the story that stays with me is the one Omar Ba swears he saw with his own eyes.
There was a man of slave descent, who left the village where his former masters lived and started another. In his new village, he became prosperous and wealthy; he had several wives and lots of children. The man decided he would go to his former master to buy his freedom.