1850: Loud Cry, Deaf Ears

Gabby Livingstone, guest writer

Swahili Words
Kuponya – Healer
Nguvu – Strong
Mtu Mweupe – White Man
Mdogo – Little One
Mmoja Mbaya – Evil One

Africa 1837
Nothing, that was my first memory. Well, that is not entirely true. Light, bright, colorful, ever-changing light, that was my first true memory. For me darkness, signified nothingness, quiet, and peace, but my light show never went away.

As soon as my mother noticed my inability to see, I was alone. The Medicine Man, Kuponya, told me that my ever-changing lights were my ability to see the spirit world. I was named Zaidi, meaning beyond. Kuponya took me under his arms and raised me. He taught me green is life and blue is cool and relaxing. He showed me how to use the cold, wet clay of the earth to create beautiful bowls, jugs and cups. At least, he told me that they were beautiful. I did not know what beautiful was. At the age of eleven, I earned my second name, Kufanya which meant making. And for a while, I was loved, maybe, even happy.
*. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *

Bam! Thump. Chaos. Crack. Fire. Tzing. Whoosh! Darkness.
Lapping is a gentle sound. It was not what I awoke to. It was more of the pound and slap of the drum, violent and ominous. Squeezed from every direction, I was surrounded by the foul stenches of forgotten waste and rotten, unwashed human flesh.
“Where am I?”
“Be quiet girl! Talking brings attention. Attention brings unwanted, wandering hands. Ya’ hear me.”
“Yes, but what happened? Where are we being held?”
“Did you not hear me? Be quiet! Don’t you see the chains on your feet, the masses of women, and the guards? We were taken.”
“I do not see chains, or women, or guards. I do not see anything. I never see anything.”
“Yo- your blind”
“Blind? What is blind? I see light, only light, though Kuponya says they are spirits.”
“What would the Mtu Mweupe want with you? What is so special about you girl?
“Answer me,” she whispered as she grabbed my shoulders.
“I do not know. I make jugs out of earth, and I see spirits. That is all.”
“Ahh, a potter. So you have a skill. I do not know where we are going girl. But I have heard it is a land full of white evil, that wants to rob us of our skills.”
“What is your skill?”
“Strength… Now be quiet.”
“Zaidi Kufanya.”
“Be quiet Zaidi.”
I was more confused than ever. Who was the white evil called Mtu Mweupe?’What happened to my village? Why was I in chains?
Time was endless on the drum vessel, and the heat was suffocating, but I found comfort in talking to the grumpy old lady, called Nguvu.
* *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *
“Take off all your clothes!”
Strange voices ordered us to do the unspeakable and the almost inaudible why echoed in the chamber.
Some did hesitantly, others not at all. I felt the vibrations on the ground as both groups were struck down. I stripped quickly. We were led out in a single file line into a new, loud, and different world. I halted just for a second. That second was long enough to feel the bite of the metal embroidered leather against my previously unmarred skin. My cry of pain was not silent, but it fell upon deaf ears. So I kept walking on dirt, but not the dirt I was used to. This dirt did not feel rich and healthy as it was in my village. It was dry, hard-dead.

Is this what the new land does to its captives, suck the energy and life out of them? I pondered until I was on dirt no longer. No longer chained, I thought I was free to go, but I was dragged onto something more solid-wood. Strange noises grew louder and louder, but suddenly, almost all at once, they stopped. I heard the clinking of coins, then I was led away alone.

I walked until my feet were cracked but we stopped before my feet began bleeding. I was grateful, but that feeling was replaced with dread when my hands were tied around a metal post. My back, and other such parts were laid bare; I knew then my purpose in this new land. I felt as, “the metal was then delivered red hot, and applied to my quivering flesh, imprinting upon it the name of the monster who claimed me” (Branding). As I smelt my blistering flesh sizzle and felt my skin conform with the intrusive metal, I knew I was no longer Zaidi Kufanya. I was just another mark in the Mtu Mweupe world.

