1839 The Atlantic waves tugged at the edge of the hostile ship. My worn feet were as ragged as the planks beneath them. Shackled to my neighbors, I was shoved into a dark hold, and crammed between others of my kind. Fear and pride hung in the air; we did not understand why we were being evacuated. If communication was attempted, a whip would instantly bring us to silence. A unspoken realization formed. Something we all were finding hard to accept. We were slaves now. 2010 I sifted through my pictures and sighed. I enjoyed music camp last year; in fact, I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to the standards. A lot of good people graduated choir last year. That was what it was all about. The people. Of course, it was also about the music. The singing, the dancing, the steel pans. The African drums. Twelve hours a day. Nine days. Yes, just wonderful. But the people are there, and the people are good. The people talk. The music sounds. The drums speak. 1839 The stench was overpowering. Forced to survive motionless, the cesspit was nonexistent. Disease was so common, you were lucky if you weren’t smothered in vomit or puss. The moans of the dying and sickly were ever-present, the children’s cries were the first to be silenced. The ocean was unforgiving, and the nights were perilous. Sleeping unsoundly in place, I was awoken by a slight grinding of metal. 2010 “Very good, very good.” Char approved of my bell pattern. The bell is the trickiest part to hold, yet it is essential to the success of the drums. It’s the glue; an ongoing pattern of syncopated rhythm, guiding the Djembes until the un-awaited end. “Because we’re doing so well, we’re going to call our ancestors to our presence.” This was a very important African ceremony; all the choristers look forward to the “pouring of souls” with awe, in complete and total respect to the ancient African tradition. We each poured a small stream of cola into the earth, dedicating the sip to a person or people of our desire. I thought for a moment. “To all of the courageous African slaves that struggled for survival and freedom.” 1839 We slowly proceeded to the deck, our unclothed bodies scraping the wooden boards as we squirmed on our stomachs. Stumbling onto the ground, our legs didn’t co-operate. We tripped clumsily into the forecastle, startling the occupants. We go into battle weak and terrified, but we would come out heroes, dead or alive. 2010 My stomach tumbled in my uneasy torso. This was it. The big performance. I was nervous; playing bell would not be an easy task. The master, after a subtle signal, started the first question. I replied perfectly on the offbeat. And then all the drums fell into place. It was amazing. No one could hold back an ear to ear grin while playing an enthusiastic Kinka pattern. Majesty filled the air. The drums were in alignment. I was very proud of how I was doing on bell. And after some choreographed African dancing and the water jar acts, the drums came to a perfect end. We did it. We did it! Together, we made a memory. Together, we reached our goal. Together, we achieved greatness! 1839 The battle was bloody. Many whites were killed. We were winning. No time to turn back, we fought until the end. We dominated. They retreated. It was over. Finally. Victory. Documentary The Amistad Rebellion was lead by 56 slaves (52 adults and 4 children) against their captors on January 2, 1839. They were illegally forced onto a cargo ship, La Amistad, and were to be sold as slaves. Late one night, a young Negro named Joseph Cinque found a rusty file and broke his, and the others, shackles. In desperation they battled the Spaniards, reached victory, and demanded to be transported home. Ten of them died in and after the revolt. They landed in New York, were arrested for murder, and then sent to Connecticut for trial. John Quincy Adams defended them with the right of every person to be free. The courts ruled them not guilty, for they were free people who were illegally enslaved, giving them the right to revolt. I first heard about slave ships when I was at choir camp this summer, 2010. My African percussion instructor, Char, told us that slaves on the ships were not allowed to communicate in any way, whether it be speaking or tapping on the side of the boat. I recently learned just how gruesome the conditions of being a slave on a ship were. When I discovered that there were successful revolts, it inspired me. To think, they overcame their unspeakable conditions and their terror striking situation to revolt against their captors. And they walked away free people. No one person could have accomplished anything near as awesome as what they did. So why are we so independent today? Why do so many kids fail at things that they could have easily done with a slight boost? Before you reject a teacher’s help, just think. “Can my situation be improved if I ask a question?” the answer is almost always yes. 170 years ago, free people were kidnapped, and lead on to a ship that was meant for cargo. Against all odds, they overcame their poor health to dominate their captors and be freed from slavery. They changed lives. They rewrote history. They stood together. …Can’t we?
October 12, 2010