Monday, October 29, 2007
I did not learn about African / African American history indept until graduate school. That says a lot about this country. But even then, learning the history then never put such a spotlight on the origins of slavery and the blight that slavery was, and the destructive consequences it had on all Africans and descendents of enslaved Africans.
The worsts part of all of this research and study is realizing that we are not united as a people, even now, and not knowing how to even begin remedying the problem.
I often write to a cousin of mine, and when I told her about the history and the information I have been finding and talked about the state of Africa today; I questioned whether we would have been better off there or here (the descendents of the enslaved). She definitively said, we would have been better off there, because then the people would nto have been slaves. It was so simple, and so true. And we wouldn't be exiles. And the language that I struggle to learn today, would be a language that I would speak easily and freely. I feel as if I have missed out on so much, but sadly, I don't really know all that I have missed.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
and came across something interesting in the end.
The assignment is titled Family History - The Transatlantic Slave Trade and is a University of MD project. It reads (the good part begins at the end with "But all is not lost"):
First, I have some observations on the trade itself, then suggestions about how to deal with it for the purpose of this assignment. A Historical Synopsis The transatlantic slave trade originated in the waning decades of the 15th century. Although the Portuguese were its primary facilitators, many nations, both European and African, were in on the act. Don't be naive. At this period of history, slavery was a common institution across most of the world, where criminals or POWs were routinely condemned to intervals (though not always their whole lives) of hard forced labor. None of the people who instituted the transatlantic trade would have been morally outraged by the concept. What made the transatlantic slave trade different were its sheer scale, the brutal conditions that slaves had to endure during transport to their places of bondage, and the absolute hopelessness of their situation upon arrival. CONSERVATIVE estimates put the number of people dying during transport across the ocean at about two million. Given the incompleteness of historical records the true figure could be twice as great, and that doesn't even consider people's ugly fates in bondage. The transatlantic slave trade certainly ranks right up there with the Nazi Holocaust and Stalin's Gulag as a MAJOR blot on human history. If you ever need a case study in which the pursuit of free enterprise and the laws of supply and demand and were not good for society, this is it. The slave trade enriched people on the receiving end in the New World by making difficult agricultural schemes profitable, enriched people on the supply end who gained access to high-end manufactured goods by selling their POWs, and fabulously enriched the middle-men with the ships. Anyone who's grown up in this country knows about the grief and pain resulting from our historic tolerance of slavery, and has, in their personal life, tasted the poison that still flows through our cultural veins as a result. Less is known about the effects of the supply side of the trade, so it's worth a few words. The transatlantic slave trade began when the Portuguese instituted a simple exchange of manufactured goods (fine pottery, textiles, iron and steel tools, and firearms) for West African forest products (gold, spices, and slaves). With the colonization of the New World, this developed into a triangular system in which manufactured goods were traded for West African slaves, which were, in turn, traded for New World agricultural exports. In time, the Portuguese were joined by the Dutch and English as major protagonists. Rulers and merchants of the West African city-states visited by the Europeans sought to expand their trade by finding more and better products to trade. Kingdoms like Asante (in the modern Republic of Ghana) that boasted productive gold mines had no trouble attracting the trading ships. Less well endowed kingdoms exported spices, ivory, and their POWs (which were in good supply because these states were often at war with one another.) In principle, this wasn't really different from the export of slaves to the Mediterranean through the Sahelian trading kingdoms that had been going on for centuries. What was different was the scale of the operation. When India became part of Portugal's trading network, the demand for West African spices declined, leaving many kingdoms with little of value to export except surplus human beings. This coincided with the expansion of slave-based plantation agriculture in the New World, setting in motion a self-catalyzing economic shift in which West African states became increasingly specialized as slave producers. Of course, this gave them an incentive to wage war with their neighbors, simply to "harvest" POWs for export. Increasingly, European traders fed this fire by paying for slaves with firearms. Although governments and leading citizens got very rich as slave suppliers, the overall societal effects of the slave trade were very bad: War became more frequent and destructive. People in