BOOK: Botte on Slavery and Islam in North, East Africa

Botte, Roger. Esclavages et abolitions en terres d’Islam. Bruxelles: André Versaille éditeur, 2010.

From the website:

Comment la malédiction biblique de Cham (condamnation à l’esclavage et châtiment par la noirceur de l’épiderme de sa descendance) fut-elle détournée en terre d’islam afin de justifier l’esclavage des Noirs ?

Le Coran a-t-il vraiment programmé la fin de l’esclavage ? Pourquoi Muhammad qui aurait pu l’interdire, comme il a prohibé l’alcool, les jeux de hasard et l’usure, ne l’a-t-il pas fait ? La suppression de l’esclavage en islam ne se serait-elle accomplie que contrainte par de fermes pressions extérieures ? Voici quelques-unes des nombreuses questions soulevées par cet ouvrage.

L’auteur analyse et compare les situations en Tunisie (où le décret d’affranchissement, en1846, précède de deux ans l’abolition en France) ; en Arabie saoudite (où la Mecque, territoire sacré, fut longtemps un marché d’esclaves) ; au Maroc (où l’esclavage ne fut jamais formellement aboli) ; en Mauritanie (où d’anciens esclaves doutent encore de l’efficacité de l’abolition étatique et ne jugent valide que la formule religieuse d’affranchissement prononcée par le maître) et au Soudan (où l’esclavage a connu une résurgence dans le cadre de la guerre civile de 1983 à 2005).

Il montre encore comment, au moment des abolitions, les jurisconsultes musulmans ont déployé subterfuges, fictions légales ou ruses jurisprudentielles pour faire concorder réalité sociale et légalité divine, et comment, partout, les maîtres d’esclaves résistèrent opiniâtrement à la disparition de ce “droit de Dieu”, jusqu’à appeler au jihad.

Si l’on estime qu’aucune institution du droit musulman ne peut être considérée comme abrogée, quand bien même elle serait tombée en désuétude, on comprend qu’un peu partout dans le monde musulman, des juristes ou des islamistes continuent de soutenir que l’esclavage, sous certaines conditions, est toujours permis.

Loin des polémiques partisanes, Roger Botte nous donne un livre indispensable pour saisir une question qui fait largement débat aujourd’hui.

via André Versaille É


BOOK: Araujo on the Public Memory of Slavery

A water color by Jean Baptiste Debret (held by a museum in Rio de Janeiro); published in Ana Maria de Moraes, O Brasil dos viajantes (Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, 1994), image 469, p. 93, as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.
Ana Lucia Araujo, Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic. Amherst, N.Y: Cambria Press, 2010.
via Cambria Press:

Continue reading “BOOK: Araujo on the Public Memory of Slavery”

ARTICLE: Argenti on Folktales and Slavery in Cameroon

Thomas Clarkson, Letters on the slave-trade, and the state of the natives in those parts of Africa, . . . contiguous to Fort St. Louis and Goree (London, 1791), plate 2, facing p. 36, figs. 1-5. (Copy in Library Company of Philadelphia) as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Argenti, Nicolas. “Things That Don’t Come by the Road: Folktales, Fosterage, and Memories of Slavery in the Cameroon Grassfields.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 52, no. 02 (2010): 224-254.

