I was too young to understand what was happening, I think I was about three or four. I knew I had been incredibly happy, living in a small village, loved and cherished. I was unaware of what was happening in the world around me, in fact I did not know there was one. The village and surrounding forest were my world, full of laughter, rhythm, song and dance. My heritage.
Then they came. Bearded aliens with exploding sticks, making strange unintelligible sounds. I was not familiar with violence until they arrived.
The village was in flames as the survivors were dragged away. I remember crying, kicking and screaming when we were chained together and forced to march through the forest. We emerged from the trees into an alien world, makeshift wooden buildings on the edge of a vast expanse of shifting, rumbling water.
We were forcibly herded on to a huge canoe with white sheets hanging from tall poles and down into a dark vast hutch, where we stood, sat or lay, huddled together. It was cramped, people were crying, moaning, muttering and screaming. When the door above slammed shut, total darkness and desolation. We lost all sense of time and many days dragged by.
Once a day they passed buckets of water down for us to drink and some strange tasting food. When the smell got too bad, we were let out in small groups and doused with water. The bearded men laughed when they threw buckets of water over us and they would often grab some of the women, including my mother, and lead them away. They would usually return tight lipped or sobbing.
Occasionally, someone would start a rhythm by drumming on the floor or some object and people would sing or hum traditional songs or improvise, describing what we were going through, and the rhythm would comfort us, some even danced in their confined space. I discovered that people enjoyed the sound of my voice.
After we landed, families were split apart and a man stood on a barrel, shouting. Other men inspected us, touching us, examining our teeth. Some women were made to remove their clothes. One by one, we were made to stand by a stake driven into the ground and men would raise their hands and shout and one by one our people were led away.
It was the last time I saw my mother. I was pushed towards the stake and then roughly led away by a grinning man who lifted me on to a cart, pulled by a creature I had never seen before.
The years passed, we were made to work in the fields from dawn to dusk, whipping was common. The only pleasure we had, apart from each other’s company, was rhythm and song. Everyone enjoyed hearing me sing and my voice grew deeper as I grew older. I loved composing songs, but most were sad, reflecting what we felt. The plantation owner would often dress me in a white costume and get me to perform at the many lavish parties he threw.
I am an old man, I can no longer work in the fields, but my singing and the kindness of my friends, plus the magnanimity of my owner, keep me alive.
Today I heard my owner saying how proud he was of his heritage. I asked him what he meant, and it made me reflect on my heritage. I concluded that I have none. It was stolen from me when I was abducted from my village. Tradition? Slavery is all I have known. We stopped using our language, soon after we arrived here, and speak our own version of English. We have no access to or knowledge of art, literature, architecture, national identity, theatre or music. Religion?
They failed to impose their kind and caring God on me. Kind and caring? All I have is rhythm. My heritage consists of the fading memories of my childhood, my sense of rhythm and the songs I have composed, songs of sadness.