Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Shackles from the Deep: Tracing the Path of a Sunken Slave Ship, a Bitter Past, and a Rich Legacy by Michael H. Cottman

Michael H. Cottman may be a Pulitzer Prize winning African American journalist and author, but he is also a passionate scuba diver. And it was because of his love of diving that he was brought into the history of a slave ship called the Henrietta Marie while attending a meeting of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers in Key West, Florida in 1992.

The story of the Henrietta Marie began in 1981, when shackles had been found on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico. This was followed by the discovery of a ship's cannon, and finally, a few years later, a ship's bell. The bell was an important archaeological find because it gives the name of the ship and the date of the bell - Henrietta Marie 1699.

Knowing it was a slave ship, and feeling a strong emotional connection to the Africans that had been crammed and shackled in the ship's hull, Cottman decided he wanted to trace the history of the Henrietta Marie and to understand just how the slave trade worked. His quest was a much personal as it was professional.

Cottman's journey began in London, England, where he was able to learn more details about the slave trade, including the sheer numbers  of slaves exported annually (between 12,000 and 15,000), most kidnapped by raiding parties in Africa. While in England, Cottman also traveled to the location of the foundry that produced the cannons discovered on the Henrietta Marie.

Each piece of information Cottman discovered only led him to more questions and he found himself compelled to really follow further and further in the wake of the Henrietta Marie. From England, Cottman went to Barbados in the West Indies, where slaves were sold to wealthy plantation owners, then on to Jamaica, another port where slaves were also sold.

Finally, Cottman traveled to Africa, arrived in Dakar, Senegal. Here, he visited Gorée Island. Here, the author explains, is the House of Slaves (Maison des Esclaves), where kidnapped Africans would be chained up to wait in the heat until it was time to walk through the Door of No Return and board ships like the Henrietta Marie that would take them far from their homes to be sold at auction.

Cottman quest was an emotional one for him personally, knowing that he had descended from Africans like the ones who were on the Henreitta Marie. In a sense, that makes their story also his story. Does his journey provide Cottman with any kind of closure about his own history, or is it impossible to come to terms with the kind of inhumane, brutal treatment shown to the men, women, and children by their Europeans captors?

Michael Cottman's journey to discover the history of the slave ship the Henrietta Marie is both an informative endeavor and an emotional one. Certainly, his own emotions from the gamut of deep sadness to anger. But, he also includes a lot of information most likely unknown by the reader from each person and place that he visited, such as the Door of No Return in Senegal.

I found it so interesting that each place that Cottman visited, and wherever it was possible, he felt a compulsion to dive into the waters where the ship had been moored, feeling that it was a way to connect more strongly to the Africans who had been there before him and under such terrible conditions.

And while the writing has a definite journalistic feel to it, it is not unpleasant, difficult or graphic, and is a means for Cottman to include a lot of background information without sounding pedantic.

Shackles from the Deep is Michael Cottman's is homage to those many nameless men, women, and children who were taken out of Africa against their will, and he had given them a voice readers won't soon forget.

This book is recommended for readers age 10+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, National Geographic


No comments:

Post a Comment

Imagination Designs