"The period of slavery was characterised primarily by one protracted war launched by those enslaved against their enslavers’ (V. Shepherd). Discuss with special reference to the anti-slavery activities of enslaved Africans."
Ra’Monne Darrell Gardiner
Professor C. Curry
University of the West Indies
November 23rd, 2010
“Where ever there was slavery, there was resistance” (University of the West Indies 86). Before the arrival of the first African slave ship, until the expansion of Maroon communities and the birth of Creolized Africans, slaves have resisted and resented the hostile confinements of slavery. The harsh realities of slavery left many enslaved persons feeling maladjusted to their conditions as expendable labourers rather than human beings. The resistance to their conditions were an everyday feature of their lives as slaves. Building on Michael Craton’s typology, it is important to note the different transitions of resistance. Craton states that in order to understand the forms and types of resistance, one must view it on several levels. Resistance went through a transition; freedom from slavery to the resistance of the slave system itself (qtd. in Knight 3:222). Craton believes that while there are passive and active resistance, there were the transitional phases of these types of resistance in the context of the African born protests to Maroonage, and finally the Creole Africans (qtd. in Knight 3:222). In order to defeat the slave system passive resistance became an everyday element of protest. Passive resistance can be defined as resistance through nonviolence. The enslaved would use various kinds of passive resistance to show their discontent. Methods used included slow working, malingering, pretending ignorance, illnesses and carelessness with owner’s property (Greenwood and Hamber 42-43). There were other more assertive forms of passive resistance such as mere refusal to work. Consequences for these acts could include mutilation or execution. Along with passive resistance slaves also practiced active resistance. Active resistance is normally characterised in terms of aggressive acts of violence. During the transhipment of slaves, slaves were constantly kept in bondage because of fear that there would be an uprising. Active resistance such as suicide was popular amongst the slave ships. Upon arrival to the New World, slaves would participate in other forms of active resistance such as attempting to poison their masters, or on occasions they would protest with weapons. There were other slaves that choose to mutilate themselves by cutting off an arm or limb simply to hinder the production process on the plantation (Dookhan 79). There were even some slaves that attempted to kill whites, and many enslaved women choose to spare their offspring the grim realities of slavery by having abortions. In fact a mother would not only spare her offspring from the grim realities of slavery, she would also stifle the prospective labour force that white owners expected their slaves to bring forth. This form of resistance was often employed by African Born Slaves, although it was not exclusive to them. For enslaved persons born in Africa, slavery was not new to them. Traditional slavery entailed domestic slavery for settlement of debts or crimes committed (Greenwood and Hamber). However during the transition, Africans were introduced to a new form of slavery; one that regarded them as property and simple payment for goods and services. African slaves were regarded as slaves born in Africa and transported to the new world. While many Africans lost their home, they held onto their beliefs. African culture had remained strong and survived the plantation system. Resistance of slavery was found in the retention of African beliefs, religion and language. African customs such as dance, music and craft, which is still evident today, was transferred from generation to generation. By...
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Dookhan, Isaac. A Pre- Emancipation History of the West Indies. Jamaica: Longman, 1999.
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Knight, Franklin. General History of the Caribbean. 3 vols. Paris: UNESCO, 1997.
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University of the West Indies. Faculty of Humanities and Education. Caribbean Civilization: A Provisional Interdisciplinary Reader. Barbados, 2010.
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