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Film Review


Adanggaman. (Ivory Coast, 2001). Directed by Roger Gnoan M'Bala. 90 mins. In Bambara and Baule with English subtitles. On film only from New Yorker Films (

      American cinematic portrayals of slavery and the transatlantic slave-trade generally put America at the center. The middle-passage serves largely as prelude to narrative whose soul lies in this continent. In contrast, world history scholarship often explores the slave within its African or Atlantic context. The African film Adanggaman does much to restore the balance, depicting the slave-trade entirely from an African perspective. Indeed, Europeans have been relegated here to an off-screen presence. 1
    Directed by famed Ivory Coast-born Roger Gnoan M'Bala, and featuring an all-African cast, the film was briefly controversial in 2001 for its frank representation of the role of 17th century West African elites in the slave trade. No doubt, scenes of Africans marching in chains and brutally overseen by other Africans may shock American audiences unfamiliar with the continent's history, but instructors can broaden the discussion by asking students to investigate the film's complexities. 2
    Attentive viewers might, for instance, connect the cowrie shells worn by the slave-raiding soldiers to the use of cowries as currency in many forms of African commerce, including the slave trade. That these shells (cypraea moneta) are found only off Maldive Island coasts in the Indian Ocean dramatizes the fact that the slave trade, far from being one leg in the a misleadingly simplified "triangle trade", was embedded into global exchange. Students might be more surprised that the film's African soldiers are all female. This detail also has a firm, if somewhat obscure, basis in history. King Dossou Agadja of Dahomey (reigned ca. 1708–32), in what is now the nation of Benin, relied upon a corps of women shock troops, deploying them first in his victory over the neighboring kingdom of Ouidah. Considered Amazons by European observers, these female soldiers remained a dynastic tradition until the kingdom's demise in 1894. Those students who come armed with a solid history of the slave-trade will find much to think about; those who know less will find much to learn. 3
Fritz Umbach
John Jay College, City University of New York

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