An African Village

I was born with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. This allowed me to make acquaintances and friends with many and diverse people.

Among the people I was privileged to have as friends, several women whose ancestors were of African descent. One woman’s grandmother had been born in slavery. She had been a young girl of about twelve years at the time of emancipation. My friend was known as Miss Sarah.

Miss Sarah was tall and of medium build. She was not fat and not exactly thin. She was solid. Her skin color was a rich golden brown, like a dark walnut. Miss Sarah wore long dresses, gathered at the waist and reaching to her ankles. The top of the dress was long-sleeved and reached up with a high collar. A large apron covered the front of her skirt. Her head was covered with a wrap around clothe.

Miss Sarah was a cook who sold cooked food to the public. She also sold fruits in season and ground provisions.

Every Saturday afternoon Miss Sarah could be found sitting just outside a fence with a tall wooden gate which was always kept closed. Miss Sarah was surrounded by her pots of hot of souse, pans of blood pudding and trays of fruits and vegetables.

The French people of the village at the Carenage, Altona and Honduras Estates came to purchase Miss Sarah’s wares, every Saturday afternoon.

My acquaintance with Miss Sarah was during the years when I was between ten and thirteen years, in the middle 1930s. My mother always took me with her when she went to buy souse from Miss Sarah. I was about ten years of age the first time I met Miss Sarah. I liked her right away and she took a liking to me.

I was a child who was being raised by the whole village, including the people of African descent. Every time I met someone new, I was full of questions. I wanted to know all about my new acquaintance. And I was full of questions for Miss Sarah. She answered as best she could.

When I was about eleven years of age, I was usually sent alone to buy the souse from Miss Sarah. I always tried to get there ahead of everyone else so I could be alone with Miss Sarah hoping she would tell me about what lay beyond the tall wooden gate.

It was not until I was twelve years of age that Miss Sarah finally decided she could trust me with her secret. She told me her story.

Miss Sarah told me that her grandmother had been born in slavery. Her grandmother was twelve years of age when all the enslaved people had been emancipated.

A few years after having been given their freedom. a group of persons, an extended family. had struck out on their own, to create a village similar to those that existed in Africa.

The area chosen for the village was forested like a jungle. There was a marsh nearby teeming with prawns, a shrimp-like animal. These were edible. In the marsh, there were also frog-like creatures, (which the people called Crapos) The sea was not too far away and it was teeming
with fish. On the land, there were edible roots and grasses bearing edible seeds.

Over several months, every Saturday Miss Sarah related more of her story, Miss Sarah continues.

The younger men very quickly cut trees and stripped them of branches. The elders showed the younger men how to construct huts from the cut trees and from some that were left standing, and how to create the huts so that they would remain dry when it rained.

There were already on the land, a few trees whose fruit were edible so these were preserved. The women and older children cleaned the area of shrubs and prepared the soil for planting. It was hard work but they wanted to be independent. The group survived and prospered. Children were born and elders passed on. Sarah’s grandmother had grown up and was mated with a man of the village who was not too closely related. Sarah’s mother had been born.

In the early years, up to 1865, there were no other humans in the area. but there were wild hogs and other small land animals which provided food.

Starting in 1865, the French people arrived at the Carenage, on the other side of the area. Slowly, the two groups, Africans and French got acquainted and interacted positively, each group residing in their chosen area.

All this had been related to Miss Sarah by her mother.

I was only a child and did not quite understand the value of the information shared by Miss Sarah. It was many years later that the true value of this story was realized by me. I now share it so that it will not be lost.

There are several people who knew Miss Sarah, including some who lived in the enclosure where the original village once stood. From one of these persons, I was assured that that Miss Sarah’s family name was Brooks. Was it her maiden name? Or was it her married name? That I have yet to find out.

Anne-Marie Danet

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