Vol. XIX, Issue 2 (Spring 2012): The 2012 Amistad Lecture
Olayemi Akinwumi (South Africa)
For more information on AfricaUpdate
The Ninth Annual Amistad Lecture was delivered at Central Connecticut State University, by Professor Abdul Karim Bangura of Howard University, on February 28, 2012. This year the Amistad Committee of CCSU continued the focus on the life and times of the Amistad returnees to Sierra Leone. Dr. Bangura is Professor of Research Methodology and Political Science at Howard University. He is also Researcher- In -Residence on Abrahamic Connections and Islamic Peace Studies at the Center for Global Peace at American University, Washington, DC. He holds a PhD in Political Science; a PhD in Development Economics; a PhD in Linguistics; a PhD in Computer Science; and a PhD in Mathematics. He is the author of 65 books and more than 550 articles. He is the winner of numerous teaching, scholarly and community service awards. He speaks a dozen African languages and six European languages, and is studying to strengthen his proficiency in Arabic, Hebrew, and Hieroglyphics. Dr. Bangura was born in Sierra Leone. Dr. Abdul Karim Bangura received the 9th ANNUAL AMISTAD AWARD for his contributions to Human Rights Discourse and his contribution to academic research.
We thank him for this illuminating analysis.
Dr. Gloria Emeagwali
Chief Editor, Africa Update
I would like to begin this lecture by expressing my profound gratitude for the honor bestowed upon me by the Amistad Committee of Central Connecticut State University to deliver a lecture on a dehumanizing activity (i.e. slavery) which some of my ancestors—King Moriba Kunda/Kindo Bangura (17?-1825) and King Namina Modu Bangura (17?-1840s)—fought against. Others, King Yan Koba Bangura (18?-1860) and King Bai Bureh Kabalai (1840-1908)— were deposed or their positions abolished by the British for their refusal to tax their citizens for Britain’s colonial machinations. And to be named the recipient of the very prestigious Amistad Award named after a major world historical event that began in and whose major actors were from my country of birth, Sierra Leone, is exhilarating.
My first work on the Amistad story was in 1998 when the Amistad film came out and I was invited to give a lecture at the Amistad Forum on the Life of Sengbe Pieh (later known in the United States as Joseph Cinqué) for the Spring Arts Festival at Bowie State University in Maryland on April 13. In that lecture, I began with an observation made by Professor Warren Goldstein of the University of Hartford that we students of history are in a bind these days: If we dig up and interpret evidence, reinterpret what others have found, we are frequently accused of high ideological crimes. When our work challenges self-congratulatory mythology, critics like Rush Limbaugh call us “revisionists,” hell bent on defacing American democracy and Western civilization. If, on the other hand, we object to inaccuracies in historical novels and films, we are labeled as pedantic, humorless, “scholar-squirrels” who collect and bank obscure facts until the day we can rain them down on somebody’s artistic parade.
Consequently, many of us who are students of history hide. We do not write for the larger public. We avoid the politics of museum displays. We discuss historical films or other ways that history shows up in popular culture only with our colleagues and students. Except in our classrooms, we students of history pull our punches. If we do not have tenure, we are careful even in our classrooms.
Not all historical ignorance is immediately costly. But in recent years, the popularity of several “historical” films has raised anew the question of whether students of history have an obligation to try to correct distortions. Does it really matter that Steven Spielberg and Debbie Allen (both fellow alumni from relatively progressive universities, The American University and Howard University, respectively) have played fast and loose with the historical record in Amistad?
I did not always think so. I was moved by Amistad, even with its corniness and the just-in-time legal heroics that saved Pieh and his compatriots from the dredges of slavery. After all, I reasoned, the mere fact that Sierra Leone was mentioned on the big screen, shaped by Spielberg and Allen’s talents, seen by millions of non-Sierra Leoneans, made the film worthwhile. But I did not know much about the Amistad before then. I had heard lots of stories and read a few encyclopedic entries. However, knowing something as a student of history is different.
I saw Amistad with the hope that the film—the story of 53 captive Africans who mutinied aboard the slave ship La Amistad (meaning in Spanish “friendship”0 in 1839, were recaptured, and finally were freed by the United States Supreme Court, after a two-year legal battle—would help me explain the story to my students. After all, Debbie Allen had asserted that Amistad was designed to dramatize an allegedly “suppressed” story of Black rebellion and victory. Unfortunately, except for some powerful, albeit melodramatic and disturbing, scenes of enslaved Africans that were being transported from Africa, Spielberg and Allen sacrificed history for mythology. Yet we students of history, especially Africans, must say nothing. We are supposed to be grateful that someone has finally put the horrors of slavery and the name of Sierra Leone on the big screen.
However, the price is too high. The history in Amistad is frequently incomprehensible, and misleading when it is not just plain wrong. Simply put, it is bad history that is bad for culture. So, we students of history and related disciplines must do a better job of communicating the facts of the Amistad to our own students and the public at large.
The historical shortcomings in Amistad are many. For the sake of brevity, I will discuss only a handful here. Amistad was supposed to be “an historical legacy of Sierra Leone and the United States.” However, whereas the American-ness stood out vividly with emphasis on the virtues of the cause of the abolitionist movement, the patronizing role of the Christian church vis-à-vis the callousness of the Spanish and Southern American slavers (very familiar themes) and the fierce independence of the American courts—seen resisting interference from even the sitting President (Martin Van Buren—painted during the 1840 campaign as a “Champaign-sipping aristocratic dandy”), the Sierra Leonean-ness (or African-ness, if you prefer) did not stand out at all. Even with a fluent Mende tongue (the tongue of Pieh and the majority of his compatriots), I, like many other Sierra Leoneans who saw the film, had to mostly rely on the subtitles to understand the almost incomprehensible Mende that was spoken. [Even the Mende spoken by the elder, Stephen James Conteh of Los Angeles (best known in Sierra Leone as American Steve), in the Polaroid commercial is much comprehensible.]
It is widely known that it was reported of Pieh by a leading American Newspaper at that time, The New York Sun, that “had he lived in the days of Greece or Rome, his name would have been handed down to posterity as one who had practiced those most sublime of all virtues—disinterested patriotism and unshrinking courage” (Iglesias, 2010). Yet the cultural milieu/environment that gave rise to Pieh’s bravery, courage and sense of fair-play to violently revolt against injustice and cruelty for the first time in the history of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, and to the outstanding leadership qualities which Pieh displayed in the face of very difficult circumstances in leading his colleagues to victory and freedom in a strange land, was not delved into and exposed to viewers. Granted, the film was made primarily for the American market and naturally “s/he who pays the piper calls the tune.” Nonetheless, I am convinced that this aspect would have been as relevant to the American audience as the capture of Pieh with a hunting net by his fellow Africans, which, sadly, is the only African-ness/Sierra Leonean-ness that stands out in the film. I wonder whether this was an attempt to play into the hands of those who still (wrongly) believe that all those Africans who stayed behind were either slave captors or traders or collaborators of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Has it ever occurred to our dramatists and film-makers that descendants of ex-slaves in the Diaspora have their counterparts in Africa—those whose ancestors never experienced life in the dreaded slave castles, nor the inhuman boat journey across the Atlantic, but yet remained in Africa as slaves (of the domestic type) whose story too needs to be told? My little oral history tells me that some chiefs succumbed to the dictates of Christianity and British colonialism by “adopting” and sending the sons of their slaves to school instead of their own nuclear sons because at the time they were not convinced about the values of Western education. Some of these “adopted” sons turned out to be very successful personalities who now have a very dignified and proud lineage; some of them and/or their offspring eventually asserted their acquired rights and became chiefs. Perhaps, this can provide another meeting point for Africa and America.
In Amistad, Lewis Tappan—the White New York merchant, philanthropist, and prominent abolitionist—is seriously misrepresented. He is falsely and shamefully shown in the film as willing to see the Africans sacrificed as martyrs to his cause—along with a wholly fictional Black abolitionist, played by Morgan Freeman (who had once confessed on national television that he feels no affinity with Africa), who says little but appears profound in the film. Tappan took his faith seriously. His Amistad Committee (the group that carried out the litigation on behalf of Pieh and his compatriots) eventually was renamed the American Missionary Association (AMA). The association later became the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, a large social-justice agency within the United Church of Christ (which itself grew out of New England Congregationalism). It was also Tappan as a chief benefactor of Oberlin College that pressured the college’s trustees in 1835 to adopt an official policy to admit African American students, both males and females, thereby becoming the first college in the United States to do so. So much for Spielberg and Allen’s historical enlightenment!
Spielberg and Allen’s search for “seriousness”—taking on the “big issue” of slavery—ought to have led them to produce something more than a story about individuals. This matters a great deal because bad history is bad for a culture. Americans need to know how change has occurred throughout our history. They need to understand the importance of institutions and organizations and movements.
We students of history need not object to dramatic license. The trial of the Amistad captives, for example, actually employed two translators of the Mende language, instead of the one shown in the film. That detail is important. Dramatic misrepresentation is something else again and, when it occurs, we students of history should not hide. We must say what we know, support what is correct, and expose what is false.
The irony of the Amistad film is that it did not win a single Academy Award. It will not be remembered for its “Hollyweiredness” or its historical merit. The Titanic film won just about every category that year (1998). It would have even won the Best Black Movie had such a category existed! It is sad that billions of dollars had been spent on the Titanic film when millions of people around the world, including the United States, go to bed hungry each night. Titanic is a film with three hours of dramatic effects about a ship that took lesser time to sink because its captain did not think it was good leadership to listen to a lower-class crew member.
When the RMS (Royal Majesty Service) Titanic sank at Sea in the icy North Atlantic at 11:40 pm on April 14, 1912, leading 1,517 lives to perish, it had more to do with class stratification, not romantic interludes, as depicted in the film. A folksong at the time captured the demise quite well as follows (see, for example, Ashe, 1997):
Oh, they loaded up the boats so very far from shore
but the rich refused to associate with the poor.
So they put the poor below,
where they were the first to go.
It was sad when the Great Ship went down.
Another interesting aspect is that the Soul Food film did not win any award either. May be it is because the African Americans in that film were relatively “too affluent,” and did not fit the urban African American stereotype. It might have won something if it was titled No Food, depicting African Americans running around hungry and killing each other. And for special effects, the growling stomachs of these African Americans would have been just perfect.
For this lecture, I was tasked to examine the life and times of the Amistad returnees to Sierra Leone and their impact there. I divide the lecture into seven sections: (1) the returnees and their reintegration in Sierra Leone; (2) the true missionary agenda, its accomplishments and challenges; (3) interactions among Christian missionaries, other religious segments of the society and how this impacted the Amistad returnees; (4) the Islamic factor as it relates to the Amistad phenomenon; (5) the unsubstantiated accusation that Sengbe Pieh became a slave trader; (6) possible motive for the accusation; and (7) conclusion. In exploring these complex and multifaceted issues, I employ a pluridisciplanary approach (more on this later) by combining synchronic/thematic historical, political science/international relations, linguistic and mathematical applications. Before doing this, however, it makes sense to briefly highlight the main points of the popular version of the Amistad story only as a context for the lecture. To tell the popular version of the story in detail will be time consuming and unnecessary, since a great deal about it is available in written and video media.
