HARRIET TUBMAN SEMINAR
January 24, 2000
Liberated Central Africans in Nineteenth-Century Guyana1
Department of History
Wayne State University
Statistics of the nineteenth century slave trade and liberated African immigration (1841-1865), while incomplete, show the replacement of a West African by a Central African majority in Guyana, a country comprising the three former Dutch colonies of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice.2
The ethnic patterns of the Dutch slave trade, which supplied the majority of enslaved Africans until British occupation in 1796, indicate that 29 percent of the Africans on Dutch West India ships and 34 percent on free traders’ ships came from the Loango hinterland in West Central Africa. Of the remainder transported by the Dutch West India Company, 45 percent originated in the Republic of Benin-western Nigeria area known as the Slave Coast, another 21 percent in the Gold Coast interior, and the rest in the Bight of Biafra region and Senegal. The Windward Coast area of present day Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire provided 49 percent of the free traders’ cargo.3
With British occupation in 1796, Guyana obtained an infusion of capital and over 35,000 additional people from Britain’s legal African or Caribbean slave trade and from the migration of self-employed slave mechanics and hucksters. Owing to increased African importations early in the nineteenth century, Kongo came to outnumber other African groups in Berbice and probably in Demerara and Essequibo as well. To date, the Berbice slave register for 1819 provides the sole available ethnic profile for the late slave era in Guyana. When the Harvard slave trade database becomes accessible to more researchers, we should gain a more detailed and accurate picture. Unlike the earlier Dutch trade statistics, the 1819 Berbice record produced more than ten years after cessation of the African trade to Guyana, shows a preponderance of West Central Africans. In order of magnitude, Berbice Africans were Kongo and related West Central Africans, Akan (Kormantines), Popo, Igbo, Mandinka, Chamba, Moko, various Windward Coast peoples, Temne and Fulbe.4
By the time the African slave trade to new British colonies like Guyana was suspended in 1805, Guyana’s Africa born majority was 75 percent. African mortality was high, however. Deaths exceeded births for the entire slave period. By 1832, fewer than 35 percent of Demerara and Essequibo slaves were Africa-born although together, the African and African-descended population totaled 98,000 at emancipation out of a total Guyanese population of 100,600.5 By 1841, the Africa-born portion of the population had decreased to 17 percent.6 In ten years, however, their numbers increased as the remaining 7,083 “old Africans” were augmented by an almost equal number (7,160) of liberated Africans. Captured from foreign slaves ships by the British Anti-Slave Trade Squadron, liberated Africans were transported first to Sierra Leone, St. Helena or Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and thence to Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and some of the smaller Caribbean islands.
Between 1841-1865, chartered vessels supplied 13,172 Africans, a contingent with an estimated West Central African majority of nearly 8,000 (7,990), to Guyana.7 The addition of these latecomers to the Central African majority surviving from the first two decades of the nineteenth century justifies singling out this group for study. At 86,455, the Creole or native Afro-Guyanese population continued to outnumber Africans, but this Creole preponderance does not mean isolation from their African antecedents’ culture and institutions.8 Plantation villages were still divided into ethnic quarters into which many liberated African immigrants moved, reinforcing the communities and culture that Africans and their descendants had established during slavery.
Until 1846, the relative scarcity of labor, a surplus of land, and effective organization enabled freed Guyanese plantation laborers to bargain effectively with employers. Then in 1847-1848, a financial crisis associated with the British Parliament’s eradication of protective duties on British West Indian sugar weakened Guyanese workers’ bargaining position and a strike over sharply reduced wages failed. This crisis coincided with an increase of slave ship captures by the British navy and an influx of African, Indian and Portuguese immigrants.9 As the liberated African expanded, so did their role in Guyana.
