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The effect that Aminata of Book of Negros practices as a Muslim had as her environment changes throughout the novel

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The Effect of Society on Religion: A Book of Negroes Analysis
Religion is a cultural system that evidently brings stability and purpose to millions of people around the world. Whether it is spending an entire lifetime learning the teachings behind your religion or using the practices to solve problems to answer questions that arise during your everyday lives, it can be argued that religion is an important part of society. Aminata Diallo, the protagonist for Lawrence Hill’s award-winning novel, The Book of Negroes elaborately, demonstrates the effect that the cultural system of religion has in our everyday lives through Hill’s depiction of Amanita’s early life as a Muslim.
During the beginning of the novel, Aminata spends most of her days learning the Quran from her father and finding spiritual peace by finding comfort and peace through her five daily prayers. However through the course of this book, an important aspect of religion is revealed and the general changes in the religious practices as a result of a shift in the societal organisation due to certain pressures imposed (Bustle.com N.p.). As Aminata is kidnapped and forced into slavery at the young age of 11, her religious practices are, at first, restricted and slowly disintegrate as she ages. More light on how the religion helps those in turmoil. It further continues to explain how religion helps those who are out of their comfort zones as a source of refuge however with time how eventually it gets to a breaking point whereby people lose hope and begin to question their beliefs and begin to drift away from what they believe in.

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To achieve this goal, I will look to construct the social aspects of practicing religion and the effect that slavery had within Africa. By analyzing the events that occurred in the novel as well as current situations such as Islam phobia in the western world, it can be argued that societal pressures and human environment influence ideological practices of religion. I will be providing an account of events that happened during the pre-slavery era as well as discussing the ideologies that were practiced and their significance to the society. This will be an ongoing goal throughout this essay. Consequently, I will give a brief discussion of the slavery period and the consequences of this error in connection with the methods that I will describe in the first section and the consequences of slavery to the African natives both those who were taken into slavery and those left behind. (Walker 33).
Slave Trade is known as the transatlantic trading patterns that were established as early as the 17th century. Therefore, it means that slave trade involved the lucrative practices of procuring and transporting people as the primary trade commodities and in particular, the old trade in African blacks as slaves by the European and North America. Europeans found it easy to do business with African intermediaries who raided settlements in the interior where they captured and delivered to the merchant’s young and healthy people who sold into slavery. The slaves would provide human labor on plantations in the Caribbean and the Americas where the European countries had colonized areas of the American continent (Mckibbin N.pag). The major proponents of slavery and slave trade had an argument that the trade improved the economic conditions and welfare of the countries involved. This was despite the negative impacts it had on families and health of the slaves. It is important to note that resistance among the slaves was not uncommon.
During this time, it is estimated that between 1.5 million to 2 million slaves died during the journey to the new world. African slavery was mostly practiced for prestige; labour on European plantations was crucial to the economies of the colonies. Therefore, only the colonial powers benefited. African labourers were proffered as they provided cheap labour than in any other part of the world. The traders would buy the energetic personnel from the local rulers such as chiefs in traditional African setup. The increased demand for slaves brought with it a change in the fundamental African practices on slavery. In the 19th century, the result was that some black Africans in West and Central Africa faced a threat of enslavement; this was by the introduction of punishment for crimes and moral wrongdoing.
During the industrial revolution, European economic interests shifted from agriculture to industry a movement that let to abolish the slave trade. Most of the Colonies abolished the slave trade and concentrated on the developing industries for the economy (Walker 33). The story begins in West Africa in 1745 where Aminata Diallo is captured in her hometown of Bayo at the age of 11and is marched to the coast in a shackled string of slaves. Together with African slaves captured to offer forced labor are put into ships heading for the Americas. While on board Aminata encounters horrific conditions on the slave ships.
“Let them do what they would do with my body- on land” (Hill 27) is an illustration that Aminata is a spiritual person and was worried what would happen if she passed on while at sea. The fear of dying on the water is the inability to be buried on land with her ancestors. It can be noted that dying at sea could have instilled a religious fear into her as well. Islamic traditions require corpses to be buried in the ground, wrapped in only a white cloth. She is, however, nostalgic and has the desire to return to her homeland. Unfortunately, those around her, especially the abolitionists, struggled to understand why she wanted to go back to such a place since her problems with slave trade began there. This desire to return home can be however be translated as the desire to find a sense of belonging through the search for an identity. Throughout her journeys, though Aminata tries hard to position herself into various position, she is completely disguised and viewed as one who is lost of belonging and direction. For example, when she lives with the Limbo’s she finds a place in their life not only as help but helps them in their accounts. She also tries to have a normal life by having a family of her own until the man she loves taken away from her. These kinds of situations show that she would not only like to settle at a place she finds her use but also it gave her peace of mind.
