AUTHOR OF "THE
WEREWOLF OF PARIS"
THE VANGUARD PRESS NEW YORK
b m A AA & AAA A& &AA----A
COPYRIGHT, 1934, BY THE VANGUARD PRESS, INC.
No portion of this book may be reprinted with-
out the written permission of the publisher.
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES
BY H. WOLFF, NEW YORK
All you to whom I owe debts of gratitude,
read your names here! This book is dedi-
cated to you: kind friends who have re-
sponded to my too frequent importunities,
and writers, living and dead, from whom I
borrowed material all too freely.
6a tier i
King Louis XIII was greatly grieved by the law
that enslaved the Negroes of our colonies; but
when his counselors succeeded in persuading
him that they would thus be sure of conversion
to Christianity, he consented.
Slavery is God's first visit to the Blacks.
(OPINION EXPRESSED IN THE XVIIITH CENTURY.)
THE man with the broken nose, a nose squashed flat
against his face, was a genius. His fame had passed far
beyond the French slave-trading establishment at
Goree, and echoed all along the coast of West Africa.
And, preserved in books, it has crossed nearly two cen-
turies of time and come down to us to admire.
For such genius is rare. But who shall measure the
profitable talents of man?
This one was a nigger-taster. He sat on a high stool
in the center of the compound and the prodded
Negroes passed before him one by one.
It was the latest caravan to arrive from the interior
of Africa, a starved, bedraggled, filthy lot gathered by
various traders. The captives had come a distance of
several hundred miles, walking single file, attached to
each other by wooden forks and, in addition, required
to carry each a stone weighing forty or fifty pounds.
These stones had no value either as mineral or as
building material, but their weight, borne by tired
arms, mile after mile, subdued the spirit of revolt and
prevented the exhausted body from thinking of any-
thing but sleep at night.
With the butt of a little cane the Negro-taster caught
each black face, roughly but accurately, under the jaw-
bone and brought it into position.
He leaned forward.
And out came his tongue, his marvelously trained
tongue, and licked each Negro under the chin. There
was a brief, critical gathering of saliva, then he spat
the contents of his mouth into the Negro's face.
And he pronounced judgment.
On all the black faces, except upon those which per-
sonal tragedy had made stolid, there were signs of sur-
prise, of bewilderment, of fear, a fear so great that few
dared to wipe off the nigger-taster's saliva.
Among them was one, by name Babouk, who, seeing
that there were none of his own village about, dared
raise his voice in the declamatory style of a poet:
"We have been tasted!" he exclaimed. "The red man
has tasted us and now knows which one of us will
make good meat."
Those who understood his Mandingo dialect groaned
aloud at the thought that they were to be eaten and
that their souls should suffer dismemberment along
with their bodies and their qualities go to enrich the
souls of others.
"Your ghosts," cried Babouk, "will whistle in the
wind, at night, seeking the scattered soul. .. ."
Despite their weariness, the captives complained out
loud, all talking together, some translating for the
benefit of others, and making a great confusion of
They had been imposed upon! Had it not been
promised them, repeatedly, during the hardships of
their long journey, that they were not to be eaten?
Would they not have chosen rather to die at the hands
of their captors than to go into slavery had they known
that they were to be eaten?
They had been deceived! .
"Gmara!" cried one of the white men.
The interpreter, Gmara, a man of an ugly brown
complexion, clad, despite the heat, in a heavily em-
broidered uniform, came running up. He shouted out
in several languages his oft-told story:
"Quiet! You are going across the water in a great
dugout. You are not to be eaten. The white man does
not eat human flesh. You will wear bright golden
clothes like these I have on. And you will work in the
white man's fields."
This prospect was indeed delightful, and many
accepted it and grinned with pleasure. But others,
morose, suspicious, questioned the interpreter about the
red man who had tasted them.
"He is a white man, too," Gmara informed them.
"Why, that is to tell your age. His tongue feels the
bristles on your chin."
Again his answer was satisfactory to some. They
rubbed their chins, and the chins of their neighbors,
and even licked each other's chins. But others, for there
is always, in every crowd, an annoying remnant who
want to know everything-inquisitive minds who hold
up important business for trifling questions-others
wanted to know what possibly sinister purpose the
white man had in mind that he required to know their
And Babouk had an objection all his own:
"He tasted the women, too."
Only for a moment was Gmara stumped by Babouk's
observation. Then he answered witheringly. "You talk
too much," he warned. "The white man will not want
you for his fields. You will not wear such clothes as
these. Talking never yet grew rice or brought home a
duck from a hunt."
Babouk suffered under Gmara's scolding. At home,
too, he was often reprimanded for his tendency to talk
too much. Worse still was the fact that the crowd was
on Gmara's side. The Negroes around him were laugh-
ing at him.
And yet he persisted, urged on by a mind that would
not be satisfied by an answer that did not fully cover
the question in dispute.
"He tasted the women, too," he repeated. "Women
have no bristles on their chins."
"All the better," Gmara retorted. "They are all the
more pleasant to taste."
This excellent retort aroused laughter among the
blacks. Of course it was more pleasant to taste a
woman. Relieved of their fears, and brought back to
the everlastingly absorbing topic of women, they ceased
to make objections and turned instead upon Babouk,
showering him with ridicule.
Gmara, the ugly brown of his face pearled with
sweat, returned, self-satisfied, to the shade of a tree.
Babouk sat, quiet, and let the scorn of his fellow
captives fall about him.
"Babouk does not know that women are pleasant."
"Babouk is a child. He has never tasted a woman."
"Babouk is a sorcerer: he can grow rice with his
"Babouk! Hunt us some meat with your tongue!"
But Babouk was puzzling over Gmara's words: The
white man tasted the men to discover their ages. And
the women he tasted, too. Because they are all the more
pleasant. He repeated this train of thought until his
mind was tired. And still he was not satisfied. Some-
thing was missing. But what?
And so he squatted, with his chains resting upon his
thighs, and retired within himself. He was ashamed
of his public discomfiture. The news of it might travel
back to his village. They would have another laugh
there at Babouk's pretensions.
Though Babouk was incapable of comprehending
the purpose of the nigger-taster, nothing was really
more simple. Since good wines are worth more than
bad wines, and good tea more than bad tea, there are
wine-tasters and tea-tasters to protect the buyer of
And here is a man who can taste Negroes. With a
certainty that compels admiration, he can pick out,
from these groups of starving wretches, those who
after a week or two of rest and good food will be
plump and healthy, and separate them from those who
will never recover.
The Negro-taster's tongue feels bristles, and more
than that. It tastes the sweat. Now, a man may look in
perfect health, but his sweat will give him away. Con-
trariwise, he may look in miserable health, whereas
his sweat will proclaim the soundness of his body.
Here are Negroes who have come a thousand miles
and not been granted even one bath on the journey, or
as much as a dab of oil for their dry skins. Here are
others, fresh and healthy-seeming, who have come but
a hundred miles or less. Here are all ages and condi-
tions: warriors, iron-workers, farmers, rulers, slaves.
Some, like Babouk, had been struck from behind, on
the back of the head, and had lain for weeks in the
wet bottom of a leaky dugout before they came to this
Now tell me which are genuinely strong and healthy.
Which are good buys? On which will the captain be
sure of making a profit for his employer?
Perhaps a native trader has doctored up a sick slave.
The taster's tongue discovers the drug in the sweat.
Perhaps a Negress's graying hair has been rubbed glossy
black with oil and soot to make her appear young. But
how will you change the feel of her skin?
Rotting teeth may be filled with white clay, but the
Negro-taster has his nose close to the captive's mouth,
and you cannot conceal from him the characteristic
odor of decaying teeth.
Yes, the nigger-taster is a genius. And yet his method
is old. Were not the rules for the choice of a nurse to
a royal prince of France similar?-Her breath must
be sweet. Her feet must smell sweet. The sweat of her
brow must be pleasant to taste and smell.
And these captive Negroes whom the white man
selects to go across the sea and be his slaves in that
marvelous land, they must be as perfect as man can
be. Each one must be a physical marvel such as only
the hot breeding grounds of Africa can produce in
But you might ask: "Yes, but why does he spit out
in their faces?"
What? Are you, like Babouk, asking trifling ques-
What else would you have him do? You would not
want him to swallow it, would you? The wine and
tea-tasters do the same.
But why in the very faces of the Negroes?
Come now. Would you force him to turn his head
aside, here on this burning rock of Goree, where even
the sea breeze cannot temper the fierce African heat,
where each move is an added strain to the overbur-
dened human machine ?
And how else express that contempt that the white
man feels must follow and destroy a vile contact that
too closely resembles a caress?
It was late in the day before the traders had agreed
upon a price for the selected Negroes. The latter had
but little conception of what was going on. Here were
some who had been assaulted in the dark, and since
then had never beheld the face of a relative or friend.
They brooded, sullenly, in the midst of the bustle
Here were others, Ibo warriors all, glaring fiercely
about them. The king of the Gallos had made war
upon them, and business success had smiled upon this
African chieftain. He had taken a hundred Ibo cap-
tives and had kept them tied to heavy blocks of wood
in an enclosure that was like a pigpen, until a white
factor had come twenty days' journey up the river and
bid and paid for them.
Bars of iron, glass beads, bolts of gay cloth, cheap
muskets, swords of bad steel, had passed from the white
man into the hands of the king of the Gallos. And the
factor had led his chained file, like a long snake, to
And others were here. Habitual gamblers, who had
gambled themselves into servitude. Their relatives had
grown tired of redeeming them. And here were men
who had always been slaves. For generations they had
been slaves of this or that ancient Negro family.
They had not minded their serfdom. Their masters
worked beside them in the fields. They ate and wore
what their masters ate and wore. They lived in his
house, and he might not sell them, except in an emer-
gency, to settle a debt.
Excellent loophole, that. And now that the price of
slaves had risen to such unprecedented heights, since
the white man demanded hundreds of thousands every
year, debts were likely to appear where none had been
before, and an emergency arise where none had been
suspected a moment before.
Two families might agree to owe each other money
and might further agree to settle their fictitious debts
by giving each other their slaves. Such slaves, then,
which were really not of your own family, you might
very well dispose of, and a profitable business it was,
too, and no violation of any custom either.
And here and there, too, was a wretch who, contrary
to all laws and customs of Africa, had been sold by
his own relatives. For the price bid for slaves was really
Often, however, despite the high prices, despite the
attraction of the glittering articles offered by the Euro-
peans, the number of slaves brought to the coast was
entirely too small to meet the demands of the planters.
Then it was the duty of the whites to spur on the native
kings to make war upon each other in order to create
a greater supply of captives.
For these poor ignorant blacks have no conception
of the needs of industry, of commerce and competition.
No more than most savages. You could not, for ex-
ample, make the natives of the East Indian spice islands
work at all. Lazy folk that they were, they deemed that
their fruit trees, growing wild, provided them with
all they wanted. Why should they work?
In vain the whites tempted them with beads, with
guns, with alcohol. In short, there was nothing left
to do but cut down every fruit tree on the islands and
force the natives either to die of starvation or to work
for wages that would buy the foods that the whites
generously imported and sold to them.
Such were the hardships that the white man had to
overcome in order that the nations of Europe might
prosper and progress. And Europe did prosper and
progress. It became studded with castles, and the walls
of the castles were gay with tapestries and the rooms
were bright with gilt or polished furniture. And fine
paintings and sculptures decorated these palaces. And
books with marvelous contents were on the tables and
along the shelves.
All the world was forced to marvel at the art and
culture of the European. All the world was forced to
beg at the door of Europe for a little of that culture
so that they might not be objects of the European's
"See our castles!" the European cried proudly. "See
our museums stuffed with works of art!"
And the.world pleaded: "Give us just one painting.
