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December 11, 2017

Prof. discusses how African Gold Coast slaves resisted oppression

(Hong Bui/ Daily Collegian)

Walter C. Rucker, a professor in the history department at Rutgers University, spoke at Smith College on Wednesday night about how slaves from the African Gold Coast Diaspora embraced and utilized their labeled identities to resist oppression and further build their community.

Europeans identified slaves from the African Gold Coast as “Coromantees” or “Minas,” who were a part of the Akan culture. The Coromantees “divided and redefined a range of ethnic labels” and became the tribe of the Middle Passage, Rucker said. The Coromantees believed these ethnic labels held meaning for them and attached themselves to these labels.

Rucker views the Coromantees as “multilingual and geographically defined” people who are linked through “cultural ways, overlapping languages and political or military domination.” The Coromantees were “violently torn from their homes…packed on slave ships…and experienced social or physical death,” he said.

Jeffrey Ahlman, an assistant history professor at Smith College and Northampton resident, said he invited Rucker to speak to his students about “key themes in world history, the African ideology and African connections.”

The Coromantees used their social death experiences to bring about their social resurrection.

They developed different survival techniques to build and sustain their communities. As one technique, they used pre-existing cultural scripts about power to understand and resist the manifestation of oppression. They resisted oppression by forming a peasant consciousness, which is “a set of social, cultural motifs and forms that embody and embed critics of power and power of elites,” Rucker said.

He noted that another technique they used was a spiritual technology called Obeah. Obeah is a set of ritual practices and rules that is used to develop “Gold Coast diaspora masculinity” and “the presence of empowered women as political leaders…and ritual specialists,” Rucker said.

“Obeah represents concepts and mechanisms that breaks from the original application in the Gold Coast with hopes to construct and define a new word presence,” he added.

Instead of letting transportation to America scatter their group, the Coromantees chose to

further build their community. According to Rucker, this made them dynamic instead of linear.

Sushmitha Ram, a senior history and economics major at Smith, said she thought the lecture helped “reconceptualize stagnant history.”

According to Rucker, these ethnic labels have little meaning in the United States, because Americans tend to have a “massive blind spot and embrace social Darwinism” rather than “fight against stereotypes.”

“This perspective is definitely needed,” said Micaela Gonzalez, a sophomore Latin American studies and history major at Smith, who supports the existence of these discoveries.

Despite the social and demographic changes, Rucker said the Coromantees “kept intact their

homogeneous culture.” According to him, this transformation of diaspora, identity and these labels were constantly shifting; yet, these realities of the Western Hemisphere only encouraged

them to develop a new sense of identity.

Saárah Murphy can be reached at saarahmurphy@umass.edu.

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