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Ama is to have the ability to understand and comment upon her
oppressors, she must learn their languages. She picks up Dagbani and
Asante (and Fanti) without difficulty. This is not implausible: many,
perhaps most, West Africans speak several languages.
Given the historical period and Ama's circumstances, providing her with the opportunity to learn to understand, speak, read and write a European language required some contrivance on my part. I claim writer's licence. (However, J J Capitein did run a school at Elmina Castle and Philip Quaque did the same at Cape Coast some years later.)
Mastering English and, later, Portuguese, gives Ama some small power. She recognizes the importance to the slaves in Brazil of Portuguese as a lingua franca. Yet she relishes the opportunity to speak a shared African language and in doing so holds on to her African identity.
My mother tongue is English and I could not have written AMA in any other language. I would like the book to be published in English in Ghana. For that to happen there must be a large increase in the number of readers who can afford to buy books to read for pleasure. I would like to have it translated into Lekpokpam, Dagbani, Asante, Fanti. Unfortunately, this makes even less economic sense.
So while I share Ngugi's fierce commitment to the survival and growth of African languages, I fear that his might be a voice crying in the wilderness. MH
Henry Wiencek on Literacy under slavery
Wiencek is the author of "The Hairstons--An American Family in
Black and White," a non-fiction work that tells the history of an
African-American family from slavery time to the present.
In a reply in the same thread, Phillip Troutman points out that an ability to read does not imply an ability to write; and quotes other scholars' estimates of 5 to10% literacy amongst slaves in the American south.
Some 18th Century English Children's Books and books about them.