Asynchronous Assignment on Midwives and/or Arrowhead by Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro

“Midwives” and “Arrowhead” present the exploitation enslaved women endured. As Jessica Marie Johnson argues slavery did not dehumanize the enslaved. “As human, enslaved Africans could be manipulated: their desires could make them pliable. They could be terrorized.” (83)  The stories of Ndizi and Tshanwe show how, as Johnson illustrates, slave traders “required the humanity of their slaves so that the atrocities they visited upon them would matter.” But just like Johnson, Arroyo Pizarro uses her narratives to portrait acts of rebellion and extreme survival.

Asynchronous Assignment

In the comment section down below  write a response (225-words minimum) to ONE of these prompts (due on 3/2 before class):


Johnson argues that “faced with impossible choices, African women, children, and men sometimes found other more devastating ways to be accountable to and for each other… The kinship that joined the enslaved together in the act of self-destruction, reveals practices that responded to and even defied the loss and dispossession of la traversée.” (“La Traversée” 94-5)

How Arroyo Pizarro shows this “self-destructive” kinship and accountability in “Midwives”?


Analyze how Arroyo Pizarro presents sexual labor in “Arrowhead.”


Discuss the different connotations, meanings, and transformations of the arrowhead in the same-named story.


Write a poem based on the perspective of ONE of the central characters of Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro’s stories: Wanwe, Ndizi, or Tshanwe. Emphasize in the poem the way the character you choose reflects on slavery and how they keep a sense of dignity while facing oppression.

La Traversée and Midwives- Jessica Marie Johnson and Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro

Entry question

What’s one thing from the readings you would like to discuss in class today?

“La traversée”

In the second half of her chapter,  Johnson proposes some key ideas about the Atlantic crossing:

.Slave Ships were the connecting tissue of the Atlantic world. They were part war machines, mobile prisons, and factories with complex racial-sexual landscapes. Ships were also cultural and political territories. (101)

.The captains describe African people as “naigres,” “neigresses” and “mulatresse” choosing not to differentiate race, or perceived racial mixture, ethnicity, or age or between the free and the enslaved. (101)

.Political tensions between African and European empires charted these women’s paths across the Atlantic. Slaving acts engaged in by ships captains, Company officials, and slaveowners, from instructions issued by investors to punishment delivered by captains and crew, transformed them from the women and girls they knew themselves to be in their home communities into Atlantic currency (they were fragments of the piece de Inde). (104)

.In the 1720s Les Cayes in Saint-Domingue (Haiti) became the center of commerce. It served as a way station for ships traveling between West Africa and Louisiana; it was a safe port of call where captains drew on Company resources to house, treat, and feed sick slaves and crew. On average, a slave or crew member died for nearly every day of travel. (101-2)

.Les Cayes outpost offered traders an opportunity to build illicit commercial networks with the British in Jamaica and with the Spanish in Cuba. Contraband sugar, slaves, cattle, subsistence products, and ideas circulated between the three colonies openly. (102)

.At African slaving ports slavery existed as one captive experience among others. Officials could not systematize difference on the basis of African ancestry and slave descent. In the Americas, this was not the case. Africans overwhelmingly arrived to live and die as slaves. (105)


In “Midwives” Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro enters fully into the discussion of daily individual and collective rebellions.

“Midwives” examines the act of poisoning colonizers and enslavers, one of the most common acts of African rebellion in the Americas (89).  We see also literal and metaphysical escapes. Through Ndizi and the “army of midwives,” (85-6)  the reader gets to know the belief that death will bring metaphysical freedom (77-8). Just like in “Wanwe,” Arroyo Pizarro also pays attention to the personality, ideas, emotions, and skills of the enslaved women. For instance, via the relationship between Ndizi and the priest, Petro, we see the process of linguistic creolization in Puerto Rico and the Antilles.

Oral presentation on the essay “La Traversée” or the story “Midwives.”

Oseni, Kayode M

Tejada, Rosa J

Ally, Fazila

Group Discussion

.How language acquisition represents a tool for survival,  organizing, and rebellion in “Midwives”?

Asynchronous Assignment on La traversée (Pages 77-97) by Jessica Marie Johnson

Historian Jessica Marie Johnson in “La Traversée,” the third chapter of her book Wicked Flesh, looks at the ways the Atlantic crossing or middle passage “tore at gender, intimacy, and kinship as they existed on the African continent.” By analyzing primary trade documents, she presents how agents of trade companies, investors, and slaveowners “purchased fantasies of mastery that redefined African ethnicity, gender, and age in ways that reduced people to flesh.” Johnson argues that slave traders assumed that African women’s and girls’ bodies “existed to be used, exploited, and ultimately sold for profit.” This chapter also looks at resistance in the ships and how this “laid the foundations for what would become practices of freedom in the New World.” (97)

Asynchronous Assignment

In the comment section down below  write a response (225-words minimum) to ONE of these prompts (due on 2/23 before class):


