Thomas Sankara: The man every revolutionary needs to know

Take your time to watch this video and know more about Thomas Sankara and even his last minute
ONLY 4 YEARS in power (1983-87).
Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara (21 December 1949 – 15 October 1987) was a Burkinabé military captain, Marxist revolutionary, pan-Africanist theorist, and President of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. Viewed by supporters as a charismatic and iconic figure of revolution, he is commonly referred to as “Africa’s Che Guevara”
– He vaccinated 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever and measles in a matter of weeks.
– He initiated a nation-wide literacy campaign, increasing the literacy rate from 13% in 1983 to 73% in 1987.
– He planted over 10 million trees to prevent desertification
– He built roads and a railway to tie the nation together, without foreign aid
– He appointed females to high governmental positions, encouraged them to work, recruited them into the military, and granted pregnancy leave during education.
– He outlawed female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy in support of Women’s rights
– He sold off the government fleet of Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5 (the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time) the official service car of the ministers.
– He reduced the salaries of all public servants, including his own, and forbade the use of government chauffeurs and 1st class airline tickets.
– He redistributed land from the feudal landlords and gave it directly to the peasants. Wheat production rose in three years from 1700 kg per hectare to 3800 kg per hectare, making the country food self-sufficient.
– He opposed foreign aid, saying that “he who feeds you, controls you.”
– He spoke in forums like the Organization of African Unity against continued neo-colonialist penetration of Africa through Western trade and finance. • He called for a united front of African nations to repudiate their foreign debt. He argued that the poor and exploited did not have an obligation to repay money to the rich and exploiting
– In Ouagadougou, Sankara converted the army’s provisioning store into a state-owned supermarket open to everyone (the first supermarket in the country).
– He forced civil servants to pay one month’s salary to public projects.
– He refused to use the air conditioning in his office on the grounds that such luxury was not available to anyone but a handful of Burkinabes.
– As President, he lowered his salary to $450 a month and limited his possessions to a car, four bikes, three guitars, a fridge and a broken freezer.
– A motorcyclist himself, he formed an all-women motorcycle personal guard.
– He required public servants to wear a traditional tunic, woven from Burkinabe cotton and sewn by Burkinabe craftsmen. (The reason being to rely upon local industry and identity rather than foreign industry and identity)
– When asked why he didn’t want his portrait hung in public places, as was the norm for other African leaders, Sankara replied “There are seven million Thomas Sankaras.”
– An accomplished guitarist, he wrote the new national anthem himself
Sankara seized power in a 1983 popularly supported coup at the age of 33, with the goal of eliminating corruption and the dominance of the former French colonial power. He immediately launched one of the most ambitious programmes for social and economic change ever attempted on the African continent. To symbolize this new autonomy and rebirth, he renamed the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso (“Land of Upright Man”). His foreign policies were centered on anti-imperialism, with his government eschewing all foreign aid, pushing for odious debt reduction, nationalizing all land and mineral wealth, and averting the power and influence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. His domestic policies were focused on preventing famine with agrarian self-sufficiency and land reform, prioritizing education with a nationwide literacy campaign, and promoting public health by vaccinating 2.5 million children against meningitis, yellow fever, and measles. Other components of his national agenda included planting over ten million trees to halt the growing desertification of the Sahel, doubling wheat production by redistributing land from feudal landlords to peasants, suspending rural poll taxes and domestic rents, and establishing an ambitious road and rail construction program to “tie the nation together”. On the localized level Sankara also called on every village to build a medical dispensary and had over 350 communities construct schools with their own labour. Moreover, his commitment to women’s rights led him to outlaw female genital mutilation, forced marriages and polygamy, while appointing women to high governmental positions and encouraging them to work outside the home and stay in school even if pregnant.[5]
