Did you cry upon thine cobbled path
And your brethren bleed upon cast iron cannons?
The treachery of the pale will never leave your skin
As the branding of your kind
With the searing wrath of the sugar greed is indelible.
So is your history that grows old and compact
Like a tomb for your lost indigenous names.
Never Akachi and Imamu but William, Mary and James.
Washing Wai’tukubuli white with whips of the eastern wicked.
But the fields leave no time for the spirit to be bitter…only to break as Master approaches.
By Rohini James
Copyright January 2015
All Rights Reserved
This poem was inspired by a lecture given by local historian, Lennox Honychurch, in which a timeline of Caribbean history was elaborated upon on the grounds of Fort Shirley in Prince Rupert Bay, Dominica. While listening it was difficult not to imagine life as an enslaved indigenous person or an imported African. Perhaps even more difficult was not being affected by the very real traumas faced by these people who endured wars, crippling poverty and maltreatment as pawns in the grand scheme of profiting from the thriving sugar industry of the 17th century.
The African names chosen are relevant to the nuances of the poem. As a means of gaining psychological control over the enslaved populations (in addition to the manipulation of religion to denounce the humanity of the slaves) the European colonists would sever them from their cultural identities. It was common for African traditions to be banned on plantations inclusive of native religions, art forms and even the cultural significance of their names which were often changed to European ones. ‘Akachi’ means “God’s hand” and ‘Imamu’ means “spiritual leader.” The changing of these names to European ones is symbolic of the stripping of their identities and the loss of their lofty titles and freedoms as a result.
Additionally, ‘Wai’tukubuli’ is the indigenous name given to Dominica by the Kalinago people, the original inhabitants of the island at the time of Columbus’ arrival. Christopher Columbus neither knew or cared that the island was already named. Like future colonists would come to do to their slaves, Columbus renamed Wai’tukubuli, stripping it of its name and a large percentage of its population.
I find it very difficult to accept mediocrity when all of our lives are the result of such profound events and collisions of chance and even misfortune. History, after being a comfortable hum to fall asleep to in class, is proving itself to be as riveting as the present, having stood in a place so full of it all my life, yet only realizing its gravity now. I have discovered that it is wonderful to look back as often as you look forward. It is certainly cheaper than buying novels.