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Marginalia: quoting my self

by Cat Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 10:29:46 AM EST

Following is an excerpt from a monograph I wrote in 1995. I pulled it from the stacks. I've no idea where the digital doc is. So I had to type it again! What I realized while rereading it was it's still a serviceable primer to decoding racist motivations today, not least of which is epitomized by the political significance of the first African American elected president of the United States.

I wrote Idiom and Artifacts of the African Diaspora for a client, an executive who managed product development in a transnational corporation. She is a boricua. I'm just happy to be "black," to oblige my peeps in a never-ending struggle to unearth the wealth. Accordingly, the text addresses elements of design rather than polemic in order to justify in part a business case for "targeting" this consumer segment. We understood tacitly that paradoxical arguments against increasing corporate investment in a "niche" category are cemented in fixed costs. Driving that maxim of profitability is a belief, If African Americans are all alike, where's the gain in multiple product lines? Then as now our dilemma was to figure how to bust up stereotypical discourse explicitly without, you know, being received as terrorizing the American Dream. Or worse, Black Nationalists.

What is so special about African American concepts of beauty? To begin with, they are complicated.

From the diaries. Jérôme


The idea of African diaspora has attained the status of a trope for the depredations of slavery in the Americas. It is difficult for us to imagine or to accept concepts of beauty surviving this ugly period, much less to what kind of cultural heritage Americans of African descent can now claim affinity. This difficulty is compounded by the immediacy of the moment. Contemporary writers like Naomi Wolf, on The Beauty Myth, and Molefi Kete, author of The Afrocentric Idea, contradict the authority of mass marketing in defining beauty by dismantling the ethos of sexism, racism and representation that authority itself represents. The result, in my opinion, further adds to the vacuum of what is perceived culturally valuable, what is the currency of endurance. Thus, many African American women might well be able to say, "I am beautiful, but I don't know why."

An important goal of this project would be to collect reasons for her. We will "look into" images that persist. And we will presume upon our common sense to grasp a distinctive standard of philosophical and artistic achievement to identify such artifacts.

Like most Afrocentric research, this project's point of departure is a WPA economist's study of slave trade, 1441 - 1860. Elizabeth Donnan's survey provides a statistical framework for theories about the provenance of African American cultures and disparate developments over centuries. Donnan matched colonial consumer preferences, that is to say, the regional origins of imported slaves to specific US markets --the Upper Colonies, Lower Colonies and Deep South. That data is interpreted here graphically, with annotations from supplematary reading. The listing details a number, but by no means all of the cultural groups inferred from those preferences. It is an important reminder of "ethnic" diversity in Africa itself. [Fig 1. mcs map]

With few exceptions slaves were identified by colonial names for places, such as Whydah and Calabar, or by manufacturer, such as Dahomey. Bear in mind that Whydah was a coastal "factory" city of the Dahomey empire --formerly the Benin empire-- where the Yoruba king's vassals processed, levied and shipped overseas --"deported" in Donnan's text-- "minority" subjects from the interior and Cross River region; that Senegambia's populace, a rubric of the Mali empire, is overwhelmingly Moslem; that Yoruba is one of 395 mutually unintelligible languages spoken in Nigeria alone; that Bakongo is a nationalistic identity that emerged in the language of international prohibition of the slave trade in the late 19th century.

As we see, anachronistic language and contemporary academic bias can promote a myth of a monolithic "West African" culture in the Americas. A selection of the most ubiquitous terms --Mande, Akan, Dahomey, Yoruba, Calabars, Bantu, Bakongo, and Swahili-- underscores the irony of this point when contrasted to a corresponding picture of Africa. The geographical scope of Donnan's survey is immense; the metafocal language of culture is tiny. We now should be in a sufficiently critical frame of mind to accept that what is currently "African" in the Americas is understood cynically --to manipulate disbelief in the methodical diminution of our mutual history and convictions that affirm competing, normative behaviors. [Fig 2. mcs map] Donnan online

At this point, a couple of terms are worth explaining for the purposes of this project: Culture, iconography and representation are as important to effective marketing and communication as product demonstration.

