Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Bitter Legacy: African Slavery Past and Present

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

The Bitter Legacy: African Slavery Past and Present

Article excerpt

The Bitter Legacy: African Slavery Past and Present. Edited by Alice Bellagamba, Sandra E. Greene, and Martin A. Klein. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2013. Pp. vi, 221; photographs, glossary. $44.95 cloth, $26.95 paper.

When Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, Ghana's minister of Tourism and Diasporan Relations, announced the start of the so-called Joseph Project in 2006, the goal was quite clear. By casting African Americans and others in the diaspora in the role of the biblical Joseph, Lamptey and the Ghanaian government sought some semblance of historical reconciliation. Like Joseph, African Americans had been sold by their brethren and exiled to a distant land, only to return "home" in positions to provide economic aid to their long lost family. The Joseph Project, then, aimed to spur diasporic tourism in Ghana and to offer reconciliation as a means of attracting diasporic investments. Though clearly a superficial attempt to increase the infusion of tourism dollars, the existence of Ghana's Joseph Project and similar efforts in Senegal, Benin, and the Gambia begs a few questions. What of the many descendants of slaves living in contemporary Atlantic African states? How have states or the descendants of slave raiders, dealers, and holders sought to reconcile with the descendants of the enslaved living among them? The ten essays included in Bitter Legacy provide a corpus of evidence and sharp analyses about the troubled spaces occupied by the slave past in the postcolonial present.

As outlined in the introductory chapter, the essays in this collection seek to understand memories of slavery and the slave trade in contemporary Atlantic African societies- through proverbs, songs, narratives, religious doctrines, and children's stories. The collection comes out of a larger project launched by the editors who, along with Carolyn Brown, organized two conferences-at the Bellagio Center in 2007, and two years later in Toronto-that emphasized African voices on slavery and the slave trade. The first edited collection from this collaborative effort was published by Cambridge University Press- Bellagamba, Greene, Klein, eds., African Voices on Slavery and the Slave Trade (Cambridge, 2013). What distinguishes Bitter Legacy from the Cambridge collection is the exclusive focus on contemporary understandings of slave ancestry and the slave past. While some of this ground has been covered in Robert Baum's Shrines of the Slave Trade (Oxford, 1999), Rosalind Shaw's Memories of the Slave Trade (Chicago, 2002), and Bayo Holsey's Routes of Remembrance (Chicago, 2008), there has been a dearth of book-length treatments on this topic and the attempt by the editors and the collection authors to give voice to former slaves or those of slave ancestry in Bitter Legacy makes the volume an essential starting point. …

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