All these words from the seller, but not one word from the sold. The Kings and Captains whose words moved ships. But not one word from the cargo. The thoughts of the “black ivory,” the “coin of Africa,” had no market value. Africa’s ambassadors to the New World have come and worked and died, and left their spoor, but no recorded thought.
Thankee Jesus! Somebody come ast about Cudjo! I want tellee somebody who I is, so maybe dey go in de Afficky soil some day and callee my name and somebody dere say, “Yeah, I know Kossula.” I want you everwhere you go to tell everybody whut Cudjo say, and how come I in Americky soil since de 1859 and never see my people no mo’.
In de Affica soil I cain tellee you ‘bout de son before I tellee you ‘bout de father; and derefore, you unnerstand me, I cain talk about de man who is father (et te) till I tellee you bout de man who he father to him, (et, te, te, grandfather) now, dass right ain’ it?
But people watch until he die too. How long it take? Sometime he die next day. Sometime two or three days. He doan live long. People kin stand de smell of de horse, de cow and udder beasts, but no man kin stand de smell in his nostrils of a rotten man.
I tellee you whut I know about de juju […] Cudjo doan know. Now, dat’s right. I doan make out I know whut go on wid de grown folks. When I come away from Afficky I only a boy 19 year old. I have one initiation. A boy must go through many initiations before he become a man.
Oh Lor’, I so shame! We come in de ‘Merica soil naked and de people say we naked savage. Dey say we doan wear no clothes. Dey doan know de Many-costs snatch our clothes ‘way from us.
We lookee and lookee and lookee and lookee and we doan see nothin’ but water. Where we come from we doan know. Where we goin, we doan know.
When we at de plantation on Sunday we so glad we ain’ gottee no work to do. So we dance lak in de Afficky soil. De American colored folks, you unnerstand me, dey say we savage an den de laugh at us […] Free George, he come to us and tell us not to dance on Sunday. Den he tell us whut Sunday is. We doan know whut is is before […] Den we doan dance no mo’ on de Sunday.
Cap’n jump on his feet and say, ‘Fool do you think I goin’ give you property on top of property? I tookee good keer my slaves in slavery and derefo’ I doan owe dem nothing? You doan belong to me now, why must I give you my lan’?’
Den we make laws how to behave ourselves. When anyone do wrong we make him ‘pear befo’ de judges and dey tellee him he got to stop doin’ lak dat ‘cause it doan look nice. We doan want nobody to steal, neither gittee drunk neither hurtee nobody […] When we speak to a man whut do wrong de nexy time he do dat, we whip him.
We call our village Affican Town. We say dat ‘cause we want to go back in de Affica soil and we see we cain go. Derefo’ we make de Affica where dey fetch us. Gumpa say, ‘My folks sell me and yo folks (Americans) buy me.’ We here and we got to stay.
We doan know nothin’ ‘bout dey have license over here in dis place. So den we gittee married by de license, but I doan love my wife no mo’ wid de license than I love her befo’ de license. She a good woman and I love her all de time.
All de time de chillum growin’ de American folks de picks at dem and tell de Afficky people dey kill folks and eatee de meat. Dey callee my chillum ig’nant savage and make out dey kin to monkey.
Dat de first time in de Americky soil dat death find where my door is. But we from cross de water know dat he come in de ship with us.
Dey sing, ‘Shall We Meet Beyond De River.’ I been a member of de church a long time now, and I know de words of de song wid my mouth, but my heart it doan know dat. Derefo’ I sing inside me, ‘O todo ah wah n-law yah-lee, owrran k-nee ra ra k-nee ro ro.’
It only nine year since my girl die. Look like I still hear de bell toll for her, when it toll again for my [Cudjo]. My po’ Affican boy dat doan never see Afficky soil.
I tell her come and drop de beans while I hill dem up […] After a while she say, ‘Cudjo you doan need me drop no beans. You cain work ‘thout no woman ‘round you. You bringee me here for company.’
I say, ‘Thass right.’
Poe-lee very mad. He say de deputy kill his baby brother. Den de train kill David. He want to do something. But I ain’ hold no malice. De Bible say not. Poe-lee say in Afficky soil it ain’ lak in de Americky. He ain’ been in de Afficky, you unnerstand me, but he hear what we tellee him and he think dat better dan where he at.
Maybe de kill my boy. It a hidden mystery. So many de folks dey hate my boy ‘cause he lak his brothers. Dey doan let nobody ‘buse dem lak dey dogs. Maybe he in Afficky soil lak somebody say.
When he came out I saw that he had put on his best suit but removed his shoes. “I want to look lak I in Affica, ‘cause dat where I want to be,” he explained.
He also asked to be photographed in the cemetery among the graves of his family.
I had spent two months with Kossula, who is called Cudjo, trying to find the answers to my questions. Some days we ate great quantities of clingstone peaches and talked […] At other times neither was possible, he just chased me away. He wanted to work in his garden or fix his fences. He couldn’t be bothered.
When I crossed the bridge, I know he went back to his porch; to his house full of thoughts. To his memories of fat girls with ringing golden bracelets, his drums that speak the minds of men, to palm-nut cakes and bull-roarers, to his parables.