HI330 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Middle Passage, Animism, Incest Taboo

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HI330 Lecture Slavery in Africa
Thursday January 10, 2013
West Africa Before the Europeans
-“These [West African] nations think themselves the foremost men in the world, and
nothing will persuade them to the contrary. They imagine that Africa is not only the
greatest part of the world, but also the happiest and most agreeable.”
-Father Giovanni Antonio Cavazzi, 1687
-The priest was probably motivated for this statement with his own frustration in
trying to convert Africans to Christianity West Africans didn’t want to convert
-Did West Africans have a basis for this high self-opinion (of their cultures)?
A Huge and Diverse Continent
-Major African kingdoms, 500 BCE-1500 CE
-Approximately 50 million people
-People lived closer to the coasts easier to get water, climates could be
more hospitable to larger scale populations, trade routes in certain locations
-People don’t live in the deserts in large scale kingdoms – more smaller
groups Sahara and Sahel few people would live
-Grasslands, forests, coasts higher population density
-Major population centres
-North, East
-Inmeshed in the slave trade
-West Africa
-More focus here ancestral homeland or most black Americans that
were brought to the US via slavery
-Centre of the slave trade
-Substantial ethnic, religious and cultural identity
-Why focus there
West African Societies and Cultures
-Cultural and ethnic diversity
-Range of human experiences of people that became African slaves
-Research challenges
-Few early written records about these areas
-Historians have through the use of archaeology and oral histories and come
to conclusions of how Africans were living at the beginning of the slave trade
-Kinship groups and extended family
-By the early 16th century most West African families were farmers and
lived in family lineages called clans either matrilineal or patrilineal
-Didn’t mean that women were running society
-Nuclear of polygenous
-Number of wives that men might have
-Incest taboo
-Strict incest taboos
-Family role
-Largely an economic unit, not a romantic bond marry out of
-Important role indigenous religions
West African Religions
-2 religious traditions in West Africa
-Central religion
-More urban populations you see Islam
-1 god
-Quran religious text
-Encouraged people to become literate in Arabic so they could read
the Quran
-Indigenous religions
-Strongest in the forest regions of West Africa
-Large number of divinities and spirits
-Force of their Gods in a range of places including natural elements
such as mountains and trees
-Nature, ancestors
-Ancestors are important to people’s relationships with gods
-Difficult for those taken to slavery
-To keep their gods and ancestors happy
Arts and Legends
-Skilled artists throughout West Africa masks, figurines that intended to represent
ancestors and gods
-Visual arts
-Their purpose
-Developed and used a wide range of instruments
-Drums, xylophone, bells, flutes
-Singing and dance played an important role in West African rituals
-Major contribution to world culture
-Interesting role in these societies
-Tool of the people in terms of trickster tales idea of the story of the “little
guy” or “common people” that trick the powerful noble
-Keep the ordinary person entertained and nobles entertained double
-Entertainment and subversion
-Poets and musicians that held positions in the courts of West Africa
-Why scholars care
-Both west Africans taken to the Americans and their descendants were able
to preserve elements of their old ways of life that scholars previously knew was
-Those brought into slavery west Africa family organization and farming
skills, music and pottery skills, etc and adapted them to their new
Work and Government
-Land: usually communal
-Tasks were usually divided by gender
-This would very by place
-Shows differences in cultures
-In many places there were variations, there were definitions of what was a
man’s work or what was women’s work these weren’t necessarily the
same for the Americas
-Women weeding, harvesting, planting of crops etc
-Europeans asked what the men were doing
-Responsible for child care, cooking, making pottery for the home
-Men hunting, diplomacy of other tasks
-Strict hierarchical arrangements
-Government structures
-Local based on lineages
-Giant empires of Ghana and Mali
-Government structures were present
-Musa’s Journey from the Catalan Atlas [c. 1375]
-Musa was from Mali
-Depicts his pilgrimage to Meca
-He had absolutely high number of subjects 60 000 people with him on his
trip across the Sahara to Meca
West African Empires
-Muslim Empire of Mali, 1130-1468 CE
-100 000 man military
-Trade hub
-Cultural and intellectual centre in Mali
-Government highly organized and had a civil service
-Strong advancements in science and technology
-Used steel
-Institute of higher education in Timbuktu
-Benin and Congo
-Advanced and large-scale kingdoms
-Political shifts
-Diverse and fragment