Give us just one statue. Let us have a little culture, too."
And Europe was generous. For a million dollars she
would part with this fine daub, and for another million
she would bid a tearful farewell to this or that naked
woman in stone. But even as she parted with it, she
"Do you think you can buy culture with your
money? How ridiculous!"
Ah, if these blacks, huddled together, some still in
chains, others free, but all under the close surveillance
of armed guards, but knew that they represented Euro-
pean culture in its first stage, how justly proud they
But they knew nothing.
They watched the whites in terror. What were they
A charcoal brazier had been set aglow and a silver
blade was bent into the shape of the four letters: PD
N C. The first two letters were meant for the ship: the
Prie-Dieu. And the second for the captain of the ship:
And the silver blade was set in the charcoal until
it glowed cherry-red when brought into a dark corner.
Then the first of the purchased slaves was brought
forward. He shivered. His knees gave way beneath
him. He fell to the ground and shrieked.
A white man lashed him with a whip made from
the spinal nerve of a bull. The interpreter screamed
unceasingly at the wretch:
"No harm is intended you! You are to receive a
He was dragged to the brazier and made to lie down
on his back. Then his heaving chest was rubbed with
lard and a waxed parchment was held over this area
of his skin and the hot silver blade was brought into
proximity and maintained there until the heat that
came from the edge made the breast sputter up in' a
line that followed precisely the line of the silver letters.
Parchment and branding-iron were removed and on
the black chest rose the most beautifully curved welt
The fright was erased from his face. The onlookers
burst into relieved laughter. The patient touched the
blistered pattern on his skin. Ai! that was painful.
But then, it was artistic, too. And ennobling. In his
tribe, only the noble families whose genealogies were
chanted by the poets were permitted to raise decorative
welts on their skins. Why, the white man had made
him a nobleman.
Yes, all the slaves were agreed upon this. The pain
was after all a small matter. Were they not accustomed
to much worse, suffered in securing effects that were
not half so pleasing or immediate? They were in the
habit of poking thorns under their skin to distinguish
themselves, or of making incisions which they would
rub with salt lest they heal too rapidly.
Truly the white man, or the red man, as most of
the Negroes described his color before they learnt
better, was a man of power and ability. His skill, his
magic, were unequaled. Here was proof of it. Here
was something delightful, exquisite, indicative, as the
interpreter took care to point out, indicative of the
marvels to come. The most incredulous were now
almost willing to believe the tale of a wonderland of
food and clothes and dancing to which they were
There were no more howling savages to be dragged
to the brazier. Each one wanted to be first to receive
the decoration. Many showed by signs that they wished
to be branded in more than one spot and they indicated
suitable expanses of black skin. The surgeon, Le Petit,
laughed in good humor as he directed the work, and the
Negroes laughed with him.
"What great big, stupid children!" the surgeon ob-
served to the captain.
"As long as they are happy," said the captain. "A
happy cargo is a healthy one."
But in the evening the Negroes were neither so
happy nor so noisy. They were silent, pensive, dream-
ing of the huts they had left behind.
There, too, they would be gathered about fires, cook-
ing rice or yams with a sauce of meat or fish and spices.
And they would eat, all dipping into one pot with the
right hand, sign of cleanliness and good-breeding, for
the left must be reserved for ugly but necessary bodily
offices. And they would be happy, but not noisy, for
excessive noise is a sign of ill-breeding, and everyone
strives to be considered a good, or gentle, man.
Nevertheless they would be happy at home. There
would be anecdotes related of a recent hunt; or riddles
to guess; or a discussion of a prospective feast.
Or a poet would chant to them, or an annalist would
recite to them the deeds of their ancestors.
But what had they here? Behind them was the
memory of ravage and desolation, and before them the
terror of the unknown. And all about them was the
blackness of the night.
As darkness fell upon the world, Babouk more than
ever missed his love, Niati. There was not even the
compensatory sight of another woman, for, once pur-
chased by the whites, the sexes were kept far apart.
And Babouk, lonely, recalled to mind a verse he had
composed some months before his capture, about a
nightfall just such as this:
"The sky grows dark like dark blue cotton,
The fog grows milky, dripping dew of fresh milk.
The hyena bellows and the lion, ruler of the bush,
How cozy then to sit in a corner, with a girl,
And whisper softly."
Slightly fevered by the burn of the branding-iron,
the Negroes shivered in the evening wind and coughed
dismally. They crowded closer to each other for
warmth, their chains rattling as they shifted now here,
"Tell us a story, Babouk," one of them begged. Then
they all raised their voices:
"Tell us a story, Babouk."
"I am just a child," he retorted sullenly, recalling the
insults of the morning. "My tongue can hunt duck and
grow rice, but it cannot tell a story."
He was barely sixteen, and at home his arrogance
had brought him many reproofs. He was nama kana,
cheap trash, for he interrupted his elders and pre-
tended to be a better minstrel than certain older men of
established reputation. And yet the latter had often
pointed out to him that he could not tell a story prop-
erly, and that in his recitations of the genealogy of
their former great states-now, alas! laid so low-he
made the most ridiculous blunders.
"Tell us a story, Babouk," he was begged again. Then
he allowed himself to be mollified.
"Do you know," he asked, "that I would not be here
if I had obeyed my father?"
"Please tell us," his listeners chorused.
"Do you know that if I had had but a needle to de-
fend myself with I would not be here, but home with
"Please tell us," his listeners begged again.
"Very well, I shall tell you the story of the man who
was captured by a robber because he did not obey his
father. And I shall tell you how he escaped because
he remembered the advice of his father.
"This young man used to go into the forest with-
out any arms at all, not so much as a stick. And his
father would say: 'My son, take some weapon with
you. Let it be but a needle, it may suffice if you are
"But the son only laughed. 'Who will attack me?
And if I am attacked, how will a needle serve me?'
And he disregarded the advice of his father and went
into the forest unarmed.
"And one day a robber took him prisoner.
"And the young man groaned: 'Alas! If only I had
obeyed my father this could not have happened to me.
He always told me to take at least a needle with me
when I went into the forest.'
"The robber laughed: 'A needle? What good would
a needle do you against my spear?'
"The son groaned: 'My father was right. If only I
had a needle!'
"'Come,' said the robber, 'you are as foolish as your
father. What good would a needle do?'
"'Alas! If only I had a needle.'
"'Stop your groaning. Here is a needle. What can
you do with it?'
"'But this is a broken needle. Look, the point is off.'
"Then the robber bent down to see where the point
was broken off, and the young man quickly plunged
the needle into his eye.
"The robber screamed: Yi-ai! He has blinded me!'
"But the son ran home to his father."
And Babouk concluded with the ancient formula:
"And the fable passed by here, and went out toward
the sea ."
A goodly number of the slaves had been able to
understand the Mandingo dialect that Babouk spoke.
Others profited by rapid translations. But many, of un-
known races from the interior, depleted by their enor-
mous journey, understood nothing, and fell asleep
where they were, amidst the noise and clamor that
accompanied Babouk's recitation.
Babouk himself, proud of the reception of his story,
began to interrogate his fellow slaves: "What would
you have done with a needle?"
The first few, caught unprepared, mumbled some-
thing about plunging the needle into their assailant's
eye. But after that there were interesting variations, and
the most alert among them prepared themselves for
the moment when they would be called upon by
Babouk to give an account of their prowess with a
The audience found this vastly amusing. Some
sleepy Negro would make a foolish response and all
would burst into laughter, or another would think of
something really clever that one might do with a
needle. And then the audience would shout its ap-
At home the elders would have reproved this un-
necessary noise. But here each one strove to drown his
sorrow in as much laughter as he could summon forth.
Ha! They were brave, now, in retrospect. What won-
ders they might have done with just a tiny needle.
Babouk was made happy by the effect his story had
on his audience. But when he noted how each man was
trying to outdo his predecessor in boastfulness, and how
those who could not boast were ridiculed by those who
could, he determined to turn the tables on the brag-
garts. And he suddenly shouted: "You, yes, you are
brave. Brave as the man who would not chase the
At that the Negroes halted in their boastful talk.
But, when Babouk said nothing more, those who were
puffed up with big ideas could not resist going on with
their invented heroisms.
Then Babouk said again: "Yes, you are as brave as
the man who would not chase away the striped fly."
And he pointed out the boasters one by one and said:
"Braver folk than you do not exist."
There was silence for a while and a feeling of guilt
on the part of the boasters.
"You are a very proud lot, and I am sure you are as
brave as the young man who went into the forest with
the young girl who was his friend and refused to chase
away a striped fly."
"Tell us, please," the company begged humbly.
"Yes, you are brave," said Babouk, "You are as brave
as this young man who refused to chase away a striped
fly. Oh, he was brave!"
"Tell us, please," the audience chorused.
"Very well. This is the story of the young man who
was so brave he refused to chase away a striped fly.
"A young girl was walking along the forest path and
a young man came up to her and walked behind her,
but she paid no attention.
"'My friend,' he said, in order to impress her, 'you
do not know that I am very brave. Why, in the last war
I killed four men. And I made two prisoners. And I
captured a horse. Why, I received eighteen wounds.
Oh, there's none braver than I. Why, our people would
not think of making war unless I consent to go along.'
"'Really,' exclaimed the young girl, 'then your like
does not exist.'
"'Hey, hey! My like does not exist! I am the bravest
"But a hunter had hid himself in a tree, and, seeing
them coming, leaped down before them. His great bow
was stretched taut and a poisoned arrow was ready to
fly. The young girl kept on walking, and the young
man, who was behind her, would have kept on walk-
ing, too, only the hunter cried: 'Do not move or you are
"'Why?' cried the young man.
"Then the hunter explained: 'Your people have often
fought ours, and in battle your father killed mine. I
have often hoped to see you in the battle line but it is
not until now that I find you. I would kill you but for
this young girl who might therefore never marry.
"'Therefore, instead of killing you, all I shall ask is
that you squat here and do your business. Quick! Down
"The young man did as he was told. And when he
had done his business, he rose and would have gone
on, glad to have escaped so cheaply, but the hunter
still held his poisoned arrow in readiness:
"'What? You would go on and leave this filth and
all these flies buzzing about? Chase them away!'
"Then the young man waved his hand back and
forth and kept the flies away. And when he grew lax,
the hunter shouted:
"'Chase those flies away!'
"And the young man bent down and waved his
hand more rapidly.
"Finally the hunter said: 'Good. The filth is dry and
no more flies come buzzing around. You may go on
with that girl who has been so good as to wait for you.'
"And the young man went on, looking back over
his shoulder now and then to see if the hunter were
following. But the hunter was not following.
"Then the young man said to the girl: 'Did you
notice that striped fly? Did you notice how I didn't
chase away that striped fly?'"
Ha! What a story! The laughter of the listeners
would not cease. And it was the turn now of those who
had not been able to boast about their prowess with a
needle to turn upon the boasters with shouts of derision:
"You! Why you are so brave you would not chase away
the striped fly."
The noise the Negroes made was so great that Cap-
tain Collard, who was supping with the Governor in
the fortress, could hear them, and he nodded his head
with satisfaction. "A happy cargo is a healthy one,"
Until late at night Babouk declaimed. Story after
story, and poem after poem. And then long epics about
the Mandingo empire. About the great conqueror,
Soon-jato, the Lion-Prince, who went to the Holy City
of Mecca with a vast invincible army. Of Soomanguroo
who built the great capital city of Mali.
Finally his voice trailed off. He ceased talking, and
there was no one to ask him to continue. Near-by he
heard a group of Peuls chattering softly in their mu-
sical speech that is like the twitter of birds. He would
have slept, too, except that he thought, with a stab of
pain, of Niati, whom he would never see again.
