Seed of the fruit
What if these once shivering timbers could talk
Tell tales about those who once walked between them.
The scenes they’d not so much seen
As absorbed with the salt of the spray
And the tears, shed in the triangular trade
in which so many souls were bought
And sold, young and old alike, back in the days
When the darker fruit of the tree of humanity
Were just another commodity
To be transported for an unfeasibly large profit,
On a disgracefully small fee.
A fruit, which, like any other, could so easily spoil,
Once it was separated from the roots and the soil
Of the land where it had been grown…
from all that it had ever loved, all it had ever known.
Imprisoned as much by the high seas as the tall ships
From where shores were not visible for weeks at a time,
where hope disappeared beneath yards of sail and rope
Dancing to the twin tunes of the whistle of the wind and the whip.
There are so many more than nine tales to be told,
Including those of the weak, the sick and the unbreakably bold
Who could not be cowed between stern and bow,
And rebelled, somehow, despite the shackles.
Some argue those warriors, brothers, mothers and others
Who never made the journey’s end
Were in fact the lucky ones,
but there were no winners here,
In the squalor between the decks
For most, just unending fear and punishment,
For the crime of not dying.
But that’s a lie. For some, this gamble paid off royally
Building fortunes, cities, even empires…
Including ours, those of Spain, Portugal and the Dutch
All of which owed as much to the unutterably unholy sales
Of not just the flesh present, but of the generations to come.
I wonder what my ancestors onboard would have made of me
seed of the fruit,
of the seed of the fruit,
of the seed of the fruit
of the seed of the fruit
of the tree of which they were the root.
Perhaps, one day, I’ll ask them.
But until then, I’d ask you, to remember them,
And to join the dots in the chain, that link us all.
Commissioned by the education department at the National Maritime Museum Greenwich, as part of their commemorations of the UNESCO ‘International day for the remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition’ on August the 23rd 2020, the poem ‘Seed of the Fruit’ by South London based Anglo-Jamaican Mark ‘Mr T’ Thompson is an attempt to reflect on the trade and its legacy.
‘The enslavement and transportation of millions of adults, juveniles and children from Africa to the Americas is one of the most shameful, sad and brutal chapters in the history of humanity. However, without the slave trade it is fair to say I would not exist. The legacy of the trade, emotional, anthropological, and significantly in terms of economic inequality and social injustice underpins many of the problems with which we are still wrestling today.
It is the in the desperate desire to justify the unjustifiable that roots which led almost directly to the development of ideologies of white supremacy and eugenics.
It is vital that we remember what took place, the suffering, the lives lost, that we condemn the inhumane and disgraceful treatment of one group of people by another, and celebrate the fortitude and resilience of those who somehow survived, despite the adversity and hardship experienced.
That to this day the only people the British compensated after slavery were the slave owners should be a matter of significant embarrassment, and the question of how reconcile and make restitution, given many individuals, large organisations and even nations can directly trace their wealth back to the proceeds of slavery, is one that many believe has yet to be given due consideration.’
This poem, will feature on BBC Radio 4s Shortcuts on Tuesday 1st of September, and was also made into a film,
The film was shot on location at the National Maritime Museum and on the Cutty Sark, both in Greenwich, South London and features the work of the painter Kehinde Wiley, and the sculptor Christy Symington (see credits for details).
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