Responses to Other Blogs

Reading One

http://thesoundofgitgud.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/review-book-1/

I find your response to Hill’s use of clichés rather interesting. I also found that the characters were cliché, but I’m not sure if I would identify this as a fault of Hill himself, literature as a whole or the lack of accurate, non-sensationalized information about west African villages in the 1700’s prior to the slave trade. Clichés regarding characters like Fanta and Fomba exist because a. they work as tools to progress the story and b. are based in logical situations and reactions. Fanta is not just the no-nonsense housewife, but also a woman who fears her position with her husband will be taken over by an eleven-year-old girl, which would undoubtedly leave Fanta feeling fragile and forced to put on a strong face. The historical accuracies definitely carry the story thus far, but I would disagree that Aminata is uncharacteristically capable. As a woman in a misogynistic society, Aminata has been forced to take on responsibility at times which would be considered premature by modern, western standards. This is the basis for her strength once she reaches the slave ship. We also need to remember that Aminata is narrating this as an old woman and, therefore, is reflecting on life and is unreliable.

Reading Two

http://kaemora.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/the-book-of-negroes-book-two-pages-103-63/

I also found that the way Aminata’s treatment on the plantation was portrayed was contrary to what I was taught. I can only presume that you were taught, as I was, that slavery was much worse than it is being portrayed by Aminata. Undoubtedly, slavery is inexcusable and a great shame on humans as a whole. However, after being taught that slaves were regularly beaten, raped or killed I was shocked by how easy it was for Aminata to create a life on the plantation where she had friends, a lover, and a teacher. I also thought that it was rather odd that Aminata has not been punished for being intelligent – I know that her intelligence is threatening – but I wonder how much of Georgia’s warnings came from jealousy that Georgia was not as smart as Aminata and never would be.

Reading Three

http://rab9644501602.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-book-of-negroes-response-3-pages-163-233/

I like how you mentioned that these things still happen today. A lot of focus in the Western world is on slavery as this ancient atrocity but to this day terrorist groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State kidnap and take people captive as slaves. Slavery is not a thing of the past it’s a present day issue that we, as a society, turn a blind eye to.

Reading Four

http://leungwingkay.wordpress.com/2014/11/18/the-book-of-negroes-personal-response-pages-233-351/

I’m not sure that Lindo went from being a mean slave owner to a nice slave owner, but rather that he went from being a man utilizing free labour, to a man in mourning, to a man once again utilizing free labour. While no one would argue that Lindo was truly a good man because he owned Aminata and Dolly, I find it hard to believe that Lindo was a bad man. Contrary to Appleby, Lindo does not rape or beat Aminata, he allows her to learn to read and write, work for her own money, wander without a guide and speak proper English. I think that Lindo was being honest when he said that he referred to his slaves as servants because he certainly doesn’t act like Aminata and Dolly are slaves. Therefore I was not surprised when Lindo did not ask for his slave back, and instead set Aminata free.

http://val1118.wordpress.com/2014/12/08/fourth-reading-response/

I agree with you that the story is beginning to fall flat. After reading a lot of other classmates blogs I can see that many people agree with us that Hill begins to disappoint starting with this reading. I wonder if we had encountered this novel outside of an academic setting if it would have made a difference. I was enthralled while reading the novel, but once I had to analyze it, I felt as though I was flogging a dead horse. I think that from a surface level this novel is quite good, but once you look at it from an academic literary stand point it cannot hold its own against other novels, particularly classics such as Gulliver’s Travels, which is mentioned in the novel.

Reading Five

http://leungwingkay.wordpress.com/2014/11/22/the-book-of-negroes-personal-response-page-352-400/

I, too, was upset that the Witherspoons had taken May. Aminata’s undying dedication to Chekura and May is admirable, even after being told that her husband is dead she refuses to take advantage of situations which would better her social and economic standing (such as marrying King Jimmy). This says a lot about Aminata’s character and values – undoubtedly she is holding on to Chekura because he is a connection to her Africa, but even then the level of commitment for a place she hasn’t seen in thirty+ years is outstanding.

Reading Six

https://ayz3712.wordpress.com/2014/12/07/book-of-negroes-part-6-ending/

I agree with you completely – I, too, was disappointed by the predictability of the end of the novel. It felt cheap and rushed yet unrealistic too. Overall, I felt cheated by Hill when I finished the novel because it had such promise in the first few sections but seemed to fall flat in the end. I’m not sure that there would be a way to end the novel without doing an injustice to the first three books, however. Because Hill chose to narrate the book in past tense as Aminata’s story from London we know that Aminata survives all of the atrocities she faces, which is rather disappointing. It’s sort of like starting to read a book and knowing that there are multiple novels afterwards so you know that the main character lives. I think that the only way for this to end well would have been Aminata’s death, which would have been equally weak and is, generally, a poor writing technique for a professional to utilize.

