by Writers with Ties to Sierra Leone - Click Here
Sierra Leone has waited long for histories written by men and women of the
soil. Their emergence has been slow, with
only one or two published family stories.
A history of the Caulkers comes therefore, as a timely, valuable and
rewarding contribution to supplying this long-felt need. Its apparently modest dimensions and the goal
of informing young family members are deceptive in the sense that the depth and
implications for the author’s countrymen are far-reaching. Imodale Caulker-Burnett sets out to tell the
story of the Caulker dynasty from its C17th Afro-European beginnings to the
present day, through the vicissitudes of wars and family feuds, marriage
customs and traditions. She transforms
what seems like a mammoth task into a text that reads easily and pleasantly.
There is a careful balance between historical detail and interesting or amusing
anecdotes, so that it is far from being a dry historical treatise.
Encompassing all the manifold and diverse
accounts of action and reaction are her strong sense of pride and love for her
family and her deep devotion to it. The
reader is never allowed to lose sight of this but the narrative never becomes
over-emotional or trite. Even the picture
gallery at the end focuses on achievement rather than sentiment.
The historical content is supported by
additional source material such as The Caulker Manuscripts in the Appendix. This should stimulate the scholarly reader in
search of further authentic data. It is worth noting that these manuscripts are
reproduced here for public consumption, most probably for the first time, which
gives the work an aura of novelty.
In trying to satisfy her own curiosity
about her family’s story, the author will surely awaken a kindred desire in
other members of great families to delve into their past, thus enlightening the
present age and posterity on the role of their ancestors in the development of
their country. Her meeting with distant
‘cousins’ in the USA
triggered her passion for more knowledge and the sharing of that knowledge.
This book will surely find a place in home,
school, college and university as a reliable source of information, not only
about the Caulker family. It also deals with significant issues and events of
different periods including the Slave Trade and the Hut Tax War as experienced
by individuals and communities in the Sherbro chiefdoms. The times they lived through were common to
all Sierra Leoneans and marked the different stages of our country’s journey to
nationhood over a period of four centuries.
Rachel Lulu Wright
Daughter of Rachel Coker (nee Caulker)
Department of Modern Languages
Fourah Bay College
University of Sierra Leone
Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara and Susan McCleelland
Relaying her experiences as a child in Sierra Leone
during the 1990s, Kamara chillingly evokes the devastating effects of war.
Mariatu is 11 when her tiny village is decimated by rebel soldiers, many of them
children like her. Forced to watch as peaceful villagers are tortured and
murdered, Mariatu is finally allowed to go free—but only after boy soldiers cut
off her hands: We want you to go to the president, they tell her, and show him
what we did to you. You wont be able to vote for him now. Mariatus long walk to
get medical aid marks the first stage of a harrowing journey to build a new life
for herself and other wartime victims; she now lives in Canada and is a UNICEF
representative. Written with journalist McClelland, her story is deeply personal
yet devoid of self-pity. As it aims to correct misperceptions about Sierra Leone
and to raise awareness of the needs of child victims of war, this book will
unsettle readers—and then inspire them with the evidence of Mariatus courage.
Ages 14–up. Publisher: Annick Press Genre: Young Adult, Nonfiction
Witch Birds Fly by Eugene Harkins
twilight of the Cold War, a strange and horrific civil war erupted in Sierra
Leone that would ultimately lead to a UN War Crimes Tribunal for Crimes Against
Humanity. Where Witch Birds Fly captures
the toxic brew of forces at play in the small West African country—Big Oil, Big
Diamonds, competing outside powers, foreign mercenaries, and the local dominant
Lebanese Christian trading community––all intriguing to pillage the African
population’s assets, degrading and destroying its chances for development to the
point that a brutal insurrection breaks out. Here amid the tumult, an
African-American international lawyer comes face to face with all that he is,
and all that he has become. Many years enjoyment of the accoutrements of
professional success—sharp clothes, fast cars, and flashy white women—have left
Richard White feeling troubled and alone. Long-term psychoanalysis has brought
no peace. He is wrestling with an identity crisis brought on by rejection of his
black, lower-class background, and estrangement from his family and community.
