One of the legacies of the Slave Trade is that millions of people of African descent ended up transplanted from their motherland to places as far as away as North and South America. The fact that there are vibrant ‘indigenous’ African communities in countries such as the USA, Haiti, Brazil, and the Caribbean Islands is taken for granted. However, while the history of the Slave Trade is well documented, there is a dearth of stories narrating the experience of the Africans who had to suffer the brunt of the trade.
As the title reveals, this is a book about the Atlantic Slave Trade, told from the perspective of Ama, an African slave. Drawing on in-depth research, Manu Herbstein makes a brave and admirable attempt to capture the personal stories of resistance, pride, and perseverance of the African slave.
The story is set in the west coast of Africa, where Ama (or Nandzi as she is then known) lives. After her village is ransacked, and hundreds of her kinsmen are shipped off to slavery, Ama is left alone to care for her baby brother. Life turns even uglier when she is later captured, raped and enslaved. Although she manages to escape the first time, she is recaptured.
We follow her journey into slavery, as she is transferred from one group to another, eventually ending up onboard an English slave ship, where she unsuccessfully tries to instigate a rebellion. Ama, as she is now known after being renamed by her slave masters, is shipped to Brazil, where along with other slaves, she starts a new life working long, back-breaking hours and suffering humiliation. Still her spirit never breaks, and Ama refuses to see herself as a slave.
Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade is a brilliant piece of work, and one for which the author, Manu Herbstein received the 2002 Commonwealth Writers’ Award for “Best First Book.”