The Amistad Story in Brief
In February of 1839, Portuguese slave hunters abducted a large group of Africans from Sierra Leone and shipped them to Havana, Cuba, a center for the slave trade. This abduction violated all of the treaties then in existence. Fifty-three Africans were purchased by two Spanish planters and put aboard the Cuban schooner La Amistad for shipment to a Caribbean plantation. On July 2, 1839, Pieh led 56 fellow Africans (52 adults and four children), the captives being transported aboard La Amistad from Havana, in a revolt against their captors. In the main hold below the deck, the captives found a rusty file. The captives freed themselves, and they quickly ascended the stairs to the deck. Armed with machete-like cane knives, they were successful in gaining control of the ship and demanded to be returned home. The ship’s navigator, Don Pedro Montez, deceived them about which direction their course was on and sailed the ship north along the North American coast to the eastern tip of Long Island, New York (Abraham, 1979; The US National Archives, 2011).
On August 24, 1839, the Amistad was seized off Long Island, New York by the USS brig Washington. The planters were freed and the Africans were imprisoned in New Haven, Connecticut on charges of murder. Although the murder charges were dismissed, the Africans continued to be held in confinement as the focus of the case turned to salvage claims and property rights. President Martin Van Buren was in favor of extraditing the Africans to Cuba. Abolitionists in the North, however, opposed extradition and raised money to defend the Africans. Claims to the Africans by the planters, the government of Spain, and the captain of the brig led the case to trial in the Federal District Court in Connecticut. The court ruled that the case fell within Federal jurisdiction and that the claims to the Africans as property were not legitimate because they were illegally held as slaves. The case went to the Supreme Court in January of 1841, and former President John Quincy Adams argued the defendants’ case. Adams defended the right of the accused to fight to regain their freedom. The Supreme Court decided in favor of the Africans, and 35 of them were returned to their homeland. The others died at sea or in prison while awaiting trial (Abraham, 1979; The US National Archives, 2011).
The Returnees and Their Reintegration in Sierra Leone
Not much has been written about the Amistad returnees and their reintegration in Sierra Leone. In fact, the two returnees who have received some attention are Pieh and Sarah Margru Kinson.
As Professor of History and Eminent Scholar and Chair of the History Department at Virginia State University Arthur Abraham narrates the story, towards the end of 1841, enough funds had been raised to charter the ship named Gentleman to take the 35 Africans to Sierra Leone, accompanied by five missionaries—two Blacks and three Whites—to start the Mende Mission with the Amistad Africans, with the goal of promoting the work of evangelization already successfully started in Sierra Leone. The ship reached Freetown in mid-January 1842. Upon their arrival, Pieh learned from Mende recaptives that war had ravaged the country while he was away and that his hometown, Mani, and most of his family had been wiped out. The hope of locating the Mende Mission near Pieh’s hometown was dashed. Anxious to get to their homes and families, many of the Amistad returnees left the group, leaving behind only ten adults and the four children (Abraham, 1979:143).
According to Abraham, to reconstruct what happened to Pieh between 1842 and the time of his death is difficult. Many conflicting stories were told. Like a number of the Amistad returnees who left Freetown, Pieh continued to return to the mission occasionally. He informed the missionaries that on leaving Freetown, he had hurried back to his hometown only to discover its charred ruins. In desperation, he returned to the mission for some time and then left again. Many unsubstantiated rumors began circulating about Pieh—“that he had become a great war chief, or that he had given up Christianity and become a wealthy slave-trader himself. One of the strongest, which missionaries inclined to believe, was that he had emigrated to the West Indies” (Abraham, 1979:143).
What is evident is that Pieh was reported to have died at the mission station. As Abraham recounts,
The Rev. Alonzo Lewis, who as a boy had watched the capture of the Amistad and followed the case, later enquired from Rev. Albert Miller of the Mende Mission what eventually happened to Sengbe. According to Miller, shortly after arrival at the Mende Mission in 1878, an old man, unrecognized by anyone, had stumbled into the station. He had announced himself as Joseph Sengbe, and said that he had come there to die. Sengbe had relapsed into paganism, but lived in the vicinity of the mission. He died in 1879 and was buried in the cemetery near the mission station (Abraham, 1979:143).
According to Stephanie Reitz, a staff writer for the Hartford Courant, Pieh’s family history says that when he returned to Sierra Leone, he went to search for his missing daughters. He never found them and returned to his home region to be with his son Kollima, according to Solomon Pieh, one of the descendants of Kollima’s seventh son, Peter Pieh, who became a United Methodist Church member. In turn, Peter had nine children, including the four brothers and one sister who visited the Mystic Seaport in April 1998 to see the $2.5 million Freedom Schooner Amistad—a reconstruction of La Amistad—while being built (Reitz, 1998).
Sierra Leonean journalist Muckson Sesay says that Pieh is reported to have settled in Taiama after his ancestors were said to have migrated from Shenge in the same Moyamba District. Taiama is a small town in the Kori Chiefdom of Moyamba Distract in the Southern Province along the Taia River (Sesay, 2006).
As stated earlier, one of the other Amistad African who has received some attention is Sarah Margru Kinson, thanks to the work of Marlene Deahl Merrill, a documentary editor, historian, and affiliate scholar at Oberlin College. As Merrill tells her story, Margru was one of the four children who were part of the Amistad Africans. In her Mende language, Margru means “black snake.” But in America, Margru became “the child of many prayers,” as she was the only Amistad captive to later return to the United States (Merrill, 2003).
According to Merrill, Margru was born in about 1832 in Bendembu, Mandingo country, in the Mende region, approximately 100 miles southeast of Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone and 40-60 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. She was one of seven children. Her world abruptly changed when she was sold to Spanish slave traders to repay a family debt. Within a brief time, Margru and 52 others from the same area that were either purchased or kidnapped by the traders were forced to walk 100 miles to the West African coast, where they where herded into the notorious Dunbomo slave pens on Lomboko Island. Margru was one of the few children among the hundreds jammed into the slave pens awaiting slave ships to carry them across the Atlantic (Merrill, 2003).
Merrill states that eventually, Margru and three other children—two girls, Tehme and Kagne, and a boy, Kali—and an unknown number of adults were forced aboard the Portuguese slave ship Tecora, which then sailed to Cuba. During the three-month voyage, the adult captives were crammed, naked, into the ship’s hold and chained together in a half-sitting, half-lying position. The children were allowed a bit of freedom and not shackled, but they were forced to remain in the hold (Merrill, 2003).
During the Amistad trial, says Merrill, Tappan became an advocate for Margru and the other children, and over time he became Margru’s greatest benefactor. Realizing the trauma the children were facing, Tappan arranged for them to reside in the home of the jailer, a Colonel Pendleton, and his wife. While the children enjoyed more comforts and privacy at the home, they also served as domestic servants, and Merrill believes that they were most certainly not treated kindly there. After they gained their freedom and on their way back to Sierra Leone, Margru and the other children did not remain in the ship’s hold. Instead, they stayed in a large but crowded stateroom with the five missionaries who had agreed to build a new mission station for the Mende somewhere in Sierra Leone (Merrill, 2003).
Merrill writes that after seven long weeks at sea, the Gentleman dropped anchor just outside Freetown on a very hot and humid day in early January 1842. At the docks were more than 100 welcoming relatives and friends as the tender brought the Amistad Africans close enough to shore for them to wade toward it through shallow water. Dressed in suits and ties, and carefully rehearsed, the returnees were singing hymns when suddenly, in a split second, all decorum vanished replaced by shouts and ecstatic rejoicing. Pieh and his companions began to throw off their constrictive costumes, exposing their ethnic markings, and in a matter of seconds were being embraced by all those who came to welcome them. With the missionaries watching all this in total disbelief, Merrill suggests that the incident must have surely informed them that their missionary work was going to be quite challenging (Merrill, 2003).
According to Merrill, once William Raymond got his missionary work under way, he began to send personal letters to Lewis Tappan, frequently with news of Margru. In one of his letters, Lewis wrote that Margru had been converted to Christianity and that she was becoming like a daughter to him. In a May 1845 letter, which was subsequently published in the long-running Oberlin Evangelist, he reported that he had made Margru his housekeeper, Charlotte his cook, and that Maria waited upon his wife, Eliza, and did the housework. He added that Margru was almost continually singing. In November of 1845, he wrote that another Oberlin missionary stated that he had never seen any other African girls “equal” to Margru. Merrill thus opines that Raymond was beginning to think that Margru ought to be brought to America to be educated so that she can be qualified to be the head of the female department of the mission school. Efforts then began in earnest to bring Margru to the United States for further education. In the summer of 1846, just seven years after the capture of La Amistad, the now 14-year-old Margru embarked on her second Trans-Atlantic journey to the United States. She was once again accompanied by Eliza, who was close to total mental and physical breakdown, the result of yet another child’s death and her own demanding labor at the mission (Merrill, 2003).
As Merrill tells it, once she arrived, Margru traveled from the East Coast to Oberlin, where Tappan had made arrangements for Marianne Parker Dascomb, principal of the Female Department at the institute, to oversee her care and education. Mrs. Dascomb first placed Margru in the home of Professor George Whipple, former principal of Oberlin’s Preparatory Depatment, and his wife. In late August 1846, Margru began her formal education. Her teacher, Mrs. Lauretta Branch, kept track of her development and sent regularly reports of her academic progress to Tappan. Margru excelled in her studies, and in late October 1847 both Mrs. Dascomb and Mrs. Branch sent very positive reports about her to Tappan, extolling the fact that she had gained the love and esteem of all her schoolmates and her conduct seemed to be regulated by strictly religious principles (Merrill, 2003).
According to Merrill, Margru had a mind of her own. For example, Margru had already rejected Tappan’s advice to retain her African name and be known as “Sarah Margru.” Tappan had argued that it was imperative for those people who remembered her as Margru to know that she had been converted and was now being successfully educated in a Chriatian college. Margru, however, regarded Margru as her heathen name. Eventually, she compromised and sometimes identified herself as “Sarah Margru Kinson.” While at school, however, according Mrs. Dascomb, Margru was always called “Sarah Kisnton” (Merrill, 2003). I would say that Margro had been successfully Westernized, not so much “having a mind of her own,” as Merrill suggests.
Merrill posits that Margru’s three years at Oberlin were not particularly happy ones for her. She complained frequently about the cold weather and her loneliness. Still, she also had good times there. She enjoyed the year she shared a room with Lucy Stanton, the daughter of a Cleveland abolitionist. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman ordained as a Protestant minister, also recalled Margru preaching about Sierra Leone in First Church during an all-women prayer meeting (Merrill, 2003).
