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Exile as Inclusion or Writing “Dangerously”: Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angélique

Cristina Santos, Tracy Crowe Morey


Abstract. As recent as the release of 12 Years a Slave, the memory of slavery in the public sphere has been a prevalent topic of discussion within the American cultural imaginary; however, the same cannot be said about Canada’s own legacy of slavery. In Afua Cooper’s The Hanging of Angélique the reader is exposed to the hidden testimony of one of Canada’s own dark secrets of slavery in the story of a Portuguese-born slave woman’s trials in Montreal during the 1730s. Cooper bears witness to Angélique’s voice of defiance and agency as represented in the trial sources and ultimately renders ‘visible’ the story of a “Portuguese-born Black woman who refused to accept her bondage” (backcover).

This paper proposes to re-examine the hidden history of Canada’s involvement with the diasporic African slave trade by considering the life narrative of a Portuguese female slave’s rebellion/resistance as told by Afua Cooper in The Hanging of Angélique. We argue that Cooper uses a form of testimonial writing as a way in which to break silences and raise social awareness surrounding Canada’s history of slavery to not only forefront a silenced past, but also to draw attention to its origins and legacy. The narrative bears witness to a personal story of slavery, sexual exploitation, and ultimate unjust conviction based on dominant cultural prejudices of race and gender. Testimonial writing here functions as one means through which to expose the patriarchal conditions and racial constructs that targeted black female agency and resistance during this period. Ultimately, it is through this testimony that the dominant myths of Canadian official histories are broken and the ethos of forgetting within the cultural imaginary of Canada’s multicultural discourse is acknowledged.


testimony, post-colonial literature, anti-racist pedagogy, slavery in Canada, belonging

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