Pirates, pirogues and the pain of the past

Don’t worry, we’re on the wrong side of the continent for Somali hijackers, but I can just imagine the pirates out there, lurking behind this celestial net curtain of hazy sea and sky.

There’s a mini-flotilla of fishing boats, pirogues, lined up towards the right-hand limit of my view. Thin black shapes, almost flat, like parentheses, or the eyebrows of floating giants, their bodies submerged – no, it’s a silly analogy, I’ll stop right there. But they still look like eyebrows. They’re in pairs, side-by-side, that’s why.

This coast is infamous for its sea-borne troubles. First came the lone trading posts. Then the treaties. After that the skirmishes, the battles, the colonisations. But always there were the slaves. Between Africans at first, captured enemies. But then it becomes a trade. Then a bigger trade. More money. More inhuman.

Thank God for the conscience of the ones who brought it to an end, but frightening to think that in the wild and wonderful Luangwa Valley of Zambia, where we’ve spent such happy times, the last Arab slaving raids took place just over a hundred years ago, in the early twentieth century.

So, there to our right, invisible in this humid atmosphere of sand and salt, is the lighthouse and the Fort of Ussher. All along the coast are castles and forts which once were merely trading posts, gold the lure. But then came the building of vaults for storage. Then the escalation of the trade in goods that lived and breathed. And then the human cargo, stored before boarding in the sweltering darkness.

I’ve only seen one fort – but I didn’t need to see it to feel the agony, the pain, the inhumanity. Our hotel gift shop has a pair of slave irons for sale. I can’t bear to look at them, let alone touch them.

The last time I felt this way was at a beautiful spot high above the Luangwa River, where it wends its way to confluence with the Zambezi. Gazing out from our breakfast table a large iron anchor interrupted my view. An anchor from a slave ship.

I don’t know whether the beauty of the view is sown with sadness by the history, the misery, the souls that once cried out and fought against their fate in vain, or by my knowledge of what happened.

It doesn’t matter.

The book I bought to read on my way here, ‘Never let me go’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, takes the reader places where we really don’t want to go. So does visiting Accra, Luangwa Bridge and Liverpool Maritime Museum’s slavery gallery.

It’s what we humans can do.

LEST WE FORGET.

[flying home today, more anon]

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2 Responses to Pirates, pirogues and the pain of the past

  1. DickandBeth Barham says:

    Mary, Very moving. Beautifully written. Beth

    Like

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