In December of 1847, notes Merrill, Margru wrote a letter to Professor George Whipple, who had just moved from Oberlin to serve as secretary of the American Missionary Association. In the letter, she described her great sorrow about the death from malaria of both Wliiam Raymond and her sister Amistad captive and missionary friend, Charlotte. She noted that they were her dearest friends and that she was beginning to dread receiving letters from Sierra Leone because they always brought “either sorrow or sadness in my heart.” She went on to describe her studies, which entailed “Algebra, history of Rome, and Physiology besides writing and drawing.” She stated her desire to return to Sierra Leone whenever the need arose, saying that “Africa is my home. I long to be there. Although I am in America, yet my heart is there [with] the people I love and the country I admire.” She thanked Whipple for the dictionary and Bible he sent her. In the conclusion of her letter, Margru gathered enough courage to ask Whipple to send her a very special gift—an accordion. She wrote: “I know you will laugh when I tell what it is. You know that people often say that African people like music. I do not know what [makes] this [so].” She ended the letter not with her usual deferential closing of “Your servant” but with a simple “good-bye, Sarah Margru” (Merrill, 2003), a clear sign that while she was now a Christian she also cherished her Africaness.
As reported by Merrill, by the winter of 1848, Margru had progressed far enough in her preparatory classes to be admitted to the institute’s Female Department, where she began taking college-level courses. A year later, in January of 1849, she wrote to Whipple again confessing that she was happy to go home the following fall and could not wait for the time to come. She was then studying the history of England and Comstock’s philosophy, in addition to reading and composition. In the conclusion of her letter, she noted that she had learned to play her accordion considerably but did not practice a great deal because she did not have a music book (Merrill, 2003).
Merrill states that Margru returned to Sierra Leone in November of 1849 to serve as the “schoolmistress” of the Komende Mission’s new girls’ school. She made special preparations to dress appropriately for her new position by buying gloves, hose, shoes, and bonnets. She took her cherished accordion with her as well. Once again, stories about her began to appear in missionary reports and periodicals and in the Oberlin Evangelist. Her correspondence with Tappan and Whipple also resumed. In September of 1852, Margru married Edward Green, an African who had been educated in Freetown at British missionary schools. Green had converted to Christianity shortly before joining Margru at the mission to teach at the new boys’ school. Margru’s marriage and teaching duties seemed to have made her happy and productive, as she reported the good news to Whipple. Margru and Edward were becoming a good team at the mission, so good that on New Year’s Day in 1856 they headed farther into Sherbro country to start their own mission school. Then, suddenly, Edward was dismissed for allegedly intemperance and for seducing girls at the mission school. Whether Margru left the station with her husband is as yet unknown, but her name suddenly stopped appearing in mission publications, and no further letters from her have been found (Merrill, 2003).
Merrill cites Mary Cable who in her book, Black Odyssey, provided the needed information about Margru’s later life. Cable claimed that Margru had remarried after leaving Edward Green and had a son from this later marriage. The son came to the United States, graduated from Fisk University, and attended Yale Divinity School, but he died before he could return to Sierra Leone. Although a young man from Margru’s mission station fits the description, Merrill says that there is no evidence yet that he was Margru’s son. Through correspondence with two British scholars, Merrill received information that a grammar school in Sierra Leone was named for Margru. Until recently, it was not clear whether the school still existed. But through a fortuitous meeting with a Sierra Leonean by the name of John Kamara who is a crew member aboard the Freedom Schooner Amistad—a reconstruction of La Amistad, Merrill learned not only that the school indeed exists but also that it is located in Bonthe (Merrill, 2003).
The True Missionary Agenda, Its Accomplishments and Challenges
Information on the true agenda of the American Missionary Association (AMA), its accomplishments and challenges comes from bits and pieces in Professor C. Magbaily Fyle’s Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone (2006) and the article, “Taiama Pay Tribute to Missionaries” (January 12, 2008), written by The Exclusive News Paper journalist Muckson Sesay, and the detailed article titled “Thomas de Saliere Tucker: Reconciling Industrial and Liberal Arts Education at Florida’s Normal School for Colored Teachers, 1887-1901” in The Florida Historical Quarterly (summer 2010, volume 89, number 1) written by Professor Peter Dumbuya. According to Fyle, in 1842, the Mende Mission was founded on Sherbro Island by American missionaries with the Amistad returnees (2006:xix). Sesay informs us that ten years after Sengbe Pieh returned to Sierra Leone in 1842, he took missionaries to Taiama during the Hut Tax War. The missionaries, according to historical accounts, were killed on the banks of the Taia River. Nonetheless, the incident did not stop the missionaries from venturing into Taiama. In 1849, they built the first primary school, Central School, which became the central school for primary education in the provinces during those years (Sesay, 2008).
As Fyle tells the story, Raymond Williams was the tenacious missionary from the United States who was responsible for the survival of the Mende Mission and the bringing of Western education to the provinces of Sierra Leone. Raymond’s desire to train as a minister was initially thwarted because he was perceived to be too close to Black students. Driven from Amherst College, Raymond went and completed his education at Oberlin College in Ohio. Upon graduation, he moved to Canada to live with fugitive slaves for several years. With the initiative of the Amistad Committee, Raymond’s desire to go to West Africa was fulfilled. The committee hired Raymond to teach the Amistad Africans at Farmington, Connecticut, and he was among the five missionaries who accompanied them back to Sierra Leone (Fyle, 2006:160).
Fyle adds that it was Raymond who survived to carry on the Mende Mission with little support from the Amistad Committee, which was severely critical of his methods. Raymond was also operating in a hostile environment where the Atlantic Slave Trade was still raging and the slave traders were urging local rulers to turn against Raymond. Despite all this, he went on to develop the mission and build a church and mission house and a school with dogged determinism. Using his meager funds to pay for the manumission of enslaved Africans who then became servants of the mission, he was able to expand the mission. In 1846, the Amistad Committee told Raymond to end the mission and if possible close the school. Regarding the pupils he had redeemed from slavery as his own children, Raymond’s reply was that he would rather die with the children than discharge them (Fyle, 2006:160-1).
From Dumbuya, we learn that Thomas de Saliere Tucker, whose career in academia exemplified the triumph of liberty and human rights over slavery in the second half of the 19th Century and the difficulty often encountered by those who challenged the long-held notion that equal education could be provided to Blacks and Whites in separate but equal educational institutions, was born in Sherbro country in 1844, two years after the Mendi Mission was established there. Tucker attended the Mende Mission school, came to the United States in 1856 at the age of 12, graduated from Oberlin College in 1865, received his law degree from Straight College of New Orleans (Now Dillard University) in 1883, taught school for the freedmen in Kentucky and Louisiana, practiced law in Florida, and served as the founding president of Florida’s Normal School for Colored Teachers, now Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), in Tallahassee, Florida from 1887 to 1901. Tucker’s attempts to model the Normal School in Florida upon Oberlin College’s curriculum which provided both industrial and liberal arts education to its student eventually cost him his job (Dumbuya, 2010:26-30).
Dumbuya argues that we cannot understand Tucker’s personal and professional life and struggle to impart his educational philosophy to students at the Normal School in Florida without digging deeper into the influence the Mende Mission and the AMA had on him. According to Dumbuya, during Tucker’s era, education also came to be perceived as a human right much sought after by Blacks. The Oberlin College Christian community and the AMA had declared slavery a sin and forbade their members from dealing with organizations that supported or did not renounce it. Being a product of AMA schools, Tucker took with him to the Normal School of Colored Teachers the belief these mission schools had instilled in him. This disposition propelled him to push for a liberal arts education that could complement the agricultural and mechanical curriculum of Florida’s segregated normal school. For Tucker, liberal arts education was fundamentally compatible with industrial and mechanical education, as he believed that the former served as the building block for the latter (Dumbuya, 2000:29-30).
Other beneficiaries of the AMA schools in Sherbro country who also pursued further studies in the United States, according to Dumbuya, were Barnabas Root and Sarah Margru Kinson, one of the female Amistad returnees (I had discussed lengthily earlier). Root graduated from Knox College in 1871 and the Chicago Theological Seminary in 1873. He was ordained as a missionary in 1874. Before returning to Sherbro country in 1875, he served as pastor of the AMA at the Congressional Mission Church for freed slaves in Alabama. He died in 1877 before completing a Mende language dictionary and other books on which he had been working shortly after returning home. His work prompted the AMA to observe that “As one of the fruits of the Association’s missions, he (Root) was, despite his brief life, a witness not only to its usefulness, but an instance of what native Africans may yet become as preachers and teachers to their own countrymen” (quoted in Dumbuya, 2000:40).
Interactions among Christian Missionaries, Other Religious Segments of the Society and How this Impacted the Amistad Returnees
Information on the interactions among Christian missionaries, other religious segments of the Sierra Leonean society and how this impacted the Amistad returnees is gleaned from bits and pieces in Professor C. Magbaily Fyle’s Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone (2006) and the article, “Taiama Pay Tribute to Missionaries” (January 12, 2008), written by The Exclusive News Paper journalist Muckson Sesay.
According to Fyle, Sengbe Pieh is remembered as having been instrumental in the early spread of Western education to the Mende (2006:153). Fyle also notes that William Raymond had some relief when in 1846 the American Missionary Association (AMA) was founded, and the organization took over responsibility of the Mende Mission. Raymond was recalled in 1847, but he died in Freetown on his way back to the United States. His tenacity led to the survival of the mission. When he died, the school, which he had opened a year earlier, had more than 100 students and the mission had a staff of 15 (Fyle, 2006:161).
Sesay recounts that the Amistad Committee together with the five missionaries arrived in Sierra Leone under the American Mission Society (AMS) in 1842; they later sold their properties to the United Brethren in Christ (UBC) in 1946. The UBC continued missionary work in Taiama, Kpangbaya, Bumpeh, and other towns in the Southern Province. It later merged with the Evangelical United Brethren (EUB) to form what is known today as the United Methodist Church (UMC). In 1952, two missionaries, Dr. and Mrs. Charles Leader, built a church in Taiama called The Cathedral in the Bush, which replaced a small church called the Calvary United Methodist Church (CUMC) headed by Bishop B. A. Carew. Dr. and Mrs. Leader also contributed in many areas in Taiama and other towns throughout their 30 years in Sierra Leone. Rev. P. P. Pieh, a descendant of Sengbe Pieh, later took over from Bishop Carew and served as Pastor of the CUMC for several years (Sesay, 2008).
As Sesay continues to tell the story, after Dr. Leader and his wife returned to the United States, they invited one of the sons of Rev. P. P. Pieh, Samuel Hinga Pieh, to America for further studies. In 1959, Samuel came to the United States on the invitation of the Leaders. Samuel returned to Sierra Leone in 1980, worked in several institutions, and then started missionary work with the Volunteers in Medical Mission (VIM) in 1999 during the civil war in Sierra Leone. Unlike his ancestor Sengbe Pieh, he did not take missionaries to Taiama for fear that they would be killed as others were during the Hut Tax War. Samuel instead went with them to Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He is now the co-leader of the VIM and also the executive director for the Christian Health Association in Sierra Leone (CHASL). He started bringing missionaries to Sierra Leone in 2002 and his homeland Taiama has been the center for the VIMs in Sierra Leone. Every year for the past six years, the VIMs have been visiting Taiama and have over this period served the medical and other needs of the residents of the town. A total of 16 VIMs visited the town in 2008 to continue the work they had embarked upon over the years. By way of expressing their gratitude to past and present missionaries, the residents of the town organized a memorial and thanksgiving service in their honor at the old and historic CUMC. The theme of the service was “Celebrating the love of God” (Sesay, 2008).
