Magazine article The Spectator

Pity the Oppressed; Fear the Oppressed

Magazine article The Spectator

Pity the Oppressed; Fear the Oppressed

Article excerpt

NOT WITH SILVER by Simi Bedford Chatto and Windus, £17.99, pp. 356 ISBN 9781856192354 £14.39 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

The fight to abolish slavery and its consequences is an immense subject so it's not surprising that the Nigerian Simi Bedford's new book could be likened to the kind of film once made famous by Cecil B De Mille with a cast of thousands and dramatic events at every turn. There are no quiet pages here. We start in Oyo, the capital of a West African tribe for whom a constant state of tribal war is an economic necessity and the internal struggles for power inevitable and deadly. All smiles are lies and hidden threats; here are screams in the night. Abiola is being trained as a warrior. The least breach of behaviour will be punished by having to stand stock-still from dawn to dusk in scorching heat without food or water. Born to a family dangerously close to the centre of things, he is targeted, kidnapped, branded as a slave and shipped to Virginia.

Abiola is lucky to be bought by Gilbert de Fremont, an exquisite who sells antique harpsichords. De Fremont changes his new slave's name to Cornelius and teaches him French and English. But it takes more than these civilised acquisitions for the young warrior to forget the agony of his own flesh being branded or the stink of the slave ships he can still smell even when they are five miles offshore. He longs to strangle his 'pinprick of a master'. Perhaps the pinprick guesses? He sells him to Farrer, a much tougher proposition, where Cornelius meets three fellow slaves, one of whom, Delilah, is a beauty who seduces him and bears him a daughter. Meanwhile the American War of Independence rages and, hearing that the British will recruit any runaway slave, they all escape to Charleston. Cornelius is killed.

The rest escape and after surviving all manner of trials and tribulations they reach Nova Scotia where they accept the apparently wonderful offer of the Sierra Leone Company to settle them in Freetown. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.