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:

If recent scholarship has focused on the memory of slavery in the United States, few works have dealt with the public memory of slavery from a transnational perspective. When examining the role of the African Diaspora in the reconstructions of the slave past, most authors have limited their analysis to the African American community and have overlooked the importance of the South Atlantic region, in which Africa and South America play a crucial role.

In this book, Ana Lucia Araujo argues that despite the rupture provoked by the Atlantic slave trade, the Atlantic Ocean was never a physical barrier that prevented the exchanges between the two sides; it was instead a corridor that allowed the production of continuous relations. Araujo shows that the memorialization of slavery in Brazil and Benin was not only the result of survivals from the period of the Atlantic slave trade but also the outcome of a transnational movement that was accompanied by the continuous intervention of institutions and individuals who promoted the relations between Brazil and Benin. Araujo insists that the circulation of images was, and still is, crucial to the development of reciprocal cultural, religious, and economic exchanges and to defining what is African in Brazil and what is Brazilian in Africa. In this context, the South Atlantic is conceived as a large zone in which the populations of African descent undertake exchanges and modulate identities, a zone where the European and the Amerindian identities were also appropriated in order to build its own nature.

This book shows that the public memory of slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the South Atlantic is plural; it is conveyed not only by the descendants of the victims but also by the descendants of perpetrators. Although the slave past is a critical issue in societies that largely relied on slave labor and where the heritage of slavery is still present, the memories of this past remain very often restricted to the private space. This book shows how in Brazil and Benin social actors appropriated the slave past to build new identities, fight against social injustice, and in some cases obtain political prestige. The book illuminates how the public memory of slavery in Brazil and Benin contributes to the rise of the South Atlantic as an autonomous zone of claim for recognition for those peoples and cultures that were cruelly broken, dispersed, and depreciated by the Atlantic slave trade.


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