Book 4 Response 2 (Reading 6)

reading6Pages 400-end

Summary

This section begins with the chapter “Help from the saints” which takes off where the last section ended – with the death of Thomas Peters. Daddy Moses arranges a “family meeting,” which only Nova Scotians are allowed to attend. This is a point of contention between the Nova Scotians and the Sierra Leone Company which ends in compromise – the Nova Scotians have a family meeting first and then the company joins in. Before the Company joins, many Nova Scotians call for a coup but this idea is shot down, much to Aminata’s relief. Clarkson offers financial support regarding the funerals and taking care of the widows left behind after the two Nova Scotians die. The Nova Scotians, as well as Alexander Falconbridge, a governor of Sierra Leone, agree that Clarkson is one of the last decent toubabs. Falconbridge invites Aminata aboard the King George for dinner. While on the ship he talks about his time as a doctor on a slave ship, as well as his travels across the ocean. Falconbridge tells Aminata that the only way she can return back inland is to go to Bance Island because the slave traders are the only ones who would be willing to take her inland. Visiting with Falconbridge reminds Aminata of her horrid time of the slave ship to America because she reads his memoir. Anna Maria, the wife of Alexander Falconbridge, becomes fast friends with Aminata and tells her about Olaudah Equiano, a former slave who wrote a memoir which is incredibly popular in England at the moment. Anna Maria also starts a bit of a debate with Aminata over the slave trade, playing Devil’s Advocate, this is slightly frustrating for Aminata but she appreciates how open Anna Maria is with her.

The next chapter is called “G for Grant, and O for Oswald”, this chapter begins with Aminata agreeing to let Falconbridge take her to Bance Island. Aminata dresses up in her fanciest, most British clothes in order to mentally separate herself from the young girl that was at Bance Island years and years earlier. Once on Bance Island, Aminata meets William Armstrong, follows Falconbridge through the castle and is waited on by Temne slaves. Aminata listens as Armstrong and Falconbridge debate the sanity of King George III; Aminata examines a painting of Queen Charlotte and wonders why anyone would call her the black queen with such white skin and features. After dinner, Armstrong tries to convince Aminata not to go back to Bayo, telling her that it is too dangerous and doubting her knowledge that she went through Bance Island to get to South Carolina. Aminata tells him that she is not scared of the danger and must return home. As Armstrong continues to berate her, Aminata reveals to Armstrong the brand mark above her breast which is marked GO. She learns from Armstrong that this stands for Grant Oswald, who is the man who owns Bance Island. The next day, Aminata meets with African traders and makes a deal with a Fula trader named Alassane, Aminata does not want them to know that she can speak Fulfulde, so she only speaks to them in Temne, which proves advantageous later in the reading. John Clarkson attempts to convince Aminata to return to England with him to help the abolitionist movement but she decides to stay in Africa to attempt to find Bayo.

The next chapter, “God willing,” begins in September of 1800, when Aminata begins the journey inland with Alassane. She says goodbye to the Nova Scotians and to the members of the Sierra Leone company like Falconbridge and Anna Maria, then leaves for her village. Aminata is not sure if she can trust Alassane, but he is her only hope of returning hope, God willing. Aminata walks for many days is and is uncomfortable with how bossy and cunning Alassane is, as well as uncomfortable with the slave coffles that she passes – but she does nothing to save those about to face the same fate that she did. Weeks into her journey back home, Aminata hears Alassane talking to another one of the traders in Fulfulde about how they are going to sell her into slavery once again and have to do it soon because she is old and growing tired. Shortly after this, Aminata escapes them and meets up with a group of Fula people. She meets a girl named Aminata, which fills her with much joy. She realizes that she can live without Bayo, but that she needs to have her freedom to survive. In the Fula village Aminata fulfills her dream of becoming a djeli but she is not truly happy with her life in the Fula village and seeks a guide to return to the coast.

The final chapter of the book is called “Grand djeli of the academy” and takes place in London in 1802. The story has finally caught up with the smaller British chapters at the beginning of the books. Aminata’s entire worldview has changed drastically since when the story started. She had always viewed England as the stepping stone to Africa, but instead used Africa as the stepping stone to England in order to help John Clarkson and the abolitionists. In England, Aminata attends meetings of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade. She meets a British Black servant named Dante, who tells Aminata that he and the rest of the black servants are not to speak with her out of fear that they will taint the accuracy of her take on slavery and the treatment of negroes. Aminata announces to the Committee that she will be penning a memoir and Stanley Hastings claims that she will need their help but Aminata insists that she will write her story herself. Soon after this, Aminata is interviewed for a newspaper in front of many members of the media, the Committee and the public and begins to tell her story. The British are shocked to hear that Aminata was branded at a slave factory, which goes against everything that the pro-slavery people were saying at the time. The shock value of her branding carries into the daily papers and news of this travels to King George III, who invites Aminata for tea. When Aminata meets the King and Queen Charlotte, Aminata takes note of how she has a broad nose, lips and rich complexion, unlike the paintings that she had seen. The Queen refers to Aminata by her full given name, which means a significant amount to Aminata, who has been compromising her name for others for years. When Aminata meets the King, he appears to be in one of his fits of insanity and does not say a word to her. After Aminata returns home from parliament, she discovers that there is a woman waiting to see her. This woman is none other than May, Aminata’s long lost daughter. May tells her mother about how she was treated like the Witherspoon’s adopted daughter until her will was too much, at which point she was treated as a house servant and locked up during the night. Eventually she left the Witherspoons and became a teacher at her own academy to teach Negroes how to read and write. Aminata remains with May for the rest of her life and becomes the Grand djeli of May’s academy. Aminata’s horrific story has a rather pleasant ending after all.