What would Niati do, now that he was gone? Was
it not to be regretted that he had cast such a powerful
spell of love around her? He had spied upon her and
knew when she bathed and where, and he had gone
upstream and bathed too, so that the water that had
washed his body should wash hers. Then quickly he
had run downstream, beyond the point where she
bathed, and had bathed in the water from her body.
And thrown it into the air to fall in a spray about him.
And cupped it in his palm and swallowed it.
They were bound now, bound by a tight web of love.
Though she had never honoured him with even a
glance, and though he had been captured shortly after
the spell, yet he knew she loved him now, and dreamed
of him as he dreamed of her. Poor Niati, bound by a
( apter zi
We speak of the blood-cemented fabric of the
prosperity of New Orleans or the Havanna: let us
look nearer home. What raised Liverpool and
Manchester from provincial towns to gigantic
cities? What maintains now their active industry
and their rapid accumulation of wealth? The
exchange of their produce with that raised by
the American slaves; and their present opulence
is as really owing to the toil and suffering of the
Negro, as if his hands had excavated their docks
and fabricated their steam-engines.
H. MERIVALE, Lectures on Colonization and Col-
THE very next day, and all day long, the smithies rang
with the blow of hammer on anvil. Two by two the
captives were brought to the blacksmith, relieved of
their old chains, and chained together anew, this one's
right foot to that one's left. So that the pair could walk
together by holding onto each other and propelling
themselves forward with two outer, thin legs and one
monstrous double leg between.
It was not usual for the captives to be hastened into
chains so shortly after their purchase, so shortly after
the removal of the wooden yokes of the caravan. In
general, two or three weeks were allowed for a period
of rest and restoration of energy and weight.
The captain, too, liked to dally a bit, fit up his vessel
with a cool, thatched housing on the deck, and do a bit
of profitable trading for his privy purse by the ex-
change of glass beads and iron bars for gold dust or
ivory or beeswax.
It was important, likewise, to hire a bombe or two in
order to instruct the Negroes in the art of dancing
aboard a ship, the art of dancing on a heaving, shifting
platform despite chains on one's legs: an education that
was very necessary since the imprisoned cargo needed
the relief of a daily bit of exercise.
Then, too, an effort was generally made to secure
foodstuffs to suit more or less the various nationalities
of the captives. You could not, of course, provide the
Bambaras with the frothy milk, warm from the cow's
udder, that was their favorite food. Nor bananas for the
Aradas, nor fowl for the Ibos.
No, they would all have to get along with a couscous
of guinea corn, which we call Indian corn, yams, rice,
dried fish, beans, and so forth. But now and then, to
ward off that most dreaded of all diseases, melancholia,
which decimates the blacks like a plague, it was good
policy to distribute various delicacies that would re-
mind the captives of their homes and cheer them up.
But all these considerations had to be secondary
where there was a possibility of a total loss of cargo.
England was at war with France, and there were
rumors of an attack to be made on the island of Goree.
Indeed, but eight months ago, an English fleet had
passed by, but had sailed away when the cannons of
Goree had barked.
There were times when the island of Goree seemed
lost, so far away was it from the center of the world,
Europe. Month after month passed and not a sail ap-
peared in the small sandy bay.
But Europe had not forgotten Goree.
This was Goree: A bare rock covered with fortresses.
The Governor and the higher officers lived where the
island's only spring of fresh water existed, a spring
carefully padlocked. The Governor, Monsieur de St.
Jean, could look down from the eminence of his quar-
ters and see every inch of his territory and even cross to
the continent of Africa, where giant baobab trees gave
the unhealthful coastal swamp a deceptively green and
Three hundred soldiers, the very worst that France
could spare, lived in the island barracks when on duty
and with their Negro mistresses in the Negro town of
the island when off duty, and there gave rise to a grow-
ing population of mulattoes, half Yolof and half Gallic.
The officers, however, chose mulatto mistresses, as
being more in keeping with their higher position in
life, and kept them in their own quarters, for the Negro
town was beneath their dignity.
"The English imagine that they can dispossess me,"
laughed Governor de St. Jean, and he was half anxious
that they should and he thereby be sent home to
"Don't run away," he pleaded with Captain Collard.
"You're safer here than at sea."
He pointed out the heavy batteries, strategically
placed to fling death upon any attacking fleet. He
pointed out the recently constructed citadel of St.
Michel, built en barbet and mounted with great twenty-
"And here's a bit of suicide for your Englishmen,"
and he patted the sun-warm metal of a bright brass can-
non, an old-fashioned piece of small bore.
Why a bit of suicide? Because near the touch-hole
was engraved a scroll in which was inscribed with a
flourish: Elizabeth regina. And in tiny letters: Thomas
Pitt made this pece 1589.
Good Queen Bess!
"We'll shoot them down with their own ordinance,"
crowed the Governor.
Captain Collard, good business man that he was,
agreed with all the Governor said. Yes, the island was
impregnable. The English would not dare attack so
strongly fortified a position. No, no, of course not.
There was nothing to fear.
Still, privately he recalled that Goree had once been
Negro property. And then had belonged to the Dutch.
And the English had ousted the Dutch.
And the Dutch had ousted the English.
And the French had ousted the Dutch.
Who knows? It might be the Englishman's turn
So load in the yams! Load in the corn!
Hammer away, you smiths, and load on the cargo!
And off sailed the Prie-Dieu, and the Governor
watched it go. "When you see Paris, give her my re-
The Lord only knew how many months one might
have to wait for another visitor. Since the war the
slave-ships had avoided Goree. Cautiously, in the dark,
they felt their way along the coast of Africa and
watched for fires set as signals by native chieftains and
traders who had captives to sell.
Yes, Goree was impregnable, but it was not forgot-
Forgotten? Not at all. For, the more impregnable is
wealth, the more courageous grows cupidity. The more
she schemes and plans to secure that wealth and make
it impregnable in her turn.
For years England had been directed by a flood of
reports, memoirs, broadsides, to realize that her interest
demanded the conquest of the French fortifications
along the coast of Africa.
"What!" cried these memorialists, arms uplifted in
horror, "is not the ministry aware that in 1720 Eng-
land supplied most of the world's sugar?
"And now, in 1759, France supplies five times as
much as England!
"Yes, five times!
"Are we to be put in the shade by France? Must our
merchants grow poor and our workers lack for bread ?"
Intolerable thought. Conceive of it! The world uses
French sugar and English pockets are empty.
"Gentlemen: The French must be expelled from the
coast of Africa. For the sugar plantations of the French,
particularly those in the French part of the island of
San Domingo, require vast numbers of slaves. Prevent
the French from acquiring slaves and their sugar cul-
ture must inevitably suffer, to the advantage of our
planters. Furthermore, if the French are forced to come
to English merchants for slaves, a price can be exacted
that will cover the loss of the English position in the
sugar until such time as we can regain our rightful
Come then, Mr. Keppel, take a squadron and proceed
to Senegal and Goree, and strike the first blow for
England's return to leadership in the world's sugar
And you Britons: Arise! To arms!
The dastardly French have done this and that. The
cowards! The liars! The knaves! The traitors!
And brave Mr. Keppel arose and did as he was told.
And the brave Britons arose and did as they were told.
And on December 27th, 1759, Commodore Keppel's
four ships of the line, his frigate, his two bomb-ketches,
dropped anchor as near as they might to the island of
Goree, and at nine o'clock the action started.
Huzza! What a merry fray!
No less a personage than Reverend Lindsay, chaplain
of His Majesty's ship Fougueux, has left us a Succinct
The casualties were insignificant.
Shed a tear for poor Lieutenant West. A shot carry-
ing along in its course an eighteen-inch bolt, torn loose
from the timbers of the vessel, ripped out one of Mr.
Applaud the heroism of an English sailor: "Being in
the fore-top and having one of his legs carried away by
a shot, with the heart of a lion, let himself down from
thence hand under hand by rope, saying at the same
time, He should not have been sorry for the accident if
he had done his duty: But it gave him pain to think
that he should die without having killed an enemy."
Who could share this feeling better than Reverend
Lindsay? Had he not had a brother, Captain William
Lindsay, who had fallen in fighting the French?
Then did not this representative of God on earth cry
out in anguish: "Would I were a soldier to revenge my
"Alas," mourned Reverend Lindsay, "my peaceful
robes entangle my arms.
"But though by profession denied armed resentment,
I have one method of revenge in store:
"I pray nightly for the confusion of France's politics
from the very bottom of my heart and that our ministry
may never sheathe the sword until an enemy so treach-
erous are on their bended knees."
Brave sailor who regrets death only because he has
not killed an enemy!
Stout-hearted British clergyman, whose arms are un-
fortunately entangled by his sacred robes.
We may pass over the death of twenty nameless
marines. They perished.
But let us recall an important death, that of Sayer,
the master of the ship Nassau. He was struck by a bullet
that tore him to pieces, scattering his bowels about the
In fine, it was a magnificent display of British stanch-
ness and ingenuity in warfare. Monsieur de St. Jean did
not, it is true, surrender on his bended knees, but he
Through a rift in the smoke the British were aware
that the French Governor of Goree had dropped his
regimental colors over the walls.
The British marines marched proudly up to Fort St.
Michel, and hoisted the British colors. And with three
loud huzzas they took possession of the island.
In the evening the Negroes of the town gave a
demonstration of welcome to their new masters. They
"Frenchman a Goree,
England a come! England a come!
Go pop pop pop! Go pop pop pop!
Go pop pop pop pop POP!"
in which the declamation of the pops was designed to
illustrate the quickness of the firing from the English
ships compared to the slowness of the response from
the French batteries on shore.
What a sweet revenge for the Reverend Lindsay!
What a proud day for the sugar merchants!
How unfortunate, then, that this brave beginning
should have terminated three years later in a peace
treaty wherein, I know not in return for what conces-
sion from the French, the English gave back Goree.
I do not know what Reverend Lindsay said. Nor
what the sugar merchants thought. I do not know
whether the brass cannon of Queen Elizabeth went
back to the French or not.
And I thumb my history books in vain to find out
whether they gathered up the scattered bowels from
the deck of the Nassau and returned them to her
I know that the blacks embarked on your vessel
are treated with as much kindness as humanity,
and, such being the case, I rejoice in having put
over an excellent stroke of business as well as a
VOLTAIRE in a letter to his partner in a successful
LYNG below, in chains, the Negroes felt all the mo-
tions of departure. Heard the singing of the ropes, the
complaint of the winches, the pattering of the sailors'
bare feet on the wood of the deck.
And then they felt the heaving of the ship on the
troubled water as the swift tide and a fair wind bore
them out to sea.
They were off on a journey. On a journey to a won-
derland of good food and clothes.
They lay shoulder to shoulder, all around the hold
of the vessel, feet pointing toward the center, and not
only chained in pairs, but each pair attached to a great
chain that passed through a ring fastened to all the
Could you conceive of a strength able to lift up this
great chain with all these Negroes suspended to it, you
would have a gigantic necklace of blacks. You would
have more than that. You would have three necklaces.
For above the hold, that is to say above the main part
of the lower deck, a platform had been erected dividing
the height of this section into two. And this platform,
seven feet wide, buttressed to the beams of the bulk-
head, ran all around the hold and supported another
necklace of Negroes.
And there was a third necklace, separated from the
two male necklaces. For this one was a female neck-
lace. Lift it up! See the black women suspended by
their ankle-chains, clutching desperately at their chil-
dren! There, Europa, my fair one, hang that around
Who ever heard of necklaces of pendants of black
slaves! Who would wear such a necklace? Why, the
ladies of Europe wear only dainty necklaces of gold and
pearls and diamonds.