Oku adults have a straightforward rationalization for the existence of folktales: the frightening cautionary tales of the child-eating monster K∂ηgaaηgu serve to warn children not to go to the fields or to stray too far from the house without their parents. But this rationalization is belied by the fact that adults in this chiefdom of the Cameroon Grassfields do not tell folktales to children. Rather, folktales are most often told by children amongst each other, with no adult involvement, and they are consequently learned by younger children from older ones. This is an unusual situation in West Africa, where the norm is for adults to tell folktales to children. For all we know, adult-to-child storytelling may have been the normal practice in the Grassfields in the past, but if it ever was, this practice has now passed into desuetude, and today adults look with mild scorn on folktales (f∂ngaanen, ∂mgaanen pl.) and generally remain aloof during storytelling sessions. Storytelling in the Grassfields is therefore a child-structured form of play in Schwartzman’s (1978) sense: it is an activity mediated by children without adult input. Prior to the introduction of schooling in the Grassfields, children used to be made to guard the crops against birds and monkeys, an activity that left them to their own devices in the fields for long periods of the day (Argenti 2001; see also Fortes 1938; Raum 1940). In some cases, children actually slept in small shelters that they built in the fields, and they would consequently stay away from their homes and adult supervision for days at a time. It was in this context, away from the censorious gaze of adults, that children’s illicit masking activities developed (Argenti 2001). It may also be in this context that children were able to indulge in prolonged bouts of storytelling without fear of reproof by adults, in whose eyes children should be seen but not heard. Today, children no longer guard the fields, and they have therefore taken to telling their folktales at home.

Available via Cambridge Journals ($$)

BOOK: Morrow Long on Religion and Commerce Across the U.S. African Diaspora

Long, Carolyn Morrow. Spiritual Merchants: Religion Magic & Commerce. 1st ed. Univ Tennessee Press, 2001.

They can be found along the side streets of many American cities: herb or candle shops catering to practitioners of Voodoo, hoodoo, Santería, and similar beliefs. Here one can purchase ritual items and raw materials for the fabrication of traditional charms, plus a variety of soaps, powders, and aromatic goods known in the trade as “spiritual products.” For those seeking health or success, love or protection, these potions offer the power of the saints and the authority of the African gods.

In Spiritual Merchants, Carolyn Morrow Long provides an inside look at the followers of African-based belief systems and the retailers and manufacturers who supply them. Traveling from New Orleans to New York, from Charleston to Los Angeles, she takes readers on a tour of these shops, examines the origins of the products, and profiles the merchants who sell them.

Long describes the principles by which charms are thought to operate, how ingredients are chosen, and the uses to which they are put. She then explores the commodification of traditional charms and the evolution of the spiritual products industry–from small-scale mail order “doctors” and hoodoo drugstores to major manufacturers who market their products worldwide. She also offers an eye-opening look at how merchants who are not members of the culture entered the business through the manufacture of other goods such as toiletries, incense, and pharmaceuticals. Her narrative includes previously unpublished information on legendary Voodoo queens and hoodoo workers, as well as a case study of John the Conqueror root and its metamorphosis from spirit-embodying charm to commercial spiritual product.

No other book deals in such detail with both the history and current practices of African-based belief systems in the United States and the evolution of the spiritual products industry. For students of folklore or anyone intrigued by the world of charms and candle shops, Spiritual Merchants examines the confluence of African and European religion in the Americas and provides a colorful introduction to a vibrant aspect of contemporary culture.


BOOK: Carney and Rosomoff on Africa’s Botanical Legacy

Carney, Judith and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff. In the Shadow of Slavery: Africa’s Botanical Legacy in the Atlantic World. University of California Press, 2010.

The transatlantic slave trade forced millions of Africans into bondage. Until the early nineteenth century, African slaves came to the Americas in greater numbers than Europeans. In the Shadow of Slavery provides a startling new assessment of the Atlantic slave trade and upends conventional wisdom by shifting attention from the crops slaves were forced to produce to the foods they planted for their own nourishment. Many familiar foods-millet, sorghum, coffee, okra, watermelon, and the “Asian” long bean, for example-are native to Africa, while commercial products such as Coca Cola, Worcestershire Sauce, and Palmolive Soap rely on African plants that were brought to the Americas on slave ships as provisions, medicines, cordage, and bedding. In this exciting, original, and groundbreaking book, Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff draw on archaeological records, oral histories, and the accounts of slave ship captains to show how slaves’ food plots–“botanical gardens of the dispossessed”–became the incubators of African survival in the Americas and Africanized the foodways of plantation societies.

