In 1839 a small group of enslaved Africans rose up and seized their ship (the Amistad), and sailed it from the north coast of Cuba to the northern tip of Long Island, where they were captured by the American navy, charged with “piracy and murder,” and jailed in Connecticut. American abolitionists flocked to the jail, where they formed an alliance with the Africans. Together they waged a legal defense campaign, winning their case before the Supreme Court in 1841. The rebels returned home to their native Sierra Leone in triumph in 1842. Their victory broadened — and radicalized — the abolitionist movement as it deepened national conflict over slavery and hastened the coming of the civil war. The courageous action taken by a small group of Africans reverberated throughout the United States and around the world.
Ghosts of Amistad by Tony Buba is based on Marcus Rediker’s The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Penguin, 2012). It chronicles a journey to Sierra Leone in 2013 to visit the home villages of the rebels who captured the slave schooner Amistad, to interview elders about local memory of the incident, and to search for the long-lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory where their cruel transatlantic voyage began. The filmmakers rely on the knowledge of villagers, fishermen, and truck drivers to recover a lost history from below in the struggle against slavery, and to explore the African origins of the heroes of the Amistad incident.