Introduction: Becoming Brown
This is a story of a young woman finding her place in the world; in a world where her name is her strength, if she allows herself to live into it. This is a story of love, sacrifice, slavery, freedom, and the heaven and hell in between. There is harsh language and visual imagery; allow yourself to you feel them deeply.
Journey with me.
The Young Couple, 1789
The year was 1789. A young Igbo man and woman grew quickly in love and married near the Niger River. Soon after their wedding, the young woman became pregnant with their first child. With help from the elderly women in the tribe, the young woman gave birth to a healthy and breathfilled girl. The young man was in awe of both his wife’s bravery and his daughter’s beauty. The night of her birth, per tradition, he wrapped his daughter in cloth and took her alone to behold the stars. He breathed over her a prayer, and declared her name: Anwuli Ijemma -- a joyous and happy girl who is on a good journey .
Anwuli grew quickly, and she had a good childhood. Her parents had more children, and Anwuli enjoyed caring for them. As she grew, so too did her responsibilities to the family. She learned to make clothes, prepare meals, and teach traditional songs to the town children. Now a young woman, Anwuli was of age to marry. While some families arranged marriages, Anwuli’s parents waited for a noble suitor. The summer of her eighteenth birthday, she became keen to a young man who often fished on the village river. He, too, for her. Upon their families’ approval, Anwuli and the young man grew slowly in love, and the arrangements to wed were made. On a warm summer evening, the young fisherman thought it romantic for he and Anwuli to sneak into a land past their own to watch the sun set over the hills. And so that they did; their youthful love overtaking them.
They spoke to one another as quickly as they returned home - slowly, so as to breathe in each moment. Anwuli and the young fisherman truly loved each other. During their walk home, they saw an unfamiliar light coming through the trees. This light was not of moon nor stars, but by the hands of man. With the light came the chatter of a language unbeknownst to the fisherman and Anwuli. The fisherman looked past the tree to get a glimpse of who was nearing them. He saw warriors of a rival tribe with guns and spears leading men through the forest. These men had skin far too pale and speech much too foreign to be Nigerian.
The young fisherman heard stories of neighbors being taken and sold to Europeans, but never would he think himself the next victim. Out of instinct and adrenaline, the fisherman led Anwuli to safety behind trees. He knew his duty was to protect Anwuli at all costs. With that, they began running. Slowly at first, faster as the foreign chatter grew louder and the light closer still. They ran quickly: regretting the desire to be held underneath the sunset; faster still, wanting to be sung to sleep by their mamas; without fear of falling, as their lives depended on the next step. Bearing the end of the forest, with demands for their submission, the young fisherman and Anwuli reached a river too dark and unfamiliar to cross. With the light of the moon, the young fisherman found a large stone and threw it at the rival warrior. Forgetting he was outnumbered, the young fisherman and Anwuli, with a terrored sound, were tossed into the hands of European buyers.
Anwuli and the young fisherman, cuffed and chained, were taken to a slave port in Badagry, Nigeria. The two were split apart, stripped of their clothing, examined for profit, branded with scorching iron, and thrown into a dungeon. After days of wailing in the dark, Anwuli, not knowing where her beloved was, and other women were chained closely together and led from the dungeon to the coast by grandiose doors. Anwuli looked ahead and saw the biggest ships she had ever seen; above the door read the sign “ Badagry Slave Route: Point of No Return. Journey to Unknown Destination.”
Surrounded by many women and children, Anwuli was dragged onto the upper deck. Some bondaged women on the ship were used to cook food for the crew, some to wash clothes, and most to sit in chains. A few weeks into the journey, all of the men held in the bottom of the ship came to the upper deck to breathe, to stretch and to be cleaned. Anwuli, hearing her native language, looked through the crooked walls of the ship to watch the men march. She began wailing, as in the front row stood her young fisherman; without thinking, she yelled his name.
The young fisherman, knowing that wail, stood tall, listened for the sound once more and, with instinct and adrenaline, broke his chains and ran toward his betrothed. Running toward the back of the ship, from which Anwuli’s cries came, the young fisherman killed any crew member in his way - quickly and without thought, as if a god himself. Almost to the crooked walls to save his beloved, the captain appeared quickly and shot the young fisherman in the heart. The young fisherman died instantly and was thrown overboard. Anwuli froze. Never had she screamed a cry so silently; as if her lungs were in shock and forgot how to remember.
Irregardless of how frightened Anwuli was, the captain sent for her. Anwuli was cursed with beauty, and the captain used her body at his disposal. She tried to die. Jumping off of the ship or starving herself, she tried; believing wholeheartedly that death was more honorable than the hell she had been stolen into. Because the captain found her desirable, someone always made sure she stayed alive. Within an eighty day journey, Anwuli was raped by the captain seventy-six times. The other slaves, hearing her cries, would tremble in their chains and pray silently for her deliverance. The rape following the young fisherman’s death was different, as Anwuli became pregnant.
The ship landed in Savannah, Georgia March of 1807. Anwuli, numb and with child, cared less and less what happened to her. Keeping her head down and becoming mute, she only thought about why her father would give her a name that was not true of her life. The women and children were brought off of the ship and into a big building. Within moments, white men in foreign dress rummaged through the room looking for the next and best person to purchase. A middle aged man examined Anwuli: smelt her hair, measured her bosoms, cupped her ass, and looked at her hands. He bought her. Anwuli, and her secret child, were placed on a wagon and rode for miles and miles and miles until they reached their destination: the Green plantation.
The owner, known as Master Andrew Green, renamed Anwuli to Sarah. Sarah Green. Anwuli did not care. She stayed apathetic to learning a new language. To working in a cotton field. To being pregnant. And to being raped by Master Andrew Green. Seven months later, Anwuli gave birth to a tiny boy. Master Andrew Green, thinking the child his own, named him Thomas. Thomas Green. Mute and in shock, Anwuli did not take the child to her breast for three days. The cry of baby Thomas became overwhelming and she took him for the first time. The moment she did, Anwuli was reborn. New reason to breathe, hold her head up and imagine a tomorrow without chains. Anwuli became a mother. She did no longer cursed her name, a joyous and happy girl who is on a good journey; perhaps the good journey did not end with her own life.
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