“Outcasts” by Valjeanne Jeffers 1 of 3
On the island of Saint-Domingue, in the dead of night, thousands of slaves crept silently along the path through the trees and wiry brush to Bois Caïman. In the clearing the Houngan Dutty Boukman, a huge, self-educated slave with a fierce countenance, and Mambo Cecile Fatiman, a mulatto slave woman, waited to led them in ceremony. They petitioned the Loa for protection, for deliverance from slavery’s lash—calling upon the darkest spirits of their Ancestors to help them in their battle.
They prayed for freedom.
“Bon Dje nou an ki si bon, ki si jis, li ordone vanjans!” Dutty shouted. “Se li kap kondui branou pou nou ranpote la viktwa! Se li kap ba nou asistans. . .! Koute vwa la libète kap chante lan kè nou!”
“Our God, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs! It’s He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory! It’s He who will assist us. . .! Listen to the voice for liberty that sings in all our hearts!”
There was a clap of thunder … lightning flashed in the dark sky. A swirling rush of wind stirred the trees.
Cecile’s green eyes rolled back in her head. Enraptured she began to dance wildly. She’d been possessed by the Erzulie Seven Kout Kouto—the most deadly embodiment of the Loa, Erzulie Dantor. She sang and the slaves—beating upon the drums in rage—sang with her:
“Seven kout kouto, seven kout ponya
Prete mwen ganmèl lan pou mwen al vomi san
Prete mwen ganmèl lan pou mwen al vomi san
San mwen ape koule!”
“Seven stabbings of knives, seven stabbings of daggers
Lend me the ganmèl, so I can vomit blood
Lend me the ganmèl, so I can vomit blood
My blood is running!”
Seven days later, Dutty led his people in revolt against their slave masters … burning plantations to the ground. For this rebellion, he was captured and beheaded by the French; his head was publicly displayed with a placard reading: “Boukman, Chef des Revolutions des Escalves,” Boukman, Chief of the Slaves Revolution. The French thought killing Dutty Boukman would frighten the Black slaves— thus halting the tide of revolution.
But the fires of liberation Dutty and Cecile ignited were not the first, nor would they be the last.
Monique, a tall, young woman with chocolate-colored skin, a long face, and slender build, made her way through the tall brass structures of Saint-Domingue, past red flowering Hibiscus blooms toward the fields. She was dressed in a wrapped skirt and bustier, her braided hair coiled in twisted beads atop her head. She wore a brass-handled musket on a holster about her waist. A grip of interwoven cloth and metal encased her fingers and entire arm up to her shoulder to minimize kickback from her pistol. She carried a water flask in one hand and her breakfast of a partially-eaten boiled plantain in the other.
She stopped at a well on the outskirts of her township. Monique finished the last of the plantain in one bite, and dropped the peel in the cloth trash-bag beside the well: a conveyor belt made of cloth and woven wire. Half the belt lay above the soil; the rest, on her left and right, was buried underground. Monique knelt before the clunky machinery attached to two metal legs above the conveyor belt. She turned the crank, the belt jerked and scuttled forward: carrying copper vases full of water, screwed to caps on its underside.
Monique twisted one of the vases off, filled her flask and turned it up her full lips: drinking deeply. She poured more water into the flask, and reattached the water vase back onto the belt. Refreshed and ready, the young woman made her way to the field on the edge of town. There she found thousands of men and women, aged sixteen to sixty, preparing for tomorrow.
When they would go to war with France.
After Dusty’s rebellion, General Mountainous L’Ouverture had led a revolution from the island of Saint-Domingue—allying himself with Napoleon to end bondage in his homeland. Now, ten years later, the mad French emperor had made a clandestine deal with plantation owners to enslave them once more.
Napoleon had promised Toussaint and the island of Saint-Domingue that bondage was forever ended on their island. But, he secretly supported the white planters’ greed—their greed for wealth earned on the backs and from the blood of slaves. He sympathized with their loss of financial gain from the cane, coffee and cocoa plantations.
So the Emperor betrayed his promise. He didn’t care that slaves were treated worse than dogs, that they were not paid for their back-breaking labor, that the lash and torture was used to keep them submissive.
Napoleon would attack at dawn. They would be waiting for him … beside their brass cabins, in the tall grass and in the fields.
Monique merged with the crowd of warriors on the field, wearing embroidered grips like hers on their shoulders. “Bonjour …” she greeted them and a volley of salutations greeted her in return. She saw women, who had fought under Toussaint, moving through their ranks, offering tutelage and support. These women were among his most trusted generals and would fight alongside him, helping him lead the Saint-Domingue warriors to victory.