GENDER AND AGE
A gender breakdown is available for 11,740 immigrants, of whom 8,240 were males and 3,500 females, a discrepancy accounted for by the gender imbalance in the slave trade and women’s aversion to plantation labor. Except for the first or second year of Sierra Leonian, as opposed to recaptive immigration, relatively few married couples or families emigrated.10
Since an increasing number of juveniles entered the nineteenth-century Atlantic slave trade, many liberated African immigrants were orphaned children recruited from liberated African depots and schools.11 Sierra Leonian and St. Helena officials fixed the dividing line between adulthood and childhood between twelve and fourteen years, but Guyanese and Jamaican immigration officers complained that children’s ages tended to be inflated. One Guyanese official claimed that of three boys classified as thirteen years of age, two were only eleven and one ten. Responding to criticisms of the large (ninety-nine) contingent of children under age ten transported on the Helena in April 1848, the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners in London contended that it was better for British Guiana to acquire such young children than for the Helena to leave Sierra Leone empty. In Sierra Leone, a veritable tug-of-war occurred between liberated African scholteachers bent on preventing student emigration and recruiters who embellished opportunities available in the West Indies and Guyana.12 A Berbice resident from the Congo River entrepôt of Boma later recalled being attracted as a schoolboy in Sierra Leone by a labor recruiter’s extravagant promise of a beaver hat "full, full" of money for a mere week's work in Guyana.13
DISEASE AND MORTALITY IN LIBERATED AFRICAN DEPOTS & SHIPS
Illness and death pervaded the liberated African immigrant experience. Having endured both on slave ships, more of the same awaited survivors in the liberated African depots, notably the deplorable Rupert’s Valley Station in St. Helena, which even the governor of St. Helena considered an unsuitable location.14 At the end of 1859, the Church of England Bishop Piers Claughton boarded a ship that had just arrived at Rupert’s Valley with 500 recaptive Africans, many of them mere boys, some of whom would soon be bound for Guyana.15 “I saw the dead and dying together,” Claughton wrote,
and I could not distinguish them as I passed, nor could those in charge always -- for one is now living who was landed on that day for burial. I saw groups of the living huddled together on the deck to all [intents?] seeming utterly regardless of what was passing in their misery. And they were leading others, and as I watched their gaunt skeleton forms crawling on the beach, I could not help thinking of Charon and his crew of shades.”16
Such scenes occurred ever since the south Atlantic island, acquired by the British Crown from the East India Company, became the site of a Vice-Admiralty Court in 1840 and began to receive captured slave ships. St. Helena was barren, rocky, windy and unsuitable for the permanent settlement of large numbers of Africans, as those who had settled there realized. Rupert’s was “a desolate valley running down to the sea between bare and bleak hills approached only by a winding path cut in the rock.” Huts for Africans and the superintendent and commissariat departments were located near the shore. A small garden contained the site’s only trees. Sanitation was atrocious. In short, the station was a death trap. Out of 4,908 recaptives admitted to Rupert’s Valley between September and March 1849, 3,394 had to be hospitalized and 1,283 died. Some Africans who survived were permanently scarred by their experiences, blinded by ophthalmia or sunk in depression.17
For recaptives, the advantage of Sierra Leone over St. Helena was the opportunity to settle as farmers or traders. In St. Helena, on the other hand, limited domestic service and employment on American whalers were the only available occupations, and in any case, the authorities discouraged Africans from settling. The average stay at Rupert’s ranged from one to seven months and up to a year for the very sick. In Sierra Leone, where the option of settlement in the colony had existed since it was made a resettlement colony for liberated Africans, detention in the Liberated African Yard was not necessary. After 1844, however, recaptives in Sierra Leone were held incommunicado from one to three months pending the arrival of immigrant transports, accessible only to military and labor recruiters during that time. Africans who refused to emigrate or serve in the military were released without financial support into the general population.18
Between 1859 and 1863, the St. Helena Anglican clergy responded to recaptive Africans’ suffering by proselytizing them with the help of an interpreter who, they later discovered, had lied about how much of their teaching the Africans understood. One thing that Africans did grasp was that the dramatic mass baptisms held in the station’s garden tended to coincide with the sailing of immigrant ships, an unpleasant prospect for people who had barely survived the slave ships. Therefore, when Bishop Claughton visited the station one afternoon instead of in the morning as he usually did, they ran away, believing that a ship had come for them. Claughton’s successor discontinued the naïve practice of hasty instruction followed by mass baptisms.19
Africans on board thirty of the seventy-six immigrant ships incurred no mortality while thirty others had mortality of three percent or less, better than the Jamaican immigrant ship record.20 The ten vessels listed below were the exceptions. Not surprisingly, it was mostly new recaptives who died. ______________________________________________________________________________________