White first arrives in Sierra Leone during the Cold War on a mission to collect
a forty million dollar oil debt owed by the local Freetown refinery. There, even
as he is swept into the ex-patriate community’s bacchanal, his pursuit of an
ancestral linkage to the country via the slave trade begins. He returns a second
time, post-Cold War, representing Lebanese interests in the largely illicit
diamond trade, only to be kidnapped and held for ransom by Foday Sankoh’s
Revolutionary United Front. The anguish of Sierra Leone will change Richard
White’s life. Publisher: Clarity Press Genre: Historical Fiction; Mystery
Diamonds: Tracing The Deadly Path of the World's Most Precious Stones by Greg
Freelance journalist Campbell
here writes about the cost of diamonds not in dollars to the consumer but in
blood, torture, and death for the unfortunate residents of contested mining
areas in Sierra Leone. He explains that "conflict diamonds," or "blood
diamonds," which account for only three to four percent of all diamonds sold,
are mined in war zones, smuggled out of the country, and sold to legitimate
companies, financing ruinous civil wars and the plots of international
terrorists, including the al Qaeda network. The gems' value and portability have
made controlling the diamond mines important to guerrilla fighters, who maim and
kill innocent villagers to secure their territory. Campbell has spoken with
individuals all along the pipeline, from miners to soldiers to smugglers, and
the grim portrait he paints will make many people think twice about buying
another diamond. While Matthew Hart's Diamond: A Journey to the Heart of an
Obsession covered the international diamond trade more widely, this focused
study of the catastrophic effect of blood diamonds on Sierra Leone belongs in
all libraries. Publisher: Basic Books Genre: Nonfiction
No Condition is Permanent by Cristina Kessler
In her first novel, Kessler (One Night) explores
sophisticated issues of cultural contrast between life in America and a remote
African village through the eyes of a 14-year-old California girl. Providing an
educational look into Sierra Leone's traditions and language, the author creates
a likeable main character who is realistically headstrong and good-hearted. When
Jodie's mother receives a grant to study in Sierra Leone, the girl suddenly
finds herself living with snakes and scorpions and without electricity or indoor
plumbing. She does find a soulmate in Khadi, a local girl who helps her see the
beauty of the village and the culture ("Having Khadi, who I could barely talk
to, hold my hand, as we walked past huts and goats seemed totally natural"). But
when Khadi comes of age and is inducted into the women's Secret Society, which
practices female circumcision, Jodie must decide whether or not to interfere.
She wants to spare Khadi the pain (and possibility of infection or even death)
but knows that getting involved might alienate her from her friend and banish
her and her mother from their community. Jodie's observations of life in Sierra
Leone occasionally read like exoticism ("Khadi, bare-breasted as usual and
dripping wet, looked like a picture out of an art book"), and the ending, though
realistic, comes a bit abruptly. Overall, the novel does a solid job of
combining a complicated issue with a compelling plot. Ages 10-14.
Publisher: Philomel Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah
This absorbing account by a young man who, as a boy
of 12, gets swept up in Sierra Leone's civil war goes beyond even the best
journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the
horrors of warfare. Beah's harrowing journey transforms him overnight from a
child enthralled by American hip-hop music and dance to an internal refugee
bereft of family, wandering from village to village in a country grown deeply
divided by the indiscriminate atrocities of unruly, sociopathic rebel and army
forces. Beah then finds himself in the army—in a drug-filled life of casual mass
slaughter that lasts until he is 15, when he's brought to a rehabilitation
center sponsored by UNICEF and partnering NGOs. The process marks out Beah as a
gifted spokesman for the center's work after his "repatriation" to civilian life
in the capital, where he lives with his family and a distant uncle. When the war
finally engulfs the capital, it sends 17-year-old Beah fleeing again, this time
to the U.S., where he now lives. (Beah graduated from Oberlin College in 2004.)
Told in clear, accessible language by a young writer with a gifted literary
voice, this memoir seems destined to become a classic firsthand account of war
and the ongoing plight of child soldiers in conflicts worldwide.
