Effia was born in Fanteland to Cobbe Otcher and Maame. Effia was given to Cobbe's first wife Baaba to nurse. Villagers claimed the baby was born of fire because Baaba's milk dried up and Effia had to be nursed by Cobbe's second wife. One day, a young Effia accidentally dropped her infant brother, Fiifi. Her mother beat her with a stirring stick, leaving burns and scars on Effia's back. It started a cycle of abuse wherein Baaba beat Effia and Cobbe beat Baaba. Despite the scars on her body, Effia grew up to be Effia the Beauty. She was all but promised to Abeeku Badu, the chief of her village. Then a white man, James Collins, came to their village to make a deal with Abeeku: a trade of goods in exchange for Abeeku's help in procuring slaves from neighboring lands. James quickly fell in love with Effia. After the wedding, James took Effia to the Cape Coast Castle, a notorious slave trading center. It took several months, but eventually the couple conceived a child, defying the supposed "curse" on Effia and her womb. Early in her pregnancy, Effia traveled back to her village to see her dying father.
Esi was born in Asanteland, the daughter of Big Man and his third wife, Maame. Effia and Esi were half-sisters but never met. Big Man earned his name in combat, winning important battles for his people. Esi's childhood was carefree, and she was called "ripe mango" because she was a little spoiled but sweet. When she was a girl, her father took a slave girl named Abronoma or "Little Dove" from her home to help Maame with the cooking and housework. Abronoma had trouble balancing pots on her head, and when she spilled water, Big Man beat her. One night, their village was attacked by Abeeku's warriors, who were working with slave traders. Esi fled into the woods and hid high in a tree, but a warrior threw stones at her until she fell. Esi and the other prisoners were taken to the Cape Coast Castle and locked up in one of the female dungeons. A white man raped and impregnated her. Eventually, Governor James Collins came to inspect the slaves scheduled to cross the Atlantic to the Americas. Esi survived the Middle Passage and worked as a slave in the South until her death.
Governor James Collins was the commander at Cape Coast Castle. He made a deal with Abeeku that provided him with a steady stream of African slaves to sell. During that visit to Abeeku, James saw Effia the Beauty for the first time and immediately fell in love. He was tender with his wife and treated her surprisingly well, given the brutality of his profession. He and Effia had a son, Quey.
The chief of Effia's village. Effia wanted to marry Abeeku, and she was all but promised to him when James Collins first visited the village. Abeeku had no qualms giving Effia to James or helping James find slaves for his ships. Abeeku and his warriors led attacks against neighboring villages and took many slaves, including Esi.
Quey was the son of Effia and James Collins. Like the other mixed-race children of white officers, he was raised in comfort, receiving a good education and a cushy position as junior officer at Cape Coast Castle thanks to his father. Before leaving Africa to study in England, Quey and his friend Cudjo had a wrestling match that very nearly resulted in a kiss. After James's death, the new governor decided to send Quey to his mother's village—ostensibly to remind Abeeku Badu and his men of their trade obligations with his presence. His task was to convince Abeeku to stop trading with the Dutch and Portuguese and trade only with the British. He was also responsible for overseeing the shipment of slaves. He was thrown for a loop when he got a letter from Cudjo. When Quey didn't write back, Cudjo came to Quey's village to tell him he was married and invite him to visit. Shortly after this meeting, Quey's uncle Fiifi kidnapped Nana Yaa, the daughter of the great Asante chief Osei Bonsu. Fiifi was injured in the attack, but he didn't regret it. It was a power play, and it taught Quey an important lesson about being a slave trader. In the end, he decided never to visit Cudjo because doing so would make him look weak.
James Richard Collins
James was the son of Quey Collins and Nana Yaa, the daughter of Osei Bonsu, a great Asante chief. When Osei Bonsu died, James and Nana Yaa decided to attend the funeral despite his father Quey's protests. The Asantes knew that Nana Yaa was royalty, but that wouldn't save Quey from the angry villagers who knew Quey was involved in the slave trade. After days of traveling, the three of them stopped to visit Quey's old friend David, who got drunk and asked when James would marry. Without consulting James, Quey and Fiifi had already arranged for him to marry Amma, the daughter of Chief Abeeku's successor, when he turned eighteen. At Osei's funeral, however, James met a willful woman named Akosua, who refused to shake his hand because he was a slaver. She told him he would not earn her trust until he left his family and returned to the village to marry her. He married Amma but found he had no desire for her. For months, James pretended to be ill or impotent to avoid consummating their marriage. He then visited Mampanyin, an apothecary, who gave him permission to pursue his desire for Akosua. He traveled to Efutu, where he was attacked by a warrior. People assumed he was dead, and he let them think that so he could return to Akosua.
Abena was born in a small Asante village, the daughter of Akosua and James Collins. She called her father Old Man, but everyone else in the village called him Unlucky because his crops always failed to grow. James occasionally sent Abena to neighboring villages to bring back new seeds, hoping this would make a difference. It never did. No one wanted to marry Abena, Unlucky's daughter. She had a long-term affair with Ohene Nyarko, a married man who agreed to take...
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