Gold Coast Diasporas: Identity, Culture, and Power

Views: 513
Ratings: (0)

Although they came from distinct polities and peoples who spoke different languages, slaves from the African Gold Coast were collectively identified by Europeans as "Coromantee" or "Mina." Why these ethnic labels were embraced and how they were utilized by enslaved Africans to develop new group identities is the subject of Walter C. Rucker's absorbing study. Rucker examines the social and political factors that contributed to the creation of New World ethnic identities and assesses the ways displaced Gold Coast Africans used familiar ideas about power as a means of understanding, defining, and resisting oppression. He explains how performing Coromantee and Mina identity involved a common set of concerns and the creation of the ideological weapons necessary to resist the slavocracy. These weapons included obeah powders, charms, and potions; the evolution of "peasant" consciousness and the ennoblement of common people; increasingly aggressive displays of masculinity; and the empowerment of women as leaders, spiritualists, and warriors, all of which marked sharp breaks or reformulations of patterns in their Gold Coast past.

List price: $9.99

Your Price: $7.99

You Save: 20%

 

6 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1 Gold Coast Backgrounds

ePub

We were a people in motion still . . .

AYI KWEI ARMAH, TWO THOUSAND SEASONS (1973)

This chapter provides a historical optic through which the Gold Coast diaspora in the Americas can be better understood. If we can embrace notions forwarded by Gomez, Palmer, Thornton, and others that diasporic peoples carried their histories with them across the Atlantic, then understanding those histories helps contextualize the societies they encountered, confronted, and recreated in the Americas.1 Social death, then, may have been real and consequential. However, the forced separation of Atlantic Africans from the societies of their birth and their subsequent diasporic dispersals did not lead to mass amnesia nor, for that matter, a series of cultural holocausts. They did not forget the range of familiar political, social, and cultural geographies from their immediate pasts, nor could they continue their previous lives in unaltered forms. Physical separation from natal societies and life in chattel bondage in the Americas represented real historical watersheds and the frames within which the enslaved could engage in the invention and formulation of new sociopolitical traditions. Simply put, social death gave way to social resurrection as diasporic Atlantic Africans actively and continuously reinvented themselves using concepts with which they had strong familiarity.

 

2 Making the Gold Coast Diaspora

ePub

Our people who are no longer of us

Also pleaded and waited fearfully

For the truth of betrayal:

They too got carried away.

KWADWO OPOKU-AGYEMANG, “IN THE SHADOW OF THE CASTLE,” CAPE COAST CASTLE: A COLLECTION OF POEMS (1996)

Perhaps the first real evil of the transatlantic traffic in flesh was the social death suffered by its many victims. Nothing captures this truth better than the story of a Fante youth who went on to become one of the most strident abolitionist voices of the eighteenth century. When Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, “born in the city of Agimaque (Ajumako), on the coast of Fantyn” in 1757, remembered his life before his forced Atlantic sojourn and the months of toil on a Grenada slave gang, his focus centered on forever severed familial and social relations. Indeed, his recollections of his Gold Coast home moved immediately to his father, who served as a close companion and confidant to the Ajumakohene, perhaps in the capacity of caboceer or other court official. When the king died, his successor—Ajumakohene Ambro Accasa—sent for the young Cugoano to live with him at the royal court among his own children. After about two years in Accasa’s court, Cugoano departed for an extended visit with his uncle, who had a residence three day’s journey to the west of Ajumako near Assini. Three months with his uncle led Cugoano to consider returning back to his family and friends in Ajumako, but he notes, “By this time I had got well acquainted with some of the children of my uncle’s hundreds of relations.” In extending his stay with his uncle and other kin, Cugoano became caught up in the machinations of Atlantic commerce.1

 

3 Slavery, Ethnogenesis, and Social Resurrection

ePub

Coramantien, a country of blacks . . . is very warlike and brave, and having a continual campaign, being always in hostility with one neighbouring prince or other.

APHRA BEHN, OROONOKO (1688)

In the autumn of 1736, hundreds of the inhabitants on the British Caribbean island of Antigua witnessed a series of events purported to be the culmination of months of clandestine planning. Court, an enslaved man in the employ of Thomas Kerby, became the widely recognized leader of a “Coromantee” contingent and he helped forge an alliance with “Eboes” and island-born creoles. Captured and enslaved in the Gold Coast at the age of ten, Court reportedly hailed from a “considerable” family—likely in Ga-speaking Accra—though he was not of royal blood. Despite his high-born natal origin, the leveling influences of capture, social death, and chattel slavery—along with his youth at the time of his transatlantic journey in 1711—reduced Court’s status to that of other Atlantic Africans and creoles he encountered after disembarking in Antigua. Over the course of a quarter century, Court—described in trial records as “artful, and ambitious, very proud, and of few Words”—accumulated money, influence, and an elevated status that led him to assume, “among his Countrymen . . . the Title of King, and had been by them [addressed] and treated as such.” Court’s stature as New World royalty among the Coromantee was evident in the chant his retinue routinely performed in his presence. With raised wooden cutlasses, they would cry “Tackey, Tackey, Tackey, Coquo Tackey which signifies, King, King, King, great King, which Words are used in the Coramantee Country every Morning at the King’s Door.” Indeed, Court was referred to by his Coromantee title “Tackey”—a Ga royal lineage or office—so often that it was mistaken by contemporary witnesses and more recent historians for his personal, Gold Coast name.1

 

4 State, Governance, and War

ePub

The warning to the Governor from Captain Cuffy of Master Barky, Accara, likewise of Barky . . . that His Excellency with three ships goes to Holland as quickly as possible and with the first, and if the Governor does not . . . the Captain will come with a large number of troops to fight . . . [we] demand that the slaves who are lower down must not be taken with them or it will go bad for you.

