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A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance

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The story of how enslaved women struggled for freedom in the West Indies Aside from Mary Prince, enslaved West Indian women had few opportunities to record their stories for posterity. Yet from their dusty footprints and the umpteen small clues they left for us to unravel, there’s no question that they earned their place in history. Pick any Caribbean island and you’ll find The story of how enslaved women struggled for freedom in the West Indies Aside from Mary Prince, enslaved West Indian women had few opportunities to record their stories for posterity. Yet from their dusty footprints and the umpteen small clues they left for us to unravel, there’s no question that they earned their place in history. Pick any Caribbean island and you’ll find race, skin colour and rank interacting with gender in a unique and often volatile way. Moreover, the evidence points to a distinctly female role in the development of a culture of slave resistance—a role that was not just central, but downright dynamic. From the coffle-line to the Great House, enslaved women found ways of fighting back that beggar belief. Whether responding to the horrendous conditions of plantation life, the sadistic vagaries of their captors or the “peculiar burdens of their sex,” their collective sanity relied on a highly subversive adaptation of the values and cultures they smuggled with them naked from different parts of Africa. By sustaining or adapting remembered cultural practices, they ensured that the lives of chattel slaves retained both meaning and purpose. This sense of self gave rise to a sense of agency and over time, both their subtle acts of insubordination and their conscious acts of rebellion came to undermine the very fabric and survival of West Indian slavery.


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The story of how enslaved women struggled for freedom in the West Indies Aside from Mary Prince, enslaved West Indian women had few opportunities to record their stories for posterity. Yet from their dusty footprints and the umpteen small clues they left for us to unravel, there’s no question that they earned their place in history. Pick any Caribbean island and you’ll find The story of how enslaved women struggled for freedom in the West Indies Aside from Mary Prince, enslaved West Indian women had few opportunities to record their stories for posterity. Yet from their dusty footprints and the umpteen small clues they left for us to unravel, there’s no question that they earned their place in history. Pick any Caribbean island and you’ll find race, skin colour and rank interacting with gender in a unique and often volatile way. Moreover, the evidence points to a distinctly female role in the development of a culture of slave resistance—a role that was not just central, but downright dynamic. From the coffle-line to the Great House, enslaved women found ways of fighting back that beggar belief. Whether responding to the horrendous conditions of plantation life, the sadistic vagaries of their captors or the “peculiar burdens of their sex,” their collective sanity relied on a highly subversive adaptation of the values and cultures they smuggled with them naked from different parts of Africa. By sustaining or adapting remembered cultural practices, they ensured that the lives of chattel slaves retained both meaning and purpose. This sense of self gave rise to a sense of agency and over time, both their subtle acts of insubordination and their conscious acts of rebellion came to undermine the very fabric and survival of West Indian slavery.

30 review for A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance

  1. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    writing: clear & concise pace: great topic: slavery, west indies, resistance, women importance: SO MUCH. do we need any more evidence for reparations? but this is why we aren't taught abt slavery in detail writing: clear & concise pace: great topic: slavery, west indies, resistance, women importance: SO MUCH. do we need any more evidence for reparations? but this is why we aren't taught abt slavery in detail

  2. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    This is a really good and timely book. While if you are American -North or South- or West Indian and have studied slavery, some of the book will be familiar. there is still much to be learned from the book. Dadzie looks at the impact of slavery, mostly in the West Indies, on Black women. The book chronicles not only slavery in the West Indies but also capture and transportation. Hopefully, Dadzie's excellent book will be an introductory text to a future series dealing with women and slavery. This is a really good and timely book. While if you are American -North or South- or West Indian and have studied slavery, some of the book will be familiar. there is still much to be learned from the book. Dadzie looks at the impact of slavery, mostly in the West Indies, on Black women. The book chronicles not only slavery in the West Indies but also capture and transportation. Hopefully, Dadzie's excellent book will be an introductory text to a future series dealing with women and slavery.

