Across the Diaspora

This page provides links, articles, and information related to the Diaspora. Frequently, there will be material that is not generated by the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project but by affiliates or interested persons.

Brazil

Since 2011, there has been an effort to excavate and preserve Rio de Janeiro’s Valongo Wharf. Built in 1811 and then buried for more than 150 years beneath layer after layer of stone and pavement, Valongo Wharf was once one of the largest ports in the world engaged in the transatlantic human trade.

Please follow this link for more information: “The Fight To Preserve This Historic Slave Port Site In Brazil Sparks Debate” HuffPost Black Voices (December 2015).

Brazil July 2015

This summer, MPCPMP travelled to the city of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia, Brazil. Built on a high cliff overlooking All Saints Bay (Baía de Todos os Santos), Salvador was the first colonial capital of Brazil and the main port of entry in Brazil for Africans during the transatlantic human trade, receiving around 1.3 million Africans before slavery was abolished there.  The first Africans arrived in Brazil in 1538 to replace the indigenous labour, and for the next three centuries, Salvador became the most important and most prosperous human trade centre not only in Brazil but throughout the Americas, with wealth coming from the sugar cane and tobacco plantations that sprang up in the areas around Salvador. Unwilling to bring an end to the economic gains and the social structure established by the transatlantic trade, Brazil resisted the abolitionist movement, and it was not until 1888, that the country declared an end to the trade in human beings, the last in the “New World” to do so. By this time, it is estimated that four million Africans had been imported from Africa to Brazil, 40% of the total number of people brought to the Americas. As a result, Salvador is considered the heart of African-Brazilian culture. From Candomblé ceremonies (an African religious and healing tradition), to Capoeira, a martial art form that was initiated by enslaved Africans about 400 years ago, to carnivals, to samba, to food and music, Africans were able to preserve expressions of their beliefs and cultural traditions, and that presence is undeniable . . . part of the very air one breathes in Salvador.

Evidence of Salvador’s historic past is seen throughout the neighborhood called the Pelourinho. The word Pelourinho actually means “pillory” or “whipping post,” as it was in its central plaza, that Africans were bought and sold and where they were punished. The first market for human beings in the Americas, today, in Pelourinho’s central plaza and the surrounding areas, one can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel the synthesis of all of Salvador’s history, a testament to our African ancestors who survived and forged a new identity that enabled them to endure the many hardships they faced in order to lay the foundation for us, the descendant community.

MPCPMP also visited other parts of the city of Salvador and towns in the state of Bahia.
Not far from the Pelourinho district in Salvador, in the Dique do Tororó, a local lake, are sculptures of the powerful Orishas, deities in the Candomblé tradition, arranged in a circle in the water. Locals and visitors frequently leave offerings under the beautiful old trees that surround the lake.

Outside of Salvador, MPCPMP  travelled to the town of Saubara, where an annual ceremony, the Lavagem da Igreja, was held. This all day event included a brass band parade led by Bahian women with hundreds of people following to gather at the river where gifts of white flowers were placed in the water, and a libation was offered to the orishas and the ancestors. Then, the women scooped water from the river into vases, and the crowd followed them and the brass band up a very steep hill to the church, where the women used the river water to wash the church steps. The rest of the day was spent celebrating and honoring the history of this remarkable town.

Later, another demonstration of the scope and depth of Brazil’s history was seen in the town of Santo Amaro Acupe, where the streets are transformed into an open-air theater for the annual Nego Fugido performance that occurs every Sunday in July. Nego Fugido is an old ritual that depicts the experience of runaway Africans in the interior of Brazil and recreates the struggle that leads to emancipation. It is a rich presentation of culture, history, and drama that tells the story of persecution, capture, and freedom. On the Sunday MPCPMP participated, hundreds of locals and visitors came together to watch as the history was re-enacted. The actors’ faces were painted with a mixture of food and ground coal oil, and their mouths were made red by chewing red crepe paper. This represents the blood and pain of the enslaved. There were representations of hunters, dressed in skirts of banana leaves, in search of runaways and soldiers who protected a man dressed as King, representing the masters and plantation owners. All of this was accompanied by continuous, traditional drumming. We were told that on the last Sunday in July, the story culminates with the King’s arrest (to answer for his crimes) and the abolition of slavery. Nego Fugido is part of Santo Amaro Acupe’s cultural memory and history, one that should be valued and honored and remembered.

