NEWS & REVIEWS
Life Altering, June 16, 2004
Reviewer: Chris Pierson from Elgin, IL United States
I read Herbstein's novel just prior to departing the US for Ghana. The novel is so well written that I actually felt as if I'd been at Elmina castle and travelled the dark African night with Nandizi. Upon entering the castle at Elmina, strangely, I knew my way around. Everything was exactly as pictured in my mind's eye. I connected with the novel's protagonist and had a re-new-ed pride in the spirit of my ancestors. It is well worth struggling through the unfamiliar names to discover the familiar in the human spirit that spans the ages.
A must read for
everyone!!!!, December 17, 2005
JaJa (U.S.) -
For a review by Kristel Nana-Mvogo (in French) see www.afriquechos.ch/article.php3?id_article=88
("Avec l‘histoire d‘Ama, toute l‘expérience des Africains du XVIIIč sičcle (esclaves ou non) est ainsi personnifiée d‘une maničre réaliste est inoubliable. Ce roman explique également trčs bien les causes et les origines de l‘esclavage, ainsi que les conséquences du commerce triangulaire, qui furent désastreuses pour la population africaine. Je n‘ai trouvé Ama qu‘en version anglaise. Mais le style littéraire est relativement simple ; des lycéens peuvent donc lire ce roman sans grande difficulté, je pense. C‘est en effet un bon complément aux cours d‘histoire.")
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While reading this book and long
afterwards, the wonderful description, definition and characteristic of
a special person predominates, anchoring this poignant narration of
people’s inhumanity to their fellows.
Her name is Ama. Her original name is
Nandzi. Her other name is Pamela. Both her second and third names were
given to her by her first and second owners.
She is a slave. Her bittersweet life
story - that ends in a triumph - is a stark depiction of the inhumanity
of the Atlantic slave trade.
While slavery is seen as an evil
perpetrated by whites, Ama’s eventful journey shows the side of
slavery that is initiated, implemented and propagated by blacks, selling
off their fellow Africans, carelessly and without remorse.
It is hard to count the number of times
Ama has been raped. But it is easy to remember the circumstances before,
during and after she was raped. All of them are horrific. All such
incidents are degrading to women. This intention of the author is
deliberate. The perpetrators are of different societal rank.
But each dominated poor Ama and many
other women in similar situations. All of them were as dehumanised as
the men, including being forced to sleep amid refuse, urine, faeces and
in the humid, tepid air of dungeons in castles, in compounds and in the
holds of ships. From one captor to another, and on and on.
It is also easy to recall the one
instance in which Ama enjoyed sex with a strange man. She enjoyed the
act because she was in charge and because the man was vulnerable. But
for this pleasure, Ama was punished with banishment.
Twice, Ama becomes a concubine. Once, it
was on her own terms. These pages of the book show the great strength
women possess, particularly when survival is paramount. They show it is
possible when willpower and one’s wits are matched with bottomless
Ama possesses all these qualities. She
is portrayed by the Ghana-based South African author, Manu Herbstein, as
a living symbol of all the harrowing tales of slavery man’s inhumanity
to man, exploitation of hapless victims and how Africa was raped during
the slavery era.
To summarise, Ama or Nandzi, the secret
lover of Itsho and prospective wife of a much older man on account of an
arranged marriage, is captured by a rival tribe. Nandzi is renamed Ama
when she joins the slaves of an Asante royal household. She seduces the
As punishment, she is sent packing to a
white slave trader who renames her Pamela and makes her his concubine.
After his death, Ama lands in the hands, and the bed, of another white
slaver, but this time on her own terms.
After a mishap at sea that leaves the
slave ship badly damaged, she is sold off - together with hundreds of
others - to a sugar cane farmer in Brazil.
Throughout her tumultuous journey, Ama
loses an eye, gains foresight and strengthened hindsight, questions
religion and customary beliefs and gains a strong resolve to live. In
the end, she finds her true love, a fierce freedom-loving fighter called
Ultimately, the love story has a moral:
No matter how much a human being is oppressed and exploited what is
paramount is how much you love one another, your freedom, your
happiness, your dignity and your pride that will sustain you.
Ama has the potential to be a highly educational bestseller for its honesty, overwhelming boldness and understanding of how memory can be an unceasing weapon.
Kgomoeswana reviews Ama at the Book Launch held at Xarra Books,
Just when you thought you knew enough about slaves and
nothing on the topic could shock you more…along comes a graphic
account of the painful shame that Africans had to endure; and continue
to experience. How one human being can be flayed by rape, humiliation,
isolation, distortion of identity, desperate loneliness and rejection at
the hands of other human beings remains inscrutable. Be warned: this is
one the journey you are not meant to enjoy. From West Africa, across the
Atlantic through to Brazil, come aboard if you dare.
Ama, Pamela or “One-eye” first wrestles her curiosity
as a child questioning her rural African customs. She wants more answers
than anyone can offer. She suffers one misfortune after another; being
captured by slave traders from her homestead, sold over and over again
till she lands on another continent. Starting out as Nandzi, Ama manages
to fit in wherever life takes her, succumbing to unwanted sexual
attention from her captors and masters along the way. She battles the
improbable infatuation of young chiefs and fellow slaves, settles for
the most unlikely romantic arrangement with some over-the-hill governor
and repeatedly resorts to expedient transactional sex – while longing
for the true love she will never have. Survival is the only apparent
reason for everything Ama does, and she always ends up paying the price.
She learns several languages, dabbles in some foreign religious
practices to get by, imbibing as much knowledge as she gives. Ama gets
bruised by her lifelong struggle to break the chains of slavery,
plotting an escape after another – getting many people into trouble
each time with her essential stunts – mostly herself. In time, you
learn that her cause is noble.
You will love Ama for her beauty and strong character, pray
for her in her constant bid to break free, admire her persistence,
courage and inner strength in the face of hostility and danger.
Sometimes, you will even scold her idealism and childlike day-dreaming.
One thing is certain, you will be with her, and every breath she takes.
This is your story too – black or white. Patently well researched,
told in living colour and with little pretension, Manu Herbstein’s
novel made my very rare foray into the world of fiction a positively
As a South African, one can only appreciate the fighting
spirit of Ama; the age-old seed that grew into the proverbial triumph of
good over evil. We are held aloft as a nation for our ‘miraculous’
political transition. Reading this ball-by-ball commentary on the life
of a slave, a woman at that, is a cruel reminder that we did not achieve
anything miraculous. Rather, we are merely the privileged descendants of
ancestors like Ama, Tomba, Olukoya, Esi, Itsho and many other martyrs
you will encounter on this epic ride. They spared nothing in their quest
for an ideal of a free and democratic world order. You have to meet
these giants of African history. I am still undecided as which is more
difficult: being Ama or being with her through the pages of this
masterpiece. Get ready for a massive thumping. A very emotionally
demanding must read for students of economic history, political
economics, religion, science, and most of all, for the students of life.
As for slavery, you can only shudder at how the love for money and material wealth is the root of all savagery. To think that it still is a booming business today, centuries after it was supposedly outlawed!
A map of slavery across the
Atlantic: Tony Simőes da Silva
reviews Ama at the African Review of Books, www.africanreviewofbooks.com (a web-site well worth a visit.)
Anyone who tackles as the topic of his first novel one
of the most traumatic events in recent world history reveals a
considerable degree of guts and artistic ambition. As a theme, slavery
has been explored by some of the greatest names in contemporary writing
in English: Toni Morrison in Beloved (1987), Abdulrazak Gurnah in
Paradise (1994) and Ayi Kwei Armah in Two Thousand Seasons
(1974), for instance. All have sought to examine slavery in a way that
makes it a human, rather than simply a historical experience. However,
it is the eighteenth-century African writer Olaudah Equiano whom Manu
Herbstein might be said to have in mind here, as it were. In his Life
of Olaudah Equiano (1989), Equiano set out in vivid detail the long
process that took him away from his parents’ village, through a number
of African owners, and eventually to Barbados, in the Caribbean.
In Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade
(2001), Manu Herbstein sets himself the challenging task of
fictionalising the kind of experiences Equiano spoke of from a personal
viewpoint, and as I turned the novel’s 456th page, it is one I felt he
had met fully. Indeed, insofar as he adopts as his main character a
female slave, Herbstein clearly invites the juxtaposition of his novel
to Equiano’s text. Ama maps slavery from the moment of capture
in Africa to the arrival in America, in this instance in Brazil.
Substantial chunks of the work are devoted to the dealings in human
beings conducted by Europeans and to the long Middle Passage. South
African born, but a resident of Ghana since 1970, Herbstein brings to
his work the passionate curiosity of the outsider and the objective bias
of someone whom Elmina Castle, with its explicit links to slavery,
"never fails to move", in the author’s own words. Most of
all, though, in Ama Herbstein creates a work of literature that
celebrates the resilience of human beings while denouncing the
inscrutable nature of their cruelty. Like that other great moment of
horror in the history of humanity, the Holocaust, the slave trade exists
at once as reality and myth, a kind of ‘unconscious’ of contemporary
This is story telling on a grand scale, literally and
metaphorically. The novel spans a geographical frame that reaches from
Africa to America, depicting in closely observed detail also the horrors
of the Middle Passage. An epic of the slave trade, Ama offers a
carefully imagined examination of the failings of humanity when
possessed by greed and a desire for power and influence. Herbstein is
especially good at evoking the mood of the time, the mind frame of
slaves and slavers, and the political and economic conditions that made
slavery possible. Ama echoes the views of writers, historians and
philosophers of the African diaspora who have argued that the phenomenon
of slavery is inextricable from the deepest foundations of contemporary
western civilisation. The blood of Africa, the Antiguan writer, Jamaica
Kincaid reminds us, soaks the streets of Bristol, of London, of New
York. The foundations of capitalism, the sociologist and historian Paul
Gilroy asserts, rest on the sediment of the slave trade. Thus, although Ama
does not obscure or excuse Africa’s own collusion in the slave trade,
European nations such as Britain, Holland and Portugal come in for
considerable flak. But Herbstein seems less interested in apportioning
blame than he is in understanding the mechanics of the slave trade. This
is a painstakingly researched work of imagination, but one in which the
fictional draws for its sustenance on a wealth of knowledge gained from
anthropology, history and other cultural sources. As the note ‘About
the Author’ states, in Ama Herbstein has tried "to
understand not only the victims but also the beneficiaries of the evil
trade in human beings" (n.p.n.). Thus, at the beginning of Part
III, "The Love of Liberty", we read:
slaves were sold in Lisbon as early as 1441. The European discovery and
colonisation of the Americas set the scene for the trans-Atlantic slave
trade, which lasted from early in the sixteenth century until the second
half of the nineteenth. The slaves were all African. So too were many of
those who sold them. The buyers ans shippers were almost all Europeans.
In the course of three hundred years, upward of ten million black men,
women and children arrived in the Americas as unwilling migrants.
Millions more died on the journey to the Atlantic coast, and at sea.
Ama tells story of Nandzi, a young Bekpokpam girl in West Africa
who is captured by a rival ethnic group at a very young age and then
repeatedly sold, given away and exchanged indiscriminately by a number
of men to many other men; first in Africa, subsequently on board the
ship to Barbados, and eventually in Brazil, where the ironically named
The Love of Liberty has to put to land after a particularly bad storm.
