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Scratching for Daylight
By Wilbert Gibson
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2010 Wilbert Gibson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneFrom the Bushes (Africa during the Days of the Slave Trade)
Some years ago, during the mid-fifties, after delivering a package to a business associate, sitting alone while waiting on my train. I was drinking wine at one of those outside tables at a cafe in Toulouse, France when I noticed an elderly man staring at me. He was a large guy with a very dark complexion and short, kinky grey hair and immaculately dressed. Looking at his tribal scars, I thought he was just another African immigrant from one of France's former colonies. Speaking perfect English, he asked to join me and I quickly answered, "Yes, please," anxious to know what this old turkey was about. We struck up a conversation, and he told me he had lived for many years in the Americas and knew the hemisphere well. There was something about him that immediately told me this was a man of stature. I became excited; here I was in my late teens, a few years removed from hustling the streets of San Francisco, fellowshipping with a man of such high stature at a cafe in France. He told me he was in France for only ten days and was heading for Paris the next morning. There was a conference he had to attend. We talked about everything, from the beautiful paintings at the Louvre to the many faults of the French Foreign Legion. Most of all, he talked about Western Africa and how it was going to equal the great powers of Europe. He told me his continent had a long way to go and was preparing for a great awakening, one that respects human rights. He said he had been working hard for six years to educate its children. It was he, ordained by God, who was chosen to return home and spread that message. I told him about the hurt that I suffered in my little home town in Arkansas and the beauty of San Francisco. He quietly listened with a slight smile, nodding his head up and down, as if he already knew. I visited him twice while he was in Paris, and he would always welcome me with a big grin and open arms, something a father would do. It was on my second and last visit that he told me this amazing story. As soon as I arrived, he asked me to get on my knees and pray with him that God bless our Motherland. We prayed for a long time until my knees were sore. We prayed for the people of a troubled continent, their morals, and values. Completing our prayer and as we were getting up, I could hear him speak in some strange tongue in a pleading tone and then in English, "Thou shall not kill," repeating it, "Thou shall not kill." Moral men of God do not rape and abuse hapless young girls, our future wives and mothers, who must be there to help raise and nurture our continent's future leaders. Amen.
Emotionally, he told me he had been preaching the Word of God in the cities, villages, and the bushes. He returned home with his Bible this time, not as a weapon but as a tool. As he was drying his eyes, I was rubbing my sore knees. I sat on the couch, and he pulled up a chair and sat right in front of me. He told me that there was a story he had to tell, and I must listen and remember every word that he said. Captivated, I paid attention as he told me of my Africa of a long time ago. He told me about brutal kings with unrestrained powers, slavery and the fetish priests.
"I was born in the year 1624, in the village of Wanabut, a powerful and wealthy kingdom in Western Africa. Unfortunately, my people were the object of hatred by all our neighbors. My father was a young prince by the name of Ositee, a name; I also took and kept for many years of my life. He was a dashing man and a great warrior whom I admired very much. I was the first son of his third wife and remember him well. Our great prince was a short and rotund man, weighing at least three hundred pounds and always wore a purple loin cloth. Defying his stature, he always walked with a magnificent swagger, something he could do, for he was a brave warrior and a prince. I fondly recall the time that he would let the boys of the family eat with him and how he would tell us of the great battles he had won. He always reminded us of the history and the great power of our kingdom after we migrated from the mountains. I had always dreamed of a being a great warrior, as my father was. However, things changed when I was about ten years old.
In the year of 1635, my father sent several of his wives, my mother included, as emissaries to present his respect to the king of Ashanti which we knew to be the most dominate power in all of Africa. It was my understanding that the king honored my mother and the other wives with courteous treatment and many presents. Some weeks later, the king sent some of his wives, which included his favorite, a lithesome girl of seventeen; to assure my father of the great esteem he had for him. Upon seeing the king's favorite wife, my father was smitten by her beauty and was openly courting her. After a while, she and the other wives left, returning to Coomassie, the Ashanti capitol. Upon learning of this affair, Osai Tutu, the great Ashanti king was furious and was determined to wash out his humiliation with the blood of my father. Terrified and not wanting war with the powerful Ashantis, my father offered the great king several hundred marks of gold as compensation for the injury, an offer which was refused. Osai Tutu's pride was destroyed, and he began to raise an army. Knowing he could not defeat the powerful Ashantis, in an effort to avoid the complete devastation of our kingdom, my father committed suicide. I will never forget the fear and panic in our village when we heard the battle horns of the invading Ashanti army. The remnants of our army, which had retreated to our village, were fighting valiantly.
