'Abina and the Important Men' is a powerful and compelling book which is in the form of graphic history. It is based on the court transcripts of the year 1876 on a case involving a West African woman named Abina and her former master who had wrongfully enslaved her. And after getting the opportunity to take the case to court, she proceeded with the lawsuit. The book depicts an event of the past based on the different transcripts historically gathered from west Africa (Getz and Liz). Different themes have been covered in the book, but two of the main themes that stand out are slavery and the importance of women in the society during the era.
Slavery can be defined in different ways but basically means working against your will with the excessive workload and getting paid little wages in return. After reading the book, it was evident that Abina was a slave although the direct mention of this may be vaguely implied in the graphic book. The court case along with the provided case files shows Abina's fight for her freedom. For one to fight for their freedom, it implies that they were working against their will. For the case, Abina loses due to different reasons which affirm her slave status in the book. Due to language, and cultural barriers her case has less background information (Decker, and Mauricio). Other forms of social injustices are also seen in the book such as gender inequality, and economic reasons which play a huge role in the decision of the court. Education is a concept that has been covered in the book a lot, as a slave education was a luxury hence communication would be a problem since slaves couldn't access education, this is seen from the court proceeding where we get to realize Abina encounters language barriers. It is evident that she is unable to understand most of the dialect in the court. The magistrate is an educated British man who implies that he speaks English and after establishing that Abina can hardly converse in English it becomes clear that the case proceedings would be unfair since Abina's master is British and fluent in his language. Slaves were assigned farm duties and other house duties by there masters and never got the chance to gain any education knowledge. This greatly affects Abina's education background and in return her case outcome. After she is asked if she was a slave, the word was new to her and is unable to respond in an elaborate manner to the magistrate (Getz and Liz). Slaves were not granted a chance to receive education since this would have got the knowledge to resist slavery. In return, they would have been in a position to realize their rights. If only Abina had educational background, she would have been in a fight for her truth and stood for her claims.
Slavery was forced to the natives, and this was evident due to the cultural aspect of flogging seen in the book. It was never the decision of the natives to work in the British farms, but one had no say in the decision. This was explained by Abina's Lawyer, 'the workers' would be tied and flogged in case they tried to escape. This instilled fear in many of them and resulted in them working for the masters under harsh conditions. Also, more information is provided in relation to the different punishments that the slaves received such as food rationing in case they failed to do as commanded by their masters (Decker, and Mauricio). It is evident that the slavery involved low wages, this is seen from the book as the economic state of Abina greatly impacted her case. They worked for so many hours but did not receive wages worth their efforts. Slavery is seen to be carried out indiscreetly although it is illegal at the time as seen in the book.
The escape from her master also tells us more about the limited freedom granted to the slaves. It also tells us the ruthless nature of her master at the time. During her time working for the master, he had referred to her as a slave as well as treating her as a one (Getz and Liz). During this time slavery was illegal but practiced anyway. Due to the ruthless nature of the masters, no one dared to report the inhuman actions or the slavery in progress. The British also went ahead and acquired children as slaves so as to reduce the wages that they had to pay. Escaping from this situation was highly punishable but was a thought that crossed the minds of many. This was basically due to the fact that they little say on any decisions that involved them but had to run them through there masters. The brutal treatment and the overworking by the masters gives the reader a clear picture of how slavery was managed, the extent to which the Farm owners went in search of the slaves. Slavery had long been abolished at the time but as seen the British had no enough funding as well as enough manpower to work on their palm nut oil farms which were greatly needed. This greatly contributed to the slavery state as seen in the book.
The women role in the society has also been also highlighted in the book; the book shows the gender inequality within the society. The women have been seen as a man's possession that can be sold to another man, and the woman's ownership is transferred to the next person. This is such a diminishing culture within the society. Yaw Awoah cuts the beads and received payment from Eddoo which indicates the transfer of Abina from one man to the other. This shows the role of the woman within the society of which many would see as a rather male chauvinistic society (Decker, and Mauricio). We have also seen that the woman in the society was seen as a helper of man, they provided care for the men slaving in the farm as well as providing the household support by carrying out the house chores that the master allocated them. Abina was in the position, and this has been seen as her main role. She has been seen to help her master although this has been misused by the master due to the slave conception that dominates her ruthless master. The women have also been seen to work in the masters' plantation; this was due to the need for more slaves by the British farm owners. After the abolishment of slavery, the acquisition of slaves would not be carried out directly or openly, but other forms of getting the slaves were developed. As seen children, women and men would be gathered from there homes by the farm owners and given work in the form of employment, but in the actual sense, they were taken as slaves but not workers or employees. Work would not be categorized only for the men, but the women also had to work in the palm farms either helping carry the farm produce around the farm (Decker, and Mauricio). The women also had a family role in the society they were married to the man so as to fulfill the family picture and give them children. It is evident that the setup was very different from the current marriage setup such as the concept of sex. A woman would be deemed married if she was having sex.
'Abina and the Important Men' is such an interesting book for readers to get a glimpse of the African history, slavery and gender inequality that was experienced in different societies. Abina helps the reader learn more about the challenges associated with lack of educational knowledge and the different social injustices that the African slaves faced. Based on the fact that the book is written from the actual court transcripts, the reader feels a sense of reality within the work. Slavery and the role of women in the society is covered in such an exemplary manner.
Getz, Trevor R., and Liz Clarke. Abina and the Important Men: a graphic history. Oxford University Press, USA, 2015.
Decker, Alicia C., and Mauricio Castro. "Teaching history with comic books: A case study of violence, war, and the graphic novel." The History Teacher 45.2 (2012): 169-187.
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