Cuba

Inside these walls, I could hear the voices that once cried out  —voices of thousands of  slaves forced to work and build walls, position batteries, dig tunnels, place iron bars,    and drill wells . . .” (“Places of Memory”,
UNESCO Habana)

During a trip to Cuba this Spring 2014, one of our Executive Board members travelled to  the city of Matanzas, 56 miles east of Havana. The purpose of this trip was to visit the Castillo de San Severino, (Castle of San Severino), a national historic landmark
that, in June 2009, was inaugurated as the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo (Slave Route Museum) as part of UNESCO’s ongoing Slave Route Project and its international efforts to learn more about the origin, development, and impact of slavery, to break the
silence on the tragedy of the slave trade, and to preserve the African legacy in diverse parts of the world.

Matanzas, located on the northern shore of the island on the Bay of Matanzas, is the capital of the western province of Matanzas.  In the 19th century, the city was known as the “Athens of Cuba” because of the “enormous wealth accumulated through the
plantation economy as a result of the exploitation of slave work, which provided most of the city’s cultural splendor” (“Places of Memory”, UNESCO Habana), as well as its literary and musical heritage.  Founded in 1693, there was an intensive development
of sugar plantations in Matanzas during the colonial era, and Africans were imported in increased numbers to provide the forced labor needed to maintain the industry.

According to official documents, on October 13, 1693, the first stone was placed for the construction of the Castillo de San Severino with slave labor (The Havana Reporter, May 20, 2014).  Strategically overlooking the Bay, it was completed by
the Spanish in 1735 as part of Cuba’s defensive ring.  San Severino is where Africans — men, women, and children who came to Cuba in chains — were offloaded in huge numbers, beginning in the 18th century.  In 1792, there were 1900 Africans in Matanzas,
30% of its population.  By 1817, the population of Africans had grown to 10,773, 50% of its population.  By 1841, 53,331 Africans made up 62.7% of the population of Matanzas, and census figures for 1859 put the Matanzas enslaved population at 104,519
(Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias).

Today, the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo “serves as a bridge for generations,” and inside, the Interim Director Marciela Veleso Barani provided an informative tour for our group that included pictures, text, artifacts, and lecture that presented the history
of the transatlantic human trade and its relevance to Cuba.  There are four exhibition halls; among them is the Sala de Esclavitud, the Slavery Room.  This space reflects the tragic, violent history and human misery of the trade, but it also provides
evidence of the alternatives that Africans employed to change their condition.  Still visible are the marks the enslaved scratched into stones to account for and justify to their masters the days’ work.  Several archaeological pieces reveal the lives
of Africans on the sugar and coffee plantations — shackles, padlocks, and pots, for example. Other evidence, such as machetes, informs us of how Africans, weapons in hand, escaped from their oppressors and ran into the mountains to inhabit the nearby
caves, where they formed independent settlements, survived as free men and women, preserved their African culture and traditions, and organized rebellions against plantation owners.  Closely associated with the Sala de Esclavitud is the Sala de los
Orishas, the Room of the African Deities, who represent natural and supernatural forces and phenomena, as well as human activities, emotions and passions. Here, one can see a representation of the rich African heritage in Cuban culture, including several
full-scale sculptures of the pantheon of Gods of the Afro-Cuban religion (a belief system that provided the Ancestors with the strength and determinination to survive).  In addition, there are tapestries showing the environment where each Orisha manifested
in the tradition and the ritual drums used in each Orisha’s ceremony. The Museo provides an overview of the diversity of the Afro-Cuban religion, including rituals and customs, legends that characterize each deity, colors that identify them, and their
meanings.