Yes, a silly image! Besides, the black women were
often left unchained. There was no revolt to be feared
Captain Collard felt that you could not begin too
soon. That very afternoon, seeing that the sun was shin-
ing brightly, he had one of the necklaces unfastened
and unstrung and the paired pendants brought up on
"Line them up," Captain Collard shouted.
The Negroes, chilled by the ocean breeze, persisted
in huddling together for greater warmth. It had been
comfortable in the hold. Why bring them up here?
Had they reached the end of their journey so soon?
"Talk to them, Gmara! In hell's name, why don't
Gmara was doing his best, shouting above the noise
of wind and sail. But how explain to these people to
line up? They know nothing of lining up. They can
walk or dance in file, but these scores of chained pairs,
how are they to line up?
White men would understand at once. White men
are always in line. Just go out and shout to them: "Line
up, men!" and thousands of them line up. "Right by
two's!" and right by two's they go. "Forward march!"
you say, and off they march. And now it's up to you
to march them where you please-to war, to death, to
shout hurrah, or boo, to work whatever you say
But these are ignorant savages. They do not think or
act in straight lines.
They stand there and gaze out to sea and wonder.
They had suspected below that the rolling motion they
experienced was due to the moving of the ship. But
how were they to know? Now on deck they can see a
cliff moving with frightful rapidity.
Babouk, ever forward with his knowledge, declared:
"This is a bird.
"It has great white wings. Many wings, not just two.
"And beneath the water it has big webbed feet,
orange-colored, like a goose. And that is what makes
this boat move so fast, for it isn't a boat at all, but a
bird. And after it has swum for a while it will leap
from the water and go flying into the air, lifting itself
up on its many white wings."
Amid a great clamor, Babouk's explanation was con-
veyed to all the slaves, being altered and translated as
it went from mouth to mouth. Truly Babouk was wise.
He knew everything, despite his youth.
"Break up those groups!" Collard shouted and
cracked his whip.
It would have been easier, perhaps, for Gmara, had
the slaves all come from the same tribe. But that is
hazardous. An experienced captain would fear to load
on a cargo of Negroes all of whom can understand each
other. They would be sure to plot this and that together
and even break out into open rebellion.
Not that they would be able, chained in pairs as they
were, to do much damage, but the number of men in
the crew was never more than a fraction of the number
of slaves, and to be left short-handed might be trying,
possibly fatal. And more than that: the death of a sailor
could be borne, but the death of a Negro, of many
Negroes-for such an outbreak must be put down un-
mercifully-would be an irreplaceable loss of capital.
No, it would never do to have a shipload of slaves
all from one tribe. In fact, one must not even chain
two from the same tribe together. For the first duty of
the careful slaver is to prevent one black from striking
up an understanding with another.
For that reason Captain Collard and his mates had
taken care to note, from the very beginning, where two
blacks seemed to be friendly. They were parted and
And a big man was never paired with a small man.
That too would lead to trouble, for the big man would
naturally become the leader and the small man would
The trick was to match them from different tribes as
evenly in size and age as you possibly could. Then they
were not only born rivals, being from different tribes,
they were not only prone to misunderstand each other
for lack of a common language, but they were physical
There they lay, chained together and hating each
That was safe.
Safe for captain and crew. Safe for the cargo and its
Safe for milady's diamond necklace.
No, indeed. Not every fool could be a slaver. So
many youths of Europe thought that: I'll go into the
African trade, too, and make my fortune. And they
were lucky if they brought home their skins, and the
poor dolts who had sunk their fortunes in such hare-
brained investments lost their good money.
"Gmara! Make them look at me!" Collard cried,
and, seizing the second mate, he illustrated how the
Negroes could manage to dance despite their chains
by facing and holding onto each other's shoulders.
He signed to the two drummers to begin. The two
Negroes selected for this task raised their drums,
clasped between their legs, and began to beat on them.
A dull, uninspired rhythm floated into the salt breeze
and was as if tangled and shredded in the cordage.
"Gmara! Why aren't they dancing?"
Gmara shouted until he was out of breath. But the
blacks would not understand.
The drummers pounded on their sea-damp drums,
stopped to tighten the skins, and went on. But the
effect was bad.
Only Collard and his mate were dancing, kicking up
Most of the Negroes did not even look. Or, if they
did, it was with unseeing eyes. Though Gmara had
explained a dozen times that the journey was not over,
that indeed it had hardly begun, many were searching
the horizon, thinking that this was already the wonder-
land, and bearing up cheerfully with the chill wind,
comforted by the thought that they would soon be
landed and could toast their frozen bodies around a
"Every trip it's the same thing!" the Captain cried
in despair, and ceased his dancing. "Whether you take
a month or a day to teach them to dance on land, once
they get on the ship they won't dance.
"Well, God damn them, they must dance!
"Dance! Dance, you black bastards! Dance!"
And Collard and his men went among the blacks,
lashing out indiscriminately, forcing them into line,
whipping their legs until they picked them up and
The Negroes saw the whip rise and felt it fall. And
they heard the word, dance! And still they did not
understand. Why should they dance? Why the celebra-
tion when the heart is homesick and the body numb
But they were hustled into line and forced to get
Under the rain of blows a long black centipede was
formed. A centipede that twined about the deck and
stamped and shrieked.
"Keep dancing! Damn you, keep dancing! You
dance damn well all night long in your villages! You
dance then until you drop! Now come on, dance here!"
And the centipede danced, chains clanking.
"All right, men!" Captain Collard cried.
A half dozen sailors moved down the line, casting
buckets of freshly drawn salt water on the centipede.
As they progressed, the dancing centipede shriveled
up, sputtered, choked, gasped. The shivering Negroes
let go each other's shoulders and clasped their hands on
their painfully cold privates.
"Keep dancing!" Collard shouted. "Gmara! Fran-
cois! Jacques! Keep them dancing."
But the wet centipede had collapsed. To make mat-
ters worse, the sun was of a sudden obscured by a
cloud, and a stiff breeze blew.
"Get out the rum, or they'll be dying of congestions"
Rum! Ah, that was good. It lit a little fire right in
your belly, where you needed it most.
"Get the next batch up," the captain commanded
and helped himself to a stiff pull of rum. Lord, what
a job! A man who could stand this deserved every
penny he earned.
In the bustle and confusion occasioned by the arrival
of the second necklace, one bold Negro determined to
escape. With a hoarse cry he seized Babouk, to whom
he was chained, and, lifting Babouk in the air, began
to run with him to the gunwale, where he would
surely have leapt overboard had not a sailor barred his
The powerful black lowered his head and butted the
sailor. The latter groaned and doubled up, but, bent as
he was, he had the wit to draw his cutlass and strike at
the rebellious Negro's leg. The blow cut the man's
Achilles tendon. The blood gushed forth and the ham-
strung leg crumpled up.
He and Babouk rolled on the blood-slippery deck.
Captain Collard came running up and dealt the
sailor a cuff that knocked him headlong.
"You fool! You ruined the man for good!"
"Here you, cut that chain!" An ax did the job.
"Throw him over!" And the useless Negro was
pitched into the sea.
Babouk, his face blue, his eyes popping from his head,
saw the pitched Negro fall splash into the water. Heard
him let forth a cry as if of triumph, and saw him swim
vigorously toward shore.
He might really have made it, and brought himself
back again, hamstrung but alive, to the African con-
tinent. That is to say, if anyone had thought to bind
his leg up to prevent the loss of blood.
As it was, he swam but a few strokes, when his vigor
began to diminish. But he could be followed swimming
shoreward, even when his head was submerged, by the
pink tangled ribbon that his gashed leg tossed off.
The planks of the hold, where the slaves lay, had
meanwhile been washed down with vinegar, and ves-
sels of ginger and other incense had been set to burn,
in order, as the expression went, to perfume the quar-
The platform necklace was now brought up on deck
and the first necklace was returned to its place, the
pendants made to lie down, and the great chain strung
through the rings on the ankle-chains.
Lying here, in the warm hold, with the strange odor
of vinegar and incense, lying here in the dusk with the
smoke of the incense pots swirling through the gloom,
lying here was almost cozy.
The numb bodies of the blacks grew warm, their
numb souls expanded. But the misery and terror of
their lot overcame them. They moaned or sang child-
hood songs and wept at the thought of what they had
Above them they heard the tramp of bare feet and
the clank of ankle-chains as a new centipede was being
instructed in the art of dancing.
Babouk lay, a single man, among many pairs. And
he moaned along with the others and thought of what
was missing on the end of his ankle-chain.
Now the sea grew heavy and the black bodies were
tossed from side to side.The planks bruised their shoul-
ders and their hips. The chains caught the flesh of their
The two small port-holes were cosed against the
poisonous night air. The darkness was complete.
Above, the sailors were amusing themselves with
some of the Negresses. One man was plucking a zither.
And the laughter of the company was heard by the
The tossing of the ship was beginning to affect-some
of the blacks. Their bowels grew watery. The food in
their stomachs revolted and forced them to retch.
Now there were, at intervals, certain pails and pots
which could be handed along, and the use of which had
been repeatedly stressed upon the men. But to some of
these men this repeated stressing had been done in a
gibberish they could not be expected to understand.
For when Gmara was confronted by an unknown
tongue, and this was frequent, for of the hundred or
more languages which were spoken by the various
tribes brought to the trading posts he knew only a
score, then he spoke a gibberish that deceived the white
man without enlightening the Negro.
Again, many were incapable of breaking the habit
of a lifetime.
Still others feared witchcraft. What other motive
could be ascribed to this pail? Why should one want
to put into a pot that part of one which the body ejected
and which was therefore self-evidently good for noth-
Instinctively man craves to hide away his dejecta.
But where could one hide anything on this ship, where
there was neither bush nor forest?
Another difficulty was the chain, and still another,
the fact that your neighbors did not understand you.
True, certain commanders, captives themselves, but
selected for their qualities of leadership, had been desig-
nated to supervise. But as yet they did not understand
their duties, nor had they been freed of their chains.
This would not happen until they had shown their fit-
ness for the post.
What wonder then that, confronted with so many
difficulties, surrounded by so much that was new and
terrifying, the prostrate Negroes emptied their bellies
where they lay?
The floor was soon slippery with filth. The close air
grew heavy, fetid, and sour.
And from the platform the nauseous matter dripped
down upon the wretches below.
"We are on the ship of the dead," groaned Babouk.
"We are on the ship of the dead," he repeated.
And the Mandingoes and allied tribesmen took up
the lugubrious cry: "We are on the ship of the dead."
"We are dead," Babouk declared. "We have died
"We are dead," the assistants echoed. "We have died
"We are on the boat that takes the dead to N'koo-
lango, where the dead reside."
On either side Babouk's neighbors slept. Snored and
stirred in their sleep, dreaming perhaps of the freedom
they had lost, clasping tightly in their fingers some
"We are on the boat that takes the dead to N'koo-
lango, where the dead reside."
Here and there was a Mohammedan Negro, a Fullah
or Toucoulor, who, suspecting that the hour of sunset
had come, knelt as best his chains allowed, and faced
toward Mecca and repeated the al-fatiha:
"In the name of God, the compassionate compas-
"Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds, the com-
passionate compassioner, the sovereign of the day of
judgment. Thee do we worship and of thee beg assist-
"Direct us to the right path, the path of those who
have thy grace, in whom there is no wrath, who go not
"We are going to the kingdom of the dead," Babouk
"We are going to the kingdom of the dead," his
"We shall see our dead ancestors. And all the ani-
mals we have slain, and all the food we have eaten, and
all the pots we have broken, will pass before our eyes
again, as in a dream."
A people called Negroes, a people of beastly liv-
ing, without a God, without laws, without religion
or common wealth, and so scorched and vexed
with the heat of the sun, that in many places
they curse it when it riseth.
DESCRIPTION OF THE AFRICANS BY ONE OF THE
EARLIEST LONDON SLAVE MERCHANTS.
