Book Review: Baracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

Charlotte Mason who attempted to help Zora Neale Hurston publish Baracoon, “believed it her duty to protect it from those whites who, having not more interesting things to investigate among themselves,’ were grabbing information from every direction material that by right belongs to another race.” This is the significance of Baracoon. It is not only a primary source on the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, it is also evidence of “epistemic resistance” (I borrow this term from Bethwell A. Ogot’s article Rereading the History and Historiography of Epistemic Domination and Resistance in Africa. For one, Hurston transcribed Kossola/Cudjo Lewis’ words in the exact manner he pronounced them. Having grown up in Banté, West Africa, Kossola only learned English as an adult. The additional influences of southern US dialects make for an interesting and vivid picture of the life Kossola has lived, one of dislocation and amalgamation. Accusations of plagiarism against Miss Hurston somewhat sullied my experience of reading, reflecting on and reviewing the book. Regardless, Kossola’s story and his vulnerability grants us a unique opportunity to understand the grief and loss that reverberates through generations of African-Americans from an “origin” story. I have chosen to not rate this book, as a sign of respect and gratitude to the last “black cargo” Kossola also known as Cudjo Lewis.