In order to achieve this radical transformation of society, he increasingly exerted authoritarian control over the nation, eventually banning unions and a free press, which he believed could stand in the way of his plans. To counter his opposition in towns and workplaces around the country, he also tried corrupt officials, “counter-revolutionaries” and “lazy workers” in Popular Revolutionary Tribunals. Additionally, as an admirer of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, Sankara set up Cuban-style Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs).
His revolutionary programs for African self-reliance made him an icon to many of Africa’s poor. Sankara remained popular with most of his country’s impoverished citizens. However his policies alienated and antagonised the vested interests of an array of groups, which included the small but powerful Burkinabé middle class, the tribal leaders whom he stripped of the long-held traditional right to forced labour and tribute payments, and France and its ally the Ivory Coast. As a result, he was overthrown and assassinated in a coup d’état led by Blaise Compaoré on October 15, 1987. A week before his murder, he declared: “While revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.”
On October 15, 1987, Sankara was killed by an armed group with twelve other officials in a coup d’état organised by his former colleague Blaise Compaoré. Deterioration in relations with neighbouring countries was one of the reasons given, with Compaoré stating that Sankara jeopardised foreign relations with former colonial power France and neighbouring Ivory Coast. Prince Johnson, a former Liberian warlord allied to Charles Taylor, told Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that it was engineered by Charles Taylor. After the coup and although Sankara was known to be dead, some CDRs mounted an armed resistance to the army for several days.
Sankara’s body was dismembered and he was quickly buried in an unmarked grave, while his widow Mariam and two children fled the nation. Compaoré immediately reversed the nationalizations, overturned nearly all of Sankara’s policies, rejoined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to bring in “desperately needed” funds to restore the “shattered” economy,[34] and ultimately spurned most of Sankara’s legacy. Compaoré’s dictatorship remained in power for 27 years until overthrown by popular protests in 2014.
A transformational leader
Sankara’s visionary leadership turned his country from a sleepy West African nation with the colonial designation of Upper Volta to a dynamo of progress under the proud name of Burkina Faso (“Land of the Honorable People”). He led one of the most ambitious programs of sweeping reforms ever seen in Africa. It sought to fundamentally reverse the structural social inequities inherited from the French colonial order.
Sankara focused the state’s limited resources on the marginalized majority in the countryside. When most African countries depended on imported food and external assistance for development, Sankara championed local production and the consumption of locally-made goods. He firmly believed that it was possible for the Burkinabè, with hard work and collective social mobilization, to solve their problems: chiefly scarce food and drinking water.
In Sankara’s Burkina, no one was above farm work, or graveling roads–not even the president, government ministers or army officers. Intellectual and civic education were systematically integrated with military training and soldiers were required to work in local community development projects.
Sankara disdained formal pomp and banned any cult of his personality. He could be seen casually walking the streets, jogging or conspicuously slipping into the crowd at a public event. He was a rousing orator who spoke with uncommon candor and clarity and did not hesitate to publicly admit mistakes, chastise comrades or express moral objections to heads of powerful nations, even if it imperiled him. For example, he famously criticized French president François Mitterand during a state dinner for hosting the leader of Apartheid South Africa.
Who was Thomas Sankara?
– A captain in army of Upper Volta, a former French colony in West Africa
– Instrumental in the coup that ousted Col Saye Zerbo as president in 1982
– Took power from Maj Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo in an internal power struggle and became president in August 1983
– Adopted radical left-wing policies and sought to reduce government corruption
– Changed the name of the country from Upper Volta to Burkina Faso, which means “the land of upright men”
– Killed in mysterious circumstances by a group of soldiers in October 1987
He is one of the souls for the new revolutionary generation. Thomas incarnates the righteouness and the honesty of a lot of African. He was just direct and did not have any ambiguous obscure language.

