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Publisher: Pegasus Books (February 1, 2022)
Length: 480 pages
ISBN13: 9781643139265


“[Breaking the Maafa Chain] is powerful in detailing the cruelties of the transatlantic slave trade, and sensitive and intimate in its portrayal of the girls’ struggles to maintain their dignity and hold on to the memories of their African heritage. With descriptions rich in sensory details, a narrative that forms a swift, irreversible current, and conversations imbued with emotion, Anni Domingo’s story of the Maafa, the African Holocaust, is unforgettable.” —Foreword Reviews, starred review

“The story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, extraordinary even in extraor­dinary times, known to some in Sierra Leone, though virtually unknown elsewhere. Now Anni Domingo has brought her vividly to life in this richly imagined and compellingly told tale. Breaking the Maafa Chain is a gift to readers everywhere.” —Aminatta Forna author of The Window Sea

“Part fact, part fiction, Breaking the Maafa Chain is an important book, beautifully told. Domingo’s premise is a bold and uncom­promising one—taking what is known, the story of Salimatu, the ‘Black Princess’, Sarah Forbes Bonetta, and weaving through it the story of her fictionalized sister, Fatmata, Faith. Domingo makes an eloquent point: that although the sisters suffered different fates, both were unfree: Fatmata enslaved in North America and Salimatu gifted to Queen Victoria, and utterly at her whim. It is a story that has resonance today, where Meghan Markle was expected to shape herself to a white institution, to belong.” —Guinevere Glasfurd author of The Year Without Summer

“Anni Domingo brings great sensitivity to her fictionalized account of the remarkable young life of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, the ‘African Princess’, who became a god-daughter to Queen Victoria. The internal struggles of Salimatu (Sarah) are movingly explored as she struggles to remain true to her identity as an African after being taken from her homeland and brought to England as a gift from ‘the King of the Blacks to the Queen of the Whites.’ A comparable story is told of Salimatu’s sister Fatmata (Faith) who is transported to the United States before emancipation. Carefully constructed with a keen eye for historical accuracy, Domingo reveals a compas­sionate and affectionate Queen Victoria who is devoted to her African god-daughter. This is also an epic story of two sisters who are separated towards the end of the transatlantic slave trade, but never forget each other.” —Stephen Bourne author of War to Windrush and Evelyn Dove

“Anni Domingo’s Breaking the Maafa Chain is so rich in detail and dialogue; it is simply seductive. She captures so well, a little girl, Salimatu, who recalls the security of her family life, who is trans­ported to a bewildering future in England to become Sarah, where she has to stand strong and survive. Not only will this book be read for the sheer enjoyment of a beautifully written novel, but for the learning gained. It is a historical novel that cannot be ignored.” —Kadija Sesay literary activist and author of Irki

A richly imagined story of two sisters’ struggle for true freedom in the mid-nineteenth century as their paths diverge in the middle passage—one to the court of Queen Victoria, the other to an American plantation.

Salimatu and her sister Fatmata are captured, sold to slavers, renamed and split apart. Forced to change their names to Sarah and Faith, they end up on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Faith is taken to America, where slavery is still legal and she is stripped of all rights. Sarah ends up in Victorian England and as the goddaughter of Queen Victoria. Can the two sisters reclaim their freedom and identity in a world that is trying to break them down? Will these once inseparable sisters survive without each other? And if they do find each other again, will they find the other changed beyond recognition?

Based on the true story of Sarah Forbes Bonetta, Breaking the Maafa Chain is by turns epic and intimate and will take the readers on a journey of loss, survival, and hope.

You can purchase Breaking the Maafa Chain at the following Retailers:

Photo Content from Anni Domingo

Anni Domingo is an actress, director and writer. She is currently a lecturer in Drama and Directing at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham and Rose Bruford College of Speech and Drama. Anni’s poems and short stories have been published in various anthologies and an extract from Breaking the Maafa Chain won the Myriad Editions First Novel competition and was featured in the New Daughters of Africa anthology edited by Margaret Busby.