Embarked Died % Hospitalized
Dois de Fevreiro Rio ? – May 154 9 5.8 6
Name Unknown ” Oct.-Nov. 140 14 10. --
Arabian-IV Sierra Leone Feb.-Mar. 267 23 8.6 46
Zulmira Rio ? - Mar. 156 11 7. --
Margaret-II St. Helena Aug.-Sep. 351 16 4.5 --
Growler Sierra Leone Jul.-Aug. 456 20 4.3 25
Arabian IX ” Feb.-Mar. 260 22 8.5 44
Helena ” Mar.-Apr. 121 12 9.9 18
Una ” Apr.-May 240 52 21.6 38
Reliance St. Helena Nov.-Dec. 231 20 8.6 15
Even where mortality was low or nonexistent, recaptives tended embark for Guyana in a debilitated condition, and when they disembarked some were still suffering from medical problems brought on by the slave voyage. Many had to be hospitalized upon arrival and even after allocation to plantations. Of the 436 Growler passengers who survived the voyage to Guyana, for example, ten died in the general hospital, another 46 expired after allocation to estates, and nine were still incapacitated by illness at the end of 1847. Some form of diarrhea was the major cause of death, but nurses ascribed the deaths of eighteen Growler children on four East Coast Demerara estates to “African cachexy” a disorder with which they were afflicted before arrival. As Dr. George Bonyun, the physician who reported on it, realized, cachexy described malnutrition, extreme debility usually “induced by bad and insufficient food.” In nineteenth century Guyana, however, cachexy was considered “more frequently . . . the consequence of great and continued fear. The victims of ‘obeah’ [witchcraft],” the doctor explained, “are thus destroyed.” The St. Helena Colonial Surgeon also placed “the depressing moral influence of fear and anxiety” at the head of his list of causes of recaptives’ high mortality rate. Thus from the outset, African immigrants associated the afflictions of enslavement, such as malnutrition which visibly sucked the life out of its victims, with the work of witches, who also suck life, a theme to which I will return later.22
Liberated Africans were a heterogeneous group, comprising Igbo, Kalabari, Mende, Temne, Mandinka, Yoruba and, above all, West Central Africans. The last two groups are the best documented of the immigrants and preserved both ancestral “hometown” associations as well as a broader awareness of linguistic and socio-political similarities as “Yoruba” (“Aku” in Guyana) or “Kongo.”23 Liberated African geographical locations and identities had already undergone some reorganization before their arrival in Guyana. For several centuries, developments in the Southeastern Atlantic commercial sector -- trade, wars, environmental disasters, enslavement and sea voyages -- had scattered people widely. Most West Central Africans originated in societies that captured, purchased, held and sold slaves, and were often enslaved themselves. The Tio and Zombo, for instance, purchased each other as late as the 1880s. The Bobangi, a name indicating a particular group of specialist traders operating between Malebo Pool and the Ubangi River, enslaved a wide variety of middle Congo groups in the nineteenth century and were in turn enslaved by others. Bobangi slaves purchased at Malebo Pool were all called "Ko" (Kongo), thus obscuring their true origins. Europeans also played a role in ethnogenesis during the era of the slave trade. Although "Kongo" originally denoted someone occupying the royal court (Mbanza Kongo) of the Kongo Kingdom, Portuguese usage made it an ethnic or cultural label, and in the African diaspora, it served as a catchall term for West Central Africans who spoke western Bantu languages.24 Thus we cannot always tell whether people identified in Guyana by specific group names were freeborn members of those societies, slaves held by them, fugitives or refugees from other communities. Where possible, Africans in the diaspora either reconstructed ancestral homeland identities or continued to construct new regional and pan-African identities based on linguistic affinity, the coincidence of having been assembled for shipping at the same slave trade ports or having sailed on the same slave or immigrant ship. The ensuing ethnic or national identities were therefore pragmatic, fluid, flexible, instrumental, rational and to some extent fictional or symbolic.25
In nineteenth- and twentieth-century Guyana, “Kongo” included KiKongo speaking people from three old provinces of the Kongo Kingdom (Kongo, Nsundi and Mbata/Zombo). The Nsundi and the Zombo of Mbata, prosperous independent commercial powers by the late eighteenth century, were represented in Guyana.26 So were Teke-related people from north of Malebo Pool (known as Mondongo or "strangers") and possibly, as in Jamaica, Bobangi (also called Yanzi, Apfuru or Likuba) from the Ubangi and Congo Rivers; Yaka from a slave-raiding and trading state in the lower Kwango River valley; and Ambaka, Ovimbundu and Mbundu people from Angola. Mbundu were probably purchased from markets in Jinga (formerly Matamba) and Kasanje and sold through Luanda by Luso-Africans residing near an old Portuguese military post at Ambaca, while the Ovimbundu, from the Central Highland states of Bihe, Wambu (Huambo) and Mbailundu, would have been exported through Benguela, from whose baracoons the British Navy took captives to St. Helena.27
