Collective memory is a dynamic topic that can be discussed through a number of disciplines. In my paper I will attempt to dissect this subject of collective memory as clear and consisely as possible through the exploration of narratives, novels, music, poetry and history. Collective memory is defined as the breadth of procedural knowledge the community acquires through experience when interacting with each other and the world. Research in collective memory is a relatively new area capturing the interest of scholars in social psychology, memory, sociology, and anthropology — that our own memories are not entirely personal.
The core idea is that collective attitudes and behaviors are created and shared through common experiences and communication among a group of people. Sometimes we are confronted with memory criticism. What is meant by memory criticism is simply close readings that people do, people coming from a number of different disciplines, when we look at sites of remembrance. This could be texts, movies, monuments, ceremonies, rituals, cemeteries, anything which marks memory. What is meant by we, is a little more complicated.
We all come from different intellectual traditions, we use different analytical tools, maybe we should know what we are doing and why, when we critically approach how the past is dealt with. So there is that agenda. But the more I think about it, the more I really want to speak about the collective we, occasionally, or often, attending to the past, or to remembrance. In an ad in Harpers magazine, for Zeiss binoculars (that’s a German company), their quality was attested to by the fact that these binoculars were regularly used by the border guards at the Wall in Berlin and look at how successfully they caught so many people.
Now, it is very difficult to define what got broken here. But it’s a similar idea, I think, to what is behind people’s opposition to Disney doing exhibits about slavery in theme parks. A place where dreams come true, has the audacity to display Pirates of the Carribean. It represents an important but nasty and wicked era in history, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Solutions are tried in various types of mixtures of forgiving and forgetting and remembering and recording and just closing chapters. Disney attempted to be politically correct by excluding the black presence in this exhibit.
Which I feel is a mockery and misrepresentation of history. We need sacred memory–that somehow it’s very important that we have it. So the common lay person can see this insult committed by Disney. One needs to acknowledge that for some people, memory is sacred and they will kill in the name of memory and they will do all kinds of things. Whereas for other people, it holds almost no importance. So the argument is simply to recognize that memory will matter differently to different people, but not to ignore the fact that it can have a lot of power, motivating action.
Culturally narratives help to organize a set of differing historical experiences and render those experiences more broadly noticed. That is, the narrative itself becomes a vehicle for exchanging ideas, feelings and attitudes about differing historical experiences across and within existing generations. Among the distinguishing features of collective or cultural memory are its construction by a national or social group, its social quality, its indirect and sometimes contradictory to official histories, and its interest in appropriating the past into a contemporary dynamic of power, identity formation or determination of cultural norms.
Its documents can be as diverse as acts of commemoration and monuments, memoirs, novels and films, works of art, jokes, children’s textbooks, written or filmed testimony relating to a particular cultural event or era. In this paper I will explore cultural memory as it informs narratives, novels, and poetry. For example, Equianos Interesting Narratives, Thought and Sentiments of the Evils of Slavery by Ottobah Cugoano, and the film Amistad are works that help catalyzed the abolition of slavery.
Equiano (Guatavas Vassa) and Ottobah Cugoano (John Stewart) were ex-slaves who gained their freedom and were educated enough to articulate their collective memory of the middle passage and evils of slavery. Cugoano and Equiano were among the ranks and files of the British anti-slavery movement. Their contributions were in terms propaganda as well as the moral arguements against the slave trade and the enslavement of man. These books published in 1787 and 1789 complemented each other and arrived on the English scene at the same time of the formation of the British Anti-Slavery Society.
And as the campaign for abolition intensifying within the British Parliament and having influence on British public opinion. These men assisted William Wilberforce, a wealthy politician and chief parliamentary spokesman for the abolitionist. With Cugoano and Equianos narratives and testimonies Wilberforce started a series of parliamentary inquiries that brought out the horrors of the middle passage. After years of debate, the Commons decided to end the British slave trade on March 1,1808. Joseph Cinques story is about the first revolt recorded that he lead in 1839 aboard the Spanish vessel the L Amistad.
Most of the slaves were bound for the Cuban port of Guanaja from Havana. When the vessel approached the United States it was impounded and the slaves were kept in custody. But John Quincy Adams, prominent lawyer and statesman, took up thier case and by 1841 the United States Supreme court was able to rule that the Africans had been illegally imported to Cuba so the Spanish government could not claim them.. This decision eventually sparked the United States Civil war and the demise of slavery in the United States.