Interview with Fountain Hughes: ex-slave whose grandfather was owned by Thomas Jefferson.

At the time of his interview, Fountain Hughes was sure of one strong conviction: he would rather kill himself than be a slave again.
Hughes was 101 at the time of this interview on Voices from the Days of Slavery but his perspectives and memories of the days of slavery were as sharp as a smile.

His family had lived as slaves, including his grandfather who belonged to President Thomas Jefferson.
“If I thought, had any idea, that I’d ever be a slave again, I’d take a gun and just end it all right away. Because you’re nothing but a dog. You’re not a thing but a dog. Night never come out, you had nothing to do,” he shared with Hermond Norwood on June 11, 1949, at Baltimore, Maryland.
Hughes, a former slave, was born on May 10, 1848, in Charlottesville, Virginia. He said that his grandfather, who was a slave of Jefferson, lived up to the age of 115.
In the nearly 30 minutes-long audio interview, he bares out all the details of his life as a slave, his experiences and struggles of growing up as a young boy to a slave mother and a father who was killed at war.

“Children wasn’t, couldn’t spend money when I come along. In fact, when I come along, young men, young men couldn’t spend no money until they was twenty-one years old. And then you was twenty-one, why then you could spend your money. But if you wasn’t twenty-one, you couldn’t spend no money. I couldn’t take, I couldn’t spend ten cents if somebody give it to me. Because they’d say, ‘Well, he might have stole it.”
Hughes died in 1957 at the age of 109.
Listen the full tape below


Herbal remedies and plants were part of Africans and plants played a pivotal role in their way of life even before they were enslaved and during the slave trade.
Many indigenous African discoveries have not been credited to the people who discovered them but with time, such discoveries are being unearthed and some have been duly acknowledged.
During the Trans- Atlantic Slave Trade, the Europeans had doctors among them who attended to their ailments and treated some of the slaves who were sick so they could get back to work.
The Europeans took credit for most medicinal treatments discovered by Africans, however, Graman Quassi, a slave in Surinam who later earned his freedom, is an exception though history may have overlooked his achievements in the natural sciences.
Graman Quassi was born in 1690 in Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa. His name has many variations; Quacy, Kwasi, Kwesi and Quasi. Quassi (Kwesi) was an Akan (Fante) and his native name was Kwasimukamba (Kwasi Mukamba). He has many attributes to his name; a freedman, healer, planter and spy. He assumed all these roles at one point in his life.
He was sold into slavery in Suriname, a Dutch protectorate in South America. As a slave, he was known as an obeah (one skilled in medical and spiritual knowledge) and he used it to his advantage.
He used his medicinal knowledge to heal the Europeans and the slaves as well. He was paid for his services and with that, he gradually became a person of influence at the time.
This is where many say he switched sides. He reportedly became an informant for the Dutch and helped them capture the Maroons; Africans who mixed with the indigenous people in the Americas after they escaped slavery.
Quassi, as an informant, worked with John Gabriel Stedman, Scottish-Dutch mercenary to hunt down freedom fighters in Suriname. Lieutenant Stedman admired Quassi so much that he named him Graman Quassi, which meant Great man Kwasi.
In 1777, Stedman, after observing Quassi, wrote: “This African, by his insinuating temper and industry not only obtained his freedom from a state of slavery, but by his wonderful ingenuity and artful conduct found the means of procuring a very competent subsistence.
“Having got the name of a lockoman, or sorcerer, among the lower slaves, no crime of any consequence was committed, especially at the plantations, but Gramman Quacy, which signifies Great-man Quacy, was instantly sent for to discover the perpetrators, which he very seldom missed, owing, in fact to their faith in his sorceries […] and for these services, occasionally received capital rewards.”
To the Surinamese, Quassi was a traitor and to the Dutch, their secret weapon in defeating the Maroon rebels. Anthropologists, who were on a mission in the Maroon communities in Saramanka, heard oral tales about Quassi.
He was described as the “traitor who gained medical Knowledge from them” and eventually led the Europeans into their forests to capture them. In one of their narrations, their chief at the time cut off Quassi’s right ear.
The Europeans gave him a golden breastplate with the inscription, “Quassie, faithful to the whites.” He served the governor as his personal slave until he was freed under the manumission act.
On his major achievement in the natural sciences, Quassi is credited for being “absolutely the first discoverer of the Quassia tonic” in 1730. The “bitter wood” Quassia was named after him. “Scientifically known as Quassia amara (Amargo, Bitter-ash, Bitter-wood) is a species in the genus Quassia.”
Some botanists treat it as the only species in the genus. Quassia amara is used as insecticide, in traditional medicine and as an additive in the food industry.
Quassi was honoured by Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linne), known as “the father of modern taxonomy” who named the plant Quassi amara and a visiting Swedish naturalist, Nils Dahlberg, who met Quassi around 1761.
The Quassia Amara plant known for its medicinal purposes, Photo: Revolvy
Quassia Amara is a natural emetic (a substance that can cause vomiting). The chemical, Quassin, derived from the plant, is one of the world’s most bitter substances. The plant treats fever or can be taken as a tea. It also wards off parasites such as lice, fleas and mosquitoes.
Miranda, a historian with the Natural History Museum, explains the link between the three botanists. She says Carl observed a freedman Quassi use the Amara plantto heal people with the bitter tonic from the plant. The Quassia plant didn’t cause diarrhoea as the Peruvian bark, a plant also used for its medicinal properties did, hence Quassia had no side effects.
Believed to be safe and effective, Quassia found its place in various European Pharmacopoeia and it aided in the production of other drugs. The Surinamese people also exported Quassia in large quantities after Linnaeus put word out on the plant’s medicinal benefits.
Carl and Nils must have been very impressed with Quassi’s findings because it was unusual for Europeans to credit Africans for their medical findings. Nils, at a point, wanted to be credited with Quassi’s findings but his actions were futile.
Europeans hardly admit gaining insights in medicinal, herbal and scientific knowledge from the indigenous African. Miranda admits, saying, “It is really unusual that a European would name a plant scientifically after a previously enslaved African.”
Quassi was honoured for his services to the Dutch in 1776 at 80 years. In the Hague, he met The Prince of Orange and was given full military regalia like that of a Dutch general.
Quassi returned to Suriname and lived in a Dutch sponsored house, described as a grand house in Paramaribo. He later owned his own plantations which had enslaved workers and died a rich man in 1780.
Many historians have wondered if there are other botanical names with African ties like Quassie.