After a while the lines of our army were broken, everyone was fleeing in panic and trying to escape from the village. Old people and young babies were trampled, and you could hear the screams, and death throes, as soldiers and civilians alike, were dying at the hands of the invading Ashanti army. My younger brother and I fell to our knees, pleading for our lives. We knew people were being executed all around us. We were spared and then told to stand as coffles were placed around our necks. We were then marched out of the city with hundreds of our villagers who were now slaves. I did not know what happened to my mother and my father's other wives. When I looked back, all I could see were flames, the handiwork of a bitter Ashanti king.
Upon arriving in Coomassie, we were quartered in an open pen surrounded by stakes and guards. After about three days, my brother and myself, were given to the wife of one of the generals, who had us cleaned up for eventual sale. That very night, one of the older slaves came in excited, and told us that we would eventually become the property of the great Osai Tutu, himself. Our owner had come under the wrath of the great king who was to have his head on the executioner's stool that very night. Therefore, all of his property would automatically be ceded to him. That night, we knew exactly when the deed was done. As we lay in the corner of the pen, we heard the eerie sound of the executioner's horn time and time again. Then silence, and more silence, telling us the gruesome deed was done.
After a short period of time, my brother and I moved into the house of the great king. We lived there and trained as warriors, for all Ashanti males were trained to defend the kingdom. About this time the king was going into battle and on advice of the superior fetish priest, he was to keep a flame going in a consecrated fire pot in order to insure a successful battle. Before leaving, the king entrusted his sister and seventeen of his wives to keep the flame going. While he was gone, the Chief of Bouromy, who was one of the most handsome and amorous of all the chiefs in Western Africa and also aspired to the throne of Ashanti, told the chief's sister that if she would put out the flame, it would dilute the king's strength. He would then raise an army and take over the Ashanti Empire. He also told her that if she was not a woman, the throne would have been hers anyway. The king's sister consented and let the fire go out. When the king started having battlefield reversals, he sent for the fetish priest to ask, "What had happened?" The priest informed him that the flame had been extinguished, and the Chief of Bouromy was preparing to take over the throne. The Ashanti king immediately sent ten thousand of his best troops who immediately put down the rebellion and captured the offenders. Then the victorious army returned with over four thousand slaves, of which, I was glad to see because our numbers were getting low. This would also decrease the chance of my head being placed on the sacrificial stool.
Early the next morning, the executions of the rebels began. The chief of Bouromy, everyone in his family and the seventeen traitorous wives of our great king were all executed. It was an orgy of killing that lasted two days. And as was his custom, the chief executioner, who was a high man, blew that eerie horn after each dastardly deed. The king was devastated about this betrayal by his favorite sister. While attending him in his chambers, I would see a strong king in tears. What was he to do? All day and most of the night we could hear Akosua, the king's traitorous sister, crying and praying for forgiveness. Akosua was a beautiful girl. I remember the times we would see her and her attendants bathing in the lake. My brother would always tell me that he wanted all of his wives to look like her. She was not tall but her beauty was magnetic and was always wearing a loin cloth of tan, velvet, sparkling gold in her short, wooly hair, and many gold necklaces and anklets. When walking, she would have the motion as if skating.