Slipping in and out of consciousness I don’t remember much, only being carried away in two strong arms. The ice water running down my skin was an unwelcomed awakening but it did the job. Startled, I jumped off the mat I slept on.
“What was that for?”
“I tried to wake you up nicely Mdogo, you just did not budge,” the deep baritone voice hummed.
“I am not little, I am seventeen. I might even be older.” I touched the tender marking that had been forced on my back.
“You…You did this to me. Stay away Mmoja Mbaya!”
“Hey, calm down. I am not evil and I certainly do not have the authority to brand you.” He led my hands to a similar marking on his body.
“My name is David Drake. We are in Edgefield, South Carolina.”
“South Carolina?”
“Yes, I know this is a new world, but Master is quick to punish, so I need you to learn quickly.”
“Master? I am not owned by anyone.”
I felt the whoosh of air before the sting of the slap.
“You will not talk like that! You are now a slave, a nobody, and you will act as such if you wish to live. Master Drake has named you Cecelia. That is your new name and you will answer to it. You must now have “unconditional submission” (Boundless).Do you understand me?”
“I understand, David.”
“Welcome to ‘the savagery of the slave system. Also I heard you are a potter. I will have to see for myself.”
“Yes, sir!”
*. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *.
It seemed like forever since I had sculpted a vase for my village. Nostalgia invaded my senses, and for the first time since my capture I allowed my self to cry. I felt grass tickling my feet as David took me to make the earthenware.
I took my place at the stool. We decided that I would sculpt while David used his tree trunk legs to keep us in rhythm on the wheel. As we were working, Dave’s baritone voice belted the hopeful song,“Ride in, kind Saviour! No man can hinder me. O, Jesus is a mighty man! No man can hinder me. We ‘re marching through Virginny fields. No man can hinder me. O, Satan is a busy man. No man can hinder me. And he has his sword and shield. No man, can hinder me. O, old Secesh done come and gone! No man can hinder me” (Wells 94)
“Who is the kind Savior, who is stronger than all men?”
“He is King Jesus, who died on a cross for all men, no matter what Master Drake says. Jesus died even for the slaves.”
“Why would a stranger do that?”
“Well, I reckon it was because of His unconditional love for us. He made us, and it saddened Him when our ancestors chose evil instead of Him, so He died for us.”
“Well, I want to know more about this Jesus.”
Dave explained to me this book called the Bible that held all the information about Jesus. Every night he would read to me little passages from it.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (New International Version, John 3.16).
And even though I still did not fully believe in his Jesus, it was comforting to know that there was a God who cared about me. Now, I knew Kuponya was wrong, my lights were not evidence of the spirit world, but of God’s presence in my life.
*. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *
I married Dave in the summer of 1869. A year later, Master fell sick.
“I’m tired Dave, I want to go home.”
“Mdogo, it has only been a year since Master let us get married. I know he is sick, but he still has the power to capture us if we run!”
“I have been waiting to tell you this but there is never going to be a right time. I am pregnant Dave and I want our baby to grow up where the rivers run deep, and the soil feels moist and rich. I want it to grow up where I did, and not have to know its place. I want it to be free.”
I felt as Dave cautiously placed his strong hands on my stomach.
“Then free it will be. We will leave at sundown,” he managed to croak out.
Dave was my eyes while I enhanced his hearing. Through prickly underbrush and unforgiving, swollen rivers we ran. All the while my light was ever there.
Pow!Tzing. Thud.
I struggled to breathe as warm sticky, blood surrounded me. It wasn’t mine.
Works Cited
“Boundless: Slavery in the U.S.” Slavery in the U.S. | Boundless US History. n.d.Web. 1 Feb. 2018.
“Branding of Slaves: Brutal Act Used for Identification Purposes and Severe Punishment.” Black Then. 15 Oct. 2017. Web. 1 Feb. 2018.
The Bible. New International Version, Biblica, 1978.
Wells, Keiko. American Negro spirituals. EPM, 2012. Print.
Jacob, Harriet. Incidents in the Life a Slave Girl. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012. Print. McLaurin, Melton. Celia, A Slave. New York: Avon Books, 2011. Print.
Norhup, Solomon. 12 Years a Slave. New York: Penguin Books, 2016. Print