Amistad - English Language Teaching

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Penguin Readers Factsheets level. PRE-INTERMEDIATE. Amistad. S U M M A R Y ased on real events, Amistad is a fascinating account of the trial of fifty African ...
Penguin Readers Factsheets

level E

T e a c h e r’s n o t e s

1 2


3 4

Adapted from the junior novelization by Joyce Annette Barnes. Based on the screenplay by David Franzoni and Steven Zaillian



S U M M A R Y ased on real events, Amistad is a fascinating account of the trial of fifty African slaves in America in the year 1839. The book is a novelization of the film ‘Amistad’, released in 1997 and directed by Stephen Spielberg.


Then something extraordinary happens. Led by Cinque, the captives break loose from their chains and kill the Spanish sailors. However, they do not kill Ruiz and Montes, but instruct them to sail the ship back to Africa. Instead, unknown by the Africans, the two Spaniards continue the journey to America. At New Haven in Connecticut, in north-east America, an American ship attacks and defeats the Amistad, and the Africans become prisoners again. The Africans stand trial for murder, accused of killing the Spanish sailors. Different people insist that the slaves belong to them: the Queen of Spain, Ruiz and Montes, and the owners of the American ship that defeated the Amistad, all say the Africans are their property. However, one young property lawyer thinks differently to everyone else. He believes that because the Africans were kidnapped and not born into slavery, it is the kidnappers who are the criminals. Men, he says, must kill for their freedom if necessary. The Africans, he claims, are innocent. The attention of the whole of America is on the trial, because by 1839 slavery is an issue that threatens to split the country in two. The President himself intervenes in the trial. But he is not on the side of the Africans ...........

ABOUT THE AUTHORS The screenplay of Amistad was written by David Franzoni, whose previous filmscripts include ‘Citizen Cohn’ and ‘Jumpin Jack Flash’, and Steven Zaillian, the writer of the screenplay of the Oscar-winning film, ‘Schindler’s List’. The film was directed by Stephen Spielberg. A ‘junior novelization’ of the screenplay was written by Joyce Annette Barnes, and the Penguin Reader is based on this novelization.

© Pearson Education Limited 1999

Amistad is an emotionally powerful story about a powerful subject - slavery - the ownership of one human being by another. To most people today, it seems horrific that slavery ever existed. However, it was not abolished in the Southern states of America until 1865 - not so very long ago. In fact, there are a few parts of the world where slavery still exists illegally - even today. Slavery has existed since prehistoric times. The civilizations of Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome all had slaves. It continued down through the Middle Ages all over the world. The ‘slave trade’ - the transporting of Africans to North and South America - however, really began in the 16th century under the Portuguese and Spanish. Other European countries (among them, the British and the French) became very involved in the trade and it is estimated that between 1650 and 1850, 12.5 million slaves were removed from Africa. In the second half of the 18th century, an anti-slavery movement started and Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807. Britain went on to abolish slavery itself in 1833, and even sent anti-slavery ships to guard the coast of Africa. These ships attacked other ships carrying slaves to the Americas. In America, things moved more slowly. The Northern states of America abolished slavery in the period from 1787 - 1804. However, as the economy of the Southern states of America was partly based on the use of slaves as agricultural workers, people living in these states insisted on keeping slavery. As time passed, however, slavery became an issue that could not be ignored, ending in the American Civil War (1861 1865) between the Northern and Southern States of America. When the North won the war in 1865, slavery was immediately abolished. It is exciting to realize that the basic facts of the Amistad story are true. Fifty (in fact, sixty) Africans were kidnapped and taken to Cuba where they were sold as slaves. Cinque was among them and it was he who led the Africans in their attack on the Spanish sailors. The Africans were tried as murderers and the trial was given huge coverage in American newspapers. Much of the action of Amistad takes place in court. This is courtroom drama at its most exciting. The trial is about an extremely important issue: the right of a human being to his freedom. Were these men murderers or simply fighting for their freedom? It was a question that split America in two.


It is 1839. Fifty Africans have been kidnapped from their home in Sierra Leone, in West Africa. They are put in chains and transported by ship, in terrible conditions, to Cuba in the Caribbean, where they are sold as slaves to two Spaniards, Ruiz and Montes. The Spaniards put them on another ship, the Amistad, and the ship sets sail for America, where the Africans are to be put to work in the sugar plantations.


Penguin Readers Factsheets T e a c h e r’s n o t e s Cinque’s narration of his capture and transportation across the Atlantic is shocking. In court, the Africans are twice very nearly given their freedom by the judge. Each time, higher authorities step in and replace the judge with another who they believe will decide against the Africans. The arguments in favour of the Africans are developed with great clarity, until finally the point is made that it is a man’s unarguable right to be free.

Student A: You don’t think that there is anything wrong with slavery. Explain why to your friend.

The film ‘Amistad’ was released in 1997, and directed by Stephen Spielberg. It starred leading American and British actors; and West African fashion model, Djimon Hounsou, brilliantly played the role of Cinque. The film had an enormous amount of publicity because of its subject, inspiring great debate as to the position of Black Americans in American society today.

