maafa -- 10/18/22

Today's selection -- from Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo" by Zora Neale Hurston.  In 1859, Timothy Meaher smuggled 110 Africans from Africa up the Mobile River and sold them into slavery. Tried for piracy from 1860-1861, he was only fined for the kidnapping and enslavement of other human beings. Oluale Kossola [also known as Cudjo Lewis] was one of the men aboard his ship, the Clotilda. He told his story to Zora Neale Hurston in 1927. Even after they were freed, the men and women of the Clotilda were not returned home or given land to provide a means of subsistence. They rented land from Mr. Meaher until they were able to buy it from him -- after which, they founded Africatown:

"'There is a loneliness that can be rocked,' says the nar­rator in Beloved. 'Arms crossed, knees drawn up; hold­ing, holding on, this motion, unlike a ship's, smooths and contains the rocker. It's an inside kind -- wrapped tight like skin. Then there is a loneliness that roams. No rock­ing can hold it down. It is alive, on its own. A dry and spreading thing that makes the sound of one's feet going seem to come from a far-off place.' It settles into the dis­jointedness of lives torn asunder by 'a sequence of separa­tions'; into the woundedness of a radical and 'unbearable dislocation' from home and kin to an estranged place on foreign soil. The loneliness that attends such disrup­tion infuses Kossola's narrative. It cannot be rocked. 'Af­ter seventy-five years,' writes Hurston, 'he still had that tragic sense of loss. That yearning for blood and cultural ties. That sense of mutilation.' It is the existential angst that is consequent to deracination.

"Maafa is a Ki-Swahili term that means disaster and the human response to it. The term refers to the disrup­tion and uprooting of the lives of African peoples and the commercial exploitation of the African continent from the fifteenth century to the era of Western globalization in the twenty-first century. Conceptually, the phenome­non of the African Maafa is comprehensive in that it rec­ognizes the extensive and continuous devastation of the African continent and its inhabitants and the continuous plundering that extends the trauma brought about via trans-Atlantic trafficking. For 'illegitimate trade' was su­perseded by the European 'scramble for Africa' and colo­nization of the continent, just as the 'Peculiar Institution' of slavery in America was reformulated as the convict ­leasing system, an earlier form of the Jail-Industrial Com­plex. And just as Kossola was ensnared in the institution of slavery in America, his son, Cudjo Lewis Jr., who was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for manslaughter, was handed over to the convict-leasing system in the state of Alabama.

"Oluale Kossola could never fathom why he was in 'de Americky soil.' 'Dey bring us 'way from our soil and wor­kee us hard de five year and six months.' And once free, he says, 'we ain' got no country and we ain' got no lan'.' And in postbellum America he was subject to the exploi­tation of his labor and the vagaries of the law, just as he was in antebellum America. He remained confounded by this cruel treatment for the rest of his life. Kossola's experience was not anomalous. It is representative of the real­ity of African American people who have been grappling for a sense of sovereignty over their own bodies ever since slavery was institutionalized.

"The American Dream is a major theme in the narrative of racial difference. The shadow side of that dream, which is not talked about, entails the plundering of racial 'Others.' 

"It was this dreaming that inspired both William Foster and Tim Meaher to flout the law of the US Con­stitution, steal 110 Africans from their homes, and smuggle them up the Mobile River and into bondage. Though Foster and Meaher were charged with piracy, neither was convicted of any crime. No one was held re­sponsible for the theft of Kossola and his companions and their exploitation in America. Of the thousands of Africans smuggled into America after 1808, only one man was held accountable and hanged, and even he died proclaiming his innocence.

"Folklore had it that Tim Meaher decided to smuggle Africans into Alabama on a bet. In April of 1858, while traveling aboard the Roger B. Taney, Meaher boasted to fellow passengers that he could bring Africans into the country in spite of the ban against trans-Atlantic traffick­ing. He bet 'any amount of money that he would "import a cargo in less than two years, and no one be hanged for it."' It was Meaher's dream to own land and become wealthy and to use slave labor to do it. He believed it was his birthright.

"At the end of the Civil War, once they learned they were free, Kossola and his compatriots began to plan their repatriation. They soon realized that their meager earn­ings would not be adequate to live on and allow them to save enough money to fulfill their dreams of returning to Africa. Also unaware of the activities of the American Colonization Society, they resolved to re-create Africa in America. Toward that end, the community of Afri­cans elected Kossola to approach Timothy Meaher about granting them some land on which to rebuild their lives as a free people.

"'You made us slave,' Kossola told Meaher, 'Now dey make us free but we ain' got no country and we ain' got no Ian', Why doan you give us piece dis land so we kin buildee ourself a home?' Meaher's response was one of indignation. 'Fool do you think I goin' give you property on top of property? I tookee good keer my slaves in slav­ery and derefo' I doan owe dem nothing? You doan be­long to me now, why must I give you my Ian' ?' Kossola and the others rented the land until they were able to buy it from the Meahers and other landowners. The parcels they bought became Africatown, which was established by 1866.

"Their African Dream was inextricably bound up with Timothy Meaher's American Dream, and their dream of return would be forever deferred. But the survivors of the Clotilda would work together to create a community that embodied the ethos and traditions of their homeland. In its founding and government, Africatown was similar to other black towns, writes Sylviane Diouf. But it was dis­tinguished by the fact of its ethnicity. Although some Af­rican Americans were numbered among them as spouses and founders, Africatown 'was not conceived of as a set­tlement for "blacks," but for Africans.'

"Africatown was their statement about who they were, and it was a haven from white supremacy and the ostracism of black Americans. The bonds the Africans created in the barracoons, on the ships, and in servitude were the source of their survival and resilience, and the foundation of their community."



Zora Neale Hurston


Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo'


Amistad, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers


Copyright 2018 by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust


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