"TELL us a story, Babouk, please tell us a story."
They would have gone completely mad if Babouk
had not told them stories. As it was, half of them were
ill with grief.
As if the horrible seasickness were not enough, home-
sickness came further to weaken their bowels.
Day after day the Negroes had watched the chang-
ing coast and wondered where they were to land. And
even those who realized that they were not to land on
this coast at all clung to its sight, feeling that as long
as it remained visible they were not completely torn
away from home.
But one night the ship found her way into the trade-
wind, and the next day the coast of Africa was blown
out of sight.
There was no dancing that day, no matter how hard
the whip fell, no matter how hard the drums were
beaten, no matter how gayly a sailor twanged his
Gathered below in the hold again, they gave way to
their bitter grief. Under the pressure of a pain that was
keen as a toothache, they moaned and howled. Some
sang out wildly, in cracked, tight voices, snatches of
the songs they had learnt to sing as children. Others
dashed their heads against the beams of the boat as if
a good straight physical pain could obliterate this mad
longing that tore at them from within, they could not
precisely say where.
But others, members of tribes that believed in the
transmigration of souls, finding their present existence
unendurable, calmly put themselves to death, confident
that their souls would be reborn as babies, back in their
own tribes at home.
In the midst of the general clamor they remained
silent, until the moment when they chose to expire.
Then they forced their tongues back into their throats
and thus stopped up their air-passages.
Day after day and night after night the wailing con-
tinued, until even the whites on deck nearly went mad
at this perpetual dirge that rose from below as from a
grave in which living bodies had been immured.
The almoner, a miserable wretch who had sunk to
this, the lowest of all ecclesiastical jobs, because of his
addiction to liquor, could not sleep, drunk as he was.
And a young ensign, one of several lads of noble
family, sent aboard the ship to learn the art of the
merchant marine, after searching the whole vessel for
a quiet spot to snatch a brief rest, came knocking
finally at the almoner's door.
The almoner did not answer. Whereupon the ensign
pounded madly. Then the captain came out of his
cabin near-by and queried angrily: "What is this?
What is this?"
The ensign had sunk to his knees: "I want to pray,"
he pleaded weakly.
"Yes, yes," said the captain blankly. "Pray, pray, by
"Tell us a story, Babouk, please. Tell us a story."
And he would tell them one story after another. At
first he spoke only to the few who were close enough
to hear his voice, which did not penetrate the general
moaning and wailing very far. But the little pool of
quietness around him grew gradually, until one day the
entire hold remained silent to hear him relate the tale
of the most virtuous bed.
"Have you heard tell the story of the most virtuous
bed that ever was?" he asked. For of late his mind ran
to stories of that type, and such stories were best appre-
ciated by his audience, too.
"No, we have never heard of it," the captives chorused
politely whether they had or had not.
"Then I shall recount to you the story of the most
virtuous bed in the world."
"Tell us, please," they begged.
Then he began: "Yakuba and Djima were neigh-
bors." And he stopped, for, before he could continue,
his words must be carried around the hold and the
platform above the hold, and be repeated and translated
a dozen times. Babouk did not mind the interruption.
He sensed that he held his audience, and the longer he
held them the prouder he was.
"Yakuba and Djima were neighbors. And Djima
loved Yakuba's wife so much that he would not sleep
with his own wife any more, but would save his vigor
instead and would listen from his hut for the sound of
Yakuba's wife making a great noise among her pots
and crockery, for that was a sign that Yakuba had gone
and Yakuba's wife was ready to welcome her beloved
"But one day Yakuba returned home unexpectedly
soon, and his wife, hearing the rhythm of his steps,
pushed Djima under the bed.
"'Wife,' said Yakuba, 'why aren't you in the millet-
"Thereupon Yakuba's wife took a basket and went
out as if to take care of the millet, but she did not go
very far or stay very long, for she had not finished her
embrace and her body was troubled.
"Meanwhile, Djima's wife, missing the company of
man, since Djima no longer cared for her embraces,
went into Yakuba's hut and, finding Yakuba alone, she
thought to allay her thirst for a man.
"Yakuba was very willing, for his wife had not been
kind to him of late. But Yakuba and Djima's wife had
not time to finish their embraces when they heard
Yakuba's wife coming back from the millet-field.
"Quickly Yakuba pushed Djima's wife under the bed.
"And that," Babouk explained, as if in conclusion,
"is how it always happens with those who try to steal
their love. They are always punished in the end. And
so neither Yakuba, nor Djima, nor their wives were
able to finish their embraces, and they were like those
from whom you snatch the cup just as their lips are
about to drink."
The captives commented upon this conclusion: De-
cidedly it was just that people who steal love should
not be permitted to enjoy it.
But this comment was mere politeness. And after a
little interval one began to hear impatient clankings of
the chains and a criticism more and more loudly ex-
pressed: "But, Babouk, you have not told us of the most
"But I have, indeed," Babouk maintained. "Was not
Yakuba's bed peculiarly virtuous, seeing that twice a
man and a woman were prevented from stealing love
Nor was this conclusion any more satisfactory than
the first. But Babouk, gathering his breath, went on:
"And consider too: What did Yakuba do, seeing that
his body was troubled from not having finished his em-
brace? Would he not feel urged to say to his wife:
'Come, lie down here with me?'
"And she, would she not now be willing, seeing that
her embrace had been incomplete, and that to com-
plete it even a husband would serve?
"And so they lay down and loved each other as man
and wife should.
"Tell me, now! Was not that a virtuous bed where
husband and wife lay together?"
"It was that," the Negroes agreed.
"But it was even more virtuous," Babouk pursued.
"For underneath the bed Djima and his wife, in their
trouble, reached toward each other and embraced as
wife and husband should.
"Was ever a more virtuous bed, where above and
below man and wife loved as they ought?"
"Never, never," the audience laughed.
"Above and below the married couples embraced.
And when they were through, seeing that their love
had been as pleasant as any love can be, why, they em-
braced each other again.
"Yes, above and below they embraced each other.
again, and then surely there was no more virtuous bed
in the whole world than the bed of Yakuba."
Loud laughter greeted the end of Babouk's story. But
the noise subsided gradually as each man laughed more
and more to himself and retired to his own thoughts
to conjure up a dream woman to solace his loneliness.
Either the wife he had lost, or from whom he had been
torn, or any woman from the multitude he had ever
seen and craved.
On deck they had not failed to notice the diminished
wailing and now they were surprised to hear even
sounds of laughter.
"They are just children," said the surgeon Le Petit.
"They forget their troubles quickly. It will be easy from
And the ensign who had prayed felt relieved now
because he could hear the Negroes laughing and knew
that they were happy after all, even in their misery. So
true is it that even a vestige of happiness left among
the oppressed can furnish many ample cloaks for the
"Step on him again!" cries the oppressor. "He's still
happy." Yes, so he says, even when the man beneath his
heel shows nothing but the grin of death.
This was the moment the captain had learnt to ex-
pect. The moment when the natural joyous nature of
the Negro would surmount his homesickness. Now was
the time for the captain to come forward and show the
slaves that he had their good interest at heart, and thus
capture their easily won affection.
From long experience he knew that nothing was
better for the health of the cargo than that the captives
should learn to love him and look up to him as their
He therefore summoned Gmara and had him go an-
nounce to the captives that the good captain, pleased
to hear that they were no longer wailing for their
homeland, when the good captain was taking them to
a land of marvels-that the good captain, pleased at
their laughter, declared that, if they continued to be-
have well, then they should dance with the women on
And the captives were truly overwhelmed with joy.
They cheered the good captain repeatedly. Women!
Only certain of the more discerning Negroes and
certain warlike Senegalese refused to cheer along with
the rest, but glared out angrily instead.
Babouk was thoroughly disgusted. Who but the cap-
tain had taken the women away from them? Why
should they now be grateful to him for restoring what
he had stolen?
It hurt Babouk, too, to realize that, though it was
the laughter which his stories had evoked that had been
the means of securing a dance with the women, yet it
was the captain who was cheered for it.
But Babouk's time came again.
There were days when the deck was swept by cold
rain. Then the captives had to remain below, often one
long day after another, in the steaming heat of the
During such times the sailors who came below to
superintend certain selected Negroes in the emptying
of the buckets, or in the distribution of one or the other
of the two daily meals, removed their clothes and
labored naked. Such stripping, however, was beneath
the dignity of Le Petit, the surgeon, who came, once a
day, to order the removal of the dead for casting into
the sea, and the segregation in the infirmary of the
He hurried through his task, holding a cloth before
his nose, feeling the sweat run beneath his clothes, and
his lungs so aching for a breath of clean air that he
would not stop to listen long to the endless complaints
of the captives.
"All they want is a drink of rum," was his opinion.
"Now that they know that they can get a tumbler of
rum just by complaining, they're all full of complaints,"
so he would explain to the sailors who assisted him.
"No, no, there's nothing wrong with you or you."
Hastily he passed them by, stepping over the chained
legs and waving down with his hand the Negroes who
half rose to exhibit their sores or to cough lugubriously
for the doctor to hear what misery they had in their
throats and chests.
"Nothing wrong, nothing wrong," he would repeat,
and would skip more and more rapidly over the
chained legs. Finally he was back to the incline that
led to the deck and could stumble out of the hatch and
receive the fresh cool buffet of the sea-breeze full on
And the blacks were alone again in their dark prison.
And soon, too, their voices would be raised, whee-
dling, to Babouk: "Tell us a story, Babouk, please. Tell
us a story."
"Surely the good white captain knows more stories
than I do," Babouk would retort. "He will soon tell
you one that will make you cheer as you never cheered
my poor efforts."
"No, Babouk. Do not say that. We know very well
that it is you who know stories and not the captain."
"No," Babouk insisted in a surly voice. "You must
go to the captain. He knows many fine stories. I am
sure he will be glad to come down here and tell stories
to keep you happy."
"You would not say that, Babouk, if you were not
angry at us because we cheered the captain."
"You are mistaken," Babouk declared innocently.
"And you were right to cheer the captain. Does he not
give you back your women for an hour or two each
week? Must you not be grateful for that?
"What if he should not let us see them at all? Even
an hour is much for the white men to part with our
women, for you know that the white man is hungry
for our beautiful women.
"In their country they have no women. And that is
why they come to our land: to get women to sleep
with and men to eat."
"But there must be white women," someone objected,
"for I have seen young white boys. They must be born
of white women."
This argument, however, was soon cried down. For
everyone agreed with Babouk that the whites were
born out of the sea-foam that washes up on the sand of
the beach. And these white creatures made of sand and
sea-foam must go to the Negroes to find women to
make love to.
And the proof of it was that, as one could see among
the sailors, these white men sometimes made love to
each other. That habit comes from the fact that in their
country there are no white women and nothing to em-
brace but men.
The group around Babouk discussed this matter for
a while, but such a subject for intimate debate did not
satisfy the great throng of captives who were too far
away to take part in it.
"Babouk," they pleaded. "Babouk, tell us a story.
You know we only cheered the captain out of polite-
"Politeness? Politeness, indeed!" cried Babouk. "And
do you think it a virtue to be polite?"
The blacks were, many of them, shocked. All their
lives they had been taught to be polite.
"Do you know," Babouk insisted, "that of all animals
the lowly crab is the most polite?
"Are you all crabs, that you should be polite to the
white chief? Do you think that, if you could only ask
him with sufficient politeness to take off your chains,
he would do so?
"You are all crabs! The politest and lowest of ani-
For the audience the sting of this insult was more
than removed by the warm feeling that a story was
impending. And swallowing meekly the insult of Ba-
bouk's scorn, they contented themselves with suggest-
ing meekly: "Tell us, Babouk, please, why are the crabs
the politest of all animals?" A request in which even
those joined who already knew the explanation.
