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  • The Slave's Rebellion: Fiction, History, Orature
  • Oyekan Owomoyela
The Slave's Rebellion: Fiction, History, Orature By Adélékè AdéèkóBloomington: Indiana UP, 2005. ix + 203 pp. ISBN 0-253-34596-0 paper.

Narratives of slave revolts, Adélékè Adéèkó's discussion demonstrates, express their authors' dissatisfaction with inhumane reality and their preferred strategies for amelioration. Focusing primarily on the Americas, it analyzes works spanning [End Page 238] the spectrum from antebellum North America (Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave) to the Cuban revolution (Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of This World). The modes they adopt (or inaugurate) are equally varied, ranging from the realist fictional of the antebellum writers to Carpentier's magical realism. In addition to "refashioning the present" they also aim at "preserving the past and sketching the trajectory [. . .] that the future developments should follow" (174). Ex-slave Madison Washington's career vindicates the writers' strategy: the account of Singbe (alias Cinque) Pieh's rebellion on the Amistad later inspires Washington, when he finds himself again captive on a slave ship, to lead an insurrection that succeeds in steering the vessel to a free port.

Although convinced that the particularizing operations of "nationalist and ethnocentric will" (12) preclude any uniformity of historical and social processes across the black world, Adéèkó nonetheless seeks African examples to fit into his scheme. Finding none, he attributes the silence on the subject in "African creative cultures" to "a general anxiety of African intellectuals about the possible culpability of Africans in the Atlantic trade" (123). In practically the same breath, though, he cites the absence of records to bolster his skepticism about suggestions that Africans did resist the slavers: "something is amiss," he quips, "in the fact that popular African oratures do not preserve discursive records of these struggles against slavery [. . .] on the continent" (123).

More problematic, however, is his use of his chosen texts, the lineage oríkì (praise poetry) of Olúfè and Oníkòyí, two renowned warriors, and Akínwùmí Ìsòlá's fiction Efúnsetán Aníwúrà. The title of the chapter on the latter is revealing: "Prying Rebellious Subaltern Consciousness Out of the Clenched Jaws of Oral Tradition." In the discussion of the texts, "prying" means subordinating fact to speculation and invention: "The African section of the book proceeds on the premise that domestic African slaves would have resisted their captivity" (4); "the poetics and politics of exclusion [. . .] might be responsible for the effacement of slavery in what have become African classical traditions" (4); Ifè and Ìkòyí are "two groups that would have played significant roles in slavery" (4); and Olúfè and Oníkòyí "were in all likelihood deeply involved in domestic slavery" (127; emphases added in all cases).

The author's antinativist distaste for the Yoruba societies he discusses is evident—every day, in Olúfè's realm, "priests show up in pristine white outfits [. . .] and clean-shaven heads [. . .] to kill slaves [. . .] and offer their innards to the Gods"; and "the slave and the chicken [. . .] are of the same order" as sacrificial objects (128); Oníkòyí's career, for its part, is one of "brigandage," "war-mongering," "looting, slave raiding, [and] stealing"(129). The smear on what we see of the Yoruba past, however, also devalues the quite interesting exegesis of narratives of American slave rebellions.

Oyekan Owomoyela
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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