The Middle Passage Experience comes to solipCISM

I’m delighted to announce the arrival of Tamsin Barzane’s Middle Passage Experience installation as a new permanent exhibition on solipCISM. I first blogged the exhibition back in early July when it was curated on Saminaka.  Prim limitations at that time meant, however, that the exhibition there could only be temporary, so I’m very pleased indeed to have been able to offer Tamsin space on solipCISM for an innovative and interactive exhibition that brilliantly exemplifies the educational potential of Second Life.  The snapshots below are from the current exhibition on solipCISM; my original blog is reproduced below the gallery.

Visit the exhibition at: http://slurl.com/secondlife/SolipCISM/218/243/23
and see also the video interview with Tamsin at:
http://archive.treet.tv/designing-worlds-middle-passage-experience

The original blog of 7th July 2009 …

I’ve long and often been greatly impressed by the innovative use of interactive 3D in the design of many of the museums, galleries, and cultural exhibitions I’ve visited in Second Life, some of which I’ll cover in future blog posts. The one I’m reviewing today may only have another week in Second Life before it’s removed to make space for others, so it’s with some urgency that I cover it here.

Second Life resident Tamsin Barzane–in real life a professor of African art and architecture in the USA–maintains the island of Saminaka, a virtual Nigeria. Tamsin told me that she had lived 6 years in Nigeria: “I’m an American who spent many happy years in Nigeria, and would like others to get a feel for the culture, history and fun Nigeria (real and virtual) have to offer.” Currently featured is an interactive role-play exhibition of the ‘Middle Passage’, the brutal and horrific transportation of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic to the plantations of the Caribbean and Americas. (Click on any of the thumbnail images in this posting to view a pop-up full-size image.)

Exhibition visitors will select one of five male and five female identities by clicking one of the identity boxes (see the first picture, right). A folder is delivered to the visitor’s inventory, containing the clothing of the character, a short biography of the character, and a notecard of instructions:

“Your Remembrance experience depends on you taking on an African identity. Please wear the clothes inside, and read about your character in the notecard nested below. If you have a flip title, you may want to use it for your African name. When you get to the prow of the slave ship, please look for the box with your name on it before continuing to the American part of the experience at Safe Haven Landing. Thank you for taking part.”

A selection of the identities–the first male, the second and third female–are displayed below:

NAME: Hunsi (“Bride of the Spirit”)
ETHNICITY: Allada (in modern Republic of Benin)
DATE AND AGE TAKEN: 1724 at age 11

My kingdom of Allada was a wealthy trading state with several ports by the coast–so the inland Fon went after us, destroying our capital and killing or selling all who weren’t able to flee in time. My mother and I were captured, but she died of fever before I even entered the ship. She took me for my initiation into Gu last year; I am young, but like my god, I was ready to fight, even with only a knife at hand.

NAME: Ronke (“I have found someone to treasure”)
ETHNICITY: Yoruba from Oyo Kingdom (in modern Nigeia)
DATE AND AGE TAKEN: Taken 1835 at age 15

My father is the Bashorun of Oyo, serving our Alafin as a general. My dear mother had sent me out of the city to the farm, hoping to set up a marriage for me with our neighbor there–she is a big trader and knows his first wife. But the Fulani swept through the area–they said they were going to take our farms, our villages, our city. They made us march for weeks down to the most water I’ve ever seen. We waited at Badagry, all cramped in a little building, for two months, and I saw many die. When we boarded the ship, I wept for my sisters and brothers, my parents, even my mother’s co-wives and their children. No husband, no child to mourn me, and these beasts who talk through their noses are carrying me to a far-off place to be eaten.

NAME: Nzinga (“Born with the umbilical cord around the neck”)
ETHHNICITY: Kongo (in modern Angola)
DATE AND AGE TAKEN: 1619 at age 36

I had six children for my husband, 4 girls and 2 boys, when the Jaga swept in and took everyone in the village who hadn’t gone out to farm and trade. I came from San Salvador before I married, so I could speak some Portuguese and was used to the white traders. But they didn’t listen as I pleaded when the Jaga sold us to them at Loanda.

Dressed in African costume, and assuming the identity of the selected character, the exhibition visitor then proceeds, in role, through the “Gate of No Return” to the slavers’ ship (the image that of the notorious Brookes), selecting the on-board box that corresponds with that identity to find a slave costume and further notecards outlining the later story of the captives. For Hunsi, for example:

NEW NAME: Romualde
DESTINATION: New Orleans

The ship’s first mate bought me. We sailed to Haiti where most of my compatriates left, then transferred to a smaller boat and sailed here. He sold me again, and I worked for M. Kerlerec unloading goods at the wharf.

DIED AGE 45 OF MALARIA

I worked at the wharf for some years until I learned French, and a friend taught me how to figure and write. I was part of the Bambara Conspiracy of 1731, but no one revealed my name when the plan to rise up was thwarted. My master started to use me to collect debts, since I was good with numbers. He freed me when he died, and I went to work for a counting house. I married Jeanne, an Indian and a good Catholic. I am one, too, but my vodunsi Gu still calls me sometimes for worship. We have 6 children.

The exhibition is imaginatively conceived and well designed. Does it effectively recreate the experiences of enslaved Africans?no, probably not–the unimaginable horror of enslavement, transportation, and a short and brutal life of enforced hard manual labour could arguably never be reproduced successfully in any digital medium.Yet the exhibition very successfully encapsulates in graphical form a snapshot of perhaps the greatest crime against humanity in human history.

The exhibition was located at:
http://slurl.com/secondlife/Saminaka/59/90/31
and Tamsin’s blog (the Saminaka newpaper) may be read at:
http://www.saminaka.blogspot.com

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About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
This entry was posted in Case studies, SL in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

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