A True Story of a Father Who Sold His Wife and Four Children. By One of the Children

The story of Isaac Johnson, his mother, father and three other siblings, began like that of an ordinary family, with love, laughter and a great deal of looking out for each other.
How it ends is rather not what any child would have imagined, especially when it has their father at the very centre of it all.

In a personal account of his life and journeys as a slave, Johnson, whose surname was the maiden name of his mother, recounts the breathtakingly unimaginable story of how his Irish father, Richard Yeager, easily sold his entire family into slavery, from what used to be a pleasant and ordinary life for them.

Johnson’s mother, named Jane, was stolen from Madagascar by brothers of his Irish grandfather named Griffin Yeager in 1840. These men were engaged in the villainous vocation of the slave trade, trading people in America to enrich themselves.
Griffin gave Johnson’s mother the name Jane and made her a servant in his house, keeping her till he died. According to Johnson’s accounts, by the terms of his grandfather’s will, Jane was bequeathed to his eldest son Richard, commonly known as Dick Yeager.
“Dick also received by the will other personal property, and, equipped with cows, sheep, horses and some farming utensils, he took Jane and moved onto the farm referred to on Green river”, in the State of Kentucky.
Johnson recounts that his father used Jane in all respects as a wife and she, in her supposed innocence, gave him four children – all boys.
Johnson was born in 1844, second to an elder brother called Louis, who was two years older than he was.
They lived a happy and contented life, being more prosperous than most of the farmers in that section of the State, most of whom lived at least, ten miles away from their home. So, for long, they had almost no neighbours.    72963806-13199903-w-e15644894018111
“They worked together in harmony, she taking the lead in the house and he in the field, where she often assisted him. The first year they raised such vegetables as they needed but these brought no money. They then commenced raising tobacco and hogs. Their first crop of tobacco brought them $1600 in cash, but the hogs all died. They were so encouraged by the tobacco crop that they devoted all their energy to this product thereafter, and in time they became the leading tobacco growers. Other people soon came as neighbors, none of whom owned slaves,” according to accounts.
But soon, the newcomers came in and began to disapprove of and freely talk about his father and the manner in which he was living with a slave and raising children with her.
The new neighbours were unrelenting in showing their disapproval for what they believed was a wrong association between a White and especially a slave, opening the family up to a lot of ostracism.
Yeager began to feel the social cut keenly and soon concluded that it would be safer to sell out his property and leave that part of the country. He accordingly advertised his farm and stock for sale.
Still very young, along with Johnson’s other brothers, the property got sold but his father retained the horses which were taken to the New Orleans market. Johnson’s father went along with them, staying away for about two months. All the while, they waited for his return.
Instead, one day, a sheriff came over and took all of them to Bardstown in Nelson County, about two days journey eastward. There, they were placed in a negro pen for the night.
Still unsure what was happening, the following morning, to their astonishment, a crowd gathered and took turns examining each one of them.
“What it all meant we could not imagine till Louis was led out about ten o’clock, placed on the auction block and the auctioneer cried out: “How much do I hear for this nigger?” Johnson described.
After continuous calls to the crow for bids to be made, Louis was at last sold for eight hundred dollars. It became very obvious to them by then, what exactly was going on and it seemed as though “my mother’s heart would break. Such despair I hope I may never again witness.”
And then one after the other, the auctioneer called for Johnson, and then Ambrose, and then to his mother and their little brother, Eddie, who by the way, was supposed to have been auctioned together with his mother but the crowd wanted them separately.
As Johnson describes, “in a very short time, our happy family was scattered, without even the privilege of saying “Good by” to each other, and never again to be seen, at least so far as I was concerned.”
In total, his entire family was sold for $3,300 and the worst of all was the knowledge they would get later that their father had actually brought all this change to them; they were sold by his orders and all that money went into his pocket.
Yes! He had sold his entire family into slavery with as less of a hint about what he had planned.
That would mark the beginning of the longest years of Johnson’s life, characterized by unending quests for freedom and deepening hatred for his colour and race.
His experiences in life also explain why he eventually chose to bear his mother’s maiden name, instead of that of his father, Yeager.
Read the full story on


