Persisting connections

In today’s post on African indigenous languages, I will look again at translatlantic connections. It is not only the Portuguese who have left their imprint across the globe from the first wave of globalisation onwards, which started when they landed on the shores of the Upper Guinea Coast in the 15th century. As we have seen in my post on the Bran community in Peru, Africans who were deported to the Americas and the Carribean as slaves took elements of material culture, languages and cultural techniques with them and adapted them in interaction with their new environment, even though this was a risky endeavour. The linguistic influences from West Central Africa on the Creoles of the Carribean are well researched. Those left by inhabitants of the Upper Guinea Coast are not well known at all. A large contingent of slaves from this geographical area was transported to northeastern Brazil, to the state of Maranhão, in the 19th century. Although no research on linguistic vestiges of their origins has taken place, one prominent souvenir sticks out: it’s the signature dish of Maranhão, arroz con cuxá [kuʃa]. It consists of rice with a sauce made from Guinea sorrel, which, as its English name signals, comes from the Upper Guinea Coast. Its Mandinka word is kucaa [kuʧa:].

When I visited Maranhão, I was struck by the eery resemblances in architecture, topography and vegetation between Maranhão and the Upper Guinea Coast. Both feature Portuguese colonial buildings and landscapes with sunken coast lines, swamps and tidal rivers whose banks are overgrown with mangrove. What feelings may this have triggered in slaves who found themselves in new, hostile, yet utterly familiar surroundings after the middle passage? The photos below give you a glimpse of the similarities. The bottom one shows the harbour of Gorée island, in present-day Senegal (It was taken in 1995 when I visited the island for the first time). The one below shows the old town of São Luis, the capital of Maranhão.

The old town of São Luis in Maranhão, Brazil in 2017
The harbour of Gorèe in Senegal in 1995

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