Let's start from the ending.
In the cramped space, we tried to stretch our hands but found no contact. We breathed the crop of our misery; the foul stench of helpless tears, the sour taste of fear filled sweat. There was no one to scream to. We had waited too long and now how tragedy becomes us.
They came in the dust, their eyes bulging with malice, their lips twisted with curses. They came with guns and many bullets beyond counting. They used it all on our small town, tearing open bodies that once hid behind the cloth of civilization. They showed us the truth of the whip, of the spurs, of the spear in the rib. We tried to fight; farmers bending hoes to blunt force trauma, fishwives raising harpoon through the throat of night, seeking enemy. We were brave. It was not enough.
It was not enough because we were betrayed by our own selves. Hunger and thirst, greed and ambition drove men forward like cows to the slaughter of their own kin. We were desperate to survive. It never occurred to us to die at the feet of our tormentors. No, we chose the strange thing; we turned on ourselves. It was a brutal season. And while we died, our tormentors egged us on, placed bets and even contributed with weapons of attrition.
How could we have won the war? How could we have been able to look beyond language and God for something more; solidarity, shared pain, shared dream? Our masters did their work well. They came prepared to leave us with nothing. We stood and watched our houses, filled with treasures of ancient times become the roosts of geckos and dead moths but for some reason, we refused to rebuild. Instead we turned to our tormentors and begged them to save us from the geckos and the ghosts of butterflies. We begged them to use our ancient treasures to save us. We forgot who we were.
It is how we found ourselves in the keel of old ships, snuck in like aliens. Our bodies were chained to our dreams and prayers and each person acted as if the next was a ghost of somebody they used to know. We found ourselves among the dead salt of the Sahara, trekking through that hot, seeking a path, any path away from the nightmare we had made. We became bones, signposts to weary travellers, victims of human ability for cruelty, unnamed gravestones in the ever shifting sands. It was how we entombed our bodies in the Atlantic.
Our masters pretended not to need us. They broke us first with whips and salt on our wounds. They sold our children into slavery and our women they bribed with diamonds bloodied by our father’s hands. They showed us the lights, the music, the dance wafting from their debauchery and we hungered for it. We forgot that we once owned a life of our own. We forgot that we once loved and fought, once were imperfect in our own gruesome ways. We forgot who we were and slavered like dogs at our master’s table.
They fed us. They gave us meaning and sometimes they used us to perpetuate the common good. That this good often coincided with their unnamed hunger did not matter to us. We wanted to be free. We thought that if we worshipped their gods we will get that freedom but the god seemed to change his face each time we looked. How could we worship Esu? How could a trickster god be their alpha and omega? What does that say of their intentions? This meant nothing to us because we fought to be in their cities and when we were successful, we did not hesitate to inform those back home that we were free.
But the price of this freedom; seeing how our own estranged sisters and brothers were being broken and we walked on by silent, looking only forward towards the next pay check was the saddest thing. We betrayed ourselves each time. We sat in that cramped space, waiting for our names to be called and we said to ourselves: do anything to stay free. So we lied, killed, denied, betrayed to stay on that shore. It did not matter that we had ankle monitors on or that the chains that held us were made in our home. We died for that freedom so it was worth everything.
Yet, what did we do wrong? We had welcomed them with open arms. We had not judged them their gods. Why did they have to break us so? Why did they look into our eyes and found nothing but use for our bodies? What god thought it wise to bend history towards this direction? Do you ever wonder what it would mean for the victim to be the perpetrator and what that means for our tormentors? Would my people have been kinder and more accepting? Would we have looked at our tormentors in the eye and call them human? Would they have been naive about the grand possibilities of human cruelty as we were? Would they have fought? Would any of it have mattered?
Here is the tale of how the crows came, of how the vultures fed fat, of how the hyenas cackled. Here is the tale that never ages well, stinking of carcass and detritus, blood and earth. This is our tale and i tell it to you, as we wait for the custom official to eye our skin, scrutinize our filth, segregate our accents and determine who the devil is and who Lucifer is.
Shift as close as the manacles will let you. Let me tell you, once upon a time, there was an empire named Benin. The king was god and the people proud. One day, a day set aside to worship, a strange people came and they did an evil thing...
You have written a story that is an extended metaphor for a conception of human history, @warpedpoetic.
I perceive this text as an attempt to give us a philosophical perspective. Your language is very cultured and you seem to have spent time choosing the exact words to construct an allegorical tale.
I enjoy reading you, thank you for this story.
An allegory? After your comment I have to look the story again and you are right. It is indeed an allegory of what Africa is in most parts. Thank you for reading this.
Thank you for writing this allegorical story and posting it on @theinkwell, @warpedpoetic.
We ask and appreciate you commenting meaningfully on the texts of fellow writers.
Thank you for reading. I hope it makes meaning for those seeking to understand.
This is incredibly well made and poetic story. Not only was it an eye-opener, it was also very satisfying to read. Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece with the community.
Thank you. I am glad you could grasp something out of it. It means a lot that you can understand the message therein.
This is so well written and the way worded and explain it all is beautiful.
I enjoy reading this.
Found your post via @dreemport
Thank you very much. I appreciate you.
Great, very nice write up!
