Surviving the middle passage Essay

Submitted By olam_kowoh
Words: 1677
Pages: 7

Olam Kowoh
Professor McNeil
English 1001, Intro. to Pros and Fiction
21 February 2015
Surviving the Middle Passage: What it takes You are surrounded by darkness only able to see daylight once a day. The remainder of your time is spent in the company of death, disease, and the foul odor produced from the combination. Stomach screaming for food, is only silenced by the nausea of being aboard this floating coffin. Despite the circumstances you manage to find glimmering moments of hope; far and few between those moments may be. This was a harsh reality for the more than ten million Africans taken from their lands and forced to take the middle passage (Mallipeddi 235). Survival depended on factors such as living conditions, nutrition and hydration, and the human spirit. Lawrence Hill portrays these elements vividly through Aminata’s experience of the middle passage. Poor living conditions combined with overcrowding aboard a slave vessel would eventually result in sickness and in death. From the stench of the vessel, to the waste that streamed throughout the ship, and the chains that bound the homelanders through it all. Aminata experiences these issues first hand aboard the ship. One of the first things she does on the vessel is choke on the smell and vomit (Hill 57). This stench motif appears a few more times throughout the second book; it brings with it, a negative connotation that when people are held captive in poor conditions: the odor will reflect that condition. As Aminata stands on the deck as the captives are brought below; the stench of human waste rises up in thick clouds along with the cries of grown men from the hold (Hill 60). Perhaps the sailors cannot dispose of the waste that accumulates due to the number of captives aboard the vessel. There is so much waste, that Aminata describes going below the deck as entering the anus of a lion (Hill 63). The amount captives aboard, meant that they had to be chained, especially the men: when Aminata goes down into the hold for the first time; everywhere she looks, she sees men laying down chained to one another (Hill 63). Being chained together in filth is a great way to spread bacteria and sickness; doing nothing but shortening life expectancy. After many days at sea the sailors started to remove some of the shackles of the men that were allowed up on the deck, but re-shackled them when they went back down into the hold (Hill 78). This gave them a chance to properly bathe themselves; which would have been a key role to stop the spreading of bacteria. Although after the revolt, everyone remained shackled at all times (Hill 93). The shackles made conditions of the ship all the more difficult; which in turn made surviving that much more difficult. Living conditions were brutal on a slave ship. Survival was not made easier by the constant stench of the ship; the waste that flowed throughout it, that spread bacteria; or by the chains that bound all the captives through it all. Proper nutrition and hydration played a pivotal role in the survival of slaves during the middle passage. Throughout the second book the slaves seem to be underfed and dehydrated for the entire duration of the voyage. The first instance you can tell the the homelanders are underfed and dehydrated is: when Aminata goes into the hold for the first time; all the men shout for food, water, air, and light (Hill 64). These are grown men begging for food and water; its not as if they are like little children whining for more desert; infact it gets so bad, that one day the homelanders wrestle over a chicken carcase that gets thrown at them (Hill 79); fighting over scraps of meat and bones for marrow (79). The quality of food could not have been outstanding either; Aminata asks Fomba their first day aboard the ship if the food is any good: he indicates to her that it is not (Hill 69). With all the human waste and blood streaming throughout the ship; one can imagine it was not the most sanitary place to eat. Yet…