Book 3 Response 2, Book 4 Response 1 (Reading 5)


Pages 352-400


This section begins with the chapter,  “Elephants for want of towns.” In this chapter, Aminata remains in Nova Scotia long after much of Shelburne shut down with the rest of the Black Loyalists in Birchtown. Aminata had no information as to where May was, but still held her close in her heart and would not let go of the idea that someday she will find May, and perhaps even Chekura. One day a black man named Thomas Peters visits Birchtown to seek contributions to visit England to preach a case in support of the Black Loyalists in Nova Scotia, who face continual racism and still have not received the land that they were promised. Many of the citizens of Birchtown believed that Thomas was too optimistic but they still contributed in what ways that they could. Soon after Thomas left the people of Birchtown forgot about him but about a year later he returned to Birchtown claiming that he had found white men who were looking for free negroes to start a settlement in Sierra Leone in Africa. Few people believed him due to the lack of details but soon after Aminata finds an advertisement in the Royal Gazette which said that the Sierra Leone Company in London, England was looking to establish a free settlement on the coast of Africa and would give every free black who could prove their character land. Soon after this advertisement a British navy man and abolitionist by the name of John Clarkson who proves the claims that were made in the paper. John Clarkson says that he needs a note taker and several people suggest ‘Meena’, Aminata steps forward and offers her services to the expedition as a note taker. Clarkson is shocked at first that she is a woman but agrees to utilize her abilities. The reader learns more about how the previous attempts to colonize Sierra Leone have failed and the rules of the colony. Aminata agrees to help but will not go with them to Sierra Leone because she is waiting for Chekura and May to return. John Clarkson agrees to look into Joseph for Aminata and Aminata agrees to work for him until they leave for Sierra Leone.  Soon after this, Aminata goes with John Clarkson to Halifax on official abolitionist business. While there she encounters three Negroes who have walked for three days from Saint John, New Brunswick in the hopes of traveling to Sierra Leone, Clarkson admits them to the trip. As it gets closer and closer to the expedition, more and more Negroes arrive in Nova Scotia in hopes making it to Africa. Aminata encounters maps of Africa with the same exotic animals and clothe-less people as all other maps in the interior, she relates this to poetry by Jonathon Swift which states:

So geographers, in Afric-maps,

With savage-pictures fill their gaps

And o’er unhabitable downs

Place elephants for want of towns.

Aminata relates to this immensely and is discouraged that she cannot find Bayo on the map or any real markers which tell her how far she would be from home if she went to Sierra Leone.  John Clarkson takes Aminata aside and confirms to her the horrors that she could only imagine – that the Joseph went down and everyone on the ship had died. Accepting that she will never see her husband, or likely her daughter ever again, Aminata leaves with the rest of the Negroes for Sierra Leone on January 15, 1792.

