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October 16, 2015

October 16, 2015



Cowries and Rice


By Liz Timbs



Studies of China in Africa and vice versa have begun to proliferate in recent years. Journalist Howard W. French‘s China’s Second Continent (2015) has earned critical acclaim from both popular and academic circles, and he has had numerous stories featured in the pages of The New York Times and The Atlantic, to name but a few. Jamie Monson, the new director of the African Studies Center at Michigan State University, has published a study of Chinese involvement in the construction of the TAZARA railway between Tanzania and Zambia in the 1960’s, entitled Africa’s Freedom Railway (2011). There are also lots of great China-Africa digital projects available (We’ll be covering some of these in future installments of #DigitalArchive) like the China-Africa Knowledge Project acts as a “one-stop shop for researchers and practitioners working on the China-Africa relationship,” featuring conference announcements, recent book releases, and a database of researchers working on this important topic. There have also been a significant number of pieces on this topic posted to this very blog, available here. This brief collection of authors and resources only begins to scratch the surface of what’s available online, which makes the existence of projects like Cowries and Rice, this week’s featured project, all the more important.

Winslow Roberston, a specialist in Sino-African relations who holds an M.A. in West African history from Syracuse University, created Cowries and Rice to learn more about “how African countries and China have interacted” and communicate that knowledge to a wider audience throughout the world. The Cowries and Rice team uses podcasts and blogs to achieve these goals, bring much-needed attention to Sino-African relations from a variety of important perspectives. I first came across Cowries and Rice when my friend Hikabwa Chipande appeared on the podcast (his episode is linked below) to discuss the construction of football stadiums by Chinese companies in Zambia, connected to his dissertation research on the history of football in Zambia. When I first listened to his podcast, I began to explore the rest of project, being really excited about all of the information that was available that would normally be really difficult for me to access otherwise. Translation Tuesday is a particularly useful feature, where each week, translations are posted for stories originally published in Chinese. For Anglophone readers, this is an incredible resource that opens up new pathways for understanding Sino-African relations.

The podcast has covered a range of topics from Chinese migrants in Lesotho to the history of Chinese/South Sudan Relations to a guide for beginners interested in Chinese-African relations. For founder Winslow Robertson, one of his favorite series of podcasts was the month-long discussion of Asian women in Africa, including one episode totally in Mandarin. You can listen to one of the episodes from this series on below and find the full series here.

In the future, Robertson hopes to further diversify the project, envisioning a “Hausa, French, Arabic, and Chinese-language podcast… that not only looks at China-Africa scholarship and debates but also gives practical advice on how to navigate the China-Africa relationship.” He wants this blog to have true practical impact for those people who are impacted by Sino-African relations on a day-to-day basis, be it “Senegalese traders in Yiwu” or “Chinese shop-owners in Lesotho.” No doubt, the contributions of this project hold huge potential for changing the way that we can conceptualize both China in Africa and Africa in China, as well as the global impact of these exchanges and experiences.

Follow Winslow on Twittter: @winslow_r, you can find all of the podcasts on the Soundcloud.  Cowries and Rice would not exist without the support of a wide-range of partners: Dr. Nkemjika Kalu was his initial podcast co-host before moving back to Nigeria; and Laiyin Yuan; Zander Rounds, and Joe Webster were the primary translators for Translation Tuesday.

As always, feel free to send me suggestions via Twitter (or use the hashtag #DigitalArchive) of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive!

*This post is No. 21 in our Digital Archive series covering African archives on the web.

Liz Timbs – PhD Candidate in History at Michigan State University,
Studying precolonial Zulu history, advocate for Digital Humanities.







September 29, 2015

September 29, 2015



A New Documentary

– ‘The Amazing

Nina Simone’ 


By Sergio | Shadow and Act 

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

2015 has turned out to be the year of Nina Simone. First there was the documentary “What Happened Miss Simone?” which premiered at the Sundance Film festival, and was later released on Netflix. It was, for the most part, critically praised. Though S&A’s Tanya Steele had a decidedly different take on the film which you can read here.

And then of course there’s that highly controversial Nina Simone biopic starring a very unlikely Zoe Saldana in blackface and prosthetics, which, nearly three years after it was shot, is finally going to be released this December (and I must admit I am rather interested in seeing it, in a what-is-this-train-wreck-going-to-be–ike sort of way).

But there is actually another documentary coming out next month from filmmaker Jeff Lieberman (“ReEmerging: The Jews of Nigeria”) which, according to the filmmaker, promises to provide an even more detailed and accurate portrait of the legend. 