Culture is the realm of social experience, specifically, the manners both tangible and intangible in which members of a society express shared beliefs or knowledge as well as the form in which they are shared. Because the obvious medium of culture is language, drama, art, myth, and music are generally considered psychologically expressive "cultural practices." Because all culture is elastic, "tradition" becomes a gauge of the longevity of a particular cultural practice or belief, its social acceptability. According to Eurocentric tradition, aesthetic is the theoretical rubric of accounting styles of behavior and forms in practice. Oddly enough,  politics, economic, mores, religion or philosophy, and family relations fall into some other, specialized categories of knowledge and doctrine.

Iconography is the study of visual history --artifacts and, in the broadest sense, behaviors and written languages-- of a particular society. An icon can be any image of tradition. Sometimes it is a valuable reference of aesthetic within a society: Sometimes it is a stereotype of a society. Iconography allows us to trace what is traditionally, distinctively African within diasporic cultures.

The semantic difference between icon and representation is that the icon denotes a social history. The representation, on the other hand, signifies a peculiar event. It is an isolated image that invites interpretation.

We may begin to comprehend how the semiotics of "representation" and "African America" are linked today. Without a documented geography in historical literature, without cherished iconography, these terms are easily politicized according to the incontrovertible, hostile strategy of race-denominated relations. In the US, representations of African Americans are a vehicle to dominate self-expression: Representations by African Americans are a vehicle to liberate self-expression. The idiomatic expression "represent" carries this dichotomy into the streets and broadcast media. The meaning of the expressions "phat" or "cool" seemingly have no aesthetic anchors to historical practices. The interpretations of and credentials weilded by intellectuals "representin' " African American culture over time pulverize the Harlem Renaissance project to a genre of pulp fiction. In the context good and bad representations of and by African Americans, the visual rhetoric of "decolonizing" minds accommodates tenets of imperialism decried within the self on the one hand to evident mastery of "authentic" race traits on the other --Ebonics, reconstructions of one African culture, and deconstructions of one slave culture throughout the Americas. The essayist bell hooks named it "visual politics." She offers us proof of aesthetic realism operating integration strategies by manipulating a list of luxury goods. Appropriated things.

Recognizing beauty, a reader may remain bound by her knowledge, her status in a racialized society, and her education, and feel bruised by mass-produced icons. She may believe that her beauty is a luxury, an aspiration formed by idealized images (fashion photography) which rebuke the "common" woman or by institutions (fine art in museums) which segregate the historicity of genius from socially meaningful, expressive behavior. She may throw up both hands and say, "I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Just give me some pictures to choose from." If then this collection of images seems disconcertingly familiar, not at all exotic but a lot like the same old, same old, she may also find traditional African American concepts of beauty --archetypes of her self-- affirm the freedom to experiment. ...

Principle themes in pan-African aesthetic are radiance, rhythm, coolness, bounty, and volume. Specific examples of these themes in iconography are presented first to introduce archetypes, then to accustom the eye to the visual vocabulary of our traditions.

Radiance
Radiance is in European traditions associated with inner beauty sparked by orderly, happy events during a woman's life-cycle --a diamond ring, a marriage, pregnancy, the birth of a child. In the context of this project, radiance is literally and figuratively the manifestation of grace, divine intervention. As such it may be invoked but is fundamentally a character trait that is mediated and earned by personal creativity. At the core of this theme is a belief in the mutual reflections of physical and spiritual action. Iconography of the sun, ancestral spirits and pantheons in African and African diasporic traditions --from Damballah to Holy Roller revival meetings-- figure prominently. Divine possesion is the goal of religious practices. Radiance is signified in works and ritual objects by use of the brightest, shiniest, whitest materials available. Robert Farris Thompson has written extensively on this aspect of African and African American art and philosophy for many years, most notably in his book Flash of The Spirit.

