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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:Discourse networks in South African slave society
Author:Vernal, FionaISNI
Periodical:African Historical Review (ISSN 1753-2531)
Geographic terms:South Africa
The Cape
legal status
abolition of slavery
Abstract:How do slaves acquire information about their customary and legal rights and how does that knowledge impel them to action? This article explores the discourses that developed from the experiences of a diaspora of slaves taken from disparate parts of Asia and Africa as well as creole slaves born at the Cape, South Africa. A range of factors from geographical origin, legal status, and race to colour, ethnicity, and religion produced a fragile hierarchy that slaves constantly challenged. Cape slaves prodded their masters to renegotiate the terms of servitude not clearly delineated in the heterogeneous body of slave laws governing the Cape colony. Slaves forged information networks and used them as a 'grapevine' for diffusing useful information and to create autonomy for themselves and their families beyond the institution of slavery. Even as historians have acknowledged that Cape slaves had little in common besides their bondage, evidence from the Dutch era suggests that cultural origins continued to shape slave expectations and perceptions of their rights while the British era brought a controversial and empowering amelioration and abolitionist discourse to the Cape in the 1820s and 1830s that slaves quickly imbibed. Although slaves remained subordinate, they assimilated a new legal discourse on 'rights' that profoundly transformed their interactions with their masters and eventually led to their freedom. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]