Ama's story is set in the last quarter of
the eighteenth century. It starts in an unnamed Konkomba hamlet in what is now the northern
region of Ghana and follows the route: - Yendi - Kafaba - Kumase -
Elmina - Middle Passage - Salvador - Engenho. Maps on another page show the
The reference is limited, more or less, to this slice of time and space. I have added relevant matters of interest. My selections from texts are somewhat arbitrary, based on my estimate of what a serious but non-specialist reader might consider instructive and interesting, but subject to what I have been able to find in Accra. There is more recent material.
My hope is that curious readers of "Ama" will be persuaded to read further and that this web site will get them started. The texts and references might also help critical readers to judge the authenticity and plausibility of Ama's story.
Researching for "Ama", I read voraciously and, at least in the early stages, with a certain lack of discipline. The material here is somewhat more organized than was my reading: I certainly didn't read these works in the order given. For one thing, I was constrained by what was available in three excellent but cash-starved libraries: the Balme Library and the Institute of African Studies Library at the University of Ghana, Legon and the George Padmore Library in Accra. At a later date I spent a few days in the Schomberg Library in Harlem, searching for works which I had been unable to unearth in Ghana.
I tried to paint an accurate, fair and plausible picture of the societies through which Ama passes. I tried too hard, it seems, for the first manuscript of the novel was 300,000 words long, double the length, I was told, that any publisher would consider. With some reluctance I followed my agent's advice to strip out anything that didn't have a direct bearing on the story.
I had lived in Ghana for some 25 years when I set out to write "Ama" and I found, to my shame, that I had acquired no more than a superficial understanding of the history of the country and its peoples. I needed to do a great deal of homework.
As I read, I tried to maintain an awareness of the danger that my own background might influence my understanding and distort the story I had to tell. Others will have to judge whether I have been successful.
In The Atlantic Slave Trade and Black Africa, P. E. H. Hair writes,
Almost total lack of evidence makes it uncertain whether slaves ever condemned the institutions of enslavement in Africa (without abolitionist prompting); and also whether the institutions were ever condemned within African communities. It is, perhaps, in both cases unlikely. The feelings and sufferings of the slaves are partly unimaginable, inasmuch as they were related to the circumstances of a previous life we know little about. Standard descriptions which concentrate on those aspects easily comprehensible to modern middle class sentiment cannot tell the whole story.
Published by Simon & Schuster 1997 Hardcover, 908 pages ISBN: 0-684-81063-8
No great historical subject is so laden with modern controversy or so obscured by myth and legend as the slave trade. Who were the slaves? How profitable was the business? Why did many African rulers and people collaborate?
Now, finally, we have a balanced account, in a book as exciting and readable as it is important. Hugh Thomas, the author of such major historical works as Conquest and The Spanish Civil War, has spent more than thirty years studying in archives and libraries throughout Europe, Africa, the United States, and Latin America, and how now produced a major work of interpretation.
The strength of Hugh Thomas's book is that it begins with the first Portuguese slaving expeditions, before Columbus's voyage to the New World, and ends with the last gasp of the slave trade, long since made illegal elsewhere, in Cuba and Brazil twenty-five years after the American Emancipation Proclamation. His narrative is vividly alive with villains and heroes, and illuminated by eyewitness accounts, many of which are published here for the first time.
Never before has the colossal impact of the slave trade been so meticulously described: It was not only people who made their fortunes by slaving but whole nations--for though slaves were shipped to the New World on a large scale by Spain and Portugal to cut sugar cane or to dig for gold, they were themselves, in fact, as valuable as the commodities for which they labored and died, the most precious cargo of all.
