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.

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Book 1 Response

Book1

Pages 1-99

Summary

Book 1 of The Book of Negroes begins with the chapter “And Now I am Old” which takes place in 1803 London, UK as Aminata Diallo sits down to write her life story. It is revealed that Aminata, who grew up in Bayo in modern-day Niger as a freeborn Muslim of both the Bamana and Fula tribes. When Aminata was eleven she is abducted by toubab (white men) and sold into the slave trade in South Carolina. As she reflects upon her aging and frail body and the hardships she’s endured we learn a warning from her which allows the reader to look into the troubling life that she has lived.

Do not trust large bodies of water, and do not cross them. If you, dear reader, have an African hue and find yourself led towards water with vanishing shores, seize your freedom by any means necessary. And cultivate distrust of the colour pink. Pink is taken as the colour of innocence, the colour of childhood, but as it spills across the water in the light of the dying sun, do not fall into its pretty path. There, right underneath, lies a bottomless graveyard of children, mothers and men. I shudder to imagine all the Africans rocking in the deep. Every time I have sailed the seas, I have had the sense of gliding over the unburied (Hill 7)

The second chapter, “Small Hands were Good” takes place in Bayo in 1745 and introduces the reader to Aminata’s life in her village before the abduction. Her father was a literate jeweler from the Fula tribe who owned the only Qur’an in Bayo and used it to teach Aminata some Islamic prayers in Arabic. Her mother was a midwife or “baby catcher” from the Bamana tribe. In ‘Small Hands were Good” Aminata and her parents gather in the night to have tea, a luxury from Aminata, and Aminata asks her parents to tell her stories about her childhood. After Aminata’s narration has caught the reader up to her eleventh year we hear about how she and her mother went to a neighbouring village to deliver a baby but were abducted by the toubab before they could return back to Bayo. Both her mother and father are killed by the toubab and Aminata, Fomba and Fanta are tied together and begin their journey to the shore.

In the third chapter, “Three Moon Revelation”, Aminata and the rest of the captives are stripped of all clothes and personal belongings and forced to march naked in a line towards the coast, which takes three months. She also meets Chekura, a fourteen-year-old boy from neighbouring Kinta who was sold to the captors by his uncle and now has worked with the toubab for three years. During this chapter Aminata also has her first menstrual cycle, meaning that she is now a woman in her culture; this has an immense impact on her view of herself as she feels shamed as she has no privacy. During this time Aminata grows closer to Chekura and begins to forgive Fanta for the way that she treated her in Bayo, She also learns more about the toubab and their strange ways and appearances. Aminata later befriends a pregnant woman named Sanu, who becomes a fast friend of Aminata. Aminata delivers Sanu’s baby, who Sanu names Aminata. This particular skill of “catching babies” proves Aminata’s worth to the toubab and distinguishes her as an exceptional youth. At the end of the chapter Aminata and the rest of the captives reach the ocean and are branded and forced into confined, feces and urine stained pens while they wait to board canoes which would take them to the larger slave ship waiting in the Atlantic.

The fourth and final chapter in Book One is called”We Glide over the Unburried”. It begins with Aminata trying to calm herself down with the thought of being a djeli or storyteller; she believes that it is her duty to live through and remember all of these horrendous things in order to share this story and history with the people of her village when she returns.  While on the ship Aminata’s ability to speak multiple languages proves useful in translating for the toubab (who are inspecting the slaves), as well as communicating with her fellow slaves and building some form of comradery. This said comradery is very important for the slaves because it allows them to maintain their names and identity which limits the power that the toubab have over them. It is while translating for the toubab that Aminata first learns the reason why she is on the boat – the toubab want the slaves to work their land in America, this idea is hard for Aminata to comprehend because in her village everyone works for themselves and the good of their village. Aminata also meets a Bamana chief named Biton, who acts like a secondary father figure to her (after Fomba). Because Aminata helped the toubab the toubab agree to help her and she is allowed to sleep and live above deck with the medicine man of the ship, who is named Tom. At first, Tom tries to take sexual advantage of Aminata but when Aminata does not respond well to this action he stops and does not try again, instead sleeping with other women while in the same bed as Aminata and having Aminata take care of his parrot. As the time on the ship progresses more and more “homelanders” are killed or die and are thrown overboard. This death and destruction reaches a peak when, after Aminata delivers Fanta’s child, Fanta and some other homelanders start a revolt, attempting to take control of the ship. By the time that the ship reaches port in South Carolina about 1/3 of the homelanders has died.

Personal Response

This first book was incredibly well written, which is likely why it was so difficult to read. I cannot begin to put myself in the shoes of Aminata and the other homelanders to attempt to make a personal connection to this, and for that I am so incredibly thankful. The actions of the toubab were absolutely atrocious and if I didn’t know that these accounts are accurate descriptions of the horrors that slaves endured before they were even sold I would have difficulty believing them. I would like to think that if put in a position such as this I would have the same strength of character that Aminata has, which she utilizes in order to survive the slave ship, but unfortunately I do not think I would be patient enough to bite my tongue, or strong enough to walk for three months while enduring some of the most excruciating pain that one can imagine. It is Aminata’s strength of character which stands out the most to me in the first book. Hill has done an excellent job creating a character that is both believably eleven yet wise beyond her years and the retrospective narration adds to the allure of her character development. I am looking forward to the rest of “The Book of Negroes” as this first reading was incredibly enjoyable and allowed me to reflect on my own identity while diving into Aminata’s.