In her life time Nandzi will be named Ama, then Pamela, then Ama again,
‘One-Eyed’, Ana das Minas and, as the novel concludes, Ama. Raped
variously but with brutal regularity initially by Asante warriors,
members of a rival ethnic group, then by English and Dutch seamen, by
assorted members of the ship taking her away from Africa, eventually by
her Brazilian owner and his manager, Ama’s body becomes a graphic and
disturbing emblem of the destruction of Africa – literally, of the
rape of Africa. Not surprisingly, the novel concludes with the
reflection that "[T]he end of this story is yet to be written"
Indeed, there is a sense in which Ama’s character is
Africa itself; like the continent, Ama is explored, exploited, lied to,
and abandoned. Like Africa, Ama is strong but often much too naďve;
deeply moral but unsure about how to deal with the deceit of those who
surround her; finally, Ama and Africa share in common an enormous
capacity to adapt, to survive, to forgive, if not to forget. Speaking to
some of the many slaves she meets on the way out of Africa, she remarks
at one stage: "Oh, Edinas and Fantis and Asantes, we are all the
same family" (161). Like Ama, Africa has been desired, sexualised
and turned into a commodity. It has also at times been complicit in its
own destiny. At one stage in the novel, Ama considers her own
involvement in the slave trade in ways that resonate with a broader cri
de coeur that has since characterised the work of many African
intellectuals and artists. But the symbolism carries throughout the
novel in different ways: when, during the long voyage out to the
Americas we read that "Ama came out on deck, starved, dehydrated,
filthy" (343), it is not Ama whom we watch but every slave who has
ever undertaken the Middle Passage. Ama’s suffering, and its imprint
on her body and face become visible reminders of the hidden trauma of
slavery. After initially meeting her in Africa, during the time she was
his uncle’s partner, the slave trader Williams, "William
Williams, the nephew….was shocked at her appearance. During his year
at Anomabu he had learned to distinguish one black face from another. He
rather fancied himself as a connoisseur of African beauty. This girl had
been quite pretty. Now her appearance was grotesque" (334). By
focusing on the brutalisation of Ama’s beautiful body, and on the
psychological scars of her experiences, Herbstein dramatises the
collective trauma of slavery through the story of a single African
The novel is divided in four main parts, entitled
"Africa", "Europeans", "The Love of
Liberty" and "America". Structurally, the symbolism here
too is reasonably obvious: Ama is, before anything else, an epic of the
African Diaspora. Part 1, "Africa", describes the daily lives
of the sort of people whom we will later meet on board "The Love of
Liberty", on their way out of Africa. It depicts a world of complex
and sophisticated cultural rituals, and heated political conflicts.
Hersbtein is judicious but unsparing in his portrait of 15th century
Africa; we are presented with a continent as rich in blessings as it is
afflicted by internal disputes. This is at once an idyllic world and one
constantly threatened by the risks brought about by change in its
broader sense. Ama begins in a small village in a remote part of Africa.
It is here that we are introduced to the young girl left behind when her
family and the people in her village attend a burial elsewhere. Ama, the
narrator informs us, and "[l]ike all Bekpokpam girls, has been
betrothed at birth" (2) to a man 20 years her senior. Soon we will
learn about other customs and traditions, since one of the most salient
aspects of the novel is an overt emphasis on the recreation of an Africa
that stands up as a direct challenge to the colonial historical
inscriptions of the continent as an empty place.
This section is followed by another, entitled
"Europeans", in which Nandzi, now known as Ama first comes in
contact with European slave traders. Her treatment at their hands is at
once brutal and perplexing, for while raping her and generally abusing
her, some of the men she meets here will be instrumental in helping her
fulfil her intellectual potential. Some European men are nasty and
uncaring, but others adopt towards Ama a more humane attitude, in some
cases actually falling in love with her. They are seduced by her
physical beauty and mesmerised by her intelligence. It is here that she
becomes known as Pamela, a name bestowed on her by a Dutchman in love
with the classics of English literature. Ama’s endless interactions
with Europeans are never one-sided, and in that way Herbstein seems to
reflect also on Africa’s encounter with Europe. Often the relationship
is cruel, dangerous, brutal and destructive; but almost just as
frequently it is a dense and rewarding one. Its characteristics are
typical of European colonialism’s contact with Africa, a mixture of
benevolence and wrongdoing, kindness and pillaging.
In the third part of the novel Herbstein attempts to
bring to life the experience of the Middle Passage, a particularly
daunting prospect. To imagine Africa prior to the arrival of the white
man is a task well supported by a wealth of historical evidence;
likewise, the encounter between Africa and Europe has been well
documented, if at times such coverage is quite unreliable. The Middle
Passage, however, is different; its horror, like that of the Holocaust,
almost insists that witness be borne only by those who suffered the
trauma of transportation to America, and in smaller numbers also to
Europe and elsewhere. Yet Herbstein is particularly successful at
conceiving and fleshing out the essence of the journey in which so many
Africans perished. By having Ama ‘stand in’ for the many millions
who left Africa in the cargo holds of countless ships, the novel is able
to put a human face to a phenomenon known primarily through cold
statistics and historical narratives.
Finally, in its concluding part Ama tells the
story of Ama’s arrival in Brazil, in the ironically named Salvador da
Bahia [the Bay of the Saviour, or more literally the Bay’s Saviour],
the cradle of cultural hybridity if ever there was one. I realise that
my reading of Ama as the same as Africa becomes somewhat less plausible
in this section. For if Ama symbolises all slaves, giving the many the
face of the one, then her survival and disembarkation in Brazil risks
underestimating the sheer horror of the numbers of those who never made
it there, the hundreds of thousands, or millions thrown overboard into
the deep Atlantic Ocean. It is important, then, that we acknowledge this
aspect; perhaps equally useful here it is to note that the Ama who comes
ashore in Brazil is a very different woman from the young, beautiful
girl who left Africa.
This Ama is now half blind, and as ‘One-Eyed’, the
name she is given by her new Portuguese owner, she embodies in full the
duality of each African’s experience of the Middle Passage. Ama
arrives in Salvador alive, but a part of her died in the journey. The
loss of one eye, combined with an increasingly scarred and spectral body
stand as apt signs of this experience. In Brazil Ama soon begins to do
what she does best, deftly adapting to place and people, learning the
ways and the language, translating the world around for those who
accompanied her, translating herself into the New World. At the
conclusion of the novel as at its opening, Ama functions as a bridge
between worlds real and imaginary, a link between the culturally
familiar and foreign. In the course of Herbstein’s dense and
unpredictable narrative, Ama becomes the epitome of the outsider as
insider, of the migrant as a work in (of) translation.
Told partly through the perspective of an omniscient
narrator, the story often relies on Ama’s own interpretation of her
experiences and those of the people with whom she interacts. Ama’s
narrative voice is central to the storytelling, and it constitutes at
once one of the novel’s most successful aspects and one of its less
stable narrative devices. In part, I am conscious that my occasional
discomfort with Ama as a narrator stems from the fact that the views she
expresses much too often seem to betray those of the narrator (author?).
Ama, one might suggest, if somewhat unkindly, is invested with far too
much meaning for any one single person, much more for a simple village
woman to carry. As noted earlier, Herbstein seems to ‘intend’ Ama as
a celebration of the heroism of all the millions who made the crossing,
and the many more who did not.
It is understandable in this context that Ama should
be such an extraordinary woman. She is possessed of enormous
intelligence, insatiable curiosity, a courage without limits and the
most generous and selfless personality. She learns languages with the
ease of the born polyglot, masters chess in a couple of hours, and has a
grasp of the machiavellian world of colonial politics that would the
envy of many a United Nations diplomat. Yet, half of these achievements
would still have made her a fascinating character and an outstanding
individual. For my money, this is the one glaring flaw in a novel that
otherwise combines a good yarn, an intricate and seductive plot and a
writing style that holds the reader in thrall until the end. Herbstein
has attempted to create in his novel what might be read as a ‘partner
voice’ to Equiano’s, and once we get over the difficulties that a
‘gendering’ of his narrative raises, this is an extremely engaging
work of fiction. Long, perhaps a little too long; a less keen emphasis
on the anthropological recreation of Africa in the first part of the
work, and a more sparse account of the Middle Passage would only have
strengthened this very accomplished piece of writing. But then Manu
Herbstein is in august company here, as anyone who’s read A.S. Byatt’s
Possession (1991) or Louis de Berničres’ Birds Without
Wings (2004) will attest. Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave
Trade deserves a wide readership, and I hope that it will succeed in
Tony Simoes da Silva teaches at the University of Exeter
BOOK REVIEWS 165
Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade. By Manu Herbstein. First E-Reads publication, 2001 [self‑published; available through Amazon.com], Pp. 456. $21.95 paper.
Ama is a sweeping story of Africans caught up in the Atlantic slave trade. Crafted by Manu Herbstein, a native South African who has been a long‑time resident of Ghana, the book is more carefully researched than some more widely acclaimed novels dealing with Africans in the Diaspora. Set in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the book tells the story of Ama. a girl from what is now northern Ghana who is kidnapped by a Dagomba raiding party and taken to the Asante capital of Kumasi, then to Elmina Castle on the coast and, eventually, to a slave plantation in Brazil. In her travels she is taken as a lover by a young Asantehene and, later by the Dutch director general of Elmina Castle. During the middle passage, Ama's story intersects with that of Tomba, whose adopted father was a great general of the Jalonke in the Futa Jalon who was defeated in battle and consequently fled to live his life as a hermit in the forest. Living a solitary existence, Tomba raids slave caravans for food and weapons. In time he gathers a group of escaped slaves around him and establishes his own settlement. A threat to the local Africans who thrived on the slave trade and to the European traders, he is captured and enslaved.
This book is fast- paced and moving from Ghana and the Futa Jalon to the European coastal forts and the plantations of the Americas, it captures both the horror and complexity of slave trade, which uprooted Africans from many cultures and diverse backgrounds. There are occasional inaccuracies: The figurative weights used by gold traders were actually not made until the late nineteenth century. Similarly, some details are drawn from late nineteenth or twentieth century ethnographies and they may not reflect earlier periods. Yet, on the whole, these particulars add rather than detract from the story's telling. However, the story is, at times, too fast-paced. This is especially true of the chapters dealing with Tomba and his life before his capture. This is a tale that could easily have been made into a separate novel. Ama's own adventures, the violence she experiences (she is raped several times). and her motivations are sometimes glossed over, becoming almost trite. For this reason, some readers will find the Ama's story unsatisfactory.
CHRISTOPHER R. DECORSE
Review of Ama by Shereen Essof, African Gender Institute, University of Cape Town, South Africa
first published at The Voice of the Turtle, www.voiceoftheturtle.org November, 2003.
Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade is Herbstein's first novel. In it, he transforms himself from civil engineer to griot, charged with reciting history and weaving tales. Herbstein's historical "faction" successfully blends extensive and meticulous research with abundant imagination to transport the reader into the violent world of the Atlantic Slave Trade. It tells the herstory of a young woman who is enslaved and who, through the twists and turns of her life, learns to "adopt various strategies in her struggle against bondage striking a balance between escape and resistance and, accommodating the realities of the power of her oppressors".
By casting a female protagonist, Herbstein invites the reader to 'see' the particular nature of women's oppression. Ama's experience shows that gender, race and class are not distinct realms of experience, existing in isolation from each other. Rather they come into existence in and through relation to each other as overlapping discourses and interlocking systems that determine the degree to which male domination and privilege can be asserted. In this configuration, women's bodies often become the discursive terrains on which these discourses play out and, in this grid of oppression, women's sexuality is seen as currency, its vigorous trade often directing the plot.
Ama is heard through four narrative frames. We begin in eighteenth century Africa where we witness the capture and rape of Nandzi by a band of Dagomba slave raiders assembling the annual slave tribute due to the Asante confederacy. It is a world of opulence and greed, where the ruling elite maintaining their power ruthlessly. Nandzi is in the service of the Queen mother and is given an Asante name - Ama. But when the adolescent king falls in love with her, the love poses a "threat to the sovereignty of the state" and Ama is made to disappear.
Transported to Europe, ironically set in Elmina on the Gold Coast, Ama's beauty is a disruption. She is signalled out and becomes the concubine to Mijn Heer, the Dutch governor of Elmina. She is renamed Pamela and recast into an image of a 'lady' - a straight satiation of white male fantasy. Pamela's "good behaviour" is rewarded with the promise of freedom, but her position as mistress or slave is tenuous for it rests on the fulcrum of patronage. The Love of Liberty, the name of the ill-fated slave ship lends its name to the third section of the novel, recounts the horrors of the middle passage. The ship transports us to the Americas, where Ama now known as "one-eye", must make a new life for herself on a sugar cane plantation. Here, women: slaves, agricultural workers, house servants, mothers, have to negotiate not only the imbalances of their relations with their own men but also the violent array of hierarchical rules, restrictions and liberties that structure their new relations with their new masters in the "casa grande". Ama finds love in the form of a rebellious warrior whose spirit matches her own in the desire to be free, a man who reacts violently to her rape by the plantation manager, forcing them to flee.
Ama is as much about the violence of colonialism, patriarchy, female sexuality or gendered reproduction, economic production and the site of imperial contest, racial difference, as it is about resistance. Ama's journey allows us to read the complexities and contradictions of the time, where all classes, free and slave, women and men, black, white and mulatto are in some way interrelated in a dynamic that results from relations of power. These power networks form a dense web. They pass through official institutions, the machinery of economic production and familial relations without being localised in any one of these sites. This means that there is both complicity with the dominant systems as well as diverse points of resistance.
