I wrote this in my journal today after touring Elmina Castle, a historic slave dungeon that was controlled by the Portugese, Dutch, and English. This is a pretty emotional and sometimes graphic entry.
Ten minutes ago, I stepped out of the gates of hell. One hour ago, I walked into it. What more can I say about a slave castle- a place that stinks of shit and blood, fear and death? I understand now what it means to be a slave- the depth of the horror and victimization that humans can inflict on other humans. Wait. No. I don't understand at all. But I have seen a part of a history that always evaded me.
My ancestors owned other humans. For some part of my life, in a small and dusty corner of my mind, I was proud of that legacy- of the power and prestige that they won by taking advantage of other people. No matter how benevolent and paternal they saw themselves, I have no doubt that they whipped or had people whipped. They bought and sold human beings. They raped women- legacy of the racist masculinist system in which they lived. My ancestors gave their slaves names (not allowing them to name themselves and their children) and did not allow them to read or write, to play music using their African-style instruments, or to associate freely.
Another legacy of my ancestors are the darker-skinned cousins which I know I have. I know I have them, because slave masters were never without their mistresses, and plantations were never without their jealousy. My grandmothers had to compete with the women whose names I have read in my grandfathers' wills- women named Janey and Lucy. They threatened my grandmothers, Mrs. Sally Dumas and Mrs. Lily Dockery with their youth and sensuous darness. Because my grandfathers owned white people, too. Legally, Mrs. Oliver Hart Dockery and all of her property did not belong to herself, but to her husband.
Lucy and Janey and so many other African women weren't even "protected" by the regulatory laws of chivilry and the mobs and the Klan. They were beaten and killed, raped, forced to bear the children of hate and repression. At every turn, they were taken and picked at like so much livestock. The raiders, the governer, the soldiers, the captain, the sailors, the merchants, the masters, and the masters' sons (not to mention the terrible frustrated male slaves, themselves starved for masculinity and control). "Woman is the n-gg-r of the world" John and Yoko said. But black women? Theirs seems to be the worst fate of all.
Today when we went to the women's quarters, we learned that the governer would periodically have all the female slaves brought out into the courtyard (the only time that they would be allowed to see the light of day) for the governer to survey. He would pick out one particular woman who would be washed (they hadn't had baths in months) and fed and clothed, and then he would have her sent to his quarters, upstairs. When he was finished with her, she would be sent back downstairs to be finished off my the soldiers. Many times, they would rape her to death. Any women who resisted a soldier's advances would be chained to a cannonball in the courtyard for the entire day without food or water. They also cut off one of her ears.
My time is running out, so I can't say all that I can. This shook me deeply. It's been a very emotional day.