I suppose my interest in slavery was piqued in the 80s when I laid my hands on a banned copy of Roots – Alex Haley, and I read it as a thirsty man would sip water. I think I was both stunned and fascinated that money could buy human beings as property.
Since then I have steadily devoured most of what I could find on slavery, not for the purposes of academic learning, but out of interest in the history of the continent: what my late school principal once referred to as the worst affliction visited on any continent in the last millennium.
Of all the material I have read through the years: Up from Slavery – Booker T. Washington, Incidents in the Life of slave girl – Harriet Jacobs, Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Stowe, Amistad – Alex D. Pate, and others: Alex Haley’s book still remains to me the most important book on the subject ever written.
Thus when I started writing my first book, I SPEAK TO THE SILENT, in the late 90s, I knew that my next book would have slavery as its backdrop – and thus the idea of A HILL OF FOOLS was born. A lot of documentaries and books on African slavery focus on the victims’ fate after they have been snatched from their homes and shipped to the new world. They dwell on the horrors of slave plantations, and the degrading humiliation of slave auctions in foreign markets.
Others deal with the harrowing ordeal of that final journey to the new world – what is often referred to as ‘the middle passage’. But I had to find out about how slavery enacted itself on our continent. I set out to discover the instinctive reactions of the ordinary African men and women to the extreme burden of slavery. I have therefore based the story entirely on the continent.
I hope in the end that I did not oversimplify the rather complex subject of slavery. It still exists in the brothels around the world, and in the form of child and human trafficking – with over 12 million people today held in bondage of sorts. Almost every country in the world, either as a source or destination of this human traffic, is affected.