When we were enslaved


When they were enslaved, our foremothers believed that when they died their spirits would return to #Africa, most specifically to a peaceful land we call Guinin, where gods and goddesses live. The women who came before me were women who spoke half of one language and half another. They spoke the #French and #Spanish of their captors mixed in with their own African language. These women seemed to be speaking in tongue when they prayed to their old gods, the ancient African spirits. Even though they were afraid that their old deities would no longer understand them, they invented a new language our Creole patois with which to describe their new surroundings, a language from which colorful phrases blossomed to fit the desperate circumstances. When these women greeted each other, they found themselves speaking in codes.

By Edwidge Danticat #EdwidgeDanticat
I am ugly, but I am here.

PHOTO: In memory of our ancestors who died, survived, and resisted before, during, and after The Middle Passage. #diaspora

In the Caribbean and in many slave societies in the Americas, one of the most important aspects of resistance to slavery was the retention of African culture or melding African, American and European cultural forms to create new ones such as the Kweyol languages (Antillean Creole).

The importance of African culture – names, craftsmanship, languages, scientific knowledge, beliefs, philosophy, music and dance, was that it provided the psychological support to help the captives resist the process of enslavement. The act of enslavement involved attempts to break the will and ignore the humanity of slaves in what was known as ‘seasoning’. Obvious examples would be the use of Vodun (Voodoo) religious beliefs in the Haitian Revolution and the employment of Obeah to strengthen the Jamaican Maroons in the struggles against the British. Rebel leaders such as Nanny in Jamaica and Boukman and Mackandal in St Domingue (Haiti) were also religious or spiritual leaders. Religious beliefs should perhaps be seen as also providing the enslaved Africans a way of understanding the world and giving them simultaneously a whole belief system, a coping mechanism and a means of resistance.

In #Hispaniola, it is estimated that, by 1546, there were over 7,000 maroons among a slave population of 30,000. Following the division of the island into French St Domingue (later Haiti) in the west and Spanish Santo Domingo (later the #Dominican Republic) in the east in 1697, maroons took advantage of the hostility between France and Spain to maintain settlements along the border throughout the period of slavery. In addition, there were maroons in #Cuba, #PuertoRico (including fugitives from other islands including the Danish #VirginIslands) and Jamaica, followed in the 17th century by communities in #StKitts , #Antigua, #Barbados and the French colonies of #Martinique and #Guadeloupe.

In the 19th century, slave rebellions were sometimes led by literate slaves or those who were aware of what was happening in other parts of the world and/or had been inspired by the French or Haitian Revolution or the growth of abolitionist sentiment. This was a feature of the 1816 Bussa rebellion on #Barbados and the 1831 Christmas rebellion in #Jamaica led by Sam Sharpe.

The most important of all the #slave rebellions was the revolution that occurred in the French colony of St Domingue in 1791. It was highly organised and took advantage of the turmoil in the colony caused by the revolution in France that had broken out two years before. Led by Toussaint L’Ouverture, 500,000 enslaved Africans and free people in St Dominque defeated the armies of three major European powers: France, Spain and Britain. They established their own independent republic – #Haiti #ayiti– in 1804.

The impact of that revolution was profound. It inspired others in the #Caribbean and in parts of the Americas and had a major effect on efforts to abolish Britain’s role in the transatlantic slave trade and in transatlantic slavery.

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