In his dialect, preserved by Hurston, Kossula, 86, describes the slaves’ brutal treatment in the barracoon. “When we dere three weeks a white man come in de barracoon wid two men of de Dahomey. One man, he a chief of de Dahomey and de udder one his word-changer [translator]. Dey make everybody stand in a ring—‘bout ten folkses in each ring. De men by dey self, de women by dey self. Den de white man lookee and lookee. He lookee hard at de skin and de feet and de legs and in de mouth. Den he choose. Every time he choose a man he choose a woman. Every time he take a woman he choose a man, too. Derefore, you understand me, he take one hunnard and thirty. Sixty-five men with a woman for each man. Dass right” (53).
Cudjo also describes the anguish of separation. “Den de white man go ‘way. I think he go in de white house. But de people of Dahomey come bring us lot of grub for us to eatee’ cause dey say we goin’ leave dere. We eatee de big feast. Den we cry, we sad ‘cause we doan want to leave the rest of our people in de barracoon. We all lonesome for our home. We doan know what goin’ become of us. We doan want to be put apart from one ‘other” (53-54).
The history of world empires, from ancient times to now, can be seen as the desire of one people, tribe, or nation, to dominate their neighbors. And their neighbor struggling to remain free. Such domination throughout history often resulted in the enslavement of the weaker party. We often admire the “winners” success stories (e.g., Genghis Kahn). That the Dahomey, richly rewarded by white slave traders, willingly massacred rival tribes is part of the tragedy of human history. Cudjo’s story, though not unique, still creates anguish for him and his people in the retelling. We cringe in reading his story.
The Bible book of Job also reflects such human history. In his depression Job (Chapter 3) calls on the image of slavery to describe his longing for relief from suffering through the peace of death: “Captives also enjoy their ease; they no longer hear the slave driver’s shout. The small and the great are there, and the slave is freed from his master” (vv. 18-19 NIV. For a contemporary practical treatment of the book of Job, see my Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours, 2015). Slavery also continues in some societies today, where Christians in particular have been singled out for domination. The desire to exploit others through subjugating people conquered in warfare reflects a widespread human tendency, eradicated only with great difficulty, as we see in the “one more trip” story of the Clotilda.
For a first-hand experience of what it’s like to be captured, deported, and enslaved, the reader can do no better than Zora Neale Hurston’s Barracoon.