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West African narratives of slavery texts from late-nineteenth-and early twentieth-century Ghana.

Sandra E. Greene discusses slavery in West Africa, specifically Ghana. Her examination of slavery in Ghana sheds a light on the slaves who did not make the transatlantic voyage. In fact, these slaves never left the continent. In her text, Greene describes how slavery, even after hundreds of years, affects the ancestors of the enslaved. The focus of West African Narratives of Slavery is on "five...unpublished or untranslated West African texts that were produced by and about the ex-enslaved and by their descendants and neighbors between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries"(2). Because slavery in Ghana is rarely discussed, finding examples of slave narratives is equally difficult. However, Greene includes in her text the slave texts of Aaron Kuku, Yosef Famfantor, Lydia Yawo, and Paul Sands. She includes narratives that are "oral and written texts produced by or in collaboration with the (formerly) enslaved and their descendants "(3).

In the introduction of West African Narratives of Slavery, Greene discusses organization of the book. The text is divided into main four parts. The four parts are life history, biography, one diary, and an oral tradition narrative. Within the components, Greene provides an example of each genre. The example of a life history is of Aaron Kuku's narrative. "The life history of Aaron Kuku" discusses escapes from slavery, suicide attempts, and informs the reader of slavery in West Ghana. In the second section of the book, Greene presents biographies of Lydia Yawo and Yosef Famfantor. In these texts, the overall themes are finding the narrators' voices in the texts, the slaves' dilemma of whether to escape from slavery and the differences of males and females slave experiences. Part Three includes the diary of Paul Sands. The themes in his diary are literary tradition and slavery as source of shame centuries after his ancestor has died. Part Four concludes the West African Narratives of Slavery with oral texts collected by the author.

Sandra E. Greene includes facts on Ghana, the language spoken, and historical facts of the region. The book provides an examination at West African slaves and their narratives. In addition, it provides the cultural background of the narratives.

Greene stated that she will "emphasize the importance of understanding the historical, literary, and cultural contexts that influenced the production of each narrative" (2). What Greene neglects to mention is the importance of naming or names in conversion narratives. Kuku, Famfantor, and Yawo change their African name to a Christian name. Naming is critical in Paul Sand's text, because Greene changes his name to protect his ancestors. Kuku provides his name as Anyomimanboa before conversion (55) and, Aaron, after conversion (69). In fact, the subsection of his slave narrative "Beginning of Studies toward Baptism", the first paragraph discusses the debate he has with Pastor Seeger on his new name after conversion. Yosef Famfantor's name change is very much tied to his conversion as Kuku's. For example, when he becomes a Christian his name changes from Kwaku Famfantor to Yosef (Joseph) Famfantor. Famfantor discusses his name with a teacher of baptism.
... Famfantor asked the teacher to write his name so he would become
the Christ that he talked about. The teacher asked him to talk about
his life. He told him about the whole of his existence, from his
childhood hardships, to Asante, up to that day. The teacher...signed
him up, and his Christian name would be Yosef, because Famfantor's life
story was similar to Yosef, the son of Jacob, who suffered just like
Famfantor (130).

When Kuku and Famfantor converted to Christianity, they took a biblical name that represented their paths to conversion. Lydia Yawo did the same. Nevertheless, Greene does not mention the name change in her analysis. Johannes Merz, Lydia's amanuensis, notes that African names are given depending on the gender of the child and the day it was born. Merz states that before her conversion, Lydia was given the name of Adsoba, because she was a female who was born on a Monday (107). Nor does she discuss the importance of Lydia's name after conversion. In this case, Lydia was selected. In the Book of Acts 16:11-15, Lydia, from Thyiarta, converts to Christianity after speaking to Paul and Silas. After they agree she is of the faith, she insists that they eat at her home. Lydia's biographer states "she was given the name Lydia, for not one could say of her as the seller of purple fabrics in Philippi: The Lord opened her heart" (116). Greene provides a footnote for the verse where this statement about the biblical Lydia, but does not comment on the significance of the name.

One of the themes that occur in West African slave narratives as well as the North American slaves is the problem of the amanuensis. The amanuensis crafts, writes, edits, and publishes the slave narrative. A problem of the amanuensis is the audience may not know who is really speaking. With the heavy editing and rewrites by several people as well as translating the text from one language to another, the reader cannot know for certain whose voice exists in the text. This dilemma of voice is clearly evident in Lydia Yawo's biography. "Come over and help us!: The life journey of Lydia Yawo, a freed slave" is told by Johannes Merz, a Bremen missionary as well as a European male with racist views. For example, Merz states in Yawo's biography "In this land at the beginning of the fifties, a girl was born, whose story we want to tell. The year and, further, the month of her birth cannot be accurately determined, for Negroes do not retain these things in their memory" (107). Merz makes assumptions about West African's lives, including Yawo's. Nevertheless, Greene asserts that due to "biographical elements included his [Merz] text that we can begin to hear Lydia herself (236). In addition, Greene states Yawo's biography is Merz's text. How can the reader accept this is true when the author refers to Yawo's biography as Merz's text? This assertion is difficult to accept, particularly when the tone of the biography is distant and Merz is merely reporting and commenting on the facts of Yawo's life.

Each section has an introduction, the actual narrative, and a conclusion. Each section has titles that give the reader an idea of the contents of the chapter or section. Part Four is entitled "A Kidnapping at Atorkor: The making of a community memory". Chapter Eight within Part Four is entitled "Our Citizens, Our Kin Enslaved". With these titles, the reader expects a history of slavery within Atorkor as well as examples of relatives enslaving each other. However, near the opening of this segment, Greene provides an account of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church in Ghana. Although the history is interesting and the author states the oral history was useful to AME Zion ministers" (16), it does not add to the understanding of oral traditions. This discussion seems to be out of place. This section would be better if the AME Zion history was shortened or moved to the introduction of the book.

Greene's book, West African Narratives of Slavery examines the cultural, literary, and historical traditions of Ghana in regards to slavery and slave narratives.



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Author:Greene, Sandra E
Publication:The Western Journal of Black Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2016
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