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Genre: Memoir; Politics; War
Over the past few years, a number of Sierra Leoneans have written books
either to reflect on their political stewardship and that of the governments
in which they served, or on the recent tragic history of the country. I
am thinking here in particular of The Agony of a Nation (1996), a book
by the former Sierra Leone Government minister, Abdul Karim Koroma, and
Democracy by Force: A Study of International Military Intervention in the
Civil War in Sierra Leone 1999-2001 (2001), co-authored by Dr. Abass Bundu
and Dr. John Karefa-Smart, both also former ministers. The present book,
by me, belongs to a different genre. It is not political history
neither is it the boring and sometimes unconvincing attempt at self-justification
by a former government official. It is, more absorbingly, a piece
of genealogical history; the history, as its title indicates, of my family
Conteh-Turay families of the Tonkolili East Region of Sierra Leone
In this book the patriarch of my clan, my grandfather Alhaji Alimamy
Sorie, was Paramount Chief of Kunike Barina Chiefdom. He died in 1967 while
I was a student in St. Francis Secondary School in Makeni and only came
home during holidays to spend time with him acting as his private secretary.
What grandpa told me has now been woven into a beautiful whole in this
book. Not the least of the work s attractions is the multiple perspectives
from which the various relatives and figures in my life is depicted: that
of the child, the young adult, and the reflective diplomat. I spent some
time making a thorough research for this book which has over one hundred
photographs with 350 pages. I have written this book to educate my children
and numerous younger relations, (cousins, nephews, and nieces), many of
whom were born and live in the United States and Great Britain on our roots.
By describing at length the lives and careers of some members of my family
that became leading actors in the politics of Sierra Leone, I hope I am
making a small and modest contribution to the history of our country, Sierra
Leone. I hope this book will interest you and your family. Limited copies
are on sale for only Twenty-five dollars per copy and thirty United States
dollars by mail.
Comments: HOW TO ORDER:
Please call any of the following numbers. Please give your name and
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Buy a copy now by mail TODAY!
De Body?: One Man's Terrifying Journey Through an African War, by Teun
Voeten, translated from the Dutch by Roz
Vatter-Buck (Thomas Dunne Books, Barnes & Nobles)
