Today while most people celebrate thanksgiving, I am in mourning. During the past 5 years I chose to observe a different observance. It is called Middle Passage Commemoration. During this time (the fourth Thursday and Friday of November) those of us who participate in the observance enter into a state of sadness and mourning for our ancestors who were tortured, abused and murdered in the trip from our original homeland to America. During the observance, we wear all white clothing to signify out state of mourning. In many traditional societies inhabited by people of color, white, not black is the color that signifies death and the mourning of death. We also observe a liquid only, two day fast. During the two days, we consume no solid food at all. It is also a time of solemn contemplation and meditation on the trials and tribulations of our ancestors, known also as the Maafa, or in English, the great suffering. Friday evening, we will gather together for a ceremony in which we pay tribute to the horrible torture that the enslaved Afrikans endured. We will discuss their legacy and ways that we can honor their sacrifices. During the ceremony, we try to wear traditional Afrikan clothing, again, preferably of a white color. At the end of the ceremony is a symbolic breaking of our fast, as we put a temporary end to our looking back and begin to look forward.
Because I chose not to celebrate Thanksgiving does not mean I am ungrateful and/or thankful. I ask of you, why wait for one day out of the year to celebrate being thankful, shouldn’t this be demonstrated everyday? I do not criticize my family and friends that celebrate Thanksgiving, however I educate them on what this day is about. On this day I think about those men who resistance against their enslavement only to be beaten and have their testicles cut off. I contemplate on the men and boys who watched their wives, mothers, aunts, sisters and daughters being gang-raped by the evil men who had enslaved them. I think about the women who tried to fight but were hung and to have her unborn child aborted. I think about the women who watched their husbands, fathers and sons being lynched and castrated before their eyes. I also consider the men and women who tried to jump off the ship only to be caught and beaten severly for trying to escape. I often think about these atrocities not just for today but everyday. I leave with a few excerpts from Olaudah Equiano also known as Gustavas Vassa.
The Life of Gustavas Vassa
The Atlantic Voyage
I now saw myself deprived of all chance of returning to my native country, or even the least glimpse of hope of gaining the shore, which I now considered as friendly; and I even wished for my former slavery in preference to my present situation, which was filled with horrors of every kind, still heightened by my ignorance of what I was to undergo. I was not long suffered to indulge my grief; I was soon put down under the decks, and there I received such a salutation in my nostrils as I had never experienced in my life: so that, with the loathsomeness of the stench, and crying together, I became so sick and low that I was not able to eat, nor had I the least desire to taste any thing. I now wished for the last friend, death, to relieve me; but soon, to my grief, two of the white men offered me eatables; and, on my refusing to eat, one of them held me fast by the hands, and laid me across, I think the windlass, and tied my feet, while the other flogged me severely. I had never experienced any thing of this kind before, and although not being used to the water, I naturally feared that element the first time I saw it, yet, nevertheless, could I have got over the nettings, I would have jumped over the side, but I could not; and besides, the crew used to watch us very closely who were not chained down to the decks, lest we should leap into the water; and I have seen some of these poor African prisoners most severely cut, for attempting to do so, and hourly whipped for not eating. This indeed was often the case with myself. In a little time after, amongst the poor chained men, I found some of my own nation, which in a small degree gave ease to my mind. I inquired of these what was to be done with us? They gave me to understand, we were to be carried to these white people’s country to work for them. I then was a little revived, and thought, if it were no worse than working, my situation was not so desperate; but still I feared I should be put to death, the white people looked and acted, as I thought, in so savage a manner; for I had never seen among any people such instances of brutal cruelty; and this not only shown towards us blacks, but also to some of the whites themselves. One white man in particular I saw, when we were permitted to be on deck, flogged so unmercifully with a large rope near the foremast, that he died in consequence of it; and they tossed him over the side as they would have done a brute. This made me fear these people the more; and I expected nothing less than to be treated in the same manner. I could not help expressing my fears and apprehensions to some of my countrymen; I asked them if these people had no country, but lived in this hollow place? (the ship) they told me they did not, but came from a distant one. ‘Then,’ said I, ‘how comes it in all our country we never heard of them?’ They told me because they lived so very far off. I then asked where were their women? had they any like themselves? I was told they had. ‘And why,’ said I, ‘do we not see them?’ They answered, because they were left behind. I asked how the vessel could go? They told me they could not tell; but that there was cloth put upon the masts by the help of the ropes I saw, and then the vessel went on; and the white men had some spell or magic they put in the water when they liked, in order to stop the vessel. I was exceedingly amazed at this account, and really thought they were spirits. I therefore wished much to be from amongst them, for I expected they would sacrifice me; but my wishes were vain, for we were so quartered that it was impossible for any of us to make our escape.
The Abuse of Slaves in the West Indies
Another negro man was half hanged, and then burnt, for attempting to poison a cruel overseer. Thus, by repeated cruelties, are the wretched first urged to despair, and then murdered, because they still retain so much of human nature about them as to wish to put an end to their misery, and retaliate on their tyrants. These overseers are indeed for the most part persons of the worst character of any denomination of men in the West Indies. Unfortunately, many humane gentlemen, but not residing on their estates, are obliged to leave the management of them in the hands of these human butchers, who cut and mangle the slaves in a shocking manner on the most trifling occasions, and altogether treat them in every respect like brutes, They pay no regard to the situation of pregnant women, nor the least attention to the lodging of the field negroes. Their huts, which ought to be well covered, and the place dry where they take their little repose, are often open sheds, built in damp places; so that when the poor creatures return tired from the toils of the field, they contract many disorders, from being exposed to the damp air in this uncomfortable state, while they are heated, and their pores are open.
This they frequently do. A negro man, on board a vessel of my master, while I belonged to her, having been put in irons for some trifling misdemeanor, and kept in that state for some days, being weary of life, took an opportunity of jumping overboard into the sea; however, he was picked up without being drowned. Another, whose life was also a burden to him, resolved to starve himself to death, and refused to eat any victuals. This procured him a severe flogging; and he also, on the first occasion which offered, jumped overboard at Charleston, but was saved.
Nor is there any greater regard shown to the little property, than there is to the persons and lives of the negroes. I have already related an instance or two of particular oppression out of many which I have witnessed; but the following is frequent in all the islands. The wretched field-slaves, after toiling all the day for an unfeeling owner, who gives then but little victuals, steal sometimes a few moments from rest or refreshment to gather some small portion of grass, according as their time will admit. This they commonly tie up in a parcel; either a bit’s worth (sixpence) or half a bit’s worth, and bring it to .town, or to the market, to sell. Nothing is more common than for the white people on this occasion to take the grass from them without paying for it; and not only so, but too often also, to my knowledge, our clerks, and many others, at the same time have committed acts of violence on the poor, wretched, and helpless females; whom I have seen for hours stand crying to no purpose, and get no redress or pay of any kind. Is not this one common and crying sin enough to bring down God’s judgment on the islands? He tells us the oppressor and the oppressed are both in his hands; and if these are not the poor, the broken-hearted, the blind, the captive, the bruised, which our Saviour speaks of, who are they? .