In addition, according to Sesay, past missionaries and indigenous mission workers like Dr. Charles Leader, Miss S. A. A. Akin, Miss R. Eaton, Rev. and Mrs. Clara Macrew, and Rev. B. A. Carew, among many others, were remembered. In his statement, Samuel Pieh recognized the 16 missionaries present and described how he worked with them during the past six years while informaing the congregation about their contributions and what they intend to do in the future. In his statement, Paramount Chief of Kori Chiefdom Thomas Gbappi III said, among other things, that the co-leader of the VIMs, Dr. Joseph Geary (Minister) had been with the people of Taiama for a long time. He said to him: “You have been a citizen of Taiama and the next time you visit us we will give you an indigenous name.” Dr. Geary catalogued some of the development efforts his group had made in the town in particular and the chiefdom in general. According to him, they are providing the people with medical supplies and services, and are working to improve child nutrition. He noted that a community farm had been established in the chiefdom and that they are refurbishing the CUMC, or The Cathedral in the Bush. He added that the refurbishment of the church was being done in collaboration with the Taia River Union (TRU) based in the United States. The president of the TRU, Dr. Michael Pieh, said that his reason for going to Taiama was to promote community development in the town and treat people afflicted by acute medical problems in the chiefdom. Dr. Michael Pieh is a medical doctor at the Henry Ford System in Detroit, Michigan. He also serves as the president of Sierra Leoneans Living in Michigan (SLIM). He stated that in 2008, the organization donated Le. 12 million worth of medical books and five computers to the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS). He concluded by saying that TRU had over the years offered scholarships to needy students in the chiefdom. Dancing and cultural performances climaxed the ceremony (Sesay, 2008).
The Islamic Factor as It Relates to the Amistad Phenomenon
To get a good perspective of how the Islamic factor relates to the Amistad phenomenon, it is instructive to investigate how Islam spread to those parts of Sierra Leone where the Amistad returnees and missionaries lived upon their return and the history of the relationship between Muslims and other religious adherents in the country. Consequently, this section begins with a discussion of how Islam spread in the Freetown, Mende and Sherbro areas of Sierra Leone and then presents the type of relationship that has existed between the various religious groups.
As British historian Christopher Fyfe recounts, the Fula, who are dispersed over West Africa, brought Islam to Futa Jalon/Djallon early in the 18th Century. By the end of that century, their leader, Ibrahima Suri, who took over from Karamoko Alfa, had made Futa Jallon a Muslim state (Fyfe, 1962:15). At the same time, to the south, the Mende, who were non-Muslim, were moving from inland towards the sea in the direction of the Sherbro estuary. The Mende were still an inland people by the end of the 18th Century, although they came frequently to the coast to trade woven cloths for salt. The Vai, who were also non-Muslim at this time, were established around the mouth of the Moa, or Gallinas, estuary. They had originally migrated from far inland (Fyfe, 1962:17-18). It should be added that the Vai developed an alphabet/script—the Ki-Ka-Ku—of their own.
According to Fyfe, the Fula did not attempt to force Islam outside of Futa Jallon, but the influence of the faith spread from it. Traveling singly or in groups, Muslim Mandinka traders from the interior also spread the tenets of Islam. They often settled in a chief’s town as his “bookmen.” But they were able to convert only a few adherents to Islam. Occasionally, a chief would convert to Islam, but his subjects usually kept their traditional religion. In Vai country, many chiefs became Muslims, while only a few of their subjects did. Like the Bullom and the Mende, the majority of the northern peoples also retained their traditional religions (Fyfe, 1962:18). Thus, by the time the Amistad returnees reached Sierra Leone in 1842, Islam was spread widely in Sierra Leone but not yet deeply.
Sierra Leonean journalist Mohammed Fofana informs us that in the early 1700s, the area that came to be known as Fula Tong/Town, which stretches from main Kissy Road overlooking the Queen Elizabeth II Quay in the east end to the beginning of the west end of Freetown, was densely populated by pastoral Fula traders who grazed their cows there, but they did not occupy the land for long. During the 1700s, freed slaves, recaptives and business people mostly Yoruba from Lagos and Abeokuta in Nigeria moved into Fula Tong and later spread into Fourah Bay and Aberdeen. As the newcomers started cutting down trees and building houses to expand the community, the Fula gradually left because the land was no longer suitable for raising their cattle. They went further east to Kissy (Fofana, 2008). So it is not farfetched to suggest that upon their arrival and two-year stay in Freetown, before moving to Mende and Sherbro country, the Amistad returnees would have had contacts with Muslims in the city. Besides, as William Owens suggested, approximately one-third of the Amistad Africans were already Muslims before they were kidnapped and sent into slavery (Owens, 1953:217).
In fact, Amistad missionary George Thompson documented in his 1852 memoir four encounters with Muslims in Sierra Leone who he erroneously referred to as “Mahomedans”—the name is a misnomer because Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never claimed to have founded a new religion; he repeatedly preached that he was simply a messenger who Allah (SWT) had selected to continue the Abrahamic tradition with revelation via archangel Jibril or Gabriel. The first encounter was that he had considerable talks with Muslims upon his arrival in Freetown. They taught him that God made everything; that Abraham, Moses, Christ and Muhammad (PBUT) were prophets; that they pray five times a day; and that a person who becomes a Muslim will be saved (Thompson, 1852:99).
The second encounter Thompson had with Muslims was his debate with a Muslim king he called Mr. Kalifah who had made a slave of a carpenter boy taken in war. Thompson argued that Khalifah should give up the boy because the Bible teaches that he should love his enemies. Khalifah replied that if he did not keep the boy as a slave, he would join his people and come back to attack another day. Upon Thompson’s insistence that he heed the Bible, Khalifah told him that he did not go by his book. He proceeded to show Thompson a large pile of the Qur’an, in Arabic script, lying on the table (Thompson, 1852:112).
The third encounter between Thompson and Muslims was when he tried to cook a fowl for Kalifah and his guests. They insisted that they should kill the fowl or they would not eat the food. Thompson was reluctant and went ahead and killed the fowl. Of course, the king and his guests refused to eat the meal. Again, five Muslims came to him and he suggested that he would cook for them. They also insisted that fowl be killed by one of them. When Thompson shot one of the fowls, one of the men jumped on it and cut its throat. That allowed the men to eat the meal (Thompson, 1852:113). What Thompson did not know is that Muslims must pray for forgiveness from an animal before it could be killed for food.
The fourth encounter Thompson had with Muslims involved his meeting with a Mandingo Islamic teacher (or Murry man) who spoke English. The man gave Thompson a lesson on Islamic philosophy and “treatment of mechanical arts,” of astronomy, the changes of the moon, figures, weeks, months, years, etc. The Murry man acknowledged Thomson’s knowledge of the Bible and called him a Murry man as well (Thompson, 1852:11207).
In his 1859 memoir, Thompson documented two additional encounters with Muslims in Sierra Leone. The first of these encounters was that on June 18 of that year, two Muslims from Bendoo visited the Mende Mission—one accompanied his friend who needed a medical checkup for a long suffered “inward infection” that threatened his life. The doctor questioned the patient and told them that they would have to stay at the Mission until Monday so that he could better observe the nature and working of the disease. While they were there, Thompson noticed that the men were quite literate in both Arabic and English. On Sabbath morning, Thompson gave them Arabic Testaments about the life of Jesus for them to read, which they did very well (Thompson, 1859:67).
The second encounter was that on the next day (June 19, 1859), a Muslim Imam from Barmah also visited the Mission. Thompson gave him an Arabic Testament which the Imam read and proceeded to explain much more about Jesus (PBUH) than was written in the Testament (Thompson, 1859:67). It is quite obvious that Thompson did not know that there is more about Jesus (PBUH) in the Qur’an than in the Bible.
As Thompson confessed, he had hoped that Muslims would be much easier to convert to Christianity because of their high level of literacy and discipline, but it proved to be a difficult task for him. This is because while Muslims were numerous and came from various ethnic groups, they were united by their knowledge of the Arabic language, the Qur’an and other Islamic books that they shared (Thompson, 1859:242-3, 244).
Fofana notes that the Yoruba founded a home in Fula Tong and made it their hegemony with the culture and everything Yoruba, but they did not change the name. These early Yoruba settlers were mainly Muslim and made the Fula Tong mosque the epicenter of the community. They named the many streets which shoot like branches from the main street, Mountain Cut, by numbers—First Street, Second Street, Third Street, etc. When they were tired of counting, they gave typical Yoruba names to the streets such as Haderudeen Street. The architecture of the houses in Fula Tong still bears the relics of colonialism. These houses were built with either board or stone with an upper room attached with a window which is known in local circles as Kongosa Window (i.e. gossip window) from where most times the oldest member of the family would position himself/herself to scrutinize every activity that goes on in the community. S/he would now and then deliver the greeting Eh karroh (Yoruba for “How are you?”) to passers by, mostly when s/he wants to be recognized (Fofana, 2008).
During those days, states Fofana, a serious conflict erupted when Christians started persecuting all those they considered to be non-Christian and burnt down the Fula Tong mosque. The Muslims simply built another mosque at the same site. But as more people in the area converted to Islam and attended the mosque, it could no longer accommodate the worshippers. The mosque was therefore demolished and a new and much larger one was built at the site in 1882. And in 1887, Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden built the Amariah Primary School as he saw the need for education. The land for the school was donated by the twins Alhassan and Alusine. The mosque and the school to a large extent came to mold the life, civilization and education of the Yoruba people in the Fula Tong community. Former President Ahmed Tejan Kabba, although not a Yoruba, attended Amariah School. Other notable Sierra Leoneans who attended the school included the late Dr. Sanusi Mustapha, the late Justice Nasiru Alghalie, the late Justice Bankole Rashid, and the late Dr. Aroun Daniya. (To be added to the list of notables were my dad, the late Ali Kunda Bangura, a construction engineer who supervised the construction of the major bridges and many important edifices in Bo, Kono and Tongo Field, a Temne Chief in Tongo Field, and the architect of the opposition All People’s Congress party to defeat the then ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party in one of its major strongholds, Kenema East II constituency, thereby significantly helping the opposition party to win the 1967 general election and marking the first time that a ruling party lost an election in Africa South of the Sahara; and two uncles—the late Abu Bakarr Bangura, who studied in the Soviet Union and Lebanon and then served in the civil service rising to the ranks of Deputy and Permanent Secretary in the Ministries of Education, Social Welfare, Finance, and Information; and the late Imam Alhaji Pa Bai Hassan Bangura, who was trained in Britain as the first Sierra Leonean government artist and designed the country’s coat of arms and other national symbols, and also studied at Al-Azar University in Cairo, Egypt.) The school was refurbished in 1997 by Plan International and the entire community still uses its playground to observe the feast of Eid al-Adha (Fofana, 2008). Eid al-Adha is the “Festival of Sacrifice” or “Greater Eid,” an important holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son Isma’il (Ishmael) as an act of obedience to Allah (SWT), before Allah (SWT) intervened and provided him with a ram to sacrifice instead.
