In 2008 Arts Council England invited poets to commemorate the Bicentenary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act by writing a poem on the theme of enslavement.
Bernardine Evaristo is the author of two critically-acclaimed novels-in-verse: Lara (1997) and The Emperor's Babe (2001) and one novel-with-verse, Soul Tourists (2005). She has undertaken over 50 international writers' tours since 1997, and has been a visiting professor at Barnard College/Columbia University in New York, writer-in-residence at the University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, and writing fellow at the University of East Anglia and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts.
Bernardine Evaristo's forthcoming novel Blonde Roots (Penguin July 08) is an imaginative inversion of the transatlantic slave trade in which Africans are the masters and Europeans are the slaves. Visit www.bevaristo.net to find out more about the author.
Kidnapped from my village in Sunderland
by Scottish warlords out to make a fast buck.
Shipped across the ocean to Okondo State,
to labour in the mines until my lungs packed up.
Stripped of my name - Elizabeth Jones (16 ½),
I was given a new one - Bakamamendere.
Forbidden to speak my native tongue - Ing Lish,
I was force-fed their click one - Man!do!ng!ala.
Banned from worship of my One True God,
I prayed to their numerous deities, instead.
I became the original babymudder, of course.
My job description? To increase the work force.
I soon learnt my pink skin was just like a pigs,
my indecent body hair resembled a primates.
Yes! You people are animals: Beheadings (Check),
Countless wars (Check), Genocide (Check mate).
Your brains are smaller than ours, a scientific fact,
so you cannot curb your savage instincts.
Your hide is thick and your emotions stunted,
so you cannot feel pain like we normal homo sapiens.
I listened for centuries without right-of-reply,
yet when I tried to object I came over as tongue-tied,
or with a 'chip on my shoulder', and sometimes -
as violent: my gun turned against my own.