Thesis ID: CBB070768129

Jumping Overboard: Examining Suicide, Resistance, and West African Cosmologies during the Middle Passage (2018)


This dissertation examines slave ship mortality, slave ship suicides, and resistance through the lens of traditional West and West Central African cosmologies. The results offer an alternative analysis of suicide by drowning as a form of resistance during the Transatlantic Slave Trade. The cases examined in this study recount the testimonies of slave ship captains, surgeons, crewmembers, and linguists who travelled onboard slave ships in the Middle Passage and subsequently documented their experiences. This study proposes that the slave ship engendered a new spatial phenomenon for many enslaved West and West Central African people. Interpreted through this lens, these sources offer evidence that the cosmologies of these enslaved people, in the context of the torturous experiences on slaving vessels, encouraged self-destruction as one of many forms of resistance and one that offered the prospect of a spiritual return back to Africa. The evidence from the cases reveal at least three overlapping practical concepts that informed captives’ decisions to leap overboard: agency, martyrdom, and transmigration. I analyze these cases through the lens of traditional West and Central West African cosmologies, utilizing Africana Critical Theory and slave suicide ecology to develop a critical frame for understanding what motivated suicides by drowning. In doing so, I arrive at an alternative interpretation of these events that resists the implicitly White Supremecist framing found in many earlier historical accounts.

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Authors & Contributors
Orchiston, Wayne
Gudmestad, Robert H.
Carteret, Xavier
Murphy, Kathleen S.
Newton, Joshua D.
Sturgess, Gary L.
Journal of Black Studies
Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
William and Mary Quarterly
Journal for Maritime Research: Britian, the Sea and Global History
Mariner's Mirror
University of Chicago Press
Louisiana State University Press
Palgrave Macmillan
McMaster University (Canada)
Indiana University Press
Slavery and slaves
Traditional knowledge
Indigenous peoples; indigeneity
Ships and shipbuilding
Adanson, Michel
Petiver, James
MacQueen, James
Mabel Cook Cole
Columbus, Christopher
Barba, Alvaro Alonso
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century
20th century, early
West Africa
Great Britain
Islands of the Pacific
Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe of Oklahoma
United States
Great Britain. Royal Navy

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