From the moment they were forcibly taken from their families, Africans resisted the enslavement of their bodies and their spirits. On slave ships some Africans refused to eat. Some jumped overboard, choosing death over slavery. Mutinies happened so often that slave traders bought insurance to cover their losses in case of a slave rebellion.
The Story of Peppel
Peppel breathes in the fresh air above the deck. How good it feels to stretch without heavy chains on his legs and hands. If only he could stay up here forever. But no. "Down you go again," a sailor barks. Peppel and the other seven captives don't understand the man's words, but they know what is expected. They climb back down the ladder to the hot, stinking hold. They hurry down the passageway, fearful of being whipped if they don't move fast enough. Peppel glances over his shoulder. The sailor has disappeared from view.
Peppel stops to rub his sore hands and raw wrists, and suddenly he feels like laughing. The sailor forgot to put back his chains and leg irons! He grabs the shoulder of the man in front of him and raises his hands triumphantly. The man looks down at his own bare hands in disbelief. And so the news is passed from man to man. Silently, instantly, a plan is made.
For hours they crouch in the dark passageway, waiting for night. When they think it is time, they retrace their steps to the ladder. Miraculously, the sailor has also forgotten to replace the iron grate that locks them in below.
They creep onto the deck. The only sound is the gentle slap of waves against the ship. A full moon casts a brilliant light on a lone sentry strutting back and forth. Peppel raises his hand in signal and two men pounce on the sentry's back. Peppel pulls at the sentry's cutlass, but it is fastened to his waist with a short piece of rope.
The sentry shouts,"Help, help!"
The rope holding the sword is so twisted that Peppel cannot pull it free.
"Help, help!" the sentry shouts again.
Now Peppel hears the clamor of running feet and the shouts of approaching crew members. He lets go of the cutlass and jumps overboard. His seven companions follow. Their arms flail as they bob up and down in the water. Between mouthfuls of salty water, Peppel cries out for someone to show him how to swim.
A rowboat is lowered from the ship. Hands stretch out to pull the drowning men into the boat. Peppel's only other choice is the bottom of the dark, cold ocean. He reaches out and puts his black hand into the white hands of his captors.
NO MORE! STORIES AND SONGS OF SLAVE RESISTANCE by Doreen Rappaport. Text copyright (c) 2002 by Doreen Rappaport. Published by Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA.
Copyright © 2005 by Doreen Rappaport. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.