During this time also, some of the leading Christian clergy were among the strongest advocates of Muslims, who suffered more oppression from British colonial administrators. One of these Christian clergy was John Augustus Abayomi-Cole (1848-July 1943), a talented and versatile Creole who, in the course of his long career, made his mark as priest, politician, author, agriculturalist, herbalist, and administrator. He was born at Ilorin in Nigeria of Sierra Leone stock. He received his schooling in Sierra Leone, first under Aaron Belisarius Cosimo Sibthorpe at Hastings, and then at Freetown’s Church Missionary Society Grammar School. He was later employed by the United Brethren Church (UBC) at Shenge, in the Bonthe District. While with the mission he came to the United States where he was ordained priest in the American Wesleyan Methodist Church. He contributed regularly to the Sierra Leone Weekly News, a leading West African newspaper, and also wrote a news summary in Arabic that was published in Saturday Ho, a magazine-like publication that appeared from 1891 to 1896. He was known to be sympathetic to Islam, and it was said that his father was an imam: i.e. the spiritual head of an Islamic community (Wyse, 1979:35).
Fofana further points out that the failure of the government to recognize Yoruba as one of the national languages was a major factor that has been killing the language in the country. Even the older Fula Tong Yoruba can no longer speak the language fluently and the situation is getting worse with their children. They found themselves claiming Creole and speaking Krio to properly identify themselves in Sierra Leone. It is actually interesting and peculiar for these Muslim Yoruba to claim themselves as Creole with Muslim names like Mohamed Cole, Mucktaru Pearce, Osman Thomas, Septieu King, etc. The Christian Creole always think that they are the pure and original Creole, but actually they and the Muslim Yoruba are all brothers and sisters and came from the same origin with the same culture (Fofana, 2008).
Fula Tong, continues Fofana, has become cosmopolitan—a home to many ethnic groups—and most of the properties of the Fula Tong Yoruba have been sold to other people. With nostalgia, the Fula Tong Yoruba reveal that they were the ethnic group that started Ashobie, which has been used by everybody else for weddings and other celebrations. They introduced very rich cultural celebrations for naming ceremony—Khomojade, wedding, and observance of the three-day, seven-day and 40-day after burial. The unbraided Kaftan has been their cultural dress for men, and bread and Fourah the delicacies served in all of their celebrations. The Orjeh and Hunting secret societies were also introduced by these Yoruba. These cultural practices are being threatened by Western culture, as many of the younger folks are imbibing more of the latter. What the Fula Tong Yoruba still have is the Adikali—the head of the court and the head of the community all in one. The present Adikali is Dr. Fadlu Deen and his function is to settle all disputes brought to him ranging from land dispute, family squabbles to marital problems. He seldom uses the Tambaleh (traditional drum) to announce the death of a very important personality or for pray-days (Fofana, 2008).
Today, there are an estimated 4,050,000 (71% of the total population) Sierra Leonean Muslims, about 20% are Christians, and the rest belong to other foreign and indigenous religions (Pew Research Center, 2009; US Department of State, 2006). In this mix, observes Kate Warn, one of the most striking things in Sierra Leone is the degree to which religious tolerance is a deeply held value. Christians and Muslims live side by side, they celebrate and work together, they intermarry, and they elect political leaders of all faith traditions (Warn, 2009). In fact, of the 11 heads of state that have ruled Sierra Leone since its independence in 1961, ten have been Christians.
According to Sierra Leonean journalist Fayia Amara, students in Sierra Leone are assured admission to any school, irrespective of the religion. It is the philosophy that guided the establishment of mission schools as far back as their beginnings, which brought together children from diverse backgrounds and train them in an atmosphere of tolerance and recognition of unity in diversity (Amara, 2010).
Consequently, as the United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor observes, the Sierra Leone constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respects the right of practice. The government at all levels seeks to protect this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by government or private actors. There is no state religion. Many syncretistic practices exist, and many citizens practice a mixture of Islam and indigenous religions or Christianity and indigenous religions. There are a number of foreign missionary groups operating in the country, including Roman Catholic, Ahmadiyya, Wesleyan, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, Jewish, Baha’i, and others. Holy days celebrated as national holidays include the Muslim Eid al-Adha, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and Eid al-Fitr (the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan—the Islamic holy month of fasting or Sawm); and the Christian Good Friday, Easter Monday and Christmas holidays (US Department of State, 2006).
The United States Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor adds that the Sierra Leonean government has no requirements for recognizing, registering, or regulating religious groups. The government permits religious instruction in public schools and students are allowed to choose whether to attend Muslim- or Christian-oriented classes. Government policy and practice contribute to the generally free practice of religion. There are no reports of religious prisoners or detainees in the country. There are no reports of forced religious conversion, including United States minor citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States. Some people commonly use homes and schools as places of worship. Landlords often permit such activity even if they do not share the same religious beliefs as their tenants. The generally amicable relationship among religious groups contributes to religious freedom, and interfaith marriage is common. The Interreligious Council, comprising of Muslim and Christian leaders, plays an important role in civil society and actively participates in efforts to further peace processes in the country and the Mano subregion (encompassing Côte d’Ivoire, La Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone). Muslim and Christian leaders also work together with the National Accountability Group and the Anti-Corruption Commission to address the problem of corruption in society (US Department of State, 2006).
The Unsubstantiated Accusation that Sengbe Pieh Became a Slave Trader
The best synthesis of earlier works and investigation on the claim that Pieh engaged in slave trading once he returned to Sierra Leone is by University Research Professor of History and Chair of the Department of History at the University of Alabama Howard Jones. The essay, which appears in The Journal of American History (December, 2000:923-939), is titled Cinqué of the Amistad a Slave Trader? Perpetuating a Myth.” Thus, this work deserves a bit more attention.
Jones begins by stating that for more than five decades, a story that Pieh engaged in slave trading once he was back in Sierra Leone had been circulating inside and outside the history profession. The controversy, Jones notes, became heated when the movie Amistad was released by Steven Spielberg in 1997. He was accused of romanticizing a Black figure that preyed on his own people. Debbie Allen, the movie’s director, encountered the allegation while on a television talk show; both there and later, she attributed the story to rumor and innuendo. But that did not silent the critics. According to Jones, soon afterward, Richard Grenier made the same charge in the Washington Times; that was followed by the most widely known accusation in the USA Today and on CBS’ Face the Nation from the noted film critic Michael Medved of the New York Post, and was repeated by Martin F. Nolan in the Boston Globe. Medved, Jones points out, quoted the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard historian Samuel Eliot Morison, who had written in The Oxford History of the American People, a 1965 Book-of-the-Month Club selection, that “The ironic epilogue [to the Amistad] story is that Cinqué, once home, set himself up as a slave trader” (Jones, 2000:923; Morison, 1965:520).
Jones recounts that in writing his book, Mutiny on the Amistad, during the early 1980s, he tried to find evidence that would resolve this pernicious charge against Pieh. The effort, he states, proved fruitless, as his research in archival holdings in Spain, England, Cuba, Sierra Leone, and the United States yielded no documentary material that fleshed out Pieh’s life after he returned to Sierra Leone. Jones could not find any conclusive evidence on the charge even in the extensive records of the American Missionary Association (AMA) founded in 1846 due to the Amistad affair—the first American missionary group in Africa. He came to realize that tracing the origin of the charge was almost as fascinating and historically revealing as providing an answer to it (2000:923-4).
Jones says that he learned in the fall of 1997 that the sole acknowledged source of Morrison’s charge about Pieh was William A. Owens’ 1953 novel titled Slave Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad published by John Day Publishers in 1953 (for the charge, see Owens, 1953:308). According to Jones, Owens was a longtime professor of English at Columbia University, a noted Texas folklorist, and author of many works of historical fiction. At the close of the novel, Owens asserted that Pieh became an international slave trader and the evidence existed to support the allegation. Owens went as far as stating in the “Afterword” of his novel that he had placed all “typescript copies” of the documents he used in the “Amistad collection” at the New Haven Colony Historical Society Library in Connecticut” and that “[the] factual background can be documented in every important detail” (Jones, 2000:925; Owens, 1953:311). In the hope that the collection might provide documentation Owens used in claiming that Pieh traded in slaves, Jones was surprised that no such evidence existed. The executive director of the library for 40 plus years, Robert Egelston, also informed Jones that no such record existed. After gaining permission from Owens’ daughter, a meticulous search of his papers in January of 1998 yielded no such evidence either (quoted by Jones, 2000:924-5).
What Jones found instead was that Owens might have gotten the idea of Pieh engaging in slave trading from Fred L. Brownlee’s 1946 history of the American Missionary Association titled New Day Ascending, which Owens erroneously described as a novel, and also mentioned an actual work of fiction by Blair Nile titled East by Day, which says nothing about the allegation. Pieh, Brownlee wrote, became “chief of his tribe and, strange to say, a collaborator in supplying slaves for the American market” (quoted in Jones, 2000:926; Brownlee, 1946:25). But Brownlee made this serious charge without providing any evidence, raising questions about his credibility. Jones then realized the futility of tracking down the exact origins of the story and focused instead on why the myth had become a virtual fact (Jones, 2000:926).
We learn from Jones that the accusation against Pieh became well known in the history profession in April of 1969 when C. Vann Woodward of Yale University declared in his presidential address titled “Clio with Soul” before the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) in Philadelphia that Pieh had engaged in slave trading upon his return to Sierra Leone to make his case that recent emphasis on Black history in the profession would lead to the portrayal of Black characters as without blemish. Pressed to provide evidence for his assertion, Woodard assured the audience that the evidence exists somewhere in the Fisk University archives. Unable to find any such evidence, Woodard wrote to Owens requesting the original source of the charge, but there was no such evidence to be sent (Jones, 2000:926-931). After additional investigation, in the end, Jones concludes that Pieh “could never have participated in a practice that had already destroyed his life. Not only was he a victim of the international slave trade, but on his return home his wife and three children were missing—perhaps also its victim” (2000:938). Indeed, the most troublesome aspect of the myth is that it has been repeated in many media: newspapers, books used by students in public schools such as those in Chicago, academic journals, encyclopedias, television and radio shows, and now the Internet.
