Thursday, 30 January 2014

Slave Stories: Kwame

This is a gold pectoral disc. They hung from cords around the necks of young men who served the Asantehene. These servants were known as 'souls' and walked in front of the chief on ceremonial occasions to ward off evil. The discs are often known as soul-washers' badges.

Like many others I was a goldsmith| in our town, Kumasi|, making jewellery and statues and other decorations. I learnt the skill from my father and he from his. We made many beautiful pieces - they made us wealthy. Our best customer was the Asantehene| (although I did not agree with his taste!).

I don't know why the Asantehene| lied. He said I cheated him; that I sold him poor quality gold. Other young men|, some I know well, were accused of crimes| as well. I think he planned to sell| us to the white slave traders.
Some of the others tried to struggle against the guns and chains. There was no point. I saved my strength.
I didn't see my family. I fear for my wife, Kessie and our son, Adisa. I hope my father is there to care for them. I hope they are safe. I think the Asantehene will tell my father lies and try to cheat him again. I try to be angry, hoping it will stop me falling into misery like the others here but it is difficult.

The worst time of my life was in the despair of that stinking, black, silent hole| with hundreds of men and boys|. Then a white man picked me. Kessie, my wife, used to say I have a proud face - I think it has helped me here. This man looks different to the others - cleaner and with different, finer clothes. He seems to be a kind of doctor| but I don't recognise his methods or tools. I am careful not to anger him|.

Days have passed and I am grateful to this man - I am in the sunshine. I help him clean and heal the people still in the hole. They have dirty sores under their metal rings, wounds from whipping and many cannot eat or drink. They get so thin. I think many will die| before we see land - even some of the white men|.

Today I wished to be in the hole with the other people. White men are demons and I fear I am less Asante being near them. They spit and kick and whip children and women, and sometimes each other. Then they even threw a newborn baby into the water. I stopped his mother following him and then we sat and cried.
The white men are getting excited and are pointing. I can see land|. It is green and mountainous.

As we were rowed from the ship to the land I tried to stay close to the doctor. I thought I knew what type of man he was but yet again I was deceived. As soon as we reached land I was pushed into a stockade with the others. I spat at the doctor and a white man smashed me in the mouth with the end of his gun. The doctor looked almost ashamed. The flies swarm to my blood.

Many people here are getting weaker|. Their cries become wilder and their eyes roll. We have been here without shade for several days. They've given us better food and even a little tobacco but I don't think that this is for our benefit|. Perhaps they want to raise our spirits just to put us down again.
Through the walls I can see a man close to the water's edge. They left him where he fell| and only the dogs and flies show any interest. The sound and smell makes us sick.
The waiting is terrible. I need something to happen. More white men arrive| each day.

I should reintroduce myself. I am now Peter|, or so Mr. Wells says. He is the owner of this plantation| near a place called Bridgetown|.

I didn't think it possible to hate a thing, but I hate this place and I hate sugar| - its smell, its touch, the rats, the snakes. By day I work| in the field with 200 other miserable souls, burning and cutting. We watch the ground and work quickly, trying not to look at the traitor| with the dogs and the whip.

By night we huddle in tiny sheds, the sick with the healthy, brought to life only for food. We push and trip each other like animals, grabbing what we can. I hate myself.

Today a large box arrived. The traitor tells us that it comes from a place across the sea called Liverpool| and that it will work faster than us.

Kwame lived for a few more days. The box contained a sugar harvester that he was forced to operate. Kwame's arm was caught while removing a blockage and infection set in. He died| four days later.

Text & Photo Credit:
 Life before capture

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