Ama becomes proficient at reading the maps of power in order to manipulate them. But she is not alone in this. Itsho, Damba, Suba, Esi, Minjendo, Tomba, Olukoya, Herbstein suggests embody the spirit of countless thousands who resisted; through care and laughter, song, dance, the invocation of ancestral spirits, planned insurrection and countless acts of subterfuge. Ultimately this resistance testifies, successfully, to the indomitable will of the human spirit, beaconed by Ama's strength and determination in the quest for freedom and dignity. "I am a human being; I am a woman; I am a black woman; I am an African. Once I was free; then I was captured and became a slave; but inside me, I have never been a slave, inside me here and here, I am still a free woman."
Herbstein, in the tradition of Hailie Gerimas' Sankofa, (re) claims and (re) surfaces a version of the past and this too is an act of resistance, a struggle for the politicisation of memory that serves to illuminate and transform the present. Elmina, the slave fort on the Cape Coast, has become a site of pilgrimage for Ghanaians, Africans, and others still from around the world. Converging in the space of the fort are the contested memories of the significance of the place, different perspectives on which histories should be most emphasized, and which group lays claim to them. In other words, the site becomes an important battleground for representation of the past.
We remain with multifarious forms of oppression deriving from the same motivations that underpinned the slave trade of the 18th century: Capitalist free trade. Like Ama, we know that we are not being served by "the master" who is intent on grinding futures into dust for the sake of capital. If we are to keep the enormity of the forces aligned against us from establishing a false hierarchy of oppression, we must school ourselves to recognize that any attack against women, black people, gays and lesbians, the poor, Muslims, is an attack against all of us who recognize that our interests are not being served by the dominant systems at work.
The novel and its supporting website go a long way in sparking reflection and debate. The dynamics of "knowledge production" do not always support such activity. Ama was refused publication by numerous publishers, forcing Herbstein to self publish through ereads.com It is an ironic twist that after being published by e-reads, Herbstein went on the win the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for best first book. An irony well deserved.
The supporting web-site http://www.ama.africatoday.com/ has many primary and secondary texts covering the time and geographical spread of the novel and both compliments the novel and serves as a valuable teaching resource.
NB: The symbol at the top of this page is the Asante Adinkra symbol Nkyinkyin, signifying toughness, adaptability, determination and service to others. The corresponding Akan proverb, Obra, kwan ye nkyinkyin yimiie, means the path of life is full of twists and turns.
by Kimala Naidoo
gold at the ritzy SABC Innovative Awards 2003 went to an online book
about the Atlantic slave trade, an Arab newspaper, and a science
Herbstein's www.ama.africatoday.com, which has published the book
Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, was announced winner of
the individual category at the awards ceremony at the Settler's
Monument in Grahamstown last night. In 2002 the book won the
Commonwealth Writers Prize. The website receives 200 visitors a day.
Knight, convener of the judging panel, said she was impressed that
Herbstein had taken the traditional medium of a novel and published
it on the Internet.
is bypassing restrictions of the one medium and making the most of
another," she said.
beat off tough competition from other finalists, including Herman
Manson's Media Toolbo, and Nandiphotos.com, a photo gallery of
ordinary people in Uganda, developed by Vincent Mugaba.
Online (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg), the online version of the Arab
newspaper Al-Ahram, won the corporate category for its focus on
science, technology and ICTs, and its independent coverage of the
Middle East, especially the recent US-Iraq war. Al-Ahram beat
competitors like eLink Publications and The African Journalist.
Limson's Science in Africa (www.scienceinafrica.co.za), which won in
the non-profit category, addresses scientific research in Africa.
started off as a hobby to communicate science understandably,"
said Limson, a Biotechnology lecturer at Rhodes University.
"Now it reaches 50 countries."
Stanbridge, a journalism lecturer at the University of Stockholm in
Sweden, who was also a judge, said scientific research is a big
problem in Africa, "because the information resides in
expensive databases that the Third World cannot access".
those hoping to join the competition next year, Stanbridge had a
word of advice: "These awards are not just for sites that look
good, but for those that address the needs of the continent."
Asanda Saule 9/8/2003 9:46:36 AM
were 40 entries for the 2003 award, from which nine nominees were
picked for the three different categories. The awards recognise
individuals, non-profit organisations and corporate organisations.
The nine nominees will be competing for state-of-the-art cellular
phones sponsored by Siemens and MTN.
Individual category the nominees are Manu Herbstein, Herman Manson
and Vincent Mugaba.
came to the judge's attention because at the age of 60 he published
a novel on the Internet. The novel, Ama, a Story of the Atlantic
Slave Trade, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First
Book. This is the first time in 15 years that the prize has gone to
an African writer. Herbstein has compiled a database of potential
readers and set up a website as a hook. "Books are published
all the time. What is interesting about Herbstein is that on failing
to catch the interests of publishers he took the initiative and
published the story himself," says Knight.
also: African Web sites win for innovative use of new media
Online Journalism Review - OnlineJournalism.com
book, newspaper, science website awarded
September 11, 2003 .
David Mbulumi, Grahamstown, SA
gold at the ritzy South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC)'s
innovative use of new media awards at Highway Africa conference
yesterday went to an online book about the Atlantic slave trade, an
Egyptian newspaper and a science website.
is one of the sponsors of Africa's biggest annual conference on
media and journalism organised by Rhodes University.
of the conference's programme every year is to award Africa's best
Internet use innovators.
were 40 entries for the 2003 award, from which nine nominees were
picked for the three different categories. The awards recognise
individuals, non-profit organisations and corporate organisations.
nine nominees competed for awards that included state-of-the-art
cellular phones sponsored by Siemens and South Africa's MTN.
winner in the individual category was Manu Herbstein. Herbstein came
to the judge's attention because at the age of 60 he published a
novel on the Internet.
novel, Ama, a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, have also won the
Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First Book---the first time
in 15 years that the prize went to an African writer.
has compiled a database of potential readers and set up a website as
a book. "Books are published all the time. What is interesting
about Herbstein is that on failing to catch the interests of
publishers he took the initiative and published the story
himself," said Megan Knight, one of the judges.
the Innovative use of New Media in Africa
unique honour for the continent, the awards for Innovative Use of
New Media in Africa, will be issued at the conference for the fourth
year running. This award is given annually at the Highway Africa
conference to recognise the creative, innovative and appropriate use
of new media technology in Africa. Judges are looking for innovative
applications of new media in African journalism.
are given in three categories: individual/student, non-profit and
individual and NG categories: recognition will be given to
communications, which find ways to overcome the limitations of the
existing African infrastructure. For example, previous winners in
the individual category include: Omololu Falobi from Nigeria, who
created an email distribution list to deliver a very successful
newsletter on Aids to his wider community and Africa almanac.com,
which focuses on the history, achievements, economic developments,
news, arts and culture of Africa.
corporate category: judges will be looking for creative adaptation
of global technologies in an African media context. Previous winners
include SABC's news research service NewsNet and Kiswahili online
news service, Afrikaleo.com.
broad criteria: which apply to both categories, are the use of new
media to benefit press freedom in Africa and encourage social
empowerment in African communities. Ultimately the award aims to
highlight innovations that result in African media benefiting from
new ideas and developments in communications technology.
applicants are invited to nominate themselves or their own projects.
nominate an organisation or individual for the award, please send
name of the organisation/individual you wish to nominate
brief (300 words) description of the organisation/individual and why
you believe it should win the Highway Africa Award for Innovative
use of New Media. Please include urls for any websites, or examples
of any media or outcomes that you think may be relevant to the
Contact information for the organisation, preferably the name of one
person responsible, email address and phone numbers.
For further clarification on the awards, contact Megan Knight
Ghana and the Slave Trade : Kwadzo Senanu,
Akosua Perbi, Abubakr Siddique Ahmed and Helen Yitah discuss Ama with
Manu Herbstein on Radio Univers.
: Kwadzo Senanu, Akosua Perbi, Abubakr Siddique Ahmed and Helen Yitah discuss Ama with Manu Herbstein on Radio Univers.
is an edited transcription of two one-hour editions of Radio Univers’s
Read-A-Book-A-Week programme. Radio Univers is the FM Station of the
University of Ghana, Legon, Accra. The programmes were broadcast on May
21 and 28, 2003. The book under discussion was Manu Herbstein’s Ama:
A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade[i]. The participants were
Kwadzo Senanu, a former Professor of English Literature at the
University of Ghana; Dr. Akosua Perbi*, Head of the Department of
History at the University of Ghana; Helen Yitah, Department of English,
University of Ghana; Alhaji Abubakr Siddique Ahmed, Director of Radio
Univers; and Manu Herbstein.
*Dr. Perbi's long-awaited A History of Indigenous Slavery in Ghana from the 15th to the 19th Century (ISBN 9988-550-32-4) was published in 2004 by Sub-Saharan Publishers, P O Box 358, Accra.
1, May 21, 2003
We have the author of the book present to help us go through what he has
been able to write. We are always privileged to have such an
opportunity. Secondly, we are also privileged to have an historian to
help us appreciate what the novelist has put on paper. I want to believe
that this program is going to be a very important one, unique, as
against what we have been able to do in the past. I am Abubakr Siddique Ahmed, your
regular host of this particular program, Read-A-Book-A-Week.
Now ladies and gentlemen you are welcome. Manu Herbstein, A Story of
Atlantic Slave Trade. I want to go to Helen Yitah to give us an
introduction to the book and then I can turn to the writer himself.
A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade is Manu Herbstein’s first novel. It
was published in the year 2000[ii]
and won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for the Africa region in 2002[iii].
The story has it that while at home with her little brother Nowu, Nandzi,
a young girl from the land of the Konkomba is raped and then captured by
Dagomba slave raiders led by Abdulai. Her tortuous journey from her
homeland to Kumasi where she serves as a domestic slave in the household
of the queen mother; and Elmina Castle where she plays mistress to the
head of the Dutch West India Company before she is shipped off to South
America, is vividly portrayed. As she goes through various changes in
name and identity, as she alternates between hesitation and resolution,
between despair and hope, Ama, the writer seems to suggest, re-enacts
the story of Africa in the throes of slavery and the slave trade.
Thank you for the introduction. Dr. Akosua Perbi of the History Department
of the University of Ghana is with us and Professor Senanu, the first Ghanaian professor of English literature. We are
indeed very privileged to have you. Prof. Senanu has been Pro-Vice
Chancellor of the University of Ghana and Chairman of the Council of the
University of Cape Coast; so a very powerful personality, indeed.
Now to our writer Manu Herbstein. Who are you?
I am a South African. I grew up in apartheid South Africa. I studied at
the University of Cape Town, left South Africa in 1959 and didn’t go
back until 1993. I first came to Ghana in 1961. During the 60s I was in
and out of the country but I’ve been living here permanently since
1970. By profession, unusually, perhaps, for a writer of fiction, I’m
a civil engineer. My wife is a Ghanaian and my two sons are also
Ghanaians. What else can I say?
You’ve told us a lot. I certainly now understand why precision, one
could say, is the hallmark of your book. Coming as I do from the North
of Ghana, I’m cognizant of some of the settings of the story. Your
vivid descriptions draw all sorts of pictures in my mind.
Prof. Senanu, what is
unique about this book?
Well, it is an imaginative recreation of the history of the slave trade
and it has been done very carefully; because as the historian on my
right is going to confirm, a lot of the events narrated in the novel are
linked to historical facts. The fact, for instance, that the Dagomba
warriors, having been defeated in battle were at some stage under the
control of Asante and had to pay tribute by giving captured slaves; the
fact that Africans themselves were as much responsible for the slave
trade as Europeans; the fact that the slaves, in their longing for
liberty, struggled to free themselves at various stages of the journey
into slavery. These are the facts that historians know. In fact, this
novel could be called The Love of Liberty. As we read, it becomes
clearer and clearer that one of the most ironical things about this
novel is that the ship which took Ama across the Atlantic to America is
named The Love of Liberty; as it were, Ama seems to embody the
yearning for liberty right from the day of her capture in Dagbon,
through all the experience at the Asante court, to the experience on the
boat and finally on the plantation in Bahia in Brazil. These are the
things that struck me about the novel: the fact that the novelist has so
imaginatively gotten together the probable historical facts of the slave
trade as Africans experienced it.
Siddique: Thank you very much.
Now to Prof. Akosua Perbi. As an historian, you’ve also read the book. I understand
you’ve done some studies of slavery in ancient and contemporary times.
