Seized during the Revolution, they entered the Louvre in The two chained slaves express entirely different emotions. The Dying Slave is young, handsome, and in a deep perhaps eternal sleep. The Rebellious Slave is a coarser figure whose whole body seems engaged in a violent struggle.
The iconographical theme of the figures remains a mystery with few clues beyond the figure of a monkey which is roughed out beside the dying slave. Art historians have theorized that they symbolize everything from the subjugated provinces, to the Arts, reduced to slavery by the the Pope's death, to enslaved passions, or the human soul, burdened by the body.
Likewise, it remains a mystery as to why Michelangelo left the pieces unfinished. Rather, they represent a form of imaginative reconstruction.
The people of Ouidah, it may be suggested, being aware in general terms of the importance of the slave trade in the history of their town, have a tendency to link objects and sites to the slave trade, by a process of mis informed speculation. The struggle is set within the framework of indigenous African agency in the slave trade, concerning relations between the slaves and their African sellers rather than their European and American purchasers.
The suggestion of concern to ward off the posthumous vengeance of the enslaved is intuitively plausible, since it is consistent with contemporary documentation of how the export trade in slaves was conceptualized by the Africans involved in it. Many accounts from the period of the slave trade report the common belief of African-born slaves in the Americas that when they died, their souls would return to Africa, which indeed caused some of them to commit suicide as a means of returning home.
First, the suggestion that slave-dealers would have taken the substantial time out required for all slaves to run round trees at two separate points on the journey to the beach is inherently difficult to credit. Further, the stories themselves are not well documented. Even today, there is evidently some uncertainty in local tradition about the historical significance of the two trees, and indeed a degree of confusion between them.
Dalzel ; Pires 29 ; some of these do describe a ceremony of circumambulation, but it is the Ouidah chiefs, rather than slaves destined for export, who are said to have processed around the tree three times , prior to greeting the Europeans. Also, the insistence on the purely spiritual nature of the return which the slavers sought to prevent and the slaves to ensure —in common with the concept of the Porte du Non-Retour subsequently constructed on Ouidah beach— sits oddly with the well-known fact, emphasized in earlier accounts, that some slaves did in fact physically return to Ouidah.
What we seem to be dealing with here is a combination or juxtaposition of two divergent perceptions of the significance of the slave trade: the local Ouidah perception of it as involving two-way movement and cultural influences, and an externally derived perception stressing one-way deportation and cultural deracination. But this, surely, is to adopt too literal an approach. More charitably or more creatively , the two counterposed tree stories express a real contradiction in the operation of the slave trade, and to that extent can be read as complementary rather than contradictory.
In particular, in this continuing dialogue of Ouidah with its past, it is noteworthy that the emphasis remains on African agency, and on the relations of Africa with its Diaspora. London, Tinsley Bros. London, The Author repr.
London, Frank Cass, Lisbon, Imprensa Nacional. Ouidah [The Author]. London, Richard Bentley repr. Eltis, David and Richardson, David.
Eltis, David , Lovejoy, Paul E. Centre of Commonwealth Studies, University of Stirling: Gates, Henry Louis, Jr.
London, BBC2. Kreamer, Christine Mullen. Oxford, James Currey. Osei-Tutu, Brempong.
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London, Awnsham Churchill andJohn Churchill: vi, Pires, Vicente Ferreira. Clado Ribeiro de Lessa.
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Westport CT, Bergin and Garvey: Turner, Jerry Michael. PhD thesis, Boston University. Verger, Pierre et al. Paris, Mouton. On slave trade commemoration in Ouidah, see also Sutherland ; Cafuri ; Rush ; and, for observations on Ouidah in a comparative perspective, Singleton The present layout of the buildings seems to reflect their reconstruction at the time of the Portuguese reoccupation of the fort in Gradhiva Revue d'anthropologie et d'histoire des arts. Sommaire - Document suivant. Commemoration of the Atlantic Slave Trade in Ouidah 1. Plan Ouidah and the Slave Trade. Memory of the Slave Trade in Ouidah.