The proclamation by the United Nations General Assembly of the International Year to Commemorate the Struggle against Slavery and its Abolition during 2004 marked the culmination of recent efforts to re-engage with slavery's past and create an intellectual, social, political and ethical climate conducive to a sustained and meaningful dialogue among cultures and civilisations. The past decade witnessed an upsurge of national and international exhibitions and conferences on the impact of slavery and the overwhelming and enduring cultural miscegenation and the demographic, socio-political and spiritual hybridisation that the phenomenon consciously or unconsciously initiated; the celebration of efforts by Abolitionists to publicise the savagery of this inhumane practice; a revival of interest in and the glorification of, the often ignored or historically negatively represented resistance to slavery by slaves themselves; and, numerous endeavours to address the negative legacies of slavery like racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, which continue to impinge upon our present as part of contemporary politics.
Yet, these ventures aimed at raising awareness of the horrors of slave trade and slavery, at honouring struggles for the emancipation of the enslaved, at examining the aftermath of slavery like the emergence of a new historic consciousness, at restoring broken links and solidarity between the historically dislocated diasporas and their countries of origin, at commemorating sites of memory, and, at celebrating artistic and cultural metissage, such as the UNESCO's Slave Route Project, have largely focused on the Atlantic World, and the deportation of slaves from Africa to other parts of the World, raising questions about the legacy of slavery in other societies, like those in Asia, the Pacific and Europe, where slavery still remains on the margins of national and post-colonial histories. This edited volume is an attempt to reconsider slavery as a global human institution which has coexisted with other socio-political, economic, legal and cultural institutions.
As a temporally and spatially ubiquitous phenomenon, it has generated and continues to, engender legacies, be they historical, oral or visual, which need to be compared and discussed to facilitate dialogue between cultures and civilisations and to mitigate the wounds of the past which continue to scar our present. It brings together writings by scholars from history, literature, anthropology and cultural studies who examine the indelible mark left by slavery in its various forms, on societies, cultures and peoples all over the world and attempts by artistes and writers to alleviate this stigmata of History. This volume consists of two sections. The first section entitled "Connecting Histories" explores some of the varied forms in which slavery presented itself in the last four centuries and the need to reengage with its legacies.
Adhering to Manning's contention that slavery is "an enduring metaphor for inequities in the treatment of humans", this section focuses on identifying the legacy of slavery and its significance in scholarship (Manning); alternate perspectives on slavery through the examination of forced labour and the dehumanising treatment of indigenous people in Australia (Read), enforced migration and labour exploitation of convicts in penal colonies (Maxwell-Stewart); and, a historical overview of Lusitanian slavery in India (D'Souza) and the hybridisation of pre-colonial slavery traditions in the perpetuation of the perkerniersstelse, or a profitably managed European settler-colony based on the global monopoly of nutmeg production, by the Dutch (Winn). The second section of the book entitled "Centering Discourses: Identity, Image and Text" begins with a postcolonialist reading of Caribbean slavery as a legacy of capitalism, imperialism and plantation culture and above all, the globalization of sugar consumption (Ashcroft).
The two chapters that follow resuscitate two of the many categories of slaves who were victims of historical silence, namely children in the sugar plantations of the West Indies (Teelucksingh) and Martiniquan maroons (Fernandes-Dias). Articulating with the discourse on identity and cultural appropriation introduced in the preceding essay, chapter nine provides an overview of the power struggle at work in the construction of Creole identity and its political legitimization, through a topical analysis of the process of commemoration of a "site of memory", Le Morne Brabant, symbol of slavery and marronage in the Mauritian collective memory (Carmignani). The final two chapters explore the problematics of presenting slavery through the adoption of a counter-hegemonic discourse, particularly through the arts.
Aphra Behn's Oroonoko which exalts the Black slave as a hero without making any explicit case for the abolition of slavery, continues to occupy the terrain of sympathist - abolitionist ambiguity (Landford) while the Amistad case, despite its numerous positive legacies, demonstrates how excessive popularization of the incident as an Abolitionist cause celebre, resulted in an overload of historical memory to the point of obscuring historical reality (Fernandes Dias). Despite the volume's overarching desire to provide a global and comparative overview of the historical, ideological, economical and cultural factors that contributed to the evolution of slavery and the legacies that the institution generated, this volume is limited in the thematic, chronological and geographic terrain that it has covered. We attribute this shortcoming to the complexity of slavery itself as an institution, the problematic of defining what constitutes slavery and the historical silence maintained over its dehumanizing effects. Yet the story of slavery is also a tale of survival, of resistance and of the resilience of the human spirit to transcend oppression and preserve its inherent dignity.
It is the celebration of the rich cultural fusion and metissage that rose from the ashes of human suffering. The wounds of the past need to be healed, perhaps initially, at a mythopoetic level, through the articulation of repressed collective angst and its legacies through the arts and through scholarship.