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“All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold. The Kings and Captains whose words moved ships. But not one word from the cargo.”

These words in many ways sum up the significance of the powerful message conveyed by Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” by Zora Neale Hurston. This is foremost a tragic story about slavery and the enslavement of African people told through the rare voice of one (Ouluale Kossola aka Cudjo Lewis) who was enslaved; who was sold; who was the cargo in the hold of a slave ship. From being captured during a Dahomey raid on his village, to being transported in a ship across the vast Atlantic Ocean to America, and summarily sold off to labour as a deck hand on a steamer in Alabama, Kossola unrepentantly tells his compelling life story and shares his deep longing to return to his homeland. In simple, unassuming words he imparts many profound truths about how enslaved Africans were despised and discriminated against by both Whites and Blacks (assimilated Africans) in America, which further compounded their sense of lack of belonging and rootlessness. Kossola’s account also highlights the shameless complicity of Africans (such as the Dahomey) themselves in the perpetuation and proliferation of the slave trade, which has historically been less widely acknowledged, especially among Black elites. Although I would highly recommend Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo” to anyone sincerely interested in learning more about the “truth” of slavery and the slave trade, I must confess that the majority of the narrative is written in dialect/pidgin English that may be difficult for many native English speakers to grasp. However, I assure you that you will be rewarded for your perseverance and will gain a deeper appreciation for the devastating and enduring effects that the scourge of slavery has had on African people. Moreover, as an early work from Hurston it showcases another side of her virtuosity as a writer and her formative training in anthropology, which likely influenced her folklorist writings in subsequent years.

Have you read Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”? or any of Zora Neale Hurston’s other works? What are your thoughts after reading her writing? What do you find most intriguing about her literary work? Thanks as always for stopping by! Please feel free to share your thoughts or reactions in a comment below. Also, if you would like to receive more updates about my writing please consider joining my newsletter mailing list by subscribing below.

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