Thank you. 😊
I came here via @ dreemport
I went to sleep last night reading about Benin. Colonialism/imperialism/exploitation has long been an interest of mine--I've written about it and taught about it. This story is bigger than the historical record. As is always the case with you, there is a dark essence of human nature explored here. It's not just the cruelty of one group to another. It's our irrational blindness to how we betray our own communities, our own people.
The slave trade in Benin was an abomination by invaders on the people of West Africa. But it couldn't have happened, at least not as successfully, unless Benin itself had participated.
You present questions to us in your stories disturb. Personally, I live with these shadows by distracting myself and by trying to do tiny 'good' things that may make a tiny dent in all the misery. You do not distract yourself. You deal with the horror (I think of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now). Hard to get up in the morning so acutely aware.
Thanks for writing this story in the Ink Well. I might not have seen it otherwise.
The history of Africa is filled with such tales. The part that hurts is our constant reliance on the opinions of the same people that broke us. We call it neo-colonialism. A better world for it would be modern slavery.
Do I have a solution to this dependence? Not yet. One day hopefully. Until then, this is my reality. I live in a country where everyone wants to escape, where tomorrow is not assured and people would rather do business with a foreigner than with their own fellow country people. This is the world is seek to express in my story.
Maybe the darkness in my stories is me seeking to show and understand this life.
I understand. One of the first books I wrote for children was entitled Exploration and Conquest, Stories of Indigenous Peoples. I've written other books that tangentially touch on the struggles of people. While I cannot experience what you know, it is something I feel deeply.
Know that I was born in difficult circumstances. Know that these circumstances tore my family apart. That they resulted in great tragedy. That they determined the arc of my life. While there was eventually the opportunity to escape (as there is not for those who live in your country), it didn't always seem that way. I'm certain this is why I relate to people who struggle.
It seems that I speak from a position of privilege. That is true now. But I do understand the darkness and it follows me. I'm quite old, but those memories intrude. They are a truth I know, that I learned very early in life.
It is essential that you tell us the truth about your experience. Writing that tells us nothing is not worth anything to me.
This is the biggest blessing I think; to be able to tell your own story. I believe that telling our stories are how we own who we are and what we have done, good or bad. This ownership is what makes identity. After all, to identify is to take action. One cannot be human and be inhuman to others.
I am always thankful for your words and your perspective. It helps me understand what I am unpacking when I write here on inkwell and that is a blessing. I appreciate you @agmoore
Reading had me pondering on the past, the lives of indigenous people, played like cards by their colonial masters.
I read this twice it was so good! Then I went straight onto the net and read up about Benin's history. I knew from this allegory already that it provided acute insight into the tragedy of colonial imposition and displacement in Africa but did not appreciate the full length and breadth of Benin's history. Thank you for sharing this story. As usual, your ability to weave magic with words has captured a lot of attention. I came to your post via @dreemport
It is my belief that as an artist, it is my duty to speak and show to my readers how my society exists. I appreciate that you went further to read the history of the Benin empire. Not that certain parts of the story reflect not just the issues the empire faced but also what many African communities, especially in west Africa experienced during the pre-colonial, colonial and the present post colonial time. That we use a word describing imposition and oppression to determine the timeline of our history is the saddest thing.
Thank you for stopping by.
It is indeed nothing short of tragic. I was born in Africa. I grew up in Africa within a lower-middle-class family, but still of white privilege. My family always voted against the ruling Nationalist government at every single election. Seeing a new fledgling true democracy emerge in 1994, and being part of that change in South Africa, was quite an incredible and emotional thing for me. Sadly, as you mention, Africa's people often turn on their own, instead of taking every opportunity possible to work together to create the rainbow nations to which we all aspire to belong, and too often we tear each other apart through corruption and greed (not too unlike our colonialist predecessors). My hope and prayer are that the divisions within Africa's societies will one day be healed and that her untapped talent be realised to her people's gain. Beyond Africa's borders, I find it shameful that in the so-called free nations of the western world that neo-colonialist ideologies are still prevalent. Know that we are not all of that ilk.
This is the tragedy, that Africans have been so traumatized that we no longer see how we shackle ourselves, how we willingly clamber into the holds of seagoing vessels and chain our necks to their keels. We call it progress but it has broken us. Because we cannot respect who we were, we've become ashamed of who we are and thus, unwilling or too broken to dream.
I hope someday, we will find people who are willing and have the ability and support to do the work necessary to make us find pride again. One day, I hope we as Africans would find a way to deal with history, to rewrite our future and maybe, each person would look another and see family not competition, see community not opportunity, see love not hate.
I had to read this twice to understand it.. Is it just me or others didn't quite get the message in their first reading? It was just too much for me to comprehend.
I must applaud you for your use of words here and how you described the Benin people,what they passed through and their quest for freedom.
@dreemport directed me to your post. Nice one
Thank you for reading. It wasn't just a story about the Benin people though. It is more of an allegory of the African story.
You see why I said it was difficult for me to understand. Nice one from you. Keep it up boss.. Hope to be like you someday in writing... You are such a world class writer
Thank you very much. I appreciate
This was so good I had to read it twice and will probably need to read it again.
Well done, have some !PIZZA :)
Thank you very much for stopping by. I appreciate this
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