She pulled her musket from its sheath and began practicing with them: aiming the revolving muskets with brass grips. She aimed and fired at a clay target blowing the figurine to bits. The muskets had three barrels that rotated and fired. Other warriors were practicing with copper-bayoneted rifles that fired bullets and, if the solider run out of ammunition, the bayonet as well.
There were also those perfecting their use of the whirling-bird machetes: a brass and copper rendition of the Black-capped Petrel bird. These men and women wore gloves made of heavy cloth, interwoven with pounded-brass to protect their fingers, as well as top hats with scopes to enhance their sight and track their birds’ flight. Directions were dialed on the Petrel bird’s belly. Once aimed and fired the whirling-bird flew to the target, and transformed into a deadly machete.
During the first war, President Toussaint had contacted the Black American scientist Benjamin Banneker to help him in his fight against Napoleon. All of the weapons were Banneker’s ingenious inventions.
The airships too were of Banneker’s wondrous design— and powered by both science and sorcery. The ships were cylinder shaped and overlaid with a metal filigreed. A propeller at the stern had a crank that would be turned by human hands. Carved flaps on the port and starboard sides enhanced their buoyancy, as did the steam-filled cigar shaped balloon above it.
Monique paused in her drill for a moment, gazing at the ships. She’d always found an excuse to be near them. She would scrub the port and starboard or, if she was denied this pleasure, pick vegetables in their shadow. Once Monique had crept up a ladder onto the deck to peek through one of the round windows at the ships interior. She still remembered the gleaming buttons and stern.
This treat had earned her a switching from her mother, Isabelle. Women were strictly forbidden from operating ships or gazing at their interiors. The village elders had reasoned, and rightly so, that if women engaged in these activities it might led to dissatisfaction with their own lives.
Women were expected to work the fields with men, and to fight alongside them in the battlefield. This was as it should be.
But the bulk of the domestic responsibilities also fell on female shoulders, such as caring for children, cooking and housekeeping. Monique had no children of her own, although she was twenty and one years. Still, she was required to help other women care for their young, in provision for the coming day when she would become a mother herself.
The day she whipped Monique, Isabelle told her daughter she had plans for her which didn’t include piloting an airship. “We worked hard enough when we was slaves, n’est-ce pas? We, women had it the worst!” Isabelle spat. “The white slavers took our children— took us if they had a mind too. They’d rape us right in front of our men. Just for sport. My man, your father, he was killed by slavers.”
“Now, we free to be women. We free to care for our own children. Our own men.” She cupped Monique’s chin in her small hand. “That’s what I want for you, cherie mwen. A husband. Children.” Her eyes hardened suddenly. “And if I ever see you look a woman the wrong way— if I ever see that—I’ll cut your eyes out myself.”
Monique couldn’t say for sure what had prompted her mother’s threat. But she suspected it was because she’d never shown any interest in men. Isabelle was no fool.
She tore her eyes away from the airships and pulled her weapon from her holster. She took aim at her target, a clay figurine. All at once, elation and longing swirling about in her bosom. She looked forward to the dawn, looked forward to hiding in wait for the French—surprising them, when they thought the island would be sleeping.
And what comes, what must come, afterward. I must have her.
The young woman’s eyes found her lover, Simone, standing only a yard away—Simone with her dark skin, wide laughing mouth, large eyes, small breasts and rounded hips; Simone who could dance better and shoot better than anyone she knew: male or female.
Simone felt her lover’s gaze travel down her body and looked over her shoulder. Their eyes met and Monique found it suddenly hard to breathe. Desire like molten honey flowed from her breasts to her pelvis. She tore her brown eyes away, lest the love that burned within them be revealed to her fellow warriors.
The people made their way to the Hounfour. They had spent days in preparation for the ceremony, when they would petition the Lwa once more for victory over the slave masters.
Monique had scrubbed her body clean and wore a head wrap and skirt. The young woman thought of her offering: rose perfume bought with her last money and the sweet potato cakes she’d baked to petition Loa Erzulie Freda.
But will it be enough? Will she answer my prayers?
She watched the Houngan trace the crossroad in the air, the crossroad where all spiritual energy met. This, she knew was in preparation for the Loa, Papa Legba’s, entrance. Everyone had already laid their offerings on the altar. . . rum, tobacco, perfumes, machetes. . . Monique’s offering of among them.
Songs were sung first in French; then a litany was sung in African and Creole. Behind her, young women holding candles danced. Along the walls men beat the drums with brass sticks.
The dance began.
A young man twisted into their midst. . . his face and contortions enraptured, his eyes rolling back in his head. The drums accentuated his movements as he skillfully spun with leaps and pirouette. He shuddered and dropped to his knees. . . his torso shaking back and forth in rhythm to the drums.