Here are a few additional examples of personal collective memory through narratives. LAST WEEK, I recounted some aspects of freed Americans in America during the period from 1619 to 1665. Up to now, all emphasis has been on the pain and suffering of Africans, both during the transportation and the ensuing brutality of slavery in the Colonies. This is proper and must be recorded. The subject of slavery generates a lot of interest and controversy; obviously, the subject of slavery is now directly tied to demands for civil rights.
I point this out because I lived a large part of my life prior to the Rights Movement of the Sixties. in Chicago, where I attended school, the subject of slavery was taught in both elementary and high school; in addition to classroom studies, there were Negro History Clubs that provided more information. Looking back, I can see where the real pain and indignity of slavery was glossed over. There was more emphasis on achievements after slavery and contributions we made in the North. Though I left my birthplace, Beaumont, Texas, at an early age; I did visit every summer until I became a teen-ager.
I mention this because I was fortunate enough to know both of my grandmothers who were only two generations away from slavery. Yet, they never discussed slavery with me or in my presence. Perhaps they thought I was too young for this kind of conversation; they did talk about the Klu Klux Klan and mean-spirited and cheap employers. They also talked about harsh vagrancy laws imposed on black citizens. All of the women worked as domestics and the men worked in the shipyards or the refineries. Perhaps these pre-WWII citizens had already put slavery behind them and were looking to the future.
But slavery did exist as it has always from the beginning of civilization. Africa was no exception, where slavery existed long before the Europeans became involved in the 15th century. There was a difference in the African slave trade; all of the slaves were taken from the West coast of Africa and transported thounsands of miles to North and South American colonies to provide cheap labor for plantation owners, for the rest of their lives. In the beginning, Africans were first taken to Spain and later to South America and the Carribbean.
Eventually, many of these slaves were traded to the American colonies. America began its slave trade with Europeans, who signed on as indentured servants, to be released after a period of servitude. Not applicable to Africans. There is no instance on record of a white slave, but All Africans eventually became slaves for life. ‘First Leg-Voyage to Africa,’ the passage reads: ‘A typical slave ship leaving New England for Africa in the 18th century carried a cargo mainly of rum and small amounts of tobacco, muskets, soap, flour, and other items.
A slaver out of Liverpool generally carried textiles, metalware, firearms and gunpowder, wool and cotton cloth, fine linens of all colors and patterns, knives, beads, jewelry, brandy, rum, and other goods. The destination for both vessels was typically the Guinea slave coast of West Africa, between the Senegal and Congo Rivers. Here regions called Loango, Gumbin, the Gold Coast, Goree, Whydah, Calibar, Bonny, and Dahomey provided slave labor to the rest of the world for the nearly four hundred years of the Atlantic slave trade.
Once in West Africa, slaves could be obtained in two ways. The Europeans built forts, also called slave factories, along the coast early in the trade. Here, a factor, who was a representative of a particular country or company, would negotiate with the local African kings and slave traders To supply slaves at a n agreed upon price. The above narrative validifies the stanza in Lorna Goodisons For Rosa Parks; But the people had walked before in yoked formations down to Calabar, into the belly of close-ribbed whales, sealed for seasons. Testimony of William James, Sea Captain:
The Black Traders of Bonny and Calabar, who are very expert at reckoning and talking the difference languages of their own country and those of the Europeans; come down about once a Fortnight with slaves; Thursday or Friday is generally their trading day. Twenty or Thirty canoes, sometimes more and sometimes less, come down at a time. In each canoe may be twenty or thirty slaves. The arms of some of them are tied behind their backs with twigs, canes, grass rope, or other ligments of the country; and if they happen to be stronger than common, they are pinioned above the knee also.
In this situation they are thrown into the bottom of the canoe, where they lie in great pain, and often covered with water. On their landing, they are taken to the Traders Houses, where they are oiled, fed, and made up for sale. ‘From these reports Africans caught up in being sold or traded; began their ordeal even before entering the death ships. African chiefs and traders have never been brought to task, by African slaves and their descendants. African slaves became slaves in Africa, and thus the ordeal began.
