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Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana

The Tabom, Slavery, Dissonance of Memory, Identity, and Locating Home

Kwame Essien

Publication Year: 2016

Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana is a fresh approach, challenging both pre-existing and established notions of the African Diaspora by engaging new regions, conceptualizations, and articulations that move the field forward. This book examines the untold story of freed slaves from Brazil who thrived socially, culturally, and economically despite the challenges they encountered after they settled in Ghana. Kwame Essien goes beyond the one-dimensional approach that only focuses on British abolitionists’ funding of freed slaves’ resettlements in Africa. The new interpretation of reverse migrations examines the paradox of freedom in discussing how emancipated Brazilian-Africans came under threat from British colonial officials who introduced stringent land ordinances that deprived the freed Brazilian- Africans from owning land, particularly “Brazilian land.” Essien considers anew contention between the returnees and other entities that were simultaneously vying for control over social, political, commercial, and religious spaces in Accra and tackles the fluidity of memory and how it continues to shape Ghana’s history. The ongoing search for lost connections with the support of the Brazilian government—inspiring multiple generations of Tabom (offspring of the returnees) to travel across the Atlantic and back, especially in the last decade—illustrates the unending nature of the transatlantic diaspora journey and its impacts.
 

Published by: Michigan State University Press

Series: Ruth Simms Hamilton African Diaspora

Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xvi

My motivation for researching and writing about the life histories of ex-slaves and their descendants in Ghana came from my mother and grandmother, who shared stories about my great-great-uncle, Chief Andoh II. Chief Andoh II was the chief of Elmina, an important slave port in coastal Ghana, between 1884 and 1898. Stories about his interactions with Europeans in the area, the proximity of my family house to the Elmina Castle, slave routes from the hinterland through Elmina where millions of slaves were forced onto slave ships helped me recognize the importance of understanding my family’s connection to colonial history and the legacy of the transatlantic slave trade....

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Introduction

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pp. xvii-xxxviii

Sometime during the 1820s, a group of liberated African slaves on a ship from Brazil arrived in Accra, Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast), to find a new home (figure 1). Their unmatched fortitude had an impact on their history thereafter. The ex-slaves’ desire to move back across the Atlantic waters greatly inspired their descendants, the Tabom, who were born in Ghana from the nineteenth century on, to follow a similar trajectory toward Brazil. Although welcomed by Gã Mãŋtsɛ (Gã King) Tackie Komeh I, the leader of Accra (1826– 56), the ex-slaves who survived slavery would find themselves under threat from British colonial officials, European Christian missionaries, and traders vying for control over the social, political, commercial, and religious spaces as well as land.1...

Part 1. From Brazil to Ghana: Unmatched Fortitude and Locating Home

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pp. 1-2

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Chapter 1. Reverse Diaspora: Dissonance of Memory, Voyages of Hope, and Degrees of Return

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pp. 3-30

Enslaved Africans left Africa, but they never forgot their ancestral homeland. 1 It seems reasonable at this point to state that over time a portion of the enslaved Africans in the New World became disconnected from their heritage.2 Due to their unmatched fortitude, most ex-slaves were determined to reconnect with their African roots.3 When they joined various voyages back to the land of their ancestors they did not erase every memory or aspect of their Brazilian life after their resettlement. 4 Put differently, they returned to Africa “‘Brazilianized,’ ‘Bahianized,’ [and] ‘Portugalized.’”5 The same can be said of the evolving identity formation among the Tabom, the descendants of freed Brazilian-Africans in...

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Chapter 2. Historicizing the Returnee Presence in Gã Mãŋ: Challenges and Silences

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pp. 31-50

In pursuing the dream of reverse migration, the ex-slaves sought to create a new community in Gã, Accra, to fit their imagination and to meet self-gratifying needs. It is however not clear how many of these new settlers made it to Accra or whether they or all their ancestors were originally citizens of Ghana prior to their enslavement. Reasons for the waves of migration and their initial interactions with Gã mãŋtsɛmɛi that ultimately led to their settlements in Accra are documented. The social history of Accra, particularly their long history of hospitality to newcomers, was a major factor that facilitated the returnees’ choice of Accra. Through this generosity, the ex-slaves were gradually introduced to Gã cultural practices. It was through this systematic integration that the returnees were able to select their own leaders to serve as Brazilian chiefs—and later, Tabom chiefs....

