- Fugitive Modernities: Kisama and the Politics of Freedom by Jessica A. Krug
This book begins in Brazil in 1632, when a group of Portuguese captains traveled north of Rio de Janeiro in a region far away from any town or plantation. To their surprise, they encountered a “black” man, in the company of indigenous people, who stated that he was an emancipated slave originally from “Quissamã.” The captains named the region accordingly, and today it is still called Quissamã.
This vignette underscores a connection between various communities of fugitives, starting with Kisama in Angola and on to Limón in Grenada and Palmares in Brazil. Kisama, a region between the Atlantic Ocean and the Longa and Kwanza rivers in Angola, containing some 8,700 square miles (11), had already in the beginning of the sixteenth century acquired a reputation of being rebellious and difficult to conquer. The Portuguese made multiple attempts to subdue the region, dry and disease-ridden land having limited [End Page 138] strategic importance and few inhabitants, but controlling it was not among the Portuguese’s most pressing needs (Heintze 1972). Soon, it was hosting runaway slaves and other people attempting to avoid slave hunts, much to the annoyance of those involved in the trade.
The book’s first three chapters focus on Kisama in Angola, starting with the figure of Kafuxi Ambari, an important Kisama leader at the turn of the sixteenth century. The next chapters study fugitive politics and political legitimacy in the wider context and relations among gender roles, fighting, food production, and trade.
Kisama, according to the author, is not only a region, but also a meme (the link to Japan is not explicitly mentioned), functioning as a signifier of “a particularly belligerent, obdurate form of resistance to all outside authority or state power” (2). In chapters 4 and 5, the author takes us beyond the regional perspective and draws in fugitive modernities in Limón and Palmares. Chapter 6 zooms in on memory production in the nineteenth and twentieth century of the Kisama meme in Angola and Brazil. In reading chapters 4 and 5, I wondered about the choice of Limón and Palmares. Why weren’t other maroon communities discussed, or even the Quissamã region in Brazil, with which the book begins? The question remains, whether the meme approach does justice to contemporaries’ perception of Kisama as a location or region in geographical terms or an identity in “ethnic” or “national” terms. While the author’s stance on identity as a politics of semiotics, rather than an ascription of geographical concern, is appreciated, a meme suggests an actual process of passing on, by imitation even, of performance and discourse.
The book “is not a romance, nor is it a tragedy” (9). Still, it studies the history of Kisama from a particular stance, the viewpoint of “politics of freedom.” By taking the concept of freedom as its guiding principle, the book tends to romanticize and at times creates an all too facile opposition between heroes (fugitives) and villains (“the Portuguese”). Kisama “mounted effective resistance to European colonialism” (cover): it formed a “revolution” (190), an attempt to fulfill “these dreams of freedom” against state power and capital (194). This overall approach sharply contrasts with the contents of some of the chapters.
Krug states “it would be wrong to assume that Kisama’s opposition to participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade meant an ideological opposition to social inequality in general” (104), but how then does this statement relate to the “politics of freedom?” Even “Kisama’s opposition” and “objection to strategies of state” (104) can be questioned. Kisama did not function as a whole in its history; rather, some of Kisama’s political leaders stood in rivalry with other leaders there and in the wider region. These leaders were seeking to protect their constituencies against slave hunts and other threats, and they attempted to increase their own statecraft by opposing that of others. That is not necessarily an antistate position. Furthermore, [End Page 139...