New Slavery after Beloved 2012 Conference in Nantes, France
Iyunolu Osagie, Associate Professor of English, Penn State University Park Campus (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Spirit of the Amistad: Women and Resistance in Barbara Chase-Riboud’s Echo of Lions
In the novels of Barbara Chase-Riboud, scholars encounter an author’s attempt not only to remember history but also to revise history. In Echo of Lions (1989) published shortly after Morrison’s Beloved in particular, Chase-Riboud takes the story of the Amistad, a story that is largely about a group of male slaves who revolted at sea and eventually won their right to freedom, and makes it into a story that temporizes on the role of women in the Middle Passage and their resilience in captivity. Chase-Riboud suffuses her narrative with significant female characters, both fictional and historical, and in this way she makes the space of domesticity that these women mostly occupy an important part of the public space of politics—an essentially masculinized space. Chase-Riboud uses the politics of home, the politics of the body, and the politics of nation to suggest that the imperceptible role that women played in the Middle Passage in particular and in history generally is merely so because of the patriarchal angle from which history has been told. She makes it clear in the novel that without the significant contributions of women, black and white women, in resisting patriarchal domination that is complicated by racial hierarchies, slavery as a whole might have persisted much longer than it did. In using fictional characters like Bayeh Bia and Vivian Braithwaite to demonstrate both the spirit of resistance and the nurturing will to urge black men to continue the struggle against white domination, Chase-Riboud memorializes a history of insurgency that is often relegated to the footnote of history. Chase-Riboud’s egalitarian narrative, in which the domestic space is also a space of warfare, is very much evident in her sculpting career as well. In her sculptures, she often signifies her belief in the androgynous, the concept of sexual parity, thus rejecting the history of exploitation so resonant in her African American world. The same investment is located in her literary work, Echo of Lions. She enacts a narrative of resistance that portrays the Amistad story as an emblem of the lofty ideals of the human spirit.