The editorial mission of Essence magazine for example just as eloquently reiterates the traditional place of "spirituality" in secular life. Likewise Sande Society, an international organization of Africa, articulates and promotes a philosophy that is especially reserved for women. The popularity and traditions of Sande Society demonstrate how beauty takes life in community. Although Sande is strongly associated with Mende peoples, Sande is a nation unto itself. Its membership is multi-ethnic and today estimated at more than 1.5 million women. The axis of its territorial reach is roughly equivalent to the distance between Boston and Chicago. The important work of Sylvia Arden Boone illuminates the deep structural parallels of African American concepts of beauty to Sande thought and practices.

Rhythm
Musical rhythm at times seems the only distinctive feature of African and African American cultures. However, the diverse and unexpected media in which rhythm asserts itself deserve more critical attention. Rhythm is an aesthetic expression of a turbulent universe. Molefi Kete explicitly links rhythm to African American rhetorical tradition; and Henry Louis Gates Jr has critiqued its integral feautures in African American literature. Rhythm is found not only in complex patterns (polyrhymic compositions) and textile design but samples of scripts, individual comportment and dress, architecture, and idiosyncratic motif. Rhythm supports radiance.

Bounty
Bounty is the mainstream of African and African American cultures.The symbolism of fertility and material wealth originates in bounty, and an unstated axiom that there can never be enough beauty, let alone too much. It denotes depth in character, multiplicity in aesthetic and affect in human relations. In the arts bounty is demonstrated by geometric reproduction, industry and improvisation, artifice and embellishment as opposed to "naturalness," and particularly desirable personal attributes of corpulence such as neck rings, ample breasts, hips and thighs, and elaborate head dress. What is "phat" in the African American sociolect supports bounty and coolness.

Coolness
The importance of perfect composure --a certain calm in character, posture, gaze, generosity and wisdom-- connotes radiance.  Coolness is an indirect aspect to it. R. F. Thompson's informant tells us, "coolness is the correct way you represent yourself to a human being." Coolness is the mantle of successful initiation into society. It is áshe, a balance of disparate aesthetic forms (e.g. jazz) and cosmological forces. Coolness is signified in works of art by lightning, water, water imagery, submissive gestures, birds, snakes, glass, and the figurative or literal possession by orisha. In the America's the meaning of "cool" assimilated by commodified cultural practices is that which is generically appropriate, frequently denoting novelty.

Volume
Voume is diametrically opposed to "puritan ethic" of gratification deferred. As such it is a distinctly African expression in the Americas. "Livin' large," being "huge" or "talkin' trash" (signifying one's self-representation), these are qualities of a robust and charismatic presence among one's peers. It is big spending, personal genius, and agency within a community. It is an ability to project a collective conscious across time.

-------------------------
Bibliography

Achebe, Chinua, Hopes and Impediments: selected essays (New York: Doubleday) 1988
Appiah, Kwame Anthony, In My Father's House (New York: Oxford University Press) 1994
Asante, Molefi K., The Afrocentric Idea (Philadelphia: Temple University Press) 1988
Barthes, Roland, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1957) 18th ed. (New York: Hill and Wang) 1986
Bernal, Martin, Black Athena, vol. I (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press) 1986
Boone, Sylvia Ardyn, Radiance from The Waters (New Haven: Yale University Press) 1988
Carew, Jan, Fulcrums of Change (Trenton: Africa World Press) 1988
Condon, Robert, "Uli Art: Master Works/Recent Works," Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, fall/winter 1995
Dallas Museum of Art, Black Art--Ancestral Legacy: The African Impulse in African American Art, catalogue (New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc) 1989
Davidson, Basil, African Civilization Revisited (Trenton: Africa World Press) 1991
Donnan, Elizabeth, Documents Illustrative of the History of the Slave Trade to America (Washington D.C.: Carnegie Institute) 1935 [inferred herein from citations in numerous secondary sources]
Fisher, Angela, Africa Adorned (New York: Harry N. Abrams) 1984
Gates, Henry Louis Jr, The Signifying Monkey (New York: Oxford University Press) 1988
Halloway, Joseph E. ed., Africanisms in American Culture (New York: Doubleday) 1988
Harris, Michael D. and MacGaffey, Wyatt, Astonishment and Power, catalogue (Washington D.C.: National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institute Press) 1993
Herskovitz, Melville Jr, The Myth of the Negro (Boston: Beacon Press, 1941) 1990 ed.
Klein, Herbert S., African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean (New York: Oxford University Press) 1986
Lampe, Frederick, "Cosmos, Cosmetics, and the Spirit of Bondo," African Arts, vol. 18, no. 3, May 1985
Revue Noire no. 17 (Paris: Publication Edition Revue Noire Sarl) 1995
Richardson, Marilyn, "Edmonia Lewis' The Death of Cleopatra, myth and identity," The International Review of African American Art, vol. 12, no. 2 (Hampton: Hampton University Press) 1995
Shapiro, Daniel, Western Artists/African Art, catalogue (New York: Museum of African Art) 1994
Stephens, Mary C., "Mujeres de Poder," Nka: Journal of Contemporary African Art, fall/winter 1995
Thompson, Robert Farris, Flash of the Spirit (New York: Random House, 1983) 1st ed. 1984
Unger, Sandford J., Africa: The Peoples and Politics of An Emerging Continent (New York: Simon & Schuster) 3rd rev. ed. 1993
Wallis, Deborah ed., Picturing Us (New York: The New York Press) 1994
Watson, Steven, The Harlem Rennaisance: Hub of African American Culture 1920-1930 (New York: Pantheon) 1995
Wilson, Judith, "Beauty Rites: Towards an anatomy of culture in African American women's art," The International Review of African American Art, vol. 11, no. 3 (Hampton: Hampton University Press) 1994

