Obstacles in the way of love: The enslavement of intimacy in Samuel Crowther and Ama Ata Aidoo

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Though less attention is generally paid to the period following the abolition of slave trade in West African history, literary and nonfictional representations of the postabolition period in West Africa can reveal much about the personal effects the slave trade had on African lives. In this paper, I discuss the effects the slave trade had on the people who were "left behind" - those Africans who did not embark on slave ships but who nonetheless experienced the constant interruption of the slave trade in their personal lives, even long after the transatlantic trade ended. This paper discusses, in particular, the effect the slave trade had on African intimate and family relations through a reading of some of Samuel Crowther's papers and of Ama Ata Aidoo's dramatic depiction entitled Anowa. In a letter he wrote from school in Sierra Leone, Samuel Crowther describes the loss of his family in a slave raid in 1821, and then in a later diary, he recounts the somewhat hesitant, bitter-sweet reunion with his family in the 1846. In Anowa, Aidoo depicts a slaveholder in the 1870s who, because of his relationship to slaves and the slave trade, is literally made impotent; though he reaches out to his slaves as if they were his family, he is not able to have a family life himself. Both the fictional and the nonfictional texts depict the endemic failure of intimacy that was engendered by the slave trade in Africa, revealing the way in which the economy of the slave trade was calculated in such a way that family bonds and human relationships were diminished in value.

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Research in African Literatures

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