Monday, May 15, 2017

The Middle Passage

I cannot imagine what it could possibly be like to be ripped from one's home, chained in a caravan and marched to the sea to be loaded on a ship for another continent.  I have tried to do so in Tucks.  Some feel I should have written the remembrance of Tuck's father in the broken English I have used in other places in my narrative.  I couldn't.  It is too real.  This is not the halting speech of someone using another country's language to express what was experienced.  This is the gut wrenching experience of some one who lost everything.  Someone who is able to articulate the experience.  Who is able to articulate his experience and what it has done to him.  Someone who feels he once was someone, and now isn't anymore.  Someone who has a hole so deep neither love of wife or child can fill the abyss.  This is what I wrote:
‘It’s time you understood the whole story.  My aunts and uncles and cousins all lived in the same village. Days we followed the cattle, our wealth, but we also swam on hot days, or pretended to be lions or monkeys.  We ran and laughed; we learned to make spears and throw them.  Life was golden like the African sun.
‘Then they came.  These pale faced humans with their guns and chains.  My cousins and I were caught.  Metal circles were put on our ankles and chains were attached through rings until all of us were connected.  When one put his right foot forward, we all did.  If one man stumbled, we held him up, for if he fell we would also.  We marched for days across grassland and through jungle with short stops for water and a little bread.  A few tried to fight back and were whipped.  A couple of boys refused to eat and died one night, one of them was my youngest cousin.  These boys were unchained from us and left lying there for the animals.  I could not give my cousin the proper burial.
‘We finally reached the sea.  Huge waves came crashing in.  I had seen the sea before, but never like this.  The wind tore through palms and the water frothed, then the downpour.  It was as though the very gods did not want us to set sail.
‘We shivered in our chains as we waited, for what we did not know.  If we had, we would have found a way to die there too, as others had.  When the storm eased we were rowed out to a huge boat. I had seen the small boats of fishermen, but nothing like this one with tall masts and lines and canvas.  When we arrived on deck, we were given a thin soup, while the smaller boats went to shore for the others.  Before the next boats arrived we were taken below…to hell.
‘Many were already there, lying on planks, on shelves.  Each man lay close to the other.  There was no room to roll over, or sit up, or change position in any way.  As each row filled, our feet were chained again.  I was separated from my cousins, and I already felt the fear in all of us. The moaning and crying for deliverance was painful to hear.  There we were, waiting until the cargo, the other Africans, were loaded.  The ship was already rocking in the water, and when the ship finally began to move, many became sea sick.  You can only imagine the smell of all those bodies, and no way to relieve yourself, except where you lay.
‘Storms made it even worse-the rolling, the fear-would we sink?  Many could not survive the fear and died.  Once in a great while, I do not know how often, we would be brought up in groups on deck.  They would pour water over us to clean us, and some poor soul would scrub and clean where we had lain.  The fresh salt air gave me strength, but no hope of freedom for land was nowhere to be seen.  When the women were brought on deck, we men listened to their screams.  We could only imagine what might be happening.  Each morning we listened, counting the splashes to see how many had died in the night, usually four or five.  I heard one of the crew say we slaves were the stronger, only one third of us died, while almost half the crew would die of accidents or disease on the voyage.

 ‘When we finally arrived in Boston, we were taken into a large stone building with a dirt floor.   I looked around for my cousins, but discovered that none of them had survived.  In groups, we were inspected, washed down, and given a clean cloth over our privates.  Then we stood on a platform and people bid on us.  Some looked in our mouths, or at our privates, to see how young or how strong we were.  I was a young man, only twelve, about your age, when our owner bought me.  Every day I know, if either you or I do not please our master, our owner, he can do what he wants with us.  Even kill us.  In Africa I was prince, the younger prince.  Here I am nothing.’"
Just a few short paragraphs to try to help the reader understand the horror of it all.  As though any amount of writing could make us understand what happened, or even why any of us thought this was an acceptable business, this slave trading and slave owning.  Of course the Quakers, some of them felt differently, but that's an entry for another time.