FROM THE PUBLISHER
In 1998, Acclaimed Photo Journalist Teun Voeten headed to Sierra Leone
for what he thought would be a standard assignment on the child soldiers
there. But the cease-fire ended just as he arrived, and the clash between
the military junta and the West African peacekeeping troops forced him
to hide in the bush from rebels who were intent on killing him. How de
Body? ("How are you?" in Sierra Leone's creole English) is a dramatic account
of the conflict that has been raging in the country for nearly a decade
-- and how Voeten nearly became a casualty. Accessible and conversational,
it's a look into the dangerous diamond trade that fuels the conflict, the
legacy of war practices such as forced amputations, the tragic use of child
soldiers, and more. The book is also a tribute to the people who never
make the headlines: Eddie Smith, a BBC correspondent who eventually helps
Voeten escape; Alfred Kanu, a school principal who risks his life to keep
his students and teachers going amid the bullets and raids; and Padre Victor,
who runs a safe haven for former child soldiers; among others. Featuring
Voeten's stunning black-and-white photos from his multiple trips to the
conflict area, How de Body? is a crucial testament to a relatively unknown
The title of this harrowing journey through war-torn Sierra Leone means
how are you? in pidgin English; as photojournalist Voeten shows in his
dramatic but incomplete work of war reportage, Sierra Leone isn't doing
well and neither is he, after a 1998 trip there. On assignment to photograph
child soldiers, Voeten finds himself in the midst of a war between a military
junta and West African peacekeeping troops. After nearly being killed by
a gun-toting teenager, he goes into hiding for two weeks: I feel like a
fox running from hounds and curse the soldiers who won't give me a moment's
peace. His disappearance makes him something of a cause celebre several
of his colleagues are planning to mount a search and rescue but he's eventually
able to leave the country. Yet that's just the beginning of Voeten's involvement
with the impoverished African nation. Despite suffering from post-traumatic
stress disorder, he returns to Sierra Leone, and it is in recounting these
times that the book weakens. Voeten doesn't delve beneath the surface of
his interest in Sierra Leone; he fails to give readers even a basic history
of the country or to reflect on what makes journalists willing to risk
their lives to report from there. He also neglects to sufficiently describe
his PTSD or how his multiple returns to Sierra Leone affect it. By not
answering these questions, Voeten ends up with merely a frightening travelogue
of a depressing country and one inelegantly written at that. The photos,
which may be the book's highlight, were not seen by PW. (Aug.) Copyright
2002 Cahners Business Information.
Voeten, an acclaimed photojournalist, writes about the ferocity of
the eight-year civil war in Sierra Leone, a former British colony in West
Africa. Once referred to as "The White Man's Grave," it is a country endowed
with very hospitable people and mineral wealth gold, silver, and, in particular,
diamonds, which "literally lie there waiting to be picked up." The abundance
of diamonds has sown greed among the major ethnic groups and has also attracted
an international consortium of criminals, arms dealers, mercenaries, and
drug barons. Control of these diamonds is the cause and fuel of the war.
Voeten was sent to cover the use of child soldiers by the rebels and in
the process got caught in the middle of the warring factions and almost
lost his life. He has covered many civil wars in other places, and references
and comparisons are constantly made to other war-torn countries. Thousands
of children were kidnapped by the rebels and conscripted as soldiers, bearers,
and cannon fodder. Special amputation squads hacked off arms, hands, or
legs to sow terror and avenge the rebels' defeat. Such mass amputations
were compared to those done by Belgian colonizers in the former Congo.
Throughout How De Body? ("How are you?" in pidgin English), Voeten, relief
workers, missionaries, and human rights activists ruminate on the extent
of savagery during the eight-year period. Voeten is also fascinated by
the courage, strength, and hospitality of Sierra Leoneans. The author,
however, exposes his own biases by using words such as natives, thick lips,
bastards, fat, and the like in the first chapter. Overall, this is a very
interesting but depressing narrative of the atrocities of a civil war characterized
by greed and wealth. Recommended for public libraries and those interested
in African politics and civil wars in general. Edward G. McCormack, Cox
Lib. & Media Ctr., Univ. of Southern Mississippi-Gulf Coast, Long Beach
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Welfare to Millionaire: The Sarian Bouma
is the incredible true story of Sarian Bouma, the Sierra Leone, West
African, immigrant who went from finding herself in a homeless shelter
as a welfare mother to a self-made millionaire! Born into poverty, Sarian
made her way to the "promised land," America, with $1,500, to wind up divorced,
down and out on welfare, and having to feed her baby water because she
didn't have enough food stamps to buy milk.
Less than two decades later, this remarkable woman is a self-made entrepreneur,
owner of a multimillion dollar corporation, and happily married mother
of six. She has been featured in O, The Oprah Magazine, honored with Whoopi
Goldberg, respected by Senator Bob Dole, President Bill Clinton, Maryland
Governor Parris Glendening,Cabinet Secretary of Commerce, The Honorable
Donald Evans, and SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez, among others.
In Welfare to Millionaire: The Sarian Bouma Story, Sarian shares her
journey, recounting her challenges and obstacles, failures and successes,
disasters and triumphs. She talks about new goals and dreams with humor,
warmth, and honesty.
This book is published by XLIBRIS • A strategic partner of Random House
Moses, Citizen & Me
Delia jarrett- Macauley
Publisher: Granta Books (2005)
Availible at Amazon.co.uk
When Julia flies into war-scarred Sierra Leone from London, she is apprehensive
about seeing her uncle Moses for the first time in twenty years. But nothing
could have prepared her for her encounter with her eight-year-old cousin,
Citizen, a former child soldier, and for the shocking truth of what he
Driven by a desire to understand Citizen, Julia takes the disturbed
child into the rainforest, where to her surprise, she encounters him amongst
other child soldiers, along with a mysterious storyteller, Bemba G. Is
he a shaman, teacher, wizard or magician? He alone in the heart of the
rainforest can heal the rift between the cultures of war and peace, Europe
and Africa. But who would think he'd use Shakespeare to do it?
