An African Memoir: 1701
I was a mere lad of eleven in March of 1701 when first I layde eyes on Henri Caesar. He was a boy then, close to my age, perhaps fourteen, for he was taller than I and though he be a Negro, and captive, we grew up together in that year. It was not a joyful time for either of us. Not the kind of year that most boys from any part of the world would spend discovering their youth. Not the joy of spring or first love, or the fleeting tragedy of it’s loss. Not the lazy warmth of soft, summer meadows, or the nudging anticipation of tomorrow’s adventure. There was no joy for us in our brief span of tyme, he the captive and I, the master of his fate. There was no love, except the tragedy of loss. We lived in filth and disease and stifling heat, surrounded always by the cries of suffering, the stench of death and urine and shite and, …oh, God, the suffocating fear that prevayled all round…
Forgive me. If I could but have one sip from the cask to settle my nerves, but one would never do. I know this now. I would gulp until all I have to tell was washed from my mynd. But I have promised to do this. To remayne sober. To tell what I know and when that is done I will loose myself again in that devil’s rum, or worse. I must press on quickly, before I weaken.
We were aboard the “Arthur”, an old, converted, restoration fifth rate, anchored at the mouth of the Cross River, in the New Calabar region of the African coast. A long way from Gravesend, whence the Arthur and I had come. I suppose it had been a long way also for Nwoye. That was his real name, ‘Nwoye’. I recall my first memory of him, standing on the deck of that ship, shackled with the other males, a terrible wound on his cheek. Wound or no, he was bound for the hold where he would fynd only misery and darkness, for blackness was born in the hold of such a ship.
There is no black that is blacker,
than the rotting, malodorous blackness,
of a slave ship’s dark and filthy hold.
There is no sound blacker,
than the cold, heartless rattle of the chains,
that bind one forgotten soul to another,
one bruised and beaten body to another,
in the pitching, rolling blackness,
of a slave ship’s creaking hold.
There is no smell blacker,
than the smell of the rotting flesh,
of bodies washing endlessly to and fro,
in a sea of salt water and slimy waste,
through the bilges of a slave ships, black hold.
There is no hell blacker than the blackest hell,
to be found in the darkened hold of an African slaver.
Williamsburg, June, 1719
“Blackness”: The state of being resulting from a tortured captivity. The disturbed condition of a soul who’s experience has been wrought by the dark, evil of a trade in human souls.
A “slave Maker” is a horrible instrument of torture that binds one human being, inextricably, by the neck, to another. It was, for Nwoye, (Neiu-way), as for many thousands more, the beginning of a journey into the darkest hell of human experience; “The Devil’s Triangle”, a term given the trade in human souls during the peak of the African slave trade, based on the triangle shaped route that slave ships sailed.
For Nwoye, and for Collin, the “Triangle” was the beginning of an experience wrought in darkest evil.