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Excerpt from the Prologue

Stripped of everything but our black skins, our ritual scars, our beings, we are tied together in rows and jammed into another djudju pit, packed in so close no one can move. We lie on our sides, rough wooden boards hard against our bare skins, rubbing our shoulders raw, chained to the living and to the dead.

Now I know what fear smells like. It is the smell of grown men, groaning, sweating, and stinking. Fear is women crying, wailing, and calling on the ancestors to save them and their children before they are lost to Mamiwata.

All around me chains rattle and whips crack as the sails flap, boards creak, and ropes stretch. The noise in the cramped space swirls inside my aching head, as it hits the wooden sides of the swaying ship, drumming wild thoughts and dark fears into my mind. I feel the howls of those beside me, those above me and those below me run right through my body. The call of the Ochoema, the bird of parting makes my heart pound holding me tight before fading into the darkness but leaving me in pain.

I sink down, and weep in a way I have never wept before in all my fourteen seasons. Ayeeeee. Ogun, god of gods, help me.

Through the tears, I see everything that had been. My heart aches for Salimatu, my sister, my mother’s child, captured and sold, to Moors? To the white devils? There in the back of my eyes, way back, are the spiritless bodies of my mother Isatu and father Dauda, now gone to the land of our ancestors, without due honour. I see others too, Maluuma, mother of my mother, Lansana, my father’s first son, gone too. I fear that Amadu, my father’s last son, has also joined the ancestors. I have not seen him since he ran, but now can he be here in this pit, this wooden devil’s hole, and not know that I am close by?

‘Amadu, Amadu, son of Chief Dauda of Talaremba near Okeadon,’ I cry out, again and again.

‘Who calls for Amadu of Talaremba so loudly?’

‘Fatmata, his sister.’

‘They didn’t get him,’ he replies. ‘He never stopped running. Santigie and the white man did not have time to chase after him.’

I recognize the voice. It is Leye, the man who speaks the white man’s tongue.

The relief I feel flows through my words. ‘Olorun, creator of the Egbadon people. I praise you; I bless you.

I thank you.’

There are loud cries in many tongues from the different tribes of peoples.

‘Now they will kill us and eat us,’ says one.

‘We’re sacrifice to their gods and to Mamiwata,’ says another, the shouts getting louder.

Copyright © 2022 by Anni Domingo

Mamiwata? I remember what my grandmother, Maluuma told me a long time ago. Mamiwata, goddess of water, drags those who disturbs her being down into the watery underworld to join the ancestors. Ayee, ayee.


They were getting ready to go for their daily afternoon walk when Edith came for her.

‘Madam says could Miss Sarah come down now, Miss,’ said Edith from the doorway. ‘Lady Sheldon and Mrs Oldfield have arrived.’

‘Thank you, Edith,’ said Nanny Grace.

Mabel jumped up, ready to go down too.

‘Madam says just Miss Sarah, Miss.’

Sarah did not know why visitors wanted to see her and not Mabel, or Emily or Anna, but they did and for once she was glad. She did not have to go for a walk in the wet and cold.

‘It is not you they want to see. If Bessie was with her Mama, she

would have been sent up to the nursery to play.’

‘It’s not fair. Everything is about Sarah now.’ said Mabel.

‘Don’t be mean,’ said Emily who was playing with her diablo. Mabel grabbed hold of the diablo and tossed it so high Emily couldn’t catch it on the string and it hit Anna on the head.

‘The good lord says envy makes the bones rot, remember that, Mabel Forbes,’ said Nanny Grace, comforting a sobbing Anna. Nanny seemed to have a lot of discussions with the “good lord”,

Sarah thought. She hoped that one day he would talk to her too. There were lots of things she wanted to ask him. The first question would be, ‘where is Fatmata, good Lord?’

Sarah went down the stairs, slowly. She hoped there would be a piece of the cake Cook made that morning. It would be a change from the usual nursery tea of just bread and butter. She loved Cook’s cakes.

Now Sarah took a deep breath as Edith pushed the door open. Today the heavy drapes were open and there was a blazing fire in fireplace. ‘Miss Sarah,’ Edith announced at the doorway.

