Book of Negroes Review Pt.6 by Word Mason

The Book of Negroes Review Pt.6

 

From the Tablet Reviews: The Book of Negroes, Episode 6

Sometimes we are all put on earth and endure innumerable hardships for a reason. Along our journeys we acquire skills, take on experiences, and suffer great loss to the end of preparing us for the eventual great feats that we accomplish. We cry, we bleed, we sweat, we long, and we lose, but in the end we triumph. Even in that triumph, our work may be done,but the greater task is yet to be taken up by those that follow us. This is the story of the struggle for freedom for Africans since the first slaves were extracted by Europeans to Portugal in 1441, escalating to the first slave ship leaving the West Coast of Africa for the New World in 1501. Though slavery in the West as we know it ended in 1865 and was sealed in blood with the American Civil War, the struggle for freedom continues.

In this, the final episode of the CBC’s The Book of Negroes, we journey with Aminata Diallo across the sea back to West Africa, where she tries to reconcile the peaceful memories of her lost home, and the brutality that the Trans-Atlantic slave trade created in its wake. We learn about what the experience of repatriation was really like; we uncover the ugly truths of the slave trade, and we say goodbye to cast of this fantastic show. Now if you have been following this review series, I am sure that you know what is about to come next…

**********************SPOILER ALERT!!!*****************

If you’re still missing episodes I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems and missing this ain’t one: http://www.cbc.ca/bookofnegroes/

This is the episode that ties the entire series together. We watch Aminata return to West Africa, though not to her village of Bayo. The ship of repatriating Africans is taken to Sierra Leone where Freetown, Sierra Leone’s current capital, was founded. Though land and infrastructure was promised, the town was founded by money from London and the sweat and labour of the town’s first residents. While she is happy to be on the soils of her birth, Aminata cannot shake the desire to return home to her village. Even though she saw it immolated by marauding slavers the screaming desire to return could not be quieted. While in Freetown, Aminata and Chekura find a measure of happiness. While they were living on the land and trading with the locals, minus British governance, Aminata and Chekura experience, for the first time since their childhood, freedom from the tyranny of whites…then the slavers appear dragging a solemn line of captives, a stark reminder that their freedom is not complete so long as the trade continued.  The entire settlement of former slaves is understandably incensed and attempts to free them, ending in the death of Daddy Moses at the hands of one of the slave catchers. Aminata and the rest of the townsfolk are heartbroken at the loss of Daddy Moses. This was one of the most heart-rending scenes in the entire series, later to be outdone twice in the same episode (you will see this later).

Aminata then goes to meet with some slavers, under the protection of the British administrator; she revisits the pen where she was held, which still so many years later was alive with the wails of despair and anguish emanating from the battered captives there in. She strikes a deal for guides and protection to embark on expedition to see her home village, or what remains of it, with an expedition of slave catchers. While she sits at a table of fine china and finer tea, she watches the people in the pen only a few hundred yards away crushed by grinding fear and terror and she could not help but ask the slaver why he trades in human beings. His response is lazy and filled with a nonchalant, veiled racism, noting that Aminata grew up healthy, strong and educated. This is the typical argument often presented by slavery apologists who either do not know or do not care about the innumerable horrors that enslaved Africans and their descendants endured as a direct result of the experience of chattel slavery. The brand on Aminata’s chest serves as a clear example of the truth in contrast to the narrative created by those who benefitted and currently benefit from that system. She is denied passage by the slaver, and Aminata is forced to speak to the African slavers in order to secure passage to her old home. This conversation is interesting. The slaver, who sends Africans across the sea where they lose their homes, their language, their religion and their names, calls Aminata a foolish African woman who acts like a “toubab” (white/European), even with the knowledge that she is one of those Africans sent across the sea.  Aminata and Chekura go into the wilderness with these men, where she watches them abuse a band of young girls no older than she was when she was a child. The abuse was more than they could bear, and under the cover of the night, Aminata watched the brave Chekura free the children, only to be felled by the knife point of a vexed slaver (see I told you it was going to get worse). Aminata is forced to make a hasty farewell to the love of her life, who though murdered, dies atoning for his sins as a slaver in the land of his fore bearers (damn you all for killing Chekura!). Aminata runs with one of the children into the jungle to hide from the angry musket balls and machetes of the slavers. She passes out from exhaustion and awakes to find herself safe, in an African village where she can finally tell her story, she is back. With Chekura gone, however, her revelry is short lived and she chose to go to England with Captain Clarkson and fight the good fight for the ended of slavery. She meets several important abolitionists such as William Wilberforce, and agrees to write an account of her story. At the end of a hearing where her account was read, the British Parliament deliberates and ultimately decides to end the sale of captured Africans, though they do not end slavery altogether until nearly thirty years later in 1834. Subsequent to her victory, Aminata is given a gift by none other than a contrite Solomon Lindo seeking absolution of his own sins in the trade by presenting Aminata with none other than her long lost daughter May (played by a stunning, and I mean stunning Rori Mortuba) in an moment that I am sure was going to dehydrate every person watching with tears, and so ends The Book of Negroes.

