P197 – Mechanisms of Resistance to Slavery in Africa
10 July, 14:00-15:30

Candido Mariana / University of Kansas
Rodrigues Eugénia / Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon


The scholarship on slave resistance and revolts in the Americas has expanded dramatically in the past three decades. Scholars have explored the centrality of slave mobilizations and agency within the institution of slavery, analyzing revolts, flights, legal fights and the economic and legal debates on abolition. Although some Africanists have studied slave resistance and revolt within the African continent, the historiographical imbalance persists. The history of resistance of slavery within Africa. remains neglected. Few studies have explored how Africans resisted slavery and developed mechanisms to challenge its legality and continuity within the African continent. This panel seeks contributions of scholars exploring the different mechanisms African actors employed, within Africa, to resist the institution of slavery. The goal is to explore the historical perspective of resistance and its plurality that will help us to identify different individual and group strategies of protest and resistance

Mecanismos de resistência à escravidão em África
Desde há três décadas o número de estudos sobre a resistência à escravatura nas Américas tem-se expandido drasticamente. Os investigadores exploraram a importância da mobilização dos escravos e a sua actividade no contexto da instituição da escravatura, analisando as revoltas, as fugas, as batalhas judiciais e a discussão económica e moral sobre a abolição. Embora alguns estudiosos tenham escrito sobre resistência e revoltas escravas no continente africano, há um desequilíbrio acentuado na historiografia, com poucos estudos explorando como os africanos resistiram a escravidão na África e os mecanismos existentes para desafiar os limites legais da escravidão. Este painel procura contribuições de investigadores que explorem os diferentes mecanismos empregados na África, por agentes africanos, para resistir à instituição da escravidão. O objetivo é explorar a perspectiva histórica da resistência na sua pluralidade, enfatizando estudos de caso que ajudarão a identificar os diferentes mecanismos de protesto e resistência. Até que ponto a resistência à escravidão era uma estratégia individual ou coletiva? Como é que diferentes grupos se ajustaram e resistiram à expansão da escravidão na África?

Paper 1

Rodrigues Eugénia / Instituto de Investigação Científica Tropical, Lisbon

Absent slaves: flights and the dynamics of slavery in the Zambezi valley during the 18th c.

The scholarship on East Africa has underlined the relative rarity of slave revolts, emphasizing other forms of resistance, such as escapes. In the Zambezi valley, an extended area dominated by the Portuguese since the late 16th century, slave flights were also a common feature. In this area, slaveholders owned dozens or hundreds of enslaved Africans, who performed several economic, social, military, and symbolic functions.
In this paper, I analyze the importance of escapes in the framework of mechanisms to resist to slavery in this region of present Mozambique, which was in line with other areas of East Africa. Information on runaways is sparse, however ‘absent slaves’ were an ongoing trouble for their owners. Flights were easy in Portuguese states with porous frontiers. Enslaved Africans, individually or in groups, used the flights temporarily or tried to escape definitely from their masters. Generally, the fugitives tended to seek protection with African chiefs, but they also chose to find refuge among other Portuguese masters.

Paper 2

Mvé Bekale Marc / Université de Reims

African Epic Tales and Resistance to the Atlantic Slave Trade: The Example of Mvet

It is now a fairly established historical fact that the Atlantic slave trade had thrived out of an organized market that included the Africans and the Europeans. If a large part of this history has been written from European archives, information remains scarce when we turn to African countries. As a result, any attempt at reconstructing the African version of slave trade essentially relies on the collective memory. As often in societies with no written records, African historiography mainly builds on oral tradition (legends, epic tales, family genealogies, ) which is usually under the control of the community’s elders and official bards.
The present paper will approach Mvet epic tale as a repository of Central Africa’s oral history and memory. Invented by the Fang-Beti-Bulu people, a Bantu-speaking population of South Cameroon, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea, Mvet is a war epic wherein history, legends and myths are intertwined. Premised on the theory that the introduction of the Atlantic slave trade was the main activator of ethnic and tribal conflicts in Africa, this paper will attempt to understand how social facts and historical events are encoded in epic language. We will see that the quest for heroism in Mvet was a strategy of resistance as well as an outlet for the sublimation of the traumatic wound inflicted on the whole continent by the Atlantic slave trade.

Paper 3

La Rue George / Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Resisting Slavery in Nineteenth-Century Sudan and Egypt: Halima’s Individual and Collective Strategies

Recent research on the lives of individual enslaved Sudanese in the trans-Saharan trade has uncovered new details about their lives south and north of the Sahara from the moment of capture through their early processing as fresh slaves, initial service to their captors, the trans-Saharan crossing, and during their lives as slaves north of the Sahara. With this new information, it is time to re-examine the changing patterns of individual and collective resistance to slavery.
Using the biographical information and the autoethnography of one remarkable Sudanese slave woman, Halima Dussap, it is now possible to illustrate several of these strategies in the first third of the nineteenth century. These included armed resistance, defensive relocation, attempts at collective resistance in slave caravans, the formation of slave communities in Egypt, the adoption of new religious identities, marriage strategies by women seeking free status for themselves and their children, and ultimately providing detailed information to European abolitionists. Halima’s personal experiences and strategies will be set in the context of other examples of resistance to slavery in the region, and the transformation of the processes of enslavement as Egyptian intervention increased in the Sudan.

Paper 4

De Almeida Mendes Antonio / Université de Nantes

The abolition of Slavery in West Africa and the evolution of labour laws in Portugal (XVII-XIX centuries)

The abolition of slave trade to Portugal and African slavery in the 1760s occurred at the same moment when new labour contract, first form of welfare state and new forms of racialization emerged in Europe. This paper discusses the interaction between these processes in perceptions and practises of labour in Portugal and in Portuguese colonial Africa.

Paper 5

Candido Mariana / University of Kansas

Enslaved women and their paths to freedom in Angola, 19th century

This paper examines the paths to freedom available to enslaved women in Angola during the nineteenth century. Looking at parish records, wills, and slave registers, this study explores the contested nature of domestic labor and intimacy enslaved women faced in Angola. While slave trade from West Central Africa was abolished in 1836, the institution of slavery continued to exist in Angola until 1869. And its abolition was followed by a period of apprenticeship, where freed people continued to live in conditions very similar to bondage. Under slavery and apprenticeship regimes, freedom could be achieved through flight, litigation, and negotiation, among other strategies. Besides these venues, I will stress the role of sexuality, motherhood, and concubinage as part of the strategies available to enslaved women in Angola. Domestic labor offered different strategies to enslaved women to achieve freedom and establish themselves as free workers. Through cases of freedom, enslaved women’s interests and desires become clear. And in this study, I stress their initiatives and agency. This paper engages with the recent scholarship on sexual encounters under slavery, as well as the literature on the role of women in the construction and reshape of colonial and independent societies in the African continent. Angola allows us to combine both debates, emphasizing the role of African women before the twentieth century.

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