Lyrical, poetic, and hypnotizing, The Coming tells the story of a people's capture and sojourn from their homeland across the Middle Passagea traumatic trip that exposed the strength and resolve of the African spirit. Extreme conditions produce extraordinary insight, and only after being stripped of everything do they discover the unspeakable beauty they once took for granted. This powerful, haunting novel will shake readers to their very souls.
"Part homage to the proud and diverse cultures of Africa, part nightmare of the people stolen from those lands, The Coming seduces us with poetry, then breaks our hearts, but ultimately inspires us to celebrate the indomitable soul of humanity." George Weinstein, author of Hardscrabble Road
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Daniel Black
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Daniel Black
All rights reserved.
We didn't know we wouldn't return. We simply believed some terrible calamity had befallen us, that our Gods had let tragedy come because we had not honored them. But we were wrong.
We were warriors and hunters, poets and jali, farmers and soothsayers. We were magicians and healers, artisans and thinkers, writers and dancers. We were fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, cousins and kinsmen. We were lovers. And we were home. We loved the land and it loved us. We were black like the land, and kissed by the sun. We knew our strengths and our frailties, and we knew much needed improvement. But we were home.
We were the Fon, the Ibo, the Hausa, the Ashanti, the Mandinka, the Ewe, the Tiv, and the Ga. We were the Fante, the Fulani, the Ijaw, the Mende, the Wolof, the Yoruba, the BaKongo, and the Mbundu. We were the Serere, the Akan, the Bambara and the Bassa. And we were proud. We knew our ancestors by name. They knew our names: Kwesi, Lusati, Lutalo, Yejide, Chinasa, Obrafo, Yaasantewa, Mawu, Ombeni, Chinsera, and Ubongo. We were Fatou, Folami, Olumide, Amalu, Ifetayo, Kacela, Shamba, and Sowande. And each name has a meaning: "He who opens ways." "She comes softly like the rain, yet floods the rivers." "I am my father's loved one, my mother's precious one who makes everything all right." "She is a hunter, gathering sweet words for us all." "Mother of the universe who represents great wisdom." "Born on Sunday." "Born on Tuesday." "Born on Friday." "This child is priceless." Our names told us who we were. They told us why we'd been sent. What was expected of us. We were not confused. We were not ashamed. We were not perfect, but we were excellent.
And we were content. Our lives had meaning. Some had completed our initiations, some were beginning our initiations. Through this process, we became students of the universe. We learned the healing herbs of the forest. We learned the activity of the ants on the hills. We learned the difference between the sky and the heavens. We learned the difference between the brain and the mind. We were schooled. We were scolded. We were honored. We were praised. We were reprimanded. But we were home.
Among us lived every spirit conceivable. Men who loved women, women who loved men. Women who loved women, men who loved men. These were not choices but life assignments. Everyone had one. There were people who could read the signs in the heavens. People who lived both here and beyond. People who could hear the voice of God. People who understood the makings of the universe. People who interpreted the song of the wind. People who never bore children, but raised everyone. People who wept when others wept. People who inspired by words alone. People who told stories and never became redundant. People who walked the forest at night without fear. People who healed with their hands. People who brought forth fruit from the land. People who carved masks with perfect precision. People whose joy was helping other people. People who stood guard over our spirits.
There were other people, too. People who talked too much. People who loved lies more than truth. People who tampered with evil. People who wouldn't work. People who were consumed with jealousy. Manipulation. Deceit. Scorn. People who held grudges for far too long. People who sowed discord in the community. People who tore families apart with dissension. People with poor discretion. People with malnourished minds. And so on. We were wonderful, but we were not flawless. We knew excellence because we knew failure. We were human beings.
We'd built kingdoms that lived in legend. Luanda, Kissi, Temne, and Dahomey all boasted kings, governors, and organizational documents that told the world how to administrate large numbers of people. Oyo stood as the military capital of the world. It trained soldiers with such precision that most enemies surrendered to avoid being decimated. Gola, Kongo, and Lunda inspired neighbors with artistic displays of dance, poetry, and kente weaving unequaled anywhere in the region. The nations of Fula, Mande, Susu, and Vili built wealth by trading fish from nearby rivers and lakes. Some kingdoms, however, gained power at the hands of the poor. Those of nonroyal birth often found themselves in the service of royalty. Fata Jallon thrived precisely because the majority of its citizens surrendered their goods to the ruling regime. This was not rare. We were not pleased. Still, we were home.
We were people who loved balance. The most attractive girl among us was neither fat nor thin. We admired a mid-size frame, carried by one of enormous confidence. Too much flesh meant one was prone to laziness; too little meant one's family could not provide. We shunned extremities. We welcomed the rain just as we celebrated the sun. We beckoned the night much as we summoned the dawn. We slept as much as we worked. We laughed as much as we wept. We birthed as often as we buried. This was life. Everything in its time.