As Lieberman says, his film, which has been several years in the works, will chronicle Simone’s journey “from the segregated South, through the worlds of classical music, jazz joints & international concert halls,” while delving “deep into Nina’s artistry and intentions, answering long-held questions behind Ninaʼs most beloved songs, bold style, controversial statements, and the reason she left America.” 

Promising a film that navigates the twists & turns of the 1960’s fight for racial equality, the filmmaker worked closely with Ms. Simone’s surviving 3 brothers, especially Sam Waymon (her youngest brother, who’s also a professional musician), as well as her one-time manager. 

He conducted some 60 interviews of other family members, friends, band members and associates.

Now, finally, the film is set to open on October 16 in both New York at the AMC Empire (with an opening reception at the Miles Gallery on October 15), and in Los Angeles at the Sundance Sunset. It’ll gradually expand in successive weeks, starting on Friday on October 23 in Chicago (Gene Siskel Film Center), Madison (Sundance Cinema), Houston (Sundance Cinema), Philadelphia (AMC Cherry Hill), New Orleans (AMC Elmwood Palace), Atlanta (AMC Phipps Plaza), Washinton DC (AMC Georgetown), Berkeley (Rialto Cinemas), Palm Desert (Cinema Palme D’or), and Dallas (AMC Valley View). 

Future theatrical openings are scheduled for North Carolina, Maine, California, Ontario (Canada) and Madrid (Spain), which will be followed by a DVD release sometime later this year

Go here for the film’s website where you’ll find more info.

Trailer for the film follows below:







femme to femmefemme to femme







Femme to Femme is a literary non-fiction,varied anthology seeking to explore femme* identity in the 20th and21st century through poetry, prose, essays, stories/narratives,illustration/art and photography. It was inspired by conversation with youngfemme* folks of color and Joseph Beam’s 1991 collection of writings edited byEssex Hemphill: Brother to Brother: New Writings by Black Gay Men.

Beam’s Brother toBrother gave me voice and a vision of self-making andself-determination in my search of media that examined and politicized race, class, identity, sexuality, culture and relationships. It also motivated me to further explore my own ideas of self, and to imagine and create media that reflects all parts of me.

Likewise, Femme to Femme seeks to challenge public discourse about and around femmeness because it often has a white, classed, cis-gender woman center, and is only discussed in relationship to masculinity – never each other. It is a project that prioritizes the lives, needs, and desires of femmes of all lived experiences (sans white); It is a call to action and celebration of the personal, political, and transformative self; It seeks to build upon legacies of black and brown queer, feminist trouble makers, and literary and artistic geniuses; It seeks to breathe new life into our current queer and trans political movement looking for submissions from femme* self-identified folks, including: gay/queer, bi, asexual, pansexual, trans*, gender non-conforming, and others along the gender and sexual orientation spectrums.

I am specifically seeking stories, letters, narratives, critical analyses and essays, illustrations, and photography capturing the essence and nuanced expressions of black and brown femme* personhood across gendered and embodied differences; How you interpret these is up to you. I welcome first-person narratives (of your experiences and relationships to other femme folks – mom, sister, grandma, auntie, girlfriend, partner, etc), photos essays, remembrances, reviews of significant literature or films, anything that you’d like to add to the conversation of what femmeness means to you, and how definitions and expectations of it is changing…or not.

Topics might include:

 – Re-imagining the Combahee River Collective: A Manifesto for Black and Brown Femmes

– Black Feminism in the Age of Social Media and Beyonce

– Forging Femme Selves and Identities

– Gender Hurts Everybody: On Gender Liberation and The Carceral State

– Trans, Cis, and Gender Non-Conforming/Non-Binary Femmes in Conversation

–  Remembering The Fabulous Sylvester

– Memoir of A Sissy Boy/Girl

– Butch Queens, Femme Queens, and Everything in Between: A Look at [Femme] Performance in the House-Ballroom Scene

– Femme to Femme Solidarity, Sex, and Desire

– Biographical and critical treatments of Assotto Saint, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera

– The Politics of Respect, Consent and Bodies

– A Dedication to Mark Aguhar








 Jamal Lewis, Editor

Femme to Femme: A Varied Anthology of Works by Black and Brown Femmes






The Morland Scholarship

for African Writers 2016

The Morland Scholarship for African Writers 2016

Applications are now open the Morland Writing Scholarship for 2016. Three scholarships of £18,000 (US $28,000) each will be awarded to fiction writers and one prize of £27,000 (US$42,000) will be awarded to a writer of non-fiction. The scholarship is open to writers who were born in Africa or whose parents were born in Africa.

About the Scholarship
This scholarship is sponsored by the Miles Morland Foundation. The foundation’s focus is culture and education with a particular interest in writing. Other projects supported by the foundation include literary festivals in Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and Somaliland, and the Caine Prize for African Writing.

The three successful fiction applicants will each receive a grant of £18,000, paid monthly over the course of the 2016 calendar year. The successful non-fiction applicant’s scholarship will be paid over a period of 18 months. All of the scholarship recipients will also have the opportunity to be mentored by an established author or publisher.

The scholarship is intended for writers who want to write a full-length book of 80,000 words or more. To this end, the writers will be asked to submit via email 10,000 new words every month until they have finished their book. The scholarship will terminate if a writer fails to submit the required work on time without prior authorisation.

Another, somewhat unusual, requirement is that the three writers are expected to donate back to the Miles Morland Foundation 20 per cent of the subsequent earnings from what they write during their scholarship year. This is not a legally binding condition,but instead viewed as a ‘debt of honour’.

Applications are judged on literary merit. Proposed books can be on any subject though the judges will show preference to works which relate to Africa. 

Who Can Apply

The Morland Scholarship for Writers is open to anyone who was born in Africa or both of whose parents were born in Africa. If a writer was not born in Africa and only one of their parents was born in Africa, they are still eligible to apply provided they can prove they are a full-time African residents, defined as having spent at least nine of the past twelve months in Africa.

In order to complete the application process, applicants must include in their application a published piece of writing. For the purposes of this scholarship published is defined as writing that has appeared in a printed book, journal or magazine that has been offered for sale.

Writers wishing to undertake projects in the fields of poetry, playwriting, academic and/or scientific research are not eligible for this scholarship.

How to Apply

To apply for the Morland Scholarship 2016 writers must provide via email:

  • A sample piece of published prose between 2000 and 5000 words. This can be an individual piece or an extract from a longer work.
  • A description of up to 500 words of the project they would complete if successful in their application. This must be a new work, not a work in progress.
  • A  brief biography of between 200 and 300 words about their background. The organisers advise to include in this ‘anything in your background suggesting that you have the ability and discipline to write a full-length book.’

Applications close on 31 October 2015. The successful writers will be announced in December and commence their scholarship in 2016. For full entry details visit the Miles Morland Foundation website.


For news of other scholarships, fellowships and competitions follow Aerogramme Writers’ Studio on Facebook and Twitter.







Flash Fiction Prize

$3.00 USD

Ends on 10/31/2015


Writers may submit up to three pieces of flash fiction, each of 500 words or fewer. Previously published work will not be considered. 

Please remove any identifying information from your manuscript as the submissions will be read blind. 

All entrants receive a one-year, two-issue digital subscription (ePub and PDF) to Meridian.

The winner will receive a prize of $100 and publication in the Winter Issue of Meridian. All entries will be considered for publication. 

Other Eligibility Rules:

  • UVA undergraduate alumni who graduated after June 2010 are NOT eligible.
  • UVA MFA students and alumni are NOT eligible.
  • Current UVA students, staff, and faculty are NOT eligible.
  • Former Meridian staff are not eligible. (If you’ve ever been on our masthead, please don’t enter.)
  • Family members and former teachers and students of current Meridian staff or its advisor are not eligible.











October 16, 2015

October 16, 2015



Weekend Music Break



(2015) Edition

Pierre Kwenders representing Congo via Montreal

Pierre Kwenders representing Congo via Montreal

The 15th edition of WOMEX, Europe’s premiere World Music trade show is happening next week in Budapest Hungary. As African music grows in popularity globally, it is events like WOMEX that serve as a first port of entry into the continent for many non-European artists; whether traditional, experimental, or pop. In light of this year’s headlines around European migration, the need for programs such as WOMEX that inherently celebrate the diversity of human experience, and thus a truer vision of contemporary Europe, has become all the more sharp. As for the interest of Africa is a Country specifically, this year’s showcases will host a series of artists with origins in the African continent. They will be putting their talents on display with the hopes of getting picked up by European record labels, touring agencies, and/or festival promoters. So, for this weekend’s music break, Africa is a Country is happy to team up with WOMEX to present all ten artists presenting at this year’s festival:

Blick Bassey brings us “One Love” from Cameroon, a Central African smooth jam with Cello, Trumpet, and Slide Guitar accompaniment, Moh Kuyate represents with Mandinka Rock from Guinea via France; The Sarabi Band from Kenya sings against political corruption in an uplifting Ndombolo-inflected pop tune; Pierre Kwenders gives us Congolese Soul-Rap via Montreal; Vaudou Game hits us with West African Funk from France, rooted in Togo and Benin; Aziza Brahim, a displaced person from Western Sahara currently living in Spain, sings for her land and people, while showing how African Flamenco really is; Senegalese Mbalakh innovator Cheikh Lo is receiving a lifetime achievement award at this year’s conference; Pat Thomas & The Kwashibu Area band revive classic Highlife for a new generation of audiences; Mamar Kassey from Niger a updates a repertoire descendant from the ancient Songhai empire, and is here performing it live in Amsterdam; and finally, Tarek Abdallah & Adel Shams El-Din perform Egyptian classical music on Oud and Riq, live in Montpellier, France.

