In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

5 African Expectations, Jamaican Realities Although enslaved Africans brought to Jamaica were placed into a society organized primarily along racial lines, the social and cultural dynamics of the enslaved were grounded in dynamics far more complex. Jamaican slave society comprised not only Africans, who were divided by ethnicity, but also creoles, who were divided by color. To further complicate the matter, the enslaved in Jamaica also included persons born in other parts of the Americas. For example, in 1781 (notably, several years before the Haitian Revolution), there was an advertisement in the Royal Gazette announcing the escape of John Baptist, who was a “creole of Hispaniola” who spoke “the French Language well.” In the same year, there was another advertisement placed in the hope of locating two Spanish-speaking runaways named Frank and Moriano. Other runaway advertisements make reference to Joe, who was “a Creole from Barbados”; Leven Morris, who was born in Virginia but purchased in New York; and Phurah, who was “Born in Trenton” but dressed “in the style of English servants.” Despite the effects of the American Revolution and the ways in which it might have “isolated” Jamaica, intra-American migration among blacks clearly continued.1 The world into which enslaved Africans were inserted, then, was a socially and culturally complex one. Once African men, women, and children brought to the island were sold off by merchants, their new owners had a clear understanding of the type of efforts that were required as they attempted to turn the enslaved into productive and efficient units of labor. How the recently arrived enslaved understood their predicament, however, was another matter. Although largely discredited in the scholarship, the reports of contemporary observers often suggest that African attitudes toward enslavement varied, depending on where in Africa they were from, and was determined by their cultural predisposition. Bryan Edwards, the eighteenth-century historian of the West Indies, maintained that Africans from the Gold Coast 90 · From Africa to Jamaica were more “bloody and cruel than [persons from] any nation that ever existed ” and that they brought “contempt of death” and “indifference about life” to the West Indies. He further reported, however, that if “they fell into good hands” they could gradually be resocialized to accept life under slavery in Jamaica. This is in contrast to the enslaved taken from the Slave Coast—in particular, from “Whidah” or “Fida” (or Ouidah, which is the French orthography). Known in the West Indies as “Papaws,” these Africans were perceived as “the most docile and best-disposed slaves.” The “Eboes,” in contrast, had a “timid and desponding temper.” As Edwards explains it, an act of punishment that would lead the “Kormantyn” of the Gold Coast to rebel and drive the “Ebo” of the Bight of Biafra to suicide was received by the Papaws with no opposition, as they believed it to be the “chastisement of legal authority” and for that reason would “submit patiently.”2 Historians have long seen past such contemporary stereotyping about Africans. Instead, they have looked to historical specificities in Africa to explain the behavior of captives on the other side of the Atlantic. Paul Lovejoy and David Trotman, in particular, have taken the analysis to another level. In their study, they argue that in order to see Africans as “wholly human,” historians must recognize that they were first and foremost individuals with “peculiar histories” that resulted in their enslavement. In other words, individual Africans crossed the Atlantic with their “own attitudes, ideas, beliefs and expectations,” and they used their previous experiences to interpret and make sense of their situation in Jamaica. Most Africans had been exposed to slavery in some way prior to their arrival in Jamaica. Those individuals who were transported to the island represented a cross section of Africans who played different roles in the arena of slavery. Among them were those who owned slaves, those who traded in slaves, those who were captured and enslaved, those who were born into African slavery, and those who sold themselves into slavery during times of economic hardship. Those persons who did not fall into any of these categories certainly would have known others who did. Slavery was interwoven into the social fabric of African life. As a social institution, it offended the sensibilities of few Africans. Of course, this in no way means that African men, women, and children embraced their enslavement. It does mean, however, that captives relied on their individual experiences with African slavery to interpret and make sense of...

pdf

Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.