  3. 4 out of 5

    womanist bibliophile

    An important corrective to the pernicious false notion that enslaved Black women were seen as "non-women". Stella Dadzie demonstrates the numerous ways in which enslaved women were recognised as women, treated differently from men on the basis of their female sex and subjected to particular forms of exploitation and abuse precisely because they were known to be women. Women's resistance, too, was shaped by their womanhood and this was also noted very closely by the slavers who sought to ward aga An important corrective to the pernicious false notion that enslaved Black women were seen as "non-women". Stella Dadzie demonstrates the numerous ways in which enslaved women were recognised as women, treated differently from men on the basis of their female sex and subjected to particular forms of exploitation and abuse precisely because they were known to be women. Women's resistance, too, was shaped by their womanhood and this was also noted very closely by the slavers who sought to ward against and punish this woman-resistance. Frankly, the very idea that this could not have been the case is absurd and would be laughable were the consequences of it not so damaging to Black women today and so dishonouring of our beloved fore-mothers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    2TReads

    I don't usually rate non-fic, but this one needed ot. This was a great read! -As my two estates are at the two extremities of the island, I am entitled to say from my own knowledge...that book-keepers and overseers kick black women in the belly from one end of Jamaica to the other- Matthew Monk Lewis 🌍🌍🌍 Dadzie uses clear, precise writing to document the stealing, transportation, subjugation, enslavement, and rebellion of Africans, notably our women, from The Continent to the New World. 🌍🌎🌏 As she p I don't usually rate non-fic, but this one needed ot. This was a great read! -As my two estates are at the two extremities of the island, I am entitled to say from my own knowledge...that book-keepers and overseers kick black women in the belly from one end of Jamaica to the other- Matthew Monk Lewis 🌍🌍🌍 Dadzie uses clear, precise writing to document the stealing, transportation, subjugation, enslavement, and rebellion of Africans, notably our women, from The Continent to the New World. 🌍🌎🌏 As she presents the forgotten spaces and importance of women and the crucial contributions they made within this time, her acerbic wit and commitment to ensuring that whatever illumination could be brought so that these women, named and unnamed, would have their place in the narrative of resistance. 🌏🌎🌍 Dadzie holds nothing back as she exposes the realities and debunks the racialised perceptions that have been a part of the colonizers handbook for far too long. She uses this research to elucidate the roles that our ancestors have been placed in and how that influences to this day the way white society reacts to and perpetuates held presumptions on our bodies and consciousness. 🌎🌎🌎 -Slavery and the Slave Trade, with its crude levelling of sexual distinctions, meant that African women shared every inch of the man's spiritual and physical odyssey- Lucille Mathurin Mair 🌎🌍🌏 There is no doubt that Black women are absolutely the definition of strength. The horrors they endured, witnessed, made a part of, and yet still, they stood firmly in their right to be free, to orchestrate action, and undermine the colonialist institution. 🌎🌏🌎

  5. 5 out of 5

    Colin Cox

    A Kick in the Belly is a short but indispensable study of the British Empire's crimes in the 17th, 18th, and 19th-century slave trade. However, what is far more consequential is how those women, specifically enslaved West Indian women in the Caribbean, fought and resisted the brutal conditions of slavery. As Dadzie attests, enslaved African women carry "many of her race's heaviest burdens" (170). Despite those many burdens, enslaved African women were also carriers of a collective consciousness, A Kick in the Belly is a short but indispensable study of the British Empire's crimes in the 17th, 18th, and 19th-century slave trade. However, what is far more consequential is how those women, specifically enslaved West Indian women in the Caribbean, fought and resisted the brutal conditions of slavery. As Dadzie attests, enslaved African women carry "many of her race's heaviest burdens" (170). Despite those many burdens, enslaved African women were also carriers of a collective consciousness, a sense of being in the world defined by pain, anguish, and suffering but also resistance, perseverance, and revolution. As Dadzie sees it, these women "played a vital role as they moulded and reshaped the cultural traditions that would sustain their people through centuries of tyranny, so that we, their distant kin and scattered descendants, would know our worth" (170). Passages like this remind me of the work of Audre Lorde, the black radical feminist, who, in her poem "Black Mother Woman," echoes Dadzie sentiment: But I have peeled away your anger down to the core of love and look mother I Am a dark temple where your true spirit rises beautiful and tough as chestnut stanchion against your nightmares of weakness and if my eyes conceal a squadron of conflicting rebellions I learned from you to define myself through your denials. Both Dadzie and Lorde engage this question of what the black maternal body endures and produces, and for both Dadzie and Lorde, the black maternal body is the inheritor of "a wealth of inner resources" (171).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Malcolm