Visit WOMEX’s website to see the full artist lineup, and read more on the artists featured above.











lianne 06


lianne 04

In 2012, my kids introduced me to Lianne La Havas’ debut album, Is Your Love Big Enough? One play and I was hooked; I’ve been a fan ever since. Her music works for any activity, any emotion.

The first time I saw La Havas live, I was unprepared for the experience: Her music touched my heart in a way I’d never experienced before. I cried through the entire performance. Her music was that powerful, with lyrics woven together with beautiful harmonies; it pulled emotions out of me I didn’t even know existed.

La Havas is soulful yet playful, raw and vulnerable in a commanding kind of way, and her new second album, Blood, is as amazing as the first. In this Tiny Desk performance, she plays two new songs — “What You Don’t Do” and “Unstoppable” — as well as “Forget,” from her first album. She and her talented collaborators, James Wyatt on piano and Frida Mariama Touray on backing vocals, rehearsed this special arrangement during the sound check just moments before the performance. It’s wonderfully intimate, with just guitar accompanied by vocals that embellish without getting in the way. If you’re like me, you will never get enough.

Blood is available now. 

Set List
“What You Don’t Do” 00:00
“Unstoppable” 04:00 
“Forget” 08:41

Producers: Suraya Mohomed, Morgan Walker; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Walker, Nick Michael, Julia Reihs; Production Assistant: Kate Drozynski; photo by Jun Tsuboike/NPR

For more Tiny Desk Concerts, subscribe to our podcast:…



Sept 2015

Sept 2015



Lianne La Havas Wax Poetics Interview

With her new album BloodLianne La Havas delivered one of the finer works of 2015, a rich and searching R&B document that lets her audience in to some of her most vulnerable spaces. Each listen peels back layers of joy and pain and is, in its own way, a discovery. Now, in a new video interview with Wax Poetics, La Havas offers insights into the album’s intentions, where it got its name and what it’s like for her as a talented female instrumentalist working in today’s music industry.

“The title ‘Blood,’–I just really like that word, and I wanted to get it into a song title or a lyric of some kind,” La Havas says in the clip. Songwriting eventually lead her to penning a tune about her grandmother, and “blood” was the first lyric that spilled out onto the page. As the clip rolls, we learn that a trip to Jamaica was what finally put the 26-year-old in the right headspace to record the record, and working with a number of producers is what made the final product ultimately so diverse.

Things do get bittersweet, though, as La Havas laments that many seem to be taken aback by her ability to play her own instrument. “I find it interesting that it’s genuinely quite surprising that I play guitar,” she says, remarking that so often, women are presumed to be capable of belting out vocals but not expertly strumming. There’s much more to be gained from the interview, so watch the clip below, which comes interspersed with shots of her recent performance at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, plus clips of her performing the beautiful new number “Midnight.” Blood is, of course, available on iTunes, and you owe it to your ears to get a copy.








photo by Alex Lear

photo by Alex Lear






>>No writer is an island.<< No writer creates alone. Even those who withdraw from human contact — the Salingers and O’Toole’s of literature — are actually shaped by their social development, or more precisely, in the cases just cited, by their social deficiencies. No matter how technically brilliant such writers may be, unless under-girded by social exchange and observations thereon, their writing will not stand the ultimate test of greatness: is the work relevant across time and across cultures?


In order to achieve both linear (across generations) and lateral (across cultures) greatness, writers must be both immersed in a specific era/culture and conscious of that era’s relationship to other eras and other cultures. It is not enough to report on or even analyze the news of the day. The ultimate meanings of human existence transcend the specifics of any given moment.


In practice achieving greatness means moving beyond topicality, requires that we insightfully deal with how and why humans are shaped by social and environmental forces, and deal with how we respond to our specific shaping processes.


>>As writers, our goal is the expert use of words<< to convey ideas and information, emotions and experiences, dreams and visions. On the one hand we must study, and study hard, the development of our craft, but, on the other hand, we must never forget that craft without content is meaningless. Beyond the craft/content argument is the more important question of writing for whom? Who is our audience? Are we connected to others?