In 1913, a Guyanese Bretheren missionary in Angola mentioned having conversed in the Mbundu language with two elderly Ovimbundu women who had been captured in Bihe.28 In 1985, Mr. Carmichael of Seafield, West Coast, Berbice, a village with a Kongo majority, recalled the following Central African groups: Zombo (his grandfather’s group), Yaka, Mbomo (Mboma?), Zomo (?), and Nsundi.29 His friends, Mr. Scott and Mr. Pere also knew of the Madinga Kongo (Madinga is a distinctive Central African dance style, another word for the Jamaican ancestral rite, Kumina) and Mundela Kongo (mundela or mundele: white person. “Mundele Kong” is not a known KiKongo expression, but perhaps described Luso-Africans).30 The villagers probably had a St. Helena provenance, because these men had heard of that island but not Sierra Leone. Mrs. Mavis Morrison from Anandale, East Coast Demerara recognized “Munchundu” (Nsundi?), Yaka (“they always there, naked-skin”) and Mondongo (“strangers” from north and east of the Congo estuary). “Madongo a’ one side,” she explained, using the same description employed by Central Africans in Jamaica (“Tell Modongo to stand one side,” i.e. stay out of the dance ring). They look “just like Buck [Amerindians] . . . a red-skinned people,” Mrs. Morrison added, “but they black.” When asked about her father’s nation, she replied, “Me na know what nation is he if a Mazumba or what” (later she referred to him as Kongo).31
Immigrants, coerced or voluntary, encounter similar organizational and subsistence problems wherever they go, and as Eades found with Yoruba immigrants in northern Ghana, the "symbolically differentiated . . . interest groups," which are conventionally labelled "ethnic," are adapted to managing the distribution of power and resources in multi-ethnic milieus. Migrants competing for scarce resources thus may find associations based on common linguistic and geographical origins useful.32 Ethnic affiliation, historically based or assumed, appears to have been the most useful factor in liberated African recruitment, employment, and social, economic and political organization.
Although need undoubtedly drove liberated Africans to establish ethnic connections in Guyana, they had precedents in slave era Guyana and in Sierra Leone as well as encouragement from employers and immigration officials. As late as 1813, a variety of West Central African and West African benefit societies known as companies existed among plantation slaves in two Guyana colonies, Berbice and Demerara. Shipmates, who had “walked in the same boat” and therefore were fictive kin, probably reinforced these ethnic associations as they did in liberated African society in Sierra Leone and the Bahamas.33 Once abolition of the Atlantic slave trade severed the supply of African newcomers, the Kongo Company in Demerara and Berbice spearheaded the reorganization of ethnic welfare societies for greater pan-ethnic cooperation in providing social welfare medical care, funerals, and support of widows and orphans. Colonial authorities and slaveowners were suspicious of the goals of welfare societies, however, so the advent of Protestant sectarian missionaries such as the London Missionary Society apparently presented an opportunity for some slaves to construct a legal and therefore more effective welfare system under the protection of Christian missionaries. Friendly societies, which were reported by stipendiary magistrates in the 1840s and flourished in the 1880s, probably provided another home for the ethnic companies.34 By 1840, ethnic welfare companies were fixtures in Sierra Leone liberated African society. William Hamilton, former Regent village manager and Trinidad’s first labor recruiter in Sierra Leone, described a liberated African newcomer as “driven, absolutely driven, by the want of society and friends, to domicile with his neighbours or country people” and to join an ethnic welfare company. Thus people established national residential districts in liberated African villages and organized two types of mutual-aid society, a multi-ethnic “Big Company” comprising shipmates and a “Little Company” composed of “people of one nation exclusively.”35
Self-regulated ethnic communities provided immigrants with a collective coping mechanism that also benefited the colonial state, employers and missionary churches. In Sierra Leone, associations of Africans from contiguous countries who shared a common language and common traditions and channeled their members’ efforts towards self-improvement facilitated the recruiting activities of West Indian labor promoters. Recruiters selected interpreters and delegates from representative ethnic groups in Sierra Leone and/or Guyana. These delegates were fulcrums of the recruitment and labor-management system and without the right ethnic delegate, a European recruiter was helpless. For example, when faced with a liberated African depot full of recaptive Kongo who had heard horror stories about murder and dismemberment awaiting them in Guyana, the Guyanese planter and recruiter R. G. Butts, lacking a Kongo delegate, failed to secure any Kongo immigrants.36
Delegates tended to be young liberated African middlemen or brokers acting as clients of immigration agents or employers and as patrons of the workers they recruited. The delegates' position illustrates Barnes' description of clientilism as “a many-tiered phenomenon,” “a network of reciprocal obligations.”37 Reciprocity made for ambiguity, however, for delegates were simultaneously agents and authorized labor recruiters of a colonial immigration department, plantation foremen, private labor recruiters ("crimps") for individual employers, and headmen and representatives appointed by their own ethnic groups, villages and kin. Delegates’ compatriots expected truthful reports about Caribbean working conditions, while planters and British officials required them to act as plantation colony boosters. After learning that they were criticizing Caribbean working conditions and privately shilling for specific plantations, immigration agents screened delegates and even repatriates, but could not dispense with these linchpins of the immigration system.38
