Prince Among Enslaved

Book Cover Prince Among Slaves AlfordThe Cultural Legacy of Enslaved Africans

Introduction [Edited]

Between the seventeenth and the mid-nineteenth century, numerous West African Muslims mostly from Senegambia (Senegal, Gambia, Mali, and Guinea) were [enslaved and] deported to the United States. They were overwhelmingly young men; often prisoners of war but most victims of kidnapping. It is difficult to estimate their numbers, [but] nowhere else in the Americas was the proportion of Senegambians – 24% – as high as in North America.

If most Africans maintained their faith in secret in the barbaric environment of servitude, others succeeded in living their religion openly. Reports of their religious activities appear in court and police records, plantation logs, newspapers, books, and “runaway” notices. The portraits of Africans were captured in paintings, prints, daguerreotypes, and photographs; and they have left a few manuscripts written in Arabic.

Prince Among Slaves introduces the viewer to three large thematic areas often omitted from popular portrayals of the slavery [bondage system] in Hollywood film and in white history textbooks. One of these themes is Identity. The film raises our awareness of the rich and diverse economic and social contributions of enslaved African peoples to the formation of America. Popular American culture has usually portrayed the societies of the enslaved peoples as primitive and unsophisticated, yet they came from advanced West African societies, many of which rivaled their European counterparts in literacy, economic development, and cultural output.

The film Prince Among Slaves encourages us to think about matters of identity-particularly African American identity. What’s in a name? How does it feel to be called by a name which isn’t yours? What names and labels identify us?

Spellings sometimes change when we attempt to represent the sound of a name in another language, or with another alphabet. For example, on this website, you learn about two prominent West African ethnic groups: the Fulbe and the Mandinka. In some sources, you will find the Fulbe referred to as the Fulani, the Fulah, or even the Peul. Don’t be confused: all of these are names for the same group of West African pastoral people. In some sources, you will find the Mandinka referred to as the Mandinga or the Mandingue. Again, these are simply variations in spelling the same name.

The bill of sale between Thomas Edwin and Thomas Foster for the purchase of Abdul Rahman and Samba referred to these captives as “brute Negroes”. But in fact, many enslaved were sought out and captured or purchased precisely because they had skills which would be very important to the success of the business of the [enslavers and human traffickers]. In short, they had professions!

Here are the names of some of the valued professions of enslaved Africans in America: blacksmith; accountant; midwife; carpenter; potter; weaver (or, textiles expert); soldier; agricultural specialist with expertise in rice, sugar, cotton, corn, yams, peanuts, or millet; specialist in beekeeping and beeswax; mineralogist; goatherd; shepherd; cattleman; expert in paper production.

Our hero’s name was Abdul Rahman Ibrahima Sori. In the religion of Islam, “Rahman” is one of the Names of God. It means “the Compassionate One”. “Abdul Rahman” means “servant of the Compassionate One”-Servant of God. “Ibrahima” is a version of “Abraham”-after the prophet/patriarch who figures importantly in the religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His enslaver called him “Prince” sarcastically, but Abdul Rahman was indeed from a royal family. His father was King Sori of Futa Jallon. West Africa.

 

Source: Prince Among Enslaved

 

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