by Farzeen Heesambee
Farzeen Heesambee is an MRes English Literature student at NTU and an aspiring writer. She is currently in the process of writing a historical novel on the struggles of Creole women and indentured labourers and awaiting the publication of a short story in an anthology. She has a particular interest in postcolonialism and world literature.
In conversation with slaves
Slaves, when the shackles of your brain have never been broken, how do you then claim that you have found freedom?
Slaves, when your mind is still colonised by your own countrymen, how do you then claim that you have found freedom?
Slaves, when your thirst is quenched by anyone and everyone, how do you then claim that you have found freedom?
Slaves, when you sell your soul, to the wolves in the sheep’s attire, how do you then claim that you have found freedom?
Nay, slaves. You are slaves to your own desires.
Nay, slaves. You are slaves to your own cowardliness.
Nay, slaves. You cannot claim that you have found freedom.
Your mind is still enslaved.
Slavery was abolished in the British Empire in August 1834, but it wasn’t until 1835 that Mauritius finally heard of it and thus became the last British colony to abolish slavery.
There is a history of slavery in Mauritius that started from the time of the Dutch in the 1600s, then followed with a brief period of rest until the French took over the island in 1715, hence rendering the once free slaves into slaves again. The British Empire who also had its eyes on Mauritius then battled the French and was eventually successful in 1810 in taking over the island.
More slaves were brought in from neighbouring Madagascar and Mozambique and although they did not suffer the hardship of long travels, very few actually made it to Mauritius and were deemed to be in an acceptable state. Some died of sickness on the way, others were thrown overboard if they were too zealous and some decided it was better to end their lives as they had nothing to live for; having been separated from their loved ones. An estimate of one million slaves’ death is recorded.
Conditions of living were harsh on the island and there was no escape. They were at the mercy of slaveowners who would punish them if unsatisfied. Cassava plants, which were introduced on the island to provide food for the slaves were often destroyed as a form of punishment. Some slave owners would abide by the Code Noir that stipulated that no more than 30 lashes were allowed for every offence. The Code Noir also included other rules such as no work Sundays, one meat day per week and that every slavery should be gifted a new shirt every year, but blind eyes were turned on those conditions not being met. Chances of being freed were also diminished unless the slaveowner would publicly claim that his slave saved his life, an act of mercy that wasn’t easily available.
This poem was written as a protest against the enchained minds of the free people on the day of the commemoration of the abolition of slavery celebrated on the 1st of February. Despite the right to vote post-independence, Mauritians are still suffering at the hands of the new colonisers as only two families have ever held the title of Prime Minister in Mauritius for the exception of a brief period. Mauritius is ranked number one for synthetic drugs trafficking in Africa, access to Mauritian beaches is being limited as more foreign investors are taking over the beaches, the price of consumer goods keeps on increasing whilst the increase in salary is no match to this.
This poem is a reminder of the slavery made by choice unlike the previous form of slavery. The new slaves are slaves of choices made through a system of democratic votes unlike the enslaved nations of before who had no say in the matter. It is a wake-up call to hold in accountability those who rule.
The poem is a reminder of the legacy of independence in ex-colonies where corruption still rules as a result of corrupt governments.
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