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Chapter 3. The Social History of Gã Mãŋ: Colonialism and Their Impact on the Brazilian-African Diaspora

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pp. 51-90

The epigraph is a Gã song that characterizes part of the perceptions of the people who lived in Accra. Newcomers to Accra comprised local migrants as well as foreigners—missionaries, colonial officials, merchants and traders from Holland, Denmark, Britain, Syria, Lebanon, and Brazil, among others. Those from Brazil were mainly emancipated Africans who were in search of a new homeland in Gã mãŋ at a time when British colonial officials enforced stringent ordinances to regulate and eventually control Gã land. This was characterized as “the systematic and study erosion of African traditions [that] continued as the authority of local kings, chiefs and headmen [were stripped] of their power to govern.”1 During this turbulent time various bills were introduced....

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Chapter 4. The Evolution of Land in Gã Mãŋ and Brazilian-African Diaspora: Paradox of Freedom and the Birth of Conflicts

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pp. 91-118

The epigraph covers part of the diaspora exchange that took place after the ex-slaves from Brazil arrived in Gã mãŋ in the 1830s. Gã Mãŋtsɛ Tackie Komeh I (king of Accra) later gave the returnees gifts of land that was often referred to as “Brazilian land.” The tradition of allocating personal land to newcomers was common in other areas. Historian Michael J. Turner, in his study of freed Brazilian slaves who settled in Benin (the Aguda), shows a similar practice by the local chiefs.1 Clearly, in Accra as in other places land tenure formed an integral part of the returnees’ identity formation and the processes of settlement or assimilation. Part of the epigraph also shows the ways in which land traditions within the Brazilian-African diaspora were used for farming practices after their arrival. Two leaders in the community, Mama Sokoto and Mama Nassu, supervised Brazilian...

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Chapter 5. Escaping Slavery into Colonialism and Squabbles: How Colonial Projects and Internal Disputes Threatened Brazilian Land and Freedom

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pp. 119-150

The Tabom people sustained and articulated their memory of “Brazilian land” when they appeared in colonial courts to defend their rights to the land that had been passed on to them. Landownership was indeed a blessing to most of the ex-slaves from Brazil and perhaps owned land for the first time. But over time it became a curse to the subsequent generations as disagreement over inheritance gradually created lasting tension among them. Prior to internal land disputes, colonial intrusion arrested social gains within the Brazilian-African diaspora and in broader Gã societies....

Part 2. Contradictions of Return: Transporting Atlantic Traditions, Skills, and Cultures and Refashioning Identity

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pp. 151-152

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Chapter 6. (Re-)Creating Brazilian Slavery in an Enabling Environment: The “Ghost” of Slavery

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pp. 153-174

The ex-slaves and the Tabom have made a significant impact in Ghanaian society since they began arriving in the 1820s. Paradoxically, as stated in the epigraph, not all the returnees or their descendants engaged in productive ventures in the Gold Coast.1 The enabling environment others created made it very convenient for the newly liberated Brazilians to replicate slavery as they had known it in Brazil.2 As was also the case of returnees who settled elsewhere, some freed Africans imitated their oppressive plantation owners and engaged fully in slave-trading activities in the Gold Coast.3 David Eltis and others have also shown that “British subjects owned, managed and manned slavery adventures.”4 British colonial officials on the other hand paid slave owners large sums of money...

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Chapter 7. Contributions by the Brazilian-Africans and the Tabom: Impact on Ghana’s History

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pp. 175-194

The idea that Africans left Africa but Africa never left them is not only true when one examines how African slaves preserved their skills as well as their identities and cultures in the New World;1 the same case can be made for freed slaves who traveled back to Africa with creolized cultures and their unique skills.2 The enabling environment that various interest groups created in Ghana created a convenient space for more activities than the ex-slaves’ enslavement of the locals. It also enabled the returnees to contribute to their new environs in positive ways. In the epigraph, former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva acknowledged part of the contributions by the returnees from Brazil. Lula’s observation was not new. Some of the Tabom people are aware of this and have made this public. As one of the descendants related during a court appearance, “our ancestors also contributed decisively to the...

