WorldSagas 3 – Nyala and the Slave Ships

Nyala walked up the footpath leading away from his village, thinking of the meeting he had just had with the Ibo elders. He was the son of the Chief and destined to be a leader someday soon. There were many responsibilities for a chief. African tribes had been at war with each other for some time, but these wars were now being driven by a new greed. Europeans had begun buying the captured men and women as slaves and the wars had extended to village raids and kidnapping for the sole purpose of selling captives as slaves.

From the 1500’s Portugal and Spain had used African slaves in their sugar plantations in Brazil and the West Indies. The Netherlands, France, and England began doing the same in the early 1600.. To the Europeans, Africans were much prized, they had an innate understanding of nature and were knowledgeable agricultural workers… A good, strong mail slave would fetch up to 30 pounds in Barbados, about $1500US in today’s currency (i).

Nyala did not notice the men until it was to late. They were lying in wait and sprung from the bushes as he passed. He turned swiftly, just in time to see the heavy set African swing the club above him. Within moments he was unconscious, bound, gagged and on his way to a fort on the coast.

Far away in England, men talked in church halls and in private clubs of the slave trade, some with conscience, but to many it was simply a business:

Elias Penrose clutched the collar of his greatcoat tighter around his neck and cursed the biting cold of English winter. How tiresome it was to take time from his schedule to speak to members of the business community-a task made more detestable by the fact that these businessmen indulged some absurd notion of social conscience. To Elias one pursued either the aims of business or of morality, but not both, and those who attempted to do so were deluding themselves. Nevertheless, as a businessman himself, he knew the value of public relations; liberals or not, these men awarded large shipping contracts and had to be placated. So it was with his business interests in mind that he composed his face in a congenial smile and entered the church hall.

After the handshakes and small talk, they got down to business. A ruddy-faced and rotund man, who strongly resembled a walrus stuffed into a gray wool suit, stood and spoke.

‘Mr. Penrose, as you know, there is in our society a great deal of concern regarding the ethics and practice of the trade in African slaves. You have generously agreed to meet with us as a knowledgeable representative of a company that deals in slaves as well as other commodities and I trust we can count on you as a man of your word to answer all questions forthrightly. ‘ Elias Penrose held out his hands in a practiced gesture of openness. ‘of course.’ The walrus shuffled his papers and began: ‘Mr. Penrose, what period is usual for the crossing from Africa to the colonies in the West Indies?’

‘Six to eight weeks, sir.’ ‘And for that time, what space is allotted each slave?’ ‘For the men, each is given a space of six feet in length and of adequate width to allow him to recline comfortably. As for headroom, it varies according to ship. On some the space between decks is just over four feet and others nearly six

Nyala was bruised and exhausted after a week’s stay in the fort. Judged old enough to constitute a threat, he was fitted with heavy iron shackles before being jostled and shoved aboard the Parrey-a ship owned by Elias Penrose. The crew of the Parrey shouted and gestured for him to crawl through the grate below decks and press himself into the honeycomb of narrow wooden platforms where others were already lying prone. Some of them had been down here several months, waiting for the ship to finish collecting its human cargo. As the crew forced more and more people into the hold, there ceased to be enough room to lie flat and everyone had to lie on their sides. Unused to confined spaces, Nyala struggled and thrashed until he struck his head against the platform just inches above. There was no place to move, no way to sit up, and still the bodies kept coming.

* The man in gray wool continued: ‘Mr. Penrose, would you be so kind as to explain the measures taken to ensure the health of the slaves once aboard?’ ‘Naturally there is a physician aboard each ship. In the event of illness the half deck is appropriated for a sick berth.’ ‘And is there ample opportunity for the slaves to take exercise?’ ‘Of course, sir. They are brought above decks for a third of each day and encouraged to move about and stretch their limbs. I can say in all honesty that the slaves on the whole are humanely treated.’

Three weeks out from the Bight of Benin, the Parrey hit rough seas and those below decks were no longer allowed out. Nyala lost track of days and soon was aware of nothing other than the unbearable stench of excrement, the moans and wretching and the crush of humanity that shifted and slid in its own filth as the ship rolled on the waves.