We lived off the land. Cassava and rice grew in great abundance. We also ate eggplant, okra, tomatoes, chickpeas, plantain, and always fufu or kenkey or garri. Our main dishes were groundnut stew, jollof rice, smoked fish and onions, yassa, maafe, and sometimes bushmeat. We didn't know what particular animal this was. Elders teased us about it being wild boar or rat. We tried to avoid it, yet occasionally hunger would not be denied. For breakfast, we ate a type of rice porridge or kooko, but often we simply ate what was left from the previous evening. We seasoned with peppers of every kind, onions, cumin, garlic, coconut oil, black pepper, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and thyme. A master cook was praised and highly sought after among our people. She would have many suitors, and her bride price would be exorbitant. Still, young men fought for her hand, convinced that life with such a woman would be glorious. And it usually was — if for the belly alone.
We were people of the same land, but we were not identical. Indeed, we were every shade conceivable. Some bore the color of the black leopard. Some, the rusty brown of the earth. Some glimmered golden like grains of sand. Some shared the dull gray of tree bark. Some appeared reddish, as if hewn from rocks and stones of the hills. Our bodies reflected our environment. The hair of those from Gabon twisted and coiled like the viper. From every region of land, we braided and decorated our hair, then strutted through our villages, showing off proud crowns. From our ears hung rings that whistled in the wind. In our broad noses we placed artifacts of wood and iron that reminded us of the bounty of our land. In ceremony, we painted high cheekbones, protruding lips, and bulbous eyes that emphasized our value for spiritual sight and levels of knowing. We all adorned ourselves, to one degree or another, because we loved ourselves.
We believed in one God. We believed in lesser gods. We believed we looked like our gods. We believed they lived among us, whispering secrets into our hearts and minds. We believed that life was everlasting. That our souls were ancient. That there was no beginning, no ending. Only change and growth. That all life was connected: animals, trees, water, earth. Everything had energy. We studied these elements in search of ourselves.
We sat in the center of the village, beneath the starry sky, listening to elders boast of our heroes. Warriors who fought thirty men by themselves and came home victorious. Hunters who, with knives and bows, captured enough meat to feed a thousand. Fishermen who returned from the waters with enough fish to feed the entire village. Farmers whose harvest could've fed the world. The stories made us proud. The uninitiated longed to serve and be celebrated in this way. As sleep came on, we returned home and rested until the rooster crowed, beckoning us into a new day.
Our days were filled with work. Carving drums from the baobab tree. Smelting iron, copper, and gold for jewelry and ornamentation. Weaving cloth, strand by precious strand, until bolts of brilliant, multicolored material lay ready for use. Cleaning homes and animal pens. Herding goats, cows, and lambs. Washing clothes in nearby streams. Transporting water from rivers and lakes. Weeding and tending gardens for sustenance and market. Gathering wood and trees for building and cooking. Rearing children and comforting the old. Work was the price we paid for our breath. The lazy were shunned and reprimanded.
Often, after work, we danced. Tired as we were, we could not resist the call of the drums. Our movements mimicked everyday life. Some gestures imitated the casting of nets in the waters. Some, the pounding of yam. Some, the planting of seeds. Some, the meshing of bodies in the creation of life. And some, the quiet stealth of hunters in the forest. Our bodies swayed like the branches of trees, and pulsated, back and forth, like moving waters. We were in constant motion. At times, our dance was slow and mystical like the night; other times, wild and frenzied like fierce, rushing wind. We mimicked animals, too. Our hands and hips twisted with the grace of the gazelle. We shuffled our feet like mighty cheetahs. Our arms, like a monkey's, rotated in opposite directions, then hung loose and limber at our sides. We slung our heads back and pranced in circles like the guinea fowl. And every now and then we stomped with the weight and power of elephants until the earth vibrated beneath us. For everything, we danced: funerals, births, deaths, weddings, harvest, planting, initiation, war. We named our dances kuku, manjani, soli, soko, tiriba, adowa, abgekor, and gota. We named them kete, mouwa, doudumba, kakilambe, bawa, and sorsornnet. Everywhere we lived, we danced. We told our stories through dance. We were never stagnant. Even in sleep, our spirits met and mingled in movement. Those who couldn't dance danced anyway. Our pride was in the majesty of our moving forms.
And after dancing, we sat at the feet of our elders and absorbed wisdom like tilled earth absorbs rain. We were taught the values of honesty and integrity, hard work and discipline. We heard stories of lazy farmers who planted crops but failed to weed them and consequently harvested very little. We heard stories of children who lied so often that, soon, no one believed anything they said. We heard stories of pretty women who became self-absorbed and ended up alone. We heard stories of ants that, in their diligence, never let others deflect them from their mission. We were told to beware people who boasted about themselves. We were told never, ever, to eat without first giving thanks. We were told to respect life and all life forms. Day and night, our heads were filled with insight enough to last a lifetime. Every child heard it. We had no choice. In this way, they gave us the tools of wisdom.
