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The Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast

 

The Ivory Coast, from Cape Palmas to Cape Three Points, was named so because of the quantity of ivory traded there. In the 1770’s, this region provided 3,500 slaves annually. From Cape Three Points to the mouth of the Volta River, lays the Gold Coast where the Europeans maintained in the 18th century not less than a hundred trading posts and fortresses, the most impressive being the Cape Coast and Elmina castles. Until 1700 the region was known as a slave importing country where slaves were put to work in gold mines. Gold Coast slave exports rose sharply in the eighteenth century with the rise of Ashanti Kingdom. Very few slaves from the Ivory Coast and the Gold Coast were imported in Louisiana except the Mina who were among the most frequent ethnicities in this country. They belong to the Ewe group and their traditional domain is rather centered on the Mono River, encompassing eastern Ghana, the territory of modern Togo, and the west of modern Benin. It is more likely that most of the Mina transported to Louisiana were shipped from the Bight of Benin also known as the Slave Coast.

 

Slave Trade In Louisiana

The Slave Coast and the Bight of Biafra

 

Between the estuary of the Volta River and the kingdom of Benin, the famous Slave Coast became in the 18th century the most active zone of the slave trade. Beginning from the 1670s, the Bight of Benin underwent a rapid expansion of trade in slaves, which continued until the end of the slave trade in the nineteenth century. In the beginning of the 18th century, Agaja, ruler of the continental kingdom of Dahomey, undertook a set of conquests toward the ocean in order to have a direct hold on the Atlantic trade. Instead of the various animals as the chameleon, the lion or the fish, which his predecessors and successors had chosen as symbols of royalty, this atypical king had a ship as his emblem. Ouidah, the great sanctuary of voodoo, became the main outlet of the slave trade which has left some visible traces still visible today on the organization of the space, notably in Ganvié, a village where people had learned to live on the water in dwellings built on stilts. The Fon, also called Aja, were the builders of the kingdom of Dahomey. The Yoruba built the rival kingdom of Oyo and their dominions reached to the north the territory of the Hawsa. The Fon, the Yoruba also called Nago, and the Hawsa were among the most frequent ethnicities on Louisiana plantations.

 

The Bight of Biafra, centered on the Niger Delta and the Cross River, became a significant exporter of slaves from the 1700s and dominated the Trans-Atlantic slave trade along with neighboring Bight of Benin until the mid-nineteenth century. A great numbers of slaves from this part of Africa were sold into North America. In Louisiana, slaves from this coast were listed as Edo, Ibo, Ibibio, and Calabar. They were also among the most frequent ethnicities listed on official documents. In Southwest Louisiana, "Ibo" has survived as a family name and transcribed "Ebow."

From the Bight of Benin came the fundamentals of Vodun. Vodun is a corpus of rituals meant for the well-being of the community on Earth.  It also involves divination which determines the proper sacrifices to the deities. “Vodun” means “spirit” in the language of the Fon and is equivalent to “orisha” of the Yoruba. Each vodun is a delegatee (hypostasis) of the power of the Universal Supreme God. The most important among them is Legba, the protector of the family, the holder of the key to the gate separating the humans' world and the world of the deities, and the Messenger and Spokesperson of all the other deities before the Supreme God. Legba is the Christ of Vodun.  Vodun has been retained in Louisiana as Voodoo and wrongly described by outsiders as mere witchcraft. In Louisiana Voodoo Papa Legba is assimilated to St. Peter.

 

Vodun is dominated by women The practitioners, both male and females, are called Vodun-si (wives of the Vodun). The male members wear women’s clothes. The queens of Louisiana Voodoo can also be related to the queens of Ndëpp, the equivalent of Vodun among the Lebu of Senegambia. The Lebu form several communities of fishermen and farmers along the coast where they resisted slavery and welcomed refugees from all over Senegambia. Their traditional cult is the exclusive domain of women. The traditional pantheon in Senegambia is overwhelmingly dominated by female deities: Maam Kumba Bang (St. Louis), Maam Kumba Lamba (Rufisque), Maam Kumba Castel (Goree), Maama Jombo, etc. Among the Yoruba, Yemoja is the deity of the ocean, the essence of motherhood, and a fierce protector of children. This deity is present all over the West-Atlantic world as Yemanja. Maama Jombo, also called Maama Choori, is the deity of fecundity and the protector of mothers and their children among the rice growers of Casamance (Senegal) and Guinea Bissau. Maama Jombo, was retained as Mumbo Jumbo in Louisiana and also became synonymous of witchcraft like Voodoo.

 

West-Central Africa and the East Coast

 

Few slaves were imported from Monomotapa, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Slaves from Mozambique were found in small numbers in Louisiana where they were called Makwa. The most active slave harbors south of the equator were in West Central Africa. The most important was Mayumba, followed by the ports of Malimba and Cabinda in the kingdom of Loango. To the south of Loango, Congo was a kingdom on the decline after having played a premier role in the slave trade during the 17th century. To the south of Congo, in the kingdom of Angola, the main harbor was Luanda. The coast of Angola remained after 1842 an active center of the trans-Atlantic slave trade handled by the Portuguese and then the Brazilians. “Congo” was the generic name under which the slaves from Central Africa were designated in Louisiana and certainly the most frequent reference for slaves recorded on official documents. “Congo” became synonymous of “Africa” like “Guinen” (Guinea) in Saint-Domingue (Haiti). “Congo Square” or “Place du Congo” (now Louis Armstrong Park), the most symbolic place for Afro-Creole culture in New Orleans, was named so by the folks who, every Sunday afternoon, used to dance there in circles representing different African nations. In general, the songs and dance performances of the enslaved Africans and their descendants gave birth to musical forms enjoyed worldwide today: blues, jazz, rock & roll, and zydeco. The word ‘okra’ is the name for the famous vegetable among the Akan and Igbo people of West Africa. “Ngombo” is also a word for the plant among the Bantu of central Africa. In Louisiana “ngombo” became «gumbo » to designate a famous dish served with rice. Jambalaya is a rice-based dish imported from the coast of Senegal. Out of rice or corn meal, they made grits and “cous-cous” which they passed on to the Acadians along with their spicy food ways.

 

 

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