An interesting piece I found on the Internet while doing research for this lecture is that by Yale University history graduate student Joseph Yannielli. When I saw the title, “Cinqué the Slave Trader Some new evidence on an old controversy” (2009), I was convinced that finally someone has found the documentary evidence that ties Pieh to slave trading when he returned to Sierra Leone. But after reading the entire essay, nowhere did I find Yannielli to have provided evidence to support the attention-seeking, if not deceptive, title of his piece (more on this later) and the “classic early episode of The Simpsons in which the denizens of Springfield eagerly prepare for their town’s bicentennial celebration” which he uses to kick off his piece. As Yannielli recounts, “precocious eight-year-old Lisa Simpson decides to investigate the exploits of her town’s founding father, Jebediah Springfield. She begins with the best of intentions, hoping to lionize a local hero. After some vigorous historical sleuthing, however, she uncovers a terrible truth: the man universally celebrated as a fearless pioneer of the western plains was actually a “murderous pirate” named Hans Springfield.”
My interest in Yannielli’s piece was stimulated by the discovery of a Duke University graduate student, Julia Gaffield, who had found in April of 2010 what is believed to be the only known printed copy of Haiti’s Declaration of Independence while doing research for her doctoral dissertation in the British national Archives in London (Duke Office of News & Communications, 2010). Unfortunately, Yannielli’s piece left me disappointed. In fact, he rehashes most of the points made by Jones and, with his own research findings, came to the same conclusion that there is no evidence that Pieh engaged in slave trading.
Now to my earlier point about the title of Yannielli’s piece being attention-seeking, if not deceptive. I must note here that in an exchange between someone by the name of Trina and Yannielli on the Web site where his piece appears, Trina states: “I think should add a question mark to your title. Otherwise, good read (sic)” (Friday, October 16, 2009, 8:37:27 AM). Yanielli’s reply was the following: “You make very worthwhile point. I chose not to use a question mark in order to differentiate my work from the Howard Jones article of nine years ago, which has a similar title” (Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 2:40:45 PM). But, of course, similarity is not the same as sameness. Jones article is titled “Cinqué of the Amistad a Slave Trader? Perpetuating a Myth” and Yanielli’s piece is titled “Cinqué the Slave Trader Some new evidence on an old controversy.” Thus, Yannielli putting a question mark on his title would have not made the two titles the same. Another aspect that raised my suspicion was Yannielli’s notation of George Thompson as an “ex-convict” very early in his piece. It was four pages later that he says Thompson had served “out a twelve-year prison sentence for aiding fugitive slaves….” An additional aspect that further raised my suspicion was that every other writer of the story on the Amistad returnees states that they were “accompanied by five missionaries—two blacks and three whites—to start the Mende mission.” But for Yannielli, they were “Three white missionaries and two black assistants,” as if to minimize the importance of the Black missionaries.
So, a poignant question here is the following: Why is a title of an expository prose so important? As linguists Gillian Brown and George Yule point out, “a title in a piece of expository prose indicates to the reader how the author intends his (or her) argument to be chunked” (1983:7). They also note that a title will influence the interpretation of the text that follows because it serves as a device for thematization, which is “a discoursal rather than simply a sentential process.” Thus, “what the speaker or writer puts first will influence the interpretation of everything that follows” (1983:133). They add that “this expectation-creating aspect of thematisation, especially in the form of a title, means that the thematised elements provide not only a starting point around which what follows in the discourse is structured, but also a starting point which constrains our interpretation of what follows” (1983:139).
Curious to know whether evidence might have been found to corroborate the myth that Pieh engaged in slave trading when he returned to Sierra Leone since Yannielli’s piece was published in October of 2009, I conducted E-mail interviews in July of 2011 with some respected Sierra Leonean scholars and an activist who have been involved in the study of the Amistad phenomenon in one way or another. These individuals include Jonathan Peters, Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and has been residing in Sierra Leone for many years now; Arthur Abraham, Professor and Eminent Scholar and Chair of the History Department at Virginia State University; C. Magbaily Fyle, Professor of History at Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone; Nemata Blyden, Associate Professor of History and International Affairs and Director of the Africana Studies Program at The George Washington University in Washington, DC; Alusine Jalloh, Associate Professor of History and Director of The Africa Program at the University of Texas Arlington; Peter Dumbuya, Associate Professor of History at Fort Valley State University in Georgia; Ibrahim Kargbo, Associate Professor of History at Coppin State University in Maryland; Ibrahim Abdullah, a historian affiliated with the Department of History and African Studies at Fourah Bay College of the University of Sierra Leone; and Amadu Massally, Director of Public Relations of the Bunce Island Coalition—Sierra Leone who also coordinates activities in Sierra Leone and the United States for the Mystic Seaport’s Amistad Freedom Schooner. None of these individuals stated that s/he has come across any evidence to validate the charge. Of the responses I received, Peters’ is quite instructive to the arguments that have been proffered on the issue, and I therefore include most of his response here almost verbatim for the sake of accuracy:
Regarding the claim about Sengbe being a slave trader, I used the bio I have attached but billed Pieh as a trader who spent much of his life also searching for the answer to a puzzle that his master had given him and found the answer to it from a scene with his twin grandsons through his daughter that supposedly died in the raid between Sengbe’s involuntary departure as a slave in 1839 aboard (or rather below deck) the Tecora and his return as a free man on the ship, ‘Gentleman,’ the title of my play (both for the ship and for the gentleman that Sengbe Pieh had become).
The argument of Africans’ complicity in the transatlantic slave trade (they were of course practising indigenous slavery well before and continuing after the major international slave trade had ended) and you can argue as much as you want about the difference between slaves and indentured servants (which Africans were originally before their skin colour became a convenient avenue for slavery in perpetuity—slavery for life and for one’s offspring) and that Irish, Slavs (from whom the word slavery came) and other Europeans were in Old World (Europe) and New World (the Americas, Australasia). But it is perhaps best to frame the issue in terms of colonialism and neo-colonialism to get the best understanding. As Ousmane Sembene shows in his film, ‘Ceddo,’ Arabs (e.g., Mauritanians) were equally guilty in the traffic purely for profit as were Europeans. As far as Africans were concerned, their LEADERS were complicit as have been African dictators that perpetuated the exploitation of Africans by non-Africans and then stole millions up to billions from their nations’ coffers.
Consequently, the talk of reparations to Africans is hardly dampened by complicity of the erstwhile leadership. Africans have remained poor not only because their leaders have exploited them but because of the inequality in trade relations whether it be bois d’ebene (ebony wood, that is black slaves/black flesh) or raw materials (bought for pennies, refined for pennies more and sold for a dollar or more—e.g., cocoa into chocolate—to preserve the symbolism). Europe granted Africans their freedom but not the means to preserve it as they moved from exploiting the labour/freedom of their citizens (slavery) to exploiting their land (colonialism) to exploiting their toil (unfair trade).
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not citing Europeans as the wholesale villains of the piece. In fact, Europeans have exploited their own kind as well as so-called people of colour. What made European slavery so bad was not that they used and abused African males physically and African females physically and sexually, wicked as that is, but that they pinned a badge of inferiority on all people of black origin, on account of the horrendous psychological trauma it has caused scores of millions of people during and long after the ‘peculiar institution’ had been ‘abolished’ (for many up till this day), a situation that the election of Barack Obama as president has helped assuage.
My own position has been that I wished that Europeans had been truly superior because it would have meant that slavery would have been benign. But alas, the record shows that Europeans enslaved themselves by keeping free men and women as slaves. Not to mention the fact that, if we grant Africans—i.e. African Americans—the badge of slavery, then virtually every white American and their descendants from colonial days until the end of slavery are blood brothers/sisters/cousins, etc. and descendants of slaves in a who’s who that includes famous and infamous American presidents from the founding fathers on down. Lots to ponder! jp
Indeed, the statement by an anonymous reader of Jones’ manuscript for The Journal of American History which he quotes at the top of his essay can be modified as follows: “I think the Journal of American History (and purveyors of the pernicious myth that Sengbe Pieh engaged in slave trading when he returned to Sierra Leone) owes (owe) Cinqué an acquittal (and an apology to all Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora)” (Jones, 2000:923).
Possible Motive for the Accusation
As I mentioned earlier, Professor Howard Jones suggests that the reason for the charge against Sengbe Pieh and its persistence hinges on the desire of some White historians to challenge the portrayal of Black historical characters as without blemish (Jones, 2000:926). While this is a good explanation, one must, nevertheless, inquire about what the possible motive is for this desire. Thus, one must go back to the sole acknowledged source for Samuel Eliot Morrison’s charge against Pieh that continued to fan the flames of the myth: i.e. William Owens’ Slave Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad. It should be noted here that Jones also believes that Morrison must have also gotten the idea from Fred L. Brownlee’s 1946 historical work on the American Missionary Association (AMA) titled New Day Ascending based on a letter Owens wrote proposing a book on the Amistad. But as Jones himself acknowledges, Owens made no reference to Brownlee’s work in the materials used for writing Slave Mutiny. And as noted earlier, according to Jones, Owens even erroneously described the book as a novel (Jones, 2000:925). It is therefore fair and prudent that one sticks with the acknowledged source, since a potential author can mention a source in a proposal without necessarily having read it but is aware of its existence and relevance to his/her topic.
Following the approach of Political Science/International Relations Professors Joshua Goldstein and Jon Pevehouse, one way a researcher can decipher the motive behind Owen’s pernicious charge would be to determine the lens through which he looked at the world in his book. According to Goldstein and Pevehouse, in order to do so, one must distinguish three broad theoretical perspectives. The first perspective is the conservative world view which “generally values the maintenance of the status quo and discounts the element of change.” The second perspective is the liberal world view which “values reform of the status quo through an evolutionary process of incremental change.” And the third perspective is the revolutionary world view which “values transformation of the status quo through revolutionary and rapid change” (Goldstein and Pevehouse, 2004:7-9). Thus, in order to determine which of these world views must have undergirded Owens’ thought process when he was writing his book it is useful to determine whether linguistic presuppositions of chaos or those of order are dominant in the text. Consequently, I utilize the mathematical concept of Fractal Dimension and Complexity Theory to determine chaos and aggregate self-organization in the text.
The major challenge for me was how to transform the linguistic pragmatic or deep-level meanings in Owens’ literary text for mathematical modeling. This called for the utilization of a pluridisciplianry approach that helped me to mix linguistics and mathematical approaches: more precisely, Linguistic Presupposition and Fractal Methodology. Before analyzing the results generated after the MATLAB computer runs, it makes sense to begin with brief descriptions of Pluridiciplinary Methodology, Linguistic Presupposition as the unit of analysis, and Fractal Methodology.
Pluridisciplinary Methodology can be generally defined as the systematic utilization of two or more disciplines or branches of learning to investigate a phenomenon, thereby in turn contributing to those disciplines. Noting that Cheikh Anta Diop had called on African-centered researchers to become pluridisciplinarians, Professor Clyde Ahmed Winters (1998) states that a pluridisciplinary specialist is a person who is qualified to employ more than one discipline—for example, history, linguistics, etc.—when researching aspects of African history and Africology in general.
The history of the Pluridisciplinary Methodology can be traced back to the mid-1950s with the works of Cheikh Anta Diop and Jean Vercoutter. The approach was concretized by Alain Anselin and Clyde Ahmad Winters in the 1980s and 1990s (Winters, 1998).