Now as you read the book would you say it differs in a way from the true
history of slavery or that it is so close to the facts, that you can
just take it for the truth?
think the story is very well told. As an historian involved in slavery
as my speciality, I could identify with so many things in the book. I
can see how he researched the historical accounts. I would say that it’s
good because he starts with the beginning, from the stage of capture,
which was just one of the several means of enslavement, and then follows
the experience of what slave captives went through. One other thing
which fascinated me was the fact that he chose as his central character
a girl, a young girl and not a young boy, a man or even an elderly
woman. The history of the slave trade tells us that a cross section of
people was enslaved: young, old, boys, girls. The writer chose a girl, .
a teenager, about to marry. That is significant in these days when we
are emphasizing the gender issue. I think the story is vividly
I think that’s an important point that the story is well told. And I
agree with that. Now Manu Herbstein, how did you tell this story?
For a long time I had wanted to do some creative writing. I felt that
having lived most of my adult life in Ghana, both as an insider but on
the other hand, inevitably, as an outsider, seeing Ghanaian society both
from the inside and from the outside, I thought I should have a story to
tell. I was still searching for a theme when, in the early 1990s, there
was news of the events in the North which came to be known as the Guinea
Fowl War. That disturbed me. I felt guilty that having lived in Ghana
for such a long time, I couldn’t understand what was going on up
there. When I asked Ghanaian family and friends I received no
enlightenment. So I went to a library and I found there a work of
anthropology written by an Englishman called David Tait, who after the
Second World War was a mature student at one of the British universities
and afterwards came to Ghana and went and lived amongst the Konkomba and
did his research; and then tragically died in a car accident. Professor
Jack Goody took his notes and put them together in a book called The
Konkombas of Northern Ghana[iv]. There I discovered, I
thought, the roots of the problem in the North, in a history that goes
back hundreds of years. I read the story of the conquest of Dagbon by
Asante in the early 1770s and the imposition of the tribute. I asked
myself what it would have been like to have been a victim of events
which had their origin thousands of miles away, in a different
continent, with the ripples extending right up into the West African
savannah. That was the beginning of the book.
did you pick your characters?
first chapter that I wrote was one in the middle of the book. I did that
because I could write it without doing any research. When I first came
to Ghana in 1961 I lived in Cape Coast. At that time, Elmina Castle was
being used as a police training college. I had a friend there who was
one of the officers. So I had a chance to visit Elmina Castle before it
was opened to the public. I have visited it many times since. I go back
regularly. The tour guides tell a story (which may or may not be true)
of the governor of the Castle selecting one of the slaves for his sexual
pleasure. Recalling this story, I placed the central character in this
situation. I wasn’t confident of my ability to write creative fiction
so I sent this sample chapter off to a cousin of mine who is a writer by
profession. He said, ‘You can write. Go ahead. Make a book of it.’
Much research followed, a good deal of it in the Africana
section of the Balme Library. I found several of the characters in the
work of the historians whose books I read there.
would like to ask Prof Senanu: this book won the Commonwealth Prize for the Africa Region.[v]
What do you consider to be some of the features that would merit such an
That’s a big question.
First of all the coherent structure, the very
carefully put together structure. The first section starting from
Africa, the next dealing with the Europeans, the third dealing with the
experience of being transported on the boat with all its horrendous
suffering (and yet that boat is called The Love of Liberty); and
finally the settlement in Bahia on the sugar plantation where you
experience what it is to be a slave, or slavedom. So I say the
structure, the carefully put together structure, from the beginning of
capture right up almost to the end of Ama’s life.
Secondly, although he chooses Ama as a central
character, he places over and against her somebody else, a man, Tomba,
who is as devoted to liberty as Ama is. You will recall that towards the
end, Ama and Tomba get married. I think it is appropriate that Tomba, as
a male character with all his impulsiveness, is the one who forcefully
resists the degradation of raping that Ama had been through; and because
he isn’t prepared to let it go unpunished, he gets hanged at the end
of the novel.
The third aspect of the novel I want to talk about is
the careful details and the realism with which he invokes the
localities. There are so many parts in this book where you suddenly
begin to realize how very carefully this man has observed: for example
the description of the horses on the farm in Bahia.
These are some of the elements which emphasize the
imaginative creativeness that we find in the novel.
I suggest that we focus our discussion today on the first part, set in
Africa. Yendi, Kafaba, crossing the Volta: if you travel to the area you
get to know exactly what the writer wants to put across. My question is:
we as a people ‘benefited’ from slavery, in other words, our chiefs
benefited from slavery. The tribes, or clans and other entities
suffered. Madam Akosua, what kind of social structures did we have at
the time that made it possible for these powerful chiefs to engage in
such raids on their own citizenry? Could they just go into an area and
invade? What sort of structure did we have? And that takes us back to
Manu Herbstein’s concern,
the root causes of the conflict in the North. Have your studies revealed
any answers to these questions?
Perbi: I wish
there were a sociologist with us to answer that question. In the kind of
political setup we had, the social structure links up with the
political. When you look at pre-colonial Ghana you have the kings or the
chiefs in centralized societies or centralized states. It was much
easier for those centralized societies to capture and invade, than if
they were not centralized; because there wasn’t that cohesiveness in
the non-centralized. It was all over Ghana; if you look at North,
Southern Ghana, Volta; if you look at all the ten regions in Ghana you
find this picture. Also, I think we should remember we are dealing with
two aspects of slavery. We are dealing with a traditional system, an
indigenous system, where there was a domestic demand for labour; and
then we are dealing with an external system where there was also an
Atlantic demand. These two systems were at play in Ghana and in many
parts of Africa during this period.
When the Atlantic trade becomes most important, from
the second half of the 16th century, we find that there is
increased demand on the Coast and so there is a lot of slave raiding. In
Manu’s book, he takes one aspect of the sources. You have warfare, you
have raiding, you have kidnapping, you have market supply and so on; but
he selects one; and that helps us to understand the picture.
How do you see the relationship between Asante and Dagbon?
need to recognize the role of Asante in state building. Asante was the
last of all the Akan states. Others had been established from as early
as the 13th century. Asante was the last, early in the 17th
century. And yet, being the last, it was the most aggressive. It
expanded North, South, East and West. Prof Adu Boahen tells us that at
the height of Asante’s power it covered almost the boundaries of
modern Ghana. It included Bonduku, Burkina, part of Ivory Coast and part
of Togo. It covered not only modern Ghana but extended beyond its
borders. It was not only in the North that Asante demanded tribute. It
demanded tribute from all the states that it defeated. So small, poor
groups in the Volta, for example, might have to send only 12 captives.
Every group had to send a certain number of captives to Asante.
It reminds me of Esi[vi] in the courtyard of the
would like to ask Mr. Herbstein to read something for us that might capture the soul - if
there is one - of the book.
Before I do that, I would like to pick up some of the points that have
been made. One thing I want to make clear: this is a novel, a piece of
fiction. I didn’t set out to compete with historians. On the contrary,
I am heavily indebted to their work. I found the germs of the incidents,
of insights into character, in the publications of historians.
Regarding the question of structure, the name of the
book is Ama: a Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade. The most
important word there is the article “a.” It’s a
story, just one of countless untold stories.
The accepted figure of the number of slaves who were
taken across the Atlantic in the 400-year period of the Atlantic slave
trade is about 12 million (though there is still some controversy about
that.) Most of these people left no record of their personal stories.
What I set out to do was to recreate what might have been just one of
The stories are not even remembered here in Ghana.
Once some unfortunate, a mother or a daughter or a brother, had been
taken, within a generation the memories must surely have dimmed and
within two generations perhaps that family story will have been
The French historian Claude Meillassoux[vii]
says it like this:
“While the slave trade devastated the peasantry,
who saw their children, and especially their daughters, taken away by
brigands or armed bands to be sold to dealers, it enriched the
cabessaires (appointed by local kings to negotiate with traders) and the
agents and traders in the towns as well as the nobility, the
battle-hardened soldiers and the sycophants attached to the royal
courts. By a perversion of memory, the sumptuousness of the
plundering kings and their cabessaires has left its mark on the area in
its remembrance of the flourishing slave trade and the glories of the
past, while the memory of their peasant victims has been effaced by
Now let me take up Helen’s offer to do a reading.
Because time is limited, I’ve done some compression. I’m going to
read an episode which takes place in a town called Kafaba. If you look
at a map of present day Ghana you will see a small village of that name
on the north bank of the Volta Lake. The original town[viii],
I believe, was submerged by the construction of the Volta Dam. Old
Kafaba was an important slave market long before the establishment of
the better known entrepôt at Salaga, 30km to the east. We know of its
existence; however, as far as I know, no detailed descriptions of the
town have come down in history. I used descriptions of Salaga,
written100 years later. I’m lucky here: the historians will find it
difficult to attack my description of Kafaba because they don’t have
Before I read the extract, I should explain that as
the level of the Volta rose and fell during the year, areas were flooded
and then exposed as the water level dropped. These were used for keeping
slaves and livestock or for agriculture. One road was left clear, from
the town, set at a higher elevation, down to the riverside.
River Road was lined with small market stalls. In the
morning Gonja women cooked and sold thick, sour, red-brown millet
porridge; at noon and in the evening it might be grilled bream or
catfish or succulent prawns in groundnut soup, served with rice, boiled
yams or maize bread. Others offered spicy fried cakes of boiled beans,
millet or rice. Young girls, daughters of the caterers, roamed the Lower
Town with head trays of roasted groundnuts or foaming pots of honey
After dark, River Road took on a different aspect.
The porters[ix], exhausted from the day's
work, lay asleep wherever they could find a place to lie; but the food
sellers were still there, their flickering oil lamps defining the edges
of the road. Wealthy merchants from the Upper Town came out to stroll
down to the river and to display, in the moonlight, their newest outfits
and their youngest and prettiest wives. The men, meeting friends and
associates, would bow deeply, shake hands and exchange infinitely
protracted greetings and courtesies. A young wife, bathed and perfumed
and dressed to show her husband's pride, her eyes expertly made up with
lustrous silvery blue-white antimony, would shyly drop her left knee and
touch the ground with her left hand. Then she would stand quietly by,
waiting patiently for the end of the men's palaver, demurely aware of
the admiration which the intricate embroidery on her wrapper and blouse
and the style and color of her head tie were attracting in the
moonlight. And she would finger her gold earrings and neck chain, her
bangles and her rings.
Nandzi trudged up the hill behind Akwasi Anoma, her feet
bare, her body wrapped in her two cloths, the man’s baggage on her
head. Any stranger could guess their relationship. If the man ahead of
her had been her father, Tigen, she would not have given the matter a
second thought. If it had been Itsho, suddenly returned from the spirit
world, she would have begged him to let her carry his possessions. But
Akwasi Anoma was not her father and he was certainly not her freely
chosen lover, dead or alive. Akwasi Anoma was a stranger to her. He was
not even, so far as she knew, her owner.
When she was together with her fellow slaves, Nandzi
felt hidden in anonymity. But here, as she wound her way through this
great seething crowd of people in Akwasi Anoma's footsteps, it was
obvious that she was the man’s creature. It was obvious; yet it was so
commonplace that nobody noticed. Nandzi and her master might just as
well have been invisible. Of that she soon became aware, and so doing,
turned her attention elsewhere.
The first slave compound they passed at once
impressed itself indelibly on Nandzi’s mind. Many years later, in
another continent, she could still recall every precise detail of the
picture. There must have been as many as three hundred slaves. They were
confined within a fenced area, on one side of River Road, together with
horses and asses, oxen, cows and goats. The livestock wandered freely
within the kraal, seeking pasture in the overcropped bare surface. The
slaves were chained in groups of ten or twenty. Some were young boys and
girls. They squatted morosely, most of them practically naked, exposed
to the pitiless malevolence of the sun. At night, she could see, they
would have to sleep on the bare ground without mats, many without even
the meanest cloth to protect them from the cold and damp. They were
Near the fence sat an emaciated woman. A chain joined the
manacle on her right ankle to the others in her circle. A child, a thing
of skin and bones, lay on her lap, too ill or listless even to cry.
Flies buzzed at its eyes and nostrils. The mother saw Nandzi looking at
her and caught her eye. Without releasing her gaze, she lifted her flat,
empty breasts. Then she held out both palms. That woman could be me, it
could be my mother, thought Nandzi. She spread her hands in a gesture of
impotence and despair and dragged her gaze away.
Thank you very much.
