A Rare, Firsthand Account of an African Muslim Enslaved in Brazil

Captured and stolen from Benin, Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua eventually found freedom in the United States, but he always dreamed of his African home.

By Steven J. Niven, The Root

Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, Utica, N.Y., 1850 TUBMANINSTITUTE.CA

Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, Utica, N.Y., 1850
TUBMANINSTITUTE.CA

There are relatively few detailed, firsthand accounts of the 12 million Africans captured and forcibly transported to the Americas in the 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Of the 10 million survivors of that journey, only a very small number, like Olaudah Equiano and Venture Smith lived long enough—or had the time or opportunity—to write about their experiences. Others like Job Ben Solomon were the subjects of biographies during their lifetimes.

To date, though, we know of only one African who wrote an account of his capture and enslavementin Brazil, the destination for 40 percent of all slaves who made that perilous Atlantic crossing between 1519 and 1867, when the slave trade finally ended in fact as well as in law.

For that reason alone, Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua’s Biography and description of the notorious Middle Passage would be worth exploring. But Baquaqua’s 1854 narrative also reveals a remarkable journey that took him to Haiti, upstate New York, Canada and England. In these places he was legally free but not at peace, because he was not at home. According to the Irish abolitionist Samuel Moore, who assisted him in writing and publishing his work, Baquaqua talked “much of Africa” and prayed ardently that he would one day return.

Biography, written by Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua PUBLIC DOMAIN

Biography, written by Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua
PUBLIC DOMAIN

Home, according to Baquaqua’s Biography, was the city of Zoogoo, now known as Djougou, a large city in the interior of the present-day West African nation of Benin. The Bight of Benin was one of the major ports of slave departures, responsible for the transportation of over 2 million Africans to the Western Hemisphere—a quarter of them, like Baquaqua, after the official ending of the slave trade in 1807.

As his first name, “Mahommah,” indicates, he was born a Muslim. His father, a Nigerian-born merchant, was “not very dark complexioned,” according to his description, and was said to be of “Arabian” descent. His mother, “entirely black,” came from Katsina in northern Nigeria, which was on a major caravan trade route in West Africa. Exactly how or why she traversed the 700 miles from Katsina to Djougou, where her husband made his home, is a reminder that 19th-century Africa was a very mobile society, shaped not only by the slave trade but by internal changes as well…

 

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Texas Mother Teaches Textbook Company a Lesson on Accuracy

By Manny Fernandez and Christine Hauser, New York Times

 

The page in a McGraw-Hill Education geography textbook that refers to Africans brought to American plantations as “workers,” rather than slaves. Credit Coby Burren

The page in a McGraw-Hill Education geography textbook that refers to Africans brought to American plantations as “workers,” rather than slaves. Credit Coby Burren

HOUSTON — Coby Burren, 15, a freshman at a suburban high school south of here, was reading the textbook in his geography class last week when a map of the United States caught his attention. On Page 126, a caption in a section about immigration referred to Africans brought to American plantations between the 1500s and 1800s as “workers” rather than slaves.
 
He reached for his cellphone and sent a photograph of the caption to his mother, Roni Dean-Burren, along with a text message: “we was real hard workers, wasn’t we.”
 
Their outrage over the textbook’s handling of the nation’s history of African-American slavery — another page referred to Europeans coming to America as “indentured servants” but did not describe Africans the same way — touched off a social-media storm that led the book’s publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, to vow to change the wording and the school’s teachers to use other materials in the class.
 
“It talked about the U.S.A. being a country of immigration, but mentioning the slave trade in terms of immigration was just off,” said Ms. Dean-Burren, who is black. “It’s that nuance of language. This is what erasure looks like.”
 
Ms. Dean-Burren cataloged her objections to the caption last week in posts on Facebook and Twitter. The posts, along with a video she made while flipping through the book, were widely shared, catching the attention of the #blacklivesmatter movement as the video alone reached nearly two million views.
 
Texas textbooks — and how they address aspects of history, science, politics and other subjects — have been a source of controversy for years in part because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education approved a social-studies curriculum that put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks, including emphasizing Republican political achievements and movements. State-sanctioned textbooks have been criticized for passages suggesting Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and dismissing the history of the separation of church and state…
 

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How Many Africans Were Really Taken to the U.S During the Slave Trade?

By Henry Louis Gates Jr., TheRoot.com

Perhaps you, like me, were raised essentially to think of the slave experience primarily in terms of our black ancestors here in the United States. In other words, slavery was primarily about us, right, from Crispus Attucks and Phillis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker and Richard Allen, all the way to Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. Think of this as an instance of what we might think of as African-American exceptionalism. (In other words, if it’s in “the black Experience,” it’s got to be about black Americans.) Well, think again. images

The most comprehensive analysis of shipping records over the course of the slave trade is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, edited by professors David Eltis and David Richardson. (. . .)Between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, according to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, 12.5 million Africans were shipped to the New World. 10.7 million survived the dreaded Middle Passage, disembarking in North America, the Caribbean and South America. imgres

And how many of these 10.7 million Africans were shipped directly to North America? Only about 388,000. That’s right: a tiny percentage.  In fact, the overwhelming percentage of the African slaves were shipped directly to the Caribbean and South America; Brazil received 4.86 million Africans alone! Some scholars estimate that another 60,000 to 70,000 Africans ended up in the United States after touching down in the Caribbean first, so that would bring the total to approximately 450,000 Africans who arrived in the United States over the course of the slave trade.

Incredibly, most of the 42 million members of the African-American community descend from this tiny group of less than half a million Africans. (. . .)

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Some Exhibits to Come – The Middle Passage