The small island of Curaçao was inhabited by the Arawak indigenous people until it was “discovered” by Spanish explorers in 1499. After “discovering” Curaçao, a few Spanish explorers made temporary homes on the island where they temporarily stayed before continuing their journey carrying most of the Arawak people into other colonies as labour.
For several years, the island, though “discovered”, was not of high demand by the Europeans who were establishing colonies in the Caribbean. Curaçao was not of interest because it had no mineral resources, especially gold which was at the time the most valuable trade commodity. The island was mainly occupied by remaining Arawak people, Spanish explorers and traders, as well as Portuguese sailors who were left on the island to heal.
The turn around of high-end trade goods and the discovery that the Caribbean was a fertile land for sugar, cotton and coffee made the lands more valuable and by 1662, the land was largely taken up by the Dutch after they gained independence from the Spanish.
By the late 17th century, Curaçao had become a good supplier of sugar and an important trade route especially the Atlantic slave trade. Slaves were sold and bought on the island and only a few were left to work on the small plantations on the island.
By the 18th century, a large percentage of the population was made up of enslaved Africans mainly from West Africa. Many of the enslaved people lived and died in poverty under harsh conditions because of ill-treatment and this led to tension between the Dutch and the Africans forced to work as slaves.
In 1795, there was much resentment between the colonist and the enslaved people and this tension led to a slave rebellion. According to the Indie Wire, Tula Rigaud, a local slave on the Knip plantation led the slaves working on the plantation and requested that the plantation owners put an end to collective punishment, working on Sundays and allow slaves to buy their clothes from anywhere and not just their masters.
After being ignored, Tula planned a rebellion for a few weeks and on August 17, 1795,  he joined forces with three other slaves; Louis Mercier, Bastian Karpata, and Pedro Wakao to start a revolt against their slave masters after their demand was not met.
The rebellion started with Tula leading close to 50 slaves to their master, Caspar Lodewijk van Uytrecht, to let him know that they were no longer his slaves after which they marched off to Fort Amsterdam to free several slaves who had been thrown into jail.
The growing group of rebels then went off to several plantations to meet the other lead rebels to proclaim themselves free and immediately abandon the plantations.
Louis Mercier led the rebels in Saint Kruis to take the Dutch commander Van der Grijp and ten of his soldiers hostage and threw them into jail after which he joined Tula on their mission.
By the evening of August 17, Tula and his rebels had succeeded in freeing thousands of slaves and went on to camp on the sandy bay of Portomari where they were attacked by the Dutch but managed to defeat them.
The Curaçao slave revolt of 1795 lasted for more than a month and became a bloody battle between the enslaved people and their masters.
Inspired by the 1791 revolt in Haiti that led to the freedom of the enslaves, Tula was motivated to free his people and start an independent nation, and close to 4,000 freed people fought and a 1,000 rebelled for Tula’s vision.
On September 19, 1795, Tula and Karpata were captured by the Dutch after being deceived by a slave. Mercier and Wakao were captured shortly after and the revolt was officially called off by the Dutch.
Slaves were advised to return to their plantations while those who refused to do so were killed. On October 3, 1795, Tula was publicly tortured until he died to serve as a warning to other slaves. Shortly after, Wakao, Mercier and Karpata were also executed.
Even though Tulsa’s dream of an independent community did not come to pass, the harsh treatment of slaves in Curaçao greatly reduced and rules were given to slave masters. The government also created rights for slaves that needed to be adhered to. Slavery was finally abolished in Curaçao in 1863.
The people of Curaçao mark August 17 as the start of the struggle towards liberation and a monument in honour of Tula was made at the very spot of his death in the south coast of the island near the Holiday Beach Hotel.
In 2013, a movie centred around the life of Tula and the 1795 revolt was made to bring more light on the uniqueness of Tula’s revolt that helped slaves receive better treatment.
In commemoration of the revolt a statue was erected of Tula. This paper argues that this statue is a reflection of the Curacaoan society’s awareness of this horrible part of their past. The statue shows that the island’s history of slavery is still very much remembered, commemorated and, moreover, displayed.  The Tula Slavery Freedom Statue symbolizes the island’s still present memories of the revolt, or more broadly of its history of slavery. This powerful statue symbolizes the struggle for freedom. It depicts how a slave, probably symbolizing the leader Tula, desperately tries to break the chains and shackles of his fellow slaves. This statue is considered a symbol of Curaçao’s start of a long battle for the abolishment of slavery on the island. Although, the type and significance of slavery on Curacao was different than the other colonies, the statue shows that the effect of slavery on the island was nonetheless as great and, moreover, still present.
The placement of the statue illustrates that Curacao has not forgotten that dark page in the island’s history, but rather acknowledges it, and celebrates the fight against slavery, generally considered to be brought on by the revolt of 1795, lead by Tula.
The monument, designed by Nel Simon, was erected in 1998 in Willemstad, Curaçao, the same place of Tula’s execution.
Sources: /

