Breaks in the Circuit

Breaks in the Circuit

Magnus John

Format: 13.5 x 21.5 cm
Number of Pages: 318
ISBN: 978-3-99064-524-6
Release Date: 10.04.2019
Stolen from his homeland and now a designated slave, Zaccheus is captured on the high seas in 1808, a year after the abolition of the slave trade in Britain and faces the struggles and challenges of beginning a new life in Freetown, a Province of Freedom.

It would be decidedly slow, that is, the march from King’s Yard in Freetown to Regent Village – a distance of six miles or so uphill for most of the way. Rev. Klaus and Zaccheus contrived it to be so in the hope of avoiding Sod’s law sabotaging the march. Bearing in mind other distractions and discomfort prolonging the pain of recent ordeals of those involved in the march, plus the anxiety of not knowing how far the distance was to their new destination, the journey itself appeared no less than adding contempt to their existing pain. If only it were possible to equate a nightmare with the physical exposure to a terrifying and dreadful experience, then consider how the response would be to the prospect of what is in store for them in this new encounter which some of them were not averse to anticipating as further deliberate torture and humiliation! How different it had become under the intense heat for all of them as they walked on the uneven, stony pathway, demarcated intermittently by nature’s endowment of trees and wild vegetation, not excluding other moving objects during their march to a destination a thousand feet and more above sea level – to an area of only one-and-a-half square miles!

For three months they had stayed idly in the compound at King’s Yard, with the assurance that they would be moved elsewhere after all documents had been processed and their future decided. Which documents the authorities had in mind were of no concern to the marchers since they had none of their own. So, that explanation of being moved to an undisclosed destination made no difference to them. Recuperation from their ailing health preoccupied their waking hours so much so that clogging their minds with unnecessary, unhealthy thoughts was as unhelpful to their physical and mental condition as providing treatment for a non-existent health condition!

