In 1803 approx. 75 enslaved Igbos rose in rebellion, took control of the ship, drowned their captors, and in the process caused the grounding of the ship in Dunbar Creek. The sequence of events that followed remains unclear. It is only known that The Igbo marched ashore, singing, led by their high chief. Then, at his direction, they walked into the marshy waters of Dunbar Creek, committing mass suicide.
For seven days and nights— I thrashed on my bedroom floor calling out for god
and she came to me undrowned— risen from the creeks of Dunbar— she walked her way out of the water all ghostly and ashen, afro intact and glorious dripping droplets
orbs of holy water body draped in white
cloth with broken chains twangling
from her neck.
She spoke first:
Before slave catcher and chain, I was just a girl— knew nothing of what carries with a body during exile. I was a girl in a village alive with a steady hum of waterfalls & the murmurings of the mundane. I was wide-eyed and blossoming— before enslavement made martyr of me, I was just a girl who snuck sips of palm wine when the elders weren’t looking and I had dreams of an eventual you— If you must know anything, know that I was a girl forced unto a ship, but knew freedom as my birthright. When the water opened its mouth I saw home reach out for me, arms outstretched longing to caress and I knew— the water was the only way out & that death is but a doorway. I’ve heard your cries, so I come to you so death can wait a little longer your tomorrow already exists it might be in this foreign land but home carries on your skin return to water but only let it pour into you— there’s wisdom in a thing as ancient as these waters that wash you today trickled down my face when I cried against captivity—
I looked up from my floor and saw my eyes in her eyes I heard her voice lurch from my throat and knew history will begin and end right here in a bedroom in Virginia our together voice careening and crooning— will sing:
We were abandoned in this strange
Land and have long forgotten
who we are. We listened for god— but heard only our own howls echoing back. we’ve tried making peace with migration but we are a body in departure longing for return & there’s grief in our blood
-line and the blood it curdles where it is meant to flow. We’ve poemed every pain— mixed it in salt -water and gaggled we’ve known suicide as longing for the cool kiss of river god— we know
a body doesn’t forget— we returned to water— begged the Atlantic to swallow
us whole but water confesses. We brought soil red harmattan dust caked to our feet. We tried to wash clean of Cameroon but the water confessed
as red-sediments pooled at our feet. We hovered
over Atlantic imagined
what it would feel like to be an island embraced by the great expanse would we stand up and swim? What happens when an island washes up to shore?
Editors Note: “Origin Story” has been altered to fit storySouth‘s online format. You can read the poem in it’s original form here: Origin Story by HONORA ANKONG