(Ship)wrecked Empires: on the Transatlantic Image-nary of Ships and Shadows

  • Ana Lessa The University of Nottingham


Shipwreck, as much as navigation itself, has always fascinated, amused and terrified generations of travellers both real and imaginary. For the sailors as for the avid home-bound devourers of their tales and travails, the ship inspires, inseparably, dreams and nightmares. The sea is an ever-sacred and mysterious element generating popular widespread fascination, and the stories told about it stain many a memory with images, but nary an explanation, of mystery, survival and death. I am analysing how, out of the ‘wreck’ of Colonialism, the subsequent emergence from the depths of the Empire has raised in Portugal’s ex-colonies spectres of both the sinking and the refloating of identities, histories, and stories at large, through its depiction in literature and cinema, into a collective memory of the ship as a representation of the past, present and future of those same nations. In this context, the shipwreck is“a special figure for varied postcolonial memories” (Medeiros 2005), and negotiations. Focusing primarily on Brazil and Angola in relation to the history of the Portuguese expansion and its cultural, institutional and political imprints (Lusotopia), I explore themes and trends from recent studies such as Miguel Vale de Almeida’s O Atlântico Pardo (2006) – an “ironic designation [alluding to Paul Gilroy’s Black Atlantic] to the world created during the Portuguese empire, or more precisely, the vaster hegemonic narrative of the supposed Portuguese miscegenation project” (109), and the analogical connections between the ship which sinks and the once afloat empire which has fallen. Keywords: Post-colonialism; Lusophone Cinema; Transatlantic triangle, Shipwreck, National Identity.