An audience is the single greatest determinant of the shape and relevance of one’s craft. How is this so? This is so because as writers our whole craft is based on communication and, quiet as it is too often kept, communication requires an audience.


Some of us insist that we write to please no one but ourselves. But does that mean we write for an audience of one? No, it does not. When we write only with ourselves in mind, we are implicitly trying to communicate with the social elements that shaped our being. Indeed, who does not want to be understood by their parents, their children, their siblings and peers? Besides, if we were writing literally only for ourselves as an audience of one, we would have no need to share our writing, no need to publish or recite our writings.


In the contemporary United States, “audience” has been collapsed into the concept of consumers, people who literally buy whatever is marketed. That is ultimately a very cynical approach to determining who is one’s audience. To write for and about a specific audience does not necessarily mean writing to sell to that audience. What it does mean is using the culture of the intended audience as the starting point (and hopefully an ending point) for our work.


Writing well in English presupposes that we deal with the history of English-language literature, a significant part of which includes use as a tool in the historic process of colonizing people of color. As able a craftsperson as Ralph Ellison was, craft is not what distinguishes “Invisible Man.” Rather, Ellison’s insightful handling of an investigation of the anti-humanist effects of exploitation and oppression on those who are victimized by a dominant and dominating society is the significance of that novel.


Ellison, understands at a depth few others have so thoroughly presented in the novel format, that both those who fight against their subjugation and those who are not even conscious of their condition are twisted by social forces. However, Ellison’s novel is not merely a political screed because Ellison is more concerned with the range of human responses to social conditions than he is with advocating a specific social order. Moreover, far more than many books that on the surface seem to be more political, Ellison’s novel is grounded in the cultural mores, the folklore, of mid-20th century African American life. Invisible Man can not be fully appreciated without an appreciation of Black culture.


A horrible truth is that too many of us are unprepared to write significant literature because we have no real appreciation of our audience as fellow human beings, as cultural creatures. We know neither history nor contemporary conditions. We talk about “keeping it real” but have no factual knowledge of reality. Thus, we glibly bandy generalizations, utter hip clichés as though they were timeless wisdom, and inevitably offer instant snapshots of the social facade as though they were in-depth investigations of the structure and nature of our social reality — in short, we lie and fantasize.


Moreover, unless we consciously deal with our conditions, we end up replicating our oppression in our literature. When we are poor we write admiringly of being rich — when we get some money, we write guiltily about poverty. What is this madness? This is the psychology of the oppressed captivated by their own oppression.


If this analysis sounds extreme, run the litmus test of examining works of popular literature and see if this is not the case. Look at the rap videos, notice the lifestyles portrayed. Look at the movies. At some point, we need to be aware that videos, movies, televisions, all of those media employ scripts — these scripts are our popular literature. The absence and/or low level of craft in popular literature, both in publishing and in electronic, broadcast and video mediums, points to one of our real problems — many of the people who are scripting for the media, can’t or don’t write well.


Moreover, I understand that the majority of scriptwriters for Black-oriented projects are not Black writers, however, the lack of Black writers in the dominant and dominating mainstream media underscores rather than invalidates my premise. A major part of our problem has nothing to do with craft and everything to do with consciousness — our consciousness and the consciousness of our fellow humans in the United States of America.


Our daily lives are shaped by our social conditions and the consciousness that emerges from those conditions. A significant percentage of writers who are craft conscious are also writers who are psychologically alienated from their own culture. Indeed, for the person of color, the act of acquiring education and expertise typically is also an act of alienation. It is unfortunately generally true that mainstream training in craft is simultaneously a directive to distance one’s self from the culture and consciousness of our Black communities. Explicitly, to become professional means to emulate the other and eschew the Black self, the working class self, and, for women, to an even greater degree than many may realize, becoming a professional also means eschewing the self-actualized female self.


Thus, it is no surprise that once we become professionals, we insist on the right to be seen as autonomous and self-defined individuals who desire to live beyond the restrictions of race, class and/or gender. Indeed, we are often proud as peacocks strutting around glorying in our individuality — look at the beauty of my butt feathers! We disdain groups, assert that organizations stifle our creativity. Meanwhile, people who are organized control the production and distribution of our creative work.


The status quo system loves those of us who think we can make it as individuals precisely because individuals are dependent on the status quo for life support. When you don’t have a community of friends and comrades, you end up going to your enemy for supper and shelter, both literally and metaphorically.


