Chivallon, Rodet and Jong on Slavery and Memory in Africa, Caribbean

Volume 197/2010 of Cahiers d’études africaines is a special issue (“Jeux de mémoire”) edited by Marie-Aude Fouéré on memory in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.  It includes three pieces that may be of interest:


Chivallon, Christine. “Mémoires de l’esclavage à la Martinique. L’explosion mémorielle et la révélation de mémoires anonymes.” Cahiers d’études africaines 197 (2010): 235-261.

Taking the analysis of the current memory situation as a starting point, this article analyses the question that it provokes about the memory of slavery in the French West Indies, subjected to a frenzy that reinforced the notion of spontaneously invented memories.  Is there an inter-generational dissemination of slavery memory?  This question refers to the anthropological debate in societies where collective memory about slavery has long been deemed absent.  Using research carried out on an historical event that revives the framework of the original master/slave conflict, namely the 1870 insurrection in Martinique, we describe the memory processes this generated.  The collection of accounts from descendents of the rebels shows that family accounts have been transmitted until this day, using specific forms related to the consequences of the repression of the rebellion.  The subsequent interpretation leads us to review the question of collective memory in Martinique.

Rodet, Marie. “Mémoires de l’esclavage dans la région de Kayes, histoire d’une disparition.” Cahiers d’études africaines 197 (2010): 263-291.

This article confronts archival documents of the end of slavery in the region of Kayes (Mali) with local memories of villages which were founded by slaves between 1895 and 1935 following slave revolts against the nobility.  The colonial administration was never willing to recognize the legacy of slavery in the region and remained therefore relatively silent regarding slave revolts and the foundation of these villages. The local memories of the “rebel” villages reveal complex processes of emancipation on the margins or outside of the official colonial channels of abolition.  Moreover, while one could have expected that these revolts become milestones of the regional history, some of these villages are currently becoming “places of forgetting” as the regional and national public space has never been responsive to the transmission of these memories.

Review of Books/Field

Jong, Ferdinand de. “Silences that Speak to the Slave Trade.” Cahiers d’études africaines 197 (2010): 317-331.

“Slavery and the slave trade have become subjects of intense public debate over the last decades.  The formal recognition that the slave trade was a crime against humanity (e.g. la loi Taubira in France) and the un Durban Conference against Racism returned slavery from its repression in the silences of history.  In the United States the debate on slavery reveals a search for “social justice” on the issue of race (Berlin 2006: 1).  Under the aegis of national commemorations of the abolition of the slave trade in France and the United Kingdom and the recognition of the tragedy of the trade by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, the academic study of the history and memory of the slave trade has acquired a new urgency.  Alongside the numerous commemorative events, conferences are organised on the history of the slave trade and the traumas that this history has resulted in.  Slavery and the slave trade are understood to have produced lasting effects that continue to replicate themselves in the present in phenomena as varied as inner city gun crime and the underdevelopment of Sub-Sahara Africa. Indeed, there is a sense that slavery and the slave trade should not be seen as a finished history.  Consequently, the recognition of the tragedy of the slave trade implicates a blurring of history and memory—of the past as past and the past as present.   Increasingly, the tragedy of slavery is treated on a par with the Holocaust.  But while the belated effects of the Holocaust—the transmission of trauma and the replication of violence in the present—are fully recognised, the belated effects of the slave trade are yet to be diagnosed.  The books under review here have taken up that challenge….”

The Jong piece is available in full-text, the Rodet and Chivallon articles are available for purchase, via CAIRN.

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