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West African Narratives of Slavery

Texts from Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Ghana

Sandra E. Greene

Publication Year: 2011

Slavery in Africa existed for hundreds of years before it was abolished in the late 19th century. Yet, we know little about how enslaved individuals, especially those who never left Africa, talked about their experiences. Collecting never before published or translated narratives of Africans from southeastern Ghana, Sandra E. Greene explores how these writings reveal the thoughts, emotions, and memories of those who experienced slavery and the slave trade. Greene considers how local norms and the circumstances behind the recording of the narratives influenced their content and impact. This unprecedented study affords unique insights into how ordinary West Africans understood and talked about their lives during a time of change and upheaval.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. i-vi


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p. vii-vii


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pp. ix-x

A Note on the Translations

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pp. xi-xiv

A Note on Ewe Orthography

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p. xv-xv

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pp. 1-17

After more than forty years of sustained research, historians have learned a great deal about the trade in human beings that existed in West Africa between c. 1500 to c. 1870, the era of the Atlantic slave trade. We know that more than twelve and half million individuals were sold for export to the Americas and that countless more were enslaved within West Africa itself. We know where ...

Part 1. Aaron Kuku:The Life History of a Former Slave

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1. Enslavement Remembered

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pp. 21-46

In 1929, the Ewe Evangelical Church minister Samuel Quist recorded the life history of Aaron Kuku, an evangelist who had been enslaved by the Asante more than fifty years earlier, in 1870.1 Captured as a child, Kuku related to Quist memories of his enslavement, his relocation to Asante, where he had two dif-ferent masters, and his eventual escape and return to his hometown of Petewu ...

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2. The Life History of Aaron Kuku

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pp. 47-74

Aaron Kuku and his amanuensis, the Reverend Samuel Quist, offered a num-ber of dates and elapsed time periods as a way to structure Kuku's life history according to Western norms. They gave the year 1860 as his likely birth date. They calculated that he spent about two years as a slave in Asante, that it took twenty-three months for him and his father to find their way home to Eweland, ...

Part 2. The Biographies of Lydia Yawo and Yosef Famfantor

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3. To Stay or Go: Exploring the Decisions of the Formerly Enslaved

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pp. 77-102

Individuals enslaved in Africa responded to their plight in myriad ways. Some, like Kuku and his father, escaped when the opportunity presented itself. Of those who fled, many attempted to return home; others joined maroon com-munities or sought asylum, while still others offered their services to rival po-litical communities. Escape was difficult, however. Revolt was even less com-...

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4. Come Over and Help Us! The Life Journey of Lydia Yawo, a Freed Slave: Preface and Text

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pp. 103-120

As a citizen of Taviefe, Lydia Adzoba's life was significantly affected by both the past and more contemporary decisions made by the political and military lead-ers of her hometown. Taviefe was founded sometime in the eighteenth century. But as Taviefe elders explained in 1915 about their own history, "We found many nations had come before us and settled in this land. . . . No one would ...

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5. Yosef Famfantor: Preface and Text

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pp. 121-135

Because Famfantor's association with the Bremen Mission, and because the war in which Famfantor was captured and enslaved was of such concern to a number of Europeans (who felt their own evangelical and business interest threatened), we can date many of the events described in the narrative by using 1862 An earthquake is felt in Famfantor's home village of Wusuta....

Part 3. Paul Sands’s Diary: Living with the Past/Constructing the Present and the Future

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6. Open Secrets and Sequestered Stories

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pp. 139-157

African family histories that openly and fully acknowledge the slave origins of specific individuals are notoriously difficult to obtain. Why this is the case throughout much of West Africa has been discussed perhaps most thoroughly by the anthropologist Bayo Holsey.1 In her study of memories of slavery in Ghana, she indicates that even at the turn of the twenty-first century, the his-...

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7. The Diary of Paul Sands: Preface and Text

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pp. 158-183

Paul Sands's diary is a multivolume work that contains many details about the major and minor events affecting his own life and his home district of Anlo. Instead of reproducing the diary in its entirety, however, I have opted to pres-ent a number of extracts. The two sections presented here, the family histories and the dated entries, reflect the essential character of the diary, but they have ...

Part 4. A Kidnapping at Atorkor: The Making of a Community Memory

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8. Our Citizens, Our Kin Enslaved

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pp. 187-212

Life histories, biographies, and diaries, like the ones analyzed in the previous chapters, provide unprecedented insights into how individual men and women and their descendants in late nineteenth-century West Africa remembered the experience of enslavement and talked about its impact on their lives. Such de-tailed written accounts, however, are rare. In fact, we have access to these par-...

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9. Oral Traditions about Individuals Enslaved: Preface and Texts

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pp. 213-221

The oral histories and traditions presented here were recorded at different times by different individuals. The earliest account was documented by the Bremen missionary Carl Spiess in 1907. Because he collected it so close to the time of the Atorkor kidnapping, it can be considered an oral history since the elders with whom Spiess spoke probably had direct knowledge of the event. They were...

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pp. 222-226

African narratives of slavery are rare. The continuing stigma associated with slave status, the desire on the part of the formerly enslaved and their descendants to focus not on the past but on the opportunities of the postemancipation present encouraged most to remain silent about a history that could be used by others to humiliate them. Silence was not universal, however. A few chose to ...


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pp. 227-261


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pp. 263-275


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pp. 277-280

E-ISBN-13: 9780253005052
E-ISBN-10: 0253005051
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253356079

Page Count: 300
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus., 4 maps
Publication Year: 2011