Migration and emancipation in West Africa's labour history: the missing links

224, Arts building, Danford Room
Wednesday 26 September 2012 (17:00-19:00)

Speaker: Benedetta Rossi (DASA, University of Birmingham)

Strategies of emancipation included projects of migration conceived and unfolded by migrants of slave descent. In this talk I suggest that looking at how these migrants chose to move when they could control their mobility, and at the obstacles they faced, reveals aspects of the experience of enslavement and emancipation that have not yet been fully explored in the relevant historiography. While historians of African slavery have described the largescale movements of ex-slaves that followed legal status abolition in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, only few studies provide detailed analyses of these trajectories from the perspective of the enslaved.

Outside the field of slavery studies, both West African labour history and migration studies have been emphasizing ethnicity over status, thereby underestimating how slave descent shaped the practices and aspirations of a large proportion of labour migrants. The auto-biographic testimonies of migrants of slave descent provide insights in their strategies and expose differences across gender, age, and location. Through an analysis of these sources, this paper highlights some missing links in our reconstructions of the history of West African workers.