At Least One

Material written earlier for the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project stated that possibly each of us in the African Diaspora is related to at least one person who died during the Middle Passage. Mistakenly I thought that only in Brazil was there a word to describe a kinship that developed between and among people who together on the same ship had survived the Atlantic crossing. Loosely translated it would be a family label, and in the next enslaved generation in the Americas a more familiar term of “aunt” or “uncle” would be applied to these survivors although the original reference for many families would be known. Our ancestors expanded our kinship to each other by choice and necessity, and continued to do so through many centuries. Often we ask, “by blood or heart?”

In the Dutch colonies they called one another sibbi or sippi, in Brazil the term is malingo, among the French speaking islands the word is batiment, and in the British territories from North America and throughout the Caribbean the word was “shipmate.”

The Middle Passage was a defining moment in our history. It forced Africans to describe themselves beyond ethnic groups and transform into a race, become Pan African. It required that Africans redefine kinship and relationships among themselves based on removal from home, family, ethnicity, and unrelenting systematic oppression. And in terms of this project they witnessed the violation of all traditional cultural norms regarding how death must be addressed as they made the voyage across the Atlantic.

What is to be done is principally our responsibility, and must be decided by us. This project is but one response; each of us can claim at least one.

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