Igbo Landing Mass Suicide, They Knew Death Was Better Than Bondage

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Early 1803, a shipload of captive west Africans mainly Igbos of present-day Nigeria aboard the Wanderer slave ship landed in Savannah, Georgia to be auctioned at a slave market by U.S paid slave raiders. At the slave market, they were bought at 100 dollars each by slave agents. Thomas Spalding and John Couper with the idea of reselling them to slave masters on the plantation of St Simon’s Island.

The slaves were brought aboard the Schooner York, a small vessel where they were put in chains packed under its deck. Long after the vessel had set sail, about seventy-five Igbos staged a rebellion, took control of the vessel and drowned their captors. With all the excitement and commotion associated with the rebellion and hostile takeover it caused the vessel to ground at the Dunbar Creek.

What really happened after the Schooner York’s grounding is not clear as many accounts have been passed down from generations to generations. However one rendition stands out. It is said that the Igbos under the leadership of a high official song “The water spirit brought us, the water spirit will take us home” in the Igbo language walked in to the swampy water of the Dunbar Creek. William Mein wrote a letter stating that about twelve of the Igbos drowned and claiming a Captain Patterson and Roswell King recovered the corpses whilst a large number of them were not found.

Artistic impression of the Igbo Landing by LaRue Dee Williams

This act by the Igbos has been dubbed as “the first freedom march” and stands as a major act of Africans against imperialist power. The story of the Africans who felt death was a better option than to be reduced to the level of sub-humans on a foreign land signaling the will power and determination of the African people. The thrill and intrigue of this story has caused into to be integrated into many African-American folktales.

The incorporation of the Igbo landing into numerous folklore made historians write the event off as a mere legend but scientific and technological researches conducted since the 1980s has provided evidential confirmation of the generations old oral accounts.

In September 2002, seventy-five individual from the United States, Nigeria and other countries with African descent joined the two-day event organized by the St Simons African-American community to commemorate the Igbo mass suicide and called the soul of the dead to rest designating the site as a holy ground. This site was regarded as a historic resource in a 2009 county survey.

FUN FACT
In the 2018 Marvel movie Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan’s character Erik Killmonger in his death scene reference the Igbo Landing “Bury me in the oceans with my ancestors who jumped from the ships, cause they knew death was better than bondage”.

Video credit: The Gates Of Hulda

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