In the 15th through 19th centuries, many Africans were captured throughout the continent of Africa and brought to holding locations along the western coast of Africa. These locations were typically castles or forts. They were usually painted whit and overlooked the ocean. One of these castles was Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, the filming location for the opening and closing scenes of Sankofa. In the present day, hundreds of people of the African Diaspora visit these sites each year as a sort of pilgrimage and an examination of how their ancestors suffered (Slemmer).
 The captives would be kept at these holding locations until there were enough prisoners to fill a slave boat. Once this condition had been met, the slaves were transported across the Atlantic Ocean. After this voyage they were dispersed throughout the Americas. The first Africans arrived in America in Jamestown, Virginia in approximately 1619. At first these Africans were indentured servants, however, in 1640, Maryland institutionalized slavery, this started the spread of the belief that blacks were subhuman and thus it became much harder for a slave to earn his freedom.
 One of the final destinations for these slaves was the sugar plantations of Louisiana. Slaves made approximately half of antebellum Louisiana’s population. Nine out of ten of these slaves worked on farms or plantations. Typically a slave’s day went from sunrise to sundown, however, during busy seasons they often worked around the clock. Plantation slaves generally had an area of their own, where they had their own hierarchy and culture. Often they were able to secretly follow their own religions (see below).
 Masters could affect their slaves’ lives in many ways. They had the right to approve or forbid a marriage between their slaves. They often sexually exploited their female slaves. They could punish their slaves any way they choose for anything that they deemed offensive or inappropriate.
 Louisiana’s slaves often tried to revolt against their masters. These revolts could range from work slow-downs to faked illnesses to injury of an animal to suicide. On occasion, slaves would poison their masters. Slaves would also try to run away heading for the swamps and forests where maroon, or runaway, communities were located. The typical punishment for these transgressions was more than 20 lashes with a whip. However, if the felon was pregnant, care was taken not to harm the unborn baby.
One important part of African religion is the role of the Healer or Magician. These people represent goodness, light and social togetherness. It was the job of these individuals to find and stop evil and sorcerers. "There activity is not secret… [They] do not hide their magical powers; on the contrary, they make a show of them’" (Zahan 104). Often the battle between the Healers and sorcerers took place with no physical contact.
Genovese, Eugene D., ed. Ulrich Bonnell Phillips' The Slave Economy of the Old South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968.
This book is split into five parts. The first examines the environment of the South. Although the writer, Ulrich Bonnell Phillips has an often skewed view of reality, his attitude displays what many whites thought at the time.
Pérez, Louis A. Jr., ed. Slaves, Sugar, and Colonial Society. Wilmington: Scholarly Resources Inc., 1992.
Although this book is about Cuba, its descriptions of the people and culture can be compared to that of the Southern part of the United States. This book is a compilation of Essays on Cuba's society between 1801 and 1899. Among these essays are detailed accounts of the slaves' roles in sugar plantations. Another section describes slavery on the island as opposed to in other locations. "In no part of the word, where slavery exists, is manumission [or freeing of slaves] so frequent as in the island of Cuba..." (97). Slaves on this island could work towards their freedom or even become a co-owner of themselves. Once these slaves have gained their freedom, they continue to fair better than their Southern United States counterparts. It goes into detailed accounts about the logistics of slavery. The Cuban system did have it's disadvantages compared to the South though. In the South, slaves are given a certain task to continually perform, once that task is done, they are usually done for the day. In Cuba, however, they work all day regardless of how much work they accomplish. Also in Cuba, there is a greater fear of punishment and it is important to the Cubans that their slaves do not become idle (107). The comparisons continue throughout the essays of this book.
Some, Malidoma Patrice. Of Water and Spirit [audio book]. San Rafael: New World Library, 1995.
This autobiography tells the story of Malidoma Patrice Some. This man was kidnapped form his village when he was four. As a way of gaining his village's acceptance upon his return over 15 years later, he underwent the Dagara initiation. His story contains many elements that on first impact one would assume to be fictional; elements much more mystic than the story of Nunu killing an overseer. Yet they are all true. They all occurred to this man during or after the month long initiation process. Thus this book is an important resource in order to add to the credibility of some of the less believable aspects of Gerima's Sankofa.