"Very well, then," Babouk relented. "I shall tell you
the story of the politest of all animals, the crab, and
what rewards he received for his politeness.
"You must know that, when God made the animals,
He did not bother to make the bodies, for bodies are
easy to make and such work could be entrusted to
others. He fashioned only the heads."
And all about the hold one could hear the Negroes
repeating in one language or another: "God fashioned
only the heads."
Babouk continued: "And when a great variety of
bodies existed and were already roaming the earth, but
at a great disadvantage because they had no heads, then
God called them all to come forward and receive each
a head from the great basket of heads He had before
"Now it happened that the animal nearest the basket
was the crab. And immediately behind him was the
"And the elephant said: 'Crab, won't you be so kind
as to let me get my head first?'
"And the crab, being polite, stepped aside. And the
elephant received his head and went off trumpeting
"But behind the elephant had been the antelope, so
that now the antelope stood behind the crab. And he
said: 'Crab, won't you be so kind as to let me get my
"And the crab, being polite, stepped aside. And the
antelope ran off brandishing his horned forehead.
"And now the hyena was behind the crab and begged
politely: 'Crab, won't you be so kind as to let me get
my head first?'
"And again the crab stepped aside. And always he
stepped aside. Until all the animals had received their
heads and the basket was empty.
"And there stood the crab without a head. And the
basket was empty, so that the best God could do was
stick a couple of eyes He happened to have directly
upon the crab's body and tell him to be off, now.
"And the crab did want to walk off, but look! he had
become so accustomed to stepping aside, that he
couldn't walk forward any more. All he could do, and
all he can do to this day, is step aside politely.
"Yes, and that is how the polite man goes through
life, without a head and stepping aside politely, for
others to rush in and steal his share."
The worst storm of the voyage struck the Prie-Dieu
above five weeks out. For four days she wallowed in a
sea so mountainous and treacherous that it was only
with the utmost effort that the iron pots of couscous
were conveyed to the hold for the Negroes to eat. As
to emptying the buckets, as to any cleaning whatso-
ever, that was out of question. The perpetual tossing of
the ship, the constant danger of an unexpected blow
from some tremendous crashing wave, stopped all work
in this direction.
The blacks below were torn and pounded cruelly
between their binding chains and the rough planks
they lay on. And since the hold could not be washed
down with vinegar, nor the air cleansed with incense,
there where the skin was rubbed raw, often down to
the bone, the wound festered and suppurated.
And they trembled with fear, too, hearing the im-
pact of enormous masses of water flung against the
ship by the tumultuous sea. They could hear the loose
cordage beating a tattoo against the masts while the
taut cordage whined like a harp-string, and the wind
whistled past the reefed sails.
They were in darkness, in complete darkness, now,
for not only were hatches battened down, but every
other opening had been carefully sealed lest high waves
reach it and pour in.
And thus they remained through four days and five
nights, which to them, in their dark prison, were nine
unending nights strung together.
When, at last, they were released from their chains
and ordered to go out upon the sunny deck, many of
them could not walk. Their legs would not sustain
them. And then, too, the vision of day contained a
curious dull glare through which one could not see, no
more than through fog.
The men rubbed their eyes and cleared their vision
for a moment. But the fog gathered again, and for
some this fog was annoyingly speckled with brilliantly
colored flies that dashed about with maddening speed.
The blacks blinked and shook their heads. These
manifestations would stop, of course, once their eyes
were accustomed to the light of the sun again. Yes, the
sun felt good pouring down on the nape of one's neck.
And good, too, was the fresh breeze ....
But the fog would not dissipate. Instead it grew
heavier and the speeding flies massed themselves into
dark angry clots.
The vision of the Negroes improved, however, when
they found themselves back in the dark hold. The fog
disappeared then, even the flies diminished. But their
eyes were not comfortable. They burned.
And in the morning the lids could scarcely open be-
cause so much foamy, fatty substance had gathered in
the corners during the night.
When the surgeon appeared for his morning round
and as usual passed by hastily, muttering "nothing
wrong," Babouk seized him by the leg and cried out:
"My eyes are dying. Doctor, my eyes are dying!"
The surgeon did not understand and would have
torn himself loose and hurried on if all the hold had
not taken up the mournful, frightened cry.
"Our eyes are dying!"
A few even shrieked: "My eyes are dead!" and struck
angrily at the dry, opaque eyeballs that seemed to be
the real obstruction to their sight.
Then Le Petit stooped, and, seeing and recognizing
the gray, lard-like exudation, he waited no longer but
dashed back to deck and ran to the captain, crying out
to him, all out of breath:
"We must not bring the captives up on deck any
more. And none of us must go below!"
Captain Collard took Le Petit roughly by the sleeve,
near the shoulder, and shook him. "What is all this?
What is all this?"
"You don't understand," Le Petit cried, "the blacks
are all blind with ophthalmy!"
Now Captain Collard understood. His cargo! His
whole cargo become valueless! Who would buy a blind
He gripped Le Petit's sleeves so tightly that he forced
the surgeon to his knees.
"Listen, you barber's apprentice! Listen to me! What
are you hired for if not to see to the cargo's health?
Now back to your work! Get down into that hold and
cure those blacks!"
"No, no!" cried Le Petit. "No, no," he begged. "You
can't make me go below. I'll go blind. We'll all go blind.
We must abandon the ship, take to the boats. .. ."
"So, so," said Collard quietly, still maintaining his
grip on Le Petit's sleeve. "Abandon the ship, eh? And
leave a million in slaves to die and the ship to become
anybody's prize? You have very original ideas." He
laughed. And then he muttered: "But I'll make you
a doctor in spite of yourself!"
Then he thundered down at Le Petit: "Back to your
work! Or I'll put you in irons on bread and water and
keep you there until I hand you over to the port au-
thorities in Nantes!
"Now, which is it? Irons or work? Answer me!"
"I can't ." Le Petit groaned. "Please... ."
"Take your time," said Collard with sudden gentle-
ness, but he did not relax his hold on Le Petit's sleeve.
"You're a bit upset.-Now, what is it?"
And Le Petit made his forced decision. "God help
me," he said. "God help us all."
"Then back to work!" Collard shouted, and released
the surgeon with a push that sent him sprawling.
Trembling in every limb, Le Petit rose and went off
to his apothecary room to malaxate large quantities of
Now, either he made his salve too weak, or the
disease was stronger than any salve, but the inflamma-
tion would not subside. It spread like fire in a dry bush.
The slaves first, then the white sailors, then the officers.
And at last the captain. As if nature were loath to lay
violent hands on quality.
Le Petit himself, though he salved his eyes ten times
a day, at last was going about performing his duty, his
sight obscured by a gray fog spiked with bizarre flies.
And though he knew that one of the symptoms of the
disease was that one could see a little better in the dim
light than in bright lights, still each evening found
him hoping that his eyes had improved. But night,
complete night, descended upon him.
Night descended upon all of them. The last man still
capable of seeing dimly out of one eye held the wheel
until that eye too was obscured. Then the ship plunged
on through the night.
In the hold the slaves moaned incessantly: "Our eyes
have died. Oh, white man, give us back our eyes."
Then they wept, or shrieked, or sang, or were silent,
as the mood of despair urged them.
Despair had taken hold of the crew, too. The sailors
neglected their duties and sat together in corners and
"Who does all the work if not we? Do we not load
on the cargo, and feed it, and clean it? And what is our
share? A miserable ten or twenty francs a month in
addition to kicks and bad food. While the captain and
the owners grow rich.
"What if we were no longer to work for them?
Where would they be?"
"I tell you," said another, "that if there were ten men
like me aboard this ship there would have been mutiny
long ago. And let me tell you, a pretty piece of money
we could get smuggling this cargo of slaves into San
"Yes, and I tell you if there were a thousand like me
in France you'd see the end of landlords and noble-
men, yes, and bishops and the king too, for that mat-
ter. Pack of bloodsuckers!"
But when they heard the captain's heavy step they
lowered their voices to whispers.
He strode about now with one slow decisive step
after another, carefully inspecting every inch of the
ship, and holding his whip ready.
He listened for the noise of a sail come unfurled,
and the blind crew was lashed unmercifully if it hesi-
tated to climb up and discover by the sense of touch
what sail was loose and bind it tightly again to the
He went into the galley and struck out with his
whip at the cooks, who were lax in preparing the food.
The sick cargo and crew, he declared, must have more
food than ever.
And he beat Le Petit to force the latter, blind as he
was, down into the vile hold, to creep from slave to
slave and discover which, if any, were dead, so that
the body could be removed and so that no decaying
corpse should add a new infection to their present one.
Yes, and on Sunday, early, he lashed the drunken
almoner out of his bed and made him say mass.
That day the wind seemed as if it wanted to sweep
the world clean. It found its way into the badly furled
sails, bellied them, and caused them to burst their lines.
Then the hanging sail was ripped to shreds with a
noise like exploding musketry. And the loose cordage
lashed about and struck down crew and officers alike.
The following day, though the weather was calm,
the despair of all had risen. But it is in the lowest
depths of our misery that salvation seeks us out, or at
least so it appeared when the men of the Prie-Dieu
were startled to hear a faint halloo come across the
water. They listened, and the halloo was repeated sev-
eral times, and each time louder.
Then the blinded second mate groped for the mega-
phone and shouted back in a hoarse voice: "Ahoy!"
And now everyone heard plainly the response:
"This is the Sant' lago from Sierra Leone, bound for
Havana with a cargo of blacks. As you love Christ
send us over a pilot, for we are all blind here, man
The blind second mate put the megaphone to his lips,
but he did not answer. What words do the blind say
to the blind?
Then the Sant' lago hallooed again: "On the sweet
body of Christ we beseech you. Send us a pilot! We
are blind, one and all."
The second lowered his megaphone. No one spoke.
"For the love of God, send us a pilot! Where are you?
Why don't you answer ?" The Sant' lago had now come
And still no one spoke. On the Prie-Dieu all was
silent except for the moans of the captives.
"Why don't you speak? We are blind! Halloo!
Halloo! Can you hear us?"
Then someone on the Prie-Dieu began to laugh. A
low, meaningless giggle. But so infectious that in a
moment they were all laughing. The captain too.
And the laughter grew into a roar. Some had to lie
down on the deck, so weak were they from explosive
bursts of laughter.
Then the Sant' lago stopped hallooing. Instead she
cursed. Her whole crew roared curses upon the Prie-
Dieu. "Are you beasts," one of them shouted in a sten-
torian voice, "to laugh at our misery?"
No one bothered to reply to him. They laughed.
And the laughter of the Prie-Dieu continued to answer
the imprecations of the Sant' lago until the two ships
had drifted apart and were alone again in their sepa-
rate seas of darkness.
When the epidemic began to show signs of waning,
though he himself was still blind, the captain had the
slaves brought out on deck. Dancing was still out of
the question, but the quarters could be cleaned up and
those who had recovered could be segregated from
those who were still sick, so that, as the disease ran
its course, the rise in the value of the cargo could be
Just as soon as the lard-like foamy secretions ceased
to appear and the tear-glands began to function
normally and wash the eye clean again, the disease was
over. Then the fog disappeared from one's eyes and
complete, or nearly complete, sight was restored. How-
ever, if, while the fatty particles ceased to appear, the
tear-glands nevertheless did not function, and the eye
remained dry, then the sight was lost, for the transpar-
ent cornea shriveled and grew rough, and the eyelid
rasped against it and scarred it, so that, like a window
that has been scratched, it ceased to be transparent.
But when the disease had reached its final stage and
its ravages could be figured up with accuracy, it ap-
peared that the financial loss was not nearly so bad as
the captain had feared it might be.