This trip to Matanzas, Cuba, was a most important visit for the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project because we established another connection between the Project and our relations across the diaspora.  We were able to share
information about the Project and leave our brochures to be disseminatied; we were able to learn about this most important city and its history of the transatlantic human trade; and, we were able to acknowledge our common history.

It is our hope that one day soon we will be able to visit and join together with the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo at the Castillo de San Severino and the local community in Matanzas in honoring our Ancestors, our brothers and sisters who were lost and
who survived the Middle Passage to Cuba.

Group viewing the exhibition in the Sala de Esclavitud (Slavery Room) of the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo in Matanzas, Cuba (L – R) Pepe Yarza, biotechnologist and translator; Ann Cobb, Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project Executive Board member; Marciela Veleso Barani, Interim Director of the museum; Salecia Poles, student

Group viewing the exhibition in the Sala de Esclavitud (Slavery Room) of the Museo de la Ruta del Esclavo in Matanzas, Cuba (L – R) Pepe Yarza, biotechnologist and translator; Ann Cobb, Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port
Markers Project Executive Board member; Marciela Veleso Barani, Interim Director of the museum; Salecia Poles, student

View of the restored courtyard of the Castillo de San Severino, Matanzas, Cuba

View
of the restored courtyard of the Castillo de San Severino, Matanzas, Cuba

 

Jamaica

This Spring 2015, a member of MPCPMP‘s  Executive Board traveled to Jamaica and visited several sites that relate to this Project and the remembrance of our ancestors, those Africans who survived the Middle Passage and forged a new life
in the “New World.”

Minutes from Duncans Bay, Jamaica, in a small fishing town about halfway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios, is a cave (believed to be Arawak) where escaped Africans hid, lived, and died. One of the locals called it the Cave of Refuge, and it served as
a place of protection for those Africans who fled their enslavers.

Approximately a half hour from Duncans Bay is Falmouth. In the 1800s, Falmouth, we were told, was known as one of the “wealthiest New World ports south of Charleston” and the most important city on the northern shore of Jamaica. Enslaved Africans were
brought in to sustain the colonial life of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was a rich town in a wealthy parish where nearly one hundred plantations were actively manufacturing sugar and rum for export. Dependent upon forced labor to work
these plantations, Falmouth became a central hub of the triangular human trade.

The Georgian-style government house in Falmouth where, on its steps Africans were sold, punished, or killed, still functions today, and it is not too far from there to a beach where African bodies were unceremoniously dumped. There is no marker that identifies
this solemn place at the water’s edge, even though there is a centuries old Jewish cemetery in the town, the final resting place of those Jews who immigrated to Jamaica beginning around 1530 to escape the Spanish Inquisition. They were merchants and
traders, dependent upon the vitality of the sugar plantations surrounding Falmouth and upon international trade. It was the Africans who made all this possible. After Britain abolished slavery, Falmouth’s fortunes quickly declined.

One last trip was through difficult terrain in the parish of St. Elizabeth to Accompong, where escaped Africans, called Maroons, established a refuge. To get there meant a long, steep, hairpin-turn, 3 hour drive up a narrow road that
runs north-south through what is called “Cockpit Country” or “Me No Sen You No Come.” This road, called the “backbone of Jamaica,” runs high along the side of a deep, fault-based valley in the east. Cockpit Country is “pockmarked with steep-sided hollows,
as much as 120 meters (390 feet) deep in places, which are separated by conical hills and ridges.” These hills are “covered with dense, scrubby trees, rising hundreds of feet above depressions and sinkholes with sharp, precipitous sides – the cockpits”
and provided a natural defensive area used by the Maroons to wage guerilla warfare against their enslavers and establish communities outside the control of Spanish or British colonialists. Once their communities were formed at the top of these hills
throughout this inhospitable terrain, the Maroons could see and prepare to combat any one approaching who might threaten their freedom; they could attack from all sides.  From this area, led by Cudjoe (Captain Cudjoe), an African of Akan heritage (according
to Maroon oral tradition), these Maroons also raided farms and plantations, burning sugar cane fields, houses and barns, defending and freeing the enslaved. In 1738, a peace treaty was signed with the British that granted the Maroons significant land
holdings and guaranteed their independence, creating a nation within a nation. Today, the descendants of these Africans, who intermarried with freed Africans and Arawak Indians, still live in Cockpit Country where they maintain their autonomy from the
Jamaican government. MPCPMP was warmly welcomed by the people of Accompong and shown, with great pride, the huge, ancient Kindah Tree (mango) under which Cudjoe strategized against the British (and where the presence of the ancestors
is unmistakable), the cemetery where the ancestors were laid to rest, the school, sports field, and brand new library for the descendant children, the museum that documents this important history, and much more.

