News Item 143

21-Oct-11 - Q&A Session with ASA 2011 Presenter, Professor Ana Lucia Araujo (Howard University)

Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo is a professor at Howard University. She is the author of Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic and the editor of Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images .

Both books have been extremely well received and in anticipation of her presentation at the 2011 African Studies Association (ASA) annual meeting, we are presenting a short Q&A session on her research.

Question: Why did you decide to write Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic?

Answer: I developed previous research on images of slavery in European travel accounts, and these representations of Afro-Brazilians led to my interest in learning how slavery was remembered in the public sphere. I wanted to understand how the memory of slavery was conveyed in the public space.

Because of the particular connections between the state of Bahia in Brazil and the Bight of Benin (especially the present-day Republic of Benin) in West Africa during the period of the Atlantic slave trade, I was led to examine these two regions, not as separate spaces, but as a common zone of cultural exchanges.

My book examines several local and international initiatives that impacted these two areas by resulting in the construction of monuments, memorials, and museums that focus on various aspects of the African presence in Brazil and the Luso-Brazilian presence in Benin. Most of these projects were sponsored by UNESCO, governments, NGOs and also by local social actors and are helping to rebuild the actual and imagined relations between these two regions.

My point is that the building of the public memory of slavery in Brazil and Benin is not only the result of the actual memories from the period of the Atlantic slave trade but also the outcome of a transnational movement, which was sustained by the continuous intervention of institutions and individuals who promoted the relations between these two regions.

My book also shows that collective memories of slavery (which are plural, conflictual) are carried out by groups identified as descendants of slaves and descendants of slave merchants. Very often these individuals seek to highlight particular aspects of their identities and to promote their own political (and economic) interests, and in this context the roles of victims and perpetrators are blurred.

Question: What do you hope other researchers will take away from your book?

Answer: I hope that my book will help scholars better understand the relations between Brazil and the Bight of Benin during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, as well as how the public memory of slavery is conveyed in the region shared by these two countries.

I also hope that this study will lead others to appreciate the role of governments, NGOs, and international agencies, like UNESCO, in the building of public memory of slavery.

In addition, the book will cast light on the relations between collective memories of slavery and the building of transnational identities that change over the time.

Finally, my book presents several case studies of monuments, memorials, and museums of slavery in Brazil and Benin (that can be applied to the study of other geographical areas) and I hope this will help illuminate the considerable effort on both sides of the Atlantic to promote the connections between these two regions.

Question: What other research do you believe is needed on this topic?

Slavery and the Atlantic slave trade lasted more than three centuries. There is still much more research needed on this, especially research focusing in Brazil, a country that imported the largest number of enslaved Africans during the Atlantic slave trade.

For long time, the memory of slavery in Brazil remained confined to the private sphere, and studies focusing on how slavery is remembered and conveyed in the Brazilian public space are still very scarce. The study of the memory of slavery in former large slave societies can help scholars and the civil society to understand how the slave past lives in the present. Such understanding can be also a powerful instrument to heal the wounds of the slave past, allowing local citizens and the international community to fight against racial inequalities and forced labor, problems that still exist not only in Brazil but also in many other countries in the Americas.

Scholarly works on the memory of slavery in African societies also remain neglected. In many African societies slavery is still a difficult topic, which most individuals and groups avoid discussing. From this perspective, there is a need to develop studies on the articulations among the history and the memory of the Atlantic slave trade, the Muslim slave trade, and slavery on African soil.

Question: What is your edited collection Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images about?

Answer: This is a collection that focuses on topics and regions very often neglected in Atlantic history, which most part of the time examines only the North Atlantic region, by overemphasizing the role of the United States in the Atlantic world. This volume illustrates the complex and unique human, cultural, and religious exchanges that resulted from the enslavement and the trade of African men and women in the South Atlantic and the North Atlantic during the transatlantic slave trade. The various chapters challenge the dominant scholarship in the area—that usually focuses on economic exchanges and demographic data—to examine instead the diverse pathways taken by individuals and groups, including those who were active participants in the slave trade business, those who were victims of the Atlantic slave trade, and those who fought against slavery.

The last section of the book also shows that the study of the lives of enslaved Africans and enslaved people of African descent allows us to better understand how these experiences are reinterpreted by the next generations through painting, engravings, and film.

Several chapters of this book explore unknown dimensions of the experiences lived by enslaved Africans and their descendants. Jennifer Anderson, for instance, examines the small-scale trade that developed in the Circum-Caribbean region, in which enslaved victims were constantly moved from one owner to another, from a region to another, a situation of instability and uncertainty that disrupted the lives of enslaved men and women.

The drama of the Atlantic slave trade is also explored by Peter H. Wood in his chapter about Winslow Homer’s painting The Gulf Stream. Wood examines how this painting produced at the end of the nineteenth century carried and conveyed the American memory of the drama of the Atlantic slave trade.

Another interesting element is that this book gives to African and Africans a central place in the history of the Atlantic slave trade. For example, Lisa Earl Castillo’s chapter examines the numerous voyages to the Bight of Benin undertook by the founders of a Candomblé temple in Salvador (Bahia).

West Central Africa is also highlighted in Mariana P. Candido’s chapter about the personal and commercial connections developed between the ports of Salvador and Benguela.

Wendy Wilson-Fall also examines a topic that was not yet fully explored, by discussing the case of signares in Senegal and zany malata in Madagascar, she discusses the role of in-between African women during the Atlantic slave trade.

These are just a few examples of the original topics dealt with that have resulted from extensive research.

Question: What do you hope other researchers will take away from this book?

Answer: The case studies developed in each chapter are based on a myriad of primary and secondary sources, which are not available in English. For this reason I believe that the book will allow scholars, graduate students, undergraduate students, and other readers to learn much more about the diverse experiences lived by African and African-descended male and female historical actors during the Atlantic slave trade.

The various chapters will give readers clues about the trajectories and representations of African individuals and their descendants, not only in the Caribbean and the United States, but also in South America and West Africa. Readers will also be able to understand that despite enslavement, African individuals and groups were able to resist, negotiate, make choices, and seal various sorts of alliances, in order to face the challenges imposed by the brutal dynamics of the Atlantic slave trade. Because of this focus on the diversity of human experience during the Atlantic slave trade, this book is an important tool for researchers who want to have a broader vision of what was the slave trade in various regions of the Atlantic world.

*** Dr. Araujo will be at the 2011 ASA annual meeting and participating in the session (III-14) Discussing and Assessing the Work of Pierre Fatumbi Verger (1902–1996).

Contributors to Dr. Araujo’s edited volume, Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images ,who will also be presenting papers at the 2011 ASA annual meeting include:

• Mariana P. Candido (Princeton)

• Wendy Wilson-Fall (Kent State University)

• Celine Flory (EHESS)


 

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