A man with kind eyes carrying a medicine bag came down through the grate clutching a white cloth to his nose and mouth. Nyala watched as the man picked his way among the tangle of limbs, pausing here and there to apply ointment to sores caused by incessant rubbing of skin against iron and wood, or to offer a brown bottle to those afflicted with vomiting or diarrhea. With each successive patient the man appeared more distressed. He had nearly reached Nyala when a wave caused him to lose his footing and pitch headlong into the sloshing effluent. Overcome by a fit of heaving he went back above decks.

‘* What of our British sailors, Mr. Penrose. With the hold occupied by slaves, what accommodation is made for them?’ ‘They make use of hammocks and are quite comfortable on deck.’ ‘And in stormy conditions?’ ‘In a storm the crew shelter under tarps which they suspend from the rigging like a tent. I have sheltered under such a tarp myself, sir, and I can assure you it is commodious and effective.’

The weather worsened.. Through the grate in the deck Nyala saw a towering wall of gray water, then an iron-colored sky, then water again. With each roll he felt the ship would surely capsize. He found himself hoping that the ocean would pull them all under, washing him clean and drowning him so that his spirit could return home. Each time he thought: ‘This time it will go over,’ and each time the ship righted itself.

The sailors on deck were scurrying about like ants, securing the sails, closing portholes, stowing loose lines. To keep the waves and rain from filling the hold they fixed a tarp across the grate. Everything below was darkness now. Frightened cries rose to accompany the shrieking of wind and groaning of timbers.

The gale blew itself out after sixteen hours. By the time the tarp was removed and the portholes opened nearly a third of the people below had perished. But not Nyala. Against his own will he’d survived. He sat on deck with the other survivors, still shackled, staring out with unseeing eyes as the dead were flung unceremoniously over the side and the hold was flushed out with seawater. A bitter conviction formed inside him that wherever this ship was taking him and whatever waited for him, there was life inside him that could not be extinguished or broken. If the hell of this floating graveyard had not been able to do it, nothing could.

Two weeks later, the Parrey arrived in Bridgetown on the island of Barbados, where Nyala was sold to Colonel Berringer owner of a large sugar plantation in the parish of St. Andrew.

* ‘Mr. Penrose, we do sincerely thank you for your time. We’d be honored if you would remain a while and take some light refreshment. The Ladies’ Auxiliary have set out tea and cakes.’ The formal meeting dissolved into a tea party. Nearly every member of the committee approached Elias Penrose to thank him for ‘setting the matter straight’ and ‘addressing our concerns.’ In the effusive rush of relieved consciences Elias secured two new shipping contracts. Though he personally found it distasteful dealing with weak-livered men like this, business, he reminded himself, was business.

More >>> Colonel Berringer & Nicholus Abbey – Heritage Plantation

The historic Nicholas Abbey is the only operating Jacobean plantation in the world. It still operates using theam mils to crush the cane and it produces an award winning heritage rum. The old house is  fascinating authentic Jacobean structure with three chimneys. Archeological digs reveled ancient Amerindian settlement. There is a museum of these cultural relicks and a old film of one of the maiden voyages by ship from England.

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Originally on Barbados.org

WorldSagas 1- Barbados

A Long, long time ago… The start of our Barbados Saga.. Links to Other Saga, Amerindians, Slave ships, Pirates, Moder life etc.

From a vast height the islands of the Lesser Antilles looked the same five hundred years ago as they do now: a delicate chain of islands binding the ponderous bulks of the Greater Antilles to the southern continent. To the east, the froth-capped midnight blue of the equatorial Atlantic, a nursery for generations of tropical storms. To the west, the placid sapphire waters of the Caribbean Sea.

One island in this chain stands apart from the others, slightly out of line as if asserting its individuality. And as we come nearer we see that among the islands it is unique, not coarse and spiked like the shell of a conch, as the others are, but smoothly rounded with softly undulating hills that echo the gentle swells of the Caribbean. Indeed to say, as some have, that this island was born of the sea is as much fact as poetry, for the island is an enormous and ancient coral reef, lifted above the surface of the ocean by the tectonic forces that gave birth to its fiery neighbours.