‘Come in Sarah,’ said Mama Forbes. ‘Say good afternoon to Lady Sheldon, her daughter Miss Jane Sheldon and Mrs Oldfield. Edith, go bring the hot water.’ Sarah stepped forward, gave a quick curtsey, but said nothing. Mrs Oldfield beckoned her closer. She took a very small step forward then stopped, afraid of stepping on the woman’s purple silk skirt that was spread out like a shimmering sea. Lady Sheldon, her dark hair scraped back so tight her face looked pinched, just sniffed. Miss Jane Sheldon, who was only a few years older than Sarah smiled and nodded. She was round, her hair falling in ringlets

to her shoulders brushed against the collar of her pale green dress which matched her eyes.

‘Does she speak English Mrs Forbes?’ Miss Sheldon asked. Before Mama Forbes could answer, however, Lady Sheldon said, ‘I doubt whether she would be speaking the Queen’s English, Jane. Coloureds can’t. They’re not very intelligent.’

‘Oh, Mother,’ Jane muttered looking down. Her mother glared

at her.

‘In fact, she speaks beautifully, Lavinia,’ said Mama Forbes, putting her arm around Sarah’s shoulder. Her grip was painful, and Sarah winced but remained silent. She could see that Mama Forbes

was cross for some reason. Had she done something wrong? Maybe she should have told Lady Sheldon that she had learned many new English words.

‘In the five months she has picked up the language astonishingly well,’ said Mrs Forbes letting go off Sarah’s shoulder. ‘She is bright, very good tempered and we have all grown rather fond of her. Maybe you would like to hear her recite something, later?’

Mrs Oldfield gave a big sigh and leaned forward. ‘Oh yes,

please. I love poetry.’

Mama Forbes inclined her head and sat down by the table covered with white linen, that had intricate lace decorating the edge. Sarah stared at the many tea things on the table but what caught her interest was the three-tiered serving tray full of sandwiches, chocolate cake, scones, shortbread cookies and various small tarts.

Mama Forbes rinsed the teapot with the boiling water and emptied it into the slop bowl. This was a ritual understood by the others, no one spoke. Sarah too watched as Mary Forbes took a small key from the key chain pinned to her dress, opened the tea caddy and carefully measure out loose leaf tea into the newly rinsed teapot before pouring some water over it. This was steeped for a minute or two before she added more water.

‘How do you like your tea Violet?’ Mama Forbes asked, pouring

the first cup of tea. ‘With lemon or Milk?’

‘Lemon? Oh no, milk and sugar, please.’

Sarah saw Lady Shelton look at the tray and raise her eyebrows.

‘Really Mary, you still use sugar?

Mama Forbes took a deep breath. ‘Yes, Lavinia. We do not, however, use sugar produced by slaves on West Indian plantations.’

‘Like everyone else I did stop taking sugar years ago,’ said Violet Oldfield, ‘but I must admit that I have a sweet tooth and it was such a relief when they started selling sugar brought from the East Indies. Of course, I did use the tea-set that had the slogan East India Sugar. Not made by slaves all over.’

‘I would not put such crockery on my table. Not for all the tea in China,’ sniffed Lady Shelton. ‘They’re so ugly.’

‘Don’t get on your high horse Lavinia, they were put away a long time ago, although I do still use the nippers on the sugarloaves.

And I did wear the Wedgwood “Am I Not a Woman and A Sister” brooch after I went to a Female Society for Birmingham group meeting.’

‘Stuff and nonsense,’ said Lady Shelton sitting up even straighter. ‘Some slaves might be women, but they are certainly not my sisters.’

Violet responded, ‘some of the abolitionist leaflets were quite explicit about the indecencies women slaves endured. Horrible, horrible.’

Before anything more could be said Mama Forbes stepped in.

‘Sarah, why don’t you recite the poem you have been studying with Miss Byles now, while we have our tea.’

Sarah felt her hand go damp. She did not dare wipe her hands on her dress though. Standing straight and lifting her chin up just as Miss Byles had taught her, she took a deep breath and recited. She chose Byron…


Copyright © 2022 by Anni Domingo