Abina and the Important Men
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Author Trevor R. Getz and illustrator Liz Clarke’s Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History traces enslaved woman Abina Mansah’s journey under Quamina Eddoo’s governance to Cape Coast, where she fights for her freedom in court. The novel is divided into five parts, including a graphic history, court transcripts, a section on historical context, a reading guide, and a section on ways of engaging with the text through scholarly essays and other resources.
This guide is based on the 2016 Oxford University Press paperback second edition.
Content Warning: Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History depicts and references human trafficking and slavery, forced marriage, physical abuse, sexual assault, colonization, racism, gender-based discrimination, and victim-blaming.
Abina and the Important Men: A Graphic History follows the early to mid-1870s, during which British colonists invaded West Africa’s Gold Coast and deposed the kings of the Asante Confederation to take control of their gold and slave trade. In 1876, when the story begins, England started to abolish slavery, but they continue to import children, particularly young girls, to work and are willing to ignore unpaid labor—especially palm oil-related labor.
Part 1: “The Graphic History” (told with art and text) traces Abina Mansah’s journey under Quamina Eddoo’s governance to Cape Coast, where she fights for her freedom in court. As a child, Abina lived with her family and many siblings until one day, she was snatched away during a war and forced into slavery. After another war, she was taken as spoils of war for someone else. Eventually, Yaw Awoah (Yowahwah), a merchant, saw her in the market and married her, but later, he took her to Eddoo’s place in Salt Pond and left her there as an enslaved woman, although he promised to return after visiting sick family. Abina refutes this statement because Yaw Awoah took her beads, a symbol of their bond and a sign that he sold her. She’s had to do physical labor every day and was always the last to eat. She was under threat of being beaten and told she’d have to marry a man she didn’t want to marry (Tando).
Based on rumors she heard about the English law against slavery, Abina runs to Cape Coast and seeks out legal counsel. After hearing the testimonies of Abina, Quamina Eddoo, Yaw Awoah, Eccoah Coom (Eddoo’s sister), and Adjuah (a girl who was enslaved alongside Abina), the jury and Judge William Melton ultimately decide to acquit Eddoo of any charges. Abina is allowed to stay in Cape Coast, but those in power aren’t interested in actively freeing enslaved people, as it would be disruptive to relations and the economy. Though Abina’s story has largely been written out of history, she now has some form of justice in Abina and the Important Men. Because of her strong advocacy, her story is still alive 125 years later.
Part 2: “The Transcript” is a collection of testimonies from the case of Queen v. Quamina Eddoo. These historical records contain the courtroom interactions between Abina Mansah, her lawyer James Davis, Eddoo’s lawyer James Hutton Brew, and witnesses Eccoah Coom and Adjuah. The case, like in the graphic version, ends with the jury acquitting Eddoo.
Part 3: “Historical Context” provides background information on the history and culture of the Gold Coast. It begins with an account of the Gold Coast prior to colonization and describes how European powers came for the land’s valuable resources—eventually leading to Great Britain warring against other European powers, as well as local kings, to form the Colony and Protectorate in the Gold Coast.
Part 4: “Reading Guide” offers essential questions to keep in mind while reading the novel, including questions of authorship, authority, and authenticity. Through a scaffolded series of questions and academic interrogations, this section examines who the novel’s story belongs to, who has a right to tell it, and whether or not Abina and the Important Men is a legitimate retelling of it. The answers to these questions aren’t straightforward, and as such, this guide acts as more of a springboard for the subsequent section engaging with critical works and outside resources, rather than a definitive interpretation—though author Trevor R. Getz does offer his opinions on the process of translating history and elevating marginalized voices.
Part 5: “Engaging Abina” covers a range of material, including academic essays on the role of gender and meaning of freedom, as well as reading questions, a glossary, and further resources on specific topics like colonization.