Display:
No wonder i get no work done.  ET is filling up with interesting and well written diaries.  nice job MT.  Bet you can find more in the files.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 04:02:57 PM EST
Thanks for this, MT.  I find it very informative.  Do you have more on this subject? (Hopefully in electronic form.)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 07:30:23 PM EST
European Tribune - Marginalia: quoting my self
Rhythm supports radiance.

three of my favourite words strung together into a beautiful aphorism...very happy...it'd make a great sig.

you certainly have your own densely elliptical, richly textured writing style, it has been a pleasure training my mind to parse the substance within it.

your points about the diversity of tribal origins grouped under the nomer of w. africa, and the ones about the pan-african aesthetic were well explained, and highly enlightening.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 08:31:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I got a lot of junk in my trunk to sort through. We'll see.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 09:25:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Happy sorting.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 09:50:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Updated.

Damn, people. I'm working with just one and one half eyes.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Thu Jan 22nd, 2009 at 10:43:50 PM EST
what happened to the missing half?

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Fri Jan 23rd, 2009 at 05:46:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Trying to change the subject, ehhhhhh?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Fri Jan 23rd, 2009 at 06:32:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The US State Department is nursing a collective woody in anticipation of investment in AFRICOM military assets and "democracy promotion." Bruce Dixon wrote another piece on that topic, posted at BAR this week.

By contrast, filmmakers located in Africa and the diaspora in the EU and Americas have struggled to produce and distribute their "cultural product" in the global market. The New York African Film Festival is an excellent resource on the matter of modern pan-African "soft" diplomacy.

For decades the French government has directly supported its domestic film industry. Some would argue that it has been an exemplar of goodwill in post-colonial relations by comparison to other G7 administrations.

What do you know about it?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Fri Jan 23rd, 2009 at 06:53:21 AM EST
I'm waiting ... | Assault on Black Folk's Sanity | 23 Jan 2009

Did you know that there are over one million Black Germans?

I've recently been devouring a book published in 2008 that I consider an absolute landmark. Unfortunately, it's only available in German, but hopefully it will be published in English as soon as possible.

Written with excruciating clarity in incredibly accessible prose by the German rock musician Noah Sow (pronounced SOH), the book "Deutschland: Schwarz Weiss, Der alltaegliche Rassismuss" ("Germany: Black White, Daily Racism"), is an exceedingly thorough analysis of current German racist culture and its resulting (often deadly) absurdities.



Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sat Jan 24th, 2009 at 05:14:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not a specialist on African cinema, but it does seem to me the existence of an independent French industry, and film festivals like Cannes, has been a help to film-makers of "French-speaking" African countries. Though there's an Egyptian industry, and a smaller Moroccan one, there are North African directors making movies with French or part-French production money (on North African subjects, but possibly with an eye to French audiences...). But what's usually called "African cinema" concerns sub-Saharan Africa. If you check that out in Wikipedia, you'll find that the articles in French and English are not the same. From French Wikipedia:

Cinéma africain - Wikipédia
En ce qui concerne l'Afrique subsaharienne, les productions de la sphère francophone sont les plus précoces et les plus diversifiées. Le pionnier en est le Sénégalais (Béninois de naissance) Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, également premier historien des cinémas africains. D'abord écrivain, son compatriote Ousmane Sembène, donne l'exemple d'une production africaine engagée et n'hésite pas à utiliser les langues vernaculaires. Djibril Diop Mambety sera le second grand nom du cinéma sénégalais. Les autres pays actifs sont le Niger (avec Oumarou Ganda), le Mali, la Côte d'Ivoire, le Cameroun, et surtout la Haute-Volta (futur Burkina Faso) qui crée dès 1969 le FESPACO (Festival panafricain du cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou).Regarding sub-Saharan Africa, production of the French-speaking sphere is the earliest and most diversified. The pioneer was the Sénégalese (born in Benin) Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, also the first historian of African cinema. His compatriot Ousmane Sembene, a writer at first, is an example of committed African film-making, using local languages without hesitation. Djibril Diop Mambety is the second big name in Senegalese cinema. The other assets are Niger (with Oumarou Ganda), Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Cameroon, especially the Upper Volta (later Burkina Faso) which created in 1969 the FESPACO (Ouagadougou Pan-African Film and Television Festival).
Les cinémas anglophones se développent plutôt à partir des années 1970, particulièrement au Nigeria. Ils privilégient le documentaire ou le cinéma de pur divertissement.English-speaking film-making rather developed in the 1970s, particularly in Nigeria. They focus on documentaries and films of pure entertainment.

English-language Wikipedia emphasizes the bad French of the colonial era (everyone knows UK & US have clean hands):

Wikipedia: African Cinema

In the French colonies, filmmaking was formally forbidden to Africans. The first francophone African film, L'Afrique sur Seine by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, was actually shot in Paris in 1955.

Before independence, only a few anti-colonial films were produced. Examples of this include Les statues meurent aussi by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais about European robbery of African art (which was banned by the French for 10 years), or Afrique 50 by René Vauthier about anti-colonial riots in Cote D'Ivoire and in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).

Many of the ethnographic films produced in the colonial era by Jean Rouch and others were rejected by African film makers because in their view they distorted African realities.

But it's worth looking at the list of Directors by Country to see the relatively large numbers of the French-speaking countries.

Here's another French take on African cinema:

Le cinéma africainThe African Cinema
Actuellement, on peut dire que les pays de l'aire francophone (ex. française ou belge) assurent le gros de la production cinématographique : Sénégal (avec Ousmane Sembene, Djibril Diop Mambéty, Moussa Touré), Burkina Faso (Idrissa Ouédraogo, Gaston Kaboré, Pierre Yaméogo), Mali (Souleymane Cissé), Côte d'Ivoire (Ngoan Roger M'bala). L'Afrique centrale est surtout présente avec le Cameroun (Bassek Ba Kobhio, Jean-Marie Teno, Jean-Pierre Bekolo). Dans l'aire anglophone, mais sans bénéficier des mêmes aides financières que les anciennes colonies françaises, le Nigera connaît la production la plus riche (Olaniyi Areke, Saddik Balewa, Brenda Shehu). Dans l'aire lusophone, enfin, seule la Guinée-Bissau se signale (Flora Gomes). Si beaucoup de ces oeuvres demeurent confidentielles, la diffusion de certaines d'entre elles hors d'Afrique, notamment dans les festivals, et la reconnaissance internationale conférée à Ousmane Sembene, Souleymane Cissé, Idrissa Ouédraogo, assurent la spécificité du cinéma africain.Currently, we can say that the countries of the French-speaking area (ex- French or Belgian) provide the bulk of African film production: Senegal (with Ousmane Sembene, Djibril Diop Mambety, Moussa Touré), Burkina Faso (Idrissa Ouedraogo, Gaston Kabore, Pierre Yaméogo), Mali (Souleymane Cisse), Côte d'Ivoire (Ngoan Roger M'bala). Central Africa is mainly represented by Cameroon (Ba Bassek Kobhio, Jean-Marie Teno, Jean-Pierre Bekolo). In the English-speaking area, but without the same financial support as the former French colonies, Nigeria's production is the richest (Arek Olaniyi, Saddik Balewa, Shehu Brenda). In the Portuguese-speaking area, finally, Guinea-Bissau is the only country to feature (Flora Gomes). While many of these works remain little known, the release of some of them outside Africa, especially at festivals, and international recognition given to Ousmane Sembene, Souleymane Cisse, Idrissa Ouedraogo, ensure the presence of a specifically African cinema.

