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.

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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.