Book Review | Wretched of the Earth
Book: Xaymaca Part 1 A Dream is Born
Authors: L. Wakefield and S. Shakespeare
Critic: Glenville Ashby, PhD
Xaymaca unfolds at a relentless pace. With dizzying artistry, the authors use language to capture the brutality and inhumanity of man. It is in the cane piece that the stage is set. Under sweltering heat slaves toil, mercilessly driven by intimidation. Many are assailed for the slightest of transgressions. And no one is spared from the sadism of the oligarchs.
It is within this violent tapestry that the psyche is moulded. The language of violence infects the imagination of children even finding its way in their lighter moments.
With colour, imagery and cadence, the authors are irrevocably compelling. They stoke our emotions, refusing to let up. Of man's savagery, predictably, we recoil.
In this harrowing drama there is no empathy for the pregnant slave. Pleas for mercy fall on deaf ears. Punishment for the most trivial of offences is swift and gory.
"One hundred lashes then leave her in the sun to think about what she did. No one steals from me."
The whip leaves more than a mark. The flesh is gutted.
"By the time the man was finished, the woman was unconscious and limp, held up only by the pieces of rope that they had used to tie her to the post."
Violence breeds violence
The culpability of blacks in the slave trade is mentioned; arguably, a misstep, for the truth is far are more detailed and nuanced. But in defence of writers L. Wakefield and S. Shakespeare, Xaymaca was never an academic undertaking.
They paint a landscape layered with trauma where violence breeds violence, finding its way into the psyche of the innocent. In a telling game called 'Hide de Switch,' "One of the children would take a branch from the guava tree and hide it. The other children would dash merrily to find it, and whosoever found the switch would be 'Lashy', who would then proceed to chase after the other children and whip them with it."
We soon learn that not all traumas are alike. There are some that carry an extortionate degree of alienation. Nothing can be more scarring than being ripped from the clutches of a mother, dragged away, and stowed in the bowels of a ship, bound for a new and hostile environment. For the characters in Xaymaca born into slavery, there is burden, but a burden that pales in comparison to the experience of new arrivals, especially those once graced with royalty.
Clearly, this distinction is important to the writers, and rightly so.
One such arrival is a markedly reserved girl. She is clothed, though, in an elegance that belies her new station in life.
It is a paradox that immediately catches the attention of her counterparts.
The following dialogue ensues:
"Who is that girl? She never talks to anyone?" Paul asked.
"It's almost as if she thinks she is too good to talk to the likes of us," William replied.
"No," Marcus said, "She is in shock ... . It seems she was the daughter of a powerful chief, like one of those royal types. So you see while we have been slaves all our lives, she was born free and to have freedom taken from you ... is like the sun having its rays snatched away."
But amid the ubiquity of violence, fear, ignominy, there is resilience. Fatalism moves over and hope steps in. And when the Bible can no longer quiet the restless spirit, the slave must seek existential value from deep within.
We are moved by the words of a boy no more than sixteen years old: "In the midst of all the whipping Massa done give all of us, I see how a mother with scars on her back, fresh from a whipping, still find the time to soothe her sick child even tho' she is in a worl' a pain. That selfless love right dere is 'God', and that gives me hope, brother."
Later, Marcus' indomitable spirit is matched only by his foreboding words: "Belief is our fire, our actions are the wood. Put the two together and we'll have a revolution."
The consummate griot, he plants the seeds of freedom.
And as Providence would have it, Nanny, that silent girl from Africa, eventually adapts, steeling herself against the terror that rains over the land. "Her stride [grew in strength and] her head towered above her shoulders. Her hair was an ebony coronet for her unbreakable spirit. She didn't notice the eyes on her because she was no longer on this plantation. She was in a vision, one that was clear enough to yield rainbows after a storm fully passed. She knew now what she had to do."
Marcus is convinced that she is "the catalyst they [had been] waiting for."
A climactic showdown looms.
Wakefield and Shakespeare do not reinvent the wheel, well aware we are that the human spirit can soar above all wretchedness.
Still, Xaymaca strikes an indelible cord.
Xaymaca Part 1- A Dream is Born by L. Wakefield and S. Shakespeare
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