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Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

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BOOK: Barracoon
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t was Saturday when next I saw Cudjo. He was gracious but not too cordial. He picked me peaches and tried to get rid of me quickly, but I hung on. Finally, he said, “Didn't I tellee you not to come bother me on Sat'day? I got to clean de church. Tomorrow Sunday.”

“But I came to help you, Kossula. You needn't talk if you don't want to.”

“I thankee you come help me. I want you take me in de car in de Mobile. I gittee me some turnip seed to plant in de garden.”

We hurriedly swept and dusted the church. Less than an hour later the Chevrolet had borne us to Mobile and back. I left him at his gate with a brief goodbye and tackled him again on Monday.

He was very warm this day. He glimmered and glinted with light. I must first tell him about the nice white lady in New York who was interested in him.

“I want you to write her a letter in de New York. Tell
her Cudjo say a thousand time much oblige. I glad she send you astee me whut Cudjo do all de time.”

I talked about the lady for a few minutes and my words evidently pleased him for he said, “I tellee you mo' 'bout Cudjo when he was in de Dahomey. I tellee you right. She good to me. You tell her Cudjo lak please her. She good to me and Cudjo lonely.

“Dey march us in de Dahomey and I see de house of de king. I cain tell all de towns we passee to git to de place where de king got his house, but I 'member we passee de place call Eko (Meko) and Ahjahshay. We go in de city where de king got his house and dey call it Lomey. (Either Abomey or Cannah.) De house de king live in hisself, you unnerstand me, it made out of skull bones. Maybe it not made out de skull, but it lookee dat way to Cudjo, oh Lor'. Dey got de white skull bone on de stick when dey come meet us, and de men whut march in front of us, dey got de fresh head high on de stick. De drum beat so much lookee lak de whole world is de drum dey beat on. Dat de way dey fetchee us into de place where de king got his house. (See note 5.)

“Dey placee us in de barracoon (stockade) and we restee ourself. Dey give us something to eat, but not very much.

“We stay dere three days, den dey have a feast. Everybody sing and dance and beatee de drum. (1)

“We stay dere not many days, den dey march us to
(the sea). We passee a place call Budigree (Badigri) den we come in de place call Dwhydah. (It is called Whydah by the whites, but Dwhydah is the Nigerian pronunciation of the place.)

“When we git in de place dey put us in a barracoon behind a big white house and dey feed us some rice.

“We stay dere in de barracoon three weeks. We see many ships in de sea, but we cain see so good 'cause de white house, it 'tween us and de sea.

“But Cudjo see de white men, and dass somethin' he ain' never seen befo'. In de Takkoi we hear de talk about de white man, but he doan come dere.

“De barracoon we in ain' de only slave pen at the place. Dey got plenty of dem but we doan know who de people in de other pens. Sometime we holler back and forth and find out where each other come from. But each nation in a barracoon by itself.

“We not so sad now, and we all young folks so we play game and clam up de side de barracoon so we see whut goin' on outside.

“When we dere three weeks a white man come in de barracoon wid two men of de Dahomey. One man, he a chief of Dahomey and de udder one his word-changer. 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 take a man, too. Derefore, you unnerstand me, he take one hunnard and thirty. Sixty-five men wid a woman for each man. Dass right.

“Den de white man go 'way. I think he go back 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 whut goin' become of us, we doan want to be put apart from one 'nother.

“But dey come and tie us in de line and lead us round de big white house. Den we see so many ships in de sea. Cudjo see many white men, too. Dey talking wid de officers of de Dahomey. We see de white man dat buy us. When he see us ready he say goodbye to de chief and gittee in his hammock and dey carry him cross de river. We walk behind and wade de water. It come up to de neck and Cudjo think once he goin' drown, but nobody drown and we come on de land by de sea. De shore it full of boats of de Many-costs. (See note 6.)

“De boats take something to de ships and fetch something way from de ships. Dey comin' and goin' all de time. Some boat got white man in it; some boat got po' Affican in it. De man dat buy us he git in a Kroo boat and go out to de ship.

“Dey takee de chain off us and placee us in de boats. Cudjo doan know how many boats take us out on de water to de ship. I in de last boat go out. Dey almost leavee me on de shore. But when I see my friend Keebie in de boat I want go wid him. So I holler and dey turn round and takee me.

“When we ready to leave de Kroo boat and go in de ship, de Many-costs snatch our country cloth off us. We try save our clothes, we ain' used to be without no clothes on. But dey snatch all off us. Dey say, ‘You get plenty
clothes where you goin'.' Oh Lor', I so shame! We come in de 'Merica soil naked and de people say we naked savage. Dey say we doan wear no clothes. Dey doan know de Many-costs snatch our clothes 'way from us. (See note 7.)

