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In 1807, at the height of the slave trade, Ajeemah and his son, Atu, are snatched by slave traders from their home in Africa while en route to deliver a dowry to Atu's bride-to-be. Ajeemah and Atu are then taken to Jamaica and sold to neighboring plantations'never to see one another again. "Readers will come away with a new sense of respect for those who maintained their dignity and humanity under the cruelest of circumstances."'SLJ. "Each moment here of the Jamaican-born poet's terse, melodious narrative is ...
In 1807, at the height of the slave trade, Ajeemah and his son, Atu, are snatched by slave traders from their home in Africa while en route to deliver a dowry to Atu's bride-to-be. Ajeemah and Atu are then taken to Jamaica and sold to neighboring plantations'never to see one another again. "Readers will come away with a new sense of respect for those who maintained their dignity and humanity under the cruelest of circumstances."'SLJ. "Each moment here of the Jamaican-born poet's terse, melodious narrative is laden with emotion. . . . Brilliant, complex, powerfully written."K.
Notable Children's Book of 1993 (ALA)
1993 Best Books for Young Adults (ALA)
1993 Fanfare Honor List (The Horn Book)
1992 Books for Youth Editors' Choices (BL)
Notable 1992 Children's Trade Books in Social Studies (NCSS/CBC)
Bulletin Blue Ribbons 1992 (C)
1993 Books for the Teen Age (NY Public Library)
Children's Books of 1992 (Library of Congress)
1993 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Award
A father and his eighteen-year-old son are each affected differently by their experiences as slaves in Jamaica in the early nineteenth century.
That wiping out of Atu and Sisi's wedding was always going to be one of the painful happenings.
It was the year 1807. The Slave Trade was on. By way of that trade, with all its distress, Africans were becoming Caribbean people and Americans. But the sale of Africans as slaves would end. In just another year or so a new British law would stop the British slave trade, and the Americans would soon follow. It would stop Africans being sold to be slaves on plantations in America and the Caribbean.
It was only the importing that would end, not slavery itself, nor the selling of slaves by their existing owners. Stopping the importing was a beginning, and a very welcome start to the end of slavery altogether. Yet even that beginning stirred up wild rage, resistance and awful reactions.
The new law soon to be enforced made people who benefited from the trade all angry, anxious and bitter. The new law made plantation owners cry out. It made them furious at the idea of an end to their regular supply of a free labor force. It caused panic among the ship-owning slave traders and the local African dealers. All ground their teeth in fury and rage at the coming end of their money-making from selling slaves. And the slave traders became determined to work withnew vigor. They became determined to beat that end-of-slave-trade deadline, when no more slaves could be shipped; they would get and supply as many more slaves as they could in the short time left.
Remember here too that young people and children came into the slave treatment all the time. They too had to endure a life of no freedom for their parents and for themselves. All was personal for them. The teenage couple Atu and Sisi came into it. They were going to have to face their wedding plans ruined -- gone, wiped away as dust.
Truly, European slave buyers would buy. Truly, African traders would obtain their prisoners for sale into slavery. They would find them, even if they had to make their own riots and wars to get prisoners to sell. The slave-trader groups geared and equipped themselves. Their surprise attacks became more unstoppable in the villages. Yet, with all that hidden trouble about, people simply had to go on living their lives.
It was the sunniest of afternoons now. Bird singing filled the day. All unconcerned, Ajeemah and his son Atu walked along their village road in a happy mood. The eighteen-year-old Atu was soon to marry. He and his father were taking a dowry of gold to his expected wife's parents. Going along, not talking, Ajeemah and Atu walked past groups of huts surrounded by bare ground with domestic animals and children playing. They passed fields of yam and grain growing robustly. Atu was thinking about getting married. He knew their coming marriage delighted and excited his sixteen-year-old bride-to-be, Sisi, as much as it did him.
"My father Ajeemah," Atu said, "isn't it really something that two other fellows -- two others -- also wanted to be Sisi's husband?"
Ajcemah didn't look at his son, but a faint smile showed he was amused. "This bride-gift of gold I carry," he said, "will make Sisi's parents receive you well, as a worthy son."
"I thank you, my father Ajeemah. I know it's your good fatherhood and good heart that make it possible."
"More than my good heart, it's my thrift. My thrift! You know I'm good at not losing, but keep adding to our wealth."
"I know, my father, I know. I should have said, may you continue to have all blessings."
"And you, my son Atu. May you continue to have all blessings."
"Thank you, my father Ajeemah."
"Your mother smiles to herself when she thinks of your coming union with smooth-skinned and bright-eyed Sisi! Good singer, good dancer, that Sunday-born Sisi! Delights everybody!"
"Plays instruments, too."
"Oh, yes, yes."
His eyes shining, Atu said, "She's the best. She pleases everyone."
"Pleases everyone," the father agreed.
"And two other fellows shan't get her."
The father smiled, repeating, "And two other fellows shan't get her."
"I'm happy your first wife my mother is happy."
"Your mother is happy because you'll begin to live your manhood. And she waits for new children you and Sisi will have."
"And I'm nervous."
"Yes. I'm nervous of all the preparations and ceremonies to get through."
"That's usual. Marriage makes even a warrior nervous. Especially first marriage."
"I'll try to enjoy being nervous."
"Wisdom, wisdom, from a young head!"
"Thank you, my father."
"Atu, when we get to the house of Sisi's father -- Ahta the Twin -- watch his face. Watch for the look on his face. First when he thinks I'm empty-handed. Then next when he sees me lift the two pieces of bride-gift gold, one from the inside of each sandal I wear."
Everybody knew Ajeemah worked in leather and all kinds of skins. In the village he was called "Skin-man." He preserved animal, alligator and snake skins and made sandals, bags, belts, bracelets, knife sheaths, ornaments, talismans and pouches for magic charms and spells. But Ajeemah was also known for his practical jokes. He'd chuckled to himself, thinking up the way he'd present Atu's dowry in a most individual and unusual way. He'd created himself the special pair of leather-stringed, lace-up sandals with thick soles. Each sandal had a space under the insole to fit and hide the bride-gift gold in, while he walked to Sisi's house. Ajeemah's big joke was that he'd arrive as if empty-handed. Then, while talking, he'd simply take off each sandal, lift up the insole and produce his gift by surprise. But Atu wasn't at all sold on the idea.
"My father Ajeemah," Atu said, "suppose Sisi's father Ahta the Twin is displeased, and things go wrong?"
Excerpted from Ajeemah and His Son by James Berry Copyright © 2006 by James Berry. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted August 28, 2002