Linguistic Presupposition as the Unit of Analysis
Linguistic presupposition can be defined as an implicit assumption about the world or background belief upon which the truth of a statement hinges. The linguistic presuppositions for this study are drawn out of the writer’s/Owens’ topics in the text examined. The writer’s topics here are the a priori features, such as the clear and unquestionable change of subject focus, for defining types of linguistic presuppositions found in the text examined. While there are many other formulations of ‘topic’ from which to chose, the writer’s topics are employed for this essay because it is the writer/Owens who had topics, not the text. These include sentential topics, discourse topics, presuppositional pools, relevance and speaking topically, topic boundary markers, paragraphs, paratones, representation of discourse content, position-based discourse content, and story. Thus, the notion of ‘topic’ in the present essay is considered as one related to representations of discourse content.
In choosing the writer’s topic as the recording unit, the ease of identifying topics and correspondence between them and the content categories were seriously considered. Guiding this choice was the awareness that if the recording unit is too small, such as a word, each case will be unlikely to possess any of the content categories. Furthermore, small recording units may obscure the context in which a particular content appears. On the other hand, a large recording unit, such as a stanza, will make it difficult to isolate the single category of a content that it possesses. For the current essay, two methods were appropriate. First, there is the clear and uncontestable change of subject focus. Second, topicalization was found to have been used to introduce new characters, ideas, events, objects, etc.
Finally, in order to ascertain the reliability of the coding unit employed for the essay, attempts were made to show inter-coder reliability: that is, two or more analysts, using the same procedures and definitions, agree on the content categories applied to the material analyzed. Two individuals—Malcolm Finney, Professor and Chair of Linguistics at California State University, Long Beach; and Elizabeth Sawyerr, Professor of Language Studies at Howard University in Washington, DC—who had extensive training in discourse analysis and especially topic identification, were given copies of the text studied to identify what they perceived as topics, or more specifically, where one topic ends and another begins. Although there were no differences between the two individuals and I, the identified topics and the texts were also given to a linguist—Roger Shuy, Emeritus Professor and Chair of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, DC and now resides in Missoula, Montana—who has done a great deal of work on topic analysis for comments and suggestions. This approach was quite useful for increasing my confidence that the meaning of the content is not heavily dependent on my analysis alone.
After identifying the presuppositions in the text studied in terms of the topics identified, these propositions were placed into two categories (order versus chaos) based on the bottom-up processing approach common in linguistic analysis for further examination. This involved working out the meanings of the propositions already processed and building up composite meanings for them.
Because the text examined is a representation of discourse in text, the level of analysis is naturally the written text. Text is used here as a technical term—in Gillian Brown and George Yule’s conceptualization, “the verbal record of a communicative act” (1983:6).
In order to ascertain the presuppositions in the text examined, the test known as Constancy under Negation Rule was employed. This test is important because, following Gottlob Frege (1892/1952) and Peter Strawson (1952), presuppositions are preserved in negative statements or sentences. A researcher can therefore simply take a sentence, negate it, and see what inferences survive: that is, are shared by both positive and negative forms of the sentence. But because, as Stephen Levinson (1983:185) is quite correct in pointing out, “constancy under negation is not in fact a rich enough definition to pick out a coherent, homogenous set of inferences,” the tests for presuppositional defeasibility (the notion that presuppositions are liable to evaporate in certain contexts) and the projection problem of presuppositions (i.e. the behavior of presuppositions in complex sentences) were also employed.
Consequently, in order not to necessarily presume the conclusions to be drawn, cues to the intent of the author of the text examined are ‘deconstructed.’ How, then, are these cues mapped out for the present essay? According to Herbert Paul Grice’s (1975) characterization of meaningnn or non-natural meaning (which is equivalent to the notion of intentional communication), intent is achieved or satisfied by being recognized. A sender’s communicative intent becomes mutual knowledge to sender and receiver: that is, S knows that H knows that S knows that H knows (and so ad infinitum) that S has this particular intention. So following Roger Shuy (1982), it is necessary to begin by asking “What did the writers (here, Owens) do?” Thus, it is clearly necessary to look at specific topics developed by the author of the text analyzed. This is particularly true because, according to Wallace Chafe (1972) and Carol Kates (1980), the structure of intentions can neither be defined by the grammatical relations of the terms, nor by the semantic structure of a text. Therefore, mapping out the cues to the intent of the author contained in the text analyzed called for: (a) identifying communicative functions, (b) using general socio-cultural knowledge, and (c) determining the inferences made.
It is only logical to begin any discussion of Fractal Methodology with a definition of what a fractal is. As I state in my book, Chaos Theory and African Fractals (Bangura, 2000:6), the concept of fractal remains inexplicably defined. This shortcoming is pointed out by Philip Davis as follows, albeit he himself does not provide an explicit definition: “I consulted three books on fractals. Though there were pictures, there was no definition” (1993:22). The following is a small sample of the various ways the concept of fractal has been described as provided by Lynn Steen:
The concept of fractional dimension, or fractals, was developed in order to describe the shapes of natural objects….An interesting property of fractal objects is that as we magnify a figure, more details appear but the basic shape of the figure remains intact (1988:409).
In addition, according to Steen,
The word fractal—coined by (Benoit B.) Mandelbrot—is related to the Latin verb frangere, which means “to break.” The ancient Romans who used frangere may have been thinking about the breaking of a stone, since the adjective derived from this action combines the two most obvious properties of broken stones—irregularity and fragmentation. The adjectival form is fractus, which Mandelbrot says led him to fractal (1988:420).
Furthermore, Steen points out that “Fractal dimension (is) a measurement of the jaggedness of an object” (1988:413). And as Hargittai and Pickover (1992) quote Keith Weeks,
[J. E.] Hutchinson laid the foundations of a certain concept of self-similarity, the basic notion being that of the object made up of a number of smaller images of the original object, and so on ad infinitum, typically resulting in detail at all levels of magnification, a trait commonly associated with objects referred to as fractals (1992:107).
From the preceding descriptions, I venture to offer a general definition of a fractal as a self-similar pattern: that is, a pattern that repeats itself on an ever diminishing scale.
As for Fractal Methodology, more popularly referred to as Fractal Analysis, itself, with its applications in the social sciences, Clifford Brown and Larry Liebovitch in their recent work appropriately titled Fractal Analysis (2010) published as part of the Sage Publications Quantitative Analysis of the Social Sciences series have a succinct exposé on the subject. The rest of the discussion in this subsection is based on their work.
Brown and Liebovitch begin by stating that several early applications of fractal mathematics emerged in the social sciences. These works include Vilfredo Pareto’s 1897 study of the distribution of wealth; Lewis Fry Richardson’s 1948 and 1960, but published posthumously, study of the intensity of wars; and George Zipf’s 1949 studies of the distributions of word frequencies and city sizes. Brown and Liebovitch argue that while these ideas were known by experts in the field, they were isolated, quirky concepts until Mandelbrot developed the unifying idea of fractals in the 1970s and 1980s. Since that time, however, in spite of the fact that Zipf and Pareto distributions represent fractal distribution, social scientists have lagged behind the physical and natural sciences in utilizing fractal mathematics in their works (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:ix).
Brown and Liebovitch observe, however, that in recent years, the application of fractal mathematics by social scientists in their studies has grown exponentially. Their variety, they note, has expanded as rapidly as their numbers. They cite the examples that fractal analysis had been employed by criminologists to investigate the timing of calls for assistance to police, by sociologists to investigate gender divisions in the labor force, and by actuaries to study disasters. The surprising range of fractal phenomena in the social sciences led Brown and Liebovitch to call for a comprehensive survey that would investigate the common threads that unite them, thereby leading to a broader understanding of their causes and occurrences (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:ix).
According to Brown and Liebovitch, if a researcher has rough data, strongly nonlinear data, irregular data, or data that display complex patterns that seem to defy conventional statistical analysis, then fractal analysis might be the solution to the researcher. They posit that the non-normal and irregularity of so much of social science data apparently are the result of the complexity of social dynamics. Thus, for them, fractal analysis offers an approach for analyzing many of these awkward data sets. And more important, they note, the method also offers a rational and parsimonious explanation for the irregularity and complexity of such data. They insist that the data are not behaving badly; instead, they are simply obeying unexpected but common rules of which we are unaware (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:1).
Brown and Liebovitch go on to conceptualize fractals as “sets defined by the three related principles of self-similarity, scale invariance, and power law relations.” They postulate that when these principles converge, fractal patterns form. They note that the statistic called fractal dimension is employed to capture the essential characteristics of fractal patterns. They add that much empirical work in fractal analysis focuses on two tasks: (1) showing that fractal characteristics are present in a particular data set and (2) estimating the fractal dimension of the data set. They also mention that there are various techniques for implementing these two tasks (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:2), the discussion of which is beyond the scope of the present essay. Nonetheless, it is necessary to provide brief definitions of the preceding five italicized concepts based on Brown and Liebovitch’s work for the sake of clarity. The significant fact about sets is that almost all data sets can be fractal: that is, points, lines, surfaces, multidimensional data, and time series. Since fractals occur in different types of sets, various procedures are required to identify and analyze them, with the approach hinging upon the kind of data (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:2-3).
Brown and Liebovitch define self-similarity as a characteristic of an object when it is composed of smaller copies of itself, and each of the smaller copies in turn are made up of yet smaller copies of the whole, and so on, ad infinitum. The word similar connotes a geometrical meaning: that is, objects that have the same form but may be different in size (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:3).
Scale invariance for Brown and Liebovitch refers to a thing that has the same characteristics at every scale of observation. Thus, when one zooms on a fractal object, observing it at ever-increasing scale of magnification, it will still look the same (Brown and Liebovitvh, 2010:5).
According to Brown and Liebovitch, power law relations denote the rule that for a set to achieve the complexity and irregularity of a fractal, the number of self-similar pieces must be related to their size by a power law. Power law distributions are scale invariant because the shape of the function is the same at every magnitude (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:5).
Finally, Brown and Liebovitch characterize fractal dimension as the invariant parameter that characterizes a fractal set. An analyst uses the fractal dimension to describe the distribution of the data. It is akin to having a “normal” set of data and using the mean and variance to describe the location and dispersion of the data (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:15).
Before engaging in the fractal analysis of the data generated from Owens’ text, I will begin with a description of the data and a justification for the Box-Counting Method employed to analyze them. Before computing the univariate statistics to do the descriptive analysis of the data teased out of Owens’ text, a two-dimensional ad hoc classificatory system was developed within which the data were categorized. The first of these categories entails the presuppositions of order: that is, presuppositions that suggest a condition of logical or comprehensible arrangement among the separate elements of a group. This type of presupposition is triggered by presuppositional discourse stretches such as “They waited for President Van Buren in the White House and flooded his office with demands for capture of the pirate blacks,” “Patrol vessels put out from points all along the coast,” and “Around the world friends of black men were retelling the story of Cinqué’s journey from freedom to freedom, a journey beginning and ending in the village of Mani, in the land of the Mendis, on the West Coast of Africa….” The second category encompasses presuppositions of chaos: that is, presuppositions that suggest a condition or place of great disorder or confusion. This type of presupposition is triggered by presuppositional discourse stretches such as “For days a mysterious long low black schooner hovered on the New Jersey and Long Island coast,” “Her lines were sharp, her bearing proud, but time and storm had left their marks—her topsail gone, her sails blown to shreds, her copper bottom fouled with barnacles and seaweed,” and “Sometimes she flew a Spanish flag, more often none at all.”
