Friday, February 24, 2012

Responses to Slavery

In an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, actor Blair Underwood learns that 22% of his ancestry is Brong, from modern Ghana; 13% Yoruba, from Benin and southwestern Nigeria (the Bight of Benin); and 12% Igbo (Ibo), from southeastern Nigeria (the Bight of Biafra). (Underwood's genetic heritage is also 27% Bamoun, from Cameroon, and 26% European.)

In his book Africa in America: Slave Resistance and Acculturation in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831, Michael Mullin explains that planters believed Coramantees (Akan-speakers like the Brong), Papaws (Yoruba and others shipped from the Big and Little Popo rivers) and Igbo each responded differently to harsh treatment.

Mullin wrote, "Papaws are characterized in a contemporary travel account (in Thomas Astley's large and popular collection) as very polite and civilized, and most respectful of superiors before whom they immediately fell on their knees and kissed the earth while thrice clapping their hands. 'The like deference is paid by the younger to the elder brother, the children to the father, and wives to their husbands.'"

Mullin then quotes Caribbean planter Bryan Edwards, who wrote, "That punishment which excites the Koromantyn to rebel, and drives the Ebo Negro to suicide, is received by the Papaws as the chastisement of legal authority, to which it is their duty to submit patiently."

Gwendolyn Midlo Hall observed that Igbo responded with greatest despair when laboring with crops requiring laborers in large numbers (like rice in South Carolina or sugar in Louisiana), faring better in small communities or work gangs, like those on Virginia tobacco plantations. This could explain the Igbo reputation for self-destructive protest in the sugar-growing West Indies and rice-growing coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

Michael Mullin, Africa in America: Slave Resistance and Acculturation in the American South and the British Caribbean, 1736-1831 (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1994 [1992]), 285-286. Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, Slavery and African Ethnicities in the Americas: Restoring the Links (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 141-142.
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