The African oceans - Tracing the sea as memory of slavery in South African literature and culture

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This essay traces images of the Indian and Atlantic oceans in South African literature and art for their evocation of the country's history of slavery. I argue that turning one's gaze to the sea recovers evidence of slave lives otherwise erased from folk memory, as well as the decisively modern character of slave practices subsumed behind picturesque portrayals of the Cape. The essay reveals an alternative modernity crafted by enslaved people in practices of language, religion, and food culture in South Africa. The approach taken in this article follows studies by Pumla Gqola and Cheryl Hendricks on discourses of slavery and sexuality, Noeleen Murray on the meanings of slave burial sites, and Martin Hall on colonial architecture in mapping the profound influence of slavery and slave resistance on South African culture. The theme of the two oceans in South African literature, art and the practices of Malay food constitute a subversive archive that testifies to the presence and subjectivity of enslaved people at the Cape, and takes its place among African memories of slavery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-107
Number of pages19
JournalResearch in African Literatures
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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