    What was known as the ‘New World’ was built on colonialism, enslavement, dispossession and appropriation (there was, of course, a perfectly well functioning ‘Old World’ there before 1492 and the beginning in earnest that colonialism, enslavement, dispossession and appropriation). The continents’ Indigenous peoples bore the initial brunt of both dispossession and enslavement – but the enslavement quickly came to be carried by people stolen, kidnapped and otherwise acquired from (mainly west and w What was known as the ‘New World’ was built on colonialism, enslavement, dispossession and appropriation (there was, of course, a perfectly well functioning ‘Old World’ there before 1492 and the beginning in earnest that colonialism, enslavement, dispossession and appropriation). The continents’ Indigenous peoples bore the initial brunt of both dispossession and enslavement – but the enslavement quickly came to be carried by people stolen, kidnapped and otherwise acquired from (mainly west and west central) Africa. It is estimated that around 12.5 million people were shipped out between 1501 and 1867, and that 10.7 million were disembarked as enslaved in the Americas: of that 1.8 million who didn’t make it, only around 160,000 (were) disembarked elsewhere (the majority of whom overthrew the captors at sea and returned ’home’). These are blunt and raw figures giving a sense of the extent of the trade in humans, the dispossession of their humanity and subjecthood and conversion to chattels. Many of us have an image of the life of the enslaved – yet paradoxically for much of the English-speaking world at least, that image is based on the USA, which received directly fewer than 400,00 of those enslaved people, far fewer than the English, Spanish, French and Dutch colonies of the Caribbean, or Portuguese and Spanish South America. This is not to diminish the brutality of USA’s enslavement of humans, but to make the point that our image based on their experience is hardly typical, and to a very large degree lets Britain, France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands off the hook when it comes to the consequences of that colonialism, enslavement, dispossession and appropriation. Our image is also, as is much of our historical understanding, shaped by the experiences of men – even among the dispossessed and enslaved. It is precisely this image that Stella Dadzie sets disrupts in this (fairly) short, engaging exploration of women’s experiences of and resistance to the system of enslavement. She focuses almost exclusively on the British West Indies and the parts of west Africa from which the enslaved in those colonies were acquired. The sources, as much as anything else, mean that she accentuates the experiences of Jamaica and Barbados, but draws also on places such as Antigua, Tobago, St Kitts and outside the British world Montserrat and the Antilles making clear although systems and legislation may have varied slightly, patterns and practices were similar. She structures her case the trace the shift from west Africa through the Middle Passage to productive and reproductive life, including the maintenance and production of cultural autonomy. In doing so she disrupts and debunks many of our dominant images of the lives of the enslaved. First, in comparison to our image of the USA’s southern states, the West Indies colonies were sugar producers resulting in profoundly different work experiences. We learn, for instance, that the majority of ‘field hands’ in Barbados were probably women. Although Dadzie does not make this point explicitly (it is implicit in her case) that this is largely written out of our received historical understandings may well because colonial discourses of dehumanisation were not sufficient to protect the patriarchal image of (white) women’s fragility. Second, because in places such as Jamaica many of the enslaved were drawn from specific regions of west Africa there is a good chance that there was considerable continuation of ‘Old World’ knowledge systems and orders, enhancing autonomy and perhaps enriching resistance. Methodologically Dadzie has ‘re-read’ existing material to locate and relocate women, but has also revisited sources and in the manner of a good revisionist historian asked new questions of both the evidence and its existing interpretations, meaning that this is not just a case of writing women into an established narrative. The case she makes here should be enough for us to rethink major aspects of established historical understanding. For instance, she does not just assert women’s participation in rebellion but grants many key leadership roles, while recognising the patchiness of evidence so asserting a plausible case (the best we can do in many instances) that unsettles the dominant patriarchal lens. More significantly, she rethinks the fairly well-known birth rate evidence from the early 19th century, and especially the rise in live births and fall in neo-natal mortality to argue that women were actively controlling fertility, suggesting also that this was as resistance to slavery. It is a powerful and highly plausible case: the evidence and her interpretation is weighty. It is also a case that suggests a high level of cultural resistance, maintenance of subjecthood and powerful knowledge networks of women. Alongside this significant rethinking of the West Indies system of slavery Dadzie has been careful in her attention to her intended audience, which is not narrowly cast as academics (like me) but a wider reading public. It is a well evidenced case but the accoutrements of academic justification do not intrude. On top of that, the writing style is rich and engaging (all power to both Dadzie and her editor here), while the layout of the text, fairly short chapters and relatively large typeface send out important messages about accessibility. At a time when de/colonial history and histories of enslavement have a high profile in Britain I hope this finds a wide audience while also having an impact on scholarly and research communities – it deserves both. Highly recommended.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nita (ecobookworm)