CAPTAIN CUFFY, “LETTER TO GOVERNOR WOLFERT SIMON VAN HOOGENHEIMIN ROTH, “THE STORY OF THE SLAVE REBELLION IN BERBICE” (1959)

King June and his retinue stood between two Black Atlantic Worlds in 1734. Four years earlier his Gold Coast home, Akwamu, was defeated by neighboring Akyem and Akwamu’s own citizens, forcing many of its elites into exile and enslavement in the Western Hemisphere. Between the collapse of their polity and their transformation into commodities, the Akwamu elite indeed suffered social and political deaths. Transported in two major waves to the Danish Caribbean—115 arriving in June 1732 on the Countess of Laurwig, followed by another shipment of 242 in May 1733 on the Laarburg Galley—some of these men and women had been nobles, abirempong (big-men and -women), akomfo (priests), senior court administrators, and royal servants in Akwamu. “King” June, also known as Jama, appears in the records of Christiansborg Castle as a royal court official and a distinguished lieutenant of the Akwamuhene.1 As Ray Kea notes, King June’s responsibilities in the Akwamu court included a number of tasks: “He collected the monthly tribute as well as [dash] that the Danish company paid to the Akwamu sovereign; he collected fines whenever the king imposed them on the different tributary coastal towns or the Danish trading stations; he served as the king’s trading agent at Christiansborg Castle. . . . Along with his civil duties as a royal revenue-collector and royal commercial agent, he served the king as a military officer.”2 War transformed him from a member of an empowered elite in the Gold Coast to a slave in the Danish Caribbean. However, King June’s social and political deaths preceded a concerted effort at sociopolitical resurrection as an Amina in Danish St. John between November 1733 and May 1734.

 

5 Obeah, Oaths, and Ancestral Spirits

ePub

Among their other superstitions also, must not be omitted their mode of administering an oath of secrecy or purgation.—Human blood, and earth taken from the grave of some near relation, are mixed with water, and given to the party to be sworn.

BRYAN EDWARDS, THE HISTORY, CIVIL AND COMMERCIAL, OF THE BRITISH COLONIES IN THE WEST INDIES (1783)

The dead, and communication with the dead, play traditionally a large part in Atlantic religions. Wherever West African beliefs have survived in the New World, this place of the dead has been maintained. . . . the power of the dead to help or harm is common tenant even among those who have discarded hoodoo.

ZORA NEALE HURSTON, “HOODOO IN AMERICA” (1931)

Like his Antigua Coromantee comrade Billy, Sam Hector found himself a member of multiple Gold Coast diasporic enclaves in his Black Atlantic sojourn. Listed as “Byam’s Quaw” in a 1736 inventory of captured insurgents slated for transport from Antigua, Sam Hector was banished to the Danish Virgin Islands in April 1737. Upon arrival, he became the “property” of Pieter Heyliger of St. Croix—where he resided and toiled until his execution in 1759. In the course of the intervening decades, he transformed himself from Coromantee traitor to Amina commander—even in the ironic and simultaneous process of becoming an acculturated Atlantic creole. In this movement across geographic spaces and between political and cultural poles, Sam Hector witnessed and personally activated a range of spiritual technologies that proved powerful inducements in the rebellious designs of Coromantees and (A)minas in the circum-Caribbean and beyond.1

 

6 Women, Regeneration, and Power

ePub

Sound the abeng,

Make ready the lowland raids.

Slaughter the English enemies

On lowland plains . . .

Victoriously we return

Oh chieftaness of the Mountain Passes.

MARGUERITE CURTIN, “NANNY,” IN GOTTLIEB, THE MOTHER OF US ALL (2000)

Clara’s Atlantic journey from the Gold Coast to Jamaica involved a rather ironic and dramatic personal transformation. As she related when interviewed by planter Bryan Edwards sometime between 1787 and 1793, she came from a small rural hamlet not far from Fante-speaking Anomabu in the central coast. Her parents and eight siblings were all slaves belonging to a “great man” named Anamoa. Given the multigenerational nature of their enslavement, they may have been war captives. Indeed, their master, Anamoa, may have been the ohene or warlord responsible for their capture and transformation into slaves. Their master’s untimely death precipitated the sale of Clara, two of her siblings, and several others to local merchants to cover his many debts. This separation from her parents and most of her siblings represented the second social death Clara suffered in her short life; she would undergo a few more over the course of coming months. She and her two brothers found themselves onboard an English slaver, disembarking in Jamaica by late 1784. We know little of their Atlantic journey other than the fact that Edwards purchased all three after 1787 and they joined a sizable contingent of “Koromantyn Negroes” on his holdings. The twenty others formerly owned by Anamoa who went unsold, including most of Clara’s immediate family, suffered far worse fortunes than shipment to the Western Hemisphere. Of their fate, Clara reported to Edwards all the “others were killed” at their master’s funeral.1

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
2370006791201
Isbn
9780253017017
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata