Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Burden of Memory: Oral and Material Evidence of Human Kidnapping for Enslavement and Resistance Strategies among the Bulsa and Kasena of Ghana

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

The Burden of Memory: Oral and Material Evidence of Human Kidnapping for Enslavement and Resistance Strategies among the Bulsa and Kasena of Ghana

Article excerpt


Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay ...
Some things you forget. Other things you never do ...
Places, places are still there.

Beloved (1987)-Toni Morrison

This paper adopts a multi-disciplinary approach in exploring how the kidnapping and selling of people, and especially the threats and violence of predation and enslavement, among the Bulsa and Kasena of Ghana during the latter part of the nineteenth century continues to linger in their cultural memory. The paper also discusses how these subaltern groups continue to survive the legacy of a traumatic remembrance, an experience associated with human kidnapping for enslavement. But more importantly, the paper pays particular attention to how these two communities adapted and resisted the threats of violence and enslavement through flight and the exploiting of their unique landscape and topography, and local architecture as strategies against the violence of predation and captivity from kidnapping for enslavement.

Although African struggles against their enslavement were often varied and multifaceted, the role of Africans themselves in masterminding their resistance to human kidnapping has often been either deliberately overlooked or grossly misrepresented or even sometimes forgotten. And although historical sources have provided some useful accounts of African resistance strategies to enslavement, greater attention ought to be paid to the oral traditions of victims of the slave trade within the interior of Africa where people were abducted as slaves in order to better understand the internal dynamics of slave trafficking and indigenous community resistance. Indeed, scholars of the slave trade have shown that armed struggle though constituted significant means of resistance within Africa, was neither the best nor the only strategy. As Diouf (2003) has reminded us, "the acts-of fear of armed struggle may have seemed the most dreadful to the Europeans, but the African struggle encompasses more than a physical fight. This struggle Diouf has argued, "was based on strategies in which not only men who could bear arms, but women, children, the elderly, entire families, and communities had a role" (xii). And as this paper, attempts to show, other long term and innovative strategies were used to protect people from the predatory activities of enslavers. Earthworks were constructed to frustrate slave raiders and kidnappers while some communities surrounded their towns with thick walls. Better still, others often deserted vulnerable environments to inaccessible locations such as hills, caves and thick grooves. Taken together, these varied strategies offer another window into the inner world of cultures hitherto unexplored within the literature which is why attention to the experiences of the Bulsa and Kasena is relevant, especially how these social groups continue to relive their experiences of not only predation but also triumph.

Thus, attempting to piece together a cultural space, a historical time and an experience that does not otherwise feature within conventional historical sources, I argue that oral tradition provides a promising approach that we can use to better understand the subtle nuances inherent in cultures that were devastated by the threats of violence and enslavement within their collective memories. Although oral tradition is limited in terms of how it negotiates and in what is passed on from generation to generation, because more often than not, the amount of data is circumscribed (Klein, 1989), nonetheless, it still provides some useful leads into communal memories of the past.

Human kidnapping for enslavement and tribute paying were common practices in most parts of pre-colonial Africa. The Yoruba of Nigeria and the Sokoto Caliphate, for example, exacted tribute from their subjects. Perbi (2004) has for example, suggested that in Ghana, almost all the states the Asante conquered from 1700 to 1896, paid annual tributes with enslaved people and other goods to the Asante Kingdom. …

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