The final part of this unit is a fictional story “The Captive” by Joyce Hansen. I chose this book in particular because the slave, Kofi, is about the same age as my students. I thought they could readily identify with his plight. The story takes place in the year 1788. Kofi is a member of Ashanti tribe. He is taken into bondage and sold at auction in Boston, Massachusetts. At the age of twelve, Kofi is traveling with his tribe to the City of Kumasi for an annual ceremony honoring the Ashanti Kings of the past and present. Kofi’s father is an Ashanti Chieftain. During the ceremony, Kofi is surprised to see white men in attendance. He has never seen white men before and listens to his father’s warning to never walk alone as there is talk of an attack. On the second day of the ceremony, the white men kill his father and other tribal leaders and Kofi is taken captive and marched to the coast along with hundreds of other captives. All of the slaves are shackled together with great iron bars placed around their necks and ankles. The slaves are branded with a white-hot iron between their shoulder blades.
Kofi is loaded onto a crowded slave ship with one hundred other slaves, many of whom are children. Aboard ship they are starved, sickened with disease and beaten regularly. He arrives in Boston, Massachusetts in the year 1788, where he is bought by an elderly couple. He longs to tell them that he is the son of a great Ashanti Chief, but not knowing the language he can not make himself understood. On the farm he is made to do many chores such as carrying wood, sweeping the house and tending the live stock.
Gradually Kofi learns to speak English and with the help of a young indentured servant and another slave he runs away to seek his freedom in the City of Lynn, Massachusetts. They go there because they have heard of a man who helps runaway slaves. In Lynn the three boys are almost recaptured by their master, but manage to get away. The group hides out on a sailing vessel. There a sympathetic Captain who is a Black Freeman discovers them. When they tell him of their mistreatment at the hands of their owner the Captain, Paul Cuffe, decides that the courts should settle the matter. In Massachusetts at this time it is illegal to own slaves. At the trial, Kofi’s master claims he took in the boys as paid servants, not slaves. The boys tell their side of the story and the court decides that Kofi is to be put into the care of Captain Cuffe, who hires him as a deck hand. The remainder of his life is spent as a first mate to Captain Cuffe and he travels the world helping other slaves escape to freedom.
The story “The Captive” illustrates how a life can be altered by certain events. Class discussion could revolve around those instances in the story when Kofi’s life took a turn. Higher order thinking skills will be called into play by students answering questions such as, “What do you think Kofi’s life would have been like if he had not been captured on the day of the tribal ceremony?” Students can also be asked to write how they would feel if they had been in Kofi’s situation; kidnapped and taken to a strange land where he does not even know the language. How would they have coped? Would they have taken the path Kofi chose, which was to run away from his abusive slave owner? When the students have written their paragraphs they may share them with the class and discussion could follow about the different ways in which the students answered the question.
Now that the students have read all three book selections, lessons can follow comparing and contrasting the lives of Cinque, Ibrahima and Kofi. This can be done using graphic organizers or by writing expositorally. Students can then choose one of the characters they were most intrigued by and write why they chose that character. They may present their choice to the class.
In addition, because we live in a highly visual word, I feel that videos greatly enhance the learning process for students. Videos that can be used with this unit can be found in the bibliography. I will mention that I viewed the first two hours of the miniseries “Roots” with my class and they were very moved by the plight of the main character Kunta Kinte. This video included scenes of Kunta Kinte’s life in Africa, his capture and the hardships he endured aboard the slave ship. It fully conveyed the feelings of helplessness and fear that can only enhance the knowledge the students have gained through their reading.