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Accepted paper:

Biographies of Africans in America during the slave trade and their contribution to the retrieval of the African history


Paola Vargas Arana (York University)

Paper long abstract:

The American documentation produced during the era of the slave trade has invaluable information that can contribute, not only for the Diaspora history, but also for the retrieval of the history of Africa. Based on American primary documentation, the reconstruction of biographies from the Africans who forcibly crossed the Atlantic show the range of responses that Africans led to face the challenges imposed by slavery. As a result of my Ph.D. dissertation in history at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, I found that the African knowledge was critical for the survival of the Africans in New Granada territory (today Colombia), during the 16th and 17th centuries. In particular, they used their African knowledge as a tool to introduce agricultural, medical, dietary, architectural, and military techniques, which allowed many of them to escape successfully from oppression and reconstruct communitarian life, free from the slaveholders. For instance, I found that West Africans from the Upper Guinea region introduced the rice cultivation and the construction of houses over wood structures based on their African knowledge, and fitting it to the humid swamps of the Caribbean. The paper I propose for the Disciplinary Trends in Africa panel seeks to show how the historical awareness of the cultural memories that Africans used, reconfigure, renew or recreate in America, has aroused the need to establish more accurate connections between the African and the Diaspora history. The study of particular life histories, which I am currently working on as a Research Assistant in the Digital Humanities project Freedom Narratives, can boost that precision, as it aims to link the cultural origin of each African, to the life they performed in America. My work shows that Africans arrived to America with profound scientific, spiritual and technical knowledge, that not only allowed them to overcome the slavery, but that greatly contributed to the construction of the Americas.

panel D19
Disciplinary trends in Africa: history (double panel)