As shown in Table 1, a total of 3,380 topic entries were teased out of Owens’ 23 chapters. Of these, I categorized 1,051 or 31 percent as presuppositions of order and 2,329 or 69 percent as presuppositions of chaos. The mean for the order category is 45.70 presuppositions, with a standard deviation of 20.77 presuppositions; the mean for the chaos category is 101.26 presuppositions, with a standard deviation of 40.09. The range for the order category is 102 presuppositions and that for the chaos category is 145 presuppositions. This means that there are significantly more topic entries for presuppositions of chaos than there are of those for order. Moreover there are significant variations among the chapters for each category in terms of topic entries.
Table 1: Univariate Statistics by Types of Presuppositions in Owens’ Text
As I stated earlier, the Box-Counting Method was employed to provide a fractal analysis of the data. The question that emerges then is why this technique was used. As Brown and Liebovitch observe, the Box-Counting Method is probably the best known and most frequently used technique to analyze two-dimensional data sets. It is a versatile technique in that, unlike the divider technique, it can be utilized with any kind of set embedded in two dimensions. Its popularity is also enhanced because it can also be easily generalized to other embedded dimensions. Like other fractal analytical techniques, the Box-Counting Method is designed to allow an analyst to simultaneously determine whether a pattern is fractal and, if it is, to estimate its fractal dimension (Brown and Liebovitch, 2010:48).
The following is the procedure for implementing a Box-Counting Method, according to Brown and Liebovitch: An analyst begins by overlaying a grid of squares on the object to be measured, and then counts the number of boxes that contain part of the design; that is, intercept at least one point of the set. The number of squares N required to cover the set will hinge upon the linear size of the squares, r, so N is a function of r, which can be written as N(r). After that, the analyst can reduce the mesh size of the grid and again count the number of boxes occupied by at least some part of the object. Since the boxes are smaller, the number of occupied boxes will, of course, increase. Nonetheless, if the pattern is fractal, then the number of occupied boxes will rise dramatically, more so than from a linear change in the size of the boxes alone. Akin to the Divider Method, this occurs because as the analyst zooms in on or magnifies a fractal pattern, more detail is reveled. As the size of the boxes is shrunk, the figure is zoomed on to capture more detail. So the analyst must repeatedly reduce the size of the boxes in the grid overlaid on the pattern, each time recording two variables, N and r. Next the analyst will plot the log of N(r) against the log of r. If the relation between the two is linear, it is a power law, and thus the pattern is fractal because the self-similarity of a fractal produces more much detail as it is measured at ever finer scales. If the slope of the best-fit line on the plot is named b, then the fractal dimension is D = -b.
As can be seen from Figure 1, a log-log plot (or log-log graph) was employed to represent the observed units described by the two-dimensional variable encompassing order (y) and chaos (x) as a scatter plot/graph. The two axes display the logarithm of values of the two dimensions, not the values themselves. If the relationship between x and y is described by a power law,
y = xa;
then the (x, y) points on the log-log plot form a line with the slope equal to a. Log-log plots are widely used to represent data that are expected to be scale-invariant or fractal because, as stated before, fractal data usually follow a power law.
A logarithm is an exponent. It is illustrated in the following definition:
For b > 0, b ≠ 1 and for x > 0,
y = logbx if and only if by = x
Thus, since a logarithm is an exponent, it is easy to use exponent laws to establish mathematical generalizations.
Figure 1: Log-log Plot Order vs. Chaos in Owens’ Text
Binary Regression: y = 0.555 + 0.982; R2 = 0.686; p = 0.0001
Figure 1 illustrates the fractal dimension of the two-dimensionality of the variable for Owens’ text. The statistics reveal that the relationship between the two dimensions is statistically significant at the 0.01 level. In sum, Owens’ text moves from periodic fractal stretching to pure disorder. In essence, Owens’ world view reflected a conservative impulse that saw the revolt on the Amistad as a revolutionary act that roused the status quo. Hence, for Owens, the best way to demonize the lionized radical Sengbe Pieh was to fabricate a story of implicating him in engaging in the same inhumane trade against which he fought.
Out of curiosity, I examined Borwnlee’s work as well. He discusses the Amistad affair on only 13 pages in the first three chapters of his 310–page book. The entire first chapter, entailing seven pages (1-7), deals with the issue. In chapter two, the affair is discussed on only two pages (8 & 21). In chapter three, where the charge against Pieh having engaged in slave trading is made, the affair is discussed on four pages (22-25).
As shown in Table 2, a total of 61 topic entries on the Amistad affair were teased out of Brownlee’s book. Of these, I categorized 23 or 38 percent as presuppositions of order and 38 or 62 percent as presuppositions of chaos. The mean for the order category is 7.67 presuppositions, with a standard deviation of 8.03 presuppositions; the mean for the chaos category is 12.67 presuppositions, with a standard deviation of 10.97. The range for the order category is 12 presuppositions and that for the chaos category is 21 presuppositions. This means that, just like in Owens’ text, there are significantly more topic entries for presuppositions of chaos than there are of those for order in Brownlee’s text. Similarly, there are significant variations among the chapters for each category in terms of topic entries.
Table 2: Univariate Statistics by Types of Presuppositions in Brownlee’s Text
Figure 2 illustrates the fractal dimension of the two-dimensionality of the variable for Brownlee’s text. The statistics reveal that the relationship between the two dimensions is reasonably strong, albeit not statistically significant at the 0.05 level. Nonetheless, just like Owens’ text, Brownlee’s text also moves from periodic fractal stretching to pure disorder. In essence, like that of Owens, Brownlee’s world view also reflected a conservative impulse that saw the revolt on the Amistad as a revolutionary act that threatened the status quo. Hence, before Owens, Brownlee had sought to demonize Sengbe Pieh by fabricating a story of implicating him in engaging in an inhumane trade against which he fought.
Figure 2: Log-log Plot Chaos vs. Order in Brownlee’s Text
Binary Regression: y = 1.784 + 0.358; R2 = 0.961; p = 0.126
What Professor Arthur Abraham opined about the legacy of the Amistad affair more than three decades ago is still poignant. According to him, the affair had far-reaching consequences. By the time the case ended, it had so embittered feelings between the North and the slave-holding South that it must be included among the events that led to the breakout of the American civil war in 1860. While the court’s decision itself was not an attack on slavery, it did help to unite and galvanize the abolitionist movement. In addition, the missionary work triggered by the Amistad affair led to the founding of the American Missionary Association (AMA) in 1846 which took over the Mende Mission. The AMA turned out to be the largest and most highly organized abolitionist movement in the United States before the Civil War erupted. The Association established hundreds of anti-slavery churches and schools in the North and the border states of the South, with the main purpose of educating liberated Blacks. The effort gave birth to such important institutions as Hampton Institute and Atlanta, Howard, Fisk, and Dillard Universities at which countless people of African descent received their higher education. Under Pieh’s leadership, as Abraham quotes the New Orleans Weekly, “the determination of fifty-three Africans not to accept the enforced slavery launched a movement that resulted in the creation of a tremendous network of institutions in the south that educated the leadership for the modern-day civil rights movement” (Abraham, 1979:143-4).
The Amistad affair, adds Abraham, also led to the beginning of American evangelization in Africa and other parts of the world. In Sierra Leone, the AMA brought Western education to the Mende before the British colonial government introduced it. The AMA also founded some important schools such as the Hartford School for Girls in Moyamba and the Albert Academy in Freetown, both still popular to this day. All these developments owe their origin to Sengbe Pieh and his compatriots and their act of rebellion on board La Amistad (Abraham, 1979:144).
It is therefore unfortunate that some of Sengbe Pieh’s White brothers, in their desire to sell books and/or make a name for themselves in academia, concocted or fanned the flame of the pernicious myth that Pieh engaged in slave trading once he returned to Sierra Leone. Pieh would have had no such contempt for his White brother because, after all, it was some of his White brothers and sisters that rallied to his cause in the United States and for which he was grateful. In Lewis Tappan, William Owens tells us, Sengbe Pieh “found a friend, a white man he could trust. Tappan held out his hand. “Massa,” Cinqué said simply, and took his hand” (Owens, 1953:155). The second time Pieh saw Tappan, “he rose and took his hand in the American manner” (Owens, 1953:174).
Even after Pieh left the Mende Mission, when he realized that it was time to die, he returned there, announced himself as Joseph Sengbe, not Sengbe Pieh or Joseph Cinqué, and requested a Christian funeral. And as a student of the Abrahamic connections, I will end my lecture on the Judaic, Christian and Islamic significance of the first name with which Sengbe Pieh chose to die—i.e. Joseph.
In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, we learn about Joseph (son of Jacob), Yosef in Hebrew, and Yūsuf in Arabic, as an important character who connects the story of Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic), Isaac (Ishaq in Arabic) and Jacob (Ya’qub in Arabic) in Canaan to the subsequent story of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The Book of Genesis tells how Joseph was the 11th of Jacob’s 12 sons and Rachel’s firstborn. He was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, yet rose to become the second most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh. When famine struck the land, Joseph was able to bring the sons of Israel to Egypt where they were settled in the land of Goshen. In the Qur’an, the 12th sura (meaning “verse” in Arabic) is among the longest, and is the only one with a single person or subject as its theme.
In the Gospels, there are two other characters with the name Joseph. One is Saint Joseph who was the husband of Virgin Mary. The other is Joseph of Arimathea who donated his own prepared tomb for the burial of Jesus after Jesus’ Crucifixion.
Indeed, 19th Century African American writer and activist James Monroe Whitfield’s 1853 poem dedicated to Sengbe Pieh titled To Cinqué is quite fitting for the Amistad hero and his compatriots (African American Registry, n.d.):
All hail! thou truly noble chief,
Who scorned to live a cowering slave;
Thy name shall stand on history’s leaf,
Amid the mighty and the brave:
Thy name shall shine a glorious light
To other brave and fearless men,
Who, like thyself, in freedom’s might,
Shall beard the robber in his den.
Thy name shall stand on history’s page,
And brighter, brighter, brighter grow,
Throughout all time through every age,
Till bosoms cease to feel or know
“Created worthy, or human woe.”
Thy name shall nerve the patriot’s hand
When, mid the battle’s deadly strife,
The glittering bayonet and brand
Are crimsoned with the stream of life.
When the dark clouds of battle roll,
And slaughter reigns without control,
Thy name shall then fresh life impart,
And fire anew each freeman’s heart.
Though wealth and power their force combine
To crush thy noble spirit down,
There is above a power divine
Shall bear thee up against their frown.
Veritably, there is above a power so Divine that will bear us up against those who seek to exploit and dehumanize their fellow humans.
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