I want to capture this scenario of the past and the
present. Slavery in those days, the dehumanizing treatment of our own:
how does it reflect in contemporary times? Have we sat down to think
about it, to look at the various angles of it, as a people, to write
about it? If we haven’t, what lessons do we have to take from this
Well, it has been approached from various angles. For instance, some
poets have used the physical presence of the castles on the Coast and
seen them as the basis of power. They have used the dungeons that are
still there, that we use as an attraction for tourists, as symbols of
what the slave experience might have been. Our ancestors were
responsible to some extent for this experience. So the experience of
slavery and the anguish of it are being gradually brought into the
consciousness of a number of our writers. Opoku-Agyeman[x], for instance, has written
a collection of poems which uses Cape Coast Castle as a symbol of what
happened to us in the past.
But I must say that no one book has gone into such
elaborate detail to recreate both the process and the experience of
slavery such has been done by Manu. This is why the book is worth
careful study. Of course, now that we also have the Danish record of
Christiansburg Castle and the slave trade centered around that Castle[xi],
there are now documents available to us to begin to appreciate what
happened in the past.
You know, through oral history itself there is no
easy way in which the experience of slavery could have passed down to us
from the 18th and 19th centuries. Some of us do
not feel guilty at all. It is only when it is recreated like this that
we begin to understand what is at the back of our state of being at the
But to what extent should we feel guilty?
Well that, I think, is a debatable point. Nevertheless, if you realize
that the historical records indicate that it wasn’t only tribal
warfare, it wasn’t only the fact that there were some centralized
states which were able to control smaller ones and raid them for slaves;
in some cases families even pawned their own children. There are cases
where a man would come and sell his wife. Now I think that if you begin
to come upon this kind of record you will see the need for us to
introspect, well, have a sense of guilt.
Now I have a personal point to make here because an
American anthropologist has made remarks about the fact that Ghanaians
don’t feel responsible for what has happened to African Americans.[xii]
In fact some Ghanaians refer to African Americans as odonko[xiii]
not realizing that their grandfathers were responsible for these people
becoming slaves in America. So this whole issue of guilt is coming up
and I think it is something which we ought to debate.
Interestingly, when the African Americans come here on a visit and they
go to the castles and they have their cameras on them and they
eventually break down and shed tears, I would watch them on television
and look at them and I would ask, What is happening to them? Why is he
or she shedding tears?
It captures your concern. We don’t know, we’ve
never been told.
ask ourselves, should we feel guilty for what happened in the past? I
suggest that quite often we are not very much aware of how implicated
even ordinary people were, ordinary citizens, families, pawning their
children, husbands selling their wives. It is because we are not aware
of this and have a kind of amnesia, that the more creative writing we
have about this, the more we begin to understand ourselves. Maybe there
are some things which are happening right around here now which reflect
and repeat some of these things we did in the past. I think it’s
important for us to take this writing very seriously.
In our schools there is a sort of a history of Ghana that we are taught.
I doubt if it really captures this scene. Is it a deliberate attempt to
Yes, I think traditionally amongst us Ghanaians there has always been
that issue of you don’t disclose someone’s origin and it’s
always been that idea of not talking about the slave trade and slavery.
In fact, it’s a very sensitive topic and it’s very difficult, if you’re
going to the field, to get people to open up. It takes a while to get
people to know who you are, that you don’t mean any harm, that you’re
really doing something for academic reasons. So I think we really need
to get to the point as Prof said, when we have more writing and we have
more reading. That also helps us. We need to have the information first
and know how to spread it; because that way it can help us to know more.
I was part of the UNESCO Slave Route Project for a couple
of years. In one of our workshops in Paris, we were looking at how the
slave trade is taught in different African countries and I had to
represent Ghana. And in fact there wasn’t much in the primary school,
JSS, secondary only those who were in history and there wasn’t much,
about 2-3 pages in the textbook. We realized there was a lot of work to
be done. Interestingly, it was not only in Ghana; many of the African
countries had the same experience. Apart from the U.S. where it was
being taught seriously, many European countries didn’t either. It is a
problem which the UNESCO project is trying to tackle. So I think Manu
has done very well. It is a brave effort to bring this out and talk
about the details which you don’t want to talk about.
We don’t know our history. At times we get up and point fingers at
people not knowing our own contribution to a problem. We’ve had
situations in this country where someone will say, “Well, where from
you, go back to the North.” But we forget that at a particular point
in our history we went there and brought them to work in the cocoa farms
and the mines and moved them down to the South. You know, if we don’t
know this we cannot have peaceful coexistence. Concerning the case of
Dagbon and the other small tribes, if people don’t know the history
they cannot appreciate its role. The onus lies on all of us, I think, to
tell the story in a way that would not destabilize, not inflict wounds.
It has to be carefully done. What do you say, Manu Herbstein?
I was aware while writing this book that I had to be very careful about
cultural baggage. I didn’t want to experience the criticism of people
asking, “Who the hell are you, Manu Herbstein, a white South African, coming to lecture us about the
slave trade?” I’m told that that is a reaction that can come very
easily, particularly on the other side of the Atlantic. So I exercised
care in tying to tell the story from the point of view of a central
character who was right down there at the bottom of the heap.
On the question of guilt, I don’t think anybody
living today, not Africans, not Europeans, needs to feel guilty for acts
for which they were not personally responsible. What we may feel guilty
about is our ignorance. I think, for instance, in the United States,
where race is still a sickness in their society, they have totally
failed to deal with the issue because they are not teaching in their
schools the history of the United States as it actually happened; the
history of the genocide of the Native Americans and the history of
slavery and the slave trade. The history they teach, of the American
Revolution, of the Civil War, is from a European, a white American point
This is a difficult task, of which, as a South
African, I am very much aware. For the future health of our society,
devising a common history that all South Africans can accept, seems to
me a task of critical importance. It is a task which has not yet been
completed. The same could be said about the history of the Atlantic
Herbstein, you mentioned
cultural baggage. There seems to be so much cultural baggage in the
story. I’m not sure if it’s meant to enhance the story of the slave
trade or tone it down. Because there are all these chiefs, the
Asantehene in his palace with all the splendour, the installation of
chiefs. The passage you just read told us quite a bit about the life in
Kafaba at the time. Why do you bring in so much of that?
Let me pass that question to Prof. Senanu.
What Helen Yitah refers
to as cultural baggage is inevitable in a story like this. For the story
to be credible it needs to be anchored both to material reality, to
locality, to events like, for instance, the whole ceremony and rituals
surrounding the death and the burial of a chief. For us to believe that
these things happened while the slave trade was on, we must get some of
these details in; and for that matter I don’t see how we can avoid
cultural baggage. It is true that what does happen is from the narrator’s
point of view. The picture of life in Ghana that a street child would
present is bound to be very different from that of the people who ride
in air conditioned cars.
Exactly. Thank you for your wisdom.
This brings us to the end of this week’s program.
Next week we are going to deal with the second part of the book that
deals with the crossing of the Atlantic. Make time for us next week as
we explore this wonderful historical novel.
I want to end with this inscription which appears on a
plaque at both Cape Coast and Elmina Castles.
In everlasting memory of the anguish of our ancestors.
May those who died rest in peace.
May those who return find their roots.
May humanity never again perpetrate
Such injustice against humanity.
We the living vow to uphold this.
PART 2, May 28, 2003
You are welcome to Read-A-Book-A-Week. Last week we discussed a book by
Manu Herbstein about the
slave trade and he made the point that the article “a,”
“a story” is very important in our analysis and our
overview of this book, Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade.
Also present are Professor Kwadzo Senanu, Dr. Akosua Perbi and Ms. Helen Yitah.
First we will go to the author to briefly summarize what we did last
week to enable us to move forward.
Please forgive me if I start with a plug for the companion website of
the book, into which I have put most of the original texts which I used
in my research. There are many interesting and difficult-to-find
historical texts there. The URL is www.ama.africatoday.com.
There are four sections to the book: Africa,
Europeans, The Love of Liberty and America (America in this case being
Brazil.) We dealt last week with the section set in Africa, that is
Ghana. We talked about the involvement in the slave trade of the
ancestors of present-day Ghanaians.
Nandzi (this is her birth name) is a young woman left
alone in her hamlet in the savannah. She’s a Konkomba. It’s the
early 1770s. Asante has conquered Dagbon and imposed on its rulers an
obligation to deliver a number of slaves to Kumase each year. The peace
settlement stipulates that those slaves should not be Dagomba. So the Ya
Na, the ruler of Dagbon, is obliged to send out warriors to hunt for
people to enslave.
Nandzi is captured and sent far away from her home. I
don’t deal with her family’s lingering sadness, pain and sense of
guilt, but you can well imagine it.
I mentioned also the fact, as Alhaji Siddique has just said, the
fact that the book is subtitled, A Story of the
Atlantic Slave Trade. What I meant to emphasize there was that this
is one of some twelve million potential stories, stories of people who
lived a long time ago, stories which are lost to us. In a way, while
writing this book, I felt I was pouring libation, that I was calling up
the memories of all these lost people and saying that we all need to do
the same to allow their spirits to rest in peace. And our own.
Thank you very much. I believe that somewhere in the book Ama does just
what you’ve just said.
Now at the beginning of the second part of this book,
Europeans, you quoted Leviticus 25: 44-46. What is the relationship
between the Europeans and this quote from Leviticus?
In this quotation from Leviticus God authorizes the children of Israel
to take strangers into servitude and to give those slaves as an
inheritance to their children. So I’m saying that slavery was
authorized by the Bible and the Europeans who came to the West African
coast saw no moral ambiguity in what they were doing. I don’t know
whether they referred to Leviticus, but slavery was the practice of the
times and for hundreds of years nobody questioned it. Of course, we have
the intriguing case of the African (probably Ghanaian), Jacobus Capitein,
who wrote his doctoral thesis in Europe justifying the slave trade in
biblical terms; and who was subsequently sent to Elmina to serve the
Europeans in the castle as their priest. So I was making the point that
these people, if they thought about it at all, saw nothing evil in what
they were doing
Let us come back to this later, to the biblical allusions as well as the
historical allusions. Please read the passage for us.
This is Leviticus 25, verses 44-46.
Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt
have shall be of the heathen that are round about you; of them shall ye
buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover, of the children of the strangers
that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy, and of their families
that are with you, which they begat in your land: and they shall be your
possession. And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children
after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen
How do you relate this to Exodus, that Ama used to read and more or less
enjoyed? Is there any literary contradiction? Prof?
Well, I think that in spite of this quotation from Leviticus, the entire
story seems to emphasize the relevance of Exodus, of getting out of
slavery, of seeking liberty from bondage. That is what the story is
about. It is a story, a probable experience of one of those who were
sold into slavery and had to go through all the stages, first in Africa,
then on the Coast, then on ships which took them across the Atlantic and
then settled on sugar plantations in Brazil.
Now before we pick up the biblical reference and
allusions, I would like to ask Dr. Akosua Perbi to help us to assess the historical reliability of this
story. As we read this story, we come to incidents which are supposed to
remind us of historical facts. What is your impression of the historical
reliability of this text?
Last week I made the statement that the story is very well told. I could
identify with much I read in the book, for instance: the issue of
capture, the issue of the treatment of gender. My own research shows
that from the 15th to the 19th centuries most
female slaves in Ghana fetched a higher price than the male slaves. It
was like that because of their reproductivity, their sexuality and also
for production. Across the ocean the males fetched a higher price than
the females. The story presents this clearly.
I could identify with all the experiences that this
young woman had to go through, the rape, you know; and seemingly being
married to the Director General in the Castle. If we read the
experiences of women in both of the Americas, it was similar. So I think
Manu has done well to capture that. I often asked myself, “How did you
get into the mind of . . . ?” It shows the kind of research that he
did, that he put himself well into the picture. So it’s quite well
told. It’s reliable.
Has he brought himself, his emotions, his feelings, into this work? His
background, his everything.
Perbi: In fact, I must say that if you read
the book you think that maybe it was a woman who wrote it. I could
identify. In certain portions of it I could close my eyes and think, “Me,
I’m glad it’s not me. I can’t believe that it’s a man who is
writing that.” He has really put himself in it.
Prof. Senanu, could you address that?
Yes, I think he has proved himself very reliable in empathising,
certainly with the central character. At points, one felt that he was
romanticizing this girl, a 16 or 17-year old girl: the kind of acumen
that she has and how very quickly she picks up and how savvy she is. It
seems to me that the sympathy between the author and the central
character is clearly there. I think that it is also there in the fact
that at the very end of this novel the phrase that is picked up is “the
love of liberty, the love of liberty,” and it is the central character
who represents this theme of the novel. We can say that she is a heroine
of traumatic experience who is determined by every means to get out of
the predicament of being subject to other peoples’ will.
