The “interview” party with Luisa, the young nonagenarian, served to sustain my interest in the trajectory of my people, the West Indian Panamanians. In effect, it gave me the added encouragement I needed to stoke my interest for all past historical events involving people of African descent in my country of birth and in any other part of the Americas. Here I was, still without mentors who could guide me in the rudiments of the history of our people, the main participants in the nefarious African slave trade. As a dedicated, self instructed and self-sponsored researcher, I settled back to mentally review what I was seeing and hearing.
In the past I had concerned myself with such things as research methodology, interviewing techniques, and the traditional natural flow of oral historians. In consulting with other researchers and faculty chairmen in universities, I had remembered that, in my interviews for positions of research assistant, they had expressed an interest in the topic of Black Studies and in my interest for the issue of Black slavery in Panama and Latin America in particular. However, the stories Luisa was relating to me were the substance of Hollywood movies, and I almost said out loud in disgust, “They would just mess things up but good!”
The thought of sitting back and watching while white people took over the central and most important roles in “my” movie immediately made my mind turn to my thesis- the fact that slavery and the slave trade did not just end after 1851 when the Parliament of Colombia passed the first Manumission laws. The main part of my thesis was that most Blacks in a country such as Panama, the native Blacks of a Hispanic connectivity and close association with the culture, just seemed to “disappear.” They, the Blacks, had been the people who had met the system head on, and had known the system of slavery face to face since it had been introduced into the Americas some four centuries before.
It wasn’t difficult to imagine how easy it was to just stay out of sight and live happily off the land for these Black people. It had been proof enough for me that the surrounding forests and timber lands, areas that I had been privileged to see and experience as a child and young adolescent, had foot paths known only to the people who lived and survived off that garden of greenery I so enjoyed.
Those times as a child returned as I witnessed the children happily playing, being a joy to their grandparents. My mind wandered off trying to leave the scene, as I noticed all the adults just sitting around waiting for the kitchen crew to serve yet another course of some delectable preparation.
This was the time I needed to imbibe the atmosphere that would soon disappear, as a girl from the kitchen crew approached my hostess, Luisa, with yet another platter of food. I had time to reflect on some of the facts she had been revealing to me, of how they had been gatherers of edible food that they didn’t even have to plant. The notion of such bounty from the land, and the idea of not having to hunt hardly at all in these generous forest lands with so many rivers, was exciting to me.
Water was never a problem, I thought, as the rains were so copious and the rivers and creeks would even over flow, flooding the land. The flora was so abundant that fauna overpopulated the land to the extent that a very capable trapper could easily snare, without employing much effort or equipment, the needed food for everyday consumption. In fact, the whole country was an Eden for self sufficient colonists to just arrive and coexist with the rest of the folks, all unknown to the authorities, of course.
This story continues.