Sources for "Ama" and the sequel "Brave Music of a Distant Drum"

Ama's story is set in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.  It starts in an unnamed Konkomba hamlet in what is now the northern region of Ghana and follows the route:  - Yendi - Kafaba - Kumase - Elmina - Middle Passage - Salvador - Engenho.  Maps on another page show the route.

The reference is limited, more or less, to this slice of time and space.   I have added relevant matters of interest. My selections from texts are somewhat arbitrary, based on my estimate of  what a serious but non-specialist reader might consider instructive and interesting, but subject to what I have been able to find in Accra. There is more recent material.

My hope is that curious readers of "Ama" will be persuaded  to read further and that this web site will get them started. The texts and references might also help critical readers to judge the authenticity and plausibility of Ama's story.

Researching for "Ama", I read voraciously and, at least in the early stages, with a certain lack of discipline. The material here is somewhat more organized than was my reading: I certainly didn't read these works in the order given.  For one thing, I was constrained by what was available in three excellent but cash-starved libraries: the Balme Library and the Institute of African Studies Library at the University of Ghana, Legon and the George Padmore Library in Accra.  At a later date I spent a few days in the Schomberg Library in Harlem, searching for works which I had been unable to unearth in Ghana.

I tried to paint an accurate, fair and plausible picture of the societies through which Ama passes.  I tried too hard, it seems, for the first manuscript of the novel was 300,000 words long, double the length, I was told, that any publisher would consider. With some reluctance I followed my agent's advice to strip out anything that didn't have a direct bearing on the story.

I had lived in Ghana for some 25 years when I set out to write "Ama" and I found, to my shame, that I had acquired no more than a superficial understanding of the history of the country and its peoples. I needed to do a great deal of homework.   

As I read, I tried to maintain an awareness of the danger that my own background might influence my understanding and distort the story I had to tell. Others will have to judge whether I have been successful.

In The Atlantic Slave Trade and Black Africa, P. E. H. Hair  writes, 

Almost total lack of evidence makes it uncertain whether slaves ever condemned the institutions of enslavement in Africa (without abolitionist prompting); and also whether the institutions were ever condemned within African communities.  It is, perhaps, in both cases unlikely.  The feelings and sufferings of the slaves are partly unimaginable, inasmuch as they were related to the circumstances of a previous life we know little about.  Standard descriptions which concentrate on those aspects easily comprehensible to modern middle class sentiment cannot tell the whole story.

  • I set out, with foolish ambition perhaps, to confound this view.

  • Sleeve notes on The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas 


  • John Lynch reviews The Slave Trade by Hugh Thomas.