Not Just A Shipwreck: Poet Diana Ferrus

They were people, loved ones with names

Last week we ran a story about the Portuguese slave ship São José that ran aground off the Cape coast about two centuries ago. About 200 people drowned. Renowned South African poet Diana Ferrus was part of the ceremony organised by the Slave Wrecks Project (SWP) that honoured the Mozambicans who lost their lives as well as those who survived but were sold into slavery. Here is her moving tribute to the story of the São José.

My naam is Februarie / My name is February
By Diana Ferrus

My naam is Februarie.
Ek is verkoop –
my borste, privaatdele, my oë ,
my brein
is nog nie myne –
soos die Sao Jose
loop ek opgekap,
word ek telkens gesink deur ‘n ander storm –
geen Jesus wat op die water loop vir my

My naam is Februarie
Ek soek nog die stang van die stuur
want onderwater lê die familie,
die kind aan ma se rokspant,
die ma aan pa se hand.
Hoe diep lê hulle, aan watter kant?

My naam is Februarie –
opgeveil, verkoop, die hoogste bieder
het ontslae geraak van my regte naam,
geen vergoeding betaal
vir dit my naam, gesteel, gesink –
onderwater lê dit nog –
saam met die familie –
wrakstukke van die Sao Jose –
ten gronde geloop deur ‘n wind,
briesende branders wat die buit
se hele toekoms besluit ,
die profyt teen die wal uitsmyt

My naam is Februarie,
die Masbieker op die Sao Jose –
so was ek genoem
toe my hierse moedertaal gestalte kry –
toe tonge met mekaar begin te knoop
en letters ‘n vrye gang begin te loop
in ‘n desperate poging in hoop
dat magte ook nie hierdie identiteit moet stroop
word ek die Masbieker, net ‘n naam –
onder ‘n ander lug gekraam
en diep gevul met skaam.

My naam is Februarie.
I rearranged this landscape.
My hands wove the patterns of the vineyards.
My feet pressed the grapes
and I was paid with the wine.
I carry Alcohol-Foetal Syndrome children on my back

My name is February.
I still march on the eve of December one,
I walk the cobblestones of this city
when I cry in desperation,
“remember the emancipation of the slaves!”

My name is February.
Two hundred years after the Sao Jose
I was given the vote,
they said I was free

But do you see how often I am submerged,
weighed down?
I am the sunken, the soiled,
forgotten
and yet memory will not leave me!

My name is February,
stranded at Third beach
but no one comes to look for me,
no one waves from the dunes,
no bridges back to Mozambique

My name is February.
I will be resurrected,
brought to the surface
unshackled, unchained, unashamed!
My name is February!

Copyright: Diana Ferrus. A Work In Progress.

DianaFerrus

Diana Ferrus, poet and activist, wrote the world famous poem I’ve Come to Take You Home. It was the creative culmination in 2002 of a difficult 8-year battle to bring back the remains of Saartjie Baartman from France.

Shipwreck Artefacts On Display

The São José artefacts, unveiled in a historic ceremony, will be on display at the Iziko Slave Lodge for a limited period, until 14 June 2015

The artefacts require special climate controlled conditions and will be showcased at the Iziko Slave Lodge Museum – a space that not only commemorates the long history of slavery in South Africa, but has at its core a mission of transformation – “from human wrongs to human rights.”

Remnants of shackles, iron ballast to weigh down the ship and its human cargo, and a wooden pulley block, were retrieved this year from the wreck site of the São José—Paquete de Africa.

Iziko Museums of South Africa, in collaboration with America’s Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NHMAAC) and George Washington University (GWU), recently announced the findings of an international research partnership. The Slave Wrecks Project (SWP) provides new knowledge on the Transatlantic Slave Trade, focusing on the São José slave wreck, discovered off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa.

“The trajectory of the voyage of the Saõ José across Southern Africa and around the globe (due to the trade dealings of the original slaving family) in the late 18th century was one of exploitation, subjugation and slavery. The story of the Saõ José is a story that transcends time, space and place. It is a global story of our inter-connectedness as a human race.

“The Slave Wrecks Project and its partners are committed to making the process of the recovery of this tragic history in the early 21st century one of repair, openness and collaboration amongst institutions and nations. And in confronting and helping people understand this dark past so that we may both understand our world and forge a better future not limited to any one nation or culture,” says an Iziko Media Release this week.

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