The Amistad Revolt
Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie

A cross-disciplinary look at the cultural effects of the Amistad legacy


"Using the Amistad revolt and the vast body of intellectual and artistic production that it has generated as point of departure, The Amistad Revolt explores such diverse disciplines as history, fiction, drama and film to stage a comparative exploration of the production of identity in Africa and the U.S. African-American diaspora."
—Biodun Jeyifo, Cornell University

"Osagie refutes certain preconceived notions and theories about the Amistad revolt. . . . and explores specific connections between the United States and what she has seen in her native Sierra Leone.
West Africa

"Stephen Spielberg's 1997 movie Amistad, a 'colonialist reenactment,' stands at the intellectual center of this extended essay on the cultural impact of the 1839 revolt by Mende slaves on a Cuban ship. . . . Osagie is Sierra Leonean and only learned of this heroic event of the slave era in 1993. Because Africans have known so little of this story, he sees its 're-memory' as a vital part of contemporary nation building on the continent."

"Broadens the scope of the Amistad story and re-examines its significance on both sides of the Atlantic . . . Its enormous contribution to African Diaspora and African Studies will prove invaluable to those seeking to come to terms with these still largely understudied areas. In all cases, Osagie's work forces its readers to confront African humanity and to dialogue with its myriad internal and external contradictions and possibilities."
African American Review

"The achievement of Osagie's pivotal work is its contribution to filling the divide of ignorance between Continental and Diaspora academics with information about the ravages perpetrated on Sierra Leone, and the reconstruction of identity undertaken there, while the descendants of Africa's other dispersed captives have attempted rebellion, survival, and self-definition in the face of their own accumulations of genocidal levels of trauma."
The Griot

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From journalism and lectures to drama, visual art, and the Spielberg film, this study ranges across the varied cultural reactions--in America and Sierra Leone--engendered by the 1839 Amistad slave ship revolt.

Iyunolu Folayan Osagie is a native of Sierra Leone, from where the Amistad's cargo of slaves originated. She digs deeply into the Amistad story to show the historical and contemporary relevance of the incident and its subsequent trials. At the same time, she shows how the incident has contributed to the construction of national and cultural identity both in Africa and the African diaspora in America--though in intriguingly different ways.

This pioneering work of comparative African and American cultural criticism shows how creative arts have both confirmed and fostered the significance of the Amistad revolt in contemporary racial discourse and in the collective memories of both countries.

Page count: 216 pp.
Trim size: 6 x 9


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Iyunolu Folayan Osagie is an associate professor of English at Pennsylvania State University.