On one hand, however, such shared notions are inherently selective and, consequently, inherently exclusionary of actual events, ideas, and memories of sets of persons who do not easily fit the alleged mainstream narrative of “who we were. ” Minorities and the poor have, historically, been rendered invisible by many familiar narratives of the past. In this sense, collective memory also forms certain ideas that are beneficial to a particular group of people are naturalized as the ways things ought to be (and have always been).
This particular piece of collective memory is evidence of the misconception of the African slave traders role in the slave trade. Although there was great African slave trading dynasties. Chattel slavery was not practiced among African societies. Slavery in African communities was more like indentured servitude. They were considered part of the family. In Chinua Achebes novel Things Fall Apart, Ikemefuna, a servant of Umuofia called Okonkwo, a village representative, father. In fact they grew fond of each other, more so than their natural family.
Additionally African rulers did attempt to stop trade with the Europeans such as Queen Nzinga Mbande known as the unconquerableof the Matamba Congo region. She fought off the Spanish from 1620 to approximately the 1660’s. In 1938 James completed the manuscript of his most important work, The Black Jacobins. To a Euro-American audience still in serious denial about the reality of slavery, James graphically revealed the brutality inflicted by nascent capitalism. The Black Jacobins also refuted much of the mythology surrounding racial inferiority being debated – from eugenics to fascism – by that same Euro-American audience.
James showed how even in the most degraded circumstances, slave society had cultivated a leadership that included such figures as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. Toussaint LOuveture,once a grunt in Boukmans army rose to prominence and served in the Jacobin army in 1795 during the bloody French revolution. Haitian independence became possible in May 1795 when Toussaint betrayed his Spanish allies and offered his service to the French.
Two of his lieutenants, Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe distinguished themselves during these campaigns and later succeeded him as rulers of Haiti. They gained control by betraying their mentor and setting him up to be seized aboard a vessel and taken to France where he died in a dungeon on April 7,1803. Practitioners of the voodoo religion believed Toussaint was the reborn Mackandal, the original revolutionary. Who was burned at the stake for plotting a slave rebellion to poison the water supply. The believed Mackandal transformed into a mosquito.
This was their rationale for the high death rate of the Europeans due to malaria and yellow fever. On the other hand, such shared notions often form the fabric of our beliefs about ourselves as a collective society — about our past, our goals, our ideals, and our future. In this sense, collective memory can be seen as fundamental to national identity and unity. Jamaican pop culture, especially its music, spread around the world. Mass media have aided this boom, allowing, for example, reggae’s Bob Marley to become an international hero by the time of his death in 1981.
Jamaican migration to England and, later, to the U. S. and Canada during the island’s independence era in the early 1960s had also broadened popular knowledge of its people and their society. Cooper identifies elements of the deeply expressive language she calls Jamaican that incorporates African-derived words and grammar and in which proverbs play a powerful, semantic role. For Cooper, Bennett’s “performance poetry” represents one end of the spectrum of Jamaica’s mostly unwritten “oral literature,” whose listeners understand its rhymes and identify with its central themes.
Among them: the struggle for survival in the face of economic hardship, the battle of the sexes, and the ongoing search for a national cultural identity. At the other end of this oral-literary spectrum, Cooper scrutinizes the lyrics of today’s “dance hall” singer-DJs, purveyors of the thunderous, post-reggae music that has become the leading sound in Jamaican clubs and a major pop music export. Dance hall is marked by a beat as insistent as that of American gangsta rap; for the most part, it is similarly devoid of melody.
Indeed,” Cooper writes, “music is far less important than lyrics in this genre” that attracts hordes of fans to all-night jams. But within the “space” of the dance hall concert, the boasting of charismatic singer-DJs like Shabba Ranks, Yellowman, or Josey Wales reigns supreme. Whereas reggae performers like Bob Marley or the late Peter Tosh often sang with idealism about political themes, dance hall DJs celebrate an unabashedly crude culture of “slackness. ” “Slackness is a metaphorical revolt against law and order, an undermining of consensual standards of decency,” Cooper explains.
