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Contributed Scholarly Introduction: Asa-Asa, Louis, Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa (1831)

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Asa-Asa, Louis, Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa (1831)

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Abstract

     Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa, A Captured African was first published in 1831 in the supplement to The History of Mary Prince. Thomas Pringle, the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, and the editor of Mary Prince’s History, appended paratextual materials to the History, including Louis Asa-Asa’s Narrative—calling it a “suitable appendix” and “convenient supplement” to the History. Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa was included in the supplements to all three editions of the History (see Prince, “Appendix 2” 132-135).

Introduction

     Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa, A Captured African was first published in 1831 in the supplement to The History of Mary Prince. Thomas Pringle, the secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, and the editor of Mary Prince’s History, appended paratextual materials to the History, including Louis Asa-Asa’s Narrative—calling it a “suitable appendix” and “convenient supplement” to the History. Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa was included in the supplements to all three editions of the History (see Prince, “Appendix 2” 132-135).

     The only known details of Louis Asa-Asa’s life are those recorded within the two pages of his slave narrative, and within Thomas Pringle’s introductory remarks to the Narrative. In the narrative, Asa-Asa claims to have been born into a family that resided in an area named Bycla, near a large town called Egie; although scholar Sara Salih acknowledges that she was unable to determine where these locations might be while completing research for the Penguin Edition publication of The History of Mary Prince in 2000 (Notes). Similarly, Asa-Asa’s exact date of birth and death are unknown, but around the age of thirteen, Asa-Asa was captured and enslaved.

     After being exchanged between numerous slaveholders, Asa-Asa was eventually brought onto a French slave ship named The Pearl, but bad weather forced the ship to dock in St. Ives, England. Pringle’s introduction implies that, upon this chance landing, abolitionist George Stephen took advantage of the English law of “Habeus Corpus” to secure the freedom of Asa-Asa and four other enslaved people. According to Pringle, Asa-Asa’s arrival in England occurred around 1826. Pringle remarks in a post-script that Stephen sent him the Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa in 1831, after he had already written the preface to The History of Mary Prince. In the five years from 1826 and 1831, Asa-Asa evidently lived with Stephen; although it is not clear who wrote the text of Asa-Asa’s narrative during that time. Asa-Asa may have written it himself or he may have dictated it to Stephen or to another transcriber. A similar confusion surrounds the editing process. Pringle claims that the Narrative is “in the narrator’s words, with only so much correction as was necessary to connect the story, and render it grammatical,” but it is not clear whether Pringle is referring to changes which had already been made to the text by the time he received it, or whether he means that he edited the text himself after receiving it from Stephen.

     The Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa has received very little attention from scholars, although, critics such as Katherine Clay Bassard, Kadiatu Kanneh and Aimable Twagilimana have explored the implications of Asa-Asa’s concluding statement that he wants to stay in England. Kanneh remarks of the conclusion, for example, that “[freedom] is continually described in terms of travel and escape, and rarely in terms of return to an original African ancestral home,” (70) while Twagilimana and Bassard both find similarities between Asa-Asa’s rejection of a possible return and that of Phyllis Wheatley (Bassard 56; Twagilimana 46). The lack of extended scholarly work on the Narrative may be a result of its brevity, however it deserves further examination. As Nicole Aljoe has discussed, the function of an embedded narrative has significant value both as a part of the overall piece and as an individual narrative. Asa-Asa’s narrative can serve as an accessible example of the archetypal slave narrative: it contains stylistic qualities and themes found in more well-known slave narratives and as such it has immense pedagogical value.

Notes

Bibliography

Works Cited

Aljoe, Nicole. Creole Testimonies: Slave Narratives of The British West Indies, 1709-1838. Palgrave-MacMillan, 2012.

Bassard, Katherine Clay. Spiritual Interrogations: Culture, Gender, and Community in Early African American Women’s Writing. Princeton University Press, 1999.

Kanneh, Kadiatu. African Identities: Pan-Africanisms and Black Identities. Routledge, 2002.

Prince, Mary. The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave. Edited by Moira Ferguson. University of Michigan Press, 1997.

Silah, Sara. Notes to The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave. Penguin, 2000.

Twagilimana, Aimable. Race and Gender in the Making of an African American Literary Tradition. Routledge, 2014.

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