Extremely Rare Mated Set of Two Small Child's Size Slave Hand-Forged Rattle Shackles & Made for the Slave Trade c. 1800 19th Century, Set of Two, Small Child's Size Slave Shackles, Hand-forged Iron, With Internal "Rattles," Choice Very Fine.One of my favorite episodes in the history of genre television was an installment of the much beloved Alien Nation series which ran for a few years in the early 1990s. Alien Nation, a not so subtle play on the phrase "alienation" focused on how a race of extraterrestrials struggled to assimilate into Earth society after their slave ship was stranded here. Upon arrival, the Newcomers became a metaphor through which to explore racism, ethnocentrism, and prejudice. Yes, it could be overwrought and hackneyed. Alien Nation was also wonderfully sharp and incisive.
This impressive set of child size slave shackles are African made for the Slave Trade, although also found located in the United States from time to time. These are described as being, "crab-shaped rattler leg shackles," on page 20-21, in the book, "THE ART AND HISTORY OF BLACK MEMORABILIA" by Larry Vincent Buster. They measures 6" x 5.25" with an opening of 4.75" x 2.75" and 8" x 5.25" with an opening of 4.75" x 2.5".
Based on the circumference of the openings these were of size to be used on children. The oddly-shaped hand-wrought devices contain lateral "pockets" that contain pieces of metal that rattle as the wearer moves about so that his or her location could easily be determined by the sound of the rattle being made. Each has a pair of small chain links attached at the top. One shackle was placed on each leg and a chain threaded through the attached rings, secured with a lock. A museum quality, important historical pair of Child's Size Slave Shackles, having a natural patina that would be excellent for display. (2 items).
To point, there was an episode of Alien Nation which was centered on how one of the Newcomers' high elders was disgusted by the ways that the artifacts of his people were sold to human collectors. Ultimately, the material culture of his civilization was reduced to a fetish object, one utterly disconnected from the legacy of blood, struggle, loss, and triumph which produced it. Their chains, shackles, restraints, religious icons, and other artifacts were reduced to kitsch. No historical weight or context was present beyond that which could accrue novelty, and points for uniqueness, for those who owned such intimately personal objects.
In all, popular culture is oftentimes a stand-in for sociopolitical struggles in the "real world" (as opposed to the pure imaginaries through which we pursue the politics of pleasure and fantasy). But, what to do when history becomes quite literally the playful, curious, and "interesting" objects of collectors and curators who may (or may not) have any deeply personal connection to those things they covet?
We all "own" history. However, some of us are more connected to particular histories than others may be. Black Americans are part of a diaspora. Much of our shared historical and cultural experience is framed by a narrative of disruption caused by the Middle Passage, and the many moments of destruction it entailed, and necessitated. Ironically, blacks in the New World are also an example of generation and creation--where modernity and new civilizations were created by the movements of millions of people from one hemisphere to another.
Whole cultures and peoples were made by the Black Atlantic. Peoples were also destroyed. Peoples were (re)invented. As such, material objects and artifacts were both lost and found. While it should be no surprise, I am nonetheless moved that some of them would turn up for sale on Ebay.
A slave manacle collected in Marrakesh, Morocco, possibly 18th century.Weight about 4 lbs, larger ring about 5" x 3-3/8"inside diameter, smaller ring about 3" x 3".The keyed lock is functional.To my eyes, there is something horribly amiss when slave manacles, chains, and other objects of torture are reduced to "collectibles" on Ebay (and other sites), where they will become the property of the highest bidder.
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To me, the personal is, and will always remain, the political. Because this is a first principle, I have a proposition to offer. I think we can do something important in regards to owning a small part of history, and seeing that a few material objects find a proper home.
If a few folks who read this piece here on Daily Kos, Salon, or at my own website We are Respectable Negroes, offered up a quarter, or perhaps even a dollar, this could be accomplished in a day or so. A few kind folks have already thrown some money into the collective pot (in the interest of transparency all the details are here).
Can we buy back some history and donate it to a worthy museum or collection? I would like to believe that we can.