Etienne was born on a sugar plantation in 1775 on Saint-Domingue. Conditions on the plantations were harsh and disease was common. This short life expectancy was one reason why the slave trade was so prosperous; most slaves did not live long enough to reproduce. Etienne’s mother died within a year of his birth. His father lived long enough to see his son walk. The plantation owners found it easier to purchase new slaves than to ease conditions, so there was no expectation of change. Besides their regular duties, slaves also were expected to grow and prepare their own food. Because there was little time allotted for this, most slaves were undernourished. While many would have liked to help out the toddler orphan, they were trying to survive themselves.
Etienne turns to scavenging; necessity fosters ingenuity. Being so small, he cannot depend on force to survive, so he becomes clever. He notices the untapped resources on the forest floor and near the refuse piles. He works in the fields all day and then steals and forages what he needs. A few bites of liberated yam and some grubs or a tree frog keep Etienne alive. He does not steal from the masters; that is a guaranteed trip to the afterlife and he is not yet done with this life. Etienne understands that resources are scarce and his survival will likely cause other slaves to die, yet his will to survive is strong. Compassion is a commodity and it is often in direct conflict with survival.
When he enters his teenage years, his energy grows beyond his frame. He can do the work of two grown men in the field, find some scraps to nourish his emaciated body and then join in the rituals of the evening. Some are a small gathering: a little service around the fire honoring their ancestors, their gods, and then they pray to return to a home that he knows only from stories. Frequently, they have larger ceremonies. The slaves sneak into the forest and gather around a large bonfire. After consecrating the ground, they call to the different Loa and ask them to join the party. Some will come and possess a willing slave. Continue reading “Exerpt from Brian’s upcoming novel”