The assumed social stability associated with ethnic cohesion also served Guyanese authorities’ and employers’ goals of labor subservience and productivity. Therefore Governor Henry Light ordered immigration officials “to respect the family ties of the Africans, should any exist” when allocating immigrants to plantations. This rule applied to both voluntary Sierra Leone immigrants and recaptured Africans. The immigration register of the first Sierra Leonian immigrants identified a number of families from Freetown and the villages of Wilberforce, Gloucester, Regent, Waterloo, and Goderich, and the seven West Coast Essequibo estates and seven East Coast Demerara estates to which they were assigned.39 Recaptives from the liberated African depots were another matter, however. In the case of 402 Central Africans who arrived from St. Helena on the Lady Rowena in 1842, the Agent-General of Immigration, James Hackett, was able to carry out the instructions only “where I have been able to discover that such [families] existed.” Since these recent victims of the slave trade, many of them children, were not likely to have families, Hackett took into consideration “even mutual preferences and attachments.” Slave and immigrant shipmate ties, relationships formed in the Liberated African yard, and ethnic affinities would have figured in these preferences.40
In practice, honoring shipmate (Guyanese mati), ethnic, friendship, and family ties was incompatible with another requirement of the immigration system, equitable distribution of immigrants between the three counties of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. Although assigned initially to specific estates by the immigration office, for the first nine years of immigration, liberated Africans were not subject to indentures.41 An inadequate supply of immigrants, planter competition for labor and immigrants’ own inclinations made delegates and their compatriots, especially Kru men and Sierra Leonians, free agents. Immigrants shifted from place to place, as the perceptive immigration agent general put it, "until they meet in sufficient numbers to form a society amongst themselves."42 A plantation survey conducted in 1847 included frequent notations of “African transients” working on estates, a corresponding diminution of the number of permanent plantation residents, and the beginning of land purchases by liberated Africans. Liberated Africans manipulated ethnic networks to elicit information about employment, to sample, control and change work locations, reduce contract duration, raise wages, control labor management and secure repatriation opportunities. These strategies, together with immigrant Africans’ “rapid amalgamation with the native black population” (of whom thousands were Africans themselves), explain to a large extent the ability of Central Africans and others to establish community life in Guyana and to place their stamp on Guyanese culture. This “amalgamation”was both the choice of the immigrants and the design of the planters. Just as the planters did with new Indian immigrants, they assigned young Africans to the care and tutelage of an old African man or woman. “The pride of those old people in their charges’ progress – in the way they could say the alphabet or repeat the Lord’s Prayer – is described as touching,” Cruickshank wrote in 1919. On Rosehall estate, an old Kongo man played his drum to cheer up newcomers, and old Kongo people acted as interpreters.43
By providing liaison with employers and immigration officials, magistrates, and ministers of religion, ethnic middlemen reduced the need for coercion of laborers and implied that liberated Africans would accept European hegemony where it mattered most to Europeans, in plantation fields and sugar factories. Liberated African ethnic clustering was thus well adapted to the goals of planters, stipendiary magistrates and Christian missionaries who tried to reinforce liberated African respect for European authority, values and culture. For these Europeans, the ideal liberated African immigrant was a member of a Christian as well as an ethnic community. Immigrants themselves found Christian affiliation useful.44 As incentives to labor, planters offered ethnic self-management as well as competitive wages, housing and schools. Ethnic work crews led by their own representatives were the rule on Guyanese plantations, a system deprecated by H. von Griesheim of De Kinderen estate as “this many-headed system of inspection . . . unfortunately . . . rendered necessary by the circumstances of the times.” Labor organization was hierarchical, consisting of a European manager assisted by two field overseers and one factory overseer who supervised task overseers (for piece-work) or foremen drawn from each ethnic group who led teams of “Creoles, Barbadians, Coolies, Kroomen, Portuguese, etc.” As middlemen, these ethnic team leaders, like delegates (with whom they were often synonymous), were torn between responsibility to their countrymen-clients and their employer-patrons, however. Von Griesheim had no doubt as to whom the ethnic foremen favored, accusing them of disregarding their employers' interests and sleeping on the job.45