Moses, Citizen & Me is a work of imagination about the conflict
in Sierra Leone; a novel which draws on both the European canon and African
oral traditions to illuminate the sufferings of child soldiers and their
'A deeply affecting and vividly told story of ordinary people with the
courage to survive. Delia Jarrett-Macauley has excavated the pain and torment
within the hidden recesses of the human soul and there uncovered, finally
- love. A wonderful book...'
- Aminatta Forna
'An extraordinary novel about war, childhood, art and salvation. Shakespearean
tragedy recast in modern Africa, transformed into a redemptive vision as
magical as a midsummer night's dream.'
- Francis Wheen
'...her understated prose a foil to the bleak and disturbing subject
matter. ...sensitively establishes the family as a microcosm of the ruptured
nation.. and Shakespeare provides an inspirational and uplifting agent
- Literary Review
- The Independent
'Seven years ago Delia Jarrett-Macauley published The Life of Una Marson
1906-65, a landmark biography of the Jamaican feminist who became the BBC's
first black programme maker. In her debut novel, Jarrett-Macauley again
breaks ground with a delicate and brave....treatment of child soldiers
in the aftermath of a west African civil war.'
- Maya Jaggi, The Guardian
'...the considered and multi-layered story of a Sierra Leone family
blasted apart by one of its children turning boy soldier in the civil war.
It is a novel remarkable for its slowed, measured pulse and its calm analysis,
its keenness to promise hope and rehabilitation even after the worst.'
- Ali Smith, The Guardian Review
Sierra Leonean Writers Series
A Political Drama of Wish over Wisdom
by Karamoh Kabba
Click Images to Enlarge
for Writers of Sierra
Just published: MORQUEE
- A Political Drama of Wish over Wisdom (Karamoh Kabba)
Under review: Sierra
Leone since Independence
The Fighter from Death Row: Testimony
of Survival by a Christian Journalist
by Hilton E. Fyle
An amazing survival story which can easily pass for a thriller in the
field of fiction. But it is true. Journalist Hilton Fyle packs his bags
and heads back home to Sierra Leone after 20 years as a star broadcaster
with the BBC in London England, during which he became a household name
in Africa and most of the English-speaking world. His new challenge is
to participate in the new democracy that the United States and its allies
are planting in the country, after 25 years of dictatorship and oppression.
Unfortunately, he gets a bad deal from the new , "democratic" government
of president Tejan Kabba. His newspaper is forced to close after publishing
a "Corruption" story involving two cabinet ministers. Kabba is overthrown
in May 1997 and is planning to return with military force. But journalist
Hilton Fyle uses his FM radio station to campaign for a peaceful return.
Kabba does return with a bang. His opponents are shot and burned alive
on the streets of the capital. Fyle escapes instant death, but he is beaten,
imprisoned, tried and sent to Death Row awaiting execution. The climax
of it all is that he walks out of Death Row without the consent of the
government or the prison authorities. All this would not have happened
he says, if United Nations peacemakers in Sierra Leone had not played a
An Account of the Rebel War in Sierra
by Karamoh Kabba
In March 1991, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels waged a
ruthless war on Sierra Leone, which was to last for a decade characterized
by the worst forms of crimes against humanity.
A single mother took a dreadful journey in a heroic effort to protect
her terrified family from the trigger-happy and machete-swinging rebels
across bloodbath diamond fields, intolerable savanna-grasslands, iniquitous
rain forests and a petrified city in Sierra Leone. She spent days and nights
in these treacherous savanna-grasslands and jungle-forests--walked hundreds
of miles, narrowly dodged rebel advances, survived on wild fruits, traveled
in cargo trucks and over-capacitated boats. At the climax, she woke-up
one night under rebel AK-47 assault rifles and watched helplessly rebels
abducted her children in this line-for-line titillating narrative.
But she overcome the odds, made it to the United States and recounted
her sufferings that is independent of politics and the mass media during
this miserable decade in the history of Sierra Leone.
