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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Bedford's 'complete' slave picture
Simi Bedford
Bedford is of Nigerian ancestry but a British citizen
Writer Simi Bedford has told the BBC that she hopes her latest novel, Not With Silver, can change the view of the slave trade and give people a more complete picture of what happened by being epic in scope.

The novel tracks three generations of a family from West Africa between 1740 and 1818.

The writer, whose own Nigeria great-grandparents were rescued from a slave ship, told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme that she feels people do not get the full story of the slave trade.

"I went to school in England and I was taught about slavery, but I was taught about it from a very European point of view - that this was a horrible episode, but actually, Europeans then realised that it was a terrible thing they were doing and so very kindly, as a gift, gave freedom to the slaves," she said.

"The slaves were always depicted as very passive. But knowing my family, and knowing the achievements of my family, I thought: 'I don't think this is absolutely true'."

Supply and demand

2007 has seen a number of books on slavery published, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British trade in slaves.

Bedford said that as she researched her story, she had come to realised that most books on slavery started either at the point of enslavement or in America on the plantations.

As a result, she said, there was little picture of the slaves' lives before they were taken.

"It was literally as if they'd been plucked out of thin air," she said.

Follow dynamic trails across Africa, the Caribbean and the UK with text, images and audio to explore the abolition of British slavery

"You never got any picture of what had happened to them before. So I wanted to show this in some depth."

Not With Silver therefore spends some time detailing the highly-developed aristocratic West African societies that the slaves were taken from.

"That is absolutely true - it still exists to this day," Bedford explained.

"Also, what I wanted to do was counteract the misconception that somehow, the Africans were savages, they had no culture. I wanted to tell the story of what it might have been like for them."

Bedford said that one account that particularly struck her was that of a Captain Clapperton, who in 1827 described travelling into the Nigerian interior as being "like driving to a gentleman's park in England."

But Bedford also writes about the African slave suppliers, adding that there was an "amnesia" surrounding the subject.

"The Africans didn't really want to acknowledge their part in it," she said.

"But I think now there is enough distance, and I think black people are wanting to reclaim their history."

She said that African chiefs were "like great lords in Europe or the landowners in Russia - if you have that kind of power over your people, then if your people are worth more to you at home you hang onto them. If they are worth less to you at home and more if they're sold, you sell them.

"I think it was a question of supply and demand."


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