The dungeon was hidden behind more bushes, built of stone and brick and tucked against the hillside. Had she not had a guide, Nikki knew she would never have found it; it being a small dark cave, with two or three steps leading up to the opening. She got a chill when she stepped in – stooped over, as she was not able to stand all the way – and saw the dots of light dancing across the stone face. The place felt alive.
“What happened here?” Nikki asked in a hushed voice.
– That excerpt, above from my novel Oh Gad! marks Nikki’s introduction to the slave dungeon that makes Blackman’s Valley sacred ground for farmers like Tanty who also eke out their livelihood there. That dungeon is actually inspired by the dungeon at Orange Valley in Antigua, which I’ve been to a few times and even reported on in my TV days. In case you thought I was making it up, here it is:
This image is lifted (with no copyright infringement intended) from The People’s Heritage page at Antiguahistory.net where you’ll also find information on Stony Hill Gully where enslaved African King Court plotted revolution in 1736 (mark it by the baobob tree on the Freemansville Main Road) – an area once recognized as a heritage site but alas no more; the Bethesda Tamarind Tree; the big stone on Newgate Street – yeah, that has meaning, too; and other places of interest not typically found in your usual tourism brochure. Probably because like the dungeon they deal with the country’s painful past. How painful? Consider this: according to the site, dungeons were an effective control among the slaves because of scenes like this – “once a pregnant slave was locked up there and on giving birth, the baby was eaten by rats.”
From my book:
“Bakkra would stick them in there as punishment,” Tanty said. “I imagine it feel like being buried alive: all manner of insect, hardly any air, and just the darkness. When I was little, I was afraid to go there; thought ghost was in there. My Tanty, she said the spirit of them that dead there might still be lingering, but I was from their blood and they wouldn’t do me no harm. She said we mus’ respect it and remember. We mustn’ play there. That wasn’t no place for play. It was to stay so, so we could remember how neaga people suffer in dis country.”
Nikki remembered how alive the place had felt to her, and felt that chill again despite the sun’s intense glare.