Written in Stone: The Silent and Eerie Eloquence of Stone Structures in the Atlantic Trade | EV & N – 311 | CCTV



Europeans oversaw the construction of massive stone castles and forts in Africa to conduct the slave trade from the 15th through the early 19th centuries.  These enduring stone structures and their surrounding areas can now be studied in depth by coordinated teams of international scholars to uncover more information about the embedded labor history, archaeology, ethnobotany and ecology of the Atlantic trade and its extended impact in Africa.

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As the poem by the 20th century writer, Berthold Brecht, reminds us, stone structures like these raise a whole series of particular questions in the minds of anyone who looks at them from a worker’s point of view:

A Worker Reads History

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?
The books are filled with names of kings.
Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?
And Babylon, so many times destroyed.
Who built the city up each time? In which of Lima’s houses,
That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?
In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished
Where did the masons go? Imperial Rome
Is full of arcs of triumph. Who reared them up? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Byzantium lives in song.
Were all her dwellings palaces? And even in Atlantis of the legend
The night the seas rushed in,
The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
He alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Was there not even a cook in his army?
Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
was sunk and destroyed. Were there no other tears?
Frederick the Great triumphed in the Seven Years War.
Who triumphed with him?

Each page a victory
At whose expense the victory ball?
Every ten years a great man,
Who paid the piper?

So many particulars.
So many questions.

Berthold Brecht 

“Great men” are everywhere celebrated in monuments.  Assessments of their contributions are written in stone.


The citizens of Westerly, RI, — many of whom were descendants of Italian immigrant stone workers — recently erected this statue of Columbus next to their public library.


Zheng He: China’s Most Famous Muslim Navigator, is remembered in stone.

What is ignored and forgotten in the dominant historical narrative of our time if this is the only kind of “history” we learn?

Some problems with the master narrative re-emerge even though — or, perhaps, precisely because of the fact that  — the master narrative has been written in stone.  It is carved in such permanent material that it cannot be casually amended.  It seems that it must be torn down and perhaps eventually replaced with some other narrative form.  Consider the recent demand of the President of Mexico.


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