French interest in "serious" or "free" films has no doubt also helped African film-makers to hope to make the films they want, and not just Holly-Bolly copies.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 06:23:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well done! Well done. Indeed, the Anglophone "knowledge base" is conspicuously poisonous. After all, the "primitives" of Africa are vanishing. Rest assured, the names of "masters" acknowledged by French wiki are quite active directing, producing, curating and fundraising festivals aside from Cannes, e.g. FESPACO. I have met some.

See Jean Rouch.

At africanfilmny.org/archive browse the film synopses. Listing multiple languages and producers by country per film title is customary. This is the first film my child screened (more or less, LOL) at age four. The production values are really quite beautiful.

Karmen Gei
Joseph Gaï Ramaka
Senegal, 2000, 84 min.
Wolof and French with English subtitles

Director Joseph Gaï Ramaka has completely recast the Bizet¹s classic Carmen using the finest musicians and choreographers in Senegal. These include Doudou N¹Diaye Rose¹s sabar drummers, Juliern Jouga¹s choir, the romantic ballads of El Hadj Ndiaye and the prophetic voice of folk diva Yande Coudou Sene. But the real revelation of the production is Djeinaba Diop Gai, whose proud portrayal of Karmen and intoxicating dancing set a new standard of sensuality. Ramaka complicates the sexual tension further through the bold leap of making her the first bisexual Carmen. Director Ramaka explains: ³Carmen is a myth but what does Carmen represent today? Where do Carmen¹s love and freedom stand at the onset of the 21st Century? Therein lies my film¹s intent, a black Carmen, plunged in the magical and chaotic urbanity of an African city.²

Use the site search to locate articles, scholarly and reviews.

"Holly-Bolly copies": I think, perhaps this must allude to tv, "telenovelas" of a type popular in Nigeria. Video Awudjo!"

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 08:31:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is full of so much fascinating stuff, MT, thanks. What you have to say about the diversity of the African diaspora rang a bell with me, and I dug out some notes taken long ago about the slave trade to the French colony of St Domingue (now Haïti). Donnan's data give over three-quarters of a million Africans deported there, almost entirely to work in the sugarcane plantations.

A major point that concurs with yours is that African deportees did not only come from West Africa, though many did: from the trading-posts of Senegambia and the "Slave Coast" of Guinea, the main one being Ouidah (Whydah). Slaves were brought from far inland to those comptoirs (counters, as the French called the factories). So the ethnic and linguistic diversity was considerable. But slaves also came from central Africa (Congo, Angola), often grouped under the regional name of "Congos", and another, lesser, group from Mozambique/Madagascar.

