The next two books of this unit can also be read together as a class. The first one is an excerpt from the McDougal-Littel literature series that all sixth grade New Haven students use in their classroom. It is entitled “Abd al-Rahman Ibrahima” from the book, “Now is Your Time” by Walter Dean Myers. It is the true story of an African prince who was sold into slavery. In the reading, students come to know that Ibrahima was born in 1762 in Fouta Djallon, which is now Guinea. He was raised as an educated son of a Tribal Chieftain. At twelve, he was sent to Timbuktu to study and learn more about the religion of Islam.
In his twenties, Ibrahima led his cavalry in a war against the Mandingo tribe. Unfortunately for Ibrahima, the Mandingo tribe had joined with white slave traders to exchange men for firearms. Thus, Ibrahima found himself on a slave ship bound for America. Once in America, he was sold at auction to a small plantation owner from the Mississippi Territory. During class discussion, there are many issues to explore: how Africans turned against each other when confronted with the power of guns, the confusion Ibrahima felt in being betrayed by his fellow Africans, and how in the United States he was treated as being less than human. As a Fula tribe leader, he was an educated man and discussion could follow about how he must have felt to now be a captive in a strange land where he did not speak the language and did not know the customs. Because there is a poignant section of the story that deals with Ibrahima and his fellow captives being put into shackles and loaded onto slave ships, it is here that the teacher can introduce a lesson exploring what the slave ships were like.
As students read the story, the teacher and students can pick out unfamiliar vocabulary words and explore their definitions. Plot development is an important aspect to include in any classroom discussions while reading. Reading standards for sixth graders includes identifying setting, being able to summarize a story and to learn to use graphic organizers.
For this story, the class can use a Narrative map and sequence form that lists characters, setting, problem, and events leading to resolution. An important strategy that leads to student comprehension is to use maps to pinpoint where the main character Ibrahima lived in Africa, the route he traveled to America and his final destination in Natchez, Mississippi.
Another interesting activity to do as a class would involve having the students write an imaginary journal passage exploring the time when Ibrahima ran away from his master and escaped into the backwoods of Natchez. He hides there eating berries and fruits. He sees men with dogs knowing they are looking for him. He feels helpless knowing that he has no way of returning to Africa, he has no one to help him and suicide is forbidden by his religion. This opens the door to students projecting themselves into Ibrahima’s place and writing what they would have done.