A Testament to Human Suffering Slavery is an undeniable part of human history.

Since ancient times one society has always vied to have dominance over another and subjugate them for their own ends. Although not always manifested in the same way as the captivity of long ago, slavery still exists today in the commercializing of one nation by another. However this is shown to be nothing more than a petty affair between countries when observed next to the words of The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The Witnesses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Witnesses: a title that invokes imagery of someone having to witness an unspeakable, horrible event and can only numbly recount what was observed. The Book of Negroes: a novel that has all the victims of this atrocity tell the world what happened. Both pieces capture the essence of the African Slave Trade and vividly illustrate the horror of the march to the coast of Africa, the harrowing trans-Atlantic journey and the conditions in which the captives are kept. The march from numerous villages to the coast of Africa is horrifyingly described in both The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The Witnesses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. On page 41 of The Book of Negroes it states, “Under my foot was the body of a naked, decomposing man” and on the following page, “When captives fell, they were untied from their coffles and left to rot” (Hill, 42). Similarly, in the opening stanza of The Witnesses, it states: “In Ocean’s wide domains, Half buried in the sands, Lie skeletons in chains, With shackled feet and hands.” (Longfellow, 1.1-4) Along the long march to the ships, many Africans fell ill and were cut loose and left to die where they fell. Isolated from anything or anyone that is familiar and alone from the comfort of having another human being beside them. The captives who fall are cast aside and left to slowly and painfully rot away. Both pieces bring this to the forefront by referring to it so early in their respective narratives. The words in both pieces invoke a feeling of hopelessness that remains throughout the tale. Likewise, both compositions make references to the Slave Ship and the transatlantic voyage. In The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, more space is allotted to this, the second part of the captives’ journey than in Longfellow’s The Witnesses, since Hill’s writing is, after all, a novel. However, they both capture the depravity of the ship. In The Book of Negroes, Aminata observes: “Everywhere I turned, men were lying naked, chained to each other and to their sleeping boards, groaning and crying. Waste and blood streamed along the floor boards, covering my toes… Piled like fish in a bucket, the men were stacked on three levels… Men grabbed at me, begging for help” (Hill, 63-64). These chilling observations show the horrible conditions on the ship that last for the entire journey. And not all who begin the trip survive. Men are left in dark, damp conditions to slowly rot away. The Witnesses makes this aspect of the voyage painfully obvious. “Freighted with human forms, Whose fettered, fleshless limbs Are not the sport of storms. These are the bones of Slaves; They gleam from the abyss; They cry from yawning waves.” (Longfellow, 3.10-4.15) Both works illustrate the floating horror of the slave trade. Men are regarded as little more than cargo to be tossed overboard the moment their value and usefulness diminishes to the point where they can no longer stand. Both works are a testament to something that makes Aminata suppose: “the people of London would never believe” (Hill, 56). That observation could be extended to encapsulate the view of the entire world. In a powerful combination, these works show just how

horrible the transatlantic journey was. Finally, The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The Witnesses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow illustrate the inhumane way in which the captives are kept once they arrive at their destination. On page 51 of The Book of Negroes, it states, “Locked inside this pen, naked and sore and bleeding, we stood tight together in sandy soil that stank of urine and feces.” In The Witnesses it states, “Within Earth’s wide domains Are markets for men’s lives; Their necks are galled with chains, Their wrists are cramped with gyves.” (Longfellow, 5.17-20) Theses two statements work together to describe the conditions that the captives are placed in before and during the time when they are sold. From The Book of Negroes, it can be observed that the captives are herded together like animals and kept in a filthy pen filled with human waste as if they are nothing more than pigs. From The Witnesses it can be observed that the captives are chained and led like cattle, one at a time, to be sold, bound to prevent escape. Together a striking image is created showing just how badly the captives are treated. Hall’s use of the word “pen” coupled with Longfellow’s use of the word “markets” really give the impression that the slave dealers viewed the Africans as little more than animals that could be herded to a marked to be sold. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill and The Witnesses by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow are testimonials to the terrible destruction of human life that was caused by the slave trade. Working in tandem, they paint a very vivid image of the extent of human suffering and a feeling of hopelessness that imbued the minds and spirits of the captives is created. The Book of Negroes and The Witnesses, complement and support each other as they portray a crime that no one living today can ever really come to appreciate. The march to the coast of Africa, stumbling over dead bodies; the transatlantic journey, kept in putrid conditions; kept in pens like animals waiting to be sold as if they were not human beings, but tools to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. As if one piece of art, Longfellow’s poem the introduction to Hill’s novel, the two pieces wonderfully witness the cruelty of the slave trade.

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