Response

In some ways this was the ending that I wanted, and in others I dreaded every minute of it. Hill certainly took on an epic of sorts in this novel and so regardless of what you thought of the earlier chapters I believe that the reader would be disappointed to a certain degree. Help from the saints seemed almost redundant to me – Falconbridge could have easily been introduced in God willing and Thomas Peters could have been mourned in the previous section. I actually quite liked the character of William Armstrong, he was well written and believable, I wonder if Alexander Falconbridge could have been merged with Armstrong as they served similar purposes and were, overall incredibly similar with the exception that, in my opinion, Armstrong was written better. I’m unsure how I feel about God Willing because of Aminata’s change in mindset regarding Bayo. While this change is believable I think that Hill should have spent more time on the transition between Aminata wanting to find Bayo, and deciding to go back to England, rather than the page that it was given at the end of the chapter. Overall, I found Aminata’s last moment in Africa rushed and I felt rather cheated by the quick end to what is arguably the entirety of the plot line. I also found that the final chapter was rushed in some ways and let me down. It was still well written and captivating, so I believe some of my disappointment comes from the fact that I’ve been forced to analyze this novel to death and back again, but overall I was saddened when May returned because it seemed incredibly unrealistic and was also heart broken by Aminata’s loss of memory in the final pages, which seemed to disappoint both May and Aminata herself.

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

reading5

Pages 352-400

Summary

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.

Response

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.

Overall Response to Novel

Overall I liked The Book of Negroes. I believe that Lawrence Hill did an excellent job of tying together seemingly unconnected places, periods of time and people with the narrator of Aminata and her story. From a purely enjoyment level this novel was rather impressive and generally lived up to my expectations, despite not being what I usually read (my daily reading consists of current events and political journalism, I also read a far bit of young adult fiction, as well as poetry and screenplays, the latter of which are normally written in previous centuries by the likes of Wilde and Milton). However, from an academic standpoint The Book of Negroes starts out incredibly strong and falls flat on its face by the time the forth book has started.

In each on of my reading section responses I pick apart various aspects of the section so I will therefore focus only a few overarching thematic issues with the novel, as well as a few other aspects which I feel deserve to be touched upon outside of the section by section reading.

Firstly, from the beginning of the novel Aminata is told by nearly everyone that she meets who is an ally, whether they are black or white, that she needs to keep her linguistic abilities hidden from others who would like to take advantage of her. Undoubtedly, Aminata’s ability to learn languages (knowing Bamanikan, Fulfulde, Arabic, Gullah, Slave English, Toubab English and Temne) is noteworthy and incredibly impressive but I felt as though based on the seven major locations that Aminata lives (Bayo, St. Helena, Charles Town, New York City, Birchtown, Freetown and London) only in Freetown does Aminata receive anything but lavish opportunities due to her linguistic abilities. I was glad (in the least twisted way possible) that the Fula traders wanted to sell Aminata back into slavery when they were supposed to take Aminata back to Bayo because it meant that someone was finally taking advantage of her for her linguistic abilities and it was the hiding of them which allowed her to escape being resold into slavery. Unfortunately, this happened so far away from Aminata’s father’s and Georgia’s warnings about showing linguistic abilities that realizing this was an after thought.

Secondly, perhaps I am just too cynical to truly enjoy the beauty of Chekura and Aminata’s relationship but I found it incredibly hard to believe. From the very beginning Aminata doesn’t particularly trust Chekura except out of necessity and it seems to me that she is only in love with him, rather than someone else, because they are both from Africa. Other than a shared back story I do not see what it is that Chekura has over any other man, negro or otherwise, that is so appealing to Aminata; perhaps if this had been explained I would find their relationship easier to believe. Furthermore, I do not believe to the slightest that Chekura was faithful to Aminata because I never see what their connection is other than coming from the same area. This makes Aminata’s faithfulness to Chekura, especially in times of great opportunity such as regarding traveling to Nova Scotia or Sierra Leone, rather disappointing because I feel as though she is potentially missing out on other opportunities because of a man that is barely there. Even though Aminata is regarded as fiercely independent in the novel, I found her to be rather weak when it came to her grotesque dependence in Chekura.

