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The Captive

Background information on The Captive

The story opens in 1788 in the Ashanti (Asante) Empire. The Empire at this time included most of present day Ghana, a country in West Africa. The Asante Nation dates back to the 1670’s and the first Asante King, Osei Tutu who built the capital, Kumasi and began the legend of the Golden Stool. The great god Nyame sent down the Golden Stool, symbolizing the unification of the nation and the soul of the people. Osei Tutu was a strong leader who joined the various clans and kingships to form the empire.
Known for their production of gold and finely crafted jewelry, furniture, and beautifully woven cloth called kente, the various people and cultures who comprised the empire had been traders and skilled crafts men and women since the 14th and 15th centuries. Because of the spread of the European slave trade, the Asante’s were able to trade slaves for guns, making them even more powerful.
While slavery was practiced among the Asantes it was different from the slave trade conducted by Europeans and Americans. The Asantes enslaved people as a punishment for crime or the payment of a debt. Slaves were taken captive in war and were often integrated into the society of their captors. Therefore, Oppong, in my story is betrothed to Kofi’s sister. He is considered to be a member of the family.Those slaves captured and sold to Europeans would make the dreadful trip across the Atlantic to plantations and farms in the Caribbean and in America, never to see their homelands again.

Reviews of The Captive

When Kofi's father, an Ashanti chief, is killed, Kofi is sold as a slave and ends up in Massachusetts, where his fate is in the hands of Paul Cuffe, an African American shipbuilder who works to return slaves to their homeland in Africa.

From The Critics Publisher's Weekly
The carefree existence of narrator Kofi, the 12-year-old son of a West African Ashanti chief, is shattered when the family's slave sells him to a slave trader in 1788. Recaptured after a brief escape, Kofi ends up in chains on a slaver bound for Boston. After a harrowing journey, during which most of the captives--children all--and much of the crew die, Kofi and his ailing friend Joseph are included in the bargain when Master Browne buys an English cabin boy's contract for indentured servitude. Taken to Salem, Kofi learns to speak English (and to read, until Browne stops his wife's teaching). The three boys labor from before dawn till after dark six days a week, enduring their Puritan master's floggings and torturous hours of prayer. They run away during the election celebrations, when the ``white men who have money and property vote for a new government to tax them and tell them what to do.'' Pursued by Browne, they are taken in by Paul Cuffe, a historical African American Quaker sea captain, who argues successfully in court for the release of the two slaves to his care. Hansen's ( The Gift-Giver ; Home Boy ) thoughtfully researched and eye-opening story offers a deeply moving, Afrocentric perspective on the brutal inequities of American life in the nation's earliest, perhaps most idealistic years--and now. Ages 10-up.

Children's Literature - Deborah Zink Roffino
Like Kunte Kinte, Prince Kofi is an unforgettable character who will change perspectives of the readers forever. Packed with action and adventure, this superbly written story of an African prince taken captive holds lessons from history applicable today. Kofi tells his story in first person. Through the moving narration, readers see the villages, family connections, the capture, the slave ships, and the contrast of kindness and cruelty.

The ALAN Review - Jeanne M. McGlinn
This novel represents a new direction for Joyce Hansen from the contemporary realistic fiction of The Gift-Giver and Yellow Bird and Me. Here are the memories of Kofi, the twelve-year-old son of a great chief in the Ashanti Kingdom of West Africa, who is treacherously kidnapped and sold to slave traders. Kofi's experiences take on a surreal quality as he encounters shock after shock. From the terror of the Middle Passage to his first experience of snow in the harsh new England winter, Kofi is forced into a disorienting and violent world that negates everything he knows about life and how people should treat each other. Hansen packs in lots of historical and cultural information drawn from two primary sources: the slave narrative of Gustavus Vassa and the biography of Paul Cuffe, a free African American who fought against slavery in Massachusetts in the late eighteenth century. Hansen's story is a fitting addition to a social studies unit.

The ALAN Review - Bonnie O. Ericson
Betrayed by his father's servant, 12-seasons-old Kofi is captured by slave traders in 1788. He survives the harrowing journey across the Atlantic only to be sold to a Puritan couple in cold New England. Eventually he runs away with two friends, one a white indentured servant, and is saved by a free African American merchant and sea captain. In an epilogue we learn Kofi never returned to his Ashanti tribe but spent his life helping fugitive slaves and working as a ship's pilot. The Captive is interesting because it brings slavery out of the South and to New England during Puritan times; furthermore, the African American sea captain is an unusual and real historical figure. Readers will experience two very different cultures as they relate to the traumatic changes in Kofi's life. Along with O'Dell's My Name Is Not Angelica, this book is a good choice for individual or group reading by middle school students.
TO ORDER CONTACT: SCHOLASTIC-800-724-6527, select option #3 THE ISBN NUMBER IS 0590416243