A study of international military intervention
in the conflict in Sierra Leone from 1991-2000
by Abass Bundu
Although democracy, the rule of law and respect for fundamental human
rights are the defining idioms of contemporary state governance and international
relations, they are hardly commonplace in Africa. In domestic environments
severely degraded by abuse of power and rebellion, what kind of existence
do African leaders give to their people? Can they proclaim rights for their
citizens in international instruments but behave in ways that are diametrically
opposite? What future has democracy when the last election was a rogue
one and the incumbent regime the beneficiary? Sierra Leone, whose civil
conflict enters its tenth year in March 2001, carries the unenviable status
of playing host to the world's largest peacekeeping force. Yet there is
still no lasting peace in a conflict that has determined not so much who
is right or wrong as who is left.
Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar
(First published 1990)
This book is out of print.
Read an Excerpt:
Gustavius Martins died in the fire that night, but his badly burnt
body was not discovered for some while, not until his wife, in the confusion
realised that he had not come out with the other men, and went in search
of him. She prayed that she would find her husband wounded, unable to walk,
so that she would bring him back to nurse his wounds, bring him back to
life and wipe out the terrible anguish that had come into their lives since
the war. The thought that he might be dead did not enter her head, because
Isatu Martins was not a woman easily troubled by the supposition that things
could happen to her or to Gustavius to deprive her of living in happiness
with him for ever. After Garbage was born, she had gone to see the diviner,
who had told her to take her husband back to her town. She wanted to thank
him for his advice, and to bring him some presents. Asked by the venerable
man is she had any other reque! st to make, she replied that she had only
one wish in life.
'What is that, my child?' asked the wise man.
'To die in bed with my husband, when I am seventy-five years old,' she
So now she prayed even more loudly, hoping that all the angels and all
the dead would come out of their graves to answer her prayers. But the
further she picked her way into the burnt-out garrison, the more shocked
Isatu Martins was at what she saw. Parts of the garrison were completely
gutted and the fire was still burning in the one area where Isatu Martins
hoped to find her husband. It was a slow fire but if there was life there,
then it was the sound of the beams as the collapsed onto the floor in the
blaze. The former shop of the carpenters from Calabar, the barns where
the captain and his men had stored food for the possibility of a long rainy
season, had been wiped out and the place smelled of the burning flesh of
Yet Isatu Martins went into each of the cells, looking for the familiar
face of her husband. What she saw in nearly all of them were the poses
in death. She had never seen anyone dead, and had always wondered what
people looked like when they died. She saw men gripping their heads as
if when the angel had come to take them away they had asked him to go away
and come back later because they were not yet ready to leave this world.
Others had died with their arms flung wide open as if they had mistaken
death for a beloved woman who was coming into their arms after all those
months of being without love.
'Good Lawd,' said Isatu Martins. 'If dis is de face of death, then ah
wonder what its back looks like?'
When she finally discovered the body of her husband, she did not have
to turn it over as she had done with some of the other men. She was familiar
with the country of the man's body, with the way he lay in bed, especially
after a hard day's work. She knew the rhythm and the storm of that body
better than any other person in the world, its tales of magic and rhythm
to the accompaniment of the weaverbirds' songs as he had made her his;
how often she had trembled in the storm of his passion, with his smell
of a man, of pinewood.
Suppressing the deep surge of pain which was threatening to flood her,
she sat next to the dead man and touched his face. But in her heart, Isatu
Martins refused to accept that her husband was dead. She thought that death
was a nasty thief who came at night to steal all that twenty years of hard
work had given you but that, like some good thieves, might return some
of the stolen items when they had taken the best stuff for themselves.
She raised the head of her man to see if there had been a mistake after
all, especially as his face was still warm, like a young bull's, but the
buzzing of the flies that had been attracted by the smell of blood all
over the garrison was enough to tell her that his life had gone out a long
time before she had arrived to claim it. Then from a region in her heart
where they had loved each other so much, she began to bring back the moments
of happiness. She saw him coming across the cornfields, shy and dark like
a bronze mask, to tell her about the throne where she would sit for ever.
She remembered how his hands had trembled as he helped her into the lantern
where she was serenaded by the acrobatic monkeys dancing over the crouching
lions, in that forget-me-not afternoon of the protestation of his love
for her. She recalled how he had told her the tales of the sea with its
millions of living souls fed to the sha! rks would be forgotten, if only
she would return to his life.
