The Rhetoric of Inferiority of African Slaves in John Fawcett’s Obi; or, Three-Fingered Jack (1800) Re-evaluated in Charlie Haffner’s Amistad Kata-Kata (1987)


  • Ulrich Pallua



Slavery Studies, Post-European Identity, Body, Materiality, Ideology


John Fawcett’s Obi; or, Three-Finger’d Jack (1800) draws a distorted picture of the life of slaves in Jamaica. This paper investigates the ambivalence in this distortion as Fawcett creates two kinds of slaves by pitting them against each other: the loyal and obedient slaves (but still inferior) vs. the superstitious-ridden and rebellious slaves deeply rooted in old traditions, thus considered inferior, uneducated, immoral and dangerous. The juxtaposition of what I call ‘anglicised’ slaves instrumentalised by the coloniser and the heathen ‘savages’ that are beyond the reach of the imperial ideology enables Fawcett to substantiate the claim that Christianity successfully promotes slaves to ‘anglicised’ mimic men/women who are then able to carry out its mission: to eradicate the pagan practice of obeah, three-finger’d Jack, and all those slaves that threaten the stability of the coloniser’s superiority. Charlie Haffner’s play Amistad Kata-Kata (1987) is about the heroism of Shengbe Pieh and his fellow slaves on board the La Amistad: on their way to the colonies they revolted, were sent to prison, tried, finally freed, and taken back home after 3 years. The paper shows how Haffner repositions the ‘Amistad trope’ in the 20th century by effacing the materiality of the body of the African slaves, thus re-evaluating the corporeality of the colonised slave in the 19th -century post-abolition debate by coming to terms with the cultural trauma postindependent African collective identity has been experiencing. The re-staging of the play by the ‘Freetong Players’ in 2007/8 commemorated the bicentenary of the abolition of the Atlantic Slave Trade, a unique opportunity to direct the attention to asserting the identity of ‘Post-European’ Africa.