Amanita Diallo in The Book of Negroes: Culminating Post
What gives a character the ability to overcome their greatest hardships and prevail with courage? Often the characters who radiate the most bravery and perseverance are also the most knowledgeable. These characters, however, are usually the ones who have been given privilege; a ready a foundation to carry them to where they need to be, a destiny already written that leads them to greatness. These characters foresee their battle before it hits them, so they have a chance to train and learn from a mentor. Is this cheating? No, it’s simply the typical plot of a heroic story.
However, the life of Aminata Diallo is far from typical.
At the age of eleven, she is ripped away from everything in her life she knows is good. It is then that Lawrence Hill begins to paint Aminata’s journey through The Book of Negroes. Beginning in the eyes of a young slave who, in the year 1756, is captured from her homeland in West Africa and brought to the colonies of America to work for white men, this story captures the attention of its audience. Her parents are gone like the innocence she one had. She is stripped of her culture and religion; forced to begin a new life with absolutely nothing but the company of some two hundred captives and a number of people who, one after another, claim to own her.
Throughout her captivity, Aminata learns how to utilize her surroundings and equip herself with knowledge from the white society. She learns how to manipulate her captors into giving her what she needs to survive above others. Although the first time this happens, it is by accident. When Aminata arrives on the slave ship, which brings her across the Atlantic Ocean from her homeland to America, she shares her experience when she is noticed by the white men. The leader’s assistant asks her about the midwifery skills she has learned from her mother, “‘Are you the one who caught that woman’s baby?’ I wondered how they knew. I wondered what else they knew about me”(Hill 60). Soon after, Aminata is seen as useful. She describes a man offering her water, “The medicine man passed me a calabash of water. ‘You help me.’ he said”(63). Aminata has only been on the ship a few seconds and she already has been noticed by her captors, made a deal with one, and managed to get a cup of water.
Aminata also shows her strength and determination by ignoring harsh words and outrageous situations. She shows just how much dignity she has by simply letting things happen, while keeping her cool, and not upsetting her captors. An example of this is when she is shown a map of her beloved homeland. She had been ripped away from it years prior, and misses it dearly, so when she sees the inaccurate map she is infuriated. She describes it, “In one corner of the map, I saw a sketch of an African child lying beside a lion under a tree. I had never seen such a ridiculous thing . . . This ‘Map of Africa’ was not my homeland. It was a white man’s fantasy”(212). Aminata simply walks away and hides her anger because she knows the consequences of lashing out, and they were never good.
Not only has Aminata shown her strength through having dignity and silence in the right times, but she is also intellectually strong. The entirety of the time she spends in America, she is seeking out a learning opportunity. When she is living at the indigo plantation, she takes English lesson from a man named Mamed and says, “I knew that I had to understand the [white people] in order to survive among them, so I devoured Mamed’s lessons. Soon I could read and write as well as he”(164). Aminata soon becomes very educated and makes a name for herself; she writes an entire account of her story and composes, as an ally with a white man named Lieutenant Malcolm Waters, The Book of Negroes. This document was the book in which all of the black loyalists’ names were written before they were sent away to live in the free lands of Nova Scotia.
From lost slave to powerful, educated leader, Aminata Diallo has had a more than tough life which she has more than survived. She has manipulated oppressive slave owners, turned a blind eye to the disrespect of her culture, all the while learning the ways of white society. I would be lying if I said I expected this to happen when I first started reading this novel. Would you?
If you would like to learn more about Aminata’s strength, here are Lawrence Hill’s and Aunjanue Ellis’ – the actress who portrays her in the CBC series – take on her character.
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Trade pbk. ed., Toronto, HarperCollins, 2007.
“The Book of Negroes’ Aunjanue Ellis on why Aminata is a modern hero | CBC
Connects.” CBC News, YouTube, 19 Nov. 2014, youtu.be/96DFQYuMr-8. Accessed
31 July 2017.