Life, Isatu Martins remembered, had been good to them, despite the terrifying
period when she had wanted to kill her love for him with her death, because
Garbage had not arrived yet, the gift of the chimerical dwarfs, and smelling
of the banana grove where his grandfather had made him immune to the pernicious
eyes of envy.
With a great strength belying her now unbearable grief, she lifted the
limp form of her husband and came into the hallway. The hills dwarfing
the garrison were alive with the voices of the creatures of the night,
but Isatu Martins was not afraid. She walked slowly, carrying the man,
as she had carried him in other times, though when in the past they had
reached the bottom, it was not clear who had carried whom.
Suddenly she found herself on the road leading to the town, and for
once she was glad of the oppressive silent hand that had clamped the mouth
of Malagueta, so that she could take her husband home without being seen.
Grief, for Isatu Martins, was a private affair.
When she felt she was losing strength, she put the man down gently on
the ground where all men had an ancestor waiting to claim then. She stroked
his face, but his smile did not change. Gustavius Martins looked like a
happy man in death, because he had died thinking about his wife. But as
he lay there, Isatu Martins saw, in the faint glow of the moon, that although
her husband's face had escaped the ravages of the fire his body was badly
She ran her hand gently down the hard, leathery body, felt where it
had gone to sleep, where the ribs had broken out of their cage, but she
was not horrified. He was her man. Once again, she saw the same beautiful
man who had come to her that evening many years ago as she was bathing
in the stream. Suddenly, she felt the tears running down her cheeks and
she began to speak to the dead man.
'Sleep, my love, sleep until we get home where ah shall tend your wounds:
you look beautiful and no one will ever know how ah found you, because
it is none of their business. We was alone together and we shall be alone
again in dat house where you will never want for anything, because ah shall
see to it dat you are happy in dat house dat you built wid your hands.'
She asked him to 'come any time you feel like it, from de other country,
where ah know you will be going for a while, only for a while; come because
you know ah shall be there always, with de doors open, wid my heart waiting
for you, and holding your son by de hand'.
Isatu Martins regained her strength. Slowly, singing to herself so that
she wouldn't cry, she continued the journey home. In the still of the night,
she was a monument to all brave women: upright and proud, so that not even
the shrieks of the dog-faced baboons giving birth in the surrounding countryside
disturbed her calm. Getting closer to her house, she passed the school
of the Farmer brothers, and Isatu Martins suddenly remembered that other
man who had come to Malagueta, in the dignity of his English suit, with
the cadences of love in his voice, to find a name in the babel of tongues
that was Malagueta in those days. And because she was a woman who had always
admired courageous men, men who dared the impossible to make their world
better, she felt a deep gratitude to her husband and to Gabriel Farmer.
She thanked God that she had been given the chance to share the life of
one of them, to have loved him, an! d to have been loved by him in return.
Jeanette Cromantine was just blowing out the lamp in her room when she
saw Isatu Martins toiling along with the body of her husband. She ran out
of her house like a mad woman, without a shawl to protect her in the cold.
But when she realised that it was a dead man who was coming home, she cried
out in anguish as she had never cried before.
'Isatu!' she wept. 'What a great pain life has given you, my sister.
There will never be anoder man like him.'
Gustavius Martins was laid out in a rough wooden coffin that Alphonso
the cabinet maker made free of charge. 'He was like a brother to me, and
helped me to find my feet when I was starting this business,' the carpenter
said, refusing to be paid by Isatu Martins. Before she opened the house
to the large crowd of people who wanted to pay their last respects to the
dead man, she asked Jeanette Cromantine, who had been with her all the
time, to let her have some time alone with her husband.
'Before they take him away from me, let me rest my head on his chest
one last time.'
She combed his hair and powdered his face, straightened his tie and
adjusted the handkerchief in his breast pocket. Then she remembered that
he had bought an expensive gold watch many years before Garbage had been
born, but that he had not worn it because of the situation brought about
by the war, when time was measured more in terms of the number of battles
that were fought than by the awakening of the sun. She found the gold piece
and when she opened the case, she was surprised that its hands were moving,
as if someone had wound the mechanism. 'Take dis away wid you 'cause ah
won't be needing it to know when you coming.'