As usual, the disease had been most fatal to the
young. All of the eight Negro children who had come
aboard with their mothers were stone-blind, along
with one of the mothers. None of the other women
was afflicted. Of the black men all but ten recovered.
Of the whites only one lost his vision.
One bright morning all the unsalable captives were
brought upon deck, and, after a short quarrel with
the almoner, who so strenuously insisted upon more
than two lives for each case that the mercies of re-
ligion had to be dispensed with, the captain ordered
the sailors to attach stones, pieces of iron, cannon balls,
whatever weights could be spared, to the nineteen
cases, and then they were pitched into the sea.
Some resisted and cried out. Others remained in-
different. But some were so willing that they assisted
the sailors to guide them overboard.
The woman and her child made no disturbance ex-
cept when an attempt was made to separate them.
In fact, there was very little trouble to speak of. It
was Le Petit, the surgeon, the one white who did not
recover, who created the greatest difficulty.
He kept insisting: "Throw me over, too. I'm not
worth anything now, either." Consoling words would
not help. He became violent and ran here and there,
blindly, seeking to cast himself into the sea.
The captain finally ordered him locked up.
In the afternoon of that day the usual program was
put into force again. But it seemed that the Negroes
were aware of the fate of their blind fellows, for they
obstinately refused to dance, and neither whip nor
rum would awaken their enthusiasm.
The captain was beside himself. "After seven
weeks," he declared, "they still won't dance." His
anger knew no bounds.
You would never suppose that it is through Pity
that Slavery came into existence.
BUT there came a day when the whites no longer
leaned so heavily on their whips. The commanders
relaxed their vigilance.
The blacks straightened their bent backs and forgot
their anger and their melancholy.
The captain ordered double rations of food and as
much palm-oil for anointing the skin, and chewing
sticks for polishing the teeth, as the captives might
Whence came this new current of mildness that
swept over the floating prison, and softened the hearts
of jailers and captives alike?
It was the odor of a continent, still invisible.
The ship was flooded with the sweet smell of land.
She sailed through a perfumed atmosphere. Crew and
cargo, tired of the thin, chill odor of the sea and the
sour odor of the hold, sniffed at the breeze, sighed,
breathed deep, and sighed again.
The odor of America!
The geologic odor of America, a powerful and in-
toxicating perfume spread by thousands of miles of
steaming earth and exuberant vegetation, an odor that
caused early explorers to sink upon the deck, their
hands clasped in prayer, tears streaming from their
eyes, their mouths babbling poetry.
This was the perfume of America, flower of con-
This was the perfume of America, land of flora, as
Africa was the land of fauna.
Oh, continents, what has man done to you?
America, where is your perfume now?
There was, then, no further need to stint on rations
for fear the journey might last five or even six months,
as sometimes happened.
No need now to repress every sign of independent
volition on the part of the blacks for fear of revolt.
Time now to think of fattening them up, of mak-
ing them recover their natural sleekness and gayety,
so as to command a ready sale and a high price.
And the blacks responded quickly to the new treat-
ment, the new atmosphere.
Daily the perfume grew stronger, but as the ship
approached and circled the island of Saint-Domingue,
there was mingled with it another odor, a sharp, dis-
It was the odor of industry, the dominating scent
being that of molasses steaming in the great sugar
And one evening, in the darkness, along the horizon,
the sky began to glow with a strange red, in which
sparkled dots of light.
The Negroes, who were being hurried below as the
sun dropped suddenly out of the sky and the quick
tropic night came on, had had time to witness this
manifestation, and Babouk, who, to sustain his repu-
tation as a wise man, could not afford to hesitate for
an explanation, declared at once, oratorically, that this
was nothing less than the death of the sun that had
cracked up against the land they could see there and
whose fragments were now strewn upon that distant
The voyage was over.
There lay Le Cap Francais, largest city of the French
part of the island of Saint-Domingue, richest sugar
island of the world.
The red glow on the horizon was due to the vast
industry in smoking meats and fish, to the fires under
the sugar kettles in nearly three hundred sugar re-
fineries, to the constant activity of forty-some rum dis-
tilleries, a score of brickyards, ten or more potteries,
and over a hundred quicklime kilns.
And on the following day the Prie-Dieu added its
mast to the forest formed by some hundred or more
ocean-going vessels lying in the generous port.
No sooner had the Prie-Dieu cast anchor than of-
ficials came to call upon Captain Collard. It was their
business to see to it that the vessel was "perfumed,"
that is to say, that sailors or slaves afflicted with con-
tagious diseases, such as smallpox, with incurable dis-
eases, such as epilepsy and so forth, were removed,
and that the hold was disinfected.
Formerly custom ruled that this perfuming be
quietly and quickly settled with a cash gift of two per
cent of the cargo's value. But complaints had ema-
nated time and time again, both from the younger sons
of the French nobility who occupied the colonial posts,
and from the rich ship-owners of Nantes and Bordeaux.
Thereupon the king had forbidden the two per cent
Since then the two per cent gratuity was out of order,
and neither side dared complain.
The vessel now perfumed and there being no further
let to business, Captain Collard received several slave-
These were not the agents who would handle the
general sale of the cargo. These were adventurous busi-
ness men, "plungers," who were anxious to purchase
the sick and exhausted slaves at bargain prices and
assume the risk of having their investment die on their
hands, or get well and be salable at excellent profit.
This was important: they paid cash for their mer-
chandise, and cash was rare in the sugar islands, pur-
posely rare, so that the bankers of France could keep
the colonial business in constant paper debt to them.
By this sale Captain Collard achieved two ends. One,
he provided himself with some ready money; two, he
cleared out his cargo, which, deprived of a number of
eyesores, took on a much better appearance.
While these brokers were removing the sick (some
having to be carried out in blankets, others walking
with difficulty, their swollen bellies, their ashen skin,
their ribbed chests, their haggard faces, and their
melancholy coughs proclaiming their various diseases),
the Captain arranged for the hire of a slavery where
his more robust captives could rest up from their long
journey and recover their spirits and embonpoint.
The landing of unsold slaves for the purpose of "re-
freshing" them, thus securing higher prices from the
planters to further enrich the ship owners of France,
was prohibited by the local sugar and coffee cultivators.
This selling of the slaves in the hold, however, pre-
vented distant planters from securing good slaves, the
best of the cargo having already been claimed by the
near planters, who could be on hand as soon as the
The distant planters had then wanted to maintain
an agent in the port to buy slaves for them. The near
planters, who were in control, thereupon forbade
brokerage in slaves.
But to a captain who was generous everything was
permitted, for the noble custom officials had to live,
and the royal treasury was often as much as six years
in arrears with their pay.
All business details having been quickly disposed of,
steps were taken to remove the Negroes at once to
their new abode.
Even Babouk lost his tongue when confronted with
the strange sights on the quay of Le Cap.
Fine scarlet and gilt coaches, drawn by six horses,
dashed by, the bare-footed, but otherwise elaborately
uniformed, black postilions and grooms swearing at
the huddle of chained slaves that hindered their
Naked Negro porters, with swelling muscles, trotted
past, bearing gayly painted chaises.
Wagons, heavily laden with barrels or sacks, rolled
slowly by, their broad, iron-tired wheels crashing
noisily over the cobblestones, and then sinking softly
in the quagmires of sand that checkered the wretched
The newly arrived captives stared out so stupidly
that the passing black workers, conscious of their su-
perior culture, could not help casting an opprobrious
word at these rude African bumpkins: "Bossales!"
But the chained Negroes did not understand and only
continued to stare.
What a crush of pedestrians! There were officers in
white uniforms with gold gallons and clanking
swords, and soldiers in dun brown. There were mer-
chants and clerks. And all were busy, intent on this
or that important purpose, whether it be to the tavern
or the billiard room, to the market of the whites, or
to the bath house.
The only people who were not rushing were certain
mulatto women of warm yellow complexion, daintily
dressed in silks and laces, and smelling sweetly of the
flowers they carried warm between their soft breasts,
and swaying gracefully on their hips as they passed
by, their eyes seeking to capture a newly arrived mer-
chant or captain who would take one of them to be his
bed-sweetener and companion in the bath house for
as long as he would stay in Le Cap.
There were Negresses of like profession, slaves these,
who worked for the account of some master or mis-
tress, and whose object was the lesser fry, the sailors
and lower-class white who were unable to afford the
fancier colored prostitute.
There were, in fact, women here for every class.
Some so low in the financial scale that they had no
bed, but shared their embraces in the daylight of the
When the slaves had all been brought to shore, they
were lined up and marched to the slavery. Their prog-
ress toward the Rue Espagnole, to the outlying quar-
ters, was impeded by a crowd that had gathered at
the Place d'Armes to see the execution of two Ne-
groes and a Negress convicted of having employed
poison in the slaying of animals and slaves, and even
of one white.
Had Captain Collard himself led his captives, he
might have deemed it wise to spare them this sight.
But he had delegated his second, and the latter gave
the matter no deep thought, except that, inasmuch as
he wanted to observe the execution himself, he did not
hasten the march of the centipede past this point, but
on the contrary slowed down as much as he could
without actually stopping.
Three pyres of wood had been built up of crossed
fagots, surrounding three stakes. To each stake, by
means of iron chains, a black was attached, standing
upon a small platform raised to the level of the high-
est tier of fagots.
The wood, dry resinous material from the mountain
candlewood trees, had scarcely been lighted when great
flames began licking upward, eating the melting resin
with a loud greedy crackle.
Soon great purple and yellow plumes of fire curled
up and gently brushed the bodies of the blacks. The
great one-armed Negro in the center did not seem to
mind much, though he winced and drew back as if
he could find protection nearer to his stake.
He began suddenly to sing in a loud resonant voice
that was distinctly audible above the shrieks of the
Negress, who was perishing vociferously to one side
of him, while to his other side the other Negro, his
face set, burnt quietly as a candle.
He stopped, swallowed, his tongue worked in his
mouth, striving to keep it moist. The smoke stung his
eyes closed. His head, his neck, his vast pectorals ran
with sweat that steamed and hissed as it met the up-
ward climbing feathers of flame.
He opened his mouth again and chanted, shouted
rather, in his deep bass:
"Aya! Bombaya! Bombay!"
He choked and gasped. Then he was silent for a
spell, standing there, chained to his stake, midst the
steam, the smoke, the curling flames, as if he were
The other Negro had not made a sound or a move.
But the Negress caused a disturbance and some com-
motion in the crowd.
The burning of her legs gave her such anguish and
produced such wild contortions of her body that she
had managed to slip the chains down from her bosom
and free one arm. Now, shouting unintelligible im-
precations at the mob, she stooped and picked up
blazing fragments of wood, and flung them at the
mob of sightseers, who scurried aside with little noises
She bent and rose, again and again, picking cinders
from the flames as one might bend to pick pebbles
from a stream.
But finally she bent down and did not rise again
from the sea of fire.
The great Negro in the center had resumed his
singing. The melted oil and gum from his elaborate
coiffure poured down over his face.
"Lama samana kana!"
His hair caught fire
In a moment it was like a great red coal, a fiery
sponge stuck to his skull.
Then he threw back his head as if to roar. His chest
swelled like a great barrel, thrusting out each rib,
hollowing his belly.
But no roar, no gigantic, earth-shaking, heaven-
rousing bellow came from that corded throat where
the Adam's apple worked convulsively seeking a mois-
ture that had evaporated.
Nothing but a weak gasp. While the great chest
remained inflated, the muscles swelled, the body
looked as if it would burst with the distension of the
gases within it.
But it did not burst.
The Negro was dead. Life ceased to buoy up that
great frame, but it did not collapse, for the heat of the
fire substituted very well for the force of life. He stood
erect, head back, belly slowly swelling.