Now I can underline this by looking at what I would
call the transition points in the novel, the incidents that always
trigger off the next stage. You can start from the very beginning. Now
this girl who is only sixteen years old, who is already intolerant of
the custom of getting married to an old man, who enjoys an affair, an
illicit affair, with a young man. In fact, this is an archetypal
beginning. Manu Herbstein, one would almost think that this girl who
deliberately disobeys her parents, who picks up a fruit and eats it,
reminds us of Eve’s first transgression of the rules.[xiv]
Constantly you would find that at the transition point it is an act of
desire on the part of this girl that pushes her, even at the point where
she is leading a rebellion on the ship against somebody who has chosen
her as a concubine. Maybe Helen can pick this up and see other points
where it is an act of desire from this girl that pushes her.
Of course, the narration is committed to taking her
away from Africa across the sea to America. You can see the commitment
there. But you can ask yourself, how does the author get her there?
Because there are points where you can say, now she’s going to settle.
When she’s in Kumasi and she has seduced the young king, you are now
wondering, What next? And then, of course, the royal household will not
have this kind of thing and so she’s sold and goes to the Coast. And
at the Coast she virtually becomes the mistress of De Bruyn and it looks
like this is where she is going to settle. She has learned English and
yet something else happens and she’s pushed forward. I think the
writer should elaborate a little more on the character and the way she
is propelled from one section of the story to the next and ends up where
the voice is, “The love of liberty, the love of liberty, the love of
liberty.” It is the love of liberty that has structured all her
There are several different questions here. My elder brother read the
book and he said if he had one criticism it was that the writer had
fallen in love with his character. Maybe she is too good to be true. But
then, if I had created as my central character a girl who is dull and
stupid, a girl who accepts what happens to her without questioning,
without resistance, there would hardly have been a story to tell.
And who is to say that then, as now, there were no
gifted and intelligent girls with a capacity for adaptation to
circumstances? Think of those children in the North who never get a
chance to go to school, of those girl children who are born with good
genes but are deprived of an education.
On the other hand, every character in the book, I
think, has something of me in him or her, even the bad characters. So I’m
not writing only from her point of view.
I found Prof. Senanu’s
insight, his contention that the story is propelled from one
stage to the next by Ama’s desire, particularly interesting because
that’s something that hadn’t occurred to me. I saw the plot rather
as growing from the tension between, on the one hand, struggle and
resistance, and on the other hand, adaptation to circumstance.
So in Kumasi she is learning to adapt, to become
Asante, if that is possible. She is stimulated by what she discovers
about Asante culture, which is very different from her own. She’s a
country girl from a small hamlet and she’s come to a big,
Again, when she becomes the concubine of the Director
of Elmina Castle, yes, he is exploiting her, he is using her, but at the
same time he opens her mind to science, to world literature. This is a
device that I used because I wanted her to have the opportunity to
analyse the Europeans from her point of view, to see them through her
own, African, Bekpokpam/Asante eyes. She couldn’t do this unless they
shared a language. In the circumstances, that language could only be a
European language. So I contrived to have her taught English.
Please come in now Helen and talk about her having this desire.
Yes, as Prof rightly said, she does seem to have this spirit that cannot
be put to rest until she has got what she wants. I agree that what she
wants is her liberty. Even when she gets to Brazil and she sees that she
is being sold and she becomes the property of the owner of the
plantation she still keeps forging ahead. It’s like saying, ‘where
there’s a will there is a way.’ And she keeps on planning. Of
course, it leads Tomba into another kind of trouble but it doesn’t
deter her. And I think that eventually even though she’s maimed and
physically and emotionally wrecked, I think she still derives some
satisfaction from what she has been able to achieve, in spite of the
I must say that I also felt quite surprised by the
kind of character that she is. I happen to know the area where she’s
supposed to come from. I asked, is this possible, you know, for such a
girl to come from this area of the country? But maybe he wants us to
learn that a slave can be aware of her rights and even try to secure her
rights, damn the consequences.
And influence others, when she became the interpreter on board ship and
the way she played the game, virtually making a fool out of the white
want to pick up one of the things that Manu said, that there is
something of himself in all the characters. I was going to ask him, Now
surely, not in the white slave masters, particularly on the boat, who
are exploiting this girl; or certainly not in Williams, certainly not in
Jensen who violently rapes her? Now, I don’t know how far an author,
in empathizing with a character, how far that goes, such that he can
identify himself even with these wrecks on the ship.
One of the things that comes out for me about slavery
or slavedom, as I call it, is that in some ways it deteriorates the
moral fibre of those who take it that this is a normal trade. Now when I
look at the white characters in this story, I am disgusted at what they
have become. It is true De Bruyn is very fatherly, very kind; but what
is this lecherous old man doing, you know, when he decides he is unwell
because he wants to lie in bed with this girl for an entire working day?
So I would like Manu to address this: as to how he identifies with these
degenerate characters. (much laughter)
I think the ladies on this panel should comment on that. I’m saying
something about the eternal animal nature particularly in the male of
the species. I’m not saying that I have behaved like that (much
laughter). You talked about this question of the morality of these
people and that’s an issue that I have tried to bring up, below the
surface. All the characters in the book have choice, they have moral
choice. Some of them are not aware that what they are doing is in any
way reprehensible; some of them are aware and say, well, that’s how
things are; and there are others who are aware and are troubled by the
Now that is very difficult. It is very difficult to
act in accordance with moral rules that are not of your own time and
place. A young Ghanaian was visiting from America the other day and I
asked him about the climate of opinion there. He told me that he doesn’t
express his views about the war in Iraq to his American colleagues
because it’s not worth his job to do so. You know, there’s pressure;
it’s very difficult to speak out and say, what we’re doing is wrong;
and if it’s so today, it was also true then.
Then you have the character of George Hatcher, the
seaman who gets killed, a simple country boy (as Ama was a simple
country girl) who is not a willing part of the apparatus of
exploitation. He has been caught up in events in the same way as she
has. And he’s a sympathetic character.
Let me say, there’s also the doctor, the surgeon Butcher, who
apologizes to Ama for this, for what they are subjecting them to. So,
although most of the characters, one can say, are reprehensible, yes,
you’re right about the young man Hatcher; and the surgeon Butcher even
takes the occasion to apologize to Ama in the course of their
interaction together. And, you see, he is a surgeon who is assigned the
task of at least making sure that the slaves enjoy some level of health.
It is interesting that he takes Ama in at all so that they can attend to
the immediate health needs of the slaves. So in spite of the fact that
most of the Europeans are wrecks, we ought to speak up for these two,
Hatcher and Butcher.
Yitah: I am
intrigued by the issue of interpretation and the way Ama deliberately
distorts the message of the white man, making a fool of him.
We have a story that has been handed down that when
the slavers came to the North they often got people to interpret for
them, people who claimed to speak English. There is this story about
this man who was asked to interpret what the white man said and anything
he said, the man simply told the people, Relax, he hasn’t said
anything bad yet. And then the white man would speak at length, and the
man would say, Relax, the white man hasn’t said anything bad yet. You
know, What did he say? He hasn’t said anything bad yet and finally the
white man realized he was not being properly interpreted, that he would
speak at length and a short phrase was all that he heard. Ah! He gave
the man a hefty slap and the man said, Now you disperse, he has now said
something bad. (laughter)
So I don’t know if you heard this story somehow or
whether it has something to do with this story.[xv]
Prof Senanu, you’ve
made a very important observation on how Butcher tried to sort of
apologize. Perhaps you can read that passage from the book?
Yes. This is the point when the slaves have arrived in Brazil (p.349 of
the text) and the English captain is about to put his goods, as it were,
on sale. The ship’s doctor, Butcher, is very much concerned that they
should not hand over these slaves without his making his own position
clear, so this is what he says to Ama. He is searching for his words.
“This might be the last chance I have to talk to
you alone. Williams hopes to sell you all here in Salvador to pay for
the repair of the ship. I have no idea of what fate awaits you in Bahia,
though I cannot imagine that it could be worse than what you have been
through on this vessel.
“There is something I want to say to you. I shall
carry with me for the rest of my life a sorely troubled conscience.
There are many evils in my own country: the English poor are little
better off than you slaves, many of them. Yet it is the suffering that
you have endured, and your disfigurement, that will haunt me. And that
is because I have played a part in inflicting it upon you. For that, I
can only beg your forgiveness. I know that my apologies will do you no
good but I want to ask you to hear me out all the same. I am deeply
sorry for what we have done to you, to all of you. I know now that the
slave trade is an evil business. I shall make my views known when I
return to England though I have few illusions as to what I might achieve
by doing so.”
Thank you very much. I want to go to Dr. Akosua Perbi. Just listening to
Prof and casting your mind back to the time when Edina, Cape Coast,
Anomabu, Accra, used to be a very active coast, ships moving from one
port to another, loading and unloading and so on and so forth, would you
say our people were deeply involved in this? Were they as regretful, as
bitter as in this book painted by Manu Herbstein?
very difficult question. There are no documents to show that, but I
think we can infer. . . you know there are two things to this: wherever
the slave trade has been practised, whether it is Africa, whether it is
Europe, whether it is America, the slave traders have always followed it
as a form of business. That is something we look back at and are not
always happy about. We should also realize that those who bought the
slaves also saw it as business, so it was strictly business: along the
Coast, from the North down to the South, from East to West along the
coast and in the interior, it was the order of the day. Unfortunately
because we don’t have written documents to show how any of them might
have felt. But there is a question a lot of African Americans ask me
every time I have to talk to them about the slave trade and when they go
to the Castles: whether Africans didn’t realize the brutality of the
slave trade, or why, if they heard about it, they kept going on and on.
Sometimes I say, “Well, when there’s economic gain, sometimes you
don’t look at all these things.” And that is what happened in the
case of Ama’s story. As I read through Ama, I realized that at
a point one of them even said of the owners, “We don’t have the
authority and we are being paid for the work.” In other words, “Don’t
blame me for anything: I am just taking instructions.” And in Africa,
the people in Africa will tell you this, too, “I am taking
instructions from the chief” (or the king or the raider or the slaver
or whatever) “so you can’t blame me for this story we are telling.”
this whole thing is tied up with the Dagomba defeat by Asante and the
demand for slaves from Dagbon every year, because Ama blames her
situation on that, she ties it to that issue.
But she seemed to be forgiving in the sense that much as she came into
the Asante king’s palace and she had a new name, she seemed to think
she was not as maltreated as by the whites. So were there differences in
the slavery practised amongst us, as compared to the chattel slavery of
sure that Dr. Perbi will confirm that there has always been a difference between
domestic slavery, its benign nature, the possibility of mobility, social
mobility within the structure, as compared to the Trans-Atlantic slave
trade and we see this very clearly in this book. And it’s there in the
difference between the horrendous suffering these people go through, for
instance when they are in the ship crossing when there is a storm and
they’re being tossed up and down and people die in that hold. So that’s
an indication of the difference between domestic slavery, its benign
nature, as compared to the slave trade as a trade for which even some
people regret, but can still say, “Now this is a business transaction,
we are just making somebody’s capital yield profit.” That’s what
it is. “The people in Liverpool don’t know what we are going through
but they are demanding that the money that they have put up in getting
this ship to come to the West Coast, that money must be replaced for
And for that matter it raises the wider issue of the
Atlantic trade and the wealth that it created for Europe and America and
the poverty that it created for us which we are still having to face. I
mean these are some of the wider implications of this novel.
And I think we ought to be very grateful that Manu
has put all these historical facts into a story which is gripping but at
the same time underlines the strong moral issues that were at stake.
I want to capture what you said about the wider implications of the arms
race, the conflict that we have in Africa, specifically in West Africa.
On page 215, De Bruyn says, “If you examine the
weapons closely you will soon discern the reason. Warfare is endemic on
this part of the Coast. Most of the slaves who come to us are prisoners
of war. If we did not sell arms and ammunition there would certainly be
less warfare and the supply of slaves might dry up. There is, however, a
distinction between the quality of arms required for such local warfare
as will ensure a steady supply of slaves and weaponry that might pose a
threat to ourselves. Beyond that we do, of course, exercise some
discrimination in the choice of our customers; we would not want even
weapons of inferior quality turning up in the hands of potential
enemies. I believe that the other European companies adopt a similar
policy. We have no formal contract with them to that effect but there
does seem to be some sort of unwritten agreement of long standing.