No alluring interest outside the walls of the compound had been that compelling either. Rather, time was spent within the confines of the compound by over three hundred victims reviving their previous lives by indulgence in a variety of practical interests, using and making improvised objects they knew and had used in their previous existence prior to arrival in the Province of Freedom. Musical instruments, board games such as Warri, purses and bags (kotoku) made from cloth, and other objects were painfully shaped and converted to practical ends. Such pastimes aided their rehabilitation. Familiarity also blossomed by living together, as groups soon realised they could communicate to and collaborate with each other.
‘So, my broder, what is dat you ’ave in your ’and?’
Raising it as if in admiration to such an achievement, looking at a string through which tiny, shaped objects of even size had been pierced and strung, he proudly replied, ‘Dis is my tesbia. I don’t feel alone with it because it makes me forget my pain. Now, oder people here see it and want one. We Muslims cannot do without our tesba, our prayer beads. And dat your own ting? It is bigger than mine and all timber, I see. What’s dat you’re making?’
‘It is my Shango, even now. When I get it done completely, nothing will look better against it, dis rough timber you see in my hand! Unfinished it is now, and will take many more weeks to shape it.’
‘Dat will be somting else to see.’
‘Yes, it will, my protector,’ lifting the object close to his chest, as if about to embrace it.
Now they were well on their way to Regent, three miles up the hill, this Friday early in May of 1818. Zaccheus surmised whether the quandary in which he now found himself might have been avoided by staying a few more days at King’s Yard before starting off on their journey to Regent. He couldn’t have forgotten already the unplanned extra days they were forced to idly occupy in Freetown on account of the physical condition of these marchers. It soon became his resolve to press on rather than share the stage with the grand old Duke of York!
‘Some of our marchers may require attention, sir, – they look so fragile,’ Zaccheus suggested to Reverend Klaus who in total support, replied, ‘We are half way there now. Aren’t the others we left behind at Regent expecting us?’
‘That has been the case, sir, days before now,’ came Zaccheus’s response.
The determination of getting to Regent was evident from the leaders’ remarks, in spite of their reservation. To entertain thoughts about any untoward occurrences along the way would be anathema to them now, after so much delay already. The two men blotted out any possible danger of unfamiliar bush travel, knowingly aware of their route, with its overgrown trees and paths intermittently starved of penetrating sunlight. For them, the reality of the route remained the same. But for the marchers involved, their emotional response was different, tired as most of them were, not yet presenting themselves as fully recovered from their trauma of recent weeks. How much worse could it get when as adults, name, location, terrain were as foggy as mist in a vast open landscape on this occasion! Avoiding encounters with deadly living forms in dark sunlight offered no threat of nullifying the pleasures expected to be aroused by the surroundings. How unsettling it became for Zaccheus and Reverend Klaus being uncertain whether their good intentions measured up with the feelings of the marchers!
Not long after, the experience of trekking up hill began to loosen their tongues, showing familiarity after discovering that those four to six marchers walking in single file close to each other came from near the Benin area in Nigeria.
‘Dis bi like coming from di fry pan to di soup pot,’ (Being transferred from the frying pan to the soup pot is what this experience offers which is no comfort at all!) was how Adebola explained their predicament.
‘Mi no se w?n ?t mit ?t, i n? bi kol we come neks? T?l mi, if i n? bi ?ksplozhon, na wetin?’ (You tell me. How can anyone expect anything less dangerous than an explosion when heat encounters further heat?) retorted Sola just behind him, making light of their dilemma!
‘?t ? kol, dis wan ya n? rich mi tonel yet s?f, pas n? m? if i pas cam d?n mi ed. I n? izi f? tek, o, ?t ? kol,’ (Neither heat nor cold can be felt anywhere near my toes, unless it is being transmitted from my head, downwards. Forbearance does not feature in that situation, heat or no heat!) chuckled Adebola.
‘Na si mi n? di si s?f na dis ples. Di bush tik l?k n?t – n? di si ?nyting pas am,’ (My eyes fail to penetrate the thicket around here – it’s as dark as night) came Sola’s reply.
Fatigued as the marchers had become, their current experience was an emotional march for them that they would rather have done without, after their short respite from the intervention they had left behind prior to their arrival at King’s Yard. Some say it was respite from further bondage of the worst kind, and that freedom being offered now could not be sniffed at, even if individual liberty was still stif led; a view also voiced by Sola.
‘Dis na r?s we n? get pamayn; ?n dat pas natin o, mi broda. ?nti wi no usai wi k?m?t?’ (Our situation is no different from having rice without palmoil. It upstages us from nothingness, knowing precisely what had happened to us!)
How the trek uphill came about after King’s Yard was no accident. It originated from an off icial summon, from the Chief Superintendent, the Liberated African Department to the Superintendent at Regent village, instructing Rev. Klaus in a letter about a consignment of what was being referred to as ‘a supply of people destined for Regent Village. Delivery must be imminent’. As the village pastor, whose official title conferred on him the role of the government’s village superintendent, Reverend Klaus’s combined role in the church merged with state affairs in the office of the village’s official big man. He was responsible for putting into effect all government’s activities, his own fiefdom being within the Province of Freedom.
To the village official, the meaning of ‘supply of people’ was well understood. Cryptic and coded, the phrase used in the letter relegated the supply to a category identifier that need not be disclosed to outsiders as its value underscored its identity to the rest only when collected. What kind of people were they? Was the office of the source of the letter a giveaway to anyone else receiving it?
