The Dehumanization of Slavery

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

In the following two passages, Buchi Emecheta shows how people rationalize slavery just as they so frequently rationalize other forms of injustice -- by defining human nature and humanity in such a way as to exclude those they oppress:

"This is our house," Amanna pointed out with pride and enthusiasm; so great was her adaptation and acceptance that she obviously really did look on it as her home. In fact she could not even remember what part of Calabar she had originally come from; it was Ma Palagada who had given her the Ibo name Amanna, meaning someone who did not know her own father. She had been born a twin among people who rejected twins, and though her mother had managed to nurse her secretly for a while, the time had come when it was impossible to keep her any longer, and the child was sold. Amanna did not know a word of her native Efik but chattered happily in Ibo. Ojebeta later realized that Ma Palagada, although she bought slaves whom she expected to work hard to help her with her trade and with the running of her vast household, was not as strict a mistress as others, and even seemed to try as much as possible to treat her girl slaves as her own daughters -- "as much as possible," because no well brought up lady in her situation would, for example, dream of allowing her bought girls to sleep in the same building as the daughters of "human beings": there were special parts of the compound allocated to them.[ch 8, 87]

How do Ma Palagada's attitudes parallel or repeat those of Victorian industrialists and colonizers?

How does the following paragraph, which explains the source of Ma Palagada's wealth, relate to slavery to colonialism, or at least to the intrusion of foreign welath?

The two daughters Ma had by this man she gave the English names of Victoria and Elizabeth. Much later, however, the man had to go because his people's trade -- mainly slavery -- was squeezed out. But he left Ma a great deal of wealth: coral beads, earrings, some silver and some copper-plated, cases and cases of gin and schnapps, bales of cloth and lots of money. It was at this time that Ma began to trade at Otu market. Her daughters, consequently, knew nothing about poverty. They knew that one could buy slaves, or have house servants and treat them even worse than slaves. For at that time just to keep another person from hunger was in itself felt to be payment enough. They had never considered that slaves and servants were human like themselves. [ch10, 114]

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