Thirdly, I felt sick to my stomach knowing how badly Aminata wanted to return to a place that was so terribly misogynistic and full of hatred. I think that Aminata views Bayo through rose-coloured glasses the second she leaves, and can never see it for the place that it truly was. Even if we ignore modern gender equality standards, Aminata is still longing to return to a place where she has no future. She would not be able to learn to read any more if her father died because everyone else in the village was either illiterate or believed that women have no place learning how to read. She was going to be forced to experienced horrendous female genital mutilation, a barbaric cultural practice which still occurs to this day in many regions which was not practiced by the toubab in the Western world. She was going to be forced into a polygamous arranged marriage with the chief of her village and she had no ability to become a djeli, something that she had always wanted to do, because of a caste-like system within her village. While I certainly do not think that slavery was the proper way to escape these atrocities I do have to give WIlliam Armstrong some credit in his arguments that Aminata had the potential to be better off in the toubab world than in her own. I am disappointed that this aspect of the novel was not covered in more detail in class.

This brings me to my fourth point. Slavery, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, polygamy, and caste-like social classes still exist in the modern world, today. As a class, rather than focusing on the novel for nearly two months we should have taken the lessons from the book and applied them to our world today. While 12 Years a Slave is an excellent movie, I feel as though we should have spent time learning about modern day slavery, such as at the hands of Boko Haram and the Islamic State, as well as discussing the Canadian connection to this novel at greater lengths since this is a Canadian Literature class.

The final point that I would like to bring up is the references to Queen Charlotte as a black or African queen throughout the novel, culminating when Aminata meets Queen Charlotte and refers to her as having a broad nose, wide lips and richer complexion than the paintings. These claims are, scientifically, of little to no validity, make little sense logically and, to me, sully the historical accuracy of the novel since in Hill’s historical notes he does not mention altering this historically. The claim that Queen Charlotte has African blood is based on two pieces of ‘evidence’. Firstly, they are based on the idea that Madragana, a 13th century mistress of a Portuguese king, was Queen Charlotte’s 16th Great Grandmother. Even if this is true Madragana would only equal 0.006 percent of Queen Charlotte’s inheirated DNA and would hardly cause her to have African features. Furthermore, Madragana was a moor, or a Berber-Arab (a major ethinic group in Morocco and Tunisia which are very close to Portugal), moors do not share visible genetic features with what one would generally consider an African. Madragana likely looked more Turkish than Guinean which makes the likelihood that Queen Charlotte looked at all like Aminata aside from basic human female shape slim to none.

Queen_Charlotte_by_studio_of_Allan_RamsayThe second piece of evidence that seems to support this claim is a painting by Scottish painter Allan Ramsay which appears to show Queen Charlotte with “mulatto” (half black/half white or more broadly, mixed race between African and European) features. There are many people who say that Ramsay painted the Queen with such features because he was an abolitionist and the idea that the Queen was part black herself lent itself rather nicely to abolishing the slave trade and slavery itself. It is genetically like that, even if Queen Charlotte had these sort of features, they were the result of her being a direct descendant of the Vandal ethnic group of Eastern Germanic origin. More on the PBS article which reignited this debate in modern times can be read here.

The Book of Negroes was an enjoyable read which I have already recommended to others, but from an analytical standpoint it has many flaws and fails to impress when compared the other literary greats which are often brought up in English classes.

Book 3 Response Part 1 (Reading 4)

reading4

Pages 233-351

Summary

Book Three begins with the chapter  “Nations not so blest as thee,” which is a chapter which takes place in London. During this chapter, Aminata attends Anglican church with Sir Stanley Hastings. The fellow churchgoers are taken aback by such an educated black person and trivialize Aminata’s knowledge like she is a child. Aminata is rather bored by the service until she hears a familiar song with the chorus:

Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves

Britons never never never shall be slaves…

Aminata realizes that she first heard this song, not in America or Canada, but rather on the slave ship which took her from Africa. The medicine man, with whom she had lived with in a cabin on the slave ship, had sung the song when she did not understand it’s meaning. She is overtaken by the moment, faints and is carried into the sun by the Anglicans.

In the next chapter, “They come and go from Holy Ground”, Aminata arrives in Manhattan with Solomon Lindo and checks into The Fraunces Tavern, which is run by Sam Fraunces, who is a Jamaican former slave who has earned the reputation in New York of having a clean, safe and well cared for tavern. Aminata signs her name in the guest book, which is a key moment in defining her independence in New York. Aminata becomes fast friends with Sam, which proves worth while later on in the book. Aminata attends a concerto, played by a black slave named Adonis Thomas, in the Trinity Church with Lindo. It is here that she sees a poster advertising the need for volunteers to teach Negroes. Shortly after this, riots break out in Manhattan and the rebels (American Patriots) and the tories (British Patriots). This gives Aminata the opportunity she has been waiting for – a chance to escape to freedom. With the help of Sam, Aminata leaves New York and waits in the woods outside of the city for the rioting to calm down. While in the forest, Aminata encounters a group of African women having a funeral for a dead baby, which reminds her of Mamadu. Even though the women are not Fula or Bamana, she still feels connected to them as they have all survived the great water crosssing. They tell her that she will never be free unless she returns to Africa.

