On Slavery — Fiction
March 17th, 1810
We finally found Boumba after 25 years of searching. He was only 5 when we last saw him all those years ago. And though the years had been kinder to him than to most slaves, there were pieces of him that were forever lost to time. Some he didn’t even know were lost.
It was a beautiful summer’s evening, the year was 1785, and we had accompanied mother to gather a few herbs for medication and spice. As part of the resistance, our family served in the medical sector; it was our pride, what our father gave up his life for. We had just arrived at the camp a few weeks back. It was a pleasant-looking place somewhere upstate, and though mother was grieving her brutally murdered husband, she strapped Boumba on her back, holding Fiona, and myself by the hand on either side of her. On her head, she had carried a large bag containing everything we owned. I had a little pot on my head containing herbs and spices, while Fiona carried the bag of ammunition papa had stolen from the white men and given us to offer to the resistance.
As we went about gathering the herbs, we came upon a boar with a harpoon lodged in its side and before mother could stop me, I bolted towards the massive creature in all excitement. I was convinced one of our men had put it down but mother knew otherwise; we hadn’t any harpoons at the camp, which meant only one thing. Our location had been compromised.
Back then the penalty for a defaulting slave, irrespective of age, was death. We all knew it. Mother had lost too much and was far more attuned to danger than any of us were, so when the bushes rustled, she knew we were at the wrong end of a harpoon wielder, the wrong end of numerous white men and their guns. She pulled Fiona and me behind her and speaking under her breath, she both ordered and begged us in one breath.
“Run! Sound the warning!”
We could hear the guns go off as we sped through the bushes, the sounds of pellets cutting through leaves and burying themselves in the trees. Mother’s shriek of pain and the laughter of the white men that followed, their victory cry, brought tears to my eyes. Fiona held my hand and yanked me forward with such force that my arm almost came off. I was 10 and she was 15, she was stronger, and as I fought her to let me go back to our dying mother, I didn’t see the rivers washing Fiona’s face.
She had made a choice to save me and protect me; it was life or death for free black people like us, we continually lived on the brink.
The camp was saved that day because of mother’s sacrifice, though we lost Fred, Philip, Zouma, and Shakar. They stood with the other men who engaged the white men in a gunfight, giving the rest of the camp time to escape. 70 people were saved that day.
But for us, we lost more than our mother, we lost Boumba too. Normally, he would remain with the other kids his age and gather little fallen branches from the trees that surrounded the camp for firewood. They would form a party of 8 kids and go wood collecting. But on that day, he was unwell and wouldn’t stop crying in mother’s absence. So, like the day we arrived at the camp, mother strapped him to her back and took him along with us.
Amidst the white men’s laughter and victory cheers, Boumba’s cries were clearly audible. That is how we knew he was still alive.
My name is Shekinah and alongside my sister Fiona, I now head the network consisting of everyone who was at that camp. We have learned and we have grown through the years. In our time we freed over 165 slaves and offered shelter to so many more. When the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807, we thought our time was done, but behind the wishes of the government and all that was morally just, some white people still unlawfully kept black people as slaves. Thus, our new mission was born.
We finally tracked down the location of our Boumba on March 10th, 1810. He had been sold off a couple of times, passed around like a good bottle of wine. That is what made it difficult to track him. We had no picture of him, but as we learned, he had grown into a giant and was highly educated and hardworking; word had it that for two years of his life, he worked as the sole slave on a small property and slept no more than 2 hours daily. Because of his devotion to service, his master had allowed him to marry and have children of his own, and they were to receive the white man’s education as he had and were never to know slavery. In return, Boumba would remain a slave all his days.
Boumba might have made the choice, but he was just 18 at the time, and his owner, Joseph Woodgate, was a very crafty and cunning man. Bouma had spent roughly 3 years with him at the time but believed his every word. But Joseph Woodgate was everything to despise about a white man and nothing to praise. Men like him had raped and killed black women at point-blank range in the dozens.
He owned and ran a school for black children but considered them trophies for all the lives he had in his service. Rumor had it that when the kids turned 12, they started to disappear. In fact, Sheryl, Boumba’s wife who found her way to our network, was one of such children, whose mother had been raped and shot and her father pulled into eternal slavery in exchange for her life. She currently served as a tutor at Joseph’s trophy school in exchange for a meager stipend. It was through her that we learned of Joseph’s foul practice and through her desire to save her husband and three-year-old daughter that we found our long-lost brother.
At this time, we are healing our race. Black people all across the country are coming to a reality of self-sustenance and determination. Father and mother would have loved this reality, black people owning farms and other assets, building houses, and living free. They were creating communities wherein they could live free and happy.
In all my years, I had seen bitter and terrible things, but I had seen beauty too, in reuniting families and feeding the hungry. The latter were the most beautiful of all my days. It has been a few years since the bill was passed abolishing slavery, but phantom chains still hold many minds captive. And in some cases, there are actual chains that still hold people in bondage, like our Boumba whose master was determined to never part with his property.
It is 11:03 PM March 17th, 1810, and our raiding party is set and ready to charge at first light. This could well be our last major battle and even as anxiety builds up in us, we must remain calm and focused. I look at Sheryl as she wades through the bushes, making her way home and I understand the source of her courage; I had seen it in many a woman.
We don’t know what fate awaits black people in the years that would see our children and their children after them, or if our race might even last that long. There are so few of us left and the white man has all the technology and education. But what we do know is that freedom is man’s first gift in life and the first factor that dignifies him. We have run our race and seen the struggle this far, history may not remember us but the lives we’ve saved are all the accolades we need. And if this be the last thing I write and tomorrow my last day, there’s something I would love to pass on;
For you reading this, whether white or black or any other race, I want you to know that all men were born equal and it is no man’s charge to put chains on another. It is the diversity in our species, the different races, that give humanity its solidification and ensures a sustained existence. I had hated the white man for many years of my life, they had taken everything from me. But I met some that saw beyond the color of our skins and showed us that we could live as equals. These were white people who helped us in our fight and freed so many black people; white people I came to love. So I charge you today, learn to love each human being as you love yourself, let the pain of our suffering for freedom be kindling for a fire of love within your heart. A fire to set all men, everywhere free.
Ngang God'swill N. 2021
DISCLAIMER: This is totally a work of fiction, any similarities with names, dates and locations is totally a coincidence.
More on the quest for freedom:
The Suffering Grass
Fruits of November 2017- Reflections on Cameroon’s spiral into Violence