Narrative of a Genome II

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Lebila’s husband our distant maternal father fished in Lake Chad and conducted trade and commerce along the Niger River. He was a farmer. Lebila an L3b1a haplogroup may have cultivated rice along the marshes surrounding Lake Chad. African rice has been cultivated for more than 3500 years, but maybe she and our distant maternal father we will call Eliba may have introduced the Asian species of rice to the West, which was introduced to East Africa by the Chinese and spread westward. Other crops that were cultivated were yams, cassava, and millet. Lebila and Eliba lived relatively peacefully for awhile, performing the necessary work required to sustain life and raise a family. They built villages surrounding the rivers and began a system of government that respected elders and was based on a system of democracy. They lived in northern Cameroon, near where the Benoue River runs north and west before it empties into the Niger River. Lebila didn’t relax long, though. It was there sometime in the sixteenth or seventeenth century our mother the daughter of Lebila also an L3b1a was captured and sold into the Transatlantic slave trade. We will call her Layla.

“They wanted us to walk, and so we did. We walked and walked. Our bodies trembling from the shock of being startled awake, violently pulled to our feet, kicking, screaming, punching to escape their grasp, the feel of their touch lingering yet upon our unwilling bodies. We smelled smoke. Saw fire fall. We watched in horror our village burn, our families subdued. We clawed at their skin with only our fingernails as weapons. Some of us tried to run to get a weapon, a rock, a stick, anything, only to be struck down in flight by our captors iron hollow reeds, which spit a deadly venom stinging any ambitious hero in flight, in the back, between shoulder blades, in the chest, the head, one by one they fell Lebila, our mother too, until even our bravest warriors surrendered without protest. We wondered what did they want from us? Were these the ascari’s of the despised, who did the White man’s bidding that was rumored about? Who were these white men? Did they look like the white sands of the deserts or the foam from the mouth of a dog raging with disease? None of us had ever saw one before. We came to a place where they branded each of us with a hot iron. The raw metal seared our flesh and burned its intention directly to our nerves”


Layla may have been captured in a group, in a raid on their village, marched along with others amid their captors, and taken to the Slave Coast. Their captors would stop to purchase merchandise which they tied on their backs and expected them to carry. Some of them were sold there, and never reached the coast. Many died of typhoid fever, malnutrion and disease. Layla made it to the Ocean. That enormous expanse of water frightened her because she had never seen anything like it before.

Upon reaching the Guinea Coast, they were detained in cramped pens, with high fortified walls, too high to climb, squatting in dirt, in open pens, no roof tops and exposed to the open sky above and the elements, the smell of rotten fish, excrement, and dysentery was nauseating, if they vomited there they were forced to sleep in it. They may have been detained here for weeks and put to work at the trading stations. Once a ship was anchored off the coast they were quickly canoed over and boarded on, confined in the hull of the ship tightly like sardines. Many committed suicide right there by jumping overboard and many more died from being forced to sleep in their own and others excrement. Disease was rampant, death took many and the voyage took many months. Layla may have been allowed on deck for domestic duties, women were often raped on board.

They arrived first in Jamaica, where they were dropped off and forced to labor on sugar plantations. Some of our kin was taken to Trinidad and Tobago. Layla’s descendants would be brought to Cross Hills, Laurens South Carolina sometime about 1834. Where Martha born about 1820 and who died sometime before 1880, would give birth to Clarisa Owens born 1853 and who died Oct 3, 1915. Clarisa would marry Lewis Holland and have sixteen children ten girls, including Alma Holland my grandmother who gave birth to five girls including our mother, Airlessa Shepard born April 24, 1923 and who died December 30, 2000 all of direct lineage maternal DNA L3b1a Lebila’s haplogroup, and two sons. Alma had been born with a debilitating rheumatoid arthritis which caused her foot to club. She could never relax. She was always busy caring for her younger brothers and sisters. She didn’t marry until she was thirty years old. She met and married James Shepard and of their seven children, the two males Marcellus and Homer would die young, without issue. Each of the remaining five females would marry but only one, Geneva Shepard-Perry would remain childless. Out of the other four girls twelve children would come but only three females to carry the L3b1a including myself. James Shepard had done for Alma what no person had ever done for her. He lifted her tired feet, rough heels as tough as whit leather, worn from performing domestic work, between his strong hands and wrung them like a rag, rubbing oil like life into her soles. She shuddered with a pleasure she’d never known, and for the first time in her life she relaxed.


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