Juan Francisco Manzano
and the Language of Slavery
Malo es ser esclavo, pero mil veces peor es ser esclavo despierto; un esclavo que piensa es una protesta viva, es un juez mudo y terrible que esta estudiando el crimen social.
The scene is a slave compound on the island of Barbados in the eighteenth century. The narrator is seated beside a young girl named Gow and her six year old brother, Thry, who lies curled in her lap.They have been in Barbados about a week; have been fed very little; and, while they await being sold, have been set to work picking oakum. Thry is hungry and begs his sister to get him something to eat, which of course is impossible.
They both burst into a flood of tears, which continued for some time. After their lamentation ceased, she spoke to me, saying, I should not feel so bad if the white people had not taken from me the bracelet of gold, which was on my right arm, as my grand-father, when my grandmother died, took it from her arm and gave it to me (on account of my bearing her name) as a token of remembrance and affection, which was always expressed; and now I have nothing in this foreign land to remember her by, it makes me feel as if it would break my heart; but what's worse than all, I fear, if they don't kill me, they will take away my little brother; and if they don't starve him, he will mourn himself to death.... At this instant the driver came in with a long whip under his arm, and placed himself in the center of the circle in which we were chained, he stood about four minutes, cast his eyes upon the slaves, a dead silence prevailed through the whole house except the re-echoing of sobs and sighs. He fixed his eyes upon us, stepped up to the bunch of oakum which Gow had been picking, took it up in his hand with some vehemence, threw it down instantly, struck her upon the side of her head with the butt end of the whip, which laid her quivering upon the ground for one or two minutes.When she began to recover and to get upon her hands and feet, during which time he continued whipping her.