Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Contrapuntos Latino Africanos Operation Antonio Maceo and the Mists of Benguela Bay

Academic journal article Journal of Global South Studies

Contrapuntos Latino Africanos Operation Antonio Maceo and the Mists of Benguela Bay

Article excerpt

PROLOGUE

The Shakespearian drama gets the emotion of multitude out of the
sub-plot which copies the main plot, much as a shadow upon the wall
copies one's body in the firelight.
                                                      --W. B. Yeats (1)

If you trace a line with your finger across a map from Luanda west across the Atlantic Ocean, you end up at the site of the longest-surviving quilombo (runaway slave settlement) in Brazil--Quilombo dos Palmares in the state of Alagoas. If you begin at the Baia dos Todos os Santos in Salvador, known as Brazil's most African city, and move straight across eastward, you will arrive at the spot on the Angolan littoral where Benguela lies, which, by the eighteenth century had come to rival Luanda as the major port through which enslaved Africans were shipped to the New World. Through this simple exercise, we learn that the invisible lines of historical and cultural connection that linked peoples in the Americas and Africa often correspond in a surprisingly direct fashion to the imaginary circles of latitude and longitude that shaped maritime sea routes. Furthermore, the perception that the natural world helps organize social relationships provides insight into how geographical features often serve as reflections or manifestations of what can be understood as "emotional ecosystems." The notion of an emotional ecology stems from our knowledge that the human world functions according to networks of interaction among individuals and between individuals and their environment that are predominantly focused on the emotions: "It is these emotional interactions therefore that constitute the emotional ecosystem of the group." (2) While the concept of ecology cannot be uncritically transferred from the natural to the social sciences, integrated approaches to the study of social-ecological systems have contributed tools for understanding how ethnically and racially diverse societies function and have shaped the emergence of the field of environmental humanities research. (3)

Resilience is one of the principal concepts of ecological studies. In the natural environment, this refers to an ecosystem's capacity to recover from the onslaught of adverse conditions and changes. At the psychological level it can indicate either adaptability or long-term resistance to change. It is this latter connotation, which is bound up with technological qualities of resilience (such as what can be observed in a given materials ability to revert to its original form after deformation or assault), that serves as the contextual matrix for my analysis of the psychical qualities of Operation Antonio Maceo. Paying attention to these more nebulous aspects through a type of "thematic amplification"--the experiential research device of detecting and describing recurrent themes in narratives that Sunnie D. Kidd and James W. Kidd advocate--can allow us to examine what lies beneath political rhetoric and help us to arrive at an understanding of more primordial meanings and social referents. (4) As philosophers Kidd and Kidd put it, amplification "works somewhat like time-lapsed photography where slowing down time reveals processes which we cannot see in a single grasp by the human eye. In microphotography a whole new world is found to exist inside another." (5) This type of "freeze-framing" of an event facilitates an intensified observation and interpretation of social and cultural characteristics that allow us to tune into the dialectic between inner and outer life-worlds in human experience. In a similar metaphysical vein, Irish poet W. B. Yeats, reflecting on the "emotion of multitude" as a dramatic device in the plays of Shakespeare, paid tribute to the strength and importance of "the half-seen world" or subplot, which he recognized as "the main plot working itself out in more ordinary men and women." (6) It is this recognition that themes often permeate through different levels of human experience that aligns Yeats's literary approach with the scholarly path I take into the shadows that continue to enshroud Cuban actions in Angola. …

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