The next point is to what extent the slavers and planters possessed (or believed they possessed) a "science" of the ethnic and linguistic diversity they were faced with. Eighteenth-century French works, citing planters and overseers, go on at length about the supposed qualities (or lack thereof) of different peoples. This has some influence on the distribution of African peoples in Haïti and perhaps by extension the New World. For instance, the Muslim groups that were traded from Senegambia were not considered good field workers, but could be set to other tasks including household; while "Congos" were sought after as strong field workers (leads one to wonder if that has anything to do with the American Upper/Lower/Deep South distribution given by Donnan). This is only some influence, however: this was not (an invidious comparison no doubt) a "liquid market", and planters bought what the slavers happened to have on sale, the slavers having bought in the factories what was on offer. Donnan also shows period differences. The existence of St Domingue as a French colony spans almost exactly the eighteenth century. It was a period during which the French slavers traded considerably with the "Slave Coast", with Ouidah in particular. And by far the largest group deported from Ouidah to St Domingue were the Fon, or Arada. Those who called the gods vodoun, not orisha like their Yoruba enemies.

I may be hinting there at ethno-specific cultural transmission, but I could well be wrong if I did. Apart from the diversity of African peoples present, the striking thing (from my reading on the C18) is the deliberate reduction of that diversity by planters and their overseers. An essential point that leaps from a reading of slaver/planter sources of the time is that they were less concerned with converting to Xtianity and otherwise "improving" savages, than they were scared shitless their slaves would rise up and murder them. Part of their answer to that was strict organisation of plantation life, discipline and harsh punishment, especially of any who might be considered "ringleaders". The other part was fearful avoidance of grouping together slaves who could speak to each other in a language the masters could not understand, and hence could plot throat-cuttings, poisonings, etc. The "successful" slave-owner Creolised his slaves: did not introduce too many newcomers from Africa at a time, kept apart (potentially dangerous) elements of the same language group, organized mixed (inter-African) marriages, (contributed to the production of mixed offspring themselves), made French (Creole) the language of the plantation, hence promoted a kind of mixed Creole culture that turned its back on Africa.

But then there was the night... While the masters locked themselves in to toss fearfully on their dismal beds, outdoors the night was African. Sociability, visiting, talking, moving about. Love, sex. Couples who wanted to be together could get together. A man would walk through the night to a neighbouring plantation if need be, and hurry back at dawn (Little Red Rooster? Hoochie-Coochie Man? Where did the blues come from?). And religion, being ridden by the god. This didn't die.

I know, I'm unrigorously mixing up elements from different times and places. And I'm waxing lyrical about the experience of people who - as survivors, when so many died - knew lives so hard we can barely imagine. But I think, from what I read of this part of the history of Haïti, that there was indeed considerable diversity among African deportees, that there was a reductive effect on that diversity partly as a result of deliberate slave-owner policy, then that there was survival of... an African cultural synthesis?

This is what you made me think of, and now I'll read your second part ;)!

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 11:55:49 AM EST
OK, so it isn't on the same topc. In which case I'm intrigued by the ... up there, just before you shoot the word pan-African. :-)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 03:56:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
eh? ... yer absolutely on topic. There's another 30pp following this excerpt LOL. remember: donnan's not the only source, and the US isn't the only market. oh, nuts, there's the bell for the cupcakes. i'll be back.

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.
by Cat on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 05:16:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was referring to the new diary you posted, which is on a different topic.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 05:25:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My apologies. I am not a specialist on the subject matter either. I've certainly never lectured on it, so this forum is quite a personal challenge.

But I see your meaning. Yes, the marketing topic is the idea of "beauty." Ostensibly. The corporate setting of this tale I deliberately selected to stage a confrontation with totalitarianism.

You wonder, if by exploring "management science" in (historical) Haitian plantations, you've perhaps wandered beyond the boundaries of "African American" --US specific-- commercial practices. How is that possible? Slave trade was/is an industry, as such organized in much the same manner industry sectors do today -- because a slave was/is commodified labor sine qua non. This is the lesson to taken away from Donnan's statistical survey of North American, Central American including the Caribbean, South American preferences. This is my intended use of "African American."

For instance, the Muslim groups that were traded from Senegambia were not considered good field workers, but could be set to other tasks including household; while "Congos" were sought after as strong field workers (leads one to wonder if that has anything to do with the American Upper/Lower/Deep South distribution given by Donnan).

