Jaclyn Parker Amistad book review Topics in U.S. History 1 Prof. Davidson March 25, 1998 The novel Amistad is one that discusses a group of slaves that were originally transported from Africa by Spanish traders employed by Queen Isabella II. These traders, however, claimed that these slaves came from Havanna, Cuba. The book reveals that these slaves were not unaccustomed to slavery in their own country. Cinque said at one point that there were some people who were enslaved because of debts or other such problems. He knew that he did not want to be a slave in America because of the way that he would be treated, and he was somewhat ashamed to say that in his country, his people had been enslaved as well.
Cinque knew that slavery was wrong and that he would not like to be one because of the mistreatment that they received in America and in other places. It seems like a double standard that these transported slaves were used to the idea of slavery in their own country, but thought that it was unfair for anyone else to make them slaves. During the trial, the prosecutor also believed that this was a little strange and he tried to use it against them to say that slavery was not wrong; it was a part of life in the entire world. Cinque was the speaker for the rest of the slaves that had been transported and he told an account of what his people had to go through while they were on the ship called Amistad and even before that when they were on the original ship called the Tecora. They were brought to America on the vessel La Amistad and were supposed to be sold.
The treatment on the Tecora was not pleasant at all any many slaves died in ways that were much more than torturous. Living space was tight and very confined and with that many people shoved that close together, sickness rampaged. Food was scarce and those who were lucky enough to receive food were only sustained long enough to be beaten later, sometimes to their deaths for nothing at all except for the enjoyment of the Spanish crew. The crew thought that the more slaves that they packed onto the ship, the more would be left after the voyage since they knew that there would be many deaths. The slaves were forced to throw their friends’ dead bodies overboard to the awaiting schools of sharks that swam eagerly alongside the ship.
By the time Cinque and his other companions arrived in America, the hundred or so slaves were reduced to a mere forty or so. The were the last of their tribes man that had survived and now all they wanted was to be returned to their homes unharmed. They were trying to make the case that they were wrongfully brought to America and that they were not the possessions of the Queen of Spain like their captors said they were. Ruiz and Montes were known slave runners and they claimed that they were only doing their job in transporting this group of slaves to America. The problem with their case is that they claimed that they were in command of La Amistad and that the slaves were from Havanna, Cuba. However, these slaves did not understand Spanish and if they were from Cuba, they would have been able to understand very simple words in Spanish that they would have known to perform their jobs as slaves.
This raised the question that they may not have been from Cuba at all. Some documents found in a small crevice of La Amistad further proved that these slaves were not from Cuba, they were in fact transferred from the vessel the Tecora to La Amistad. The ship the Tecora came from Africa and these slaves were believed to be from Africa, from the Mende village. The defense of the case believed that these particular slaves were indeed Mende. They tried to learn how to speak at least some Mende so they could attempt to communicate with them.
They learned how to count in Mende so that they could go around the docks, where many people convened to do business, counting in Mende hoping that they would find someone who understood them and could be an interpreter for them in court so the slaves could share their story. The defense needed to be able to communicate with the slaves so that their story would be more accurate and they could get their point of view. Knowing what the slaves went through on the ship greatly helped the case because they got first hand accounts from the slaves concerning what went on during their voyages. Queen Isabella II of Spain claimed that the slaves were her property and that Ruiz and were working for her. This does not go along with history because slavery was outlawed in Spain in 1828 and the book took place in 1839.
There is no way that this coincides with history. Isabella would not have admitted to being the owner of slaves during that time because it was against the laws of her country at that time. In my opinion, this book, even though it is historical fiction, has a great deal of influence on the way that we look back on slavery in America. The Amistad did in fact exist, but the story did not go along with history. I still believe that this is a very useful story because we get the story of what the slaves go through in a more personal way instead of the cut and dry way in which history books portray it.
I enjoyed this story because it had much more feeling put into it that we do not get as history students reading accounts of slavery from a textbook did. Textbooks do not get into that much detail and we are very desensitized by what we have learned from them. This is very alive with feeling and the pain portrayed by Cinque during the time that he was on the ship pierces the empathetic nature of us as humans with feelings. This had the most impact on me as a historical account of slavery and made me nearly feel their pain. The strong imagery helped me to more fully understand what it must have been like for the slaves in those times.
This novel is a very important and useful piece of literature in the understanding of slave trade and why it was outlawed.