    Wow, what a book! This is a valuable record of the particular horrors that women suffered during slavery in the Caribbean, and the role they played in perseverance and resistance. It's a difficult read in terms of content, for obvious reasons - the horrors of slavery and the specific toll taken on women is graphically detailed. Information will be familiar to anyone with a background in Caribbean history, but the focus on women's stories, voices and experiences makes it worth your while. I espec Wow, what a book! This is a valuable record of the particular horrors that women suffered during slavery in the Caribbean, and the role they played in perseverance and resistance. It's a difficult read in terms of content, for obvious reasons - the horrors of slavery and the specific toll taken on women is graphically detailed. Information will be familiar to anyone with a background in Caribbean history, but the focus on women's stories, voices and experiences makes it worth your while. I especially appreciated the exploration of African background, heritage, knowledge and traditions, and how they were brought over to the Caribbean. The book is laid out in a very logical and comprehensive way, covering everything from the development of slavery and role of women leaders in resistance, to the Middle Passage, to life on the plantations, punishments, reproductive issues and rebellions. I was interested in this topic as I was already somewhat familiar with it, having done a final project on women's suffering during slavery for History class in high school. There's a depth of information here that's truly revealing, and as much as it's horrifying, it's also inspiring to see the ways that women were able to resist. Much of history hasn't captured that, I'm so glad this book exists! The focus on the Caribbean makes it particularly valuable to those interested in feminist and Caribbean history. It's also written in an accessible and non-academic way that's quite approachable, I'd recommend it to anyone interested in the topic. I listened to the audiobook on scribd, which was very well done and not too long, about 6 hours. Do keep in mind though that there are some illustrations in the print version that you'll miss on the audio.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zuky the BookBum

    A really informative and accessible look into slavery in the West Indies with a particular focus on women. This book flips the idea, that female slaves were docile and resigned to their fate, on its head. Dadzie explores Black women’s resistance and resilience against slavery and the many ways in which they took control over their own outcomes. Highly recommended reading!!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brindi Michele

