- Legacies of Slavery: Comparative Perspectives
The last decade has been marked by tremendous growth in the study of both historical and contemporary slavery. This edited collection makes a number of significant contributions to this expanding literature, bringing together scholars from different backgrounds and regional specializations. This is reflected in eleven chapters which cover an eclectic array of topics, from the historical dynamics surrounding slavery in Goa, the Banda Islands, and the British West Indies, to the way slavery has been represented in various narratives and discourses. In her introduction to the project, Maria Suzette Fernandes Dias suggests that the overarching purpose of the collection is to reconsider slavery as a historically ubiquitous institution, which "has generated and continues to engender legacies, be they historical, oral or visual, which need to be compared and discussed to facilitate dialogue between cultures and civilizations and to mitigate the wounds of the past which continue to scar our present."1 This expansive agenda has much to recommend it, but many of the chapters that follow lack a sense of common purpose.2
The collection is divided into two main sections. The first section, "Connecting Histories," begins with a valuable contribution from Patrick Manning, who offers an innovative survey of key trends within the historical literature on slavery from the 1930s onwards. The main focus of the chapter is the evolving relationship between intellectual inquiry and parallel developments within the world at large. Of particular importance here is the use of slavery as a metaphor, as "the subjugation of people into abject submission before their owners" has consistently served as a "compelling metaphor for all the social problems of inequality and oppression."3 In this line of argument, the slavery metaphor has not only been invoked to underscore political objections to various practices and institutions, but has also proved to be an essential catalyst for the academic analysis of connections between contemporary practices and historical slave systems. For Manning, this nexus has been chiefly expressed through two key themes: culture and labor.
Subsequent chapters in this section examine a number of settings that do not figure prominently in most histories of slavery. This begins with two chapters exploring different aspects of human bondage in Australia. One contribution comes from Peter Read, who catalogues many examples of the exploitation of Australian Aborigines by pastoralists and [End Page 216] government agents until the mid-twentieth century. This intriguing chapter raises a number of themes in rapid succession, as Read touches upon contentious questions regarding the colonial civilizing mission, the divide between "real" and "corrupted" Aborigines, and the viability of pastoral development in the absence of servile labor. A related contribution comes from Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, who takes up the relationship between slavery and convict transportation. This chapter builds upon a growing literature, with Australian experiences serving as a focal point for an historical overview of the main similarities, differences and associations between these two overlapping systems. This is followed by individual chapters devoted to the history of slavery in Goa and the evolution of unfree labor in the Banda Islands. Carmo D'Souza's analysis of Goa offers a rambling survey of the legal ordinances governing slavery between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are some interesting elements here, but this chapter reads more like a first draft than a finished product. Phillip Winn's analysis of the Banda Islands traces the development of the Perkenier system of nutmeg production, offering a comprehensive analysis of its historical dimensions and enduring legacies. The Perkenier system has been characterized as an exceptional example of a slave mode of production in Southeast Asia. Winn challenges this formulation, demonstrating that economic models do not get to the heart of complex social processes.
The second half of the collection falls under the rubric of "Centering Discourses: Identity, Image and Text." Of particular interest is the work of Sandra Carmignani, who explores debates over memory, heritage and identity in Mauritius. The main focal point here is the status of the mountain of Le Morne Brabant, which has come to be venerated as...