Review: Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage, by Sowande' M. Mustakeem

Review: Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the Middle Passage, by Sowande' M. Mustakeem
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at The Black Scholar  Journal of Black Studies and Research ISSN: 0006-4246 (Print) 2162-5387 (Online) Journal homepage: Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in theMiddle Passage, by Sowande’ M. Mustakeem Lewis B.H. Eliot To cite this article:  Lewis B.H. Eliot (2018) Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness inthe Middle Passage, by Sowande’ M. Mustakeem, The Black Scholar, 48:2, 77-79, DOI:10.1080/00064246.2018.1435145 To link to this article: Published online: 23 Apr 2018.Submit your article to this journal Article views: 94View related articles View Crossmark data  Courtney Pierre Cain  is an Assistant Professor of History and African American Studies at LakeForest College. She teaches classes on African American history, the African diaspora, and thehistory of hip hop. She is currently working on a book manuscript that will focus on theHaitian diaspora in Chicago. Slavery at Sea: Terror, Sex, and Sickness in theMiddle Passage , by Sowande ’  M. Mustakeem.Urbana-Champaign: University of IllinoisPress, 2016. $95, cloth; $24.95, paperback.262 pages.Reviewed by Lewis B.H. Eliot  Sowande ’  Mustakeem ’ s  Slavery at Sea:Terror, Sex, and Sickness in the MiddlePassage providesanovelanalysisofthetrans-formative nature of slaves ’  transatlantic cross-ing. Mustakeem uncovers the  “ unpredictableand often dangerous environments that slaves and sailors confronted, ”  while addres-sing the scarcity of slave studies that examine age,gender,and valueofbondspeo-ple, particularly women (3). By concentratingon sex, illness, death, and the body, Musta-keem investigates the Atlantic Ocean ’ s rolein defining power and agency in the MiddlePassage. Mustakeem ultimately argues that  “ the Middle Passage comprised a violentlyunregulated process critically foundationalto the institution of bondage that interlinkedslaving voyages and plantation societies ”  (3).The author concentrates on three groups:sailors, ship surgeons, and the enslaved pas-sengers themselves — making use of diaries,ship ’ s logs and manifests, private correspon-dence, medical records and mortality lists,and financial accounts. Commendably, Mus-takeemoffersgreatinsightintotheexperienceof maritime bondage through reading against thesesourcestorecreateslaves ’ bodieswithinthetexts.Thebook ’ schapterscombinetoelu-cidate the author ’ s unifying theme, the trans-formation of bondspeople into tools of plantation labor, through what she terms “ human manufacture ”  (6).Mustakeem arranges her seven chaptersthematically, each pivoting around a facet of the body. This innovative organization pro-vides readers a rich examination of slavetrading in the Atlantic World that capturesboth the localized impact of enslavement onthe body and provides a broader analysis of power dynamics in the Middle Passage. Herfirst chapter looks at   “ the outstretched handsof the historically invisible ”  and examinesthe srcins of racial and cultural bias by con-sidering initial enslavement in Africa. Musta-keem suggests that the reality of slaves andcapital passing between the hands of coastalwhite slavers and their Black agents in thecontinental interior needs acknowledgement.Chapter2exploresthefinancialmeasurement ofAfricanslavesbyexaminingwhiteattitudesto age, gender, and health, symbolized inslavers ’  fixations on men ’ s chests, women ’ sbreasts, and genitalia. Chapter 3 concentrates Book Reviews 77  on bondspeople ’ s maritime experience, inparticular diet and the lack of cleanlinessaboard, with particular attention to externalbodies that threatened those enslaved — vermin, bacteria, and infection.While the first three chapters concentrateon white power over Black bodies, thefollowing three examine modes of Blackresistance. Mustakeen ’ s fourth chapterexplores the struggle between sailors andbondspeople. Here the author concentrateson poisoning, sexual terror, forced abortions,and infanticide — modes of conflict morecommon among female captives, here repre-senting women ’ s hips and thighs and byextension female gynecological power.Chapter 5 focuses on occurrences of suicide — self-destruction of the body — as a mannerof defiance. Mustakeem associates this withthe head, as illustrative of the psychologicalimpact of slaves ’  transition from human totool of labor. This leads