After two days and nights in the woods Aminata returns to the Tavern. Here she discovers that Lindo left the day of the rioting, she makes a temporary deal with Sam in which she works for him while she arranges a life in New York to work off any debt that she has to Sam for saving her from slavery. Aminata takes up a position at St. Pauls Chapel teaching negroes how to read and write. It is from this position that she meets Claybourne, Bertilda and others who encourage her to move to Canvas Town, the freed negro shanty town on Manhattan island. As the weather gets colder and colder Aminata’s friends in Canvas Town help her to establish a warm home. One night, when Aminata is walking down Broadway towards St. Pauls she is nearly looted and raped but a British Lieutenant named Malcolm Waters saves her and requires her mid-wife services in order to deliver his bastard child, which he has conceived with a prostitute mistress on Holy Ground, the area owned by the church where the prostitutes work. Aminata charges him one pound to deliver the baby and three more to set up his mistress and child with a home in Canvas Town, which Waters reluctantly agrees to. Aminata begins to deliver many of the British officers children on Holy Ground, and continues this practice until the British retreat from New York City in April of 1776.

In the next chapter, “Negroes and other Property” the British retake New York City from the rebels and remain in control for another seven years. The British release a statement which says that any Negro that retreats from the rebels and joins the British ranks can have any job they’d like. Aminata works as a midwife, as well as a doctor of sorts, helping with herbal abortions and herbal remedies to sexually transmitted infections. In 1783 the British sign a peace treaty with the American rebels and agree to leave behind ‘negroes and other property’ to the Americans when they leave, which means that Aminata and the rest of the Canvas Town negroes feel betrayed by the British. Despite this, however, Aminata is once again employed by Waters, who is now a Captain, this time to write the Book of Negroes. This document contains the names, ages and other pertinent information about negroes – free and otherwise – who are to be brought to Novas Scotia, while still keeping the British’s promise. The British argue that because many of the Canvas Town negroes have served the British for more than a year they are no longer property and therefore can be removed from America without breaking the treaty. Aminata agrees to work for the British once again on the condition that she too, is allowed to travel to Nova Scotia.

When Aminata returns to Canvas Town to spread word of this exodus to her friends she finds that Chekura has made it to New York and is now free. The next day, Aminata goes to the Fraunces Tavern and begins to write down the needed information for the Book of Negroes. The British agree to employ Chekura and he too is allowed passage to Nova Scotia with Aminata when the time comes. Aminata is concerned that slaves and indentured servants would also be travelling to Nova Scotia with Loyalist claimants but continues with her work regardless. She continues to diligently record names, ages and descriptions of the negroes who would go to Nova Scotia for many weeks. One day, while recording the data of a blind woman formerly owned by Lord Dunmore, who issued the proclamation that negroes who served the British would be liberated, Aminata tells the woman that she is pregnant, which is a source of pride for Aminata and Chekura. Aminata and Chekura receive tickets for Joseph, which boarded on November 7 bound for Annapolis Royal. Just when the boat is about to leave New York, Aminata is called to return to the dock because there is a claim against her. After some arguing Aminata convinces Chekura to stay on the ship, otherwise he would not be allowed to leave New York, and tells him that she will meet him in Nova Scotia. Aminata discovers that Robinson Appleby has put a claim on her and says that Lindo only had her on loan, and therefore she is still his property.  Sam miraculously finds Solomon Lindo and Lindo provides proof of purchase of Aminata, as well as proof that he did indeed sell Mamadu, and then sets Aminata officially free from slavery. Lindo requests to speak to Aminata after court but she refuses. On November 30, 1783 Aminata leaves on the last British ship for Port Roseway, Nova Scotia.

Aminata arrives in Nova Scotia in the next chapter, which is called “Gone missing with my most recent exhalation.” Aminata arrives in Port Roseway, which is renamed Shelburne and is home to just as much racism and segregation as there was in America, much to Aminata’s dismay. In Shelburne, Aminata meets Theo McArdle who runs the local newspaper and print shop, Theo is helpful, despite the fact that Aminata is black, and points her in the proper direction of the Land Registry Office, which would help her get to Birchtown, a black settlement. At the Land Registry Office, Aminata meets Daddy Moses, who informs Aminata of life in Nova Scotia and helps take her to Birchtown. Aminata wants to walk to Annapolis Royal to meet Chekura but Daddy Moses tells her that it is not walkable and offers her a place in his home until she can make other arrangements. Aminata gets a job working at the Shelburne Crier with Theo McArdle, as well as catching babies and teaching the negroes of Birchtown to read. Aminata builds herself a shack in Birchtown with a bed, chair and table and stove, which is one of the only ones in Birchtown. Aminata continues with life in Birchtown, which is full of many hardships and racism similar to life in America but Aminata and her soon to be born child are free so Aminata is thankful.

