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86 CLA JOURNAL Migration Themes and Transnational Identities in Mohammed Ben-Abdallah’s The Slaves, Haile Gerima’s Sankofa, and Rachid Bouchareb’s Little Senegal Helena Woodard Since at least the 1980s, high-profile West African slave forts, also known as dungeons, have attracted visitors in the international community for the forts’ role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Ghana’s Elmina and Cape Coast Castles, along with Senegal’s House of Slaves at Gorée Island, originally functioned as holding cells or prisons for slave captives awaiting sell to European traders before being transported across the Atlantic in the Middle Passage. In Trade Castles and Forts of West Africa,A.W. Lawrence writes,“Nowhere else have small and transitory communities of traders so changed the life of the alien peoples who surrounded them and indirectly of a vast region beyond” (29). Renovated and designated as world heritage sites by UNESCO to mark its historical role in the slavery past, the slave fort has also appealed to certain writers who--through tourism as prism--transformed it from mass cultural artifact to a geo-political, public memory space. Though I write about the slave fort in the context of Atlantic Slavery in my book, Slave Sites on Display: Reflections of Slavery Through Contemporary “Flash” Moments, I am primarily interested, here, in the symbolic slave fort’s mediative function in select contemporary literature between African “locals” and disproportionately slave-descendant African Americans who travel to those sites.In this article,I have chosen to focus on three works that expose complexities in that relationship through partial or full settings that begin at a slave fort in Africa before evolving, diachronically, through a failed Pan-Africanist motif (or the notion of an African diaspora unification) to immersion in debate about tourism, responsibility for the slavery past, and relations between Africans and diaspora slave descendants. By appropriating that motif in this article, I regard the slave fort’s function as a potent symbol for Atlantic slavery through complications regarding departure and return for African diaspora slave descendants who visit slave forts as tourists, and their relationship with African locals that they encounter. Haile Gerima’s classic film, Sankofa (1993), and Rachid Bouchareb’s independent film, Little Senegal (2000), for example, employ migrations themes and transnational identities through African and slave-descendant African American protagonists, but their relationships demonstrate deep fissures largely attributed to the Atlantic Slave Trade. Opening scenes in Sankofa and Little Senegal foreground the slave fort--or what Playwright Mohammed Ben-Abdallah refers to in The Slaves as the “stone CLA JOURNAL 87 Migration Themes and Transnational Identities in The Slaves, Sankofa, and Little Senegal monster” by the sea--where an African griot and slave-descendant African Americans briefly converge and communicate a need to mend their strained relationships. Both films intersect with Ben-Abdallah’s The Slaves through the dungeon as a geo-political, public memory space. The play formalizes the dungeon as a foundational setting for Atlantic slavery, a precursor to the Middle Passage journey, and a foreshadowing of tensions between Africans and slave-descendant African Americans in contemporary society. I therefore place Sankofa and Little Senegal in conversation with The Slaves as these works dramatize the fort or dungeon as a pivotal, originary site that communicates a need for slave-descendant African Americans in the U.S. to connect with their African ancestry and the slave past in an effort to heal its lingering wounds. But while Ben-Abdallah allegorizes Atlantic Slavery within the confines of that space for captive Africans, Gerima and Bouchareb reinscribe its lineage in a complex meditation on slavery and race across the Atlantic through migrations themes and transnational identities for Africans and slave-descendant African Americans in contemporary society. Appropriating the Dungeon as Public Memory Space in The Slaves In anAuthor’s note about The Slaves Revisited,in the publication,titled The Fall of Kumbi and Other Plays, Mohammed Ben-Abdallah stated that his first objective for the revised script was“to provide a confrontation, a dialogue as it were, between the pain and angst of Africa at large, and the Big, White, Stone Monster by the sea . . . the slave fort” (iii, 25 March 2011...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2766-0265
Print ISSN
0007-8549
Pages
pp. 86-102
Launched on MUSE
2021-01-01
Open Access
No
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