Aside from Mary Prince, enslaved West Indian women had few opportunities to record their stories for posterity. Yet from their dusty footprints and the umpteen small clues they left for us to unravel, there’s no question that they earned their place in history. Pick any Caribbean island and you’ll find race, skin colour and rank interacting with gender in a unique and often volatile way. Moreover, the evidence points to a distinctly female role in the development of a culture of slave resistance—a role that was not just central, but downright dynamic.
From the coffle-line to the Great House, enslaved women found ways of fighting back that beggar belief. Whether responding to the horrendous conditions of plantation life, the sadistic vagaries of their captors or the “peculiar burdens of their sex,” their collective sanity relied on a highly subversive adaptation of the values and cultures they smuggled with them naked from different parts of Africa. By sustaining or adapting remembered cultural practices, they ensured that the lives of chattel slaves retained both meaning and purpose. This sense of self gave rise to a sense of agency and over time, both their subtle acts of insubordination and their conscious acts of rebellion came to undermine the very fabric and survival of West Indian slavery.
“Shocking, enlightening, fascinating, challenging, A Kick in the Belly reframes the overwhelmingly male perspective on the transatlantic slave trade through female experiences and acts of resistance. It is a essential corrective to centuries of sublimation and the presentation of black women who lived through this history as passive victims. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”
“In clear, accessible prose, this book upturns versions of the past that privilege his-story, revealing a more complex and many-layered past, one in which enslaved women were central to the struggle for freedom.”
“Stella Dadzie has given us another chapter in women's history by uncovering resistance that is uniquely rooted in controlling reproduction. This is a meticulously researched narrative that privileges the people who were so brutally treated that it was easy to assume they had no agency. We now know that such an assumption would be mistaken. This is an essential addition to the corpus of historical study into the nature, legacy and impacts of the period of African enslavement. It's finally a work that allows us to better understand and recognise how women disrupted the principal economic principles supporting the enslavement of generations of people.”