Morris, whose African name was Diallo Sefu (sword), was born in Portuguese Guinea near the capital, Bissau, to a relatively wealthy family of an Asanti tribe. As a child he learned the ways of his ancestors which included the very important passage of the boy-child to huntsman and even to warrior – a young man whose hunting skills helped to guarantee the continued existence of his family and tribe. His mother and father had three other children – all girls – so that Morris became the favorite of the parents who hoped to marry him to the daughter of one of the village elders.
The girl, Binta Marjani (coral), was only 12 years old. Diallo (Morris) was 16. They both played together, swam in the nearby river and ocean and often met privately. Binta spent much time with him. She felt that time was against her. Her parents did not encourage her to be anything but a childhood friend with Diallo. Instead, they had another match in mind, one that would gain them far more status and perhaps wealth. Binta had been promised in marriage long before she had become enamoured with Diallo. Her parents decided that a match with the youngest of the seven male sons of the local chief would vastly improve the family’s position. Binta’s many protestations did not dissuade them. They had made up their mind. They had arranged the match with the chief long ago. She would marry the chief’s son, Lenarte (lion) Asante, provided that she remained a virgin.
But Binta intended to give up her prized virginity. At 12 years old she decided that the only way to be with Diallo forever was to be deflowered by him. And so Binta constantly sought to make that happen. But Diallo refused to go along with her desires, not until she was 14 years, he constantly told her.
Binta never told Diallo about being promised to the chief’s son. She thought it would ruin everything. So she hid that knowledge. She secretly heard her parents talking about the vow one day – the vow that gave her away to Lenarte.
When Binta reached the age of 13, Diallo started to give in to her.
One day, Lenarte was walking down a path near the village which was close to the ocean when heard a strange noise like a wounded animal over an earth mound in the jungle off the path. He climbed up to the top of the mound and spotted Binta and Diallo lying on the ground below, their clothing neatly placed on a tree limb, apparently making love. Their lovemaking sounds intermittently were drowned out by the heavy high tide waves breaking onto the shore just beyond where the jungle ended. It was the second time for Diallo and Binta. She wanted to become pregnant so that everyone would just leave them be. But she didn’t tell Diallo about that part of her plan.
Lenarte watched the lovers from behind some bushes and saw that Binta wanted Diallo to enter her but he would not, saying in his tribal language, “No Binta, only touch, nothing more until you are 14.”
Lenarte was angry at this chance discovery.
“So, she will dishonor her family’s promise to my father,” he thought. He remembered how another young male villager had a similar problem and his father approached his father – the chief – one day and begged the chief to solve the problem of his son who wanted the young daughter of a lowly fisherman. On the next day and in the middle of the night the father had the girl stolen and sold to the Portuguese slavers in Bissau who were collecting Africans for the Caribbean sugar plantations and for plantations in Brazil.
“Yes, I will talk to my father,” Lenarte told himself. “I will say I do not want this Diallo around anymore because he is planning to steal my future wife. I cannot have him in the way – they’ll both just make trouble.”
When he returned home to the village that day, Lenarte felt ashamed that he had such thoughts of ruining not only a relationship but a young man’s life.
But then he considered how, one day, about 20 moons ago, he had suffered miserably at the hands of Diallo. Diallo had humiliated him during a scuffle after Diallo’s boat smashed into his own on the shoreline side of a reef. Diallo had not been paying attention and, in fact, was playing a shell game with his boat crew when Lenarte’s boat crossed the bow of Diallo’s boat just as the latter’s boat got carried rapidly inward by a powerful wave. Lenarte was close to shore so he didn’t have to swim but his boat – actually the chief’s boat – suffered a crushed bow on the starboard side. It would sink if he remained in it so he and his two friends dove into the water and pulled it to shore.
At the shoreline, Lenarte aggressively approached Diallo and slammed into his chest with both hands pushing him over the short dock into the water. Diallo – much larger than Lenarte – charged out from the water and punched him several times in the face, then charged at him and knocked him over. The friends on both sides yelled for their favorite to beat up the other but finally, Diallo pinned Lenarte to the ground, pushed his face into the sand and then used his legs to get him into a scissors-type of hold with his thighs around Lenarte’s head. He squeezed his thighs together hard and, when Lenarte still refused to give up despite feeling like his head would cave in, Diallo farted with a blast of gas causing Lenarte to suddenly and forcefully break the leg-hold, rise, and threaten to fight more. But Diallo and his friends just laughed at him.
“Smell nice?” said one of Diallo’s friends, Malik.
Lenarte – now reliving the humiliating defeat – remembered saying, “You wait! You’re going to pay!”
“What you gonna do, tell daddy?” said Malik.
“No idiot,” he gonna tell his mommies? How many mommies you have now? Six?” said another of Diallo’s friends, provoking more laughter.
So on this day, Lenarte knew he held Diallo’s fate in his hands. It was a powerful feeling, Lenarte mused. “I can make or break him right now. He is mine and, if I want, I can make him a slave. Yes, that’s a fitting punishment perhaps. Maybe he thought he had gotten away with it. Revenge can be a long time coming and the sweeter it is once it comes.” His father would certainly honor his request, especially if Lenarte told how they had humiliated him publicly.
“Yes, maybe the cotton and sugar plantations of Cuba would teach him respect,” thought Lenarte. “You should have never done that, man,” he said in his mind. “Now you’ll pay with your sweat and tears and forfeiture of your girl, but now, soon to be my wife. Good-bye then, loser! Happy cotton picking!”
Three nights afterwards, four of the chief’s security force, followed the unsuspecting Diallo from the beach where he had been casting his net for some fishing. As soon as he walked into the jungle, one young man grabbed the net and threw it over Diallo’s head while the others punched and kicked him before stuffing a rag in his mouth and tying a sack around his head. They bound his hands and feet and carried him to a lagoon near the shore where a boat waited. Two men lifted Diallo and threw him into the boat causing a loud thud. The moon was just rising above the horizon, bathing the coconut and palm trees on shore. But Diallo could see nothing but darkness as the small sloop sailed out beyond the same reef to tie up to the waiting slave ship, a Portuguese slaver headed first for Cape Verde, then to Cuba and finally to Brazil.
In a flash, it seemed, Diallo’s life had changed dramatically forever. He had yelled, screamed and otherwise protested but he knew that his efforts were futile.
“So this is how it happens,” Diallo thought. “I wonder who set me up. One day, I will get this coward.” That was September 20, 1859.
Diallo had done backbreaking work for 12 hours every day for nearly a year cutting the sugar cane under the hot Cuban sun. He had thick callouses on his fingers from using the machete and old and new lacerations on his body from the sharpness of the cane. Then one day, the company needed slaves for a new project in Brazil. He was assigned to the group to be picked up in Santiago and to be traded to pirates who were middle men between the plantation owners in Brazil and Captain Pendleton. “Twenty Guinea male darkies to be delivered to ship x at $400 each in gold”, the proposed bill of sale read. Jack had seen the unsigned bill in Pendleton’s desk drawer. The first names of all twenty darkies were listed starting with “Morris” – a given name that the slavers had tattooed onto his arm.
It was then that Jack realized that striking at the moment of transfer – if it was ship-to-ship rather than dock-to-ship – would be the perfect time. He considered what he’d do if he wanted to hoodwink a partner by stealing and selling 20 Guinea slaves for $8000. And then he knew that it had to be done out in a bay, at sea, and at a time when the crew was ashore – in short, such a deception had to be kept perfectly mum – as few as possible in the know. Jack was sure of this, and he built his plans on this risky guess.
Categories: Serializing the Jack Trilogy