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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
The Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
Theme: FreedomTheme: EnslavementTheme: CommunityTheme: IdentityTheme: Emancipation
Theme: Freedom

Benin, Africa, map, 2008, detail
- Mahommah Baquaqua describes his homeland of Zoogoo, 1854 (PDF)

Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua was born into a Muslim family in the late 1820s in the kingdom of Bergoo, in present-day Benin. As a young man he was enslaved in Africa for a time before being transported to Brazil in the 1840s. Working as a slave on a trading ship, he escaped in 1847 by jumping ship in New York City and, with the aid of Baptist abolitionists, settled in Haiti. He returned to New York in 1849 and soon moved to Canada where he worked with editor Samuel Moore to publish his memoir, Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, a Native of Zoogoo, in the Interior of Africa. He then travelled to England hoping to return to Africa, but after 1857 he disappeared from the historical record. In the first seven chapters of the narrative, Moore presents a political and cultural overview of Baquaqua's Bergoo and his early life, adding his own commentary on Africa, Islam, and slavery. (11 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. Overall, what do you learn about Baquaqua's African homeland from the narrative?
  2. Conduct research on modern Benin to trace the evidence that "Zoogoo in Central Africa" is present-day Djougou, Benin.
  3. What do you learn about Samuel Moore's attitude toward Africa and Islam from the narrative?
  4. What is Moore's attitude toward Baquaqua as a person?
  5. How dominant is Moore's perspective in the narrative? Where does the voice of Baquaqua transcend or break through Moore's narration?
  6. How does Moore use the narrative to promote abolitionist views? Compare his anti-slavery commentary with that of Thomas Bluett (Ayuba) and Cyrus Griffin (Rahman).
  7. How did Baquaqua define freedom before and after enslavement, as far as you can determine?
  8. How would Muslims today evaluate Moore's overview of Islam as practiced in Bergoo?
  9. Compare and contrast the three narratives by Muslim Africans—Baquaqua, Ayuba, and Rahman (see FREEDOM #1). Consider including the narrative by Omar ibn Said, a Senegalese Muslim enslaved in North Carolina.
  10. Create a dialogue among the Muslim Africans—Baquaqua, Ayuba, Rahman, and Omar. What would they find most similar in their life experiences? What would they choose to emphasize to 21st-century readers?

Framing Questions
  • How did Africans live in freedom before enslavement?
  •  How did Europeans and African Americans perceive African cultures?
  •  What was the experience of capture and enslavement for those who became African Americans?

Mahommah Baquaqua: 11
Supplemental Sites

Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, 1854, full text in Documenting the American South (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library)

Peoples from Senegambia, Benin and the Gold Coast, in The Abolition of the Slave Trade: The Forgotten Story, from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (NYPL)

Timeline of Art History: Guinea Coast, 1600-1800 A.D. (present-day Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, coastal Guinea, Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Republic of Benin, and Nigeria)

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience, from the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (New York Public Library)

-U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Africa, map, 2008, detail. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, Call. No. G8200 2008 .U5.
-Mahommah Baquaqua, portrait, detail of title page of Biography of Mahommah G. Baquaqua, a Native of Zoogoo, in the Interior of Africa, by Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua & Samuel Moore. Library of Congress; digital image courtesy of the online collection The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record, by Jerome S. Handler & Michael L. Tuite Jr., a project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library.

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

1. Senegal & Guinea   2. Mali   3. Ghana
4. Benin   5. Nigeria   6. Capture

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume I, 1500-1865
Freedom | Enslavement | Community | Identity | Emancipation

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