The next chapter marks the beginning of the final book, book 4, and is called “Toubab with black face.” The chapter starts with Aminata arriving in the water off Sierra Leone, only a short distance away from Bance Island, where she left Africa for America nearly fourty years earlier. Just days after arriving in Sierra Leone the loyalists discover that the local Temne people, ruled by King Jimmy, row slaves out to Bance Island. This makes the loyalists incredibly uncomfortable having just escaped slavery and North America, Clarkson insists that the colony is the safest place for them on the coast of Africa but, understandably, the loyalists are hurt but Aminata, privately, believes that Clarkson is right. Shortly after, Aminata meets King Jimmy for the first time, who is incredibly patronizing and continues to suggest that Aminata will marry him eventually. With the help of King Jimmy, the same people who rowed the slaves towards the slave ships row Aminata and the rest of the Nova Scotians to the African coast. Once in Freetown, as the settlement was called, the Nova Scotians are angry that they have to follow more “white man rules” but know that they have to rely on the Sierra Leone Company for everything until they are self-sufficient so they, mostly, agree to follow Clarkson’s rules. Life in Freetown is hostile to say the least, many people die of fever and sickness, and outside of the boundaries of Freetown the Nova Scotians cannot be protected from the dangers outside of the borders. Aminata feels that this is limiting her freedom and ability to return to her home but reluctantly follows instructions, and takes time to learn Temne in order to be more connected with the Africans in Sierra Leone. The Nova Scotians set up Freetown and begin fortifying the settlements but have yet to receive the land that they were promised. Aminata is discouraged because they do not visit the Temne people, nor do they interact with them aside from trading. The only people other than the Nova Scotians and the Sierra Leone Company who stay in Freetown are the slave traders from Bance Island. Aminata continues to work as a secretary of sorts for Clarkson and tells about how chaotic and loud it is in Freetown with the mixing of the Temne, slave traders, sailors and Nova Scotians. The Nova Scotians grow to love Freetown but Aminata only sees Freetown as a bridge back to Bayo and learns Temne in hopes of finding someone who can take her back home. As Aminata trades with a young Temne woman named Fatima she asks her if she could take her inland towards the Joliba river and Fatima refuses, saying that she is not allowed to show any of the toubabu from the ship their land. Aminata is taken aback and discouraged when Fatima calls her a toubab with a black face and begins to understand how hard it would have been for geographers to reach the interior to actually place towns.

One day in October, a large slave coffle is marched through Freetown on it’s way to Bance Island and Aminata sees a young girl, likely the same age as she was when she had been marched from the interior to the coast forty years ago. Aminata attempts to sooth this girl and ties a red scarf around the girl’s wrist to calm her down, even though she cannot free her. The Nova Scotians are angered by this blatant disrespect for their rules in Freetown by the Temne, who allow this to occur.  A fight breaks out over the coffle between slavers and the Nova Scotians which kills Thomas Peters.


This section is certainly the most interesting, in my opinion, thus far in the novel. Elephants for want of towns is a clear and concise telling of the preparation to travel to Africa and shows Aminata being a far more believable character in this section than in previous sections. I appreciated her loyalty to Chekura and May, but also liked how she is willing to know when she has to do what is right for herself and chooses to return to Africa. I also liked the use of Jonathon Swift’s On Poetry: A Rhapsody which is beautiful in its entirety and can be read here. I absolutely loved Aminata’s development regarding this passage in “Toubab with black face” when she finally realizes how difficult it would be for the geographers to create accurate maps of the entire. Aminata’s development going full circle is much appreciated in this section. I enjoyed how she realizes that in America she was an African, in Canada she was a Loyalist (British American) and how in Africa she is a Nova Scotian, as well as how her travels have made it so that people from her own land do not even view her as an African anymore. The growth of Aminata’s sympathy and understanding for the white men, as well as the people that she has met throughout her journey, in this section is outstanding and very well written. I feel that this chapter is a turning point in Aminata’s story as she is forced to put herself in the shoes of others and in the final moments of the section, she becomes the person that she hated when she was a young girl – a bystander who does nothing to fight for her freedom.


One thought on “Book 3 Response 2, Book 4 Response 1 (Reading 5)

  1. Those are some really interesting points that you brought up, Anika. I also liked the chapter Elephants for want of towns, the preparation for the exodus to Africa is definitely interesting.
    It was also very interesting to see how Aminata realized her identity has changed because of those places she visited, as you pointed out. It felt to me like the whole time she was in America, Aminata thought of herself as an African and never thought to relate herself to the Colonies. However, now that she has returned to Africa, she realized that her travels have changed her more than she’d thought, and that she was no longer still the African girl she has thought herself to be for so long.
    Aminata’s understanding of the white men was interesting as well, especially compared with the beginning sections when they were all portrayed as antagonistic in some way. It’s always good to have some contrast.
    I agree with you that the part on Bance Island where Aminata was unable to help the captured slaves was interesting. She did become a bystander, and I think it helped her to understand the other people were were bystanders during her own capture.

    Liked by 1 person

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