    I think this would be a great addition for any high school history classroom (or early college).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Thought it was great, a hard mission to fulfil the aim of the book, which is to fill the gaps caused by hundreds of years of white washing and centring europeans and white Americans at the centre of the movement for abolition. Dadzie does a great job at giving black women back their voice and their autonomy, constantly reiterating the point that black female slaves cannot be reduced to docile, sexualised beings that were indifferent and simply consigned to their fate as slaves. Consistently smas Thought it was great, a hard mission to fulfil the aim of the book, which is to fill the gaps caused by hundreds of years of white washing and centring europeans and white Americans at the centre of the movement for abolition. Dadzie does a great job at giving black women back their voice and their autonomy, constantly reiterating the point that black female slaves cannot be reduced to docile, sexualised beings that were indifferent and simply consigned to their fate as slaves. Consistently smashing the popular belief of women's "luck" in the system of slavery, that they got away lightly in comparison to their male counterparts, Dadzie delves into the various ways that the slave system uniquely punished women and therefore the way that women had huge vested interest in abolition and the ways in which they were uniquely situated to bring the system to its knees. In particular, the chapter surrounding research into the ways in which women, defiant to the interests of the slave owners and the slave system as a whole, managed to reduce the population of slaves through the reclamation of their body autonomy and a determination not to allow any human to be born into the system of slavery.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    I received this book as a part of the October Verso Book Club selection. An accessible account of women's resistance to being sold and treated as property. The author, Stella Dadzie is best known for her work, The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain, which these days is considered a classic. As Dadzie writes, her "thesis seemed pretty straightforward: it was the struggles between white masters and black slaves, oppressors and oppressed, that had led to the abolition of the transatlan I received this book as a part of the October Verso Book Club selection. An accessible account of women's resistance to being sold and treated as property. The author, Stella Dadzie is best known for her work, The Heart of the Race: Black Women's Lives in Britain, which these days is considered a classic. As Dadzie writes, her "thesis seemed pretty straightforward: it was the struggles between white masters and black slaves, oppressors and oppressed, that had led to the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade in 1807, and this in turn had paved the way for the slaves' eventual emancipation a quarter of a century later. To credit Wilberforce with this victory, as if he alone were responsible, was like crediting Christopher Columbus with the discovery of America - 'a dyam, blasted lie.'" However, after a year long sabbatical, she came to realize history is far more complex and nuanced than absolutes, whether they are absolute truths or absolute lies. This led to a re-framed thesis: "the only conclusion I could embrace with any certainty was that the respective actions of the enslaved and those who championed their emancipation - diverse and disparate as they were - had combined with the economic imperatives of the day to work like a pincer until the abolition of the Africa trade became an increasingly urgent and persuasive option." She goes on to question the role of women in all of this. More specifically, women who don't fit into the two common stereotypes: 1) that of the woman who has it 'easier' under slavery and 2) the 'long-suffering, broad-backed matriarch, eminently suited to the rigours of slavery on account of her African ancestry.' Thus, this work functions as an introduction of women who actively struggled against this horrendous economic system. If you have any interest in Atlantic history, the slave trade, the history of Europe (especially Britain), the horrible history of imperial powers, and the role of women in all of it, this book is worth your time.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Heidi

    An inspiring and extremely well-written study of African women in the transatlantic slave trade. Often framed as victims, A Kick in the Belly compels readers to reconsider the role of enslaved women in the struggle for freedom with stories of resistance and resiliency.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Liv

    "If anything is to be learnt from this shared history of ours, it is that our capacity to challenge its legacies remains largely untapped." A Kick in the Belly is a powerful historical examination of the lives of enslaved West Indian women. However it's far more than that, Dadzie uses her intro and afterwards to highlights how modern slavery, human trafficking, exploitation of African resources are all problems that plague us today and make this history and the legacy of the history "If anything is to be learnt from this shared history of ours, it is that our capacity to challenge its legacies remains largely untapped." A Kick in the Belly is a powerful historical examination of the lives of enslaved West Indian women. However it's far more than that, Dadzie uses her intro and afterwards to highlights how modern slavery, human trafficking, exploitation of African resources are all problems that plague us today and make this history and the legacy of the history so important. This book almost certainly has some heavy passages and traumatic content and therefore is not one I recommend lightly. However it's an area of history not commonly touched on in mainstream texts, as part of my history degree, we had a couple of clssses on slavery which predominantly focused on the American South and whilst this did examine slave resistance, culture, community etc, this wasn't a gendered history and largely excluded slavery in the Caribbean. The reason this book is so important is because Stella Dadzie makes the history of academics accessible, and applies a gendered focus which is generally less widespread in accessible media. Until reading this book I had never though about the impact of women menstruating in the middle passage, the specific impacts on women's gynaecological health and fertility caused by the hardships they faced. Whilst I had some knowledge of women's roles, the punishments they faced, living in fear of rape and the brutalities of slavery. There were many aspects of women's experiences specifically that this book focused on that I had not necessarily considered in the way Dadzie discussed. One of the most interesting elements for me was Stella Dadzie's discussions surrounding women's subversion of their white owners through taking control of their fertility. This was not something I'd read about in the context of slavery, but was something I'd focused my masters thesis on in context of Apartheid South Africa. It brought to light how women throughout history have resisted and subverted power in ways in which are not always clearly documented, but points to the agency and the resilience of women throughout history. By having abortions and preventing pregnancy these enslaved women consciously stopped slave owners from gaining more slaves. These were powerful acts of resistance from enslaved women that have not necessarily been recorded, not to mention the psychological effects and trauma this had on these women. Stella Dadzie's work is an excellently researched and well put together exploration of enslaved women's position in the Caribbean. It's an important area of our history that gets too little focus and she provides a light into the past to help remember these women and their rebellious acts.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Noah