The Atlantic slave trade was one of the largest and most elaborate maritime and commercial ventures in all history. Between 1492 and about 1870, approximately eleven million black slaves were carried from Africa to one port of another of the Americas. They were taken to work on sugar, coffee, cocoa, and cotton plantations, in gold and silver mines, in rice fields, or in houses as servants. The shippers were, in order of scale, the Portuguese (and Brazilians), the English, the French, the Spaniards, the Dutch, and the North Americans. At the height of the traffic, in the 1780s, the English and French were each carrying forty thousand slaves a year. These captives were usually procured by barter with African monarchs or merchants who were established on the estuaries of nearly all the great African rivers that flow into the Atlantic. The goods exchanged for slaves were textiles, copper or iron bars, guns, drink (wine, brandy, and rum), and a vast number of miscellaneous objects such as beads, hats, shaving bowls, and knives. Hundreds of thousands of Africans participated in the trade, but especially the kings in Ashanti, Dahomey, Benin, Laongo, Congo, and Angola. Mozambique and Madagascar also contributed their thousands of prisoners to the European boats.
Slavery in Africa resulted from captivity in war, from kidnappings or raids on neighbors, or sometimes from judicial decisions after crimes.
Slavery made England rich, as it had made Spain and Portugal rich before her; slavery to satisfy the need of France's Caribbean possessions made France rich and was still important enough commercially in the nineteenth century to make Napoleon sacrifice a French army to put down the slave revolt in what is now Haiti. Hugh Thomas gives the reader the facts about the slave trade--shows us how whole towns, like Bristol and Liverpool in England, Nantes in France, or Newport in Rhode Island, grew and prospered on slavery; how each new discovery and colonization spurred the demand for slave labor. He confronts the thorny subject of Jewish involvement in the slave trade, documents the fact that many of the New England whaling captains become successful slavers on the side, and tells the story of the rising tide of the antislavery movement, first against the trade and then against the institution of slavery itself. He describes the work of men such as Montesquieu in France, Wilberforce in England, and Anthony Benezet in the United States who finally succeeded in turning public opinion against slavery and making it illegal in Europe and the New World.
John Lynch reviews The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas.
Lynch is Emeritus Professor of Latin American History, University
Christian Science Monitor
Thursday January 29, 1998 Edition
THE SLAVE TRADE: THE STORY OF THE ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE: 1440-1870
By Hugh Thomas
Simon & Schuster 908 pp., $38
Ambitious History Of Atlantic Slave Trade Bogs Down in Detail
Leonard Bushkoff, Special to The Christian Science Monitor
BOSTON -- Hugh Thomas is, quite simply, a phenomenon. This remarkably productive, popularizing historian has written a dozen or more books over a 35-year span. They range from his most famous work, on the Spanish Civil War, through studies of the cold war, modern Cuba, global technology, the conquest of Mexico, and now this overwhelming tome, "The Slave Trade: The Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade: 1440-1870."
But there are difficulties with this latest work: a lack of discipline and much structure beyond chronology.
Of course, Thomas is fluent in the French and especially the Spanish sources. Unfortunately, there is little penetration, little attempt to develop themes, present ideas, or get to the bottom of things.
The result is a bloated, slap-dash assemblage of facts and factlets that includes every conceivable name, but imposes a casual, occasionally cynical, irony on the vital questions of motivation and causality.
There are endless recitals of expeditions undertaken, African slaves carried off, sold in the New World, and marched to their new "homes"; of this profitable business fought over by Portuguese, then Spanish, then Dutch, then French, then British, and finally American slavers; of the pirates, privateers, and men of war that hovered around the edges; and of the changes in wealth and politics that influenced the trade.
The book contains not one, but two back-to-back texts, the first dealing with "high" slavery, its period of acceptance and expansion, principally by Spain and Portugal from the 15th century onward; the second with its rejection by the two expanding Western democracies, Britain and the United States, and the consequent efforts at worldwide elimination during 1780 to 1860.
The watershed between these two falls during 1776-1815, the period of the American and French nationalist and democratic revolutions. Entitled the "World Revolution of the West," this period destroyed the ideological - though not the economic - basis for a slavery that was seen thereafter in the northern US and especially in Great Britain as an unmitigated horror, unworthy of survival, and ripe for attack by the Royal Navy.
