Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

Why No Mention of Slavery in African and Haitian Fiction?

Why is there so little mention of slavery in African and Haitian Fiction? That is the question that Togolese France-based blogger Kangni Alem addresses in a prolific and well-thought out blog entry. He deplores that African fiction does not count more passages on the different waves of slavery that have plagued the continent and while he points out that Haiti's literature does not have much on the topic either, he finds the causes of the ommission by Haitian authors more excusable.

A Thousand Year-Old Phenomenon Ignored

il suffit de parcourir la bibliographie romanesque de quelques pays africains ayant payé un tribut lourd à la saignée esclavagiste pour toucher du doigt l’ampleur du silence quant au traitement du sujet par la fiction. Qu’il soit togolais, béninois, nigérian ou angolais, l’écrivain de ces contrées semble reléguer aux oubliettes des pans entiers d’un phénomène qui a quand même duré presque mille ans et connu trois phases principales: celle des traites antiques internes à l’Afrique (environ 14 millions de victimes, estiment les historiens), celle de la traite orientale touchant le monde musulman entre le 7e et le 19e siècle, et enfin la traite occidentale, la plus référencée, entre le 16e et le 19e siècle.

One need only thumb through the bibliograhy of novels from a handful of African countries who have paid a heavy price for slavery to understand the enormity of the silence surrounding the subject in fiction. Whether Togolese, Beninois, Nigerian or Angolan, the writers seem to ignore broad swaths of a phenomenon that has existed for about a thousand years and known three main phases: that of the ancient slave trades internal to Africa (about 14 million victims, historians estimate), that of the Eastern trade touching the moslem world between the 7th and 19th centuries, and finally the most referenced between the 16th and 19th centuries.

Sur le point qui concerne les traites internes ou domestiques surtout, la faiblesse relative du nombre des études consacrées à l’esclavage domestique par les historiens africains contraste fortement avec l’ancienneté du phénomène, sa généralisation à l’échelle du continent, son ampleur variable d’une époque à une autre, le rôle et les fonctions des esclaves dans tous les domaines d’activités, la diversité de leur statut social.

Regarding the internal trades especially, the relative lack of studies on domestic slavery by African historians contrasts strongly with the antiquity of the phenomenon, its widespread use across the continent, its variable size depending on the era, the role and functions of slaves in all sectors of activity, the diversity in their social status.

Haiti Does It Too But for Other Reasons

L’amnésie sélective des écrivains d’Afrique rappelle étrangement celle des auteurs d’Haïti, la « première République Noire » où, de manière paradoxale, et peut-être logique, la question de l’esclavage est quasiment absente dans la littérature de fiction. Comment expliquer cette désensibilisation à la question de l’esclavage dans la littérature d’Haïti ? Primo, on peut évoquer ce facteur majeur, c’est dire le fait que l’événement retenu comme acte fondateur de la nation haïtienne soit une épopée libératrice, synonyme d’élimination de l’esclavage, alors que dans la majorité des pays du Nouveau Monde, l’accession à la souveraineté nationale ne s’est pas accompagnée de l’abolition de la servitude. Secundo, l’éradication de l’institution servile dans ce pays s’est effectuée dans un processus de ruptures historiques riches en révoltes symboliques décisives. Ce qui n’est pas le cas de l’Afrique, profiteuse par défaut des Abolitions décidées par les Autres.

The selective amnesia of African authors is strangely reminiscent of that of Haitian authors, Haiti being “the first Black Republic” where, paradoxically, and maybe logically, the question of slavery is quasi-absent in the fiction. How can we explain this desensitization to the question of slavery in Haitian literature? First, one can evoke a major factor, i.e. the fact that the event retained as the founding myth of the Haitian nation is a liberating epic, synonymous with the elimination of slavery, whereas in the majority of the New World, national sovereignty did not go hand in hand with the abolition of slavery. Second, the eradication of the servile instution in that country happened during a process of historical interruptions rich in decisive symbolic revolts. That is not true in Africa, beneficiary by default of Abolitions decided by others.

Pour peu glorieuse qu’elle paraisse, la thématique de l’esclavage devrait permettre un retour enrichissant sur les mentalités d’époque, les relations socio-raciales, les structures économiques et les représentations identitaires.

However lacking in glory, the thematic of slavery should allow for an enriching exploration of the era's mentalities, socio-racial relations, economic structures and representations of identity.

4 comments

  • Invited

    ‘Une traite antique interne à l’Afrique’? Ceci est une expression malheureuse, car il n’a jamais existé. A l’intérieur de l’Afrique, jamais il n’a été question avant l’arrivée des autres civilisations d’un commerce des humains.
    Vous développez votre texte suivant la charnière historique de certains auteurs qui tentent par approximation de faire avaler ce que l’on ne peut cuisiner. Aucune étude sérieuse n’est capable de vous fournir le peuple africain qui au 6 siècle se mettait à vendre ses semblables. Cette limite temporelle fait un clin d’oeil bien évidemment à l’Islam et à la pénétration des autres civilisations. Dans ce cas de figure d’ailleurs, il faudrait peut-être se limiter à l’Afrique Sahélienne en contact direct avec ce monde. Allons au Bénin, et dites-nous si au 6e, il y avait un souverain qui vendait ses semblables?
    I don’t know if I have the right to translate my text. By the case, there won’t be enough place to do it here, or?

  • Because Haitians cut off the heads of the French and got rid of them in 1804! The first black republic in the new world and the only successful slave revolution. SO Haitians did not have to entertain teh trials and tribulations of slavery for the satisfaction of black people who want to continue the victimization and cry about it or the whites who want to hold on to history. Haitians decided instead to literally note in the consitution that they would use the skin of whites as paper to write their constitution. They did not need to revisit slavery in fiction. They did it in reality. As it sould be.

  • Leavancliff

    I just want to talk about Why No mention slavery in African actually this word Slavery is for Black People been brought to USA for Slaves but those citizens that own Africa cant be called slave.

  • There are so many advocates for the problem, so many voices. But, are we really helping if we do not hear the voices of those who claim are enslaved. Are we really helping if we ignore those who are calling out for help out of the mire of the slave system? If we can only talk the talk and not let the former or existing slaves tell their stories, not let their own voice be heard, then we are continuing to promote slavery by using their story to promote ourselves while their voices remain shut. This is the voice of a woman raised as a slave crying for help. Here is her story at the following site: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1462481; here is her book: http://www.claudineetienne.com.

    Will you listen to her cry and help free her, or will you continue using the slave story to promote your own voice while slavery continues to in Haiti for generations to come?

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.

Receive great stories from around the world directly in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the best of Global Voices!

Submitted addresses will be confirmed by email, and used only to keep you up to date about Global Voices and our mission. See our Privacy Policy for details.

Newsletter powered by Mailchimp (Privacy Policy and Terms).

* = required field
Email Frequency



No thanks, show me the site