HIS 301 Chapter 1.1: HIS 301 Chapter 1.: West African Narratives of Slavery (Chapter 1.1)
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~ West African Narratives of Slavery ~
Chapter 1: Aaron Kuku: The Life History of a Former Slave
Part 1: Enslavement Remembered
o In 1929, the Ewe Evangelical Church minister Samuel Quist recorded the life history of Aaron Kuku,
an evangelist who had been enslaved by the Asante more than fifty years earlier.
o Captured as a child, Kuku related to Quist memories of his enslavement, his relocation to
Asante, and his eventual escape and return to his hometown 16 years later.
o Thousands had been captured during the Asante’s 1869-1871 campaign.
o Kuku’s narrative is one of the few life histories recorded in West Africa that documents the
experiences of someone who was enslaved but not exported to the Americas.
o His account tells us a great deal about the enslavement experience:
▪ Who was captured
▪ When and how
▪ The fear and terror that accompanied not only one’s capture but also the suffering
and humiliation endured during the transfer to a new home
▪ The uncertainty and unpredictability of life for first-generation slaves that could
have significant psychological impacts on the enslaved
o Why would a former slave want to share his life history with a missionary?
o Why did Kuku’s amanuensis, Samuel Quist, have an interest in recording this life history and what
purposes did the narrative serve?
Aaron Kuku and the reverend Samuel Quist: A Guided Collaboration
o Kuku came to the attention of the Bremen Mission when he converted to Christianity.
o He probably agreed to relate in remarkable detail his life history to Rev. Quist because they were
such good friends, Kuku’s deep interest in education, and Quist’s role in deciding what materials
should be adopted in schools.
o The production of Kuku’s life history was clearly a collaborative effort.
o It was Quist who structured the interviews and who then recorded and edited Kuku’s life
history using the autobiographical conversion narratives as his template.
▪ We see Kuku as a child in his home village from which he was torn to suffer all
manner of hardships:
• Social ostracism
• Family loss
▪ Only at the end does he convert to Christianity, for at this point Kuku has reached
his goal, “the recovery of the right relationship with God.”
o Local West African tales about narrow escapes may have been equally influential.
o Kuku was captured by the Asante in their 1870 campaign and he did not relate his life history until
almost 60 years after he was captured.
o Particular traumatic events would have certainly been easily recalled, but would he
remember lengths of time spent in one place or another?
o “The Life History of Aaron Kuku” was a collaborative effort, the extensive use of western dates is a
testament to that fact.
o But as the narrator of his own life, Kuku made sure it also reflected his own interests and
Aaron Kuku as Life History Narrator
On His Christianity and Self-Creativity
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