Where do I begin with this? This episode ties everything we watched together. In a way it showed is that Aminata’s trials and tribulations were not senseless, her saga was part of a grander purpose, to take the enslaved African one step further towards true freedom and self-determination. Though her story and purpose where the struggle is concerned have ended, the struggle was not over. In many ways, it is still not over, with an estimated 27 million Africans still living under the yolk of chattel slavery in the Middle East, there are millions of Aminata Diallos walking the earth today who will never get the chance to experience freedom and write their stories. The show takes another interesting turn, consistently shattering our understanding of historical events. Repatriation was not as sweet as we thought it to be. Thought he land and funds to build were gifted, there were no ready farms, and they freed Africans returning still risked re-enslavement if they left the confines of their towns. Former slaves were constantly re-traumatised with the sight of new captives paraded in front of them and risked death if they intervened. The show plays on a biblical metaphor, with Daddy Moses dying on the beach, not being able to live out his days peacefully in the Promised Land. This is not unlike the biblical Moses, who died before he himself could set foot in the land of Canaan with the people he led to freedom.

One moment that really stood out for me as poignant in this episode was Aminata’s conversation with the abolitionists about telling her story. The White Abolitionists, though champions in the cause of ending the slave trade, were still wealthy Europeans and had latent racist tendencies, however noble their cause. They thought that they would be able to tell the story of a Black woman better than she herself, and that the story of a Black person would be tainted by interacting with other Blacks. They sought to control her interactions and her words. She loudly protested and made it uncompromisingly clear that she would be unfettered in her interactions (she was a free woman after all), and she would tell her own story. This reminded me of Chinua Achebe’s words “Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”. These words were never truer than in this case as she took to her pen and parchment to record the criminal atrocity of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and laid it at the feet of the proponents of the trade. After having her competence tested again by an arrogant parliamentarian, she makes them and the world understand  what it was to be an African slave, and why perpetuating this system was unjust.  A final point of symbolism that was not lost on me in this episode was the death of Chekura. In this series, Chekura represented the desire to return Africa to Aminata. He was there when she was captured, she longed for him many times and had no future when she was away with him(symbolised by the loss of her children). When she returned to Africa, Chekura and her desire to stay there died. Her past was gone and she left of her own accord to find a new life. In that future she was given back her daughter May and now could look ahead to a future that she thought she would never have.

This series was fantastic to watch. I was beset by a torrent of emotions from the most exalting elation to the deepest sorrow. I felt for the characters, I loved the cinematography, the set pieces and the writing. The attention to detail in this project on all levels was exemplary of what we can expect from a Canadian miniseries. Lawrence Hill’s grand opus was brought to life on screen, however briefly. For a fleeting moment; we travelled through time and lived the challenges and victories of a little girl from Bayo village who became a powerful woman speaking to the seat of power in the British Empire. To the cast and crew, thank you for providing us with such a historical piece of work. You have left a legacy for us to follow and remember. You told the story of millions of people, myself included, and you did it with respect, love, and consideration. To Lawrence Hill, if you are reading this, thank you for The Book of Negroes, all of those late nights in the library were worth it.

 

Next week I will be writing a short comparison between the book and the television show to see how they stack up as both individual pieces and part of a suite. Until then, be good to yourselves and each other.

Love and Peace,

 

Word Mason

 

Interesting Facts:

 

· There are currently over 130 million people living today that are descendants of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade

· For more information on the current slavery in the Middle East, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hCVCKAC8WHo

· For a full chronology of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, please click here: http://www.brycchancarey.com/slavery/chrono2.htm

· When asked why he wrote The Book of Negroes,Lawrence Hill said that he wanted to not only educate, but share an important part of Canadian history

 

 

Word Mason, as his name suggests, is a builder with words. Each line of poetry represents a brick to the monuments of lyrical beauty he constructs through his poetry and music. A writer and performer from the age of six, he has had over two decades of experience at the edge of the pen and behind the microphone.  He draws much of his inspiration from his love of ancient history and classical poetry. He has appeared in various programmes on stage and in front of the camera, as well as lending his talent to a multitude of charitable causes His motto is “Your life is only worth what you leave in this world behind you”, and that is his motivation for continuing to develop his art and create memorable works to captivate the listener and reader alike. Contact info: 

word.masons.tablet@gmail.com

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@WordMasonTablet 

 




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