‘I of Ebony’ is a novel written by Nana Grey Johnson a Gambian author, in 1997. This novel focuses on slave trade that took away almost 40 million Africans to sugar, tobacco, rice and tea plantations in the Caribbean, the Americas and Asia Minor within a span of 400 years (Grey- Johnson, 1997). The novel centres on a Jola warrior and wrestler, Simanga who was captured by slave hunters while he was coming from an annual wrestling competition in Pakai, a surrounding village. He had made his village proud by winning the champion’s caaya breeches and the mother’s Serpaign in another market town.However, before the capture of Simanga, his native village (Obasagi) was attacked by a nearby village called Mandin on the wedding day of Ayimobo and Isisen.
The Mandin people attacked Obasaji, set fire on their huts, killed and captured some people making them believe that they were protecting the rice fields. The captives were later taken as slaves and sold to the ‘Toubabs’ in exchange for inferior goods such as money, liquor and guns. The Mandin chief and his men believe that their long-lasting conflict with Obasagi people could be resolved by completely eliminating the whole of Obasagi, but fail to understand that they too might be victims of White men and Arabs when slave supply is short. This has shown how local chiefs collaborated with European slave traders to enslave their own people only as result of greed, self-centredness and heartlessness. The definition of Children and SlaveryThe United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child defines Child as “a human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier”. According to the modern English Dictionary, it is defined as: A person below the age of adulthood, generally below the age of 18 or below the legal age of responsibility or accountabilityBy these definitions, one will understand that a child is powerless and vulnerable to all forms of abuse and exploitation. He or she will not be able to make good decisions that will enhance a meaningful development for him or herself.
That is why it is argued that he or she is below the legal age of responsibility.SlaveryAn institution or social practice of owning human beings as property, especially for use as forced labourers.The definitive characteristics of slaves are as follows: their labour or services are obtained through force, their physical beings are regarded as the property of another person, their owner, and they are entirely subjected to their owner’s will.Looking at the definition of slavery one will realised that slaves do not work according to their will, but they are used as properties or tools to work for their masters. Thus, they are subjected to all forms of exploitation even at the expense of death.THE THEMES OF CHILDREN AND SLAVERYSeparation According to the modern English Dictionary, separation means to disunited two or more people, it also means the act of division.
There are numerous cases in the novel through which children are conditionally denied the tender love of parents particularly their mothers.For example, in the novel:“Naijinjin was a woman who knew all the leaves of the forest and all the barks of trees; a woman whose coveted duty is to teach the children of Obosagi about the love and care for the plants and animals around and the values of leaves and flowers to their beauty, feeding, shelter and medicine” (Ibid)Drawing reference from the above quotation, Naijinjin was playing a very significant role in her community by educating the children on various plants and animals as well as the importance of leaves and flowers to her community. Her separation from these children due to slavery, has immensely affected the children’s education as they grow older. InfanticideChildren face great deal of violence since some of them do not meet the targets of the slave masters. As a result, their protection and welfare were not put into consideration. Some were even killed by slave masters as their main objective was to have able-bodied men and women.
For example, Bill was narrating his ordeal to Alpha on how the slave masters made him lost his son. ‘she struggled all the way back to Berefet where we met, I was a wanderer roaming from place to place, running away from home from a wicket stepmother. She settled me down. She gave me a baby boy.
We were together for a year. But a French trader seized her from a rice field and threw my baby into the swamps. I lost Sylva and I lost my son.
I have been angry for a long time…’ Child LabourAccording to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that is harmful to physical and mental development. It refers to work that is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children; and interferes with their schooling by depriving them of the opportunity to attend school; obliging them to leave school prematurely; or requiring them to attempt to combine school attendance with excessively long and heavy work.Child labour was evident during slavery. Children were force to do exploitative works that will only serve the interest of the slave masters.
They toil both day and night just to satisfy the needs of their masters without which they will face severe consequences.For example, Girls are used to prepare tea for the slave masters “the island was furred by ‘mbor- mbor’ tea bushes. The girls in the kitchen picked the leaves at every turn and boiled buckets of it laced delicately with salt” (ibid, p217). The bush tea served to the slave masters was used to facilitate digestion particularly when eating chicken and duck eggs.