>>The challenge for conscious and self-identified writers is both external and internal.<< External to the individual, we must build community by working with and achieving an understanding of the people with whom we identify. Internally there is the individual quest to develop a craft that reflects and projects our individual feelings and ideas about ourselves as well as about the world we live in. This struggle for social and artistic development is not an abstract concern. In practical terms such development requires that we who identify ourselves as Black writers:


1. Study Black music and Black history.


Music because Black music is our mother tongue — the language through which the deepest and most honest emotions of our people have been expressed in the rawest and most “unmediated” manner. More than in any other sphere of social activity, African Americans have determined our own musical expressions and have communicated with the world through that form of expression.


History because if you don’t know yourself you will inevitably end up betraying yourself.


Is it possible to write without a working knowledge of Black music and history? Of course it is. Is it possible to produce great literature without such knowledge? Probably not, and certainly none that would be considered Black literature. Ultimately, all literature is a product of culture, whether that culture is one’s indigenous culture or an adopted culture.


2. Study the craft of writing.


One certainly would not claim to be a carpenter without learning how to build, nor a farmer and be unable to raise crops. Moreover, we also need to tackle the development of our own approaches and the development of a theoretical foundation.


During the Black Arts Movement, this process was called the Black aesthetic — the development of an aesthetic is still needed. Craft is the concrete manifestation of philosophical aesthetics. If we don’t consciously shape our own aesthetics, our craft will invariably and often in a contradictory and conflicted manner reflect someone else’s aesthetic, generally the aesthetics of the dominant social order.


3. Join with like-minded colleagues.


We should join writers associations, guilds, organizations, both formal and informal. Workshops are important in one’s formative years. As one develops, peer associations become extremely helpful both in terms of career development and in terms of craft development. We literally find out what’s going on by being in touch with others. We become inspired and get ideas from interacting with others.


The internet is a major source of community activity for young writers today. There are on-line workshops, resource web sites, informational web sites and specifically, a number of Black oriented literary web sites. A young writer who is not on-line is literally “out of it” — outside of the ebb and flow of ideas and information. With the advent of public access through libraries, arts organizations, schools, and relatively inexpensive commercial services, there is no excuse for not being on-line.


>>Writing is not just the words on the page.<< Writing is documentation of social praxis. There is both an art and a science to writing, a feeling and a thought.


Not only is no writer an island, it is up to each one of us to develop as social creatures (i.e. men and women) and as professionals. For our ancestors, for our selves, for our children and those yet unborn, let us as writers come together and create a literature that is as persistent and profound as our people who outlived centuries of chattel slavery, segregation and degradation, and who stand now on the verge of creating a new definition of what it means to be a free, proud and productive people.


—kalamu ya salaam


October 14, 2015

October 14, 2015














Slavery’s Middle Passage has been described as the “African Holocaust,” a brutal and deadly voyage for Africans forcibly taken for the slave trade to the Americas. Estimates of how many Africans died on the voyage range as high as 50%. The movement of slaves along the Middle Passage was anything but orderly. Bloody slave revolts broke out on ships bound for the Americas, often making the voyage just as perilous for the slavers transporting slaves across the Atlantic.

To understand how much of America’s wealth was generated by slavery; we need look no further than the Atlantic slave trade. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York were not known as slave states. Yet their maritime industry and industries that supported the maritime infrastructure, reaped huge profits from slave transport. Maritime law favored slavers, allowing ship-owners to file insurance claims and receive compensation for slaves that were killed during the voyages. Aetna Insurance Company, headquartered in Hartford, Conn., profited from selling insurance policies on slaves in the U.S. during the 1800s.

Slave revolts at sea were essential in stemming increased slavery in the Americas. Historian Joseph E. Holloway has made the following estimates. Between 1500 and 1859, ten to 15 million were transported to the Americas along the Middle Passage; 10% to 50% of them died en route. Of those who died at sea, one in 15 died in an attempted revolt. According to these figures, the bloody toll of slave revolts at sea kept 660,000 to 1,000,000 Africans from entering the bonds of slavery on land in the Americas.

By Nick Douglas, AFROPUNK Contributor



Banner Art: 'Rising Up' mural by Hale Woodruff

Banner Art: ‘Rising Up’ mural by Hale Woodruff

In all about 500,000 slaves were transported to the U.S. Nearly half of American slaves were transported here illegally after the U.S. government outlawed the importation of slaves in 1808. This legislation was prompted partially by fear that the U.S. might experience a slave rebellion similar to the Haitian Revolution if they continued to take new African slaves.  But due to lax government enforcement, as late as 1859 in America’s large port cities there were still ships being outfitted to transport slaves.

revolt 02

The Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Latin America received the lion’s share of the slaves during the Atlantic slave trade—ten to 14 million. These areas also had the largest number of revolts on ship and on land. The majority of the 500 reported slave revolts at sea occurred on slave ships bound for Latin America. Slavery was abolished in Haiti in 1804. By 1829, due to campaigns of liberation by Simon Bolivar, slavery was abolished in every country on Latin America except Brazil, which was under Portuguese control.  