Archivists race to digitize slavery records before the history is lost

Abu Koroma is the archivist in training at the National Archives of Sierra Leone — and he’ll remain the archivist in training until one of the two senior archivists retire.

“That is how it is done,” he laughed.

When Koroma started at the archives in 2004, Sierra Leone was emerging from civil war. He was fresh out of high school and his parents had died, so he needed the small salary badly. And the archives fascinated Koroma. They date back to the first treaty regional leaders made with British colonists in 1788. After Britain outlawed participation in the slave trade in 1807, British administrators in colonial Sierra Leone filled books with descriptions of each liberated African.

“Most times when I’m in the archives alone, I think I want to be a professor, and I will start writing books,” Koroma said.

Instead, in his 15 years at the archives, Koroma has helped many other professors and researchers with their work. They began coming in droves from all over the globe in the 2000s, when they realized technology had become cheap and accessible enough to digitize documents and put information into databases. Those databases and many others about the historic slave trade will soon be publicly accessible for the first time, in one place. That may revolutionize the way the history of slavery is learned and taught here and abroad, and allow African descendants more insight into their family histories.

“So much of them were coming,” said Koroma, speaking of the influx of researchers at the archives.

There was one basic question many researchers wanted to answer first. For a long time, historians struggled to estimate the size of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. So, the first big database they put together was meant to reveal an answer, and it did: It’s estimated that at least 12.5 million peoplewere abducted from Africa and sold as slaves between 1500 and 1875. As many as 10.7 million survived the dangerous passage on slave ships.

“Inevitably, if you’re descended from one of the 10.7 million people who survived the Middle Passage, there’s going to be a point where there is no more data,” said Katrina Keefer, an adjunct professor of history and cultural studies at Canada’s Trent University.

She says that’s what academics wanted to know next — how to trace enslaved Africans back to their home village or tribe. Keefer recalls thinking about that when she was in graduate school: If researchers could discover where enslaved Africans came from, their descendants wouldn’t have to have a family history that began with slavery.

“And I remember sitting in a classroom and thinking, ‘but the answer’s right there,’” Keefer said. “‘It’s literally right there on people’s faces.’”

During a teenage obsession with dressing Goth, Keefer had developed a fascination with the physical ways people mark themselves to show identity. That led her to see something others didn’t when she looked at colonial British records. Their descriptions in many cases include drawings of facial scars made by Africans to show their origins and identities, which after they were enslaved, served to represent where they came from — what village or ethnic group. The markings were often a series of straight lines of different lengths and patterns across the face and neck.

“Initially, people kind of blinked at me. There was a lot of ‘well yes, of course,’” she said. “‘Oh, we never thought of that.’”

Keefer is using information in the Sierra Leone archives to develop a computer program that can recognize and catalog the scars.

“We’re hoping to essentially allow people to feel a greater connection to their ancestors and a greater realization of what their true origins are,” she said.

