Africa and Resistance Following Emancipation (The Slave Trade)

‘Africa and Resistance Following Emancipation’ is the continuation of an African study titled ‘Africa In The Caribbean‘ – By Dennis R. Hidalgo. This study is a historical overview of the African Diaspora in the Caribbean.

After slavery, Afro-Caribbean people found that many things remained the same; society’s scorn for African and neo-African cultures, the political powerlessness of black people under colonial rule, their poverty in a region that was producing raw materials for the global economy.

Haitian Slave Revolution
Haitian Revolution. Blacks murdering their captors in the early 19th century. (Photo: Wikimedia)

The long ostracized Haitian state, which France was the first to recognized in 1825, but not after it paid an undue indemnity for the planters’ loss in 1804, is an acute example of the Afro-Caribbean post-abolition plight.

In response to this situation, which reached its pinnacle during the GREAT DEPRESSION of the 1930s, black intellectuals wrote scientific treatises, works of history, and poetry exalting and affirming the Caribbean African experience. In this period, which coincided with the shift in scholarly orientation toward the black Caribbean, NATIONALISM was a powerful force leading to the recognition of the value of folk cultures.

As intellectuals in the Spanish speaking Caribbean explored their islands’ distinct identities, and as British colonies gradually moved towards INDEPENDENCE in the 1950s and 1960s, and French colonies chose political integration with France in 1947, all began to investigate and celebrate their many African cultural heritages. [see JEAN PRICE-MARS; JOSE MARTI; AIMÉ CÉSAIRE; CLR JAMES; ERIC WILLIAMS; MARCUS GARVEY; ALEJO CARPENTIER; and LUIS PALÉS MATOS]

The new recording and broadcasting technologies of the early twentieth century allowed African-inspired styles of Caribbean music to develop new forms and reach new audiences in Europe, Latin America, and the United States. [see CUBAN MUSIC AND DANCE; JAMAICA: MUSIC AND DANCE] On a more local level, forms of Caribbean cultural expression including oral literature and religion conveyed messages of personal dignity, resistance to oppression and spiritual transcendence honed over centuries of slavery.

For people of the British Caribbean, London and New York became important meeting places during the first half of the 20th century.

Jamaica’s Marcus Garvey, for example, mingled with African nationalists in London in the years before WORLD WAR I. He found, however, that in 1914 Jamaicans were unsympathetic to his movement for panAfrican unity. Things changed when he moved to New York in 1916. Here Garvey mobilized thousands of people with his UNIA organization, and with its newspaper, The Negro World, which reached circulation in the millions.

In 1920, he organized in Harlem the first of four International Conventions of the Negro Peoples of the World that included various African leaders. His ideas and influence came to help shape nationalist movements in Africa. The Black, Green, and Red colors of his movement found their way into the flags of several African countries, as well as the Black Star of Ghana, so named after Garvey’s Black Star Liner.

London was even more important as a meeting ground for anti-imperialists from Britain’s Caribbean and African colonies. In 1940 Garvey died there after successfully transplanting his UNIA back to Jamaica from New York. Trinidad’s Sylvester Williams was a central figure in organizing the first pan-African Congress in London in 1900.

In 1935, a number of West Indian intellectuals in London organized against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, including CLR JAMES, AMY ASHWOOD GARVEY and GEORGE PADMORE. Padmore, originally from TRINIDAD, was already active in the Communist Party in the United States and on the European continent. But in London he grew increasingly active in African nationalist circles, befriending future African leaders like Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah. Padmore helped organize the 5th Pan African Congress in Manchester England in 1945, at the end of WORLD WAR II. And he became a central advisor to Nkrumah, playing a major role in the elections that led to the independence of Ghana from British control in 1957 and organizing the first All African People’s Congress in 1958 in Accra, Ghana’s capital.

Since the 1930s, pan-Africanism in the English-speaking Caribbean had a spiritual, as well as political resonance. Street preachers like LEONARD HOWELL combined Garvey’s pan-African political rhetoric with charismatic Christianity to produce the idea of Africa as a place of spiritual redemption for Black Caribbean people.

By the 1950s RASTAFARIANISM, which accepted the Ethiopian Emperor Hailie Selassie as the living god, had emerged in Jamaica as a religious movement that rejected not only British imperialism but the nascent nationalism of the Jamaican middle and working classes. Drawing on the Old Testament notion of returning to Zion, the Promised Land, Rastafarians in the early 1960s sent groups to live in Ethiopia. But conditions in this part of Africa were as difficult, if not more so, than in Jamaica.

By the 1970s Rastafarianism became an international cultural phenomenon, associated with leading reggae stars like BOB MARLEY. The African orientation of this movement became more spiritual than political, rejecting western materialism rather than advocating a physical return to Africa.

Since around the same period of the 1930s, intellectuals like Fernando Ortiz had described the many ways in which African cultures have shaped Caribbean identities. But it was only after THE CUBAN REVOLUTION of 1959, when FIDEL CASTRO’s government forged directed ties with various regions of Africa. These ties were more than cultural and intellectual.

From 1961 to 1989, thousands of Cuban troops fought in a number of African civil wars and revolutions, most notably in Angola, from 1965 to 1989. [see CUBA’S WARS IN AFRICA].

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Dennis R. Hidalgo is a History Professor at Virginia Tech, who loves to read, enjoy nature, sports and hopes to make a positive impact in the world. While teaching and researching the history of the Atlantic World, Prof. Hidalgo seeks to improve as a person and hopes to make a positive impact on people. He blogs at DennisHidalgo.BlogSpot.com 

Further Reading:

  • Apter, Andrew Herman. Beyond words: discourse and critical agency in Africa. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007
  • Heywood, Linda M., and John K. Thornton. Central Africans, Atlantic Creoles, and the Foundation of the Americas, 1585-1660. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 
  • Inikori, Joseph E. Africans and the industrial revolution in England: a study in international trade and economic development. Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Klein, Herbert S., and Ben Vinson. African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean. 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Manuel, Peter, Kenneth M. Bilby, and Michael D. Largey. Caribbean currents: Caribbean music from rumba to reggae. Temple University Press, 2006.
  • Miller, Ivor L. Voice of the Leopard: African Secret Societies and Cuba. University Press of Mississippi, 2009.
  • Mintz, Sidney W., and Richard Price. The Birth of African-American Culture: An Anthropological Perspective. Beacon Press, 1992.
  • Otero, Solimar. Afro-Cuban Diasporas in the Atlantic World. University Rochester Press, 2010
  • Sweet, James H. Recreating Africa. University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
  • Price, Richard. First-time: the historical vision of an Afro-American people. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
  • Thompson, Robert Farris. Flash of the Spirit: African and Afro-American Art and Philosophy. Random House, 1984.
  • Thornton, John. Africa and Africans in the Making of the Atlantic World, 1400-1800. 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
  • Whitten, Norman Jr. and Arlene Torres. Blackness in Latin America and the Caribbean. Indiana University Press, 1998.

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