There were more than 500 reported revolts aboard slave ships during the Atlantic slave trade. It is likely that hundreds and even thousands more revolts took place that were never reported.  During the 300 years of the slave trade, 145 vessels sank with all aboard perishing. Fifteen hundred ships were never accounted for. We will never know how many of these vessels were taken over during revolts. We do not have an accurate accounting of how many slaves forced slave ships to leave them ashore, often with guns and supplies, in the Americas or back in Africa. Known as maroons, they often killed the crews and burned the ships after their escape.

Slavers developed a variety of tactics to lower the chances of slave revolts. They hired heavily armed crews. They took slaves from many different tribes, to prevent them from communicating with each other during the voyage. They kept slaves confined below deck for the whole voyage and even installed more portholes below decks to allow slaves more fresh air, rather than risk having them come on the main deck. Nothing they came up with stopped slave revolts at sea. 

revolt 03

Most revolts were unsuccessful, but the attempts took a huge death toll on slave crews and the Africans who rebelled. Slave revolts at sea were unique situation for both slavers and slaves. Heavily armed crews literally had to fight for their lives if the vessel was a long way from land. They could not escape. Revolts that happened at anchor or near shore were usually their only opportunity to escape in boats or jump overboard and swim for shore, which many did.  Slave revolts that happened in the open ocean were also the most dangerous for slaves. They needed to either know how to navigate the vessel safely back to shore, or risk capturing sailors who had the knowledge to sail the vessel safely to port. This was the case with the revolt aboard the Amistad; the slaves had to make sure that they captured sailors who could navigate the ship safely to land. In the case of the Amistad the sailors tricked the slaves and did not return them to Africa but navigated to the Americas. Slave revolts at sea were literally a life or death struggle, and both slaves and crews were prepared to do anything to prevail.

Many Americans know of only one successful slave revolt at sea, on the ship Amistad. The movie Amistad portrays the white courts and attorneys for the slaves as the heroes who allowed the slaves to return home as free men.  This is a palatable story because in the end Africans relied on the goodwill of white Americans for their salvation.

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Successful slave revolts were when slaves attained their own freedom without any reliance on outside forces to make determination of their future fortunes. I consider the Amistad a failed revolt. The Amistad story is a continuation of the myth of white, heroic benevolence in the struggle against slavery. African slaves took every opportunity available to them to revolt. It was their fearless attacks upon their heavily armed captors that made the determination if they would go free or not.

Early colonial newspapers reported in detail what happened to slave vessels from their ports. Colonists read of constant slave revolts occurring along the Middle Passage. Hundreds of slave revolts were reported aboard slave ships originating from the American colonies. This article will highlight only a few.

Many slave vessels were attacked in Africa before even leaving the continent. On January 23, 1731, the Read’s Weekly Journal reported that the captain and entire crew of the Boston schooner William Jump were “surprised by their slaves on the Coast” and were killed, except for three boys.

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A report in the Oct. 25, 1732 Rhode Island Gazette gives an idea of the chaos and ferocity of slave revolts and how quickly they happened. Four “Negro Traders” who boarded a vessel off the coast of Guinea were assumed to have instigated and assisted an uprising in which about 20 slaves escaped in boats and canoes with the traders. Later, more Africans came back in canoes and attempted to re-board the ship to free the remaining slaves but were “beat-off.” At the same time on a nearby ship, slaves rose up and destroyed the whole crew, including Captain Perkins, whose head, legs and arms were cut off.

In 1742 in Sierra Leone the vessel the Jolly Batchelor was attacked by Africans from shore who freed all the slaves on board.

News of slave revolts could take months to arrive. The death of Captain Bear from Rhode Island off the coast of Guinea in January 1747 was reported in the Pennsylvania Gazette in May. Captain Bear and his crew were killed by slaves on their vessel with a considerable amount of gold on board.  The only two survivors jumped overboard and swam to safety, then sent their account by letter via Barbados.  The vessel probably like many of those never accounted for was taken over in the slave revolt. It would be logical to assume that along with their freedom, the slaves took the gold with them.