(a) Before Adams starts to talk, do you think he will win the case? Why/why not?

However, one extraordinary fact that the film does not include is what happened to Cinque when he returned to Africa. The truth is that Cinque became a slave trader, like many other freed slaves of that period. What the lesson of that is, readers must decide for themselves.


Communicative activities The following teacher-led activities cover the same sections of text as the exercises at the back of the reader, and supplement those exercises. For supplementary exercises covering shorter sections of the book, see the photocopiable Student’s Activities pages of this Factsheet. These are primarily for use with class readers but, with the exception of discussion and pair/groupwork questions, can also be used by students working in a self-access centre.

Student B: You think that slavery must be stopped as soon as possible. Explain why.

Chapters 11 - 15 Put students into small groups, and ask them to talk about the following questions.

(b) Were you surprised by the judges’ decision? Why/why not? (c) What was so clever about what Adams said in court? (d) The judges decided to free the Africans. What do you think was the result of this decision in America?

ACTIVITIES AFTER READING THE BOOK 1 Put students into small groups and ask them to discuss the question below. Each group has to agree on one person. Then a student from each group explains their choice to the class. The class then votes for their final choice. Look up admire in your dictionary. Which person in Amistad do you most admire? Give reasons for your opinion. 2 Put students into groups. Ask them to say what they know about the ending or ‘abolition’ of slavery in America. Then as a whole class activity, elicit all the information and put it on the board. For homework, students can do some research and write one or two paragraphs about the abolition of slavery in America.

ACTIVITIES BEFORE READING THE BOOK Put students into pairs. Ask them to read the Introduction to Amistad, and then to look at the cover. They then answer this question: Do you think this is a good cover for the book? Give reasons for your opinion. Then think of an alternative cover and write a description of it.

ACTIVITIES AFTER READING A SECTION Chapters 1 - 5 1 Put students into small groups. Ask students to talk about and make notes on (a) what they knew about the slave trade before they read Amistad and (b) what new things they have learnt about it now they have read these chapters. 2 Put students in groups of three and give them this roleplay. Tell students to imagine they are in court and that Cinque can speak English. Student A: You are William Holabird, the US lawyer. You want to show the court that Cinque is a murderer. Ask Cinque questions. Student B: You are Cinque. Answer the US lawyer’s questions. Show him that you are not a murderer. Student C: Listen to the conversation and decide who you agree with.

Chapters 6 - 10 Put students in pairs and give them the following role-play. They are two people living at the time of the court case of Cinque and the other Africans.

© Pearson Education Limited 1999

Glossary It will be useful for your students to know the following new words. They are practised in the first Before You Read section of exercises at the back of the book. base (v) to use as a starting point from which to work (from which to write, in this example) captain (n) the most important person on a ship case (n) a problem which is solved in court (see below) chain (n) a lot of metal rings joined together court (n) a building where information about a crime is heard and judged (see judge below) direct (v) to make the decisions about a film when it is being made independence (n) freedom of a country judge (n) the person in a court (see above) who decides how a criminal is punished (also (v) to judge) jury (n) a group of 12 ordinary people who sit in court (see above) and decide if a criminal did a crime or not law (n) all the rules of a country lawyer (n) a person who knows the rules of a country for his/her work lion (n) a big, yellow, wild cat which lives in Africa net (n) a piece of cloth which is thrown into the sea to catch fish president (n) the head of the USA proof (n) facts which show that something is true property (n) the thing or things that someone owns sir (n) a way of speaking to a man to show that you look up to them slave (n) someone who is owned in law by somebody else and works for them for no money slavery (n) the use of slaves spike (n) a piece of metal with a sharp point

Published and distributed by Pearson Education Factsheet written by Mary Tomalin Factsheet series developed by Louise James



Penguin Readers Factsheets

level E

Student’s activities Photocopiable



2 3

Students can do these activities alone or with one or more other students.


Activities before reading the book


Read the first ten lines of the Introduction to the book. After four minutes, put the book down. Write down as much of the ten lines as you can remember. Check your answer against the book.

Activities while reading the book CHAPTERS 1 - 5 Chapters 1 & 2

2 Answer this question. Do you think the Africans were right or wrong to kill the sailors? Give reasons for your opinion. 3 Imagine you are Cinque. You are in a small boat with a few other Africans. You see a large ship sailing towards the Amistad. Smaller boats are coming towards your boat. Write 8 - 12 lines about your feelings and what you are thinking.

Chapters 3, 4 & 5 1 Match the people with the descriptions

(a) (b) (c) (d) (e) (f) (g) (h)

Gedney and Meade Martin Van Buren Senor Calderon Theodore Joadson Lewis Tappan William Holabird John Forsyth Roger Baldwin


A rich white man who wants slavery to end. He has a newspaper business. An important man from Spain. The US lawyer, who speaks against the Africans. The owners of the US ship that captured the Africans. A property lawyer who wants to help Lewis Tappan.

