Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo
by Zora Neale Hurston
Everyone has a book that has opened up something in them, given them an undeniably different perspective.
Barracoon : The Story of the Last Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston is one of those books for me. I bought the book for my sister, thinking that I would not have time to read it, but wanting to purchase it because it is by Zora.
I picked up the book while sitting in the hospital with my recovering wife while she was sleeping. That experience was a journey in itself, and thankfully all is well. I had time and opportunity to get into this book, and I am grateful that I did.
Barracoon is alarming, but not necessarily as you’d expect. I knew that the bondage of Africans went on in some form even after the “Emancipation,” but realizing how long it went on (into the 1860s) was jarring to say the least. I also knew that other Africans were complicit in the capture and enslaving of those who were taken, but the story as told by Cudjo is a reminder of how easy it is for humans to destroy, even those who look like you-- even family. It is one thing to know something intellectually and another thing altogether to know it in the way the storyteller relates it to you first-hand. This is the power in the narrative and Zora Neale Hurston’s drive to uncover what has been buried, no matter how painful. She brings watermelon, hams, and crabs to fill the belly and as an offering to Cudjo, as a revered elder.
Cudjo’s ability to create and nurture his own family after he is on American soil and becomes “free” is nothing short of a miracle to me. He did not just survive, but he loved and he maintained bonds with those who had also come from “de Afficky soil.” One of his greatest regrets was a refrain throughout the book: that his children never got to see their real home. He missed his land the way he missed his wife after her death, which says volumes, since he described losing her as losing his eyes-- his ability to see. He had the capacity to long for and want to return to a place populated with the people who betrayed him in the first place. That longing never ended for him.
“We call our village Affican Town. We say dat ‘cause we want to go back in de Affica soil and we see we cain go. Derefo’ we make Affica where dey fetch us. “
This book has reminded me about the truth in intuition, in ancestral inheritance, and in cultural cadence. He never questioned who he really was; his struggle in America was making a place for that person (and his family) to exist. There is no complete way to recover from this. There still isn’t. Cudjo’s story reminds me not to doubt my own ancestral memory, which is also his, which is also ours.
I’d like to know how this story affected you. Comment or read the book, if you haven’t.
Hope you are enjoying where the journey is taking you,