their productive prime were taken from their societies. Their captors, by trading them away, didn't even get the benefit of their labor. Manufactured goods purchased with slaves were either non-productive luxuries (cotton fabric, pottery, etc.) or destructive (firearms, later alchohol). Opportunities to develop more productive regional economies were ignored as people rushed to get rich selling slaves. At some point or other, slaves were taken from the entire region from Senegal to Angola, but this activity focused in different places at different times. Senegal, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia supplied slaves very early in the trade because they were among the first regions contacted by the Portuguese. By the 18th century they had been eclipsed by regions farther south. (In the 19th century, Sierra Leone, and Liberia were actually colonized by freed slaves from the New World.) The gold-exporting Asante, actually TOOK Nigerian and Dahomey slaves from the Europeans in exchange for gold. The major hot-spots of slave export were: the kingdoms of Dahomey (modern Republic of Benin) and southern Nigeria - called the "slave coast." the coast of AngolaEven in the "slave coast," the trade was uneven. The kingdom of Benin (not the modern republic) actually embargoed the export of slaves for nearly two centuries, although it held many for its own uses. In contrast, the kingdom of Oyo (modern "Old Oyo") and the Igbo confederation of Aro were especially enthusiastic trading partners. In Angola, the situation was slightly different. There, the Portuguese tried to set up a system of trade with local suppliers similar to that of the "slave coast," however their local trading partners, the kingdoms of Kongo and Ndongo, were more fragile, vulnerable to reprisals, and exerted less control over the countryside, motivating the Portuguese to establish colonies and manage the slave trade themselves. Many early colonists intermarried and assimilated with local populations. Thus, if your ancestors lived in Angola in CE 1800, then probably some of their ancestors lived in Portugal inCE 1490. During the nineteenth century, democracy and industrialization took root in North America and Europe, and the slave trade started to look both morally repugnant and unprofitable. By 1870, the trade had completely ended. (Even the Confederate Constitution outlawed the international slave trade, but of course they weren't exactly hurting for slave labor.) This spelled economic disaster for the kingdoms that had thrived on slave export. Indeed the civil unrest that this provoked provided the pretext for the next stage of West African misery - European colonialism. Doing the Assignment So, if any of your ancestors were transported by the transatlantic slave trade, two things are likely: Records of their national origin were lost. In the New World, they intermarried with people taken from all parts of the region effected by the trade.Thus, your best bet is to assume that in CE 1490, you had ancestors living in the coastal regions of Africa from Senegal all the way to Angola.
But all is not lost:
If you have family information that constrains the date at which your first slave ancestors were brought over, then you can constrain the geography of your ancestral homeland somewhat. The region west of modern Ghana largely dropped out of the slave trade by roughly the beginning of the 18th century. Indeed, the majority of African cultural influences brought to the New World (vocabulary items, Caribbean and Brazilian religious practices, etc.) point to a Nigerian, Dahomey, or Angolan ancestry for most African Americans. You don't have to be Alex Haley to have family information that ties your origins down more securely. Some African American surnames preserve information. For example, the surname of the Quander family of DC has been traced to its African origins (probably Angola). Indeed, during the early days of slavery in North America, many free blacks intermarried with Native Americans and European settlers to form composite ethnic groups. Examples are: The Melungeons: Derived from free African (mostly Angolan) white, and Native American settlers in the Tidewater region of Virginia during the mid seventeenth century. "Melungeon" is from the Kimbundu (Angolan) word "Malungu" which means something like, "shipmate," a reference to the bond formed during transport across the Atlantic. The Gullah/Geechee: During the seventeenth century, the demands of rice cultivation in the wetlands and barrier islands of coastal South Carolina and Georgia led to a special system in which slaves were given practical autonomy and were free to speak their native languages, as long as the crop got harvested. The result was a people originating mostly from Sierra Leone and Guinea who spoke an English based creole called Gullah in South Carolina and Geechee in Georgia. There may be other such communities that I don't know about. Clearly, if you can trace your ancestry to such groups, you can greatly constrain your African ancestors' region of origin. But remember, your aim on this assignment is to try to locate all of your ancestors. Just because you primarily self-identify as African American, don't assume that all of your ancestors were African. There are very few African Americans who don't have at least a few European or Native American ancestors. European family surnames are a good place to start hunting for these.
