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Modern Slavery and Water Spirituality

A Critical Debate in Africa and Latin America


Ineke Phaf-Rheinberger

This book contains close readings of contemporary literary texts and art work by Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking authors from Africa and Latin America. The readings reveal a critical debate that understands reflections on the slave trade and current migrations from Africa to Europe as continuity since early modern history. This part of cultural history is firmly rooted in the Black Atlantic, although the book’s primary concern is a discussion of situations in which water spirituality functions as a backdrop. This critical inquiry of social inequality and injustice is based on a theoretical framework that addresses migrations overseas and forced labor. Therefore, the readings are placed within the cultural tradition of seven countries: Brazil, Angola, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Principe, and Guinea-Bissau.

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Chapter 8: Idealism and Disillusionment in Guinea-Bissau


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Chapter 8: Idealism and Disillusionment in Guinea-Bissau

According to the historian Walter Rodney, from 1545 to 1800, “the rivers were the Autobahnen of the Upper Guinea Coast”.459 The local populations carried commodities and passengers from one place to another in their boats. The Atlantic coast was their meeting point, where the slave traders were waiting. The coast, therefore, was traditionally what Mary Louise Pratt conceived as the “contact zone”460 between Africa and the world outside. Rodney argues that from its beginnings the local elites’ involvement in this trade has to be seen within a global perspective:

Like their successors [among them the mulatto chiefs and the Muslim Jihad], the colonial élites, African agents of the Atlantic slave trade, must be seen in a global perspective. Increased slaving was prompted by expanding markets created by Europe in the Americas.461

Canoes were of crucial importance in conducting this business. The Upper Guineans could transport up to sixty people or more in a canoe on rivers or even on the ocean and boat builders were highly esteemed specialists. Rodney illustrates this argument by quoting the following proverb: “The blood of kings and the tears of the canoe-maker are sacred things which must not touch the ground”.462 Zeuske even argues that the canoes were in advantage over the Portuguese ships and canon artillery in the interior of ← 189 | 190 → the country and that, starting around 1460, the only thing left for...

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