    Thoughts: -Well-written and well-researched -Focuses on enslaved women in the Caribbean. As Dadzie notes, histories of Atlantic slavery understudy enslaved women, and as such her research is vitally important At times it seems that Dadzie takes for granted the gender/sex binary. For example, on page 67 in reference to the fact that Jamaica was "prone to revolt," she writes: “Early Jamaican planters…are known to have expressed a preference for male slaves. Over 70 per cent of slave imports are thoug Thoughts: -Well-written and well-researched -Focuses on enslaved women in the Caribbean. As Dadzie notes, histories of Atlantic slavery understudy enslaved women, and as such her research is vitally important At times it seems that Dadzie takes for granted the gender/sex binary. For example, on page 67 in reference to the fact that Jamaica was "prone to revolt," she writes: “Early Jamaican planters…are known to have expressed a preference for male slaves. Over 70 per cent of slave imports are thought to have been male prior to 1700, providing a perfect crucible for tempers fueled by testosterone and the frustrations of stolen liberty." The explanation that men were more likely to revolt because of testosterone reinforces cultural myths about T as increasing aggression, which is overly simplistic. I wished Dadzie further recognized the sexual violence that enslaved men experienced. She writes, "Biology alone spared [enslaved men] … the ever-present threat of rape. There were undoubtably exceptions, particularly where prospective ‘studs’ or attractive young boys were concerned, but it is fair to assume that a majority of men on the plantation escaped the trauma of casual and repeated sexual abuse from all comers" (104-5). Although the ways in which enslavers subjected enslaved men and women to sexual violence differ, and Dadzie's research is on women rather than men, it is worth acknowledging how and why this violence differed along gendered lines.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    Excellent way to share stories that are not often enough told. I highly recommend delving into the notes of this book and reading some of the reference, since this book is short and relies heavily on the reader checking out the notes. This book was eye opening for me and I suspect it would be for most people.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Inés Paris

    Five stars is simply not enough. I cried I questioned and I was washed away by her powerful, accurate, incredible writing. Thank you. EVERYONE should read this book, there is so much to do, so much to fix, so much responsibility to be taken and so much unlearning of history that needs to happen NOW.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

    I didn't actually finish this book. I wanted to like it but there were too many issues with it. The first issue was to suggest that some slave women willingly had sexual relations with white men. Secondly mentioning Wikipedia as a source for more information in regards to the book. And then to suggest that women slaves tried to get the attention of white men. I didn't actually finish this book. I wanted to like it but there were too many issues with it. The first issue was to suggest that some slave women willingly had sexual relations with white men. Secondly mentioning Wikipedia as a source for more information in regards to the book. And then to suggest that women slaves tried to get the attention of white men.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Anwen Ricketts

    Absolutely incredible. Educated me on an area of history I had been completely ignorant of.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ama-louise

    Absolutely amazing to see the lives of enslaved women illuminated and brought from the shadows to the forefront.

  20. 5 out of 5

    George Foord

    A great insight into the horrifying time of slavery.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Cameron Mackintosh

    Fantastic book but it was too short !!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Moune

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kayla Fennelly

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nasrin

  25. 4 out of 5

    Libby

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sion Ford

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nuala Flewett

  28. 5 out of 5

    Eileen

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kaja

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tom Blackburn

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