restricted access Zong! Poems
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The story of the eighteenth-century slave ship Zong is one that continues to haunt the imaginations of artists and writers. Among those who have engaged with the horrific events surrounding the Zong are the English painter William Turner, author and scholar Marina Warner, poet and novelist Fred D'Aguiar, and novelist and essayist Michelle Cliff, not to mention scholars Paul Gilroy and (more recently) Ian Baucom.1 The slave ship Zong, while on a journey across the Atlantic with a “cargo” of slaves, was beset by illness, resulting in the deaths of slaves and some crew members. The captain decided that, in order to save the ship's owners further loss, he would throw overboard some 130 Africans. is, according to insurance law at that time, would ensure that the owners could collect insurance monies for “mitigating” their loss by murdering their slaves, rather than allowing them to die a natural death. Zong! attempts the story that must be told that can't be told—a story that can only be told through its untelling. [End Page 80]


The sea was not a mask.

—Wallace Stevens

Zong! # 2

the throw in circumstance the weight in want in sustenance for underwriters the loss the order in destroy the that fact the it was the were negroes the after rains

Wafor Yao Kehinde Bolade Kibibi Kamau [End Page 81]

Zong! # 3

the some of negroes over board the rest in lives drowned exist did not in themselves preservation obliged frenzy thirst for forty others etc

Odimkemelu Zesiro Yaa Issa Kambuji [End Page 82]

Zong! # 4

this is not was or should be this be not should be this should not be is

Lipawiche Aziza Chipo Dada Mazi [End Page 83]

Zong! # 6

question therefore the age eighteen weeks and calm but it is said... -from the maps and contradicted by the evidence... question therefore the age

Zuka Tuwalole Urbi Femi Chiwa [End Page 84]

Zong! # 9

slaves to the order in destroyed the circumstance in fact the property in subject the subject in creature the loss in underwriter to the fellow in negro the sustenance in want

Rufaro Sekelaga Nasiche Nafuna Uwimana [End Page 85]

the arrived in vessel the weight in provisions the suffered in die the me in become

Saidah Modele Mtundu Ibunkunle Adeyemi [End Page 86]


justify the could the captain & the crew the authorize in captain crew & could could authorize justify captain & crew the could or justify authorize could captain & crew authorize

Lukman Yahya Modupe Jibowu Fasola [End Page 87]

the crew the captain & the could the justify in captain could & crew in authorize justify the could the captain & the crew justify the authorize the could

Mulogo Tiwalade Onifade Solanke Wamukota Nsomba [End Page 88]

Zong! # 26

was the cause was the remedy was the record was the argument was the delay was the evidence was overboard was the not was the cause was the was was the need was the case was the perils was the want was the particular circumstance was the seas was the costs was the could was the would was the policy was the loss was the vessel was the rains was the order was the that was the this was the necessity was the mistake was the captain was the crew was the result was justified was the voyage was the water was the maps was the weeks was the winds was the calms was the captain was the seas was the rains was uncommon was the declaration was the apprehension was the voyage was destroyed was thrown was the question was the therefore was the this was the that was the negroes was the cause

Omolara Chimaneya Adekemi Oke Mowunmi Iliola [End Page 89]


Non enim erat tunc

There was no then

—St Augustine

water parts theoba sobs [End Page 90]

there is creed there is fate there is oh oh oracle there are oh oh ashes over ifáifáifá i fa fa fall ing over & over the crew touching there is fate there is creed there is oh oh theoba sobs again ifá if...