to her sixth chapteron the relationship between that psychologi-cal toll and slaves ’  increased vulnerability todisease and, of course, death and sailors ’ and surgeons ’  concerted effort to prevent fatalities to protect their cargo. Mustakeemhere makes connections between theseefforts to keep slaves alive to shins, knees,and calves — body parts considered important for profit. Treatment for apoplexy, a commonailment aboard slave ships, for example, wasfocused on slaves ’  legs (139). The author ’ sfinal chapter considers slaves ’  arrival in theAmericas and their final sale for plantationlabor, arguing that the experience of theMiddle Passage resulted in bondspeoplearriving preconditioned for life in the Ameri-cas. Rather than focus on a specific bodypart, in this chapter Mustakeem studies  “ thecomplicated terrain of age, sickness, physicaldisabilities, as well as psychological traumas ” and their effects on slaves as commodities inthe New World (157).The author is strongest when noting thegendered experience of the Middle Passage.Female slaves were judged  “ according totheir reproductive value ”  throughout theprocess of human manufacture. This was,however, coupled with the persistent threatsof venereal disease — often through rape — that resulted in gynecological examinationsbecoming a fundamental aspect of thefemale Middle Passage (145). Mustakeem islikewise convincing when exploring femalerebellion against these transformative experi-ences,throughanalysisofinfanticide,poison-ing, and suicide.Mustakeem ’ s study of whites ’  assessmentsof profitability, attitudes toward Africanbodies,andtheprocessofthedeliberatedehu-manization of slaves as the ships crossed theAtlantic Ocean also merits praise. By analyz-ing the purposefully transformative realities of the Middle Passage, Mustakeem sheds light on the physical and psychological state of bondspeople upon arrival in the Americas.This is only possible, according to the author,by departing from analyses that assume themasculinity and healthiness of slaves. Musta-keem argues that   “ the wounds of seabornetransport and traumatically aggressive market behaviors ”  were hugely influential factors indefining the nature of New World plantationsocieties (181).Mustakeem also provides unorthodoxangles of investigation with regards to resist-ance, making connections between thehorrorsoftheMiddlePassageandthepossibi-lities of confrontation at sea. By highlighting  T  B S  •  Volume 48  •  Number 2  •  Summer 2018 78  resistance as aspecific reaction to the processof manufacture, the author underlines juxta-positions in the private and public spaces onboard. Public resistance, for example jumping overboard, and more private rejec-tions of slavery, including hunger strikingand refusal of medical attention, combinedto significantly weaken the social controlupon which ships ’  crews were dependent (129 – 130). In response to these acts of resist-ance, Mustakeem notes that   “ toxicitybecame a relentless thread of power, depri-vation, and social control ”  for the enslavers,evident in the  “ meager diets, violent manage-ment, and oceanic isolation ”  employed bycrews (75).There are, however, two issues with thework.AnalysisofFrench,Spanish,Portuguese,and other European slave traders ’  practices,and those of other areas of Africa, wouldhave been welcome. Mustakeem does arguethat   “ when carefully read through the lens of terror … parallels persist  ”  between Anglo-phone and Iberian slave trading (9). Theauthor fails, however, to present evidence tothis end, simply suggesting that by viewingthe Atlantic waterways of the Middle Passageas  “ seminal spaces ”  the connections are clear(10). Additionally, more scrutiny of the initialstages of enslavement  — in Africa itself  — would have provided a more detailedpicture. Ultimately, these are only minorissues in an important book.  Slavery at Sea should be considered for every course list that relates to slave trading and bondage inthe Atlantic World. Likewise, scholars of raceand gender should endeavor to procure acopy. Lewis B.H. Eliot  is aPhDCandidate inHistory and PresidentialFellow atthe University of SouthCarolina.HeholdsanMAinHistoryfromQueen ’ sUniversity,Belfast(2013)andaBAinHistoryand Ethnomusicology from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London(2012). His research focuses on Black reactions to white abolitionist ideology in the Britishand Spanish West Indies during the mid-nineteenth century. Book Reviews 79
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