It is the antithesis of Culture. ” As dance hall aficionados know, this music provides an anything-goes forum for its mostly male stars to brag about their sexual prowess, denigrate women, revile homosexuals, and indulge in tedious macho posing. Acknowledging that “One culture’s ‘knowledge’ is another’s ‘noise,'” Cooper explains the cultural-historical sources of the dance hall phenomenon (including its devotees’ exposure to grade-B shoot-’em-ups that movie distributors routinely dump on “lesser” overseas markets like Jamaica’s).
But don’t look to these essays to make critical (that is to say, moral) judgments about the dance hall’s messages, or aesthetic (that is to say, evaluative) judgments about its quality as music. Instead, Cooper focuses on “deconstructing” her various subject “texts,” not on assessing their artistic value. Noises in the Blood also looks at the dub poetry of such writer-performers as Jean Binta Breeze, Mikey Smith, and Mutabaruka. This “performance poetry,” she says, “is a return to the roots of language in oracy” that falls flat on the printed page.
Its full impact depends on the personal charisma and interpretive skills of its performers as they incorporate traditional lore from African and Jamaican sources, folk sayings, and proverbs into texts that address familiar, contemporary issues. With its history of slavery and colonial rule, its ethnic mix, and its fiercely independent spirit, Jamaica is a microcosm of the multicultural energies from which nation-states of the post-colonial Caribbean were born.
And as Cooper notes, even as tiny, “marginal,” post-independence Jamaica still strives to define its national identity, its culture’s reach far beyond its island borders helps turn history “upside-down as the ‘margins’ move to the ‘center’ and irreparably dislocate that center. ” With Noises in the Blood and Cooper’s ongoing analysis of indigenous Caribbean cultural forms, the work of artists like Bennett, Marley, the dub poets, and the dance hall DJs have found an intelligent, determined custodian. For Cooper rescues the heretofore neglected folklore, proverbs, music, poetry, and songs that have followed in colonization’s wake.
They are the vibrant, provocative products of a dynamic, new “New World” culture that is shaking up that of the “Old. ” Lyrics of rap artist Mos Def,Speech is my hammer, bang the world into shape. Here Mos Def recognizes the power of the tools of collective memory and orality. What is gonna happen to hip-hop? Ill tell you whats gonna happen to hip-hop. Whats gonna happen to hip hop is what ever happens to us. Mos Def continues, people talk about hip hop like it is some giant on the hillside, coming down to visit the people…. we are hip hop… next time you ask where is hip hop going … ask yourself how am I doing… ere am I going. With this verse Mos Def is describing how the art of rap reflects the lifestyles and struggle of day to day life. As in the poetic style of Lorna Goodison, who concerns herself with the business of daily living; ordinary lives grounded in human experience become high drama in her visionary world. A master of artfully recollecting memory is Tupac Shakur. Profound lyricist, writer and actor who touched a rising generation of violence. Through his lyrics lived the voice of the young people in the ghetto dealing with poverty and injustices. Can You See the Pride In the Panther Can You See the Pride In the Panther
Topling obstacles placed in the way, Can You See the Pride In the Panther of the fact that it is planted in stone. Can You See the Pride In the Panthers This poem manifests his responsibility to be the voice of the young black inner city male/female. He was born into poverty and hard times but through the strength of his upbringing and his mothers ties with the Black Panther Party he lead a generation through the struggle for acceptance and understanding. Today is filled with anger, fueled with hidden hate. Scared of being outkast, afraid of common fate. Today is built on tragedies which no one want’s to face.
Nightmares to humanity and morally disgraced. Tonight is filled with Rage, violence in the air. Children bred with ruthlessness cause no one at home cares. Tonight I lay my head down but the pressure never stops, knowing that my sanity content when I’m dropped. But tomorrow I see change, a chance to build a new, build on spirit intent of heart and ideas based on truth. Tomorrow I wake with second wind and strong because of pride. I know I fought with all my heart to keep the dream alive. In this poem Tupac is the voice that shares to vulnerable and insecurities of the people of his generation.
I have come 2 grips with the possibility and wiped the last tear from My eyes Recollecting the events of his life, Tupac prophesied his death. Rather or not it was a principle or not is up to the reader. One might say yes, he did die for what he believed in and the lifestyle he lived. Another could say we lost a revolutionary due to foolishness of Thug Life. I have in the best of my ability delved into the topic of collective memory and how it is inter-twined with orality and literacy through the use of narratives, novels, music, history, and poetry.