MPCPMP encourages those who travel to Jamaica to consider visiting some of these important sites that are evidence of the presence of our African ancestors, the hardships they faced, and the struggles they overcame, many times giving
their lives, in order to assure a future for us, their descendants. We must remember them.

USA

This is an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates and a related interview with Bill Moyers on reparations.

Montgomery, AL

The Slave Dwelling Project founded by Joseph McGill, Jr. sponsored its second 2015 overnight stay with students from Florida Gulf Coast University.

Visit this link to read about their experience and participants’ comments:

In 2013, residents of Montgomery, AL, held an ancestral remembrance ceremony.

Wallace, LA

Last week, an MPCPMP Executive Board member travelled to Wallace, Louisiana, 35 miles west of New Orleans, to visit the Whitney Plantation, a sugar cane plantation originally known as Habitation Haydel. Unlike most plantation tours, the focus here is not on the “big house,” but on the lives of those held in bondage. Described as “a site of memory and consciousness,” the Whitney provides visitors with a “unique perspective on the lives of Louisiana’s enslaved people,” by using “museum exhibits, memorial artwork and restored buildings and hundreds of first-person slave narratives.”  Please follow these links for more information about the Whitney Museum:

Why America Needs a Slavery Museum” The Atlantic

Telling the Story of Slavery” The New Yorker

For photos of the Whitney Museum, please visit our Facebook page:

Last week, an MPCPMP Executive Board member travelled to Wallace, Louisiana, 35 miles west of New Orleans, to visit the…

Posted by The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project on Monday, February 15, 2016

Rhode Island

Rhode Island Plans for Middle Passage Port Markers and Remembrance Ceremonies

On January 29, 2016, MPCPMP was in Providence, Rhode Island, at the Rhode Island Historical Society, Aldrich House, to…

Posted by The Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project on Wednesday, February 3, 2016

RISD Students’ Exhibit in Capetown, South Africa

In 2014, a class from the Rhode Island School of Design traveled to Capetown, South  Africa, to assist with the installation of an exhibit on the transatlantic human trade at the  Slave Lodge. When they returned to Rhode Island they mounted an exhibit
with text,  photos, and drawings. You can access their experiences on Facebook.

United Kingdom

The history of Africans in London covers many centuries, and the movie, Belle, tells a portion of the country’s process of African enslaved abolition.

El Salvador

United Nations

On January 29, 2016, the United Nations’ Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent issued a press release of its findings and recommendations on the conclusion of its official visit to the US (January 19 – 29, 2016).

The Working Group gave special thanks to the hundreds of civil society representative organizations, lawyers and individuals from the African American communities in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, Jackson, MS, Chicago, IL, and New York City for sharing their concerns and recommendations with the U.N. delegation as well as the numerous human rights defenders and activists who reached out to them from other parts of the country. The preliminary findings and recommendations will be presented in a mission report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September 2016.

In the press release, the Working Group addressed MPCPMP’s request at the January 21st meeting to support the installation of historic markers at all arrival sites, stating: “Monuments, memorials and markers should be erected to facilitate this important public dialogue. Education must be accompanied by acts of reconciliation, which are needed to overcome acts of racial bigotry and legacies of injustice. To accelerate the process of desegregation, federal and state legislation should be passed recognizing the experience of enslavement.” To read the full report, please follow this link.