Wounds of Our Past

Remembering Captivity, Enslavement and Resistance in African Oral Narratives


Emmanuel Saboro’s study on memories of the slave era in northern Ghana is a most welcome addition to a long and storied scholarly tradition examining song lyrics associated with the institution of slavery. As one might expect, the vast majority of such studies focus on the music traditions of the enslaved in North America. Collected between the mid-19th and early 20th century, historians, musicologist, and literary scholars have systematically analyzed these songs for what the lyrics can tell us about experiences during the era of slavery and the slave trade. Similar works that focus on West Africa, however, are rare indeed. Like his North American counterparts, Saboro examines the songs of northern Ghana as coded messages that express hope, comfort, resistance, rage and triumph over adversity. Having “no fixed meanings”, Saboro describes them as both flexible and greatly useful for conveying a variety of meanings.

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Emmanuel Saboro (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer at the Centre for African and International Studies, University of Cape Coast, Ghana. He obtained his PhD at the Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation (WISE), University of Hull, England. He is a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), African Humanities Program. His most recent publication Slavery, Oral Tradition and Identity Construction has appeared in T. Falola & T. Akinyemi (Eds), Palgrave Handbook of Oral Traditions and Folklore (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).
"In this important and well-researched book, Emmanuel Saboro draws from original oral sources to show us how communities in northern Ghana are bearers of a collective memory of the transatlantic and internal trades." - Ana Lucia Araujo, Professor of History, Howard University
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Note on Transcriptions and Translations

Introduction: Envisioning the Past in the Present: Hearing the Unsaid
 1 Northern Ghana and the Historiography of the Slave Trade
 2 Reconfiguring Enslavement and the Slave Trade in Africa: the Place of Oral Tradition
 3 Memory/Remembering
 4 Sources and Methods
 5 Structure of the Book

1 Remembering a Fractured Past: Historicizing Violence, Captivity, and Enslavement in Northern Ghana in the Nineteenth Century
 1 Introduction
 2 The Gold Coast and the Trans-Atlantic Connection
 3 Navigating Histories, Constructing Identities: Geography and People of Northern Ghana, the Bulsa and Kasena in Perspective
 4 Post-abolition Slavery and the Slave Trade in the Nineteenth Century
 5 Asante and the Slave Trade in Northern Ghana in the Nineteenth Century
 6 The Zabarima Slave Raiding Hegemony in Northern Ghana
 7 “Babatu Has Really Dealt with Me and I Know”: the Portrait of a Ruthless Leader
 8 ‘Places, Places Are Still There’: Salaga, a Bloodied Landscape of Captivity, Enslavement, and Dispossession
 9 Conclusion

2 The Song as a Cultural and Historical Archive for Reconstructing the Past
 1 Introduction
 2 The African Song Tradition: a Brief Overview
 3 Song Traditions in Northern Ghana: the Bulsa and Kasena in Perspective
 4 “They Have Killed Me, Killing of a Different Kind”: Dirges/Laments/Sorrow Songs
 5 War and Victory Songs
 6 The Bulsa Battle Cry
 7 The War Flute
 8 Performing Pain: Song, Ritual Dance, and Performance
 9 “Singing Rocks”: The Pikworo Slave Camp Songs
 10 Conclusion

3 ‘Unspeakable Things Spoken’: Cultural Constructions of Trauma, Mourning Loss
 1 Introduction
 2 Framing Violence: Metaphorizing the Kanbong (Foreign Enslaver) as the Other
 3 Sexual Violence
 4 Of Mothering and Motherhood
 5 Of Place, Belonging and Home
 6 Where There Are No Graves: Metaphorizing Death and Mourning Loss

4 “Sins of Our Fathers”: Re-reading Indigenous Complicity Narratives
 1 Notions of Betrayal: the Insider Motif
 2 The Politics of Silence: Survival or Complicity?
 3 Conclusion

5 “We Are Free at Last”: Local Adaptations and Indigenous Resistance Strategies against Captivity and Enslavement in the Hinterland
 1 Introduction
 2 “We Have Fled, Fled a Lot”: Flight as a Survival and Resistance Strategy
 3 The Landscape and Hollow Trees as “Refuge Sites”
 4 Hiding in Hollow Trees
 5 Drums of War: Contestations and Deconstructing Notions of Victimhood
 6 Animistic Metaphors as Counter Representation Strategies
 7 The Lion
 8 The Elephant
 9 Celebrating Triumph over Tragedy
 10 Conclusion

Conclusion: Freedom beyond the Wound and the Silences
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