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Diary of a Slave- The Ship
August 1742- I stood on top a sheer descent of rock, below me was the colossal ship that was to take us on our terrifying and seemingly endless journey. It was almost like a giant wooden fort. Surely a boat of that size could not float; it seemed impossible— yet there it was before my eyes. It would be my prison for my time at sea sailing through the passage, with only the bare wood keeping me afloat. It was not a majestic ship— but nor was it a leaky, unreliable sailboat. It looked like a boat used to transport livestock, or crops. It wasn’t polished clean, and the sails were not decorative. It was built for a purpose: to transport and deliver slaves. I took one last fleeting glance at the ship before my heavy chains dragged me onward down the slope.
When I and the other slaves reached the shore we found ourselves facing many other black slaves, all trapped inside cages with their arms and legs also chained together. These cages couldn’t have been more than ten feet in width and length, yet the white men had still crammed in at least nine slaves per cage. The cages were made out of branches and wood from our native trees. “How dare they imprison us with our own trees!” I thought “The forests and woodlands we know so well, now used against us, to capture us!” My body tensed with anger and I clenched my fists, afraid my anger would get the better of me, for I had seen what the white men did to rebellious slaves.
As the white men threw me into the wooden cages, my foot caught on the pebbles and I tumbled to the ground. I lay there for several minutes, my head resting on the cold, hard earth. When I finally rose the first thing I noticed was the bars, the solid wooden bars trapping me inside. They surrounded me; I was like an animal in a cage, waiting to be put to some use. I stood there for some time, I knew now that I was not considered to be a human being. I was not like the white men, even though we were the same beings, with the same features and intelligence. The fact that my skin was darker meant that I was considered below the white people. I was their labourer. I put my hands to my face and wept.
Days later I boarded the ship. I was taken down to the hull where there were rows of empty shelves, waiting to be filled. I was then shoved onto my side and pushed on the shelf, like a book, but no one cared to read and understand me. I heard the white men shout out something about ‘tight pack’; but my language is very different from theirs, so I could not understand their speech. I wondered briefly what those words meant in their foreign tongue, but I soon had other, more important worries.
The chains on my hands and feet were nailed to the shelf that I lay on. I tried to struggle, but my feet could move no more than an inch and my hands failed to pull free the nails holding me down. I longed desperately to be free of these chains. I wished to run free again amongst my family and friends, and to be rid of these hateful white men. I shut my eyes and wished with all my strength that I could be back home, I would wake up and this would all be just a bad dream, a nightmare to reflect on. But my thoughts were interrupted by the hammering of nails and screams of protest. I sighed and opened my eyes to find that a young girl had been flung down beside me. Her loud yells had caused the white men to start whipping her, and blood now trickled down her side. Her eyes were endless pools of anguish, and salty tears streamed down her thin cheeks. She was young and her short life had held little reason for her to be unhappy or feel any pain. I reached over to her chains and gently squeezed her hand. Her wide eyes met mine, and for that short moment I felt a brief sense of hope, and I knew that I was not alone.
Those first few days of the voyage were dreadful. I had very little room; less than fourteen inches in width. The hold had a vile smell of puke and rotting flesh. The air was stuffy and humid; my lungs were so deprived of oxygen that my head often felt dizzy. The scent of sickness was overwhelming, and the scent of it was enough to make me sick as well. The constant sound of coughing could be heard, it often sounded as if they were coughing up their whole stomach it was so bad. My head was sweating and I often felt very feverish. The cabin was almost oven-like the heat was so bad; it did no good for the ill slaves and often made them worse.
We were fed a revolting gruel. It was so bad it caused my stomach to heave and I often vomited up my food. The white man’s food was horrible and no one liked it, but we all knew we had to keep our strength up—and what would happen to us if we didn’t.
A week later, my body was feeling so stiff I feared I might not be able to move again once we reached our destination. I feared I might not even reach the end of our voyage, for my head was burning and my lungs dry and painful. My skin was rotting and covered in warts and blisters.
Suddenly a hand grabbed my leg and dragged me out, chucking me on the hard floor. I quickly scrambled to my feet and followed the white men out onto the top deck. When I climbed the ladder and stood on the deck, the sunlight blinded my eyes. The brightness flooded my eyes with white and I couldn’t seem to adjust to the sudden change. Before I could get my bearings a whip cracked at my back and I was herded towards the other slaves gathered in the middle of the deck.
The white men called something out and without warning something cold and wet hit my back. I remember the pain, the scorching pain of salt in my fresh wounds. The agony is unimaginable; it’s like being struck by lightning, but in a thousand different places at the same time. I screamed as loud as my lungs would let me, and my cry was echoed by those surrounding me. Many fell to the floor in agony, their wounds burning.
The white men however, took no notice of our suffering, and started to play a strange foreign instrument. They tried to get us to dance, waving their arms wildly in the air, but I would barely move my feat. I hated the white men with every ounce of my being, and I had sworn to myself that I would never willingly do anything they commanded.
After the ‘dancing’ was done and the white men felt we had sufficient exercise, we returned to the hold. I glanced next to me and saw that the young girl next to me was gone, and her chains were empty.
I feared the worse and imaged her lifeless body tossed into the sea; many others had gone the same way. I pictured her glassy eyes, wide open with dying fear as she slowly sunk to the sea floor. I let my thoughts carry me away as the realisation slowly sank in; my only friend on this voyage was gone. My eyes filled with tears until suddenly, the chains beside me moved and I saw my young neighbour return to her place. A smile filled my face as I looked up at her face, only to see her shaking lip, streaming tears, and eyes filled with fright. I heard the white man call to his friend, and mentioning the word ‘bedwarmer’. But I didn’t understand. I reached over to gently comfort her shaking hands, but she pulled away. I will never ever forget the vivid look of fear in that poor girls eyes, not as long as I live.