Yet, at times, we didn't use it. Our imperfections, over seasons, became weaknesses that contributed to our demise. We were arrogant, often, about our achievements. Women were sometimes silenced during public gatherings. Some of our men drank too much. We didn't always share our harvest the way we should have. Elders were increasingly neglected. We spoke more proverbs than we lived. We favored some citizens over others. We punished harshly those we did not prefer. We skipped rituals for no good reason. We made excuses, at times, for things we'd simply failed to do. We gossiped about our neighbors. We even disobeyed our sacred laws. Some hunters slaughtered game in excess, knowing full well that such was against the pleasure of the gods. Still, they were often heralded as great men of valor. Their plenty became the measure of manhood, eroding our moral consciousness and making us gluttonous lovers of superfluous things. We knew better. We'd been taught the way of harmony and balance. Yet, often, we measured our worth not by what we had but by what our neighbors had, so the disease of greed spread among us. At first it was not discernible, but slowly it seeped into our hearts, assuring that, one day, we'd trade cultural traditions and personal integrity for the luster of material gain.
That day arrived.
We traded blindly with those from every corner of the earth. The yellow man, the reddish brown, the tan. Every man wanted what he did not have. In exchange for gold and ivory, they gave us sweet spices and guns. Some of the traders never went home. They were impressed by our ways, by how our children relished the company of elders, by how our healers cured diseases, often without medicine. They spoke the names of their countries: England, Portugal, Spain, France, The Netherlands. We wondered what those nations were like. If, like us, men hunted while women planted crops and cared for children. Or if, in their villages, some painted and decorated their bodies. We didn't know. No pale man bore the marks of his tribe. Some told of their people and cultural ways that were unlike our own. They spoke of beasts we did not know and foods we'd never heard of. They showed us currency that resembled mere pieces of paper, and flat, round stones they called coins. Their children played strange games with strange objects, but, like us, they played all the same. We were definitely different people, but on the surface, it seemed, very much the same.
We also wondered if, perhaps, back in their lands they performed rituals to honor their dead. When we mentioned ours, they seemed not to understand how the two, the living and the not-living, coexisted. We laughed at first, sure that they were mocking us, since everyone knows that life transcends all realms, but once we discovered their seriousness, we froze in horror.
Then came the disaster.
With open arms, we embraced those who looked nothing like us, assuming all life honors life.
We were wrong.
In the end, we fed and strengthened our own captors. We cannot claim naiveté. We cannot say we were people undeveloped. We cannot say there were no signs. We can say only that we did not heed them. Sound wisdom was as common to us as the evening breeze. We scoffed and shrugged at elders' forewarning of a time of great tragedy and chaos. We did not believe them. We had learned to ignore our own gods. To take their goodness for granted. To believe that because of them, we were immune to external attack. So we did not hear them. We heard only what we sought to hear. Now we hear it all, echoing in our regretful memories.
If only we could have seen into the future, we might have avoided the onslaught. Most of us had no such powers. The few who did, the seers and sages, we dismissed. They were always speaking of things to come, warning of impending disasters that rarely came to pass. At least in our lifetime. Now we know that prophesies come to one generation and materialize in another. If only we had listened. If only we had had more disciplined ears. We did not.
We blamed ourselves. We blamed our gods. We blamed each other. But there was no one to blame. Only shame to bear. And pity. Great pity. That a people so strong had missed so many clues. The forests whispered it. The birds chirped it. The trees waved it. The antelope danced it. The tall grass swayed it. The lions roared it. The elders said it, over and over. "Beware! Seek not the thing you do not need. Greed destroys wisdom. Let just enough be enough." We were too blessed. Our abundance suggested immortality, so we stopped searching for invisible things. Our mothers had worked so hard that we did not have to. Our fathers had killed enough game that their sons hardly knew the hunt. We didn't know then what we know now: A life of leisure destroys a child. When there's nothing to work for, there's nothing to gain, nothing to die for. So we had to die that we might live again.
And that's what we did. We died. By the thousands and hundreds of thousands. We'd never seen such unjustifiable violence. Bloody bodies lying prostrate across the earth as if pleading for forgiveness. Those who survived did not mourn. There was no time. The loss was too great. We still have not mourned. We still have no time. We remember, but we have not mourned.
Death came quickly. It came unannounced. It came cloaked in our own multicolored garb. It came white as clouds, smiling as if it loved us. It came in the darkness of night while we were laughing and talking with ancestors. It came in legions with guns and ammunition too powerful for us to battle. It came like the monsoon winds. It came like a flood. It came with earthshaking force we could not control. It came under the authority of nations we did not know. It came with men whose absent wives benefited from their husbands' despicable behavior. It came with men whose children would one day inherit their fathers' legacy of violence and wealth ill gained. It came to strip the land of its glory. It came to thousands and hundreds of thousands without sympathy for our loss. It came with impaled brutality. It came to scatter children's blood-soaked bodies about the earth, thus fertilizing dry, yearning soil. It came to teach us we were brothers.
This was The Coming.
Excerpted from The Coming by Daniel Black. Copyright © 2015 Daniel Black. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Preview of Listen to the Lambs,
About the Author,
Other Books by Daniel Black,