Planters soon demanded tougher immigration laws to stabilize the immigrant labor force. In 1848 three year voluntary indentures existed. In 1850, a one-year indenture was legislated by Ordinance 22. The Colonial Office refused to approve compulsory three-year contracts until 1854. Ordinance No. 7 of that year enforced mandatory three year contracts followed by two one year contracts for a total of a five-year industrial residence. The one-year contracts could be commuted for a fee. In 1856, taking the youth of many immigrants into account, and wishing to tie youths steadily to one employer, Ordinance 2 required immigrants under age fourteen to be indentured until age eighteen, while those over fourteen continued to work for three years as before. By 1863, indentures were extended to five years with the provision that Africans receive small allotments of land near plantations or existing Creole villages. But the new law came too late to have any significant impact, since relatively few Africans arrived between its passage and the end of African immigration in 1865.46
Liberated Africans either rented or purchased land, establishing new ethnic communities on the outskirts of plantations or in existing villages where they tended to locate in ethnic quarters. They could be found all over the coastal and riverain plantation areas. Canal No. 1, a former coffee district on the West Bank of the Demerara River, attracted a diverse group because of its relatively low land values and employment opportunities on sugar plantations nearby. By 1849, not only Central Africans but also Yoruba, Kru, Portuguese and East Indians had joined Guyanese in the purchasing or rental of farms ranging from a few to 20 acres for plantain, root crop, coffee and rice cultivation. Bagotville, a Canal No. 1 village of 3,000 founded earlier by former slaves and centered on a London Missionary Society chapel, had several hundred liberated Africans and an equal number of Portuguese.47 By 1881, forty-four Kongo people rented or owned land at Geneve estate on Canal No. 1 while working at Le Desir estate and West Coast Demerara sugar properties. As Walter Rodney vividly described, Guyana is below sea level, with massive drainage problems. The Geneve Kongo could not pay their drainage rates and lost control of Geneve, which became known as “Congo Heart Burn.”48 Kongo reputations for occult powers have survived in the Canal.49 In 1841, Angolans from Benguela brought from Brazil on the slaver Dois de Fevreiro were located on Plantation Overwinning. Before the end of the century, others must have joined them because a small Kongo community with a London Missionary Society chapel inhabited Overwinning village. The no longer-functioning plantation had been sold in small lots, purchased, perhaps, by Kongo from nearby plantations.50 Other Kongo centers existed on Wakenaam Island, Mara, Enmore, Lusignan and Annandale estates, among others.
In establishing such communities, Kongo and others built on shipmate ties. They attempted to restrict marriage to the ethnic group, but the shortage of women made this difficult. Intermarriage and cohabitation therefore occurred with Africans in general and, inevitably, with the Creole community.51 Occasionally cohabitation occurred with non-Africans. In 1847, for instance, a presumed Central African woman and Indian man from Lochaber estate, Berbice, were reported to have “two remarkably handsome and well made children.”52 As late as 1901, the Guyana Kongo still celebrated weddings on a scale large enough to attract Central African guests from a wide area and to attract journalistic attention.53
Language could be a powerful social adhesive. Generally, only older Kongo people still use the language for communication today, but KiKongo is retained for ritual use and songs. Three traditions concerning language survival operate among liberated African descendants in Guyana and the Caribbean. One is that African languages died because the original immigrants, wishing to maintain their privacy, used KiKongo or Yoruba to discuss private matters and preferred not to teach it to the younger generation, fearing that children would divulge their affairs to plantation overseers. As a result, the languages died with them. A second tradition states that favorite grandchildren learned an African language from hanging around their grandparents.54 But according to Mavis Morrison of Annandale, the daughter of the immigrant Jungu, children often jeered at adults speaking an African language, and she made nonsense sounds to indicate how meaningless the language had seemed, like Chinese to her young ears. A third tradition concerned the circulation of African language primers by itinerant traders, missionaries who had been to Africa55 or Garveyites who provided African language instruction as part of their nationalist agenda. During the 1980s, a prominent member of the Bagotville Yoruba community used to hold Yoruba language classes in the village. Clearly language retention and propagation were important to some Creole Africans, as illustrated by the existence of a handwritten KiKongo-English vocabulary. Mavis Morrison allowed me to photocopy two pages, all that remained of an original six-page lexicon which had been written years before by a friend of hers from Mahaica. Since the wordlist is merely a fragment of the original lexicon no attempt has been made to draw conclusions concerning the selection or the inclusion of invented words. Although some of the words appear to be made up, Professor Wyatt MacGaffey identified the vocabulary as “mostly . . . good KiKongo words with more or less correct meanings.” The vocabulary appears to be a dialect of the Ngoyo area on the north bank of the Congo River, possibly from Boma, a leading mid-nineteenth century slave exporting center and the de facto capital of Ngoyo.56
A Kongo-Guyanese Word List
Compiled by a Guyanese Kongo Descendanti MacGaffey Translationii
African English Meaning
Zam-bee 1 Almighty God Nzambi God
Mi-am-beh 2 Son & Spirit ?
