Archibald Monteath, Maureen Warner-Lewis, Caribbean Review of Books, May 2008
Maureen Warner-Lewis is a Trinidadian linguist and social historian, based at the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, whose brilliant studies of African language and culture in the Caribbean have enriched our understanding of the region’s painful and tragic, yet resilient and creative, historical experience. Her previous works examined Yoruba language and cultural influence on Trinidad, and, more recently, Central Africa’s enormous contribution to the shaping of the whole region. Now she narrows her focus to Jamaica, and to one man’s life story and spiritual odyssey; but in doing so, she succeeds in illuminating the social and cultural history of a people at the time when slavery was dying and a new society was slouching towards Bethlehem to be born.
Archibald Monteath is a brilliantly reconstructed biography of a man who was born in ―Igboland‖ (modern south-eastern Nigeria) around 1792, kidnapped and enslaved as a child around 1802, taken to Jamaica and bought by the Monteath family, worked as a human chattel, ―promoted‖ to headman on a livestock farm, and finally self-liberated by purchase in 1837, one year before the final end of slavery. It is the story of a man who was called Aniaso at birth, had the ―slave name‖ Toby imposed on him as a child in Jamaica, and proudly took the names Archibald John Monteath on his baptism in 1821, when he was still human property. And it traces his spiritual journey from a deeply religious Igbo community to his conversion to the Moravian faith and his emergence after 1837 as a full-time church worker much respected by his European colleagues in the close-knit Moravian Jamaican mission.