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A Neglected Text

A Neglected Text

The narrative of Louis Asa-Asa has been studied very little and is even often ignored by scholars and readers of The History of Mary Prince.  This may be a result of its brevity or perceived lack of content, but the Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa, A Captured African deserves further examination.  As discussed by Nicole Aljoe, the function of an embedded narrative has significant value both as a part of the overall piece and as an individual narrative. If anything, the Asa-Asa narrative can serve as an accessible example of the archetypal slave narrative in academia: it contains stylistic qualities and themes found in popular slave narratives, which is one of the reasons why Thomas Pringle chose to include it in the appendix of The History of Mary Prince, and the fact that it is only two pages of easy-to-read narrative makes it accessible to students.  

 A common theme in slave narratives is the materialistic diminution of slaves. Similar to a popular slave narrative such as that of Olaudah Equiano, Asa-Asa’s narrative details his exchange between slaveholders: “They sold us for money; and I was sold six times over, sometimes for money, sometimes for cloth, and sometimes for a gun.”  These minute details in slave narratives, such as the exchange of a human being for money or goods, accentuate the dehumanization that Africans endured in the slave trade.  Asa-Asa also includes details of great violence associated with the slave trade: “I saw the bodies of four or five little children whom they had killed with blows on the head.  They had carried away their fathers and mothers, but the children were too small for slaves, so they killed them. They had killed several others, but these were all that I saw.  I saw them lying in the street like dead dogs.”  These themes of dehumanization and violence are central components to slave narratives, and even the structure of Asa-Asa’s narrative coincides with the common structure of popular slave narratives: he begins by describing his childhood, details his capture and how he is forced into the slave trade, and concludes with a message, almost a plea, for liberty. In Asa-Asa’s narrative, it is apparent that he himself has attained liberty once he has reached England, and his plea to the King of England is not for himself, but for all the African people who are subjected to the cruelty and terrorization of the slave trade system.  This plea to thing King is central to Pringle’s choice to use Asa-Asa’s narrative in the appendix of The Narrative of Mary Prince.

As an abolitionist, Thomas Pringle’s intentions for publishing the narratives of Prince and Asa-Asa are to educate the public on the realities of the slave trade as well as to appeal to the government for legislative action against slavery.  Pringle’s relation and interaction with Mary Prince and Louis Asa-Asa is intriguing, and not much is historically known.  There has also been speculation on the amount of influence that Pringle had on the actual narratives.  Especially since the narrative is the only evidence of Louis Asa-Asa’s existence, Pringle’s own credibility is one of many potential subjects of discussion for modern scholars.  There is immense pedagogical value within the Narrative of Louis Asa-Asa, A Captured African, and it should no longer be neglected.