The June 1763 Newport Mercury describes slave revolts involving two slavers from Newport, RI. A Captain Taylor, arriving from Annamaboa, present-day Ghana, reported that two slave traders from Newport had been killed in November 1762 in present day Gabon Estuary. Captain George Frost from Newport let 60 slaves on deck, and they seized him and threw him overboard, along with a black sailor. The black sailor was able to swim to shore. The captain tried to swim back to the vessel, where the Africans impaled him with a lance. The Africans used the small arms aboard to fire at canoes they saw approaching the vessel and unintentionally set off an explosion of gunpowder on board that killed about 30 slaves. Three days later when the vessel was re-boarded, the mate, Mr. Grant, also from Newport, was found below deck with his throat cut.

Captain Taylor reported another slave vessel (out of Liverpool, England) taken over by Africans, who killed the mate. The slaves escaped, leaving the vessel to run ashore and be wrecked by the surf.

In 1765 a mate named Dunfield arrived in Newport, RI on a sloop called the Three Friends. He had been a mate on a slave schooner out of Bristol, Conn. In the winter of 1764 every crewman and the captain killed by slaves near Sierra Leone. He was spared because he had luckily been off the boat at the time of the rebellion.  

In the Nov. 25, 1765 edition of Boston-Post Boy and Advertiser, two captains reported what had happened on their slave vessels. Captain Hopkins of a brig out of Providence, Rhode Island reported that soon after his ship left the coast of Africa, his crew became sick. He had to bring slaves “on deck” to assist in running the ship. The slaves managed to free all the slaves below and in a bloody battle he and his crew killed, wounded or forced overboard 80 slaves to regain control of the brig.  Captain Rogers, who had left Africa bound for the West Indies, killed 12 slaves after the slaves were able to free themselves and attempted to take over his vessel near Barbados.  

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These few examples taken from hundreds of reported shipboard revolts show that African slaves took every opportunity available to them to revolt. Africans entered into a life or death struggle to prevent themselves from being taken from Africa to be enslaved in the Americas. They did not rely on the court system or white benevolence to determine their rights to freedom. Their fearless attempts against heavily-armed slave crews show a relentless determination to resist slavery. Their determination to resist enslavement did not end after the Middle Passage it continued on land once they landed in the Americas. I will describe these in the second part of “Slave Revolts by Land and Sea.”


Nick Douglas is the author of Finding Octave: The Untold Story of Two Creole Families and Slavery in Louisiana, which is available on  He has a contact blog  for readers who may want to contact him.

Much of the information for this article and information about other slave revolts is available on




Oct 14, 2015

Oct 14, 2015




Angela Davis

Angela Davis

Ms. Lauryn Hill,

Angela Davis, Others

Featured In


Solidarity Video

Dozens of renowned artists and activists are featured in an explosive new video that makes explicit the connections between black and Palestinian suffering under state violence and oppresssion.

The video, entitled “When I See Them I See Us” on YouTube, features appearances from personalities as varied as Ms. Lauryn Hill, Angela Davis, Palestinian hip-hop ensemble DAM, Danny Glover, Dream Defenders Co-Founder Ahmad Abuznaid and PACBI co-founder Omar Barghouti. They appear in stark black-and-white stills, holding signs with statements like “Free All Political Prisoners,” “They choked me on video. I said I couldn’t breathe,” and “Gaza Stands With Ferguson.” These stills are interspersed between images of black and Palestinian protesters in action, police and military arresting and attacking protesters, and those whose deaths at the hands of police and military have galvanized widespread action in both places. The voiceover features impactful statements about the solidarity between movements. 

The video comes on the heels of an August statement—signed by more than one thousand black artists, activists and constituent organizations—standing in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian liberation from Israeli occupation. In a statement to Colorlines, the video’s producer Noura Erakat said it was inspired by simulataneous actions in Gaza and Ferguson in 2014: 

Palestinians used social media to share their advice on how to deal with tear gas and rubber bullets, and protesters chanted “From Ferguson to Gaza, we will be free.” Organically, an analysis emerged highlighting similarities, but not sameness, of black and Palestinian life, and more aptly, of their survival. Palestinians do not expect black solidarity, but appreciate it tremendously. Our communities are dehumanized using similar logics of racism and repression. 

Davis elaborated on the solidarity in the same statement:

Palestinians have spoken out passionately against racist police violence in Ferguson and Baltimore as black people have vehemently stood up in defense of Rasmeah Odeh. That the Palestinian people have refused to surrender after almost seven decades of continuous struggle against Israeli settler colonialism is a great encouragement to black people in the U.S. to accelerate our ongoing struggles against racist state violence. These powerful images represent a journey from struggle against tyranny to a collective hope for a just future.


The video is a joint project of Dream DefendersBlack Youth Project 100DC Palestinian Film and Arts FestivalArab Studies Institute—Quilting Point ProductionsJewish Voice for Peace and the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

Check out the video above, and read the video’s script in full at