So perhaps in the end, there is some hope.... Perhaps.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Wade’s remarks came months after the release of Adanggaman, by Ivory Coast director Roger Gnoan M’bala, “the first African film to look at African involvement in the slave trade with the West.” “It’s up to us,” M’Bala insisted, “to talk about slavery, open the wounds of what we’ve always hidden and stop being puerile when we put responsibility on others . . . . In our own oral tradition, slavery is left out purposefully because Africans are ashamed when we confront slavery. Let’s wake up and look at ourselves through our own image.”8
Africans felt shame for their role in the slave trade and slaves felt shame for their position as slaves.
As long as there is that shame, we won't be able to move forward. Slavery is rare today (but still exists). The people who were enslaved are long gone. The people who had a hand in their delivery into slavery are long gone as well.
It's the past, and even though it's so difficult to accept, we have to accept it, acknowledge that it happened, learn from it, and move on to some form of reconciliation. What's that quote, "he who does not learn from the past, is doomed to repeat it..."
I keep hearing the cry for reparations and at one point I was all for it. I don't know so much about that anymore. It's like a double-edged sword. The people who should have been made whole, can never be made whole. So how can you resolve the global question...?
It's something to think about.
Where did the supply of slaves come from? First, the Portuguese themselves kidnapped some Africans. But the bulk of the supply came from the Nigerians. These Nigerian middlemen moved to the interior where they captured other Nigerians who belonged to other communities. The middlemen also purchased many of the slaves from the people in the interior . . . . Many Nigerian middlemen began to depend totally on the slave trade and neglected every other business and occupation. The result was that when the trade was abolished [by England in 1807] these Nigerians began to protest. As years went by and the trade collapsed such Nigerians lost their sources of income and became impoverished. 4
4 Michael Omolewa, Certificate History of Nigeria (Lagos, Nigeria: Longman Group, 1991), 96–103, cited in Dana Lindaman and Kyle Ward, History Lessons: How Textbooks around the World Portray U.S. History (New York: New Press, 2004), 79-83.
Well, I guess West and I will guess a country right now.... I think, Liberia. But I fear it might be Nigeria. Then my second (or third, however you wish to count it) guess is Ghana.
I spoke to a friend yesterday (AD) about my "project" tracing my family history. He said that it was something he would not do, because he might find out something he did not want to know. Well, the worst thing I could find is the thing that is already obvious. My family started out in this country as slaves. Moving on with my search is not hindered by this. My paternal great-grandmother was raped by a white man and had a child, my Aunt Rosie. Bad thing revealed and my search goes on. My paternal grandmother did really horrible things to other people, which I can't mention. That's something bad. There are family "secrets" and I know this, so my search goes on.
I've come to the conclusion that it's not the past that can hurt you. It's ignoring it and being blind to the present and the future. Learn from the past, don't repeat the past. I just desire to know my past. So here I am.
I was calculating last night. It seems that I have a firm grasp on my family going back about 150 (+/- 10 years). From roughly 1850 through the beginning of slavery, which, according to one timeline (see below) began in 1640. But the first Africans came to Virginia in 1619. So that's about 210 years. Somewhere in those 231 years, my mother's, mother's, mother's, etc. or someone in her line, was brought to this country.
I hope I can put this puzzle together.
1502 First reported African slaves in the New World.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
- Adeola (me)
- Joyce (mother)
- Essie Pearl (grandmother)
- Mamie(great grandmother)
- Harriet(great-great grandmother)
- Mariah? (great-great-great grandmother)
This encompasses six generations of my family and the records go back to roughly the mid-1840s (including my great-great-grandmother) whose name I found out from my cousin. This is if I am correct about my great-great-great grandmother.
She also thinks that my great-great-grandfather's (maternal) name is William (a son is named after him, if this is the correct name). She also let me know that my great-grandmother's siblings include Lawyer (younger), Doc, William (oldest), and Annie (who married a Sampson). My great-great-gran was the youngest.
The DNA test arrived yesterday (19 July 2007, Thursday) and it scared me a lot.
I took the test this mornng and mailed it off. If the dates are correct, I should kn0w by September 2007 where my mother's line originated.
Benin, Burkina Fason, Cote d'Ivoire, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo.
Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda.
Well, I guess West and I will guess a country right now....
I think, Liberia. But I think it might be Nigeria. Then my second (or third, however you wish to count it) guess is Ghana.
Well anyway, she was a little helpful. I thought she was my grandfather's sister, but, as mentioned, she is his niece. She did give me names of some of her other aunts, uncles, and siblings, but she let me know in no uncertain terms, that she is 72 (birthday 5 May 1935) and she just did not remember AND that I would not get very far in my search. I think maybe, perhaps, she said that three, possibly four times. And I kept saying, no, I think I'll find something, and I'll share it with you and the family. She said, she did not want to know. And anyway, I was not going to find anything anyway.
I had to keep telling her over and over again that I had already found information. But she said I'd find nothing, and I can understand her skepticism. We've been cut off.
When I was watching Roots, in the end, the greot said that there were Africans who were in exile, away from their home.
Somewhere I read about a monument at a slave trading sight someone in Africa that was dedicated to the lost and hoped that one day they might find their way home, back to their families, back to their home land.
But there was not a lot of hope surrounding this. I mean, being in exile (and believe me, this feels like exile, even on good days), it's difficult to get back, especially when the link was broken from the 1600s through the 1800s. That's 300 or so years. And one number of those abducted is 14 million (or more). I've heard other variations of that number, only higher. And after watching Amistad, I have to wonder how many of those millions ended up at the bottom of the Atlantic, but I digress.
The link has been broken, and for Alex Haley to have reconstructed his is a miracle. I say to myself after reading his books, especially Roots, and after having seen his movies, especially Roots, et. al., that man was truly blessed. The circumstances surrounding his finding his home were phenomenal and he was just always in the right place at the right time.
I don't know if the stars will align for me as they did for him.
I know that in my life I have been truly blessed. I have been given much and at times I feel as if I should not ask for more. But, for this, reconstructing my link, I am going to ask and I am going to pray. And just like Mr. Haley, I am going to ask others to pray for me too.
The picture above, again is of the Atlantic. But this picture is from the Atlantic, of the shore in North Carolina. I wonder if any of my ancestors (or ancestor) walked on this shore from chains into bondage.
I've been watching the 30th Anniversary of Roots and fished out this book last night to begin my search again. I found out today that the NC Census dates back to 1790 so I can find my family back over 200 years. BUT 1610 to 1790 may be more difficult.
I've decided to do the DNA test to find out where Joyce's side of the family comes from.
My desire to know my history is so overwhelming that I've just spent $259 to find out my mother's line in Africa. So I can at least have a country to aim for when I begin searching shipping records.
The thought of knowing where I'm from scares me. I mean, I know I'm American. My paternal grandfather is Native American. I don't care to know my paternal grandmother's origin though I think that it's Ghanian. I'm not so concerned about my maternal grandfather's family because other than my uncles and aunts, I don't know or spend time with the other family members. My mother's mother's family is my family.
Well, when I spoke with my cousin, she said, why not find out. They're still family. She went on to argue her point and wore me down. So after I have found my mother's maternal line, I plan to also find my mother's paternal line.
I had wanted to find my paternal grandfather's line, but it might be too late. He's deceased. My dad is deceased and there are no more males who are directly descended from him. I am hoping in the census records to find some list of the ethnic group and hopefully a tribe affiliation, but if not, I may have to look into other Smith family members to see if there are other males who descended from my paternal grandfather's brothers or any living brothers. Man this is going to be tough.
I plan to spend next Friday, 27 July 2007, at the National Archives in Philadelphia, finding information about my maternal side.
Oh, and one last thought. The picture above is of Capitol Hill (Washington, DC). I had a thought about the DNA tests. Since the slaves benefited this country and built it, why not have the government pay for the DNA tests to allow people to find out at least part of their heritage. I wonder if I can get that idea any further than this web log...
After some thought, I realized I did not need to know everything. How sad is that? I want to know who my mother's mother's (and so on) family is and where they are from, so much so that I just spent $359 on African Ancestry to find out. I am not so much concerned with my mother's father's family, though I may eventually one day look this up as well.
In a couple of months, I'll know.
More to come.