Submitted by Heater Cole
Part 1: Why?
I am on a mission to visit Ghana in West Africa and you may wonder why. It is all because of Slavery. It has always bothered me. I never knew that I was descended from someone who was kidnapped and made a slave until one fateful day when I was in Infants A or Infants B at Christ Church Girls’ school. I do not recall which class it was. An argument started in the class between two little girls, mind you we were all little then. One wanted the other one to carry her bag and the other refused. It became boisterous and caught the teacher’s attention. Her name was Ms. Lovell. It was only when she teacher was addressing the matter that I found out what it was about. The first little girl said she only asked the second girl to carry her bag. The second little girl said she was not carrying the bag because she was not a slave.
What was a slave? I had not a clue. I lived in a bubble that was the world that I knew. I do not remember who asked the question out loud. However, Ms. Lovell began to tell us a story which became my first history lesson. I do not remember if anyone else knew what she told us; that we were all descendants of people who were taken from West Africa and made slaves in all the Caribbean Islands. The slaves worked without pay and belonged to the white people who owned the sugar plantations. Her history lesson must have had a profound affect on all of the little girls because from that day on if any one of the of the girls asked each other to do something menial for them the response was “no! I am not your slave!” This story and those words have stuck with me for a lifetime. However, that was not all that those works did, they made me feel as though I had been living a lie for all the 5 or 6 years of my life.
I could not wait to get home after school. When my cousins and I turned the corner onto to our gap from the main road in Cane Vale, I ran home. When I reached the opened back door, I ran inside and I told Aunt V (my grandmother) “the teacher say that we were slaves,” and I waited for her to say that it was not true. Instead of saying no or yes, she calmly asked what had happened and I repeated the story. I was still awaiting and wanted her to say no that is not so but the look in her eyes filled me with a deep sadness as I waited for her to respond. Her failure to respond to my shock started my traumatization and made me ashamed of who I was. After what seemed like an eternity, all she said was to stop worrying my little head, but I never did.
By the time my mother got home from work I was still quiet; engulfed in a state of sadness. She asked what was wrong and Aunt V told her. I do not recall her response. Later that night as I snuggled up next to Aunt V, I asked her to tell me about the slaves. She said she did know anything about slaves but she could only tell me about the old-time people. From that I understood that it was her way of saying that she would never call them slaves; it was as though she was part of the resistance. That was my comfort and from that night on, it was the stories of the old-time people and the old-time days that my grandmother told me.
Not that she knew much but it was a start. We were already close but the stories she told drew us closer. They were the stories that she had been told about mud houses the old- time people lived in, what they wore; about a woman who lost her hand feeding the canes in the mill and about duppies, how the dead were buried facing the East and more that I have long forgotten. I was a curious child one who asked for minute details, one who wanted exact details and if a repeat was not the same version, I would remind her what was missing. So much so, that she would get tired of my questioning and ask me if I was a lawyer. I never got tired of hearing the same stories.
By the time I entered high school at 11, I had long exhausted my grandmother’s informal knowledge. So, I read every history text book every year before the school year started. I had developed an insatiable appetite for knowledge of the people from my past.
The year that I was 16 we did a school project and I went to the Archives and there I discovered that there were slaves at Hannays Plantation whose last name was Cole. My great grandmother somehow made the journey from there to Church Hill of the Christ Church Parish Church and my grandmother moved from there to Oistins Hill and then Cane Vale. I never got a chance to see the oldest Slave Registers because they were closed from public viewing, so I never found out who were the old-time man and woman who lived at Hannays Plantation from whom I am descended.
Throughout the years, I have thought of them, where exactly did there come from, what did they do for a living prior to them being taken away. I may never know who they were, whose big dove shaped eyes I now wear or whose smile grace my face. I will never know what their real names were, or the exact area they came from, which tribe they belonged to, I do not know who gave me this streak of determination and fearlessness that I possess. I wonder if I am a descendant of a griot, yet I have this thing in me that makes me love art and colour. I always want to make things with my hands and then there is this love that I have for fabric. I cannot explain my numerous trips to Abeds and the other stores in Bridgetown that sell fabric to see what they have for sale. What I do know is that my ancestors’ blood still runs in my veins and I still carry their DNA.
Somehow long ago someone did things that are still a part of me. It is as though through me my ancestors live forever. Your knowledge of your distant past may not be much different from mine and our stories may be intertwined.
The President of Ghana is welcoming the Diaspora home in this historic year of our destiny that commemorates the 400th year anniversary of the commencement of the slave trade. Will you join me and friends and be part of this historic occasion from August 5 to 15, 2019 as we reconnect to our distant past?