The conditions were unimaginable. Black bodies crowded in chains, in the filthy hold of a ship where human waste, disease, and despair competed with human spirit for roughly 3,700 miles, with minimal food and water.
Though every ship wasn’t destined for the Americas, the cruel ending was always the same: every man, woman and child who survived the journey were sold into chattel slavery.
This was the Middle Passage. And from 1525 until it ended in the mid 19th century, the journey was the spine of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, according to information compiled in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database.
This month, in remembrance and recognition of those who survived the harrowing journey, and those who chose a watery death over a life in bondage, the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project (MPCPMP) held their first ritual service for the ancestors sold through Baltimore’s port in Fells Point.
“This ceremony is needed. It’s a fixing ceremony that Toni Morrison described as ‘for all of us, for our souls, our hearts and for our spirits,” said Ann L. Chinn, head of the executive board of the MPCPMP.
“Now we start our remembrance, we connect with our ancestors- our unknown, our forgotten. I always say that we as a people have walked away from our ancestry, knowingly or unconsciously, but today we start to make that connection.”
The multi-cultural ceremony Aug. 23 began on an unusually calm and peaceful August morning at the Fells Point Pier with a Native American blessing that included the sprinkling of tobacco and burning of white sage in the four corners of the space.
Blessings also came from the Jewish and Buddhist communities.
The service was the first of 175 that will take place at slave ports around the world, culminating in West Africa.
“Honoring the ancestors is part of my life. Those are the people’s whose shoulders I stand on. Their energy and their spirit that keeps us going,” said Tim Bullock, who traveled from Massachusetts to be a part of the ceremony that began at dawn.
Bullock, along with other members of the Buddhist community, has traveled to Africa retracing the different points of the Middle Passage, and significant spaces to slavery.
Bullock said the ceremony was very much a part of that journey that included everything from prayers and rituals at “hanging trees” in America to the “doors of no return” inside Ghana’s Cape Coast Castle.
“It’s imperative that we remember our ancestors and we continue these traditions of honoring them,” said Chadra Pittman-Walke, founder of The Sankofa Project. “They paved the way for us and if it weren’t for them, there would be no us.”
The MPCPMP held two ceremonies, one at 6 a.m. and another at sunset in Baltimore. Both services included the releasing of flowers into the water, the pouring of libations, and a full tribute on djembes, African goblet drums.