An Unweeded Garden
- ‘I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the Whites. There scarcely ever was a civilised nation of that complexion, nor even any individual, eminent either in action or in speculation. No ingenious manufacture among them, no arts, no sciences.’ – David Hume (Philosopher)
Île de Gorée, Senegal, 1754
‘Humanity was born here – not yesterday, not today. Humanity was born here and it will return,’ Kofi Uwosu’s mother, Malaika, quoted the same proverb every morning as he walked from the family hut, through the village sprawl, towards the sea. When Kofi repeated it to his father, he told him that he did not understand. Kofi was twelve and wanted to understand.
The sea provided, even when the land around them would not. The sea brought life to the village. The sea brought trade. The sea bought trade. Life brought and taken away. Addition and subtraction – a balance sheet. The ocean brought and bought civilisation. Kofi’s civilisation extended only as far as the roughly drawn boundaries of his village of forty huts, three hundred people, one king, and many queens. All seen, all known, all present – the men who made the village were the village. Everyone knew that. The men: fathers, grandfathers, brothers, and cousins, talked of other men. Men who came to bring them civilisation. A generous gift from above and afar. Men with different skin: with white skin, with red skin, with brown skin, with skin the same colour as their own, but different. Though different, still they were men, and still they had skin. Men, with their gold and guns and spices and cloth and promises, took away so much more. They gave us gold and guns, salt and cloth, sugar and spices. We did not need them, but we took them gladly. They talked in words that fell groundwards or drifted towards the gods, as their mouths opened. Our words did not reach these men’s ears either. There were never any women. We have women. They had some of our women. Did these men not have any women?
“Everybody understands gold. Everybody understands guns,” Kofi’s father, Ganda, said. Kofi did not understand either. Kofi often thought about the things he did not understand. Kofi knew civilisation, he couldn’t explain it, but he knew it. Kofi had all the civilisation he needed. He could see it, walk through, past, and around it daily. What could these other men know? What could they teach him? The other men, with the different or same skin, had not come from near or far since he was circumcised. The day his sister was circumcised. His mother did it. Everyone was happy. They killed a calf. They had to stop eating.
Water had been Kofi Uwosu’s life for all of the years that he had known it. Kofi’s grandfather had told him how men came and took men. Men from other tribes. Tribes inland and tribes from beyond the sea took men, but the women stayed. There were too many women, so the king made fewer girls. But, not anymore, it did not matter. There were boys, girls, men, and women, now, and the king said nothing. Did nothing.
Kofi’s father had left before him that glimmering morning, as he did every day. That day, he carried his hunting spear and his club. Kofi had watched in awe, seven years earlier, as he had carved out intricate patterns, lines, loops, and swirls like a giant fingerprint on thick, heavy wood. Often blood soaked it. Kofi had wanted to use the club on his father, sometimes, and on his brother more, but he had never touched it. His father said that he must look, and when he understood, only then could he use it. Kofi still did not understand. He woke every day, hoping that it would be the day. His father said many words that he did not know; that was why he wanted to use the club against his skull. To watch it shatter and splinter too see the blood spill and his brain stall and stop. He never picked up the club. He tried not to think about it. It would come to him as it had to his brother. He asked his brother what he had to understand. His brother smiled and laughed at him, but said nothing. Kofi eyed the club and his brother’s skull.
Kofi’s father taught him everything. He taught all the boys. They knew their responsibilities; they knew the rules that, if broken, meant damaged skin and bruised bodies. Their duties were to the rules and the rules guided everyone. They did not have to think. Their elders did their thinking for them.
‘Africa is no historical part of the world.’ – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (Philosopher)
Kofi Uwosu tasted blood; smelled blood. A glancing blow from a carved wooden club struck him, from behind, on the left temple. A left-hander. Blood again. Smell. Taste. Be. Try to be. Focus shifting to a point. Light. Gone. As he fell, he saw his brother, Quaquo, beside him, falling, too, blinking into the endless sunlight in the unending village sky. Quaquo was two years older, but he fell just the same, in time, falling. Everybody’s brother was his brother. Everybody’s mother knew his mother; was his mother. Kofi tasted blood again. He tried to spit. The reflex failed him, as he fell further. Falling deeper. He wanted to open his eyes, but his lids fell, heavier, deeper. Closed. Fallen. Consciousness drifting, and then nothing.