One day, the king did something very unusual. He, along with fifty of his slaves, I included, went to visit the village where the most revered of the superior fetish priest lived. There they prayed for seven days. On the eighth day, he told the senior of the fetish priest to punish his sister as he saw fit, and he would be there at sundown the next night with this traitorous whore. When we arrived, along with the guards, twenty of Akosua's attendants and four additional slaves, I saw the most startling of rituals that has not been equaled, unforgiving to this day. The large flame, in the center of the small village of approximately thirty huts, was the only thing that illuminated the dark West African night. There were eleven priests sitting on stools arranged in a horseshoe shape with a very old priest on a slightly larger stool, who was sitting alone at the open end. Barely, seen at the far end of the yard was Akosua's carriage. I could hear the priests in prayer and singing a wailing type of song. Mesmerized, I saw the king's chief executioner prancing and strutting around the large fire, holding his executioner's stool over his head, and occasional pointing it in the direction of Akosua. The singing and praying continued for about two hours, at which time, the executioner disappeared into one of the huts. All the while Akosua was sitting alone in the carriage at the far end of the clearing. Then I heard a scream, telling me the executions had begun. Immediately, after each bloody deed, I could hear that chilling sound of the executioner's horn. This process was repeated for at least three hours or until at least the heads of twenty-four poor souls had fallen to the executioner's ax. At long last, accompanied by the beat of drums, one of the priest walked slowly over to Akosua's carriage, opened the door, and held her hand as she got out. Accompanied by the priest, she walked to the inner circle to stand by the fire. The priest departed, leaving Akosua to stand alone, facing the senior priest, for at least five minutes, while the singing, praying, wailing and drum beats continued. I was enthralled by our princess's beauty with her ebony skin glistening as she stood with her arms at her side and her hands sticking out like little wings, as if she could use them to fly away. As expected from a princess, she held her head high and proud, but you could see the wetness in her eyes as if wanting to cry as she was marshalling all her strength to hold back the tears. Standing there, Akosua looked like some piece of expensive carved black ivory. Like a beautiful, ebony statuette, her hair was decorated with gold and beads that glistened as it reflected off the light from the sparkling flames. Her cheeks were full and high while her eyes were as bright and shone like those of some magnificent night animal. Her small, uncovered breasts were full and firm that accentuated an athletic stomach. Her small hips somehow belied her full, round protruding buttocks that was supported by shapely, sturdy legs. When Akosua glided across the yard to face her prosecutors, the stage was set. After what seemed like hours, the senior fetish priest who appeared to be a very old man spoke. In a very soft, but bitter voice, he said, "Akosua, face me, you Ashanti bitch. You betrayed our great king. You have betrayed your people; your crime was so great that you were sent to us for your just punishment." Akosua attempted to speak, but the old man screamed, "Quiet, you Ashanti whore, you have broken your brother's heart, you have endangered your people, and we are here to see you do that no more even if you are the sister of our king. We are the most powerful kingdom in all of Western Africa, and our armies have conquered all. We can't let a witch like you betray us, you whore! We are Ashantis, and you will hurt us no more for the affection of a scoundrel." The tears in Akosua's eyes started to roll down her cheeks. Then, as though hit by some sudden inspiration, she started to smile. While the tears were still rolling, she started to do a sensuous dance, flailing her arms, and gyrating for over twenty minutes, in front of one priest and then another. As suddenly as she started, she stopped and faced the most senior priest and begins pleading, "Have mercy, your holy grace, I will commit these crimes no more." Hearing this, the priest loudly and bitterly said, "We are here to make sure your crimes are no more. We have a hut at the foot of the mountain that will forever be your home. You will never see the stars or the sun. In order to give your spirit time to repent and for you to pray, for three hundred and fifty some years you will be in a state of purgatory and only a deity with our great king can free your traitorous soul, and put it to rest. However, because of our deity's will as payment to them before this is done, we must have a sacrifice. The seed of a great warrior must die. When Akosua heard the sentence, she screamed and was led away sobbing and crying. As the years went by, her sobs turned into ghoulish animal-like sounds, none like anyone had ever heard before. She was forgotten. When I returned to the compound, the days turned into years.
One day, in the year 1650, while in the presence of the great king, it was during the festival of the yams, which occurred every year at the end of the month of August and the beginning of September. This was a time of great revelry in our kingdom. Parades are held, slaves were sacrificed and both sexes, without restraint, abandon themselves to their passion. Also, it was an occasion for something more sinister. Suspected chiefs and captains were placed on trial for real or imagined crimes against the kingdom. These trials were held even if the person's only crime was to give the king reason to think that his popularity might give rise to future power that would threaten the monarchy. There was this captain that had particularly offended the king. His only offense was boasting about his personal power to foreign traders. Nevertheless, the king was furious. He said that he alone, had the power of the Ashanti and ordered his chief executioner to decapitate the captain's head. All his wives and gold would be confiscated by the king, our great Osai Tutu.