Furthermore, it serves as medicine for curing fever.These were among the reasons why girls were forced to prepare mbor-mbor teas for the slave masters. Child Sexual exploitationBefore the advent of slavery, girls retained their virginity until they got married. This was a pride for parents particularly mothers. However, with coming of slavery, girls lose their virginity even before marriage due to forceful rape and sexual exploitation by the slavers. This has degraded the value of young girls and denied them their feminine pride.Girls were usually forced to have sex with slave masters they despise and slave minders are free to rape and sexually exploit female slaves as they wish.An example of this act is when Nene recall how a slave girl was brutally rape by the Moor.
” I have seen what that moor did to a young girl in the fields of Sare Bande before they brought us here” (ibid. p116).Similarly, situations forced girls to commit sexual immorality simply because they have no option. Nene as a result of the slave minders brutality with slave girls she prefers to lose her virginity to Simanga rather than be defiled by Sam Smitt who she describes as very brutal when raping slave girl. “Shatters the dignity of women with his beastly appetite.
..when Sam smith finishes ravishing a girl, she lost all image of womanhood” (ibid). Disruption of cultureThe author depicts the society as a rich cultural tradition where men, women and children have their productive roles in the society. Children are productive members of the society and also as a source of joy to the parents and grandparents, especially the grandparents who rejoice playing with their grandchildren.
In contrast, the slave masters would have the men eat with girls and the women with the boys. Exposure to immoralityChildren were exposed to many forms of immorality due to slavery. For example, Sam Smith used to force men to compete by rubbing their manhood by promising them a woman of choice for a night for who first reach climax. The looser is allowed to compete again with another man.Furthermore, slaves, including men, women and children were stripped off their clothes and scrubbing them in public view, including the view of children is just more than an insult to the local culture.
This was only done to attract slave buyers to buy as many slaves as possible.This has actually violated or disrupted the cultural norms, customs and values of the slaves. Children exposed to the private parts of their parents and elders was a very serious and disrespectful act and will instill the culture of immorality and disrespect in children who supposed to be genuine and responsible children in future.Exposure to health hazards Many slaves including children suffered during slavery as many of them died as result of bad health conditions. In shackles and with their hands fastened with ropes, slaves were jam-packed on board cargo ships to be transported to the white man’s land. What would be more dehumanizing than packing people together like sardines and seeing them defecate and urinate on themselves all along the journey? Some of the slaves died as result of disease while other died due to inadequate fresh air to breath.
The children suffered a whole lot during the heavy storm, they took much of the trouble because their lips were chapped and bleeding and black flies began to suck the snot from their runny nose.In times of food shortages, the slaves were only given food to keep them alive whist the slave traders ate to their satisfaction (ibid, p21). So with this situation the slaves were malnourished especially children which has an adverse effect on their health.BraveryThe slaves of Obasaji faced a lot of difficulties like separation, culture distruption, sexual exploitation among other things but one thing they always had was the bravery instilled in them. An example of this in the novel is when the Dutchman shouted at the slaves to get into the river. He pushed and cracked the whips to frighten them but all of a sudden Taaw Tioropan mu Maam Kumba Joof shouted to the white slave minder.
” Cut the ropes so they can move freely. We will have to carry the weak ones across. Simanga also proved bravery even when he was chained, when the slave minders insisted that the slaves cross. They wiped and scared them a lot. Simanga had to interrupt by asking the slave minder ” You want them across or do you want them to drown? ” He was bursting his lungs with anger.
He grabbed his whip in full tight and with one tug pulled the slave minder to himself. This shows clear evidence that the slaves were brave enough to defend themselves and their people if those they had to face difficult consequences. They proved solidarity within them no matter how had things are. SolidarityThere was a massive unity among the slaves. For example, when Busso Toure was murdered by the slavers despite them coming from different social, cultural and religious backgrounds. They insisted that they are not moving an inch until and unless Busso Toure one of their colleague is giving a fitting burial. Another positive contribution the children brought in the struggle against slavers is unity.
The slaves including children despite all the hardship they were encountering resisted to move further on the journey when Busso Toure was murdered, this shows the unity that exists among the slaves. CONCLUSIONIn conclusion, children’s life during slavery was really a sorrowful one. They undergo numerous challenges and hardship which include among other things denial of their fundamental human right, and all forms of torture and sexual exploitation. They live a miserable life, a life full of agony. However, their bravery is evident in the manner they stood by the adults.