Before the establishment of Christianity in Africa, many communities looked to their system of belief which differed from community to community. The African regions were religious of spirit and not of doctrine. Islam penetrated West Africa from the north by way of Sahara Desert. By the time of the Atlantic slave trade, 15-30% of the enslaved Africans that arrived in the new world were Muslim. In West Africa, the uniting factor among the rulers and merchants was Islamic religion. Since it was acceptable, we also note that polygamy was widely accepted. This was because most of the Muslim customs blended with the local traditions to form new practices. Like all other African customs inheritance often favored the male heir and most often property, land, and even the deceased wives. It is due to the traditions that we meet other active women in The Book of Negroes that also motivate and encourage Aminata during her struggles as she tries to return home.
This was except the Sherbo women who were the heads of their households. Aminata’s strength is influenced by her mother who the village counted on to help as a healer and worked as a midwife. She often took Aminata as she worked and it is there that Aminata witnessed her strength and determination and decided to be just like her. After her mother’s murder Aminata loses her strength and power and freedom that she saw in her mother. We don’t see her embracing religion, but these events make her an even stronger woman later in life. While as a slave Aminata learns a different kind of strength through Fanta, an angry, raw strength to survive. Fanta is always ruthless and wants to keep her power even she was taken by slavers. At some point, she murders her child to hold the power. In complete opposite, Sanu is a maternal figure. She protects Aminata and is seen as the replacement for Aminata’s mother (Hill 56-67).
The Black People have been depicted as liking adventure as often seen in Aminata and we see that they are always on the move whether voluntary or involuntary (Lawrence Hill n.pag). The book traces her travels from ‘central Africa to South Carolina, New York, Nova Scotia, Sierra Leone and finally England’ (Hill 76-77). With this travels, she is always adapting to the changes in her cultural, familial, geographical and intellectual conditions. She witnesses profound inhumanity of slavery and vows to help where she can to ensure that her people are free. However, she has hope that that is why she ensures she stays alive throughout her journeys to go back to her village in Bayo. This helps her focus and keep a positive mind instead of letting all the abuse, death and cruelty happening around her in.
“I am no wench. I am a wife. I am a mother. Aren’t I?’ (Lacsamana 102), Aminata voices this to her second master Lindo where she becomes outspoken as to the treatment she seems to be getting? Aminata uses her intellect to understand that slaves have rights to be free and uses it to her advantage when she keeps reading and self-educating since it illegal for a slave to know how to read. Irrespective of what religion you belonged to Aminata always found a way to blend and get along with all around her; this was especially when it came to helping and assisting those who needed her midwife skills. She put aside any difference they had and treated the sick. This shows that deep down she still adhered to her religious beliefs of helping those in need. When she was purchased by the Lindo’s, she refuses special treatment because it reminds her of how lucky she is compared to the other slaves. The statement lets us understand that Aminata would like her masters to treat her as a human being by reminding them she is not only someone’s wife but also a mother.
During her assignment and move to Canada, she encounters a colder brand of racism. However, such rebellion and bad reception do not deter her from trying to help others in the hope those that they meet will accept the former slaves as equals. Just like in the society today whereby Muslims tend to be mistrusted, most of them take the time to do good until they earn the trust of the community around them (Historyworld.net n.pag). However, it is sad how we already judge members of the Muslim fraternity due to the actions of those who have wronged us in the past. Aminata helps us understand that forgiveness and patience are the keys to understanding each other and not forcing your way into other community with your idea. As human beings, it is important to note that most of the problems we have are interrelated and can be solved by patience and understanding each other.
Besides all this controversy facing the character, we also see Aminata’s romantic journey that for a few years give her peace and calmness before again it is ripped from her. At this point, we realize her Islamic practices are beginning to disappear. However, it is expected that these events would make it hard for her to do good towards others since a lot of bad things happened to her. She, however, picks herself up in a way that she will emerge stronger than she was. We see sacrifices from Chekura, who would rather be a slave than be separated from her. As man and wife, they repeatedly lose each other for decades before they are rejoined. Aminata befriends anyone who can helps her, be it a black or white so that she can free herself and others.
