It happened long, long ago, when black people were taken from
their homes in Africa and forced to come here to work as
slaves. They were put onto ships, and many died during the
long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. those that survived
stepped off the boats into a land they had never seen, a land
they never knew existed, and they were put into the fields to
Many refused, and they were killed. Others would work, but
when the white man’s whip lashed their backs to make them work
harder, they would turn and fight. And some of them killed the
white men with the whips. Others were killed by the white men.
Some would run away and try to go back home, back to Africa
where there were no white people, where they worked their own
land for the good of each other, not for the good of white men.
some of those who tried to go back to Africa would walk until
they came to the ocean, and then they would walk into the
water, and no one knows if they did walk to Africa through the
water or if they drowned. It didn’t matter. At least they
were no longer slaves.
Now when the white man forced Africans onto the slave-ships,
he did not know, nor did he care, if he took the village
musicians, artists, or witch doctors. As long as they were
black and looked strong, he wanted them-men, women, and
children. Thus, he did not know that sometimes there would be
a witch doctor among those he had captured. If he had known,
and had also known that the witch doctor was the medium of the
gods, he would have thought twice. But he did not care. These
black men and black women were not people to him. He looked at
them and counted each one as so much money for his pocket.
It was a plantation in South Carolina that one boatload of
Africans was brought. Among them was the son of a witch
doctor who had not completed by many months studying the
secrets of the gods from his father. This young man carried
with him the secrets and powers of the generations of Africa.
One day, one hot day when the sun singed the very hair on the
head, they were working in the fields. They had been in the
fields since before the sun rose, and, as it made its journey
to the highest part of the sky, the very air seemed to be on
fire. A young woman, her body curved with the child that grew
deep inside her, fainted.
Before her body struck the ground, the white man with the whip
was riding toward her on his horse. He threw water in her
face. "Get back to work, you lazy nigger! There ain’t going to
be no sitting down on the job as long as I’m here." He cracked
the whip against her back and, screaming, she staggered to her
All work had stopped as the Africans watched, saying nothing.
"If you niggers don’t want to taste of the same, you’d better
get to work!"
The lowered their heads and went back to work. The young
witch doctor worked his way slowly toward the young
mother-to-be, but before he could reach her, she collapsed
again, and the white man with the whip was upon her, lashing
her until her body was raised from the ground by the sheer
violence of her sobs. The young witch doctor worked his way
to her side and whispered something in her ear. She, in turn,
whispered to the person beside her. He told the next person,
and on around the field it went. They did it so quickly and
quietly that the white man with the whip noticed nothing.
A few moments later, someone else in the field fainted, and,
as the white man with the whip rode toward him, the young witch
doctor shouted, "Now!" He uttered and strange word, and the
person who had fainted rose from the ground, and moving his
arms like wings, he flew into the sky and out of sight.
The man with the whip looked around at the Africans, but they
only stared into the distance, tiny smiles softening their
lips. "Who did that? Who was that who yelled out?" No one said
anything. "Well, just let me get my hands on him."
Not too many minutes had passed before the young woman fainted
once again. The man was almost upon her when the young witch
doctor shouted, "Now!" and uttered a strange word. She, too,
rose from the ground and, waving her arms like wings, she flew
into the distance and out of sight.
This time the man with the whip knew who was responsible, and
as he pulled back his arm to lash the young witch doctor, the
young man yelled, "Now! Now! Everyone!" He uttered the strange
word, and all of the Africans dropped their hoes, stretched out
their arms, and flew away, back to their home, back to Africa.
That was long ago, and no one now remembers what word it was
that the young witch doctor knew that could make people fly.
But who knows? Maybe one morning someone will awake with a
strange word on his tongue and, uttering it, we will all
stretch out our arms and take to the air, leaving these
blood-drenched fields of our misery behind.