This massive shift in thinking goes essentially unnoticed by Thomas, aside from a very few pages on the Enlightenment. His text is too focused on the minutiae of the names of ships, of their captains, the number of guns they bore, and the events that befell them. Thomas does, to be sure, emphasize the role of William Wilberforce, the English statesman, the British Quakers and Methodists, but fails to convey their antislavery fervor.
Thomas is little interested in ideas and political movements, but very much in economic growth - sugar tonnage, cotton exports, the cost of slaves - and the wealthy entrepreneurs this involved. He is entirely oblivious to the individuals held as slaves, the great unknown in a book purporting to be about a process in which they were central. Though slave revolts are mentioned, for example, and clearly the masters were increasingly apprehensive about them from 1800 onward, nothing else is stated.
The result is an outmoded, virtually 19th-century-like history. It lacks context. It presents one fact after another, strung together chronologically. Only dominant men have roles. Its central figures are mere creatures, without feelings, let alone ideas.
* Leonard Bushkoff regularly reviews history for the Monitor.
by EH.NET (July, 1999)
Seymour Drescher and Stanley L. Engerman, eds. A Historical Guide to World Slavery New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Bibliographical references and index. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-19-512091-4.
Seymour Drescher (University of Pittsburgh) and Stanley Engerman (University of Rochester) have assembled a stellar cast which has written an exceptionally useful reference book. The goal of the nearly one hundred contributors to _A Historical Guide to World Slavery_ is to bring slavery into a "worldwide and cross-cultural focus." The entries in this volume do this very well. They will be useful to students and scholars alike, as they provide both an accessible overview of the complexities of the subject and a starting point for further research. The authors' collective ability to be simultaneously concise and informative is striking. . . (continues)
Full review: http://www.eh.net/bookreviews/library/0174.shtml
Prof. Sue Peabody (Washington State University Vancouver) maintains a website of links to various internet resources dealing with slavery. It is organized geographically with a U.S. bias (North America and the World) and by genre (Academic Centers; Documents, Narratives, Texts; Public History: Media, Museums and Sites): http://directory.vancouver.wsu.edu/people/sue-peabody
[Davis Bullwinkle] AfricaBib website
description and link.
H-NET List for African History and Culture
Date: Mon, 26 Apr 1999
From: Davis Bullwinkle
AfricaBib was created in 1999 as a way to freely disseminate
information from two African studies databases as well as
information on Africa from other sources.
The databases have been created and are maintained by
Davis Bullwinkle who is the director of the IEA Research Library,
at the Institute for Economic Advancement (IEA) at the
University of Arkansas-Little Rock, in Little Rock, Arkansas
in the United States.
The web site presently contains the following:
Africana Periodical Literature Bibliographic Database
This work was originally begun in September of 1974 as
an effort to index all the issues of each periodical/journal
title and place them all in one source.
This English language database indexes over 36,000
articles from over 310 English language and multi-lingual journals
and periodicals that specialize in African Studies or
consistently cover the African continent. The titles were
originally chosen from the library at California State
University-Chico and that number were later expanded by
using materials from Northwestern University and other
major university libraries as well as the Library of Congress.
Each title is indexed from its first day of publication to
the present or, either its date of ceasing or a date where
the journal or periodical no longer covered Africa on a
regular basis. In only in a few cases were titles dropped
due to the difficulty in obtaining copies or irregularities
in the journal's publishing schedule.
Of the over 310 journals and periodicals indexed, more
than half have ceased being published. Until the mid-1960's few
Africana journals were indexed in major indexing tools.
This work hopes to fill the gap by indexing Africana materials
from the mid-nineteenth century to today all in one index.
A title list of all journals and periodicals indexed,
including the years the journals or periodicals were
published and indexed is included by a link from the front
page of this database.