Johnson argues that slave trading was a business that reduced humans with complicated genders to the base biological metrics of plantation production. Expanding on this idea, discuss the process of turning African captives into  “piéces d’Inde” and how this experience of commodification (objectification) offered an ungendered reading of human bodies. (Pages 80-82)


How African women and girls, in particular, were targeted for gendered violence? How Africans acted together in organized resistance against slave traffic, ship captains, and company officials in Senegambia? (Pages 82-85)


Describe the role of gender in the fight against captivity and torture aboard slave ships. (Pages 79, 92-95)

*Remember that as long as you are also discussing and analyzing ideas from the readings you can always react or build upon one of your classmates’ responses.*

Wanwe- Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro

Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro is a Puerto Rican writer. She published books that promote the discussion of Afro-identity and sexual diversity. She is the Director of the Department of Afro-Puerto Rican Studies, a performative project of Creative Writing based in San Juan. She is also the founder and chair of Ancestral Black Women, in response to the call by UNESCO to celebrate the International Decade for People of African Descent. She was invited by the UN to speak about women, slavery, and creativity in 2015 as part of the Remembering Slavery Program.

Her short story collection Las negras won the 2013 National Short Story Prize from the PEN Club of Puerto Rico and explores the limits of the development of female characters who challenge hierarchies of colonial power.

The stories from Negras, “Wanwe” “Midwives” and “Arrowhead” pay attention to the violence of the Atlantic slave trade from the capture in Africa, to the forced labor in Puerto Rico and the colonial punishments against rebellious women. Although slavery is the backdrop of the collection, Arroyo Pizarro emphasizes the inner world, brilliant skills, and humanity of her enslaved protagonists.

Wanwe- Y. Arroyo Pizarro

In “Wanwe” Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro focuses on African traditions and affiliations, emotional landscapes, and inter-tribal feelings of solidarity and compassion under the context of European abductions in West Africa.

Oral/Slide presentation on “Wanwe”


Hogans, Margarita

Miro, Christine

Open Discussion

Freewrite for 5 minutes on the chat based on ONE of these prompts

.How Arroyo Pizarro in “Wanwe” (pages 25-61) restores the humanity of the African captives by describing cultural traditions, motherhood, and/or love rituals.

.On the chat discuss the contrasts Arroyo Pizarro creates between the ureoré ceremony (pages 35-37; 40-41; 55) and the enclosed stacked up spaces in the slave ships.

Group Reflections on Wanwe

Asynchronous Assignment on A Terrible Crying (Pages 24-38)

In the comment section down below  write a response (225-words minimum) to ONE of these prompts (due on 2/16 before class):


What were the slave coffles? What treatment enslaved people endured or suffered while in them? (26-32)


Describe the relationships between European men and local African women in coastal fortresses and trading post. What was a common role of the children born out of these relationships? (32-38)


Using the excerpts from historical documents presented by Dadzie write a poem on captivity based on the perspective of either the young village girl encountered en route (page 28) or Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq (page 31)

A Terrible Crying (Pages 15-25)- Stella Dadzie

What are the central ideas of this writer, thinker, or artist?

Herstorian, activist, educator, and a founding member of the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent (OWAAD), Stella Dadzie’s book A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery, and Resistance delves into the nature, legacy, and impacts of the African enslavement. She examines in particular how women disrupted the trade and forced labor economies in Africa and the Caribbean.  In the first chapter, Dadzie tackles the issue of African collaboration in the slave trade and how political and military leaders fought against European colonialism and the violent capture of Africans.


Analyze one specific section by your chosen author that best communicates what you identified in the question above.

Dadzie presents us with examples of African  women who opposed the trade such as:

Queer queen/king Ana Nzinga (1581-1663) performed alliances and learned Portuguese to help escapees and use her military prowess to resist European intrusion. (19)

Amina (d. 1610), a warrior Hausa queen of Zazzau led an army of over 20,000 and surrounded her city with defensive walls (20).

Beatriz Kimpa Vita (1684-1706) insisted that Jesus was African and call for Congolese Unity as a direct challenge to the design of European slavers and missionaries. (20)

Taggeba (1701) employed her [political] influence against European infiltration in the continent. (19)

Yaa Asantewaa (b. 1840) lead an army of 5,000 in the Ashanti war of resistance against the British. (21)

These cases let us know how African women subverted political, gender, and religious norms and impositions to challenge colonization and resist the trade of humans. Dadzie also suggests how women were military leaders and strategists.

What analogies can you establish between the primary source, your own experiences, and/or other sources you have read, listened to, or seen?

In Discourse on Colonialism Césaire argues that European and African tyrants get on very well with each other.  They “established between them, to the detriment of the people, a circuit of mutual services and complicity.” (43)

Dadzie on her part says that “copious supplies of rum and gin” along with guns became  “one of the most lucrative exports to Africa.” Europeans “stir up local rivalries” fomenting unrest  “to increase demands for guns and the resulting supply of captives.” This arms trade has killed “millions of Africans and has continued unchecked into the twenty-first century.” (23)

Pose a critical question to the group.

