review: Abina and the Important Men

51D8krUdPLL._AA160_title: Abina and the Important Men
author: Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clark
date: 2012 Oxford University Press
non-fiction graphic novel
recommended for older teens

Abina and the Important Men is a nonfiction graphic novel of the case Regina v. Quamina Eddoo, 10 Nov 1876. The case will be 140 years old this November.

Abina Mansah brought a claim against Quamina Eddoo that he enslaved her, that this enslavement was illegal and she requested her freedom. By 1876, Britain had made slavery illegal at home and in all its colonies. Great Britain then set up a system of government that placed Ghanaians in administrative positions with Britain maintaining control over the country.

Abina Mansah believed that she had been enslaved by Quamina Eddoo and the only way to gain her freedom was in the courts. This essentially meant taking her complaint to The Important Men, those whom Ghanaian tradition and British legalities granted power over women and children. The illustrations display how the colonial system of government placed African men in European suits and left them to rely upon the British system of government to maintain Ghana’s society. British law attempted to codify slavery in Ghana and to make it illegal while still respecting traditional practices.

Abina proves to be much more articulate and resourceful than expected. She is a young woman, completely alone yet not willing to step down for the sake of her freedom. In describing being free, Abina states that it wasn’t about the work or the beatings. “It was not being in control of my own life… Not being able to care for myself…To decide whom I wanted to marry. These are the things I could no longer take.”

While the book does an excellent job of portraying Ghana as it transitioned from a traditional to a colonial society, it was intended simply to give a voice to someone who would otherwise be written out of history. As the author indicates, it’s the powerless whose voices are silenced. They are often never recorded, not archived and not accurately transcribed into history. Those who control the pen seem to control the history (African proverb).

As our economy shifts such that 62 people have the wealth equal to half the world’s population, I have to wonder if we’re becoming a society of Important Men who take care of the women and children. Think about Flint. Trayvon Martin. The school to prison pipeline for black girls. Peyton Manning (maybe?). Bill Cosby (maybe?). Oops! This is a book review, not an editorial.

Consider this books for reading and educational purposes. The transcripts upon which the story is based can be found in the back of the book.

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