(ii) (iii) (iv) (v)

© Pearson Education Limited 1999


3 These people think they own the slaves. What are their reasons? Which people do you think have the best reasons? Why?

(a) John Forsyth, US secretary (he speaks for Spain) (b) Thomas Gedney and Richard Meade (c) Ruiz and Montez

CHAPTERS 6 - 10 Chapters 6 & 7 1 Answer these questions.

(a) Why do you think lawyers do not want to take the case and help the Africans? (b) Who takes the case? (c) Baldwin says, ‘the kidnappers and the people who bought the Africans are the criminals’? Why does he say this? (d) How does Baldwin show the court that the men are Africans? (e) Is this enough proof for the court? Why/why not, in your opinion? 2 Answer these questions. (a) What have you learnt about Cinque so far? Write a description of him. (b) Why does Cinque speak to Baldwin in his own language? (c) ‘At last, someone understood.’ What do you think these words mean for Cinque? 3 Work in pairs. Cinque and Baldwin meet in Chapter 7. Imagine that they can talk together. Make their conversation.

Chapters 8, 9 & 10 1 Answer these questions.

(a) On the Amistad, Baldwin finds a bag with some papers inside. Why are these papers important? (b) Why doesn’t the president want the Africans to go free? (c) Why does the president get another judge? (d) Why does Adams say, ‘in a court you have to tell a good story’? (e) Why do Baldwin and Joadson need to talk to Cinque? (f) Why do Baldwin and Joadson look for someone who knows Cinque’s language? (g) Why did Cinque kill the lion?


1 Answer these questions. (a) What happened to the Africans in Sierra Leone? (b) What happened to the Africans in Cuba? (c) Where is the boat going and why? (d) How does Cinque escape? (e) What does he do next? (f) What do the Africans do to the sailors and the captain? (g) Who is Yamba? (h) Who are Ruiz and Montes and why don’t the Africans kill them? (i) Why does Cinque become worried? (j) Is Cinque right? (k) The boat reaches land. What happens next?

(vi) The president of the Unites States. (vii) A free black man and friend of Lewis Tappan. (viii) A US government secretary. 2 Work in pairs. Make a conversation that Lewis Tappan and Theodore Joadson could have at the end of Chapter 5 about the Africans.


Penguin Readers Factsheets Student’s activities 2 Complete these sentences. Then check your answers in the book.

(a) If the Africans die, you’ll get a lot of trouble from the people who .................. . (b) If they go free, you’ll get even more trouble from the South: the people who .................. . (c) If these Africans go free, every slave in the country .................. . (d) If you tell the best story, you .................. . (e) If you can find out something about them, their story .................. .


CHAPTERS 11 - 15 Chapters 11 & 12

3 Work in pairs. Talk about these questions. (a) What does the conversation in the garden between Adams and Cinque show us about the two men? (b) What do Baldwin’s words to Cinque at the end of Chapter 14 show us about him? What do Cinque’s words show us?

Activities after reading the book 1 You are Cinque and you are back with your family in Africa. Tell them the story of your time in America. Then write your story.

1 Put these sentences in the correct order.

2 Answer this quiz.

(a) The president says the case must go to a higher court. (b) Cinque says, ‘Give us free.’ (c) Adams comes to see Cinque and Baldwin at the prison. (d) Judge Coglin agrees that the men were born in Africa. (e) Cinque tells the story of how he came to America. (f) Captain Fitzgerald finds proof that slaves died on the Tecora on the journey to America. 2 Answer these questions. (a) What do you know about Adams so far? (b) Why do you think he comes to see Cinque and Baldwin? (c) Now you know Cinque’s story, is he more interesting to you? Why/why not? (d) What do you think will happen in the next chapters? 3 Work in pairs. Talk about this question. Why do people make other people slaves?

(a) How old is John Quincy Adams when we first meet him? (b) Baldwin finds some papers on the ship. What are they in? (c) What is the name of Cinque’s village? (d) Where does Theodore Joadson work? (e) What work did Cinque’s father do? (f) What is the name of the ship captain who speaks to the court? (g) How old is the young black sailor who talks to Cinque? (h) What is the name of the ship that takes the Africans back home? (i) How many judges hear the case in Washington DC? (j) How did Cinque kill the lion? 3 Talk about this question with a friend or write about it. How do you feel when you read this story? What do you know about African Americans today? Are they ‘free people’? What do you think their history of slavery has done to them? Or do you think that by now they have forgotten it?

Chapters 13, 14 & 15 1 Answer these questions.

(a) Cinque said words that helped Adams. What were these words? (b) How do these words help Adams? (c) What does the court decide about the Africans? (d) How does the story end? 2 Write down Adams’ thoughts about the case and what he says in court. Number your sentences. Begin like this: (i) It is natural for men to be free. (ii) If he is not, he will kill his enemies. (iii) ............................................................................... ............................................................................... ...............................................................................

© Pearson Education Limited 1999

Published and distributed by Pearson Education Factsheet written by Mary Tomalin Factsheet series developed by Louise James