The Underground Railroad. Dir. Gary Glaser. Television Documentary. 1999.
|This documentary, created for the History Channel and A & E, takes a look at the helpers of the Underground Railroad. However, instead of just looking at the famous names, it takes a look at the lesser known heroes as well. It contains slave diary readings, photos, engravings and recreations. This film is especially relevant since one of our first impressions of the sugar plantation in Sankofa is a glimpse at several slaves who were captured trying to escape.|
A Son of Africa. Dir. Alrick Riley.
Videocassette. Aimimage Productions. 1996.
based upon Olaudah Equiano's The Interesting Narration of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African. London, 1789.
|This short film recounts the life of Olaudah Equiano through his autobiography. It tells of Equiano's life. He was kidnapped form his village in Africa and sold into slavery. When he arrives in America he is sent to a plantation in Virginia. He was allowed to earn money at this plantation and eventually earned enough to buy his freedom. After he gained his freedom, he traveled to London. There he wrote his story and became a major force in the abolition movement. His autobiography is considered by many to be the "...first influential slave autobiography..." (California Newsreel).|
African.com "Slavery in the United States (Part 2)." http://www.africana.com/Articles/tt_269.htm. African.com Inc. 1999.
This article deals with the expansion of slavery that coupled the expansion of ante bellum United States. It begins by dealing with the major trends of slavery. It goes on to detail the role the masters played in the lives of their slaves and their influence over these individuals. The article explains that though the slaves 'belonged' to their white masters, they were usually given a communal space of their own. Though this area provided the slaves with a small amount of freedom many strove to acquire more and resist their masters.
American Memory - Library of Congress. "Voices and Faces from the Collection." http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snvoices00.html. 2001.
This site provides excerpts from the narratives of 8 different slaves. Some mention their dreams and desires they had during the time period when they were slaves. Others describe daily life or unique experiences that happened to them during their time of enslavement.
Attigah, Stephen. "Cape Coast, A Historic Tourist Destination." http://www.panafest.com/HistoryCCoast.html.
This article provides some background history on Ghana's Cape Coast Castle, the filming site of the beginning and ending of Gerima's movie. It explains the origin of the name of this location as well as the history and resources of the area.
Costantino, Becky. "The Religion, Spirituality, and Thought of Traditional Africa by Dominique Zahan." http://www.tcnj.edu/~afamstud/finalweb/part2/pwrpnt/zehan/. 2001.
This site provides a powerpoint presentation on Dominique Zahan's book The Religion, Spirituality, and Thought of Traditional Africa. It breaks the book up by chapters and includes a look at the role of the healers and magicians in African culture.
Louisiana State Museum. http://lsm.crt.state.la.us/cabildo/cab9.htm. 1999.
This article provides some insights into the daily life on a plantation in the ante bellum south. It gives information about the roles of both the whites and the blacks.
Sylvester, Melvin. B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library. "The African American a journey from Slavery to Freedom." http://www.liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/aaslavry.htm.
This article contains a section which details the beginnings of slavery both worldwide and in America.
Slemmer, Mike. "Why do African Americans visit the slave castles of the West African coast." http://www.stanford.edu/~kennell/sample.html. 1996.
This article lists many of the major slave holding locations of western Africa. It then goes on to explain the role that these sites held in the enslavement of most Africans in the Americas. It also explains the newfound interest in these sites among many people of the African Diaspora.
WGBH Educational Foundation. "Elmina Castle, trading outpost and "slave factory."" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/1p260.html. 1999.
This article gives the background information for Elmina Castle, the first permanent slave trading location on Africa's west coast. This outpost as well as the ones which followed it, was designed to protect the slave vessels. They were heavily armed against potential sea invaders. They did not view the Africans as equally threatening, however, and thus were less guarded on the inland side. Africans were captured and brought to this and similar sites until they were ready for transport.
copyright (c) 2001 by Mary R. Costantino Undergraduate at The College of New Jersey