“Let me illustrate: we have intelligence that the
Asante who are important customers for muskets, have recently made
conquests in vast territories to the North of them; and that they are
exacting large numbers of slaves in tribute. Pamela, though she is
somewhat reticent about her origins, is evidently one of those. Some of
those slaves they no doubt use for agriculture, mining or as domestic
servants; but many are sent down to the Coast in exchange for European
manufactures, trade goods from the East and, you have guessed it, more
arms and ammunitions. So the wheel turns and turns.”
And the wheel is still turning.
Perbi: Demand and supply, they call it. You
know the issue of warfare in slavery is so basic in the historical
record. Any country you take, any period of world history - Ancient,
Middle, Modern - anywhere you study, warfare is vital to slavery. If you
read documents on Ghana written by the traders who came, the Dutch
traders, French traders, all of them from the 15th to the 19th
century, you’ll find that warfare is the greatest source of slaves. In
fact, one of them, Bosman, said, “Wars make Negroes plenty, but gold
scarce.” Gold was important from the 15th to the first part
of the 17th century. Then American demand made the trade in
slaves more important than gold. There was an English trader called
William Smith who came to Ghana in the 1720s; he came because of the
gold trade. He was disappointed to find that everywhere he went along
the Coast, from West to East, it was the slave trade. So he made the
point, “Why this is called the Gold Coast, I know not! It should have
been called the Slave Coast.” So warfare is vital to it. Of course,
the demand and supply becomes an international issue and you want to
respond, “What do you want?” When it was gold, Ghana responded with
gold and ivory. Then it was slaves; and when the slave trade stopped and
the Europeans demanded “legitimate trade,” to produce for export, we
started producing these cash crops, which have become a legacy and a
problem for us now.
So the wheel turns and turns and we’re in a not very different
situation today. The slave trade was an early manifestation of the
globalization of European power, European in the sense of the Europeans
in Europe and in North America; using European technology to exploit the
rest of us; and exploring the rest of the world to see how they could
make use of the labour and raw materials of others.
Let me take it from there. The other side is that the initiating act is
the warfare, the division; the warfare that produces all the slaves. Now
we ought to deal with that issue. If we are quarreling among ourselves
and taking slaves of one another, then we create the raw materials for
the white man to buy. I think it is essential that this element of the
tribal divisions, the ethnic quarrels and so on (inter and intra) should
be highlighted. As it is the whole of the West African region is caught
up in tribal troubles all over again.
Who is to blame? All of us. I talked about the act of
desire. One of the things which one can see is that Ama, when she’s
captured, thinks it all through and says, “Well, perhaps it is because
I ate that meat which custom says I should not.” There is always that
coincidence between the individual’s act of disobedience and the
intervention of external forces which, as it were, will punish you for
not conforming to the regulations of the society. So we cannot just
blame it on the external forces; we must also recognize our own
implication. When you ask me, “Who is responsible?” I reply, “I am
as responsible as everybody else is.”
Do you want to address that?
I think it’s clear that the ultimate responsibility lies with the
growth of capitalism in Europe, with mercantilism, with the industrial
revolution, with the demands of capitalism. Without that, without the
European explorations, yes, there would still have been, there was
indeed a slave trade within Africa. But it was of a different nature and
dimension; and through a period of time perhaps there would have been
resistance and reform from within the societies which practised it.
We had the Trans Saharan slave trade?
Yes, sure, that’s another story. You know there’s a great novel that
deals with the Trans Saharan slave trade, which was written by Alhaji
Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, who wrote it originally in Hausa. It’s
available translated into English; but that’s another story
Prof brought out this whole idea of desire. Consider the desire of Ama
to go back home at any point in time, going back home to the ancestors.
And even with her ability to read, to appreciate the Bible, she was
making a certain analysis that at the time one would say, going by the
book, that she was ahead of her time. Looking at the sacrifices that
they made and then the blood of Jesus. I want us to look at that.
Let’s start with her obsession with her first lover Itsho, who was
killed when she was captured. She regards him as an ancestral spirit to
whom she appeals at crucial moments. At times she feels that she doesn’t
get in touch with him but at other times she feels that his spirit gives
her direction. It seems to me that this is another important element of
the story. When people have been subjected to any kind of traumatic
experience and they begin to look inside themselves, they ask
themselves, “What can I hold on to?” Here is this young girl from a
village and the only thing she has learnt from her community is that
outside of any human physical help you have the help of your ancestral
spirits. She doesn’t even know of any ancestors except Itsho who has
now joined the dead. So there is the whole issue of what African slaves
hung on to spiritually when they were faced with a void, with trauma.
This is one of the things which runs through the novel. It is there
right at the very end when, on the plantation in Bahia, the slave
Olukoya from Nigeria, who was being trained in traditional religion
before his capture, secretly becomes the priest of the slave community.
They must get together occasionally to appeal to the ancestors to rescue
them from the fate that has befallen them. I think no human being is
without this kind of spiritual awareness or yearning; and the yearning
for liberty is part of the awareness of this resource which we have as
I would like to support that with something written by Doudou Diene who
is the head of the UNESCO Slave Route Project. He says, “The slaver,
concerned solely with the slaves' work capacity and hence their bodily
strength, was unable to reach their inner life force - that is, their
gods, their myths, and their values, which were in their minds and gave
them the inward strength to survive, to resist and to find self-renewal
in a hostile environment . . .” I think that sums it up very well.
This brings to mind something that is very important now in academic
study, what we call Africanisms. In North America it’s a whole
academic discipline where you can look at music, you can look at poetry,
dance, Anansi stories. These are things which you can study and know
that the roots are back in Africa where the slaves had to find a sense
of belonging. There are certain things which must have given them a
name, OK, but he knows within himself who he is and what he is. And I
think these are things we should also be thinking about, that in the
midst of the trauma, in the midst of the hardships, the beatings and the
whippings, what really makes you you, is what you think about yourself
internally, spiritually. What nobody can touch, as it were. And that is
what has given the Africans this story that now we can talk about as
Africanisms. The diaspora effect of slavery is amazing. There has not
been any continent that has not been touched by African slaves. We are
told that in Brazil alone now there are about 200 million Africans. That
is just one country. We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of the
diaspora and we should also be sensitive when we think of it.
Our time is almost over. The religious and spiritual aspect of all of
this is coming out now. It is quite clear that when African Americans
now look at religious phenomena, they relate back to their ancestors,
going back into themselves and trying to find out what they can hold on
to when the white man’s religion is not any kind of rescue for them.
And so this, this search turns itself into jazz for instance. Anybody
who understands jazz music must know that this is coming from the soul
of people who are yearning for something they can hold onto. These are
the manifestations of the inner life of these people who had gone
through traumatic experiences and yet who were able to surmount that
experience by calling on resources right back home on the Continent
where they had their roots.
Prof, what would you say to our listeners, would you approve this book?
And to our ladies especially, do you think we should go and get a copy
and read it, and if you think so, why?
think that everybody should go and get a copy of this book because it is
clear from all that we have said that the book has a lot in it for
everyone, no matter your inclinations or your background, whatever. If
you are thinking about slavery and about its effects today, the book has
something in it for you. And it even takes us beyond the borders of our
country to other continents and gives us glimpses of what the rippling
effects of this slavery are, you know. So I think this is one good
reason. But as a literary person, I think that there is another reason
which is that the book is replete with literary merit. We talk about a
well constructed story, we talk about the characters, you know, who
would emboss themselves on your mind, like Ama, the heroine, and so on.
I think these are good enough reasons to read it.
think as a historian, you’ve done my work for me. It is important for
us all to know some history because history is a means of identity and
it is a means of knowledge. I think this is an opportunity for me to
tell everybody to know some of your history so that when people are
talking, you can defend yourself.
Now, the novelist himself, the author of the book, Manu Herbstein.
Unfortunately, Ama doesn’t have a trade publisher. It’s been
submitted to many publishers, particularly in Britain and America but
also in Switzerland and the Netherlands. No trade publisher so far has
been prepared to publish it. So it’s been published in what is called
Print-On-Demand. There are a few copies on sale in Accra. I think the
Legon bookshop has run out, there is a bookseller in Osu, Riyas, who
will be getting some more copies in. Otherwise, you have to have a
credit card and order from one of the on-line booksellers like Amazon.
We only want people to read about our history. What they have done or
what we together have done. Listeners, I have enjoyed this book and
think it is indeed a very good one. You have everything that you need to
know. Some of the conflicts that we have today in this particular
country of ours, you’ll get to know how it all started and why we
should really sit down with the people to look at our society very well
and structure it for posterity.
I want to thank Prof Senanu for being in the studio for the first time. We have enjoyed
his company. He has given us great insights. Thank you all for coming.
Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade by Manu Herbstein paperback
- 450 pages; published by [e-reads]; ISBN: 1585869325 companion
Winner of the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for the Best First
Nominated for the 2003 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
[ii] Actually 2001.
The date given in some copies of the paperback is incorrect.
[iii] Ama also won
the overall Best First Book Prize, the first time this had
gone to an African author in the 14-year (now 15-year) history of
[iv] Tait, David (ed Jack Goody), The Konkombas of
Northern Ghana, Oxford University Press, 1961
[v] See note 3.
[vi] Esi’s father
is a Fante prisoner of war, who is enlisted in the Asante army and
subsequently rewarded for his valour with land and an Asante wife.
[vii] The Slave Route, UNESCO. http://www.unesco.org/culture/dialogue/slave/html_eng/origin.shtml
[viii] At approx. 8o27’N,
[ix] These are the
porters who have been carrying head loads of kola from the canoes at
the river bank up to the market in the town. MH
Kwadwo, Cape Coast Castle, A collection of poems, Afram Publications
Ghana Ltd, Accra, 1996. ISBN 9964 70 170 5
[xi] See, for
instance, chapter 4 of Leif Svalesen’s The Slave Ship
Fredensborg , translated by Pat Shaw and Selena Winsnes, with an
introduction by Dr. Akosua Perbi, Sub-Saharan Publishers, Accra,
2000, ISBN 9988-550 –21-9/9988-550-23-5; also Thorkild Hansen’s Coast
of Slaves, translated by Kari Dako, Sub-Saharan Publishers,
Accra, 2002, ISBN9988-550 –31-6
[xii] This may be a
reference to Bruner, Edward M., Tourism in Ghana: Representation of
Slavery and the Return of the Black Diaspora, American
Anthropologist, Journal of the American Anthropological Association,
Volume 98, Number 2, June 1996, 290-304. (See abridged version on
[xiii] ŤdŤ÷kŤ (pl. nnŤ÷kŤ) - slave.
Christaller’s definition: a native from the interior, such
as were formerly brought thence and sold as slaves in the countries
nearer the coast.
Tait (op. cit) (writing, of course, about custom in the mid-20th
century) tells us that from puberty Bekpokpam girls are allowed
full sexual freedom by their parents (within the limits of incest)
until they marry. A man may visit the girl's home and sleep with her
in her mother's room. If the girl's father is there, the room may
not be available! Also the guinea corn grows tall and thick.
Such affairs are risky and may lead to killings and feuds. Girls are
discreet about mentioning their lovers and do not speak to them in
the market. Many women are pregnant by a lover when they go to their
husband. Contraception is not practised. The child belongs to the
husband, not the father. MH
[xv] No, I’ve
never heard this particular story. However, I do recall reading,
more than fifty years ago, a short story in the collected works of
the Afrikaans poet and story teller, C. J. Langenhoven. The story
was called Die Tolk (The Court Interpreter) and the humour has a
similar source, in that the reader or listener knows more than the
wielder of power, in Langenhoven’s case, the white Magistrate.
That might have been at the back of my mind as I wrote. MH
[xvi] Balewa, Alhaji Sir Abubakar Tafawa, Shaihu Umar,
A Novel About Slavery In Africa, Markus Wiener, 1989. (First
published in Hausa in 1955)
Wilburn, Kenneth. "Teaching
About the Atlantic Slave Trade and Reparations." _Review of Ama, A Story of the
Atlantic Slave Trade_, by Manu Herbstein.
_African Studies Review_ 46, No. 1 (April 2003): 190-191.
Reproduced here with the permission of the
author and the African Studies Review.
The printed version differs slightly from the original text which
The printed version differs slightly from the original text which follows.
“Who are you homo?” blusters through
history colored by cruelty. Can
your collective past be pulled into my personal experience? Does humanity’s African origin alter the meaning of the
fourth Judeo-Christian commandment, “Honor thy Father and thy Mother”? Where is that honor in the
Atlantic slave trade? Does
it emerge later in the reparations movement? Is there a debt? Are there beneficiaries? How can we decide?