On his skull the fiery sponge still glowed. And now
his body burnt briskly, giving off occasionally a heavy
dark smoke as new areas of fat flesh caught fire.
The enticing smell of roasted meat that spread over
the Place d'Armes was ruined by the sharp odor of
singed hair and nails. But all odors were soon swal-
lowed up by the pleasant tonic odor of the resinous
The flames from the fagots rose higher and envel-
oped the corpses. But behind the wind-stirred curtain
of flame one could still see the bodies, blacker now
than ever in life, or, when the surrounding flames
diminished for a spell and the wind blew directly
upon the corpses, glowing red then, like charcoal when
one puffs on it.
And still the bodies of the two Negroes stood up-
But at last they began to disintegrate. The muscles
of the torsos curled away in ragged masses encrusted
with charcoal and then dropped off into the bed of
glowing ashes. And the greedy flames, finding access
to the unconsumed interiors, licked their way in and
Then certain parts, a forearm or a lower leg, losing
its fleshly attachments, would hang first by a thread
and then tumble away. But the chains, red-hot, still
clasped the shapeless torsos and held them to the stake.
Nothing can be more revealing of the ignorance of
the newly landed slaves, under whose feet the ground
still swayed like the sea, than the opinions they formed
of this sight.
There were a number of them who were cannibals,
accustomed to filing their incisors into points. But it
was particularly their musky odor that made these
Negroes poor sellers, for they infected the very ground
they passed and left a heavy trail of odor that endured
for minutes. And this was why few Mondongos and
related tribes were ever imported. In the present short-
age, however, created by the war, any slave was good;
moreover some few free Negro planters were willing
to buy and handle this dangerous commodity.
These cannibals, as they passed the pyres, could not
help but wonder why the whites should cook their
meat so badly as to ruin it for consumption.
Others, too, though not cannibals themselves, shared
this critical opinion, for they knew the proper way
to cook meat.
This, however, was not the uppermost thought in
their minds. Their hearts sank at the realization that,
all promises to the contrary, the whites did eat their
slaves. Two months of association with the whites
had not sufficed to dispel all their suspicions.
And, under the leadership of Babouk, they returned
to their eternal question: "If the whites did not pro-
pose to eat them, what then was their purpose?"
They had no conception of the great commerce in
sugar, rum, coffee, cotton, spices, dyewoods, that tied
Europe to all the rest of the world, and their obtuse-
ness precluded the possibility of any explanation.
Here, they saw plainly, was proof of the white man's
But others saw nothing of the sort. They had a
ready explanation that fitted the customs of their tribes:
"These must be the two brothers and the sister of
the new king of this country. In our land, too, the new
king, in slaying his brothers and sisters, who might
be rivals to his throne, burns them, for royal blood
must not be spilled upon the ground."
And certain Mohammedans declared: "It is thus
that the dogs of Christians sacrifice human beings to
And as the clanking centipede crawled past the
Place d'Armes, it muttered and complained its deep
Contrast the fortunate position of the modern edu-
cated white who can dip into old historical records
and see that these burning Negroes are neither proof
that the whites offer up human sacrifices to their gods,
nor proof that they consume human flesh, nor proof
that they do not know how to cook their meat.
Yes, fortunate is the student of history who, with
documents in hand, can declare: Here in these three
Negroes burnt at the stake is proof of the white man's
Yes, the white man's indulgence.
Stop being sentimental. Don't let pity blind you.
Your heart must not be your judge.
Study history objectively, from documents.
But you can't study the actual legal documents on
this case for the official papers of Saint-Domingue were
largely destroyed every few years. Time and time
again we find an entry in the court records: "Burnt
the papers relating to Negroes, along with other use-
But we can go to the volumes of letters of Ordinator
Lambert. In the hundreds of letters he wrote we will
not find more than four or five references to the
Negroes. You might as well search for references to
oxen or any other animal.
Here, however, are the references we find:
"... we condemned a Negro and a Negress to be
burnt alive for having used poison ....
"Yesterday we did the same to another Negress,
and also condemned a Negro to have his bones
"Last week we had a Negress burnt for poisoning
and there are more in prison who will suffer the same
That's all one can find in three volumes of letters,
except for the following illuminating comment:
". .. we have reasons for believing that the cause
of all this is the too many liberties allowed the Ne-
There you have it! And contrast that intelligent
analysis with the ignorant comments of the Negroes.
Since Ordinator Lambert does not trouble to expand
his thesis, I shall do it here in accordance with the
arguments developed by other contemporaries.
The indulgent white master promises a Negress who
has borne him a child that he will free her in his will.
The informed Negress at once schemes to poison
her kind master and thus hasten his demise and her
freedom. For that reason testamentary manumission
was frowned upon, and even legally forbidden at times.
Another indulgent master, an absentee owner, is
going to Paris and will leave an overseer in charge,
that is to say, a man who will strive to grind out a
little extra profit for himself. Quickly a wise witch-
doctor on the plantation poisons a hundred slaves, or
a hundred head of cattle, ruins the good master, and
prevents his departure.
No, one can't be good to a nigger. The niggers
themselves say: "If you stoop to pet a dog, he'll lick
you on the mouth."
Of course, there's the possibility that the white
master did not die of poison. That the slaves or the
cattle died of some obscure epidemic. But that's an-
other matter and hardly worth going into, seeing that
it would lead us astray into the whole subject of
whether it's right or wrong to punish a Negro for a
crime he did not commit, for example, to lynch a
nigger who did or did not rape a certain girl.
I beg the reader's pardon. That was an anachronistic
slip. This is a novel about an eighteenth century Negro.
Today the black man is everywhere free and equal to
"His Majesty hereby orders, that any free Ne-
groes who conceal fugitive slaves, shall be de-
prived of their liberty and sold conjointly with
MoREAU DE SAINT-MARY, famous eighteenth-century
lawyer of Saint-Domingue and Paris, said of the Gali-
fet plantation that its sugar was renowned for its
Elsewhere he mentions the fact that the death rate
of the Negroes on the Galifet plantation was higher
than on any other plantation in the north of the island.
Could it be that the high death rate made the sugar
The high death rate had nothing to do with that.
The high death rate was due to the fact that the Galifet
plantation was low and damp, and, while the sugar
cane grew sweet on its rich soil, the niggers died fast.
And yet, though the death rate was seven to nine
per cent a year, there arose in the late eighteenth cen-
tury a proverb: Happy as a Negro on the Galifet
Can it be that they were happier to be dead quicker?
It was only that Babouk became one of their num-
ber, and that as long as their short lives might last,
they were the happier for his presence.
The Galifets did not live in Saint-Domingue. They
lived in the center of culture and civilization, Paris,
and were content to leave Monsieur Odeluc in charge,
confident that their yearly income was safe in his
hands, what with the sugar on their lands being re-
nowned for its sweetness and no one being able to see
or taste any nigger-blood in it.
Indeed, Monsieur Odeluc, young though he was, had
excellent notions. He was imbued with the spirit of
enlightenment and humanitarianism that characterized
the second half of the eighteenth century. He used to
"You can never properly season a black that's over
twenty-one. You can't expect to transplant a Negro
who has perhaps already married and had offspring in
Africa. Why, they die of melancholia!"
Monsieur Odeluc therefore bought only young slaves.
And the Galifet Negroes did not die of melancholia.
They died producing the sweetest sugar of the island
out of swampy ground.
From Captain Collard's cargo, Monsieur Odeluc had
picked out Babouk and three of the youngest Ibo war-
riors. And after ordering them branded with the Galifet
initials, and signing the necessary papers, he drove back
to Petit Anse, while two Negro commanders, mounted
on horseback, were entrusted with the task of bringing
the new slaves to the plantation.
It was raining down in great wind-swept sheets when
the commanders reached the Galifet atelier. The four
slaves, relieved now of all chains, walked along beside
the horses, their black skins glistening in the wet, even
as the soaked pelts of the horses. Slowly the cortege
made its way through the silver rain and stopped in the
As suddenly as it had begun, the rain ceased. The
earth steamed, and the yard was busy with the newly
Despite the fact that the slaves had just been thor-
oughly showered by the rain, they were washed and
scrubbed, for such were the orders that Monsieur Ode-
luc had left, and Monsieur Odeluc was always obeyed
in his least behest. And after this cleaning a short pair
of coarse, white trunks and a single white jacket were
given to each new slave.
Now Monsieur Odeluc himself appeared and ap-
praised his purchase. He was well staisfied. The men
were healthy, there was no doubt of that.
He explored their teeth. All sound.
He examined their toes. No cracked skin.
He punched each one sharply in the belly. No, no
Excellent, excellent. One of the slaves in particular,
Babouk, gave good promise. His toes, planted securely
on the ground, were long as fingers. His slender legs,
his long thighs, his flat stomach, his soaring, gently
curving spine, his broad, bony shoulders, his short,
powerful neck were so many anatomical promissory
notes of many years of hard work. He was coated with
muscles as with armor-plate, but muscles so supple that
one could poke a finger underneath them.
Babouk's velvety skin seemed to shiver like that of
a horse beneath Monsieur Odeluc's touch. And when
Monsieur Odeluc awarded him the white planter's
highest sign of approval, that is to say, spat in his face,
Babouk ducked sharply. His head seemed to want to
tuck itself into his body, turtle-wise.
Not that he thought of Monsieur Odeluc's sharply
propelled saliva either as an insult or as a mark of
approbation. He construed the entire examination dif-
ferently. He had not forgotten the nigger-taster, nor
the roasting blacks on the Place d'Armes.
Monsieur Odeluc, however, paid no attention. He
had moved on to examine the Ibos.
Here was a special case. Ibos made excellent workers.
But many planters did not care for them because they
were prone to commit suicide on the slightest provo-
cation, believing that death offered them an easy pas-
But a system had been worked out to prevent that,
a system so efficacious that Ibos, long held in disfavor,
were coming into demand again.
You simply explained to them that, when they com-
mitted suicide, their heads and hands were cut off.
And naturally no Ibo would want to go back to Africa
headless and handless.
Of course, the Ibos just stood there blankly and
didn't understand what Monsieur Odeluc was trying
to convey to them.
"Haven't we got a single Ibo who can talk to them?"
he asked his assistant, and shook his head with an-
"You know," the latter replied, "that no Negro who
has been here even six months will acknowledge that
he knows any African language. They all want to be
taken for Creole niggers It's a higher caste."
"How about Medor?"
But Medor, when he appeared, shifted from one
foot to another and grinned foolishly: "Non, Mon-
sieur," he repeated.
Annoyed, Monsieur Odeluc let him have a cut of
his whip just to urge the black on, though he knew
already that it was of no use.
"Well, bring out the heads and hands and see if we
can make them understand."
From the storeroom where they were kept for that
purpose were brought out several dry heads, stuck on
pikes, and dangling therefrom a number of hands, tied
The three Ibos and Babouk, too (for how was he
to know that the show was not meant for him?),
looked on uncomprehendingly.
But the lash of the whip and Odeluc's gestures and
stormy words may have awakened some train of
thought in their bewildered heads. Some train of
thought such as this: this then is what these whites do
to the dead blacks. Alas! Then neither in life nor in
death is there any return home They stood there,
one frankly weeping, the other two smiling, not know-
ing what else to do. Babouk squirmed.
From this state the three Ibos were aroused by a
general burst of laughter from the old hands, who
were looking on.
What passed in Babouk's mind is not hard to sur-
mise. He had never worn trousers before. Surely he
knew better than to soil himself. No, that wasn't it
at all. He had more than likely laboriously reasoned
out that anything else would be a faux pas, and that
was the last thing he wanted to commit.
But the coarse burst of laughter that greeted the
sight of water dripping from his new culottes made
him at once aware of his mistake, and he was deeply
shamed. He ached for the laughter to subside quickly,