Carib Islands 1778
The plague had transformed the routine of the plantation from one of hard work, beatings and sweat to a silent and weary charnel house. The few who could move shuffled to the creek to fetch tepid water that they would mix with meal flour to make a dull grey porridge; that was all they had to eat that summer as the demand for sugar had dropped. No one was immune and at the main house the master and his two daughters lay, wrapped in fine linen tablecloths, side by side on the once polished dining table. The lady of the plantation had given away all her sheets to the workers so at least their burials could hold some dignity and so she sat, head bowed in prayer and clutching at a bible as if that might ward off whatever evil spirit was hunting her and the island.
Trade winds that once had carried creaking tar-plugged ships from England had now dropped and the palm trees barely shivered and their fronds cracked into brown slivers that fell to make a sharp wicked carpet around their base. The cane harvest had yet to be brought in but it was dying, like its gatherers and the water channels were clogged with earth, corn husks and the rotted stalks from last year. Field rats scampered between the rows, their black noses twitching and smelling, moving them ever faster as they found their quarry and then clawed into remains in the dry brick sodded earth.
In the centre of the camp men were perched on rough pews taken from the Baptist mission church. Clothes that once protected against leaf cuts and the fierce sun were shredded and their dry cracked feet scuffed the ground drawing circles as they debated. All the options had been exhausted, prayers remained unanswered though they knew only one course of action remained.
Someone would have to call the Black Moon.
The Black Moon it was told had special powers of healing and strength. Her face, as dark as the tall ebony trees close to the African coast where she was taken, was scarred, the deep weals proclaiming that she was delivered to them from a noble birth. On one ankle she had a bronze collar with strange markings etched into the smooth metal and on the other a bracelet of beads. Her flowing robes covered a strong taut body, one that had never been tamed. Her owners had let her live free in return for calming the slaves during hurricanes, epidemics and death. She lived alone in a hut decorated with shells, chicken feet and a rainbow of bird feathers often presented as thanks for potions and stinging mud packs that were then applied to broken bones.
The men formed into a half circle, crouching around the open door straining to hear snippets of conversation between their chosen spokesman and the Black Moon. He had been inside for what seemed like an hour when suddenly she almost floated out, such was her perceived power and started walking towards the big house the men following, hoping that their ancient faith would carry them through. Her stride increased and soon she was at the side of the old white woman who looked up in terror as the Black Moon’s cool coffee coloured palms pressed on her temples. She wailed a dirge taught by another Moon in Africa, the haunting tones bouncing through the silent house chasing out the evil and foul spirits.
News of her arrival in the village had spread and, working to instructions, several boys had laid a ring of dry wood around the diseased and filthy shacks. Thick yellow flames punched into the sky crackling and spitting, consuming the stagnant and still fetid air, forcing the plague death to flee. The slaves chanted, not Christian hymns but verses of unexplainable texts learnt as memories brought from a far away land.
As the evening drew in, they started to drum and move, swaying like a giant caterpillar around the smouldering fires, hands held high, bright faces shining with perspiration. Dogs started to bark in fear as a wind swept over the fields and a crack of lightning heralded the much needed rain.
The old lady in the house had succumbed to a weak heart and later that week was carried with much care and some reverence as was instructed by the Black Moon to the family’s resting field and was joined with her daughters and husband. The men of the plantation said a Christian prayer as they filled the gaping hole in the hard ground wishing them no harm.
Then they returned to their work and started to bring in the bulging harvest.
The Black Moon never returned to her dwelling that evening or ever again and stories were told for many years as the villagers communed around fires in the evenings that she could be seen only on windy nights on the top of the hill close to the family’s burial place that overlooked the fields shouting and encouraging the clouds to chase over the moon, turning it black.