Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World

By Chukwu, Etomgi | Journal of East Asian Studies, January-April 2012 | Go to article overview

Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World


Chukwu, Etomgi, Journal of East Asian Studies


Many Middle Passages: Forced Migration and the Making of the Modern World. Edited by Emma Christopher, Cassandra Pybus, and Marcus Rediker. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.263 pp. $65.00 (cloth); $28.95 (paper).

Narratives of the Middle Passage generally allude to ships crowded with manacled dark bodies traveling from a West African country to a country in the Americas. Images such as this exist in the Western collective memory as a result of the abolitionist movement, which connected horrific descriptions of the transatlantic slave trade with the Middle Passage. Not as deeply embedded in Western collective memory is the integral role slavery played in the expansion of imperialist states and the role it has played since. As a result, the connection between the Atlantic slave trade and forced labor migration, which increased after the general abolition of slavery in the mid-nineteenth century, is a rather attenuated one. This book attempts to strengthen this connection by exposing readers to articles about lesser-known middle passages.

The editors' objective is not to contest the importance or scale of the transatlantic slave trade, which they acknowledge dwarfs the migrations discussed in their book. Rather, their aim is to explore other journeys that contribute to the development of global capitalism. In order to achieve this position, they argue that the Middle Passage is a concept that serves as a link between "expropriation of labor in one geographical setting and exploitation in another" (p. 2). The eleven articles cover a wide range of countries and historical contexts and generally make impressive use of existing data. They are assembled geographically and in a fairly chronological manner. The book begins with a review of the East African slave trade and the middle passages across the Indian Ocean. It then moves to discussions of the Sulu slave pirates who terrorized Southeast Asia. Following this are contributions on Chinese indentured servitude, the Melanesian slave trade, and the South China Sea middle passages. Though diverse in regional as well as historical focus, three contributions are especially successful at honing in on important elements of the book's thesis.

James Warren describes the Sulu slave trade, where captives were seized along the coast of many Southeast Asian countries and taken to the Sulu archipelago. His contribution demonstrates that the systematically brutal subjugation of captives was implemented to occupy the captives' mind "with the fundamental problem of staying alive" and resulted in the relatively quick assumption of the identity of a slave (p. …

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