Aminata’s daughter is born in the spring and is named May, after the month of her birth. Aminata continues to work for Theo at the paper and also takes up employment with Mrs. Witherspoon, doing various physical labour. As May grows older and smarter she begins to ask more and more questions about her father, who Aminata had been unable to find when she visited Annapolis Royal, nor had she been able to find anyone who knew about the ship Joseph which he was on. May becomes sick and very weak, forcing Aminata to rely on the Witherspoons to keep May alive – this situation brings all of them closer together and they become rather good friends. As the years go by poverty and unemployment strike at Shelburne and Birchtown and the white loyalists grow increasingly angry with the black loyalists, who they feel are stealing their jobs. One day a riot occurs and the white loyalists begin to kill the negroes and torch their homes in Birchtown. Aminata and May stay at the Witherspoons’ until the rioting subsides. One day, Aminata leaves May with the Witherspoons while she goes back to see if her home still stands in Birchtown and when she returns she discovers that the Witherspoons have taken May and left on a ship to Boston. From Boston the Witherspoons could travel to nearly anywhere in the world, after a year of looking for more information on May, Aminata gives up.

Response

This section is incredibly long, spanning more than 100 pages and containing the entirety of Aminata’s time in New York, as well as the majority of her time in Nova Scotia. Personally, I believe that this section should have been split into two readings because, as can be seen in my summary above, this section is incredibly content heavy, which makes responding to the section as a whole incredibly difficult. This section was increasingly hard to believe, likely because of Aminata’s employment as a scribe of the Book of Negroes, which is historically inaccurate. While I want to support Aminata as the main character, her decisions are becoming less and less logical and more emotional as life gets harder, which makes me like her less. Despite this, however, she is still an impressionable character who is well written and respectable. I only wish that her emotional weaknesses would have been introduced earlier so she was a more relatable character from the start because now when I read the development of normal human characteristics she comes off as weak to me.

The American Revolution through the eyes of Aminata and the other negroes is interesting to itself because it is incredibly believable that the negroes would feel the way that they did but I did not ever put two and two together to realize the opinions of others during this process. As someone who lives within the American sphere of influence I grew up believing that the American revolution was a good thing (I likely watched too many episodes of Liberties Kids on PBS Seattle) and in all honestly I didn’t put much thought into the fact that there were slaves in America prior to the establishment of the United States. The position that Aminata is put in during the revolution is interesting to read because she has no choice but to trust the British, who are responsible for taking and selling her into slavery, in order to be freed from slavery. Within this story there are many cases of situations going full circle, ie returning back to Africa to Sierre Leone, and this is no different. Aminata must chose to align with evil regardless, and so it is a matter of picking the lesser of two evils in order to survive.

Book 2 Response Part 2 (Reading 3)

Reading3

Pages 163-233


Summary

Reading three begins with the chapter, “Milk for the longest time.” The chapter begins with Georgia using herbal remedy to give Aminata an abortion after Master Appleby raped her. After this, Aminata never leaves Georgia’s side and Appleby bought a new slave named Sally who he “had his way with” many times before she died of the pox. Aminata continues to learn about her world from Mamed. One day, Georgia approaches Aminata and coaxes out of her that she is two months pregnant by Chekura. Georgia tells Aminata not to tell Master Appleby Chekura’s name and when the baby’s born to nurse it as long as possible so that she can keep the child. It is shortly after this that Aminata is first introduced to Solomon Lindo, the indigo inspector for the province of South Carolina. Georgia, Aminata and a few other slave women make gumbo without pork for Lindo, which peaks Aminata’s interest because she also does not eat pork. Aminata slips up at dinner and uses a proper English word (taught) instead of speaking in slave English (done teach) but instead of being reprimanded for this Lindo simply says “I could use a girl like you.” Later Aminata hears through the fishnet that Solomon Lindo had offered to purchase Aminata but Appleby refused because her abilities were too valuable.

One night in August Aminata and Chekura jumped the broom and were married so that their growing family would be bound together. Appleby didn’t allow his slaves to marry but by marrying allowed them to maintain an identity of their own. When Appleby returned to his plantation Aminata was six months pregnant and too full of pride to answer his questions regarding the child. Aminata makes the decision to disobey Appleby because:

[She] was from Bayo and [she] had a child growing inside  [her] and [she] would stand proud.

Appleby takes all of Aminata’s fancy clothes and headscarves from Chekura and throws them into the fire. He then shaves all of her hair off and humiliates her in front of her fellow slaves. Aminata, however, continues to talk back to Appleby. Appleby chooses not to beat her, but instead yells at her across the yard saying:

You don’t own that baby any more than you own the wool on your head. They both belong to me.