“Soon we git in de ship dey make us lay down in de dark. We stay dere thirteen days. Dey doan give us much to eat. Me so thirst! Dey give us a little bit of water twice a day. Oh Lor', Lor', we so thirst! De water taste sour. (Vinegar was usually added to the water to prevent scurvy—Canot.)

“On de thirteenth day dey fetchee us on de deck. We so weak we ain' able to walk ourselves, so de crew take each one and walk 'round de deck till we git so we kin walk ourselves.

“We lookee and lookee and lookee and lookee and we doan see nothin' but water. Where we come from we doan know. Where we goin, we doan know.

“De boat we on called de
. Cudjo suffer so in dat ship. Oh Lor'! I so skeered on de sea! De water, you unnerstand me, it makee so much noise! It growl lak de thousand beastes in de bush. De wind got so much voice on de water. Oh Lor'! Sometime de ship way up in de sky. Sometimes it way down in de bottom of de sea. Dey say de sea was calm. Cudjo doan know, seem lak it move all de time. One day de color of de water change and we see some islands, but we doan come to de shore for seventy days.

“One day we see de color of de water change and dat night we stop by de land, but we don't git off de ship. Dey send us back down in de ship and de nexy mornin' dey
bring us de green branch off de tree so we Afficans know we 'bout finish de journey.

“We been on de water seventy days and we spend some time layin' down in de ship till we tired, but many days we on de deck. Nobody ain' sick and nobody ain' dead.
Cap'n Bill Foster a good man. He don't 'buse us and treat us mean on de ship.

“Dey tell me it a Sunday us way down in de ship and tell us to keep quiet. Cap'n Bill Foster, you unnerstand me, he skeered de gov'ment folks in de Fort Monroe goin' ketchee de ship.

“When it night de ship move agin. Cudjo didn't know den whut dey do, but dey tell me dey towed de ship up de Spanish Creek to Twelve-Mile Island. Dey tookee us off de ship and we git on another ship. Den dey burn de
'cause dey skeered de gov'ment goin' rest dem for fetchin' us 'way from Affica soil.

“First, dey 'vide us wid some clothes, den dey keer us up de Alabama River and hide us in de swamp. But de mosquitoes dey so bad dey 'bout to eat us up, so dey took us to Cap'n Burns Meaher's place and 'vide us up.

“Cap'n Tim Meaher, he tookee thirty-two of us. Cap'n Burns Meaher he tookee ten couples. Some dey sell up de river in de Bogue Chitto. Cap'n Bill Foster he tookee de eight couples and Cap'n Jim Meaher he gittee de rest.

“We very sorry to be parted from one 'nother. We cry for home. We took away from our people. We seventy days cross de water from de Affica soil, and now dey part us from one 'nother. Derefore we cry. We cain help but cry. So we sing:

“‘Eh, yea ai yeah, La nah say wu

Ray ray ai yea, nah nah saho ru.'

“Our grief so heavy look lak we cain stand it. I think maybe I die in my sleep when I dream about my mama. Oh Lor'!”

Kossula sat silent for a moment. I saw the old sorrow seep away from his eyes and the present take its place. He looked about him for a moment and then said bluntly, “I tired talking now. You go home and come back. If I talkeed wid you all de time I cain makee no garden. You want know too much. You astee so many questions. Dat do, dat do (that will do, etc.), go on home.”

I was far from being offended. I merely said, “Well when can I come again?”

“I send my grandson and letee you know, maybe tomorrow, maybe nexy week.”


ap'n Jim he tookee me. He make a place for us to sleepee underneath de house. Not on de ground, you unnerstand me. De house it high off de grounds and got de bricks underneath for de floor.

“Dey give us bed and bed cover, but tain 'nough to keepee us warm.

“Dey doan put us to work right away 'cause we doan unnerstand what dey say and how dey do. But de others show us how dey raisee de crop in de field. We astonish to see de mule behind de plow to pull.

“Cap'n Tim and Cap'n Burns Meaher workee dey folks hard. Dey got overseer wid de whip. One man try whippee one my country women and dey all jump on him and takee de whip 'way from him and lashee
wid it. He doan never try whip Affican women no mo'.

“De work very hard for us to do 'cause we ain' used to workee lak dat. But we doan grieve 'bout dat. We cry 'cause we slave. In night time we cry, we say we born and
raised to be free people and now we slave. We doan know why we be bring 'way from our country to work lak dis. It strange to us. Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk wid de udder colored folkses but dey doan know whut we say. Some makee de fun at us.

“Cap'n Jim, he a good man. He not lak his brother, Cap'n Tim. He doan want his folks knock and beat all de time. He see my shoes gittee raggedy, you know, and he say, ‘Cudjo, if dat de best shoes you got, I gittee you some mo'!' Now dass right. I no tellee lies. He work us hard, you unnerstand me, but he doan workee his folks lak his brother. Dey got de two plantation. One on de Tenesaw River and one on de Alabam River.