Moh-lundeh 3 Church ?
Gambia 4 Church ?
Con-ga-long-Goon-ga 5 Church Kongo dia Ngunga Name for Mbanza Kongo.
Most writers assume that
ngunga means bell, as in church bell, hence “Kongo
of the (church) bell,” from
the large number of Kongo churches. MacGaffey considers this “probably a “missionary
fantasy” and suggests, instead, “the original (Mbanza) Kongo. ngunga = taproot.” But see no. 29 below.
Zam-bee in Gambia 6 God in Church or house ?
Mo-an-na 7 child \ young mwana child, person
Put-too 8 People / people mputu pauperiii
Pum-beh 9 Praise ?
Condam-buah 10 Dog “nkondi a mbwa nkondi in form of dog,
which some were.”iv
List Compiled by a Guyanese Kongo Descendant MacGaffey Translation
African English Meaning
Yuh-diam 11 House ?
Sangah 12 Smoke ?
Tuyah 13 Match tiya fire
Lakah 14 Light nlaku flame
Gun-deh 15 Leppa (Leper?) ?
Me-an-eh 16 breast [ma-]bene breast
Neng-uah 17 Blood memga blood
Lun gah 18 Gold lunga bracelet
Bee-zee 19 salt mbizi meat, fish
Mungah 20 Fish mungwa salt
Beezee-mungah 21 Saltfish mbizi a mungwa salt fish
Chenga 22 Cane cenga [chenga] sugar cane
Swick-e-dee 23 sugar sukadi (Fr. Sucre) sugar
Swick-e-dee mochenga 24 sugar cane
Fam-what 25 Deft (deaf?) fwa matu to be deaf
Zun-doh 26 Invalid ?
Zowah 27 stupid zowa to be stupid
Quenda 28 come & go kwenda to go
Gungah 29 Bell ngunga bell
Ca-lan-go 30 Calling & ringing ?
To wee-dee-weh 31 Stop – finish – Done ?
Vundeh 32 Kill vonda to kill
Moon-del-leh 33 European or White People mundele white person
Doon-doo 34 Coulard (coloured) people ndundu albino
Yal-la 35 Red ?
Ki Vulla 36 Rain mvula rain
Ma-zah 37 Water maza water
Kung-ah 38 Song nkunga song, music
Bunga 39 Bring out or raise ?bonga to take, pick up
Gangoo 40 Sense nganguv intelligence
Sum-bee 41 send ?
D. Kan-da 42 Letter kanda letter, book
D. A. (?) 43 A Friend ?
Co-leh-leh (?) 44 soldier ?kolele how are you?
Pwantee 45 Police ?
i. Collected from Mrs. Mavis Morrison, Annandale, East Coast Demerara, in 1985, and reproduced as closely as possible to the original, including the styyle of numbering.
ii. My thanks to Wyatt MacGaffey for translation and notes supplied September 26, 28, 1999.
iii. See MacGaffey, Religion and Society, p. 62 for Mputu as a short form of Mputulekeezo, meaning Portuguese.
iv. Nkondi: name for a type of Kongo nkisi or charm shaped most often as a terrifying human but also as a dog or leopard and used to seal agreements and hunt witches and evildoers. See Wyatt MacGaffey, translator and editor, Art and Healing of the Bakongo (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), pp. 121-122.
v. See below where Mr. Carmichael’s tale of enslavement involves the collusion of slave buyers with a “sense man.”
Immigrants retained African personal names for use among themselves, while also adopting the names of estates, their managers or owners.57 Thus Jungu took Elliot, the surname of the Ogle estate manager, as his first name, and Smith as his surname, because the manager did not want them to share a surname. Later, Jungu decided: “This na’ correspond,” and he reversed the order of the names. Mrs. Morrison herself had four names: Miriam, Mavis, Mary-Anne, and Mamatch, or “last born,” the name by which she was known most of her life. Her siblings were Mutshi (the first born), Eliega (?), Lydia, Theodore, Muda, and Aladi.
