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Skip to 0 minutes and 4 seconds Hi I’m Tara Innis from the Department of history and philosophy at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill campus in Barbados and I’m here to talk to you today about women, resistance and some of the gendered aspects of their resistance. I’m going to start with talking about reproductive resistance and how women exercise control over their reproduction is really important to the first thing that you have to recognize about enslavery and and resistances that just staying alive during slavery was an aspect of resistance. Probably the most important aspect of resistance and women controlled their reproduction. Unfortunately, even then, that controlled by the end of slavery, the enslaved population and almost every territory was not able to reproduce itself.

Skip to 0 minutes and 58 seconds But what that signifies is that women did want to control their reproduction, and they also did this and participated once they did want to have children and family, they wanted to care for their families in particular ways. And one of these ways was the extension of the breast feeding period. Which is a very significant part of maternal resistance as it came from Africa, so African traditions, West African traditions. Women breastfeed their children for upwards of one to two even more years, and women in the Caribbean tried to do the exact same thing, even though planters resisted the idea of them leaving the fields in order to take care of their children.

Skip to 1 minute and 52 seconds Another aspect of resistance would have been sexual resistance, and there’s a little bit of controversy here, so how can you be an enslaved woman, and exercise power over your body with your enslaver. But we do know that women were using within their power certain aspects of their sexuality in order to secure certain freedoms or privileges for their children. And this is, as I said, a very controversial area of discussions around women, enslaved women and their sexual power. And you might want to discuss that a little bit more with your your course leaders. But it is an aspect that we’ve looked at, and also the domestic intimacy.

Skip to 2 minutes and 41 seconds So when enslaved women worked so closely with families and particularly white families, managers, etc, they were exercising certain power or power struggles in the home, and you would often hear. Planters and their wives or their mistresses, complaining about enslaved women and the kind of power that they had in the home in the sense that they would, you know, exert their own. Dominance where they had it over, how the home was cared for and managed. You also see a little bit of a struggle with this with some of the. Some of the poisoning accusations around women and slave women may be having so much intimacy in these spaces that they might be accused of poisoning their Masters.

Skip to 3 minutes and 42 seconds But again, this is a bit of a controversial area where from the planters perspective it was easy to target women as poisoner’s and kind of scapegoats for any Illness that happened in the family, but at the same time slave women did have some instance, did have access to this knowledge. And then the other most important part of resistance was a kind of cultural resistance that women the rules that they played in cultural resistance. So women, being the caretakers of family and culture.

Skip to 4 minutes and 23 seconds Perpetuation of African culture were sometimes the centers of foodways retention of certain foodways, the retention of certain religious ideas and spiritual approaches, how they looked after children, how they they ensured that their families and their communities were cared for. You know, they. They looked back to their African traditions and helped to perpetuate these in the community. So that’s why you see women at the center of even grand acts of resistance, like rebellions, as being part of the plots. To which were often centered in African religious rituals, etc. So women were very critical to those to those plots.

Skip to 5 minutes and 13 seconds Now if we move on to the idea of Petit Marronage versus Grand Marronage, you will notice that in especially in Barbados we have a number of cases where where you’re seeing enslaved runaways being reported in the newspapers, it’s women who are either escaping slavery for temporary periods of time so not not forever, but for short periods of time to look after their families or to take their families temporarily out of slavery. They may return, but they were very much.

Skip to 5 minutes and 47 seconds It was very much known that they were escaping to their family networks, and that’s kind of one of the surprising aspects of these slave runaway ads is that the knowledge of the family networks that are reported in the in the runaway ads, especially for women, women are visiting their family members may be to take care of them to take their children to see their fathers, to make sure that they’re just getting a little respite and escaping just temporarily just to escape some kind of management problems that might be on the estate.

Skip to 6 minutes and 23 seconds So I hope that’s giving you some insight into the ways that women have resisted slavery, and I really hope that you continue to probe some of these questions in your readings. And bring up these questions in your discussion. Thank you.

Women, resistance, truancy

In this video, Dr Tara Inniss of the University of the West Indies explains how enslaved people could resist slavery by refusing to work, making themselves absent and ‘going-slow’. These seemingly minor or ‘passive’ forms of resistance were one way a community of enslaved people could work together to hinder the system of slavery in the British Caribbean.

Dr Tara Inniss is one of the leaders of a project examining the history of ‘Barbados Runaways’ through newspaper advertisements, community engagement workshops and artistic interventions. The project has digitised and made publicly available hundreds of pages of the newspapers, Barbados Mercury and Bridgetown Gazette (1783-1848) and The Barbadian (1822-1861) through a British Library Endangered Archives Grant.

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This video is from the free online course:

History of Slavery in the British Caribbean

The University of Glasgow