Slave Woman Under Auction Hammer

Slave Woman Under Auction Hammer

Slave Woman Under Auction by

Joline Young

Advertisement in the Cape Town Gazette 4 July 1820:

A public sale will be held on Saturday morning, the 5th instant at 11 o’clock in front of the old Admiral’s House, of household furniture, …..  also at the same time and place will be sold a slave woman and her four children, she is 27 years of age and a good washerwoman.  J Snell, Auctioneer.

 Who are you, nameless, faceless woman?  I encountered you in an advertisement in the Cape Gazette.  The year was 1820 and you and your four children were advertised as goods for sale at an auction, along with livestock and household furniture.  No mention is given of your name, or the slave name that had been allocated to you, nor is there any mention of where you came from or how old your children were.

The only information that seemed pertinent to the auctioneer, J Snell, was that you were 27 years old and a good washerwoman.  But I wonder about you.  Did you know, on that day, that you and your children were going to be auctioned off? Or were you just called away from your work and taken to the spot in front of the Old Admiral’s House when your number was called?

Was it a quick 5 minute transaction? Was it over before you even realised what was happening?  And your children; were they sold to the same enslavers who bought you or were they sold separately?  If they were sold separately, did they cry to come with you or did they also simply not realise what was happening?  Would you have tried to protest, and if you did, were you whipped and forced away?   If your children were sold off separately, did you ever see each other again?  And if you did not, what were the nightmares that plagued you during the lonely night hours of the night?  Did you have more children after this, and if you did, did you form a comfortable psychological barrier from them, knowing that they too might be taken from you on any day, at any time?

I imagine that at night, you awoke from your sleep only to be haunted by their cries.  Maybe sometimes you woke up in the morning expecting them to be there and then reality would dawn and you would realise that you were in a different environment and they were gone.  If you felt outrage at what had happened, did you keep it to yourself, living as you were in a society where what was happening to you was quite acceptable.  Was it acceptable to YOU?  Did you hate the people who did this to you or was your sense of self so diminished that you accepted any abuse meted out to you?

And sometimes, when even your acceptance got the better of you and you felt that painful yearning that any mother feels when she is parted from her children, no matter whether those children were born of love or forced into your womb by your enslaver’s lust, how did you deaden the pain?  Did you steal some wine to drink to help numb the constant ache in our heart, to help you sleep, to help you forget?

And in the end, did you forget? Did you even forget who you yourself were?  And if you did, what did it matter to the people who enslaved you, as long as the washing was clean?  Even if you sometimes smelt a little bit of alcohol, would they not have just said “these people are all like that, that is why we have to treat them as children, because that is what they are, they have the minds of children. They don’t even have feelings for their own”.

I think about you a lot, nameless, faceless woman.  Standing there, outside the Old Admiral’s house where you were nothing, a mere chattel, a washerwoman, a body to serve and to be abused.  You were not allowed an opinion, you were not allowed to protest, you were not allowed to feel; so whatever you felt was to be hidden deep within the crevices of your tormented soul.  But you did feel, nameless, faceless woman.  I sense your feelings so strong within me now. Your tears cry out to be heard, from beneath these official words, and I catch them in my heart.

So now you know that we are connected, nameless, faceless woman.  So now that we have met each other in this transitory space, you can finally see who I am.  I am the bloodline that exists between the past and the present. I am the inheritor of your broken dreams and the offspring of your pain. But allow me to also be the caretaker of a new dawn where the chains of slavery and despair will be loosened from our minds as well as our bodies.

So now I reach out to you, over centuries past, to you, nameless, faceless woman. You are my past and I, nameless; faceless woman, am your future.




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