Five hundred years ago, this island that stands apart was still covered with luxuriant primeval forests of bearded fig, whitewood and West Indian cedar. The Amerindian inhabitants, called Lacono, used conch axes to clear small areas for huts and fields of cassava, maize and sweet potato which they planted in happily disorganized clusters with no regard for geometry or organized rows. Our story begins here, in one of these clearings, where a young Lacono woman along with her two daughters was preparing bitter cassava just as her people had done on the island for over three thousand years. Her name was Matamu.

Next – Amerindians Dream of the Ancient Turtle

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Source: Ian R. Clayton, Originally on Barbados.org

WorldSagas 2 – Amerindians Dream of the Turtle

With a conch knife Matamu deftly split the poisonous tuber, took one half in her hands and began to work it across the coral grater in her lap, producing a fibrous pulp. This pulp she pushed through the hole at the top of the snake-like matapi basket, which hung from the roof of the palm-thatched hut. Her daughters, who like all children were happy to help with chores provided a game could be made of them, were seesawing on the wooden lever attached to the bottom of the matapi basket, which caused it to contract rhythmically, squeezing the poison out of the pulp.‘Tell us a story!’ they cried.

Matamu was powerless in the face of her daughters, whom she adored. Also, she was a gifted storyteller (even among the Lacono of the island, who were aficionados of the art form) and rarely refused a request for a story.

‘What story would you like to hear?’ she asked with feigned curiosity for she knew exactly which one they wanted. With each bounce on the lever they shouted one word: ‘Tuani! And! The! Turtle!’

Matamu smiled, scooped another handful of cassava pulp unto the matapi basket and began: ‘A long time ago when the world was in its infancy, the Lacono people lived far across the water. One day, Yocahu, the giver of cassava, became angry with the people. He reached down and with a mighty swipe of his conch knife, cut the people loose from their fields. Everyone knows that birds are birds and the sea is the sea but humans also feel the forces that lift the tides and compel the swallow each year to fly to the sunrise. So when Yocahu cut the Lacono loose, they drifted across the ocean.’

‘One day the sun did not rise and instead there came a huracan. The sea became a dragon and the waves became its teeth and it reared up to crush the Lacono in their tiny canoa. Everyone was terrified except Tuani, who was still a young girl no older than you two. The dragon writhed and thrashed its tail but Tuani slept as if she were rocking in her hamaca. And while she slept she dreamt of the goddess Atabeyra who told her to watch and wait.’

‘The next day the dragon lay down on its back and the huracan moved away, but still the people were frightened because they were lost and didn’t know where to go. We will surely die on the sea! they wailed, but Tuani waited quietly at the front of the canoa. Soon there appeared a turtle. Tuani recognized Atabeyra and persuaded the others to follow her, which they did for three days and nights. Finally they reached a forested island, rounded on top like a turtle’s shell and when Tuani set her foot on the white sand she knew she was home.’

After a moment the two girls begged Matamu to tell it again but once was enough, besides, most of the juice had already been extracted from the cassava. Fashioned into cakes, the pulp would be dried and cooked on a clay griddle, but that was a chore for tomorrow. Matamu sent the girls off to play and went to find her husband.

Blessed with rich fertile soil, freshwater springs and easy access to an inexhaustible supply of flying fish with which to supplement their diet, the Lacono had found themselves with a surfeit of leisure time on their hands. In the early days of the settlement they had filled this time with rituals of personal ornamentation and the production of ornate pottery and elaborately carved canoa. But gradually over the years the ease of life on the island had tempered this industriousness into a much slower paced lifestyle. Pottery and canoa became simple and functional and grooming habits relaxed so much that men took to wearing long beards. Now they dedicated their free time to singing and telling stories and taking astoundingly long afternoon naps in hamaca under the shady cabbage palms. It was in this last activity that Matamu found her husband Bela deeply involved.

‘Get up, you oaf,’ she said. ‘I’m asleep,’ he mumbled. ‘I am going for a swim and you are coming with me.’ ‘I am already swimming with you in my dreams. Isn’t that enough?’

