The story of how enslaved women struggled for freedom in the West Indies.
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.
About the Author
Stella Dadzie is best known for her co-authorship of The Heart of the Race: Black Women’s lives in Britain which won the 1985 Martin Luther King Award for Literature, and was recently re-published by Verso as a Feminist Classic. She is a founder member of OWAAD (Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent), a national umbrella group that emerged in the late 1970s as part of the British Civil Rights movement, and was recently described as one of the “grandmothers” of Black Feminism in the UK. Her career as a teacher, writer, artist and education activist spans over 40 years.
What People Are Saying
“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.” Bernardine Evaristo, author of Girl, Woman, Other
“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.” Suzanne Scafe, co-author of The Heart of the Race
“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.” Arike Oke, Director of The Black Cultural Archives
“What has become distinctive of Dadzie’s scholarship is the way she centres black women in their own stories and this continues in A Kick in the Belly … After being fed narratives that ‘the material doesn’t exist,’ A Kick in the Belly shows that it is really a matter of knowing where to look and how to listen.” Sarah Lusack, Black Ballad
“Amplifies and honours the innovative ways women fought for freedom and kept their cultures alive despite the brutality they faced … When filmmaker Ava DuVernay says she is her ancestor’s wildest dreams, these are the women she’s talking about.” Sharmaine Lovegrove, Red
“Highlighting the experiences of enslaved women in the Anglo-Caribbean, Dadzie gives primacy, as she did in her seminal book Heart of the Race (with Beverley Bryan and Suzanne Scafe), to Black women’s voices. In doing so, she puts a narrative of empowerment and hope at the centre of the brutal history of slavery.” Meleisa Ono-George, Times Literary Supplement
“Transatlantic slavery is one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented periods of history. Stella Dadzie offers a much-needed corrective by centring on the experiences of black women forced into the plantation system.” Kehinde Andrews, BBC History Magazine (“Books of the Year 2020”)