Aminata is sixteen when her son, Mamadu (named after her father) is born. Aminata has to begin working again after one week and takes great pride in being a mother. It takes two weeks for Chekura to be able to make it to the Appleby Plantation to meet his son. When Mamadu is ten months old, Aminata wakes up in the middle of the night to his crying and discovers that Appleby has sold him to someone. Watching her son stolen away from her into the night has a tremendous affect on Aminata, who does not work or eat for weeks before Appleby sold her to Solomon Lindo.

In the chapter, “The Shape of Africa” Aminata arrives in Charles Town with Solomon Lindo and discovers that Lindo and his wife are much kinder than Appleby, calling Aminata and their other slave, Dolly, servants, allowing Aminata to speak proper English and allowing them to self-hire. Lindo’s wife is also the first white person who knew Aminata’s name (Meena) before meeting her, this makes Aminata feel more comfortable with them already. Aminata meets Dolly, a pregnant servant who cooks for the Lindo’s, before being shown the most elaborate sleeping quarters that she had ever seen. Aminata didn’t like Charles Town, as it stuck of the dead, dying, rotting food, body odour and refuse. But working for the Lindo’s was the best life Aminata had had since being kidnapped in Africa and Aminata does not take this for granted, although she does grow used to her new way of life. Aminata continues to learn from Solomon Lindo about Africa, Islam, Judaism, mathematics and English. Aminata’s life consists of learning, delivering babies and working for Solomon Lindo and his wife. Aminata delivers Dolly’s baby, which reminds her of Mamadu, and soon after that Mrs. Lindo becomes pregnant and Aminata delivers their son, David, as well. Aminata is incredibly intelligent and notices that even though Lindo claims that Jews and Africans are not too different he still owns slaves, could come and go as he please and wore fine clothes. One day, Lindo takes Aminata to the library so that she can see what Africa looks like and where it is, but Aminata is disappointed that she cannot relate the map of Africa to anything realistic or within her memory.

Thirteen years pass before the chapter, “Words came late from a wet-nurse” in this chapter we learn that Georgia and Fomba have since died and that in 1774 a smallpox epidemic swept through Charles Town, killing Mrs. Lindo, Dolly and both of their sons. Aminata was not allowed to attend the shiva for Mrs. Lindo, which meant that she wasn’t able to give a proper goodbye. Solomon Lindo is devastated by the death of his wife and child and leaves Charles Town for New York to try and save the Carolina indigo industry amidst great economic suffering in Charles Town at the hands of the British. Solomon’s sister, Leah, moves into the house but makes no effort to provide anything for Aminata, which leads to her having to barter goods and services for food. While at the market one day, Aminata once again meets Chekura, who has been planting rice in Georgia, and is only in Charles Town for one night. From Chekura, Aminata learns that Mamadu died of the pox a year after being sold and that the sale of her child was arranged by “Lindo, the indigo jew.” When Lindo returns he has lost his job and is incredibly cruel to Aminata, she confronts him about selling her son and he admits to it. Weeks later, Aminata leaves with Lindo to New York City to argue for a final time for the indigo trade. Aminata refers to this as her exodus, hoping that she will never return to South Carolina.

Response

This reading, which is less than 100 pages, seems to have the most packed into it out of all the readings thus far. Aminata’s pride is both admirable and foolish. I believe that it is her pride that causes her son to be sold because Mamadu was not worth enough at the time for Appleby to try and sell him if it wasn’t to teach a lesson to Aminata. Aminata’s life in Charles Town seems incredibly good, she is consistently fed, treated with respect and able to learn and make her own money. This is a very large contrast to her life on Appleby’s plantation or even back in Bayo as at both of these places she acted entirely for other people in her life, never doing something for herself without punishment. The development of Solomon Lindo’s character is what stands out for me the most in this reading, especially in the Charles Town Library Society where, even after the other white men have left, he has Aminata fan him because he is hot. This, to me, shows his true colours – despite how kind he may be owning a slave allows him to have power over someone when all of Charles Town’s Anglicans have power over him. The internal struggle of Lindo between being kind and following the Torah, and joining the ranks of those who shun him is very well written and interesting to read.

Book 2 Response Part 1 (Reading 2)

Book2

Pages 99-163

Summary

Book 2 begins with the chapter, “And my story waits like a restful beast“, Aminata is in London in 1803 and is meeting with the abolitionists to plan how they will address Parliament and the king regarding the issue of outlawing slavery in British Colonies. Aminata is told that they need:

… A human face for our fight…. A woman. An African. A liberated slave who has risen up, self-taught.

Aminata already knows that outlawing slavery will be an incredibly difficult task but she has already been forced to dedicate the majority of her life to slavery and is willing to put effort into ensuring that others do not have to face the hardships that she has faced. She also notes that despite the abolitionists needing her in order to win their case they do not treat her as an equal.

