Making Their Own Freedom
Book Review of Rediker's "The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom"

Caldwell, Robert
Date Written:  2014-01-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2014
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20352

A review of Rediker's re-centering of The Amistad Revellion toward a bottom-up perspective from that of the African slaves involved.



The Amistad Rebellion broadens the context from an 1839 watery rebellion and the U.S. courtroom to the broader Atlantic World system and its hinterlands, and offers insight into the personal history of the rebellion's leaders, African cultures at the time, and the neglected importance of the "motley" multinational working-class workforces on both ships and the waterfront.

Readers are immediately drawn into the actions of these defiant men who refused to be human cargo. The introduction, titled "Voices," makes agency of the historical actors manifest, but the book does an excellent job balancing individual agency with both historical contingency and the broader political situation. Each chapter focuses on a major theme, which broadly aligns with a phase in the struggle for liberation.

After a captivating 12-page introduction, the book turns to the individual histories of the Africans and broad context in which they lived. "Origins" uncovers snippets of African social and cultural history and examines the African slave trade in detail, starting in Africa. Rediker first introduces the cross-class, cross-cultural, all-male secret Poro warrior societies and the importance of the society's discussion and consultation process, called a palaver.

The chapter also provides ample context of enslavement. The author vividly explains the African coastal slave-trading factories, the middle passage onboard a Brazilian slaver, and offers a detailed description of slave enclosures, called barracoons, in both Africa and Cuba.

While oppressive institutions abound, the defiant Africans' fight back was part of a broader "Atlantic geography of resistance."

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