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Chapter 8. Brazilians Together, Brazilians Apart: The Family Trees and the Process of Becoming Gã

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pp. 195-224

There was continuity and change in the Brazilian-African diaspora in Accra as the history of the first generation came to an end by the early 1900s. Differences between the first settlers and their descendants, particularly how their historical memory facilitated the fashioning of identities, shaped the lives of the subsequent generations. The Brazilian family tree used in this chapter refers to the original group or older generation of settlers who were offered land by Gã leaders sometime in the mid-1830s.1 The Tabom family tree, on the other hand, depicts the genealogies of new generations. There are shades of diversity embedded in the narratives of returnees and their offspring, notably notions of double consciousness—the ways in which they identify either as Brazilians, Tabom, Ghanaians, or a combination of any of these classifications....

Part 3. Diaspora in Full Circle: Home Is Ghana, Brazil Is Our Mother Country

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pp. 225-226

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Chapter 9. Fading Diaspora and Receding Memory: How the Brazilian Government and the Tabom Are Preserving the Brazil House and Crisscrossing the Atlantic in Full Circle

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pp. 227-258

There are numerous continuities and changes in the Brazilian-African diaspora story. They include stories about the origins of mutual cultural ties between Brazil and the Tabom people and the ways in which these ties contributed to the Tabom people’s strategic position in the tourism industry. Leaders of the Brazilian-African diaspora, individual members of the community, and institutions like the Brazilian embassy in Accra collaborated with other interested groups to preserve fading aspects of the Brazilian-African diaspora. Their ultimate goal was to move their history from the margins to the center of a burgeoning transatlantic history and global tourism for posterity. As a result of ongoing transformations in their story, a number of Tabom people have expressed their deep desires to visit Brazil, and others have already crisscrossed the Atlantic to connect with their Brazilian roots....

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Chapter 10. Telescoping Lula’s Unfulfilled Promise and the Implications of the Tabom’s Visit to Brazil: A Hopeless Situation?

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pp. 259-274

Throughout the story of reverse migrations, memory has remained as the glue that binds the past with the present and the future. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva rearticulated the central role of memory in the reverse migration story of the Brazilian-African diaspora in Ghana during his speech in 2005. Two traditional Adinkra symbols, nkyinkyim and sankofa, also emphasize unending journeys and enthusiasm about the unknown. Dissonance of memory and multiple returns, especially in the case of Elder George Nii Aruna Nelson who daydreamed of Brazil throughout his lifetime, as well as the importance of the Tabom and the Brazilian government to the survival of the Brazilian-African diaspora in Ghana cannot be overstated. This concluding chapter furthermore underscores the Tabom people’s deep desire to connect with their distant Brazilian heritage—they are interested in visiting Bahia and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where most of them believe their ancestors came from. One of Lula’s speeches embodied...

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Conclusion

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pp. 275-280

The story of ex-slaves who arrived over a century ago on the shores of Accra on a ship from Brazil remains on the margins of Ghanaian historiography and African diaspora history. Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana explores this peripheral account and makes this experience a central piece in the reverse migration discourse. This book chronicles the audacious journey to Ghana, showing the complicated future, nuances, and silences in the narratives. It also examines the complexity of reverse migration journeys: the challenges some of the ex-slaves encountered in the nineteenth century when they boarded ships to a home in Africa, the difficulty of imagining a distant family over the Atlantic waters, and the challenges of reclaiming a “lost” ancestral root as the tide reversed toward Africa. I attempt to lift the curtain to reveal evidence of double consciousness that oscillates and touches two important geographical points: Ghana and Brazil....

Notes

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pp. 281-336

Bibliography

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pp. 337-358

Index

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pp. 359-364


E-ISBN-13: 9781609175047
E-ISBN-10: 1609175042
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611862195
Print-ISBN-10: 1611862191

Page Count: 420
Illustrations: 29
Publication Year: 2016

Series Title: Ruth Simms Hamilton African Diaspora
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 957137279
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Brazilian-African Diaspora in Ghana

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Freedmen -- Ghana -- History.
  • Immigrants -- Ghana -- History.
  • Africans -- Brazil -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Children of immigrants -- Ghana -- History.
  • Ghana -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Ghana -- Colonial influence.
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