The Middle Passage

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The Middle Passage, Coast of Gambia in Africa to the West Coast of America:

It felt like ages since that man came and unlocked our cage on the coast, probably because it has been. We are now on the Great Canoe, where the White men call “Under the deck, in the hold.” I have started to recognise certain words that the White men are using when they are speaking to us Africans. The main ones are; Negro, Cargo, Monkey and Animal. Fantah and I have guessed that these words must be rude or nasty, because they wouldn’t be calling us angel and other nice names after the way that we are being treated by them. From the first time we stepped onto the Great Canoe it has been obvious that they think of us as mortals and as themselves as Gods. First of all we were separated us off from our only protection, the men. I don’t think the men could have done anything anyway, because we are all chained up.

 They then dragged us all down below the deck and started separating us again into groups of ten. When I looked around at first I thought it was quite nice, it was clean, nut yet again I was wrong. What they did to us next was horrible; they started lifting us up, not caring about us at all. They then dropped us onto the planks of wood and chained us onto them. We were side by side touching the person next to us, ten people to a row and there were five planks off wood on top of each other. With hardly any room in between them, that was the space that we had to fit into. I am here now still chained up, lying down look down up at the deck. At least me and Fantah are next to each other. I guess we also have one of the best positions to be chained up to. We are on the 5th of the wooden planks, on top of everyone else, at the edge and also the nearest to the light. It is like we are in coffins staked and placed next to each other, I call it the coffin position, because it is, so do the rest of the African women.

The smell is awful, absoleutly vile, it smells of excretion, vomit, sweat, rats, mice and everything else that comes along with that sort of thing. The main cause of the smell is the vomit and excretion, mainly because we can’t move when we need to go, to the loo, so we have to do it where we sit. Meaning that it just builds up and up until we aren’t bothered about it anymore, the White men haven’t bothered to come and clean it all away yet, and I doubt that they ever will. Another reason why I would hate to be on the bottom plank. Vomit is an awful thing and we can’t stop it, especially because the sea is so rough, therefore we are continually being tossed around only making the sea sickness worse. I think it is because of the sea sickness that I have thrown up 5 times already, during this weird and horrific journey, to God knows where. Right now I have sick and excretion all over me, and what I hate is that I can’t do anything about it. Fantah is praying to Allah right now and I was up to a minute ago. It’s the only hope we have, the only thing that we can do. I think all of us are praying, but in different native tongues, there are many women here all from different tribes. We have tried to communicate but it hasn’t worked so far and we just don’t have the energy.        

There is only one reason why we don’t have energy, we never or very rarely get fed, when we do it is horrible rice and beans, with no flavouring at all. It tastes like it has been boiled for ages and then left there, it is so bad sometimes when I eat it, it only comes straight back up again. There has been talk about rebelling and taking the Great Canoe back to Africa, but I don’t see how it would work. We have no idea where we are, how to steer this Great Canoe and we would have no strength to do it all with anyway. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but I just don’t see it working. I will go to sleep now and try to get some rest, I won’t be able to though, I have horrifying dreams about this journey and how it will end.

When I woke up I was confused, there was shouting and crying from around me and I didn’t have a clue why. That’s when I realised that Fantah wasn’t doing anything; she was just lying there, dead still and her eyes blank and staring. Her chest wasn’t moving up and down either. Then it hit me, she was dead! How could she be dead? She was stronger and more important than me. It should have been me lying there dead, not her. That’s when I started crying, I didn’t understand why her ad not me, I didn’t even do anything when the White men came and dragged her away, like she was an object, some cargo they needed to deliver, not a proper living person with rights. I didn’t know how long I cried for after Fantah passing away but it felt like years. What made it worse was that I knew they throw the dead overboard; they have no respect what so ever for them. Fantah won’t even get a proper funeral. I think I only stopped when one of the white men came and unchained me and dragged me away from Fantah had been.

He dragged me on to the deck and away into a different room with loads of other drunken White men in. I was scared, what where they going to do to me? I soon found out. They tossed me around like a ball between them, each time ripping off a bit of my clothing off me. I soon stood there in the middle of a group of jeering, drunken White men, naked and terrified. They enclosed on me like a pack of animals, shouting at me. When the first one touched me I screamed out in terror and didn’t stop screaming for ages afterwards. What I knew was that when I was finally chucked out of that hell hole, along with my clothes, I was no longer a proud Mandinka Maiden.

What I ran into after I ran from the room was worse than what I had just experienced, an African man bending over crying out in pain while he was being whipped by a White man repeatedly. What he was being whipped with was a whip with nine strands of leather coming from its handle. It looked like a cat with nine tails clawing at someone’s back, a Cat O Nine Tails whip. I had to help him, so I ran over and pushed him out of the way. I only ended up getting whipped myself, three times, then being dragged away and chained up again, I never saw the man after that. The pain in my back was unbearable, making me scream again for the tenth million time that day. I think I passed out, because when I woke up I was back on 5th plank, by the end, under the deck, again.

That was four weeks ago and since then I have only had 15 meals and never been back out onto the deck again, until today. Today we were all dragged up onto the deck and had cold salt sea water thrown all over us. It stung; it got into my cuts and scars on my back, wrists and ankles. It hurt so bad that some of the women cried out in pain, I just gritted my teeth. It was nice to have the water, only if I wasn’t salt water; it was refreshing, even if it didn’t clean us properly. We were then forced to dance, I hated it, and I have two left feet. We were really weak so it just drained us all of any energy we had left, if we did have any. What made it even more intimidating was that they forced one of us to play the drum for the rhythm. It seemed to last for only 5 minutes. We were then, yet again, shoved back down below the decks, in exactly the same place. I did notice one thing, it was cleaner but not fully clean, so at last they had decided to get rid of all of the excretion and vomit, where they put it  I don’t have a clue.

It has been ages since that day and more and more of us women are being taken out and then thrown back in crying. They are also calling us new names like: Beasts, Niggers, Murderous, Hethens and Witches. I kept thinking about that for ages and only stopped when the Great Canoe stopped moving and swaying, and the White men came down and unchained us from our planks. Their faces were full of joy and they shouted something to us that sounded like this:

“We are here at last, rejoice!”

But I bet it was meant more for them then it was for us. They then, eventually, dragged us onto the deck, into the blinding light. There was land, land all around us, we had arrived, to this strange unknown land, to where ever we had been heading. The journey was over! When we had left Africa it had been winter, but looking at the weather here in this new land, I would say it was now late spring and the start of summer. That means that the journey from Africa to here has taken 3-4 months. That’s when I felt hope for the first time in ages, and again that small piece of hope was crushed in a matter of days. I was now a slave. 

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