“Oh Lor'! I 'preciate dey free me! We doan have 'nough bed clothes. We workee so hard! De womens dey workee in de field too. We not in de field much. Cap'n Jim gottee five boats run from de Mobile to de Montgomery. Oh Lor'! I workee so hard! Every landing, you unnerstand me, I tote wood on de boat. Dey have de freight, you unnerstand me, and we have to tote dat, too. Oh Lor'! I so tired. No sleepee. De boat leak and we pumpee so hard! Dey ain' got no railing on de boat and in de night time if you doan watchee close you fall overboard and drown yo'self. Oh Lor'! I 'preciate dey free me.

“Every time de boat stopee at de landing, you unnerstand me, de overseer, de whippin' boss, he go down de gangplank and standee on de ground. De whip stickee in his belt. He holler, ‘Hurry up, dere, you! Runnee fast! Can't you runnee no faster dan dat? You ain't got 'nough load! Hurry up!' He cutee you wid de whip if you ain'
run fast 'nough to please him. If you doan git a big load, he hitee you too. Oh, Lor'! Oh, Lor'! Five year and de six months I slave. I workee so hard! Looky lak now I see all de landings. I callee all dem for you.

“De first landin' after de Mobile it de Twenty-One-Mile Bluff; de nexy it de Chestang; de nexy it de Mouth of de Tenesaw; den de Four Guns Shorter; den we pass Tombigbee; den de nexy it de Montgomery Hill; den de nexy it Choctaw Bluff; den de Gain Town; den Tay Creek; den Demopolis; den Clairborne; den Low Peachtree; den Upper Peachtree; den we come to de White Bluffs; den de Blue Bluffs; de nexy after dat it de Yellow Jacket. De river it is shallow dere sometime de boat hafter wait for de tide. De nexy after dat is Cahoba; den Selma; den Bear Landing; den Washington; den de last place it de Montgomery. I think I 'member dem, you unnerstand me, but I ain' been dere since 1865. Maybe I furgitee some. Doan lookee lak I never furgit. I work so hard and we ain' had nothin' to sleepee on but de floor. Sometime de bluff it so high we got to chunkee de wood down two three times fo' it git down where de river is. De steamboat didn't used to burnee de coal. It burnee de wood an' it usee so muchee wood!

“De war commences but we doan know 'bout it when it start: we see de white folks runnee up and down. Dey go in de Mobile. Dey come out on de plantation. Den somebody tell me de folkses way up in de North make de war so dey free us. I lak hear dat. Cudjo doan want to be no slave. But we wait and wait, we heard de guns shootee sometime but nobody don't come tell us we free. So we think maybe dey fight 'bout something else.

“De Yankees dey at Fort Morgan, you unnerstand me. Dey dere on account de war and dey doan let nothin' come passee dem. So po' folks, dey ain' gottee no coffee an' nothin'. We parchee de rice and makee de coffee. Den we ain' gottee no sugar, so we put de molassy in de coffee. Dat doan tastee so good, you unnerstand me, but nobody cain do nothin' 'bout it. Cap'n Jim Meaher send word he doan want us to starve, you unnerstand me, so he tell us to kill hogs. He say de hogs dey his and we his, and he doan wantee no dead folks. Derefo' you know we killee hogs when we cain gittee nothin'.

“When we at de plantation on Sunday we so glad we ain' gottee no work to do. So we dance lak in de Afficky soil. De American colored folks, you unnerstand me, dey say we savage and den dey laugh at us and doan come say nothin' to us. But Free George, you unnerstand me, he a colored man doan belong to nobody. His wife, you unnerstand me, she been free long time. So she cook for a Creole man and buy George 'cause she marry wid him. Free George, he come to us and tell us not to dance on Sunday. Den he tell us whut Sunday is. We doan know whut it is before. Nobody in Afficky soil doan tell us 'bout no Sunday. Den we doan dance no mo' on de Sunday.

“Know how we gittee free? Cudjo tellee you dat. De boat I on, it in de Mobile. We all on dere to go in de Montgomery, but Cap'n Jim Meaher, he not on de boat dat day. Cudjo doan know (why). I doan forgit. It April 12, 1865. De Yankee soldiers dey come down to de boat and eatee de mulberries off de trees close to de boat, you unnerstand me. Den dey see us on de boat and dey say ‘Y'all can't stay
dere no mo'. You free, you doan b'long to nobody no mo'.' Oh, Lor'! I so glad. We astee de soldiers where we goin'? Dey say dey doan know. Dey told us to go where we feel lak goin', we ain' no mo' slave.

“Thank de Lor'! I sho 'ppreciate dey free me. Some de men dey on de steamboat in de Montgomery and dey got to come in de Mobile and unload de cargo. Den dey free too.

“We ain' got no trunk so we makee de bundles. We ain' got no house so somebody tellee us come sleepee in de section house. We done dat till we could gittee ourselves some place to go. Cudjo doan keer—he a free man den.”

BOOK: Barracoon
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