The sword of Modibo of Timbuctoo rested at the right side of the dead
man, and the Moroccan slippers that he wore were the same that Santigue
Dambolla had not been able to give to his son-in-law, but which Sawida
had brought with the dead cloud of her grief. She loved this son-in-law
of hers and, like all women accustomed to pain, she felt it hard to cry.
While her daughter sat motionless in a chair in front of the sleeping man,
it was the widow of the banana-grove man who served coffee, who saw to
it that all the doors were open so that everyone who wanted to come would
have a last look at the man who, next to Sebastian Cromantine, had made
Malagueta the prosperous town that it was.
Over the protestation of Sawida Dambolla, Isatu Martins let Garbage
stand next to her, looking at his father. As in the past, when they had
shared the ephemeral hours of grief, the mother and the son did not talk
too much; each was locked in a secret territory of knowledge, learning
to reshape their lives, in the morning after. But when Isatu Martins put
her arms around the body of her son they clung to each other, and for the
first time since she had come upon the body of her husband, he cried with
her because they had found each other in the great eternal love that they
felt in their hearts for the man and for themselves.
Gustavius Martins was carried away to the heights of his mortality by
the largest crowd that Malagueta had ever seen. Sebastian Cromantine, who,
when he heard that his friend had died, shook the cane chair where he sat
with a volcanic rage, insisted on burying his friend.
'Those bastards drove ma son outta dis place, and now dey have killed
ma brother,' he raged, while Jeanette Cromantine tried to hold him down
on the dusty road leading to the cemetery, leaning on his cane.
Under his breath, he swore that one day the young men of Malagueta would
organise themselves and drive out all the foreigners. He was still recovering
from the effects of his confinement in the garrison, so he had difficulty
going up the hill, but he resisted his wife's attempts to help him along
the way. The sounds of feet marching in the solemn procession rose above
the voices of the people in the crowd; young men and women turning the
last corners of wisdom, asthmatic and coughing clerics from the church
who remembered when Gustavius Martins had given them the money to finish
its construction, turned up that afternoon.
When she saw the open grave into which they were going to put her husband,
Isatu Martins stared at the limitedness of space, the solitary, red and
cold void that had claimed a man who had been all warmth and sunshine.
But it was not the space that she would remember later when the body was
gone, for Gustavius Martins was not a man confined by the diameters of
space, as much as the thuds of the earth that she put on the coffin, earth
to earth, dust to dust, and the gravity of the look of Sebastian Cromantine
as he shovelled the first spadeful of earth in an everlasting rite of brotherhood.
After they had covered the coffin with the last remnants of red soil,
the large crowd of mourners went back to their houses; they were too sad
to remember how many years earlier, at another funeral, Thomas Bookerman
had led the first attack against the garrison.
Isatu and Garbage Martins moved in with the Cromantines. Although the
widow had insisted that she was all right and could get on in her own house
with only a little help from her friend, Jeanette Cromantine would hear
nothing of it.
'Put youself in ma position,' she said to the bereaved woman. 'What
would you do if it be Sebastian and Gustavius who died?'
Death had broken a bond that had existed between the two couples since
the early days of the founding of the town. Throughout the long years in
the bitterness of the first settlement, in the triumphs over the various
adversities they had encountered, in the excitement of watching the town
grow, nothing so terrible had happened to any of the original families.
But when Jeanette Cromantine wanted to shut the windows, hang white curtains
and mark the windows with white chalk as a sign of mourning for Gustavius,
Isatu Martins told her not to.
'Gustavius was a kind man, always gentle wid me. Take de time when ah
wanted to die 'cause ah did not have Garbage then. Most men would have
been vexed, vexed, but not my Gustavius. So let me think of him as if he
only gone away on a long visit.'
They opened the house, whitewashed the stones and welcomed the neighbours
who came around every day to pay their respects to the dead man's widow.
Some brought little pieces of lace, spices to drive out witches, a leg
of lamb, chickens and eggs, not because Isatu Martins needed them but because
they wanted to be one with her in that season.