But then again, a scar can only tell you so much.

“Any one data point like a scar is great,” said Dean Rehberger, director of Matrix: The Center for Digital Humanities and Social Sciences at Michigan State University. “But it’s only one data point.”

That’s why the scar database is meant to feed into a massive, new information hub created by Rehberger and his team with a $1.5 million grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

“In doing the project, we found a number of institutions and places that are holding data that people don’t even know about,” Rehberger said.

The project — named Enslaved — will attempt to gather research about historic slavery in one place. Until now, much of that information has only been in books or museums, or scattered in corners of the internet in different languages, hidden behind broken links. The Enslaved project is standardizing all that information, so it’ll be searchable and accessible.

“We’re coming right at the point where we can actually take literally billions of records and put them together in the same home — what we’re calling a hub and then be able to search over them,” Rehberger said.

The project goes online in 2020, with three interfaces: one, the Enslaved Hub for searching the data and visualizing; the second, the Enslaved Publishing Platform for academics and the public to contribute data and publish data; and the third, called Enslaved Narratives, a selected set of linked, enslaved narratives.

“It’s fair to say it’s the first time that this could happen at this scale for the amount of funds we have,” Rehberger said. “At the same time, people around the world who are working on this see the real benefit of coming together and working together.”

Critics point out that the information being gathered is from the point of view of enslavers and colonialists. But institutions around the world are participating. The Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University is contributing a database with details drawn from 1,500 biographies of people who were enslaved or connected to the slave trade. The database draws on essays in three biographical dictionaries edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and several others. The books’ executive editor, Steven Niven, says previously, the information was behind a paywall.

“The print set costs about $1,200,” he said.

The Enslaved project is supposed to go online next year, and Niven expects the sudden influx of accessible information to revolutionize the way people learn about slavery and teach it.

“By using biographies, and by using a large number of biographies, we can tell complex stories, local stories, to get a grip of what is hard history — you know, the forced history of 12 million people, and then systematic exploitation for several hundred years in the Americas,” Niven said.

But that’s still just scratching the surface. In Sierra Leone, archivist Koroma says there’s a lot of unexplored history left. History that’s at risk of being lost: the original documents in the Sierra Leone archives are being kept in buildings with broken windows, frequent power failures and no air-conditioning. The papers crumble easily.

“Most of the pages, like if you turn them, they will break,” Koroma said.

Many of the researchers who visit try to help with money for improvements or to digitize the papers. But Koroma feels like those efforts usually just sputter out.

“They will do their best to help the archives. But it’s normally not enough,” he said. “We want to keep these things alive. Because other people have volunteered to keep them alive before us.”

Koroma worries that no one will volunteer to care for the archives after him, since archivists in training earn so little. He believes that for the true history of slavery to survive and be told, the original evidence must be preserved, and protected.


Emancipation Statue

                                                Emancipation Statue in Barbados

The Emancipation Statue is the work of Barbados’ best known sculptor Karl Broodhagen and symbolises the breaking of the chains of slavery at Emancipation.
Slavery, abolished in 1834, was followed by a 4-year apprenticeship period where free men continued to work a 45-hour week without pay in exchange for living in the tiny huts provided by the plantation owners.
Full freedom from slavery was celebrated in 1838 at the end of the apprentice period with over 70,000 Barbadians of African descent taking to the streets to celebrate. Today, Emancipation Day is celebrated as a national holiday on August 1st.
Many Barbadians refer to the statue as Bussa, the name of a slave who helped inspire a revolt against slavery in Barbados in 1816. Bussa was born a free man in west Africa but was captured and transported to Barbados to work as a slave. He is one of Barbados’ National Heroes

The Freedom Fighter

Although not much is known about the man, Bussa was born a free man in West Africa.
There is no biographical information available about Bussa; his actual birth name remains a mystery, as does the majority of his life.
What is known is that African slave merchants captured him in the late 18th century, sold to the British, then transported as a slave to Barbados.
What is also known is that Bussa had the strength of character and a passion for enforcing change. It is this courage and sheer determination that is recorded in the history books.
The man Barbadians fondly remember as ‘Bussa’ played an integral role in changing the social and political climate of the island forever.
Note: Existing records do show there was a slave called ‘Bussa’ who worked on a plantation in St. Philip around the time of his rebellion.

