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Modern Voices
Barry Unsworth on the Middle Passage
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Q: Can you describe the Middle Passage?
Barry Unsworth

A: There is the diagram of a slave ship, showing precisely how the slaves themselves were stowed, how they were placed for the voyage when they were below decks or between decks. Typically there were two levels, one above the other, on either side of the ship, with a central passageway. They had about 18 inches head room, less than 2 feet head room. They couldn't sit. And because they were manacled, they couldn't really change position very easily at all, without hurting themselves or their companions. When the weather was rough they were kept below for a long period. It must have been a nightmare. In the mornings, after the end of periods of bad weather, when they could finally get down there, they would find two manacled together, one dead and one living. It was quite a common experience. I think that in terms of hell on earth, that must have been as near as anyone ever comes, I think, to it.
Barry Unsworth
"The Sacred Hunger"

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