He rose slowly and they offered him his cane, straw hat and pipe. For he was now being ridden by Papa Legba: the honored one who is called before all others and is always the last to leave.
Papa Legba, the one who stands at the crossroads of life and death.
Minutes later, another older man gyrated violently in their midst: his face both enraptured and angry. He snatched the machete from the altar and began thrusting it in the air in quick, short jabs. The acolytes stepped back to give him room, rejoicing in their hearts, for they knew that Papa Ogun—a Loa of war— was now among them.
The French dogs will fail! We will not return to chains, non!
The Lwa spoke in a growling, rumbling voice: “Gren mwe fret!” My testicles are cold! The ancient demand for rum.
The Houngan snatched rum from the altar, poured it on to the ground and struck a match to it. . . they watched in awe as Ogun washed his hands in the fire without his flesh being burned. More Lwa flew among them possessing their favored. . . riding their human horses.
Moments later, Monique felt her coming. All her anxiety and worry vanished. A cool breeze pervaded her spirit. . . For Erzulie was not only a fierce and warlike Loa, but one of love.
All love—not just that of a man and woman, n’est-ce pas? Monique’s eyes rolled back in her head. As Erzulie Dantor possessed her, she wept and danced. . .
Monique fired: hitting a French soldier in the head. Next to her, a warrior dialed and aimed his whirling-bird. The mechanical bird flew straight at a Frenchman chopping and hacking at the doomed man’s arms. . . Every able-bodied man and woman on the island was here—fighting on the field. Those that couldn’t fight were behind the battlements pouring metal into bullet molds.
Napoleon’s forces outnumbered them and the emperor had brought his own airships: huge, cigar shaped vessels, with sails billowing on the port and starboard, and conical balloons above them.
Monique risked a glance at the Mambo, Cecile Fatiman, standing before Saint-Domingue airships, chanting. Bullets whistled past the Mambo’s head but she paid them no mind.
Thunder rumbled, the balloons filled with air and the ships rose, their curling flaps creating wind, the airships’ propellers twisting the red and yellow Hibiscus blossoms beside them. Sailors at the airships’ helm steered them to attack—firing upon the French with triple brass muskets. Other men, wearing goggles and vests, fired with rifles from the stern, their muscles glinting in the sun.
Cecile watched calmly as the larger French ships laid siege to the Saint-Domingue vessels with cannons. In the air, as on the ground, the black warriors were heavily outnumbered. Now the Voudon priestess spoke her final mantra. . . Amber shadows rose from inside the hull of ships twisted free—the vengeful ghosts of slaves, mutilated and tortured to death. The spirits flew toward the French transforming into four-armed bat-like creatures. They covered their enemies biting and clawing, attached themselves to the enemies’ hull pulling the crafts apart, as the men screamed. . .
On the ground, scores of French soldiers lay dead or dying. Napoleon’s forces fell back retreating before black warriors, bellowing, “The ancestors are with us!”
The celebration that night was unlike any before. General Toussaint L’Ouverture declared their country the free Republic of Haiti!
Amid the screaming and shouts of victory, Monique caught Simone’s eye in the crowd. A slow smile lit her face and Monique nodded. The two women slipped away to a waterfall beneath the rocks: the sanctuary where they had first declared their love.
“Ou fè m fou pou ou,” You make me crazy for you, Monique whispered.
“Ou se lanmou kè m,” You are the love of my heart, came Simone’s breathless reply.
They shared a kiss, coming together in tender, hot embrace. . . their touch like butterflies, as they undressed one another and sank to the wet rocks in a symmetry of desire and surrender. An hour later they curled up together and slept.
Simone was screaming. The sound thrust Monique into awareness. Someone was shouting: “Demeplè! Unnatural!”
The women were beaten and kicked. A blow to Monique’s head knocked her unconscious.
The next few weeks were a nightmare. Monique and Simone were beaten again and confined to separate cages at the edge of town beneath the rocks, while the town elders debated her fate. Many said they should be killed. But finally an agreement was reached.
The women would be imprisoned for six weeks. Simone was shipped away to relatives living on a remote part of the Island to serve out her sentence. They would never see other again.
To be continued… Feb 5th, 2019… stay tuned!
Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College, a member of the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, and the author of eight books.Valjeanne was featured in 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction. Her first novel, Immortal, is featured on the Invisible Universe Documentary time-line. Her stories have been published in Reflections Literary and Arts Magazine; Steamfunk!; Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology; Genesis Science Fiction Magazine; Griots II: Sisters of the Spear; Possibilities; and The City.Book I of The Switch II: Clockwork was nominated for the best ebook novella of 2013 (eFestival of Words); and her short story Awakening was published as a podcast by Far Fetched Fables. Preview or purchase Valjeanne’s novels at: Valjeanne Jeffers official site