Aminata at this point has lost a lot of faiths but not her spirit. This often happens where people go through a tough period that they are usually unfazed by what is around. We find that when she returns to Africa, she realizes that as the black community tries to establish themselves, Freetown has a lot of strict rules that dictates their development. Freetown is not as free and is located a few miles from a slave trading center (Profile N.pag). During her stay here she overhears slave traders planning to sell her since she is slowing the group down. She escapes to a nearby village where she decides that she will take up Clarkson’s offer and go to England to petition the end of the slave trade.
Later in London, she reunites with her daughter who takes care of her at her old age. At this time, we realize that the energy that Aminata had before she got kidnapped to religion has drastically deteriorated. This is because she has so much on her mind that is trying to stay alive and free. Also most of the places she visited after her kidnapping had restrictions. ‘Look,’ said Armstrong ‘was the experience so terrible for you? Here you are, a picture of health, comfortable clothes, food in your belly, with a roof overhead and abortionists looking for you in Freetown. Most of the world doesn’t live like that. I had no words. I didn’t know where to start. I felt exhausted’ (Hill 421). She continues to wish that she could be presented with somewhere to rest in order to sort out Armstrong’s arguments.
With time when you move to a different environment, most of your beliefs will get watered down by the new ones that you acquire. Especially if you are always between a rock and hard place, you will try to adapt and not stand out with activities that will put you in the spotlight. This is highlighted during a conversation between Armstrong and Aminata. That is how Aminata was also able to survive she learned the languages of the foreign places she was based. She used the skills she had and those she acquired to be part of the new community she had been taken. It is important to note that even at an old age Aminata was willing to keep moving to have all slavery be abolished; she is a woman who takes a cause and wants to finish it for the sake of her descendants.
Aminata takes up a responsibility to make sure that what happened to her does not continue to others; her children are stolen from her, she only sees her husband from time to time, and she never gets to say goodbye to the most important people in her life. The moment she gets comfortable and begins to trust her surrounding things to take a turn for the worse. In Aminata’s eyes, white people considered the black people to be beneath them and treated them as such. She considers them thoughtless such that the decisions they made that ruined so many lives; they made without thought to the people those decisions impacted most (Prescott n.p.). Today that is what happens when a person visits a country that they are working under tense and unfavourable conditions, some of the fundamental rights like the right to religion are not provided. Whatever that inspires the people a lot is what drives one into certain activity. For instance, the need to provide for one’s family motivates a struggling person to work extra harder in order to find comfort and peace in one’s life (Nova Scotia Museum n.p.).
In the Middle Eastern countries, we know and have seen in the media of people working for minimal or no pay and cannot afford to make necessary decisions about their lives. This makes it a modern day slavery arrangement and due to desperation, they go unreported. It is now the responsibility of all of us to make sure we are our sisters and brothers keepers to make sure that all around us are treated well. Therefore, all of us ought to deny any form of mistreatment in our daily activities. Labour unions across the world should also join forces through the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in a fight against any form of slavery in the job market. People should be allowed free will to determine what activities to engage in. Therefore, everybody has to have a choice in determining their fate especially regarding occupation. We see Aminata as a smart, beautiful, strong woman who is a force to be reckoned with. So it makes it sad to see how little control she has on her fate and the path she takes to make a better life.
Works Cited
Bustle.com,. “Bustle”. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Hill, Lawrence. The Book of Negroes. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2011. Print.
Historyworld.net,. “HISTORY OF SLAVERY”. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Lacsamana, Ramon M. Negros Occidental 1938-1939 Year Book And Special Supplement, Inauguration Of The City Of Bacolod. [Philippines]: Ramon M. Lacsamana, 1939. Print.
Lawrence Hill,. “By Lawrence Hill”. N.p., 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Mckibbin, Molly. “The Book of Negroes”. The Canadian Encyclopedia. N.p., 2001. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Nova Scotia Museum,. “Black Loyalist Heritage Centre”. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Prescott, Amanda-Rae. “The Book Of Negroes’ Illuminates A Journey To Freedom By Amanda-Rae Prescott”. NBC News. N.p., 2015. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Profile, View. “Epoch Tales: D Is For Aminata Diallo, Heroine Of The Book Of Negroes”. Epochtales.blogspot.co.ke. N.p., 2010. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Walker, James W. St. G. The Black Loyalists. Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1992. Print.

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