Abina and the Important Men

8 August 2016

Abina and the Important Men: a Graphical History was written by Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke. The story of Abina Mansah is somewhat an inspiring graphical history based on an 1876 court transcript. Abina, a woman of West Africa, was wrongfully enslaved and as a consequence, she took her former master, Quamina Eddoo, to court. The overall setting took place on the Gold Coast during the 19th century. The main scenes take place in the court room, which is filled with many “important men. ” The men included a British judge, two Euro African attorneys, countrymen, and an entire jury of wealthy, high class local town leaders.

This book is broken down into several parts; the graphical history, transcript, historical context, reading guide, and classroom version. All of these parts combined help to reconstruct and create a better interpretation of the story of Abina Mansah. The Gold Coast at this time was under English rule as the British began to abolish slavery. Abina was born into one of the protectorates, Asante, and enslaved in her youth. She was formerly the wife of Yaw Awoah and sold to her former master, Quamina Eddoo, to begin working in his sister Eccoah’s household.

While staying at Eddoo’s plantation, Abina was told she had to marry, against her will, Tando. Tando was a man of Eddoo and because Abina didn’t want to marry him, she was told if she didn’t she would be flogged. “They say that in Cape Coast all are free. ”(Chapter 1 page 7) Knowing this, Abina decided to escape her master to find freedom at a local market. At the market, she met a lady who offered to help her. Abina found out that she needed a paper saying that she was free, but in order to get that piece of paper, she needed a job and a place to stay so she’d belong.

The lady then directed her to an “important man”, James Davis. “Well, it’s true that there is no legal slavery here in Cape Coast, or throughout the colony and protectorate. But look, the government doesn’t have the money or the ability to enforce the laws everywhere,” Davis told Abina. (Chapter 1, page 10) Davis agreed to present Abina’s case to a magistrate, but the only problem was that Quamina Eddoo was an important man who grew palm oil. Davis reminded Abina that even though all were free, Eddoo was an important man and the British didn’t like to alienate important men.

Following, the magistrate, William Melton, agreed to hear the case and sent at Quamina Eddoo on the charge of slavery. The trial started and Abina was questioned as to why she believed she was a slave. Abina responded saying, “They held me down, and cut my beads, and I was told that I was to be their amperley-their slave. ” (Chapter 2, page 24) Throughout the court case and Abina’s flashback to the court, the men of the court strived to somehow imposed their own meanings and understandings of slavery upon Abina and silence her.

As mentioned earlier, Abina wanted to punish her master, Eddoo for wrongly enslaving her. Abina wasn’t as educated as the important men hearing her case, but she truly believed she was a slave. She expressed herself in her own language which wasn’t clearly understood by the important men of the court. Because she lacked education causing her to contradict, become confused or inaccurately answer the questions, Eddoo’s lawyer and the men began to create a difference between being a slave and acting upon free will like a slave.

The magistrate, Mr. Melton, asked Abina if during her stay with Eccoah and Quamina Eddoo, was she “compelled to work against her will. ” (Chapter 3, page 30) Confused, Abina responded by asking what was meant by the phrase “against her will. ” Mr. Davis reworded the question to ask if she had been forced to do work or if she had chosen to do the work. “In some instances, she told me to do so and I did it. Other times, I acted of my own accord. ”(Chapter 3, page 30) Abina was then asked if all other workers and servants were slaves.

Abina didn’t respond in the likings of the important men. “Are you aware that everybody in the protectorate is freed and that those people you saw in the defendant’s house are as free as the defendant, or Mr. Davis, or I,” said Eddoo’s lawyer. (Chapter 3, page 35) Infuriated, Abina claimed that most of the workers in the house were children of slaves and had no say in the situation at hand. Slaves were unpaid and Abina received no monetary funds, but only cloth and food. The defendants claimed, “In fact, it’s pretty obvious that you were paid, in cloth and in food.” (Chapter 5, page 61) Abina still believed she was a slave because she could no longer do as she pleased, maintain health, take care of herself independently, or marry who she pleased. “When a free person is sitting down at ease the slave is working. ” (Page 119) Abina may have been an empowering, fearless woman, but over all she lacked legal understanding of slavery causing her to look uneducated and supporting the belief that women aren’t equal to men. From the examples provided so far, the readers also can see how language and words used play an important role in the minds of the important men.

For this reason, Abina lost her case against Quamina Eddoo; however, Abina’s ultimate goal was to be heard and to finally overcome the historical silencing for herself and her class. “All day, all over the Gold Coast colony and protectorate, people go about their business. They do so with the help of numerous enslaved children. Every day, more and more are brought in from outside the protectorate. English justice was supposed to eliminate slavery but instead it has just shifted it onto the backs of children, who have become safer slaves to own than adults.” (Chapter 6, page 67) Abina grew to believe this. She knew she was wrongfully enslaved in her youth. She knew she wanted her own freedom. But most importantly she knew that she wanted her voice to be heard! Abina shared with Davis that this entire case was never about being safe or winning, it was about being heard. “I went to court so that I could say what needed to be said. So that they would hear how my life was. But now I know that nobody heard me. Now I know that I might as well have kept silent. ” (Chapter 6, page 74) Abina felt defeated.

She had lost the case and believe her voice wasn’t heard. But according to the stages proposed by philosopher and historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Abina’s voice was heard. According to Trouillot, history is an act of silencing in which those without power are silenced and those with power aren’t. (Chapter 6, page 75) He proposed that silencing occurs in four stages, which support the evidence that Abina was heard. The first stage of silencing according to Trouillot is as followed, “Some people’s perspectives never get recorded.” (Page 120) However, Abina’s perspective was heard and recorded as a transcript of the court. Secondly, “not all records that are put into archived are saved; some documents get thrown away, others deteriorate, often because they are considered to have little value. ” (Page 120) However, the transcript of Abina’s voice wasn’t destroyed. Thirdly, “historians choose to feature some sources and voices and to ignore others when they write about the past. ”(Page 120) However, Getz didn’t ignore Abina’s story and with the help of Clarke’s illustrations, recreated her past.

Finally, the last stage according to Trouillot, was “some accounts of the past come to be seen as “classics” or “important,” while others are discounted. ” (Page 120) However, Abina’s perspective may have seemed unimportant to the important men in court but her will to testify in court reversed her silence. Abina may have been silenced during the first stages of the process, however she has been redeemed. We all can hear her story! In closing, Abina’s story was never meant to be told but the author’s gave life to Abina Mansah.

Abina was wrongfully slaved, but she fought for her freedom and she was able to overcome the historical silencing of young, enslaved women. Abina’s story shows how important enforcing slavery abolitionism affects the social structure of the world. However, providing the transcript, sifting through the information, and recreating the story graphically through context and guides really allowed me to identify with Abina and her struggle. Despite all the odds against her, Abina became more educated about slavery and in turn, allowed her voice to be heard. Abina and the Important Men was awesome!

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