My tour of Calabar was awesome. The sites visited were scenic; ranging from the sea-side stunning Marina Resort to the mind-blowing Tinapa Business Resort. The guys I hung out with were terrific, including Pavlo, Nadico, Smith, The Prince, and Lawless (their nicknames). The weather was clement, and the transport company, ABC Transport, did great. To say the least, it was a worthwhile experience and I’m far better off for it.
Yes, there was enough eating and plentiful drinking, much laughter and lots of love, but there was more. It got to a point where the one thing I needed to do was the only thing I failed to do. I needed to cry, but I didn’t. At that point, the close to real life reproduction of the slavery experience called for some tears; the inhumanity was great, and the cruelty excessive. Somehow, I just couldn’t afford as much as a drop of tears, but I felt all the pity such an experience could provoke. Quite an experience, I must confess.
Imagine slave traders raiding an entire village, capturing men, women, and children; razing down houses, killing those resisting capture, and abandoning the aged and incapacitated. Imagine shackling the people up in fetters of iron at the neck, hands and legs. Imagine going without food, nor with water, for days on end during the journey from the hinterlands where captures are made to the sea-side where they are ‘cargoed up’ for Europe and the Americas. Imagine having to be boxed up in ships like sardines in cans, and imagine having to maintain this ‘boxed up’ position for as long as the journey lasted, say 3 – 6 months. Imagine being thrown overboard to lighten the ship in the event of a tempest. Imagine being gagged in the mouth as a sugarcane slave worker (to keep one from helping oneself). The punitive measures were darn crazy; a slave could be beaten to death to serve as deterrent to others. In fact, there are too many imaginings to imagine, and they all sum up to one word: ‘crazy.’ And we’re privileged to exist in the post-slavery era.
However, the above scenario is half the truth. There is always the other side to every story. Yes, every ‘single story’ is dangerous, especially because of its power to create stereotypes. And Chimamanda Adichie would insist that the problem with stereotypes isn’t that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. The point being made here is that we’ve always construed the slavery story from a singular perspective, which always ends in castigating only the White culprits in the slavery deal. Of course, the whites are to blame for conceiving of such inhumanities, but there is more.
In Calabar’s Slave History Museum I visited, I saw that there were more hands in the slave deal than most of us could see or were told. With real relics of the slavery age, our tour guide, Peter, explained that local chiefs exchanged as many as 10 slaves for a gun; they exchanged slaves for mirror, and they also exchanged slaves for a bottle of dry gin. They equally exchanged slaves for gunpowder. Who were those in charge of capturing slaves? The very same local people recruited for that purpose, and rewarded with all what not. The local people always had a hand in slavery; the White slavers only provided the opportunity.
My point: share the guilt; balance the story. Yes, it was a partnership in crime. The Transatlantic Slavery experience is rightly called a trade. If so, and it is so, while the Whites demanded, some of the natives supplied. And the supplier is as good a businessman as the demander.