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” ‘What about the slaves of Salaga? Are there people in town who are the descendants of slaves?’

The chief visibly stiffened upon hearing my question. ‘It is still difficult for us to speak of slavery. One cannot point a finger and say he or she is a slave. It is prohibited to do so.

The taboo on revealing someone’s origins extended back to the seventeenth century. Ndewura Jakpa forbade people to refer to their own or anyone else’s origins… Everyone who had ever mentioned the law to me had explained that it was intended to protect those of slave origin. In practice it prevented the enslaved from speaking of a life before servitude and it abolished their ancestry. The slave existed in the world, but without either a history or an inheritance.

‘Why shame someone and say he or she is a slave?’ the chief added. I wondered if the chief was shocked that I had been so tactless. ‘Those who were slaves have married and become incorporated into Salaga.’

The Salagawura says one thing, but I hear another: ‘We still know who they are.’ ”

– Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother

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