Bussa’s Rebellion, as it is known, was the first of three large-scale slave rebellions in the British West Indies in the years leading up to emancipation. It was followed by the massive revolution in 1823 in Demerara (now part of Guyana), and by an even more enormous rebellion in 1831 – 1832 in Jamaica.


Le Negre Marron (The Black Maroon), Port-au-Prince, Haiti, 1970

Le Negre Marron (The Black Maroon; in creole, Neg Mawon), often translated in English as the Unknown Slave, although Fugitive or Rebel Slave would probably be more accurate in the context of Haitian history. Located on the boulevard Champ de Mars with Haiti’s presidential palace in background. The Negre Marron is shown with left leg extended (broken chain on his ankle); a machete (partially hidden by flower wreaths) is in his right hand, and his left hand holds a conch shell to his lips. The conch shell was often used as a trumpet to assemble people.
Created by the Haitian sculptor/architect, Albert Mangones (1917-2002) in 1968 or 1969, the statue was commissioned by the government of president Francois Duvalier to commemorate the slaves who revolted against France. (Thanks to several respondants on Caribbean List Serve, including Lorraine Mangones, the sculptor’s daughter, for information on the statue). The wreaths shown in this photograph were laid by the South Korean Ambassador who had presented his credentials not long before the photograph was taken in April 1970. Le Negre Marron survived the horrible earthquake of 12 January 2010, but the presidential palace was destroyed.
When Haiti unveiled Le Negré Marron statue in 1967, it became a symbol for freedom of black people across the world. The sculpture is a reminder of the rebellion against the French that set the Haitians free.
black maroon monument

A year ago: Brazil museum on fire

Incalculable loss as 200-year-old Rio institution gutted

Brazil’s oldest and most important historical and scientific museum has been consumed by fire, and much of its archive of 20 million items is believed to have been destroyed.
The fire at Rio de Janeiro’s 200-year-old National Museum began after it closed to the public on Sunday and raged into the night. There were no reports of injuries, but the loss to Brazilian science, history and culture was incalculable, two of its vice-directors said.
“It was the biggest natural history museum in Latin America. We have invaluable collections. Collections that are over 100 years old,” Cristiana Serejo, one of the museum’s vice-directors, told the G1 news site.
Marina Silva, a former environment minister and candidate in October’s presidential elections said the fire was like “a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory”.
Luiz Duarte, another vice-director, told TV Globo: “It is an unbearable catastrophe. It is 200 years of this country’s heritage. It is 200 years of memory. It is 200 years of science. It is 200 years of culture, of education.” TV Globo also reported that some firefighters did not have enough water to battle the blaze.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the fire began. The museum was part of Rio’s Federal University but had fallen into disrepair in recent years. Its impressive collections included items brought to Brazil by Dom Pedro I – the Portuguese prince regent who declared the then-colony’s independence from Portugal – Egyptian and Greco-Roman artefacts, “Luzia”, a 12,000 year-old skeleton and the oldest in the Americas, fossils, dinosaurs, and a meteorite found in 1784. Some of the archive was stored in another building but much of the collection is believed to have been destroyed.
Mércio Gomes, an anthropologist and former president of Brazil’s indigenous agency, Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI), compared the loss to the burning of the library of Alexandria in 48BC. “We Brazilians only have 500 years of history. Our National Museum was 200 years old, but that’s what we had, and what is lost forever,” he wrote on Facebook. “We have to reconstruct our National Museum.”
Duarte said that governments were to blame for failing to support the museum and letting it fall into disrepair. At its 200th birthday in June, not one state minister appeared. “For many years we fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed,” he said. “My feeling is of total dismay and immense anger.”

At the scene, several indigenous people gathered and criticised the fact that the museum containing their most precious artefacts has burned down seemingly because there was no money for maintenance of hydrants, yet the city had recently managed to find a huge budget to build a brand new museum of tomorrow. A crowd of several dozen people outside the gates, several of whom were clearly distraught. Others blamed the government’s austerity policies and corruption.
Rio’s fire chief Colonel Roberto Robaday said the firefighters did not have enough water at first because two hydrants were dry. “The two nearest hydrants had no supplies,” he said. Water trucks were brought in and water used from a nearby lake. “This is an old building,” he said, “with a lot of flammable material, lots of wood and the documents and the archive itself.”

Source: The Guardian