via University of North Carolina Press

Munro on Rhythm in the African Diaspora

Martin Munro, Different Drummers: Rhythm and Race in the Americas. Berkley: University of California Press, 2010

Long a taboo subject among critics, rhythm finally takes center stage in this book’s dazzling, wide-ranging examination of diverse black cultures across the New World. Martin Munro’s groundbreaking work traces the central—and contested—role of music in shaping identities, politics, social history, and artistic expression. Starting with enslaved African musicians, Munro takes us to Haiti, Trinidad, the French Caribbean, and to the civil rights era in the United States. Along the way, he highlights such figures as Toussaint Louverture, Jacques Roumain, Jean Price-Mars, The Mighty Sparrow, Aimé Césaire, Edouard Glissant, Joseph Zobel, Daniel Maximin, James Brown, and Amiri Baraka. Bringing to light new connections among black cultures, Munro shows how rhythm has been both a persistent marker of race as well as a dynamic force for change at virtually every major turning point in black New World history.

via Fabula: la recherche en littérature

Journey Stories Exhibit: “To Freedom: Tracing the Journeys of Enslaved African Americans”

Discussions about slavery continue to stir emotions. This exhibition examines the journeys experienced by enslaved Africans brought to the United States. From the journey into bondage, travels while enslaved, and escaping to freedom, voyages — forced and voluntary — shaped the way slavery evolved and, ultimately, ended in America.

via Journey Stories | Browse Exhibits.

Profhacker has a post on Omeka, the free and open-source software used to create this exhibit and others.  Read it here.

Eltis and Richardson Edited Volume on Slave Trade Database

Caption, "Branding a Negress," Brantz Mayer, Captain Canot; or, Twenty years an African slaver....(New York, 1854), facing p. 102. (Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library), as shown on, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia Library.

Eltis, David, and David Richardson. Extending the Frontiers: Essays on the New Transatlantic Slave Trade Database. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

A series of scholars of slavery and the slave trade join Eltis and Richardson for a study on the function and utility of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (available for use and viewing here).

Since 1999, intensive research efforts have vastly increased what is known about the history of coerced migration of transatlantic slaves. A huge database of slave trade voyages from Columbus’s era to the mid-nineteenth century is now available on an open-access Web site, incorporating newly discovered information from archives around the Atlantic world. The groundbreaking essays in this book draw on these new data to explore fundamental questions about the trade in African slaves. The research findings—that the size of the slave trade was 14 percent greater than had been estimated, that trade above and below the equator was largely separate, that ports sending out the most slave voyages were not in Europe but in Brazil, and more—challenge accepted understandings of transatlantic slavery and suggest a variety of new directions for important further research.

via Yale University Press

H-Net Review by Isaac Land available here.

Bristol on Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom

Bristol, Douglas Walter. Knights of the Razor: Black Barbers in Slavery and Freedom. Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press Press, 2009.

Black barbers, reflected a freed slave who barbered in antebellum St. Louis, may have been “the only men in their community who enjoyed, at all times, the privilege of free speech.” The reason, of course, lay in their temporary — but absolute — power over a client. With a flick of the wrist, 19th—century black barbers could have slit the throats of the white men they shaved. In Knights of the Razor, Douglas Walter Bristol, Jr., explores this extraordinary relationship in the largely untold story of African American barbers, North and South, from the American Revolution to the First World War.

Besides establishing the modern—day barbershop, these barbers used their skilled trade to navigate the many pitfalls that racism created for ambitious black men. They dominated an upscale market that catered to prosperous white men. At the same time, their respect for labor itself preserved their ties to the black community. Successful barbers assumed leadership roles in their localities, helping to form a black middle class despite pervasive racial segregation. They advocated economic independence from whites and founded insurance companies that became some of the largest black—owned corporations.

via Johns Hopkins University Press.

H-Net Review by Scott Giltner

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