|Type of paper:||Literature review|
|Categories:||Slavery Zora Neale Hurston|
Zora Neale Hurston's Barracoon recounts the story of Cudjo Lewis. He was the last survivor of the last group of slaves shipped to America. The book is based on Lewis' interviews. It narrates Lewis' experience as a young man growing up in Africa, his capture by the adjoining Dahomians, being traded to slave traders, and the tormenting journey across the Atlantic in the slave ship. Hurston also tells Lewis life in slavery and as a free person. Publishers refused to publish Barracoon because black intellects and leading politicians feared the book's narration about the participation of Africans in the slave trade would be traumatizing to read. Another publisher, Viking Press, shunned the manuscript because it was in vernacular. They asked the author to transcribe it, but she refused. Instead, she chose to pursue other projects.
The three Alabama brothers bet they could engage in international slave trade without facing the law. Timothy Meaher, one of the brothers, initiated that bet. If caught, they would have been hanged for international slave business was illegal following its ban 50 years earlier. The brothers successfully smuggled the captives into Mobile. No person was punished.
The king of Dahomey become rich since he would raid neighboring villages, capture their inhabitants, and sell them to slavers. The Barracoon's main character, Cudjo Lewis - or Kossula- was aged 19 when he was seized from a village called Takkoi in modern-day Benin in West Africa. He was taken to the coast, sold to a slaver, and together with 120 others put into the Clotilda that set sail to America. The ship landed in the Alabama Gulf Coast. Lewis and the others were later smuggled into Mobile. Lewis was posted to work in a boat operating between Mobile and Montgomery. After becoming a free man, he settled in Africa Town (or Plateau) in Alabama.
Lewis was born in a large polygamous family. His father had 18 children. His first spouse gave him nine children, the second wife six (including Lewis) while the third one had three. Lewis spent his childhood in his family's compound. There he would play with his siblings, wrestle and race them, climb palm trees, and gather fruits from the forest. He joined the army when he grew older and learned how to shoot arrows, track wild animals, hunt, and build houses.The excerpt indicates Takkoi residents did not participate in the slave trade, but they lived in fear of the neighboring tribes that engaged in it. Also, the village leader loved peace and only taught young men of Takkoi how to fight to be ready to defend the village against raids by rivals.
Lewis met his wife from across Alabama River. They bore six children - five sons, and a daughter. Their children fought people who bullied and taunted them by calling them ignorant savages. Other colored people ignored and made fun of Africa Town's community because its dwellers were slaves and spoke a different language.
The most surprising thing in Barracoon is the fact that Africans took part in the slave trade. It is also amazing that the Africa Town community took it upon itself to empower children by building a school instead of waiting for outsiders to help. Finally, it is astonishing that Meaher sold land to people he helped enslave.
Excerpt from Barracoon: The Story of the Last "Black Cargo," by Zora Neale Hurston. Published by Amistad Press. Copyright 2018 by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust.
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