Tatyana Ochwal won first prize in the Creative writing contest with this piece at the County Fair in Mankato. She will now go on to compete at the Minnesota State Fair.
Recommended: listen to this song while reading
A Slave Narrative
I ran with my brothers and sisters, playing a game of chase. We played this for hours on end usually, but today there was something in the air. The year was 1825, and I was 14, the oldest of my siblings. My parents’ oldest child as well, following me was my brother who was a year younger than me. We saw a ship approaching, so we watched for a bit before I took charge and gathered my 9 other siblings, and we ran back to our village. I dragged my siblings along and went to the chief of our tribe, Alhaadi Otieno (Al-haa-dee Oh-ti-en-oh). “We saw a ship starting to dock near the beach!” I said frantically. The older man placed a hand on my head and tousled my hair gently. “Dont worry child, we will take care of this. Do me a favor and go home. Tell your father to meet me here. Can you do that for me?” He asked, treating me kindly. I nodded before ushering my siblings to our hut, and waving momma down. She stood up from washing our clothes, putting her hand above her eyebrows and shielding her eyes against the hot Kenyan sun. “There's a boat coming mom!! The chief said to send dad down!” my brother, Natori(the one a year younger) yelled to our mother, she motioned for us to hurry inside, and once we were inside she told us to wait there. “Mukondi(Mu-kone-dee), you are in charge. Stay here, let no one in until I return. Understand?” she said, and i nodded. She then kissed all of our foreheads before heading off. Once the door was shut I could hear her footsteps begin to pick up pace. Some of my smaller siblings were crying, so I distracted them with some toys dad had whittled us.
It wasn't long until our mother had come back. With her came two other women, mama and mom. The two women collected their couple kids, and rushed to their huts, and all that was left was momma, me, Natori, and my younger sister Zera(Zeh-ra). Zera was playing with her toys, as I was frantically trying to figure out what was wrong. My mother explained that some bad men had come to talk to our men and they wanted to keep us safe. Natori stood up and flexed his arms, remarking “I can fight! I'll fight for our village!”. Mother shook her head. “No. No. You are baby. You not even 14! You stay with your sisters. You hear me? Ah??” She said, agitated. He nodded his head quickly in agreement. “Aiy, you make me so worried, chíeng(son).” Soon there was commotion, and our mother hid us in a basket, covering us in blankets. My sister wanted to cry, but I told her we were playing hide and seek, so she'd have to be real quiet. We sat huddled together covered in blankets for what felt like hours until our front door was broken into and our mother was crying and pleading. Sounds of vases and such break against the ground, until the basket was opened, and a gruff hand reached in and grabbed my sister right out from my grasp. She wiggled and screamed, our mother collapsing to her knees in sobs as she pleaded to the men to spare her children. The man dropped my sister, as she ran to our mom. He reached in with both hands and grabbed me and Natori. We wiggled and Natori tried to hit him, but the man dropped me and slapped my brother across the face. I grabbed onto Natori and pulled, trying to get him away from this strange man. Finally I broke him free and we ran to our mother. She held us all in an embrace, cooing to my younger sister. More men walked in, talking to the initial guy we saw, and they were talking in a weird language. “How much do you think we can get off them?” “They're young, but I know the older two would sell well.” “Should we leave the youngest with the woman?” “We’ll come back for them later. Let's just take the older two and go.” The men all nodded in agreement, grabbing me and my brother right up from our mother as she cried and told us to stay strong. Neither of us knew what was happening, but we were wriggling and crying too.
They stuffed us into the bottom of a boat, handcuffed. Me and Natori were handcuffed together, along with some other children of our village. Some even our siblings. “Where are they taking us??” Natori asked, as one of the enslaved men who overheard said, “To their home countries. They sell us for gold like products.” Just then, men broke in, yelling at the top of their lungs something none of us could understand. But from the looks of it they had some kind of stew and were expecting us to eat it. They gave us each a small bowl and filled them. They then stood in the middle of the room watching everyone eat, yelling at us. I ate, but it tasted horrible. “Natori, why are you not eating?” “I refuse. I am strong. I hate these men. They will pay.” Natori proclaimed, and one of the men saw he wasn't eating. They grabbed his face and forced the food into his mouth, as he wiggled and yelled, coughing and rejecting the food from going into his body. “Natori! Eat damn you!” I yelled, as the men glared at me, before attempting to threaten my brother. Apparently it worked because he finally let some food go into his stomach and they released him. I grabbed him and wiped his face, noticing some bruises already forming.
“Captain has ordered all women slaves to come on deck. Let's get moving!” he called. We had learned to understand a few words. I was grabbed by my handcuffs and dragged above the ship onto the deck, along with two of my sisters who were crying and huddled together. “It'll be okay. We will return soon. Stay hopeful.” There were older women on deck, and upon seeing us children they began to plead to the men to let us go back down. They smacked the back of their heads, demanding they shut up. They huddled around us, telling us how sorry they were. Two older women were pushed inside the captains quarters, and did not come back out until at least half an hour later. They looked torn and I thought he must've beat them. They sent my sisters in, and I could hear them crying and begging. They came out, running to the protection of one of the women who had talked to us. They sent me in alone.
Finally the ship docked. We were all exhausted. We were pushed out in a single file line, and put on display. “Gorgeous woman for sale! Strong men for sale!” They shouted, as the people with light faces cheered, holding cash in the air. They sold the men first, and I watched Natori being dragged away with one of our brothers. When the women were being sold, I held onto my sisters tight. And using what broken terms of their strange language I could muster, “Let me keep sisters.” I said, looking the men in the eyes. They didn't feel sorry for me, but proposed the offer anyway. “Young negro woman with her two sisters, any takers??” He shouted, and no one really seemed interested. He shook his head, turning to me,”Sorry kid.” he turned back to the crowd, “What about two young negro women? One is a great learner and is already starting to understand english!” he yelled, and suddenly the offers started booming. Before I knew it, me and one of my sisters were walking off with a white man and his other slave, an older woman. “Where are we going?” I asked her, and she responded in Dholuo, “Hell.”
The names and location/culture of the main character and her family is based on my own family, as I am of Luo descent, a tribe in Kenya. The family size is based on my fathers family, he is one of 10 children, and his father had 3 wives, which is common in some parts of Africa. Most of the dialogue is in broken English and that is to reflect AAVE(African American Vernacular English). However, when the slaves are speaking they are speaking in either Dholuo(Luo tribe language) or Swahili. I feel like slave narratives/stories have never really shown the language barriers.