Zong! is a poetry book written by M. NourbeSe Philip. It entails the story of the planned murder of slaves that were being transported on the slave ship Zong. The massacre was to be done in order to collect insurance money. The ship was setting sail from the West Coast of Africa to Jamaica. It held a cargo of 470 slaves.
On page 189, when introducing the massacre, the sentence is structured as such: “Some of Zong’s cargo is lost through illness and lack of water; many others, by order of the captain are destroyed: Sixty negroes died for want of water… and forty others…through thirst and frenzy…threw themselves into the sea and were drowned; and the master and mariners…were obliged to throw overboard 150 other negroes”. It continues in the next paragraph to say “Captain Luke Collingwood is of the belief that if the African slaves on board die of a natural death, the owners of the ship will have to bear the cost, but if they were ‘thrown alive into the sea’, it would be the loss of the underwriters”. To summarize, this means that by massacring the slaves aboard the ship, there would be a financial benefit to the ship owners.
Now, in this paragraph, the slaves being transported are described as “cargo”, which is a term used to describe goods carried on a ship. Given the time period (November of 1781), it’s common knowledge that Africans were treated as property and sold as slaves. It also states on page 194, “The African men, women, and children on board the Zong were stripped of all specificity, including their names. Their financial value, however, was recorded and preserved for insurance purposes, each being valued 30 pounds sterling”. In the United States monetary system, this equals almost forty U.S. dollars. If you flip through the book, the first thing that will catch your eye is the irregular, almost spasmodic positioning of the words on the pages. Could have this been done in order to replicate the feeling of drowning? Given the background information, the arrangement of words on each page could be made to simulate the feeling of drowning- losing air, hope, and eventually, the loss of life.
Anyways, reading through this, I began to wonder if the same thing would have happened if there were no slaves on the ship, but rather white people. This question seems almost illogical, given that Africans were sold and insured as property. However, the slaves were being transported on the ship in order to be bought; in other words, they were on the ship for a reason. So, if this were truly for financial gain, would it have been the same if the passengers were all white? Or would it simply be a tragic massacre, never to be published into the story that Zong! is? If you think it would not be the same if the slaves were white, do you think this massacre was partly done for the ship owners to exercise their power over the slaves?
- How do you imagine this event would have occurred if the slaves were white?
- Do you think this massacre was done solely for the financial benefit, or do you think it could have been done to exercise power?