This question is central to future, informed and intelligent, discussion of so-called black politics in the US and throughout the Americas and whether or not this body politic is monolithic and monocultural, much less how to locate its "capital." [pun intended] Contemporary doctrine of the synthetic "African American" is a racist construct, very much consistent with manufacturing principles of engineering, standardization, and cost avoidance, for example, applied by partisan demographers today to construct national unity. Yet we are contemplating the uniformity implied by eliminated "defects" and "training" in becoming a citizen of any one state in the Americas.

This is only some influence, however: this was not (an invidious comparison no doubt) a "liquid market", and planters bought what the slavers happened to have on sale, the slavers having bought in the factories what was on offer.

Indeed how does one accept that conclusion, given Donnan's evidence for preferences, "the market" were a collecton of random events? The prerequisite condition -- "this was not ... a 'liquid market,' "--  doesn't quite support indifference, does it?

Consider the timeline of prohibitions of trans-Atlantic slave trade by European states and the US. Assuming these bans were enforced and enforcement did NOT applied price or supply chain  constraints -- Do you think slave manufacture and trade among American colonies stopped? If you were an entrepreneurial sort with productive "stock" in the fields, would you "breed" surplus slaves like so many prime Angus or not ... until the market(s) collapsed one by one? If you were a planter in Alabama would you sell to a planter in Jamaica or Brazil: How might your clientele specialize your trade?

Re: beauty

It one point of departure from a conventional political history of the diaspora: the apposition of Anglo diseased indoctrination and aspiration to human rights.

I did get ahead of myself: See Stanford online pan-africanism, Africa directory, sub-Sahara
of which, for example, Manthia Diawara, "Pan-Africanism and Pedagogy"

Sartre is not content to define Négritude as only an anti-racist racism uniting people around race conciousness to combat French colonialism, paternalism, and imperialism. He also sees Négritude as a becoming, a transcendence of Blackness into a future universalism. For Sartre, there are two ways of constructing racial concepts, one internal and the other external. Those who internalize their Négritude and make of it an irreducible difference are mobilized by the desire to constitute a unique history and to shield themselves from outside contamination. They are traditionalists. On the other hand, there is the vanguard that deploys Blackness as an anti-racist racism, or uses racial consciouness as a social movement, because it "desires the abolition of all kinds of ethnic privileges; [the] solidarity with the oppressed of every color" (326). Here, Sartre anticipates the Blackness of C.L.R. James who discovered that Black unity coincided with the quest for liberty, fraternity and equality, the central themes of the French Revolution that Toussaint L'ouverture appropriated for Haiti; of Aime Cesaire, who wrote Discourse on Colonialism; and of Frantz Fanon, who stated that "a nation which undertakes a liberation struggle rarely condones racism."  ...

Négritude's utopia calls for a society without racism and class division. Sartre placed his hope on Négritude, which he believed would create the society that Europe failed to realize at the end of the second World War. Richard Wright also believed that Europeans had abandoned the spirit of modernity by refusing to give up racism and xenophobia. What better people than Blacks, therefore, who have known racism and suffering, to charge with the mission of ending the evils of humanity and bringing the grand narrative to closure? Négritude contains the romantic ideas that the oppressed would not persecute their brothers and sisters, because they knew how it felt to be oppressed; that the excluded would know the meaning of ostracism; and that those who suffered the pogroms would teach the world to love. Confident that decolonization was the most important revolution of the last half of the 20th century, the Négritude poets would identify with suffering, as Christ did, in order to end all suffering.

I feel that this Sartrean view is worth pursuing in Pan-Africanism; it universalizes Black struggle by positing Africa and other continents involved in the fight against colonialism and racism as the future of the world. Négritude and other decolonizing movements, before being co-opted by the Cold War and forced to align themselves with NATO or the Soviet Bloc, held the promise of world renewal: Black and Brown people would have the right to shape their own destinies; and the White people would rid themselves of the guilt accumulated through centuries of racism and paternalism. Modernity would be finally fulfilling its true mission in the Habermasian sense: to go beyond the visible difference of skin color and save humanity from obscurantism and oppression.
[boldface emphasis added]

I very much appreciate your curiosity and contributions to this post. Thank you so much! More please ...

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Sun Jan 25th, 2009 at 09:54:57 PM EST
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