From scholar to slave

slavery

This is a story, a story of old.
It is our story, a story untold.

Once upon a time, in a land far away – Africa – we lived free.
Blue-black,
Deep brown,
Brick red
And sand,
Our people multiplied
And covered the land:
Fulani, Mandinke,
Peul and Pular.
Our griots sang our stories,
Of kingdoms and cities
And the coming of Islam
That united our hearts.

For we were Muslims,
Africa’s Muslims,
Following the call
Of the Arabian prophet.

We spoke Arabic
And wrote it.
We read Qur’an
And taught it.

We travelled across the deserts
And into the trade routes.
We passed peasants and sultans
As we journeyed to Mecca.

We were farmers
And blacksmiths,
We were merchants
And weavers.

We were students
And teachers.
We were princes
And leaders.

But that was all in a land far away – Africa – when we were free.

For in many different ways,
Through kidnap and war,
We found ourselves shackled
And cast out to sea.

And in ships thick with bodies,
With tears and with filth,
We called out to God – “Allah!”
To free us from our chains.

Long days and long nights,
We rocked in those slave ships
Some died of diseases,
Some met death in the water.

But some of us survived,
Our fate was to make it,
To these lands far away,
The ‘New World’, as slaves.

So, on slave auction blocks
Our captors re-named us,
Stripped us
And sold us
To work the plantations
So far from home.
Where they beat us
And lynched us,
Shamed us
And cursed us,
As savages come to this civilized land.

And yet, through the terror,
The pain and the darkness,
A bright flame flickered,
A flame strong and proud.
The memory of Africa
And what we had seen,
And where we had come from
And who we had been.

Songs of childhood
Still beat in our blood,
The words of the Qur’an,
Engraved in our hearts.
The Arabic language
Still flowed from our lips
As we traced its letters
With sticks in the sand.
And still we would pray
In brief stolen moments,
Washing with water,
Facing the Qiblah.
We remembered the fast,
And the ways of our people
And we clung to who we knew
We still were deep inside.

For, inside we were scholars,
Students and teachers,
Traders and weavers,
Princes and leaders.

And in this new land,
Our fortunes differed:
Some of us ran away,
Some died while trying.
Some lived as maroons,
Some died as slaves.
Some became famous,
Still more were unknown.
Some stayed in the New World,
Still others went home.

Those of us who stayed,
Toiled and struggled,
Sweated and laboured to build our new homes:
The lands called Trinidad,
Jamaica and Cuba,
Brazil and Antigua,
Virginia and Georgia.

We had children and families
Then went to our graves.
And to our dark graves,
We took that proud flame
And the memory of whom
We had been long ago.

For we had been scholars,
Students and teachers,
Traders and weavers,
Princes and leaders.

We left barely a trace,
Just a memory
And a name,
And the shadows of our way,
In an old Creole prayer.

But that was all in a time long ago – when we were slaves.

And you are our children,
And the children of our children.
Blue-black,
Deep brown,
Brick red
And sand,
You met, multiplied
And covered the land:
Fulani, Mandinke,
Peul and Pular.
You will again sing our stories,
And remember the tales
Of when you were scholars,
Students and teachers,
Traders and weavers,
Princes and leaders.

For this is a story, a story of old.
And it is your story, a story now told.

(c) Na’ima B. Robert

Note: This true story was inspired by the book ‘Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas’ by Sylviane Diouf.

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