Abina Mansah’s
world
Interpreting Gold Coast Supreme Court Records,
SCT 5/4/19: Regina v Quamina Eddoo
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
In 1876, a young,
enslaved girl escaped
her captivity near the
town of Saltpond in
what is today Ghana.
Abina’s story
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
Born in Asante, she
had been enslaved in
several households
before Quamina
Eddoo’s house near
Saltpond, where she
worked as a
“housegirl”.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
Abina fled to Cape
Coast, a British colony
where she was –by law
–free, and found
employment working
for a Eurafrican
translator named
James Davis.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
With Davis’ help, she
took her former master
to court, where she
argued that he should
be imprisoned based
on her experiences as a
slave.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
Neither the British
magistrate nor the jury
of local men sided
with her, and her
former master was
exonerated.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
Nevertheless, through
her testimony we hear
the voice of a young
woman who forced the
men of the court to
here of her
experiences, and
whose words still
convey her
perspectives today.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
EXCAVATING VOICES –
methods and ethics
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
What did it mean to be “colonized”, and how can the
victims of history be redeemed?
Colonialism is usually understood as a system and as a series
of projects largely from the view of the colonizers.
 The perspective of the colonizers is relatively easy to recover
because it was the colonizers who wrote most of the
documents, choose what went into the archive, etc.
 But how can we recover the sub-altern voice of Africans?
Can formally-trained scholars in a position of relative power
do it? Is it possible to do at all?
 Specifically, I wanted to aim at recovering the voice of one of
the most dispossessed victims of history of all – a young,
African woman of servile (or slave) class.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
• Young enslaved women don’t write many documents
themselves.
• In the documents in which enslaved youths appear, they
are talked about but don’t do much talking themselves.
• As a result, the voices of enslaved women are hidden
beneath other, dominant voices, and must be excavated.
What are the difficulties?
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
Why is it worth trying to excavate the
voices of Africans?
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Relevance?
Authenticity?
Power relations today?
It’s the historians job?
It increases the accuracy of our studies?
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
How can we hear the voices of young
enslaved women from the colonial past?
• Use new types of sources?
• Oral histories/ oral traditions?
• Archaeology?
• Linguistic analysis (“words and things”)?
• Read old documents in a new way?
• That’s what we’re doing with Abina’s testimony
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
My strategy for excavating Abina Mansah’s
voice
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Contextualize! – thick analysis
Understand the top-level voices
Read the document carefully
Make sense of Abina Mansah’s testimony in her own words
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
The context
• Annexation of the Gold Coast Colony and constitution of the Gold Coast
Protectorate in 1874.
• Various British and international groups pressured the Crown to abolish
slavery.
• 1874 anti-slavery strategy engineered to satisfy the abolitionist British
public while not dislocating the political and economic interests of the
indigenous (and often slave-owning) elites on whom their ability to
maintain their authority depended.
• Therefore:
– Liberation could only be achieved by individuals just leaving or going to
court.
– Young children, especially girls, could not leave easily, but also found it
difficult to go to court.
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
• British, middle class, Christian, abolitionist
• Views of children – as dependants
• Views of “paternal” authority and duty in Britain and in
Gold Coast
The magistrate was (usually) the sole judge and thus the
principal audience. Everyone in the courtroom was
performing (and trying to convince) him of their point of
view.
The magistrates
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
Magistrates determined whether the individual was
“enslaved” or “a customary dependant”
• 1) did any money change hands?
• 2) was the child physically abused?
• 3) was the child called a slave (such local terms as
“odonkwo” or “amperlay”)
• 4) what sort of labor was the child required to do?
• 5) did the child receive wages or compensation for labor
provided?
The application of the law
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
How do they shape or alter testimony and judgments?
• Interpreters – In this case the Euro-African James Davis.
• Clerks – Usually locals, but in this case the magistrate
himself.
• Lawyers – James Hutton Brew. Usually friendly with
magistrates.
• Juries – important men, likely to be allies of slaveowners
Other actors
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
 The court had a “code” made up of the magistrate’s
understanding of the law cultural language in which he
could be addressed.
Some participants understood this language, others did
not.
 Abina Mansah’s understanding of this language was
very low. This hurt her case, but ironically makes it
easier for us to hear her voice!
The “language” of the court
Presentation developed by Trevor R. Getz
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