Abstract

This article uses several wills written between 1893 and 1924 by ex-slaves living on Pemba Island (one of the Zanzibar Islands off the coast of East Africa) to explore the familial relationships among slaves and ex-slaves, as well as with their former owners. It argues that the construction of familial relationships is far more complex than blood and marital kinship ties alone. From former slave owners using their current slaves to claim relationships with deceased ex-slaves or bequests to non-kin friends by ex-slaves, the whole notion of how kinship should be defined was revisited through the probate courts in the early twentieth century. The historiography on emancipation in Africa generally focuses on the benefits that accrued to ex-slaves who maintained relationships with their former owners, however the wills suggest it economically behooved former owners, as much as former slaves to maintain links with one another. The probate records from Pemba indicate that few former slaves had blood or marital relatives thus many former slaves used the writing of wills to designate the people they treated as their family regardless of formal kinship ties. While the terminology of kinship is bound to blood, marital or adopted ties concepts of family are much broader. This article suggests that scholars should reconsider using the term "fictive" to describe kinship relationships among slaves and ex-slaves because it continues to "other" the choices of family made by people of African descent.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 916-930
Launched on MUSE
2013-06-11
Open Access
No
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