Daybreak was an hour away from erupting throughout the interior of Africa. Well east of the Niger River Coastal area, eight rough-hewn canoes drifted steadily westward, carried by the swift current of a rain-swollen African river. Eventually that river would be joined by multiple tributaries to collectively run all the way west to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Two oars from each canoe functioned as rudders to guide the canoes and keep them close to the southernmost banks as they moved along. Any of the high-strung wildlife that might sense an intrusion into their territory could sound a screaming alarm of potential danger at any second. But all remained silent. Only the routines of nature could be heard. All manner of raucous parrots and shrieking birds were perched calmly on high forest limbs waiting for the light of day to appear before exploding in high-pitched chatter.
The lofty banks on both sides of the river were congested with multiple varieties of tall forest trees, tangled in numerous spirals of dangling vines and spindly roots running down the banks and into the river and down to the riverbed itself. Each of the eight, deep-carved canoes held 10 black-skinned warriors with alternating green and white streaks painted on their cheeks, foreheads and chests. Some of them also had red streaks on their faces indicating an act of heroism in battle. They were armed with long, sturdy prodding sticks, a few carbines among them, and many handmade cutlasses bartered from the European slave traders. They also carried weighted throwing nets to help subdue their prey. Ancient style spears and bows were on board each canoe should they be needed.
With only a smattering of light struggling to penetrate the jungle canopy, the warriors watched intently along the south side of the river for an opening in the thick foliage that bolstered the river banks. There! Several warriors in the third canoe came up on a brief break in the jungle wall. They could barely make out an open field in the distance. The war party’s chief in the lead canoe grabbed a sturdy hanging root to stop his canoe. He signaled the others to follow suit and all eight canoes managed to silently pull tight into the thick underbrush. They could stay in place that way, within the grip of the thick vines and roots that would hold them secure from the river’s fast current. They waited that way, looking for the chief’s command.
Gradually, from the pre-glow, prior to the full sunrise, the warriors could make out fields of rice and cassava alongside clusters of Indian corn. As the reluctant light took on added courage, orange and lemon trees could be seen interspersed with plantains and bananas and the occasional tall stems of cocoas. A stone’s throw from the nearest planted field was a slight hill, more like a broad rise in the ground maybe 100 yards square. Across its expanse, conical shaped native huts dotted the area and small flocks of huddled sheep and goats, even cattle, stood as peaceful sentinels.
A dense mist was just rising off the river to begin its creep across the night-meets-day period of the village’s placid existence. All 80 warriors stealthily emptied out of their canoes to come around and through the underbrush. Their goal was to re-group at the approach to the rise where the huts were clustered. They waited there until all 80 men were in place. In the eeriness of the morning mist, while the village still slept, several of its young women arose to make their morning trip to the river to draw water.
The warrior chief’s arm suddenly rose up where all could see it. In that instant, following the peaceful and simple signs of life, hell rained down on the hearts of every soul in the village. The 80 screaming warriors fell upon the populace, delivering horror and fear into every living being. The flocks of animals ran amok in panic as men, women and children fell from their huts only to be netted or dropped in their tracks by the long prods the warriors stuck in their paths. Shots fired in the air from the warrior’s carbines added to the confusion. In less than an hour, over 200 men, women and children were captured, corralled and roped together around their necks. As the round-up concluded, some of the warriors gathered stragglers while others went to find those who might have managed to make it to the edge of the jungle.
The elderly men and women, along with small children were left behind but those as young as ten or eleven were taken with the adults. Half the attacking warriors withdrew to head back to the canoes and return to the Ashanti villages from where they had come, four hours earlier. The remaining 40 attackers organized the captives into six lines of shocked, scared and hysterical black human beings. The warriors prodded them toward a path that would eventually interconnect with a maze of trails to take them from the only life they had ever known, away from countless generations of family, customs and traditions that had comprised the fabric of life for their peaceful community. Life for them would never be the same.
Roped together about the neck in gangs of ten, they were pulled along by eight foot tethers, force-marched through the jungle to the southern coast of the Niger River area, three degrees off the equator. It would be an extraordinarily difficult, two-week journey. En route, they’d pass through every sort of jungle terrain known on the African continent.
Once at the infamous Bonny Island, the captives would be corralled in crude barracks, or lean-tos, called ‘baracoons’ by the Spanish. It would be their point of departure as soon as a slave ship arrived from Spain, Portugal, England, France, Holland, Brazil or America. The world marketplace for slaves was still strong even though England and the U.S. had declared slavery illegal in 1807 and 1808. Most of the countries active in the slave trade had condemned slavery by 1844 but the demand for slaves by the colonialists continued unabated. Cheap labor was a necessity in the rapidly expanding trade with Europe.
Only Cuba and Portugal though had readily accessible ports where blind eyes were turned at the daily arrival of slave ships filled with suffering Africans who had endured the deadly ordeal of the Middle Passage across the Atlantic. The value of a healthy slave kept increasing as the demand grew. That meant that the risks inherent with slave trafficking became more worthwhile with every ship that left Africa. From Cuba and Portugal, slaves continued to be purchased and smuggled away to any of the expanding colonial nations where the demand for cheap labor was mostly unfulfilled.
Almost lost to history was the demand for African slaves by the Arab world which had been raiding the northern stretch of the African continent for over 1000 years. Coming across the Arabian Desert into North Africa, the Arabs didn’t traffic as far south as the Niger River area. Logically they bartered with North African tribes who would catch the people from neighboring tribes, people of any race or color, it didn’t matter to them. They took their captives to sell to the Muslim nations along the Mediterranean trade routes. Any captive, regardless of color, race or age, was worth something, and buyers were hungry for an unending stream of slaves of all ages. It was a worldwide plague on humanity, but for the colonial plantations, slaves had become an economic necessity.
As the Ashanti warriors pushed their victims southward, the never-ending sobbing and wailing crowded out their own soulful pleas for mercy. To the Ashanti, each live body in tow had a monetary value, based on age and condition. The trading of African people to the slavers became a known cash or trade crop at both ends of the line. The captives pleas their captors heard along the dismal trail fell on deaf ears since their Ashanti captors couldn’t understand their captives’ language. As if to accent their plight as the lines of captives got underway, flocks of screaming, bright colored birds and exotic parrots chose that same time to explode out of the trees.
It was estimated that half the poor souls on the tethers would likely die before reaching the coast. Half of those survivors were destined not to make it across the sea to a Cuban port. It was all a path of tears. God bless them all.