Upon announcing this verdict, everyone in the court was screaming their agreement, as was expected in the presence of the great king. Almost as in a trance, I objected. I said, "Sir, let him live, everyone knows you are the great Osai Tutu. Let the world know you also have compassion, and that there are the others in the kingdom that could possess gold and wives beside yourself. Let all know, Ashanti is a great, rich kingdom." When I looked around, the entire room was silent. Then, I realized the severity of my statement. I also realized that I might have just forfeited my life. Astoundingly, the king looked at me and then at the accused captain. He put his hand under his chin as in deep thought, and suddenly said, "Let the captain go, this man is correct. I want everyone to know what a great kingdom we are and that I am a great and forgiving king. Yes, let the traitor go." Th e king then looked at me and said, "You have contributed a valuable service to the kingdom, and from this day on, you will be one of my personal guards."
Excerpted from Scratching for Daylight by Wilbert Gibson Copyright © 2010 by Wilbert Gibson. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. Introduction....................Vii 2. Prologue....................Xiii
3. From The Bushes....................1
4. The Seventh Son....................35
5. Testimony: Life In The Homes....................43
6. Cell Block 666 Death Row....................51
7. Sunday's Bird....................55
8. The Birds Th at Fly At Night....................57
9. Dalton's Flock....................63
10. Pastor Dalton....................65
11. Great-Great-Grandpa And His God....................67
12. The Second Greatest Story Ever Told....................73
14. Wilbert's Vision....................97
15. The Future Of The Black Church....................101
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Human nature when confronted with blind awareness tend to panic and hope for the brighter side of darkness. We are gluttons for punishment if and when there's the perception of no solution for applicable initiative. But human nature also lets us know that if there's a will, there's a way...especially when there's legitimate analogies to draw parallel to certain topical issues with good copy. 'Good copy' in this case can be exemplified by the contents of the book, 'Scratching for Daylight'. Wilbert Gibson is the author and knows quite a bit about darkness. He portrays the frailties of typical life struggles and strength using real life experiences. It's my opinion that a story should be an analogy illustrating a strong point of contention, and this book is an eye-opener with 13 poignant stories provoking self-examination. I asked myself what made each of the stories therein synonymous with each other? After further examination, I found it relative to the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes dealing with life within the boundaries of human experience where adverse conditions. I also surmised that Mr. Gibson went to great lengths in building a foundation for this stories to be enduring monuments where the control of destiny (or lack of same) can achieve a state of secure and lasting happiness -- people laboring at life with an overblown conception of human powers and consequently pursuing unrealistic hopes and aspirations, albeit in darkness. To wit: The first one depicts Western Africa during the days of the slave trade. It's a compelling ditty about the circumstances of capture and the horrors of the middle passage. Then there's the story of a gang banger, murderer, and prison snitch, who after twenty-eight years in solitary confinement, finally finds himself with God's favor as an anointed servant. An epitome is like that, especially in the case of another man on death row and the situation that sealed his fate; You will read about parallels to light and dark and where one can go from corrupt to correct and from perseverance to purpose. It's all here! You will find a frantic mother of a church pushing the panic button, who had resigned herself as a goner eventually finding solace from rays of hope. been given up on, and was on the way to her final resting place. Through the vision and vigilance of an old Deacon, you will witness that blissful paradise of the New Jerusalem, and my favorite one -- 'The Future of the Black Church'. This book delves into the raw struggles of human existence and it's ultimate meaning. I loved this book because of its parallels of the profiles of courage that gave each story a day in the sun where darkness wouldn't define them as failures. This is a good book to give readers what sacrifice is about and for the sake of struggle why some of the stories within reason doesn't flow smoothly...they meander with jumps and starts, through the general messiness of human experience to which the author gives ample responses for light. There is also underlying, if not an intermingling of poetry and prose where Mr. Gibson uses both first and third person voices. Nevertheless, the book outlines reflections, at least in a general way, the reasons its main discourses. should be illustrated for illumination. I have no problems rating this book five stars out of five. Read it and be enlightened!