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Interpreting Gold Coast Supreme Court Records, SCT 5/4/19: Regina v Quamina Eddoo Abina Mansah’s world Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz.

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Presentation on theme: "Interpreting Gold Coast Supreme Court Records, SCT 5/4/19: Regina v Quamina Eddoo Abina Mansah’s world Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz."— Presentation transcript:

1 Interpreting Gold Coast Supreme Court Records, SCT 5/4/19: Regina v Quamina Eddoo Abina Mansah’s world Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

2 Abina’s story In 1876, a young, enslaved girl escaped her captivity near the town of Saltpond in what is today Ghana. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

3 Born in Asante, she had been enslaved in several households before Quamina Eddoo’s house near Saltpond, where she worked as a “housegirl”. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

4 Abina fled to Cape Coast, a British colony where she was –by law –free, and found employment working for a Eurafrican translator named James Davis. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

5 With Davis’ help, she took her former master to court, where she argued that he should be imprisoned based on her experiences as a slave. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

6 Neither the British magistrate nor the jury of local men sided with her, and her former master was exonerated. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

7 Nevertheless, through her testimony we hear the voice of a young woman who forced the men of the court to here of her experiences, and whose words still convey her perspectives today. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

8 EXCAVATING VOICES – methods and ethics Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

9 What did it mean to be “colonized”, and how can the victims of history be redeemed?  Colonialism is usually understood as a system and as a series of projects largely from the view of the colonizers.  The perspective of the colonizers is relatively easy to recover because it was the colonizers who wrote most of the documents, choose what went into the archive, etc.  But how can we recover the sub-altern voice of Africans? Can formally-trained scholars in a position of relative power do it? Is it possible to do at all?  Specifically, I wanted to aim at recovering the voice of one of the most dispossessed victims of history of all – a young, African woman of servile (or slave) class. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

10 What are the difficulties? Young enslaved women don’t write many documents themselves. In the documents in which enslaved youths appear, they are talked about but don’t do much talking themselves. As a result, the voices of enslaved women are hidden beneath other, dominant voices, and must be excavated. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

11 Why is it worth trying to excavate the voices of Africans? Relevance? Authenticity? Power relations today? It’s the historians job? It increases the accuracy of our studies? Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

12 How can we hear the voices of young enslaved women from the colonial past? Use new types of sources? Oral histories/ oral traditions? Archaeology? Linguistic analysis (“words and things”)? Read old documents in a new way? That’s what we’re doing with Abina’s testimony Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

13 My strategy for excavating Abina Mansah’s voice Contextualize! – thick analysis Understand the top-level voices Read the document carefully Make sense of Abina Mansah’s testimony in her own words Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

14 The context Annexation of the Gold Coast Colony and constitution of the Gold Coast Protectorate in Various British and international groups pressured the Crown to abolish slavery anti-slavery strategy engineered to satisfy the abolitionist British public while not dislocating the political and economic interests of the indigenous (and often slave-owning) elites on whom their ability to maintain their authority depended. Therefore: – Liberation could only be achieved by individuals just leaving or going to court. – Young children, especially girls, could not leave easily, but also found it difficult to go to court. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

15 The magistrates British, middle class, Christian, abolitionist Views of children – as dependants Views of “paternal” authority and duty in Britain and in Gold Coast The magistrate was (usually) the sole judge and thus the principal audience. Everyone in the courtroom was performing (and trying to convince) him of their point of view. Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

16 The application of the law Magistrates determined whether the individual was “enslaved” or “a customary dependant” 1) did any money change hands? 2) was the child physically abused? 3) was the child called a slave (such local terms as “odonkwo” or “amperlay”) 4) what sort of labor was the child required to do? 5) did the child receive wages or compensation for labor provided? Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

17 Other actors How do they shape or alter testimony and judgments? Interpreters – In this case the Euro-African James Davis. Clerks – Usually locals, but in this case the magistrate himself. Lawyers – James Hutton Brew. Usually friendly with magistrates. Juries – important men, likely to be allies of slave- owners Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz

18 The “language” of the court  The court had a “code” made up of the magistrate’s understanding of the law cultural language in which he could be addressed.  Some participants understood this language, others did not.  Abina Mansah’s understanding of this language was very low. This hurt her case, but ironically makes it easier for us to hear her voice! Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz


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