The titles indexed in this database represent Africana
materials published in from over 22 nations within North
America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
Africana Women's Database
This English language database contains over 23,000
citations from 1986 to current. The database indexes six
types of materials: books and government documents;
articles appearing in edited books; periodical and journal articles;
Masters theses and Ph.D. dissertations as well as a few
B.A.theses and honors papers; conference papers; and
This database is the outgrowth of a three volume work
published in 1989 by Greenwood Press that indexed
materials on African Women published during the International
Women's Decade, 1975-1985.
The database indexes everything the compiler can find
published in English about African women. If you know of
any materials that are not in this index and deserve to be
included you can contact Davis Bullwinkle at
firstname.lastname@example.org or at either 501 569-8521 or 501
The database indexes conference papers from the
African Literature Association
African Studies Association
American Anthropological Association
Cairo Demographic Centre
Canadian Association of African Studies
International AIDS Conference
Middle East Studies Association
Population Association of America
The Story of Africa -- BBC
Subtitled African History from the Dawn of Time, this extensive and
well-designed Website boasts more than 120,000 words, over 120
images, and over 40 audio files about Africa. Its fourteen sections
cover the topics of Africa's early history, the Nile Valley, West
African kingdoms, the Swahili, traditional religions, Islam,
Christianity, slavery, Central African kingdoms, Africa and Europe
(1800 - 1914), Southern Africa, history between the two World Wars,
and Independence. In addition to text and supplemental images, each
section offers a timeline, a bibliography of further reading, and a
list of annotated links. A forum for featuring visitor's comments,
criticisms, and suggestions will also shortly be launched. This is
certainly a Website to spend some time on and could serve as a fine
basis for junior and high school curriculum on the continent. [DC]
From The Scout Report for Social Sciences & Humanities, Copyright
Internet Scout Project 1994-2001. http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/
OTHER REFERENCESfamily:"Times New Roman";
family:"Times New Roman";
Black History Resource Working Group, Slavery: An Introduction To The African Holocaust, 1995
Edwards, Paul (ed.), Equiano's Travels, His Autobiography: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African, first published 1789, Heinemann, 1967
Equiano, Olaudah: [excerpt from: The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African (London, 1789). An Ibo from Nigeria remembers his kidnapping http://vi.uh.edu/pages/mintz/3.htm
Everett, Susan, History of Slavery, Bison, 1978
Hair, P. E. H., The Atlantic Slave Trade and Black Africa
Harms, Robert W., The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade, 2001, ISBN: 0465028713
family:"Times New Roman";
Reynolds, Edward, Stand the Storm: A History of the Atlantic Slave Trade, Allison & Busby, 1985
Tibbles, Anthony (ed.), Transatlantic Slavery: Against Human Dignity, HMSO, 1994
Walvin, James The Slave Trade, Sutton, 1999 family:"Times New Roman";
Walvin, James, An African Life, The Life and Times of Olaudah Equiano, 1745-1797, Continuum, 1998
Walvin, James, Black Ivory: A History of British Slavery, Harper Collins, 1992
C-18L Resources for 18th-century studies across
the disciplines. http://www.personal.psu.edu/special/C18/c18-l.htm
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of
http://www.gliah.org and http://www.gilderlehrman.org
bidi-language: AR-SA">The Institute, which hosts summer institutes for teachers, awards research fellowships and book prizes to scholars, and sponsors a center for the study of slavery, resistance, and abolition at Yale, has made a remarkable array of instructional materials available online. Created by Steven Mintz and Sara McNeil of the University of Houston, these include a U.S. history textbook; over 400 annotated documents from the Gilder Lehrman Collection on deposit at the Pierpont Morgan Library, supplemented by primary sources on slavery, Mexican American and Native American history, and U.S. political, social, and legal history; succinct essays on the history of film, ethnicity, private life, and technology; multimedia exhibitions; and reference resources that include a searchable database of 1,500 annotated links, classroom handouts, chronologies, glossaries, an audio archive including speeches and book talks by historians, and a visual archive with hundreds of historical maps and images. The site's Ask the HyperHistorian feature allows users to pose questions to professional historians.
An A-Z of African Studies on the Internet http://www.lib.msu.edu/limb/a- z/az.html