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Reviewed by:
  • Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies
  • Rachel Dowty
Fighting the Slave Trade: West African Strategies. Edited by Sylviane A. Diouf. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003. 242 pp. $59.95 (cloth); $26.95 (paper).

This book should be required reading for anyone interested in the West Africans' fight against enslavement. However, students and laypersons need some knowledge of West African geography, or some very good maps. Readers new to the field can find good introductory material toward the end of the book, and beginners should consider reading the essays in the order they are presented in this review. Experts in studies of the African slave trade may find the organization best as it is presented in the book's three sections on defensive, protective, and offensive resistance strategies. This said, the collected papers cover extremely important aspects of slave resistance that, until now, have not been well addressed in the literature.

Joseph Inikori's paper (chapter 11, "The Struggle against the Atlantic Slave Tade: The Role of the State") provides a good introductory overview of slavery in general. He makes the point that slavery is not just a racially driven problem. Europeans enslaved their own people long before Africa became the main geographic source for slaves. He reviews economic ebbs and flows that influenced the demand for slaves on an international scale. Ismail Rashid's essay (chapter 9, "'A Devotion to the Idea of Liberty at Any Price:' Rebellion and Antislavery in the Upper Guinea Coast in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries") gives a good introduction to the historical context of resistance. This paper may have been better placed after Inikori's piece, because it starts by explaining why economic (among other) ideas can perpetuate Western misconceptions and exaggerations of "Africans' complicity" (p. 132) with slavery. This essay usefully places slave violence into a general overview of the social climate in which it occurred. Editor Sylviane Diouf makes an excellent point that resistance strategies used by slaves are much more difficult to trace than economic/commercial transactions. David Richardson's essay (chapter 12, "Shipboard Revolts, African Authority, and the Transatlantic Slave Trade") addresses how the high value placed on kinship ties among enslaved Africans encouraged revolts aboard slave ships. He raises important questions about how the presence of women apparently increased the likelihood of shipboard revolts, although the reasons for this are unclear.

Paul Lovejoy and David Richardson's essay (chapter 7, "Anglo-Efik Relations and Protection against Illegal Enslavement at Old Calabar, 1740–1807") mingles economic and political considerations to explore [End Page 379] the complexities of the massacre of 1767 and how it shaped subsequent slave trading in and from Old Calabar. A key point in this paper is how conflicts internal to Old Calabar (e.g., between Atakpa and Obutong) obliterated the last vestiges of community protective mechanisms against enslavement. John Oriji's paper (chapter 8, "Igboland, Slavery, and the Drums of War and Heroism") continues a community perspective by examining oral traditions that describe important individuals and their roles in various communities. Walter Hawthorne's essay (chapter 10, "Strategies of the Decentralized: Defending Communities from Slave Raiders in Coastal Guinea-Bissau, 1450–1815") emphasizes that most people were not helpless victims and how local community decisions had a large impact on organizing resistance. He also critiques the idea that guns were all-important in gun-slave trade cycles, emphasizing that local communities were more concerned with getting iron to construct their own weapons than with obtaining guns.

Adama Gueye's essay (chapter 4, "The Impact of the Slave Trade on Cayor and Baol: Mutations in Habitat and Land Occupancy") explores how certain land configurations could make communities especially vulnerable. This led to defensive relocations that materialized community social stratifications through architectural designs. Dennis Cordell's paper (chapter 3, "The Myth of Inevitability and Invincibility: Resistance to Slavers and the Slave Trade in Central Africa, 1850–1910") has awe-inspiring descriptions of how people used wooded savannas, rocky outcroppings on plains, tunnels, and caverns to protect themselves from slave raiders' tactics. He also describes their calculated return to hunting and gathering and a shift to manioc cultivation, which helped disguise the community's location. Thierno...


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