At this, Matamu rolled her husband out of his hamaca and sent him crashing to the sand where he pretended to snore.

‘You are fat and lazy as a manatee,’ she said and covered his nose and mouth until he gasped and chased her down into the sea. After a good deal of wrestling, Bela surrendered and the pair fell exhausted into a hole in the rocks that formed a natural bathtub (a feature that would later inspire settlers from England to call this spot Holetown). Matamu and her husband were floating contentedly side by side when something on the horizon caught her eye. Though hardly more than a speck, the dark shape cast a portentous shadow over her mind and filled her with dread.

‘Bela,’ she whispered. ‘We must tell the others.’

From the cover of the trees the Lacono watched apprehensively as a group of pale men climbed down from the giant canoa into a smaller boat and rowed towards the shore.

‘They are Karifuna,’ one man hissed, by which he meant the cannibals who several times over previous generations had raided the island in search of men to fight and women to kidnap.

‘Those are not Karifuna,’ replied a man old enough to remember. ‘These men are pale and cover their bodies in cloth. Besides, the Karifuna never had a canoa like that.’ He pointed at the sailing ship.

‘As you say,’ Matamu whispered. ‘But just the same, I have an uneasy feeling. We should hide in the gully until they go.’

Her husband, who had learned to trust Matamu’s intuition, nodded in agreement.

‘No,’ said the chief boldly. ‘These men are strangers and we will go down to meet them and discover that they want. I will take six men with me. The rest of you will wait here.’

The Lacono had no knowledge of war but neither were they cowards. Six men volunteered to go with the chief, including Bela, whose pride did not allow him to stay behind despite his misgivings. After a final embrace, Matamu looked on as he and the others followed the chief down the sand to where the pale men were coming ashore. The strangers did not attack immediately as she had feared, but merely observed the Lacono men and talked animatedly among themselves. She had just decided they might be friendly after all when, at the order of their leader, the pale men assaulted the Indians. Those at the tree line could do little else but watch in horror as their men were overpowered and forced onto the small boat.

That night, hidden in one of the deep shady gullies that crisscrossed the island, Matamu and the others huddled together and desperately questioned each other as to what to do next. The shaman, the most influential of the group now that the chief was gone, decided to seek guidance from the protector of the dead, the dog-spirit Opiel-Guaobiran. The others watched in expectant awe as he prepared himself for the ritual.

To purify himself he took a swallowing-stick made of bone and inserted it into his throat until, with a wracking heave, he vomited up the contents of his stomach. From inside his bag he pulled a small zemi statue of the dog-spirit and knelt on the ground before it, where he crushed the leaves of the cahoba plant with a carved stone roller. Through a Y-shaped tube he snorted the crushed plant into his nose.

The Lacono jumped back in fright when, all at once, the shaman began to shake and leap around the zemi figure while a torrent of strange words poured from his mouth. Then, just as suddenly, he collapsed to the earth. Matamu rushed forward to help. Exhausted, he looked into her eyes and hissed, ‘Opiel-Guaobiran waits for us.’

At that moment from the shrubs at the entrance to the gully one of the men who’d been captured burst forth. Matamu let out a cry of joy, believing that her husband and the others had escaped. But it was soon apparent that this man was alone. Between ragged breaths he told how he had jumped overboard when the pale men were distracted and had swum for his life towards shore.

‘What of Bela?’ Matamu shrieked.

‘Bound,’ the man said with tears in his eyes, ‘and taken away.’

Late at night, in snatches of restless sleep, Matamu dreamt. She dreamt of an ancient turtle who, with infinite sadness, led her and her daughters away from this island, away from their home, and across the sea.

The next day there was no sign of the sailing ship. A week passed before the man who had escaped from the pale ones became ill. He would be the first to fall victim to the deadly influenza the strangers had brought with them.

 

Explore Traces of this Ancient Culture and History – 

Caribbean Heritage Tourism:  
http://personaholidays.com/caribbean-culture-heritage-vacations-set-clay/

Next in Series >>  Nyala – Slave Ship Abdiction

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Source: Ian R. Clayton, Originally on Barbados.org