Saturday, September 4, 2010

Synopsis - Juffureh, James Island, Kunta Kinte, Alex Haley, "Roots"

Juffureh, James Island, Kunta Kinte, Alex Halley, Gambia
Long time ago, a black African was trapped and captured by the slave traders here in this place. This place was not yet known as Gambia at that time, but the village might have the same name 'Juffureh', and the name is still valid and the place is still persisting, not perished with elapse of time. The man was captured and taken to the USA. Later he lived the miserable life like slaves and eventually died at old age. Long time after his death, his 7th generation decendant Alex Haley wrote a famous novel "Roots - The Saga of an American Family" - featuring this very old ancestor of him. The ancestor's name was 'Kunta Kinte' - I think many of you would recognize him and the novel as well. The novel was later made to a TV serial which was being broadcast in the televisions worldwide.

As a disclaimer, this whole description is based on the elaboration of the tour guide moulded with my own knowledge and view. So it might be a little biased towards their own race. But again if you take this description to an American or European or whoever other kind of a race whose ancestors were slave traders, they would deny many aspects of the description. The thing is, we cannot go past and cannot see what was really happening Everybody thinks s/he is right, others are wrong. So it is only your conscience and rational logic that might make a thereafter little lucid scenario for this. Now the journey begins.

We had this opportunity to visit this historical place where Kunta Kinte was born and later captured as slave and sent to the USA. The name of the village is Juffureh with a neighboring village Albreda. The village is located in The Gambia. We had to cross the Gambia River by ferry. We went by the MRC land rover which took us to the place through jungles and bushes and extremely bad dusty roads. I never knew roads could be this horrible and I admire the strength of the land rover that has an innate capability to go through such difficult places. The communication from the village to the city is not so easy. Some bus service runs everyday at one or two times. These buses are called 'Geley Geley' locally and are actually covered vans imported from Europe as used vehicles and later refurbished and redesigned as 'Geley Geley'. You might remember these kind of buses in some movies plotted in Africa like 'The gods must be crazy'.

The slave history is very old. The Arabs first came to this part of Africa near about 12th century. The indigenous people would hand over them their youths to educate them. But the youths that travelled would never return. They were educated but kept as slaves in the Arab houses. But this history was not as severe as the later when Europeans and Americans arrived for slaves.

The slaves were being sold and captured with the help of some local tradespersons who were black. So they possess an equally or more heinous personality in utilizing their own race to earn money and leading them to a ruined life.

The slaves were captured and in between the process of being captured and reaching the home of a purchaser would leave enough time for enough slaves to die. This is because of the turmoil caused by the journey, and the treat they received from the traders. The sickle that used to be wrapped around their neck, leg, hand and waist would leave enough scar and bleeding occurred. Also they were squeezed in a very small place for a long time for weakening them as the slaves were strong; this eventually caused dehydration in the slaves and a thousands of them died of this inhuman treat. Many were squeezed in small sailing boats and taken like this to Europe and America. Lack of sanitation, movement would leave enough opportunity for heat and epidemics of small pox and other diseases to rise.

When the western civilization started to bloom, they felt the need of labors. The Americans tried  the native Red Indians as the labors, but they were not so strong and were vulnerable to diseases. Later a portuguese bishop advised the traders about the African blacks to try as slaves. After that they came here and the slave history for Europe and America started. Later when gradually machines were being invented and they realized that a machine can do more than a human being, they slowly started to give up this trade as bringing slaves from Africa was not so cost effective in comparison with investing money on machines and using machines. So it is the machines that initiated the giving up of slavery - it is not like that they realized their violation against humanity and gave up slave trade. So don't be fooled once again by the Western propaganda that some good-hearted people and leaders initiated the termination of bondage. It is the advent of machines that initiated the termination and augmented whatever lowest humanity was remaining in minds of those people.

The traders used to burn the house of indigenous Africans. When the people came out of the burning houses they were captured. Here in Juffureh, they were captured and put to San Domingo Complex for days without or little food. Many were kept in a small stone room in a very unhygienic environment. They had to urinate and shit in the same place where they were kept. Two minuscule holes were left where scanty amount of food was provided. Many slaves had to gather around the hole for the food and became even weaker with the fight for food. Many would become so weak that they even had not enough strength to fight for food and rather preferred to die. The alive slaves had to live with the corpse and the stinky environment with the corpse would make them even weaker. It is said that Kunta Kinte was kept here for two days.

After making weak, the slaves were brought to the bank of Juffereh through a narrow road through the bushes. From there, they were taken to the James Island and were gathered around the slave yard. Thereafter, the healthy slaves were considered eligible for trading and they were put a mark on their body with heated iron. The unhealthy slaves were thrown to the water and apparently it seemed that they are free. But unfortunately they were made so weak in the San Domingo Complex that they could not succeed in reaching the bank by swimming which is about three miles from the island and drowned and died eventually.

There was a dark cave like the one I described previously in our Senegal visit. Stubborn slaves were kept here until tamed. Some even died and the alive slaves had to live with the corpse. The corpse eventually made the environment even more putrid and made the condition of the alive slaves even bitter. Also they had to urinate and shit at the same place. So obviously the whole situation was a nightmare for the slaves. It is said that Kunta Kinte was kept here for 15 days.

It is said that the female slaves were raped until they concieved. This is because in this way the profit would have been doubled as selling a pregnant slave woman would mean selling two slaves where the other one is yet to be born. And also the healthy child slaves were the most costly slaves. But obviously the offspring of a white and black would not be a pure black. So it was one more deception of the traders. Or I don't know if they forced the black male slaves to mate with the female slaves.

From here the slaves were taken to the Goree Island, Senegal. The traders took many slaves in a boat which was comparably uncomfortable for the slaves to sail the long way on sea. Some died on way. Sometimes they were forced to dance on the deck as an entertainment for the traders and also as an exercise to keep them fit. Sometimes the traders cut off the legs or arms of some slaves to frighten the others to keep away from mutiny. If a mutiny was about to occur, the slaves were brutally treated as you can see in one of the pictures. But there was a successful mutiny led by Sengbeh Pieh - a slave from Sierra Leone. This man eventually became a legend and his picture is stamped on 5000 Leone note. But obviously if a rebel was not successful, the mutineers would have gone through horrible treatment of blood and gore that is beyond description.

The law against slavery was passed in around 1807. The slaves who were still in the James Island were asked to swim to the bank and if they reach the freedom flag, then they would be free. But really they were so weak that possibly none could succeed in swimming the three miles distance from the island to the freedom flag.

Anyway, this is a short history of the slaves. I do not like the term 'slave' - but anyway I had to use the term to embroider a less ambiguous elaboration. I am glad to have this opportunity to visit this place. When I used to watch 'Roots' I never thought I could see the place of Kunta Kinte in my own eyes - it was beyond any of my maginations. Special thanks to doctor Debasish Saha for arranging the trip.

Soon I will upload the pictures and share the link. Please follow up the blog if you are interested in the snaps.

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