Whatever the category, it posed no problem in understanding the import in the directive addressed to the village official. For someone else receiving it, the letter’s unstated emergence of this supply would not have been easily transparent – not so evident to link its message with a number of new arrivals captured on the high seas in a slave ship en route for that part of the circuit known as the New World, a circumscribed sea journey linking Africa with prescribed locations in the Old and New Worlds.
Thus, it was against this backdrop that in May 1818, the marchers left the King’s Yard for Regent. How easy it was with the granting of ‘asientos’ from popes and royal licences from European royalties, that such journeys from Europe to Africa gave the Europeans the control and power of the sea to invade and plunder other lands in the name of trade! ‘Asientos’ and ‘royal licence’ sanctioned exploitation of countries in Africa without prior knowledge of what each country had or owned and without the concern of protocols on landing on these shores as traders. Sometimes, licences granted had a valid exploitation life lasting a thousand years. Thus, armed cart blanche did the Europeans invade these coastal countries in Africa. The natives could not defend themselves with arrows when challenged with sophisticated guns nor offer protection to their own subjects when faced with hostility, as was the custom. Not surprisingly, Africa’s attractiveness became tied up with its unspoilt threat, its unimpeded access for generations of priests, traders, looters and plunderers to scoop as much from the continent as their ingenuity allowed, and in the process unashamedly shouting out in chorus among themselves, ‘We came, we saw, and it all happened.’ A plunderer in this case is no different from a financier, or a doctor, plantation owner or royalty, when each sees the benefit in those terms that gave rise to the adventure of the sea captain in the first place. The search for that commodity they all so desperately were hunting for could not deter them from sharing a common sentiment when found. It was no less than gold in its own right, if not better! It had developed over time in their search for the physical strength necessary for them to exploit their ambitions to extend and capitalise what else could be had in the name of trade. What was discovered as their reward worthy of exploitation did not resonate in the events of those who discovered the source of such wealth, be it human or otherwise. But it also ‘all happened’ for them, more so as their nomenclature could be changed as circumstances warranted it.
Thus, while ‘asientos’ and ‘royal licences’ gave the stamp of approval and authority endowed on those regarded as ‘God’s elect’ and as having the ‘divine right’ of royalty, the reward realised from such journeys made round the circuit later came to appreciate huge returns from investments when captive cargoes became an item of immense value in their trade inventory. For such fortune derived, those from England involved in the trade would acknowledge the intervention of the Almighty in thanksgiving, as prayers and hallelujahs were proclaimed with the peal of church bells when the ships drew anchor at their respective ports in London, Liverpool or Bristol, their final destination around the circuit.
In sustaining their discovery effort, not just in search of new lands in order to ascertain the spread of land mass and thereby acquiring knowledge for dissemination in the form of maps, but also in gaining knowledge about specific objects with the potential worthy of exploitation for the acquisition of wealth. Known that these objects demanded use of extended hours of physical labour in order to amass all materials and produce capable of creating wealth, the level of investment necessitated labour wherever it could be found. In that regard, the morality of trade excluded all boundaries of conscience in its execution. Just as much as they in Europe realised that there were different forms of wealth to be had, equally so were they aware that it took different forms of appropriate skills to achieve maximum profit. Earlier efforts of engaging and using labour with sustained physical strength had proved abysmal, and this gave rise to consistent searches throughout the circuit over a period of time for the most apt replacement of muscle power. Thus, while local and imported Indians in the Americas and the Caribbean had been decimated in mining valuable minerals and servicing plantation fields, the indentured labour of their own European breed proved worthless, not to mention the desperate and objectionable attempts at employing press-gang techniques which were equally frowned upon by those maintaining law and order in England. Subsequently, further searches for a solution to this problem of poor returns from investment and the need to engage above average muscle power for better financial returns, was to be found in Africa. Thus, by Europeans extending trade to include human flesh was also extended the idea of trade in commodities to embrace anything else that such discoverers and traders could claim as possession – anything of exchange value that could be bought and sold. Thus, only the laws of those countries associated with the slave trade could adduce, after hundreds of years, legal arguments which accommodate trade in human flesh also under its restrictive medieval meaning for commodity.
So, the marchers, who became reclassified in the Province of Freedom as recaptives after their recapture, could not have regarded their trek to resettlement in 1818 as a march to freedom, even though they had been rescued from illegal enslavement. Given their predicament, they would have lacked the knowledge of where they ended up, whether they had rounded the circuit or not. Admittedly, their status of enslavement had not run its full course, barely weeks of incarceration in forts and factories planted on their homelands. En route to their circuit destination, their ignominy gained full force by being confined to deck spaces at sea, stripped naked and stapled together with chains and coffles. Such unexpected abuse of the captured males by the crew in charge of their entrapment and welfare sapped their energy through constant humiliation and displays of degrading insensibilities which drained away the physical strength of their victims in the process. How events and circumstances instantly changed just as it had begun! Those who had now become new gatekeepers as well as custodians of the newly acquired freedom of the recaptives were also now softening their control of power with begrudging mercy by offering liberty that they felt compelled to also police at every turn. Their mission as a company was to manage a settlement of people in this Province of Freedom, or Freetown as it became known, not Rogbana, as the indigenous natives knew it.