If historians formulate human activity, what is
the prescription for the Atlantic slave trade? Millions died in Africa and at
sea during those 35,000 voyages; 300-600 shackled humans were crammed
into the stinking bowels of slave ships; numbers numb. How can historians quantify even
a single life, then describe the ineffable pathos? How can historians describe the mysterious loss of a
daughter, son, father, or mother—who took my child? How can historians convince students to bear this overwhelming sadness beyond a course? Historical fiction may help. This book review chronicles the
result of a project on the Atlantic slave trade and reparations in a
semester-length History of Africa class for advanced undergraduates.
Ama, who is the eponymous heroine acting
among historical characters and events, introduced 13 male and 17 female
students from ethnically diverse backgrounds to difficult issues raised
in the project. Supplementing
Ama in this project were primary sources, film, and an article. They included David Dennard’s
“Historiography of Reparations” (SERSAS Fall 2001 Conference, 13
October 2001); The Middle Passage (an HBO, Kreol, and Raphia
film); Ali A. Mazrui’s “Global Africa: From Abolitionists to
Reparationists" (African Studies Review: Volume 37, Number
3, December 1994); selected speeches from the “Millions for
Reparations” rally (N’COBRA, Washington, DC, 17 August 2002); and
Congressman John Conyers’ proposed legislation to investigate federal
government involvement in slavery (101st Congress, lst Session, H.R.
3745 [often referred to as H.R. 40 to recall “40 Acres and a Mule”]).
All students agreed: Ama riveted them to
the mind and heart of a courageous female slave. She became their sister, their
universal family member—we are all Africans; she touched them. Ama convincingly
chronicles the tribulations of Nandzi, whose late eighteenth-century
saga begins as a young girl in what is now northern Ghana. She is enslaved by Africans, renamed Ama (Saturday) by her
Asante masters, sold to Europeans, endures the Middle Passage, and dies
a slave in Bahia, Brazil. Ama’s
struggle to survive the violence surrounding her life is divided into
four parts: Africa (slavery
among the Asante, 139 pages), Elmina (European coastal slave fort, 100
pages), The Love of Liberty (the Middle Passage, 94 pages) and
America (slavery in Brazil, 107 pages).
The author added well-researched historical characters,
imagination, and universal experience.
The paperback in its print-on-demand form does not
include a glossary, bibliography of historical sources, or maps. The web site at <http://www.ama.africatoday.com/>
has been created to archive these missing components. To assist students, hardcopies of a word glossary, character
list, and several maps were distributed.
The latter were created using Rand McNally’s splendid New
Millennium World Atlas Deluxe software.
In contrast, the book did contain provocative
issues of “race,” gender, and literary device which were discussed
by students and which Africanists will carefully consider: Can an African white male write
convincingly about an African black female? How could Ama have led such a
“privileged” life that included a lengthy liaison with the slave
fort’s director-general? Why
was the ending so abrupt? What
would you have done had you been one of the pro-slavery characters? The author’s responses to
questions from students via an email, which was almost an interview,
In class discussions and summary/reaction journal
entries, students came away
shocked and transformed. “Why
was I not told about this in public school?” was a refrain. Concerned with the realistic
violence and rapes, soon-to-be public school teachers asked, “Can the
author write another work more appropriate for younger students?” Others noted, “The graphic
depictions of the rapes of Ama reminded me of the Western rape of Africa’s
peoples and mineral resources.”
Almost every student agreed to support reparations
for African American education and for minority entrepreneurship. None were enthusiastic about direct financial compensation
from the federal government to a single generation of descendents. As the students refined their
ideas, they broadened the healing to include Native Americans and poor
whites. US corporate
involvement in slavery aside (to be resolved separately in courts),
Congress must pass H.R. 3745. If
government complicity is discovered, the United States must apologize. Funding reparations would be
voluntary and provided by a tick box on one’s income tax return: “Contribute
$1 to the fund for reparations….” Solicitation would last as long as the program—for the next
400 years—however many years number from the year of implementation
back to 1619, when slaves first entered Jamestown. The program of educational and
entrepreneurial benefactions would be directed by private and government
officials initially chosen by those involved in the research project of
H.R. 3745, including input from the African Studies Association. After some four centuries of
funding from interest earned, the principle would revert to the federal
government to help relieve the public debt.
So, by the project’s end Ama had begun a new
journey; she had convinced almost all students that reparations is not
about whether or not, but rather in what inclusive form.
are you homo?
Tamara Wagner reviews Ama in the African Postcolonial Literature in English pages in the Postcolonial Web
E-book debut wins writer top prize
Rapport (South Africa) 29/06/02
(Translated from Afrikaans by Manu Herbstein)
reviews Ama in the Sunday
Independent, Johannesburg, 26 March 2006.
Nandzi, a teenager of marriageable age, is kidnapped,
violently raped and taken from her village, in what is now northern
Ghana, for slavery. Thus begins a tortuous journey as she is passed down
the long and brutal lines of the slave-trading routes that existed 250
years ago, starting in the African hinterland and ending in the
plantations of the New World.
She carries a piece of cloth from home, but otherwise is
stripped of everything familiar, including her name. In the Asante
capital of Kumase she is renamed “Ama”. From there, she is sent to
the slave castle at Elmina and on to the infamous Middle Passage, the
With this book Manu Herbstein, a former South African
married to Ghanaian and living in Ghana, has attempted to tell the story
of the slave trade from an African point of view but is not wholly
successful. For this he won the 2002 Commonwealth Writers Prize for best
first novel. At that time the book had not been published
conventionally, but as an “e-book”, and on his own website, which is
also referred to as the book’s “companion website”, Herbstein
justifies its publication: “Ama
is an important book (even if I say so myself). It tells a story which
needs to be told and has hardly ever been told before. . . Even if it were badly written it
should merit publication. (So much rubbish rolls off the western presses
The novel is based on a formidable foundation of research.
Various characters and incidents are based on real people and events.
Herbstein works hard to present the point of view of an intelligent
young woman in extremis,
grasping at any straw she can to survive, while clinging to her dignity.
The journey to the Asante court, and the convoluted
politics there, are some of the best parts of the book. The slave castle
at Elmina is also a complex, edgy environment that Herbstein peoples
with sweating colonials, slave traders both African and European and the
As history, the grand scope and fine detail are admirable.
However, I found the book flawed in its fictional aspect.
For example, on board the ship before the Atlantic
crossing, appalling cruelty is visited upon Ama for her part in an
attempted slave mutiny.
This incident is based on fact and reported, via
Herbstein’s website, in A voyage to Guinea, Brasil and the West Indies in the Swallow and
Weymouth, Men of War, by John Atkins, Surgeon in the Royal Navy,
1721: “Captain Harding . . . did
whip and scarify them only; while three other abettors . . . he sentenced to cruel deaths, making them first eat the heart
and liver of one [that the mutineers had] killed.”
Herbstein recreates the horror of this scene in graphic
detail and, during the violence, Ama loses an eye. But apart from the
author switching to the singular from then on – “she closed her
eye” – this has no apparent effect on her at all, not even pain.
The danger of infection was acute aboard any ship at that
time, let alone one crammed with slaves. No such thing happens to Ama.
Nor does she ever fall ill. Nor, despite being repeatedly raped and used
sexually by a variety of men, does she ever fall pregnant. More to the
point, the fear of pregnancy never once enters her head.
Finally, after such convenient infertility, the man whom
the author has set up to be Ama’s true love arrives on the scene. And,
with awful predictability – and only once they are married, mind -
suddenly she is pregnant.
The other women Ama encounters seem equally sanitized or,
in some cases simply aren’t there at all – the hold of the slave
ship may as well be empty for all the interaction she has with her
fellow female captives. Mostly, she interacts with men.
Many things in this book seem laboured: the slave ship is
called “The Love of Liberty”; Ama’s intelligence is demonstrated
though her ability at chess; the ship becomes becalmed in the doldrums
where, naturally, disease strikes as the water runs low (but between the
splashes of corpses being tossed overboard and devoured by sharks, Ama
still finds time to enjoy “the peaceful, idyllic ocean all around
them, the beautiful sunsets, wonder at
the enormity [sic] of the whales and the wanton play of the
grampuses. . . ”).
The dialogue is almost as creaky. Once she has fallen
pregnant, Ama declares: “I want to have the child. You do not
understand. A woman is not a woman until she has brought forth. Tomba, I
beg you, do not make me do this thing.”
Finally the author runs into trouble in the closing
chapters as he swerves between narrative and didacticism. He is also
faced with the historical problem that slavery had no happy ending. In
the end, Ama is more of a concept than a character; a vehicle for the
author’s broader intentions.
Unfortunately she also becomes vehicle for old-fashioned
– and probably unwitting – attitudes, to women at least, that have
long since become tiresome clichés.
In its historical scope and intention this book is
deserving of attention despite its flaws.
scars of slavery: Author Manu Herbstein
chats to Bruce Dennill about his powerful, award-winning novel, Ama in The
Citizen, Johannesburg, Saturday February 18, 2006
Ama is a
vibrant, often brutal book, richly redolent of the ancient territories
from which its characters are drawn. The man introduced as its author is
a slight, bespectacled man with greying hair and a well-trimmed beard.
It doesn’t add up.
was born in South Africa, but has spent much of his life travelling to
and living in distant countries. He eventually settled in Ghana, where
his wife (a Ghanaian) runs a factory and has interests in real estate.
Was she an
inspiration for Ama, who suffered so much and yet remained unbowed?
He laughs: “No
– she kept asking me why I was concentra-ting on the past, when we
have so many problems now.”
suggests that it may be his South African background that led him to
write of the hardships of black Africans suffering abuse at the hands of
The book deals
with aspects of West African history that not many Western readers will
be aware of, among them the hierarchy existing between the different
nations in the region and the way local leaders co-operated with the
European traders to sell their own countrymen into slavery.
remember that, at the time, the local people didn’t think of
themselves as ‘Africans’,” explains Herbstein.
“That was a
construct Westerners placed on them – then, they were nations trying
to survive in the same area as other nations.”
Has that changed
“Colonialism destroyed the interactions between the nations. The old
cultures still exist, though.”
FINDING A HOME
published was an epic journey for Herbstein. No one deemed the book
“right for their market”.
In hindsight, he
sees the funny side. “I had all these people calling me a writer, but
I wasn’t – I hadn’t been published yet,” he says.
“I went to New
York, where my son was going to university. I tore the ‘Literary
Agents’ page out of the Yellow Pages, and came across a name that
could only be Ghanaian. They were helpful, although they wanted the
manuscript cut by half and another character to be the main focus.
Ghana, I bought an out-of-date book on publishing from a street trader.
I learned a lot, so I checked on Amazon to see if there was an updated
version by the same author. There was, but when I got it, it turned out
to be the same thing with a new title. I phoned the guy to complain, and
it turned out he was a literary agent.
about Ama and he said ‘Send me the manuscript’.”
attempted to auction the book, but was met with a stream of rejections.
He then decided to make it his first project in an online publishing
venture. As it gained popularity, he began to print it on demand, and
that made it eligible for submission for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
A REWARD FOR
“The venue for
the prize-giving ceremony in 2001 was Accra, in Ghana,” Herbstein
“I was invited
to the dinner and was chatting about all the authors and their work. My
book wasn’t there, though. The publisher had forgotten to submit
the time the next year’s ceremony, in Edinburgh, rolled around, Ama
was on the list.
animated – turns out he’s a bit of a literary groupie: “I had
breakfast with Louis de Berniere (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin)]
there,” he gushes.
was at Holyrood Palace, and the prizes were to be presented by Princess
Anne. She started talking to one of my competitors, but I couldn’t
understand her. It took a few sentences before I could make out that she
was speaking English.”
out that he had won the night before the ceremony, when he arrived back
at his hotel room, after one too many – “I had to dip my head in the
basin” – and found an envelope on the carpet.
He was awarded
the 2002 Commonwealth Best First Book prize. Bizarrely, it still took
until the end of 2004 before Pan Macmillan picked it up...
TRUTH VS FICTION
several scenes of horrifying barbarity, including several rape scenes.
Was it necessary to include these scenes? Were they just there to add
solemn. “I didn’t invent them. They’re all embellished from real
accounts – it’s there in history.”
to know if the scars left by slavery will ever be eradicated. Herbstein
tells of African-Americans, descendants of slaves, who go back to Ghana
expecting to be treated as returning heroes.
He shakes his
head. “To the locals, they’re just tourists. With dollars.”