The abolitionists may well call me their equal, but their lips do not yet say my name and their ears do not yet hear my story.

Because the abolitionists do not listen to Aminata as she wishes they would, she dedicates much of her time to writing down her life story and muses about who may be the first person to read her book.

In the next chapter, “They call me an ‘African'”, Aminata and the rest of the survivors from the slave ship reach Sullivan Island in South Carolina where they are herded into barricades where they waited to be taken to the mainland to be sold. Fanta, Fomba, Chekura and Biton continue their typically social patterns and Aminata refuses to eat out of fear of eating pork and being a bad Muslim. As she physically withers away her mind begins to unravel as she realizes that she cannot pray to Allah in the way that her father taught her. The homelanders are put onto a boat and sail towards what is presumably Charles Town.  Once in Charles Town, Aminata encounters gross refuse and other foul sights in the city which scare her and make her feel less and less comfortable. Aminata and the rest of the slaves are  examined to be sold and Fanta makes quite the scene which shows Aminata just how cruel the toubabu can be.

After being examined Aminata walks for days without food or water towards what is presumably St Helena Island. Aminata continues to be humiliated by her treatment and loses faith in herself and in God until she encounters a heavily pregnant rabbit which has her mother’s eyes. This rabbit hops down the path in front of Aminata for some time, which helps Aminata regain some mental capacity. Aminata also tries to find someone from her land that speaks her language, which is a dramatic and fruitless search for some time until she sees a woman carrying her baby like a Bamana. This woman, Nyeba, helps Aminata keep in touch with her identity back in Africa. From Nyeba, Aminata also first learns about the fishnet, which is how the slaves share information with each other.

While crossing over to St Helena Island by canoe, Aminata meets a first-generation Carolina born slave who explains where they are going, what the fishnet is and what they are – Africans.

In the last chapter of this reading, “Words swim farther than a man can walk” Aminata arrives at Robinson Appleby’s indigo plantation on St Helena Island. It is here that Aminata meets Georgia, who acts like a mother figure to twelve-year-old Aminata. Georgia is unable to say Aminata – so it is from her that Aminata gets her new name, Meena.

In this new land, I was an African. In this new land, I had a different name, given by someone who didn’t even know me. A new name for the second life of a girl who survived the great river crossing.

Georgia teaches Aminata how to behave on the plantation, as well as teaching her Gullah – the language of the slaves, and English – the language that was to be used to talk to Master Appleby and the other ‘white people’ or buckra. Georgia says that these languages are never to be confused because the buckra were not to know a single word of Gullah. Aminata goes with Georgia to deliver babies at other plantations where her skills learned from her mother once again come in handy in staying alive. Georgia is also a medicine woman who uses natural remedies to help sick negroes live. Aminata purposefully contracts the pox from Georgia so that she can be immune to them later in life.

After recovering from the pox, Georgia warns Aminata that “she needs something to ugly her up”. Georgia repetitively warns Aminata that she is too smart and too beautiful because these things make Aminata more likely to be hurt, raped or killed. Soon after this, Aminata meets Master Appleby, he asks a series of questions about Aminata’s abilities as she is a “sensible n****r”.

Aminata continues to harvest the indigo for Master Appleby with Georgia and the rest of the slaves on the plantation. On the last day of the indigo harvest Aminata drops a sack of indigo mud – spoiling the entire batch. Mamed, a half-black overseer – grabs her arm and, without thinking, Aminata says Allahu Akbar, a forbidden prayer. Instead of beating her, Mamed says the prayer in return. Aminata becomes very close to Mamed, who teaches her how to read and other things about the world around her as long as Aminata does not let on that she knows these things. While Aminata is with Mamed, Chekura comes to visit Aminata.

The next year is similar to the last and punctuated with learning things with Mamed and visits with Chekura, who she becomes very close to romantically. Master Appleby notices Chekura’s monthly visits and brings Aminata into the big house where he conforts her about it. When Aminata denies the encounters Appleby rapes Aminata violently.

Response

The first half of the second book is, again, incredibly well written. Hill has a true gift in making even the mundane and awful linger in the reader’s mind long after reading. This reading is far more realistic, to me, than the first reading because Aminata begins to unravel mentally and physically after facing nearly a year of horror since being abducted from her village. This development of Aminata is what stands out most in the reading. Aminata does regain her signature spunk but the facts of her situation still weigh down on her mentally and this is seen in her actions and thoughts. While Aminata’s life on the plantation is horrible, especially what happens at the end of the reading, I was actually shocked at how well Aminata took it and made it into something that she could almost enjoy. I’m assuming that real life slavery was similarly horrible but still bearable because of one’s mindset. The development of the Gullah language and culture allowed the slaves to regain lost identity and to feel human. This mental state obviously led to the perseverance that caused so many slaves to marry, have children willingly, and, eventually, escape from the horrors of slavery itself.