A selection of West Central African immigrant names follows, with those printed in bold type discussed below. Starting in the sixteenth century, most Kongo people and some non-Christians in Angola had saints’ names. Double and single Christian names were found among both elite and commoner Mbundu in Angola. Thus it is not surprising that two men from the slaver Libessu who traveled on the Arabian-IX in 1848 had Christian names: John Francisco and Antonio. “John” may have been a clerk’s translation of the Portuguese Joao. Francisco was a common Portuguese Christian (i.e. first) name but not a standard Portuguese surname. Six men from the David Malcolm who died at sea had African second names and with the exception of Napoleon Kaboongoo (Napoleon being an unsurprising choice for a man stationed on the island where Napoleon Bonaparte died), English first names -- James Boomgah, Felix Mocaoomb, Saul Chumboo, Archibald Wangie, and Festus Fungee. The African second names are probably not family surnames but appellations chosen to demonstrate a particular descent pattern. The English names probably resulted from a longer than usual residence in St. Helena, the men having left in mid-1862, only three years before the last recaptives went to Guyana. Two men from the Malaga who sailed on Arabian-IX had names with a religious association -- Zambee (Nzambi, God) and Gangar (Nganga, priest). Endokee (Ndoki, witch) a man from the St. Helena ship Dominick Daly, suggests a victim of a witchcraft accusation who was using the name either ironically or defiantly.58
SELECTED CENTRAL AFRICAN IMMIGRANTS’ NAMES
FROM SIERRA LEONE59
Roger Stewart-I, 13 Oct. - 17 Dec. 1844
**Cabondoo (M; Angola,)
Roger Stewart-III, 18 Aug. – 19 Sep. 1845 (from Unknown Brigantine, May 1845)
*Mareambar (M 31 yrs)
*Marbango (M 26 yrs)
*Vengoo (M 27 yrs)
*Fartartar (M 11 yrs)
*Lembar (F 23 yrs)
Rufus, 13 Sep. - 13 Nov. 1845
Arabian IX, 23 Feb-18 Mar. 1848 (from Brazilian Graça Aug. 1847, Libessu, Oct. 1847 & Malaga Dec. 1847)
*Yeday (M 21 yrs)
*Arbackeh (F 18 yrs)
*Kangar (M 19 yrs)
*Carzangar (M 24 yrs)
*John Francisco (M 24 yrs)
*Antonio (M 22 yrs)
*Maryaingee (M ?)
*Zambee (M 26 yrs)
*Gangar (M 26 yrs)
*Zingar (M 27 yrs)
*Cabongo (M 26 yrs)
*Pollah (F 14 yrs)
*Mazekah (F 14 yrs)
Helena, 30 Mar. -18 Apr. 1848 (from Brazilian Graça Aug. 1847, Libessu, Oct. 1847 & Malaga Dec. 1847)
*Hannoo (F 25 yrs)
*Marworah (F 19 yrs)
*Ambah (F 9 yrs)
*Carpalay (M 20 yrs)
*Swow (M 13 yrs)
*Ketutee (10 yrs)
*Katriuna (F 17 yrs)
*Caryougo (F 8 yrs)
*Gomar (M 10 yrs)
*Panzu (M 10 yrs)
*Bandoo (M 8 yrs)
*Mafullah (M 8 yrs)
*Simbah (M 9 yrs)
*Pembah (F 20)
*Atusabbah (F 13 yrs)
Una, 11 Apr. - 5 May 1848 (from Brazilian Graça Aug. 1847, Libessu, Oct. 1847 & Malaga Dec. 1847)
*Arqueh (8 yrs)
*Arqudah (M 12 yrs)
*Arbackeh (F 18 yrs)
*Obo (F 17 yrs)
*Annarcocah (F 10 yrs)
*Nesevee (F 10 yrs)
*Nyoh (F 9 yrs)
*Marhaccalur (F 20 yrs)
*Tonyeh (M 12 yrs)
*Beelar (M7 yrs)
*Sambah (M 14 yrs)
Mayaller (M 7 yrs)
*Oombah (F 23 yrs)
FROM ST. HELENA60
Hamilla Mitchell, 29 Jul-26 Aug. 1856
Dominick Daly, 29 Mar.-21 Apr. 1858
**Labella (M 23 yrs.)
**Kingkala (M 22 yrs)
**Coossoo (F 12 yrs)
**Pembar (F 15 yrs)
**Pembalala (M 13 yrs)
David Malcolm, 26 June-5 Aug. 1862
**Meather Coaah (F 12 yrs)
**James Boomgah (M 20 yrs)
**Felix Mocaoomb (M 14 yrs)
**Saul Chumboo (M 14 yrs)
**Archibald Wangie (M 20)
**Napoleon Kaboongoo (M 16 yrs)
**Festus Fungee (M 20 yrs)
Reward, 16 Sep. - 20 Oct. 1863
* Names marked with one asterisk represent a random portion of recaptives in the Sierra Leone Liberated African Register who emigrated to Demerara or Berbice. F = female, M = male.
**Names of deceased people from ship surgeons’ lists.
***Names published by Cruickshank, the Guyana government archivist, in 1919.