poem recreates past horrors

THE horrific plight of slaves in the past, especially the mind-boggling journey across the Atlantic ocean, is something modern Africans can hardly imagine.

THE horrific plight of slaves in the past, especially the mind-boggling journey across the Atlantic ocean, is something modern Africans can hardly imagine.

A lot of literature has sprung from the unravelling of the slave trade, especially from the Afro-American experience. Probably the most famous was the book Roots, by Alex Haley, which spawned a fantastic TV series and movies popular all over the world for decades.

Creative writers, academics and bards continue to churn out works that reflect this extraordinary suffering of the black slaves of that time, starting from their arduous journey from the heart of Africa, to the castles, ports and then the trans-Atlantic journey. The horror of the whole thing is portrayed in the process.

One of the most trenchant, latest additions to this literature is Zong, a 2008 fantastic, imaginative, yet very haunting poem that focuses on the horrors of slaves while crossing the ocean. The author is Canadian poet Marlene NourbeSe Philip, now making waves with the publication.

Her work is based on real life experience, arising from a court case in 1783 regarding the murder of 300 more or fewer Africans on board a slave ship.

The owners (of the ship) were not even charged for murder, but only an insurance case for lost goods followed. Indeed Philip's work has shown that modern writers can recreate the grisly past with brilliant empathy.

X