August 21, 2014

At Her Majesty’s Request by Walter Dean Myers

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:03 pm by suebe2

At Her Majesty's RequestAt Her Majesty’s Request
by Walter Dean Myers
Scholastic

She was only a small child when almost everyone in her village was killed by women warriors.  They took the princess and several other people back to their king, Gezo.  He told the girl she would be safe.  The people who took care of her told her tales of human sacrifice.  Two years later, she was brought out to be part of a very special blood sacrifice.  The Dahomans honored their ancestors through sacrifice.  This sacrifice was also designed to show a British military officer the might of the Dahomey.  He was there to put a stop to slavery but even the might British empire couldn’t stop King Gezo whether he chose to sacrifice these people or sell them.

Fortunately, Commander Forbes was determined not to let this child die.  He made it clear that Queen Victoria would never kill an innocent child.  Furthermore, she would never respect a ruler who did.  The girl, named by the commander Sarah Forbes Bonetta, was given to Forbes as a gift for Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria took a special interest in the girl’s life, paying for her education.  When she returned to Africa, she was better educated than the missionary women who thought that Africans were not capable of teaching their own children.

As is always the case with a historic figure, there are gaps in this somewhat sparse story but it doesn’t make Sarah’s life any less fascinating.  Here is a girl who escaped both slaver and human sacrifice, only to have almost no control over her own life.  In part, this was because she was upper class in Victorian England.  Where a poor woman might support herself, an educated woman had to marry.  But Sarah may have had even less control than other upper class women, not because of her race but because she had attracted the attention of the Queen.  When Victoria decided you should move from England to Sierra Leone and back again, it wasn’t an item for discussion.  Happy with the decision or angry, you packed up and moved.

I’m not sure how I missed this book when it came out in 1999.  I recently learned about it when Walter Dean Myers died.  I wanted to sample his work but through a wholy unfamilear book.  I’m not sure this book is still in print but it is worth finding.  I requested it from my local library.

–SueBE

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