Sunday, November 11, 2007

The myth of the flying african

Some people said that when a Negro died he went back to Africa,
but this is a lie. How could a dead man go to Africa? It was living
men who flew there, from a tribe the Spanish stopped importing
as slaves because so many of them flew away that it was bad for business.

--Esteban Montejo, The Autobiography of a Runaway Slave

The African don't eat salt, they say they come like a witch... those
Africans who don't eat salt--and they interpret all things. And why
you hear they say they fly away, they couldn't stand the work when
the taskmaster them flog them; and they get up and they just sing
their language, and they clapping their hands--so--and they just
stretch out, and them gone--so--right back. And they never come back.

--Ishmael Webster, qtd. in Alas, Alas, Kongo

The legend of the Flying Africans is a canonical tale which resonates throughout the expressive traditions of that part of the African diaspora which has known slavery in the New World.(1) The three examples above, from, respectively, an African American, a Cuban, and a Jamaican, demonstrate the wide geographic currency of the legend within Afro-Latin and Afro-Caribbean communities as well as in the U.S., the latter being the geographic area where the legend is most commonly located by researchers. In fact, all the shores touched by the Atlantic slave trade produce a collective mythology. The fact of this legend's appearance and resonance in this widespread physical area demands both a pan-American and a pan-African analytic perspective, a theoretical framework which encompasses Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Latin geographic and cultural areas, in addition to looking at the perhaps more commonly cited North American examples.

"One of dese mornings, bright and fair,/ take my wings and cleave de air":
the legend of the flying Africans and diasporic consciousness -
folklore as a foundation for literature

Wendy Walters
MELUS, Fall, 1997

This is from the beginning of the aforementioned,
afore-linked piece which has quite a lot of references
for the folktale of the flying Africans.
I also wanna give a shout out to
Sheree Renee Thomas, writer, anthologist, and fellow Memphian
for letting us know about the connections between this folktale and
that of the Ibo Landing of the Gullah Islands in South Carolina.
Check her out at

aight later!


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