This week we move into the third generation in the Big Read book Homegoing. We follow the stories of James, the son of Quey Collins and Nana Yaa Yeboah, as well as Kojo, the son of Ness Stockham and Sam.

This generation gives us a glimpse into events that span from 1824 until 1860. At this point in history, the Gold Coast was facing the Anglo-Ashanti Wars and the United States was feeling tensions that would eventually lead to The American Civil War.

The history and culture that these characters are experiencing may be unfamiliar to us, so here are some things that might help you understand these characters and their settings a bit better!

Death and Funerals in Asante Culture

Death and funeral traditions play a large part in our section from James. To better understand why funerals are so important to the Asante people, we’ll need to take a deeper look into their culture again.

Asante tradition views funerals as a time for celebration and honor rather than a sad memorial of passing. Part of this is because of their views on death. To Asante people, death is strictly a physical thing. They believe that the body has died but that their loved one’s spirit lives on. Their spirit goes to their supreme god and must account for its acts on Earth and is able to join the rest of the ancestors. Funerals play a part in both helping their loved one move on to this new existence and to honor their ancestors, which is important part of their culture.

Asante funerals include several unique factors due to their beliefs in death. Food and drink offerings, dancing, mourning clothes, and items buried with the deceased to help them along their journey give us glimpses of their beliefs.

To the Asante people, funerals are more of a festival. They are very important social gatherings, and the community sees it as quite rude if family or friends fail to show up. Asante people still carry out some of the traditions mentioned in the book in funerals today, like this one from a few years ago. The audio on this video is not very good, but it gives a glimpse into some of the cultural practices that are still alive today.

This video shows some of the music, dancing, traditional clothing, gift giving, and even the handshake line Gyasi talks about in James’ section in Homegoing.

The Anglo-Ashanti Wars

In this section, there is also mention of a war between the Asante people and a dual army of the Fante people and the English. This was most likely one of the five conflicts that make up the Anglo-Ashanti Wars. These wars spanned from 1824 to 1900 between the Asante Empire and the British empire and its allies. While there were victories on both sides, wins for the British in the last two battles gave them the upper hand and led to the dissolving of the Asante Empire.

While these battles were fought for a variety of reasons and each side had varying motivations for getting involved, these wars show how the state of the relationship between these Akan communities really diminished. A lot of this was due to issues related to the slave trade and pent-up animosity over the constant stealing and selling of each other’s peoples. Britain got involved for economic and social reasons, but their hand in the slave trade also played a large part. At this point, Britain had already banned slave trading in 1807 and later abolished slavery in all parts of the British Empire in 1833. Yet they were still solidly attached to Africa, and this led to more problems in the following years.

If you are interested in learning more background and specifics on this, check out this podcast by Turn of the Century which goes deeper into the cause and effect of these wars.

The Fugitive Slave Laws

Making a switch over to the American side of things, we are getting closer to The American Civil War and get to look at some of biggest contributors to the state of America at this time.

The Fugitive Slave Act was originally put into action by Congress in 1793 as a clause in the Constitution. The original clause allowed local governments to capture and return runaway slaves to their owners. It also imposed a penalty on anyone who helped them escape or harbored them while they were a fugitive. When a catcher or owner captured someone who was suspected of being a runaway slave, the suspect and owner (or stand in) would have to appear before a judge and show some sort of proof that the accused was their property and that they had a right to take them away.

Many states didn’t like this act from the beginning and enacted a series of “Personal Liberty Laws” which gave options of trial by jury and gave more protections for free blacks, who were often kidnapped and sold into slavery (similar to the true story in 12 Years a Slave).

The New Fugitive Slave Act

By 1850, many Northern states pretty much ignored the Fugitive Slave laws or even worked against them. Many southern states were threatening secession at this point, and to keep the nation together, Henry Clay helped create the Compromise of 1850. Part of the compromise to appease the southern states was to strengthen the Fugitive Slave Act by forcing the northern states to follow it or face serious consequences. It also now denied the right to testify for yourself or have the opportunity for a trial with a jury. If anyone refused to honor the law or tried to help a fugitive slave, they would now face double the fine at $1,000 and 6 months in jail.

This was a harsh blow to abolitionists, freemen, and enslaved people as it cut into so much of what they had spent years fighting for. The added measures led to abuse of the law and defeated its original purpose. However, this corruption led to more people joining the abolitionist movement and strengthened the Underground Railroad. Northern states began enacting more personal-liberty laws and came together to fight back against corruption in their courtrooms.

Unfortunately, these positive actions only strengthen the Southerns States’ resolve to succeed, and the failure of the Northern States to stick to these stricter measures were listed as some of the greivances and reasons for succession for states like South Carolina.

Hopefully you learned something new through this blog, and if you have any questions or ideas, we’d love to hear them!


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