The pain of the new recaptives could not easily have been assuaged from their memory during their march to Regent. It would have been like asking a bullfighter to respond to the effect of a full-frontal gorge he had received from his opponent, and expressing surprise from his report of acute pain being felt. Even now, as they marched in the open air, not confined or restricted in their movement as they had become, their rescue failed to free their minds from the trauma they had experienced. They even could recall their ordeal on the high seas, the putrid air generated by close confinement with shit buckets and vomit over which such victims, also styled perishable human commodity, pitted their failing strength when stricken with dysentery and fever. It would have been impossible to ever imagine how the experience of the Middle Passage might affect them. Chained together as randomly as possible, their muscle power became a challenge to reach any of the limited number of relief receptacles made available for nearly three hundred enslaved people on this journey of forced migration. How the more able slid on their own vomit and excrement, shamefully unable to show any regard or decency against how their lives had been transformed. Pulling and shoving was all the challenge that concerned them if anyone hugged the crap squat, no matter the filth and stench generated in their enclosure. If nothing else, the Abolition Act rescued them from that ordeal. At a stroke it changed their status, exhibiting emaciated faces and rakish looks to show for their painful experience prior to this march.
By the enactment of the Abolition Act, their inability to reach shit buckets when only a handful were provided for hundreds of them, was no longer an issue of abuse nor was such behaviour any longer considered as shameful acts of bestiality. Some amount of decency and show of humanity had won the day overnight in parliament when after forty years of wrangling, the vote against slavery had been passed in 1807. A scoop against rival Europeans had displayed humanity, demonstrably saving the ‘perishable commodity’ that they were regarded to be up until that time! To those disinterested in the trade of human f lesh, it was as if the grates to the enclosures where the slaves had been doubly confined were ripped open for further new encounters! While the chains of bondage may have been removed from their feet and necks after the Abolition Act, how little else could be said to have showed signs of relief and release in respect of the trauma that had taken control of their minds before and since abolition.
Each marcher carried a bundle of the entire possessions they had acquired since their arrival at King’s Yard. Some of them adopted the habit of hoisting their bundle on staves of wood while also holding sticks and branches in the other hand to ward off any intruders from the undergrowth that lined their path. Others preferred to hang their bundles of personal possessions from under their necks, over their heads to a resting place of support behind their back. No longer manacled by the feet or yoked by the neck, the heat of the sun remained disinterested, as white clouds glided over the deep-blue landscape of undulating hills in the distance.
But the loss of such power of control by the slavers over the marchers unleashed the supply of people whose march of freedom had only just begun. The matter of loss and gain interchanged at a rapacious pace at which trauma had engulfed their lives – disruption of family life in their own homes, enslavement into servitude, endangered and assailed at sea, unashamedly humiliated, abused and reviled while in captivity on land and at sea – all began by being discovered in their own land by those who travelled thousands of miles under licence in search of trade. And in this process, they bought human beings as commodities for sale, and as yet to be transformed to chattels of human flesh. Escaping the rituals of the Middle Passage, aborted thousands of miles before it could start, their extended trauma became modified to their new status as recaptives.
Now, the directive received by the village superintendent was meant to establish part of the vision of the governor’s new Parish Plan, also known as the MacCarthy Plan. Conceived and put into action in 1816, it was devised to bring consistency in the administration of the villages under the tutelage of village superintendents. Such a plan not only pushed the geographical boundary of Freetown politically, it reinforced the conquest made by the Company by taking up arms against indigenous rulers with whom an agreement for the purchase of land for goods to the value of just over fifty-one pounds was believed to have been reached and settled. Since this new agreement, Freetown became occupied by settlers brought from the Old and New Worlds from 1787. Implementation of the Parish Plan somehow had the intent of providing a food basket from the villages as a regular source of supply of fresh fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables meant to reduce the vulnerability of Freetown from both starvation and escalating prices of scarce commodities!
In time – within a period of thirty years since the first settlers arrived in 1787 – developments surrounding the future of the Province of Freedom had been revised to take account of changing situations, initially by the company appointed to manage and direct affairs of the settlement, later to be taken over by the British government twenty-one years after the province was established. Disagreement on both sides widened the gap of contention between views held by the appointed company and the London Blacks and Nova Scotians under their charge.
‘When you say you don’t understand our case, you only pretend not to. The land issue and our joint role in the management of the province had been arranged before we left Nova Scotia,’ was the claim of the settlers, and ‘We never spoke with you about apportionment of land, or of how the town should be run. We who are here have a mandate that guides our decisions,’ summed up the case for the Royal Africa Company.

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