Unraveling the Tangled Web of Slavery

One of the beautiful aspects of storytelling in the digital world involves the inclination of the story you’re reading (or watching) to magically lead you by the hand, so to speak, to another relevant and connected story, sort of like a squirrel scampering from one branch to the next.

In my case, this act of magic happens after I receive a Nieman Storyboard email newsletter. Case in point, within the December 27th edition Jacqui Banaszynski mentioned that she looks forward to magazine freelancer Barry Yeoman’s annual list of favorite longform stories.

The 2019 version is a diverse and thought-provoking list, with something for everyone, so do dive right in, there’s a special treat waiting for you there. One story Jacqui highlighted was “The Long Road Home” by Deborah Barfield Berry and Kelley Benham French of USA Today.

The 40 hour journey of Wanda Tucker from Virginia to Luanda, Angola also spans some 400 years, back to the days when Africans were taken from their homeland and forced to live in, what was at the time, the English colonies.

It’s a heartbreaking story, reminding us that certain groups of humans, throughout history and into the present day, believe that having darker skin is proof enough that someone else isn’t completely human. (although it seems more logical that the reverse is true, but I digress)

Those in power justified slavery with the values at the time – prosperity, survival, the cleansing of souls and the expansion of the empire.

Having moved to Portugal a few months ago I’m still in the very early stages of learning about the country’s history, especially those aspects which involve colonization. My naive view had limited that topic to just Brazil, but I am coming to realize the complexity of Portugal’s history.

It was the article on Wanda Tucker that opened my eyes to Portugal’s involvement in Africa, as well as their participation in the slave trade, especially the slave trade in Angola. How did I not know this? Did they not teach me this in school? Or had I conveniently forgotten? I was shocked by the brutality of it all, as slave traders would often capitalize on the dynamics of warring factions within Angola’s borders.

The Portuguese gave guns to Imbangala soldiers in return for slaves. Armed with superior weapons, Imbangala soldiers captured and sold natives on a far larger scale as every new slave translated into a better-armed force of aggressors.

Capture and Coffle of Enslaved Africans

“Capture and Coffle of Enslaved Africans, Angola, 1786-87”, Slavery Images:
A Visual Record of the African Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Early African Diaspora

Unfortunately, it is all too common to limit an understanding of history to our own, localized situation rather than fully embrace the big picture. While I knew that slaves were brought to America from Africa, my thoughts centered on the plight of these slaves once they were living in the deep south – how they were treated, how they were ultimately emancipated, how they are still treated by many – not on the point of origin, method of capture, or the participation of European countries playing ethnically superior colonial rulers. I was missing half the story.

I’m far from done with my newfound quest to better understand the history of slavery in America, as well as the lingering remnants of ethnic prejudice and discrimination that still exist within much of the population. And this quest will serve as a reminder to look beyond the immediate scope of any (every) story created within the confines of limited knowledge.

Do read the USA Today story about Wanda Tucker, and if you’re in the process of crafting a personal narrative, ask yourself what truths lie one step beyond, one lever deeper. They may help you create a more impactful story.

Stories Told and Stories Untold in Porto

The most appealing benefit of travel, in my opinion, is how each place visited has a story to tell, or in some cases, keeps a story untold. I’ve spent the past week in Portugal and have experienced a continuous stream of told and untold stories. A stroll down any street will reveal bits of a city’s history, art, and architecture, but never the full story. Such was the case with this azulejos tile mural on the exterior wall of the Carmo Church in Porto, Portugal.
Azulejos Tile Mural on The Carmo Church PortoThe Igreja do Carmo was built between 1756 and 1768 in the rococo or late Baroque, style by a disciple of Nicolau Nasoni, Jose de Figueiredo Seixas. The Igreja do Carmo has an outstanding azulejo-covered exterior with the azulejos added in 1912. The tiles were made locally in Vila Nova de Gaia and designed by the artist Silvestro Silvestri. They depict scenes of the founding of the Carmelite Order and Mount Carmel. by Portugal Visitor

The architect, the artist, the city where the tiles were fabricated – stories that intersected once upon a time to achieve permanence and grace as more than two centuries have passed, yet the conversations, the human details, have been lost and can only be surmised.

Hazul Street Art PortoIt wasn’t long after visiting the Carmo Church that I came across an example of Porto’s cool street art, and with a bit of research on the artist came to realize this was no random work of art. Hazul is somewhat famous in the city and beyond. Reading about Hazul reveled more of his work on Instagram. In the end I was able to discover more of the artist’s story, but still don’t know the story behind this mini-mural – what he was thinking – that remains a mystery.

Port Wine Shipping Boat in Porto, Portugal 2019Established as a protected wine region in 1756, the Douro Valley produces the renowned Port wines that are shipped down the river to be stored in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the river from Porto. While these shipments are now made by truck, in years past they were transported in rabelo boats.

In a strange twist of fate, the conflict between France and England, which deprived the Brits of their much loved French wine, led to their discovering Port wines, for which they developed an enduring passion.

From the vineyard workers, to the winemakers and those who navigated the river in boats stacked with barrels, they shared a common story based on their love of Port wine.

I’m blessed to hear stories from the clients that I coach and help them to uncover the hidden gems that they can share with the world. And when I’m traveling, there’s this feeling of appreciation for those who created the world I’m discovering, but at the same time, there’s a feeling of frustration due to the fact that I can’t speak to them directly and dig deeper into their story.

It’s a paradox, that no matter how much we know, there’s a measure of untold story that remains, so it’s up to all of us to be storytellers, to let the rest of the world share pieces of our magical life.