“Between colonizer and colonized there is room only for forced labor, intimidation, pressure, the police, taxation, theft, rape, compulsory crops, contempt, mistrust, arrogance, self-complacency, swinishness, brainless elites, degraded masses.” (42)

-Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism

“The legacies of those centuries of genocide and abuse are still with us, in relative levels of poverty and education, infant mortality and prison occupancy rates, wars, human suffering and a plethora of other glaring North-South inequalities, both social and economic, that cry out for reparation.” (15)

-Stella Dadzie, “A Terrible Cry”

How the above quotes relate to each other? What are Césaire and Dadzie’s central arguments?

Conclusion (Page 25)

Asynchronous Assignment on Discourse on Colonialism (Excerpt) by Aimé Césaire

Poet, political theorist, and politician Aimé Césaire was born June 26, 1913, in Basse-Pointe, Martinique in the French Caribbean. His books of poetry include Lost Body (George Braziller, 1986), with illustrations by Pablo Picasso, Aimé Césaire: The Collected Poetry (University of California Press, 1983), and Return to My Native Land (Penguin Books, 1969). He is also a playwright and has written The Tempest (G. Borchardt, 1968), based on Shakespeare’s play, and A Season at Congo (Grove Press, 1966), among others.

He is also the author of Discourse on Colonialism (Monthly Review Press, 1950), a book of essays which has become a classic text of French political literature and helped establish the literary and ideological movement  of Negritude, a term Césaire defined as “the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture.”

Robin D. G. Kelley on Aimé Césaire 

Discourse on Colonialism (1950) is poetry and therefore revolt. It is an act of insurrection, drawn from Césaire’s own miraculous weapons, molded and shaped by his works with Tropiques […] by his imbibing of European culture and his sense of alienation both from France and his native land. It is a rising, a blow to the master who appears as owner and ruler, teacher and comrade. It is revolutionary graffiti painted in bold strokes across the great texts of Western Civilization.”

Robin D. G. Kelley, From the Introduction

“We lived in an atmosphere of rejection, and we developed an inferiority complex. I have always thought that the black man was searching for his identity. And it has seemed to me that if what we want is to establish this identity, then we must have a concrete consciousness of what we are- that is,  of the first fact of our lives: that we are black; that we were black and have a history, a history  that contains certain cultural elements of great value; and that Negroes were not, as you put it, born yesterday, because there have been beautiful and important black civilizations.”

-Aimé Césaire, An Interview with Aimé Césaire



In the comment section down below  write a response (225-words minimum) to a set of two questions (due on 2/9 before class):


.Césaire argues that colonization works to decivilize and brutalize the colonizer. He says that “a poison has been distilled into the veins of Europe and, slowly but surely, the continent proceeds towards savagery.” Explain. (Pages 35-36)

.Césaire holds that “nobody colonizes innocently.” Discuss what he means by that. (Page 39)


.Césaire proposes that colonization is based and justified on contempt for the native and that it changes the colonizer. Amplify. (Page 41)

.What are the effects of colonization on the colonized? (Page 43)

Oubao Moin – Juan Antonio Corretjer

The title of this song means “Island of Blood” in the language of the Taino, the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.  It was written by celebrated Puerto Rican poet Juan Antonio Corretjer. The music was composed by nueva trova (folk) artists Roy Brown and Aires Bucaneros to tell the history of Boricuas and the hope of the poet and the musicians for an independent future. To this day it is an anthem of the pro-independence movement and a  celebration of working people everywhere in el Caribe. The song is also representative of Latin America as a whole as it discusses the struggle of indigenous, black, and indentured workers to be free from all forms of colonialism.

The Corozal river of the golden legend, its current carries gold, its current is bloodied. The River Manatuabón, has the golden legend, its current carries gold, its current is bloodied. The River Cibuco writes its name with golden letters, its current carries gold, its current is bloodied. Where the plantation (arboleda) sank its roots in the golden ground, there the branches drip blood, the plantation (arboleda) is bloodied.

Where the Indian’s brow frowned, whether on land or water, under the weight of the chains, in prison irons, there the land stinks of blood, and the water is bloodied.

Where the black broke his shoulders, whether on land or water, and the branding iron marked his body and the whip opened his back, there the land stinks of blood, the water runs bloodied.

Where the poor white suffered the horrors of the labor gang under the machete of the overseer and the account book of the working day
There the land is cursed, the water runs poisoned.

Glory to those Taino hands because they worked. Glory to those black hands because they worked. Glory to those white hands because they worked. From those hands was brought forth our homeland.

Glory to the hands that dig the mines. Glory to the hands that care for the livestock. Glory to the hands that sow the tobacco, the cane, and the coffee. Glory to the hands that work the roads. Glory to the hands that turn the wheels. Glory to all the hands of all the men and women who work.

And glory to the hands, all the hands that work today, because they build and from them shall come the newly liberated country. Praise! For them and for their homeland. Praise!

Group Discussion

The song “Oubao Moin” proposes to look at the past to start imagining transformations in society and (decolonial) futures, do you agree with these ideas?

How history, poetry, and the arts help to bring change in our individual and collective lives?