Prior to this period, ancient West African women were empowered to the point that they effectively organised their own societies in ways that helped complement their interaction with men. In those instances, matriarchal inheritance systems ruled. The phenomenon of females ruling societies was based on the basic acknowledgement that all men and women, great or humble, emerged into this world from the womb of a woman.
However, these matrilineal cultures were gradually destroyed by the arrival of, first, Islam, then the North Atlantic chattel slave trade, colonisation and, finally, Christianity. Slave trading was taking place across the world, but chattel slavery was first introduced in West Africa by a number of Western European countries.
Ancient West African Women is a short, crisp book which systematically explains how women in ancient West African tribes migrated from the Nile Valley in Egypt westwards to an area south of the Sahara, which we now know as West Africa. The book also polemically explores the lasting impact of chattel slave trading, colonization, Christianization and Islamization on the standing of West African women. Book reviews online: PublishedBestsellers website.
Christiana Oware Knudsen was born and brought up in Ghana West Africa. As a newly trained schoolteacher, she met the Danish medical doctor, Peder Christian Kjaerulff Knudsen, at Koforidua, Ghana, in 1955. They married and had three children. Later on they moved to Denmark to settle. Christiana Knudsen holds a Cand Phil degree in Social Anthropology from Aarhus University, Denmark and a PhD degree in Medical Anthropology from Derby University, UK. Christiana has carried out anthropological and ethnographic research and has published several books, including one on female circumcision in Ghana, The Falling Dawadawa Tree: Female Circumcision In Developing Ghana (1994), and on tribal markings in Ghana, The Patterned Skin: Ethnic Scarification In Developing Ghana (2000). In 2010 she published the controversial book The Theologian Slave Trader. Now a mother, a grandmother and a great grandmother, she continues to research and write about a variety of anthropological and ethnographic issues. Book reviews online: PublishedBestsellers website.
In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston went to Plateau, Alabama, just outside Mobile, to interview eighty-six-year-old Cudjo Lewis. Of the millions of men, women, and children transported from Africa to America as slaves, Cudjo was then the only person alive to tell the story of this integral part of the nation’s history. Hurston was there to record Cudjo’s firsthand account of the raid that led to his capture and bondage fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.
In 1931, Hurston returned to Plateau, the African-centric community three miles from Mobile founded by Cudjo and other former slaves from his ship. Spending more than three months there, she talked in depth with Cudjo about the details of his life. During those weeks, the young writer and the elderly formerly enslaved man ate peaches and watermelon that grew in the backyard and talked about Cudjo’s past—memories from his childhood in Africa, the horrors of being captured and held in a barracoon for selection by American slavers, the harrowing experience of the Middle Passage packed with more than 100 other souls aboard the Clotilda, and the years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War.
Based on those interviews, featuring Cudjo’s unique vernacular, and written from Hurston’s perspective with the compassion and singular style that have made her one of the preeminent American authors of the twentieth-century, Barracoon masterfully illustrates the tragedy of slavery and of one life forever defined by it. Offering insight into the pernicious legacy that continues to haunt us all, black and white, this poignant and powerful work is an invaluable contribution to our shared history and culture.