A few years ago my oldest brother N very generously bought me a trip to come and visit him in the Virgin Islands. Our baby brother C lived there too, and although our middle brother A was stuck mainland, we three were soon back to our familiar rowdy brawling and smack-talk.
My "baby brother" C iss a hefty 6'4" and thinks it is real funny to pick me up like a sack of potatoes in public. N is only 6'2" but he is a crossfit fiend with a belt in jiu jitsu who can tie me in a knot. So I am the smallest now, but I was a mean older sister growing up. We have always been jackasses like this, and (at least as adults) never actually hurt each other just hollering and harassing around. This horseplay detail comes into play later, perhaps our casual attitudes provoked the following grief:
I had never been to the Virgins Islands, but N had lived there 12 years. So I had my own tour guide. Everything was amazing. Being the history buff and anti-establishment little know-it-all that I am, I ate up the stories of slaves from US island of St. Thomas swimming oceans miles away to French or British-held islands and freedom, or pirates menacing genocidal empires and corporations like the British East India Company. Or how the original synagogue in St. Thomas has floors of sand to mask the sound of worshippers who had fled the Inquisitions from the local Spanish authorities. Details and stories like these are the best parts of traveling if you ask me. Because they were locals, and worked in the tourism industry I got the whole historical scoop, including the lasting horrors of slavery that I am sure the cruise lines do not exactly advertise.
Therefore, my brothers made sure that we got to visit the Island of St. John's and the Annaberg Sugarcane Plantation. This former slave plantation is now a national park and a memorial. Many of the coral brick sugar mills and slavemaster buildings remain, but the original, measly wattle-and-daub slave quarters washed out many hurricanes ago in the last century. It is a big site, built on a hill, in what is now a lush tropical forest that looks out over a blue carribean bay. The weather was perfect on the day we were there. Annaberg is also the site of the first slave uprising in the Western Hemisphere, against the Dutchymasters.
As we made our way up the hill toward where the biggest ruins are gathered, we were screwing around as usual. I took a running leap at my little brother and clung piggyback, forcing him to carry me uphill. Taking pictures with lizards on kerosene trees, smoking cigarettes to be tough, touristy stuff like photographing the ocean view. The park was busy with little kids and families so we weren't cursing around or anything, just loudly enjoying the day. It did not really hit home to me the magnitude of suffering endured on that very ground until we reached the sugar mills. At that point we all sobered right up.
There the floors had channels made by thousands of feet, feet of the people yoked to the wheel which moved the industrial cane presses. The walls, too, seemed absorbed with their misery. It certainly felt like a graveyard, or the place of some violent catastrophe such a fatal landslide or accident scene. We wandered away from each other, looking around and taking pictures. They had both been there, but I wanted to see every inch of history.
I tried to imagine living and working day after day the Equatorial heat and peeling sun with little fresh water and hardly any food, as an expendable captive animal, enslaved for another's profit. My luxurious western standard of living, privileges and freedoms seemed decadent and preposterous, and I thought about how slavery still exists now to make that possible. At Annaberg the Dutch massacred all 80, 000 people on the Island as punishment and example, not just those rebellious individuals who had risen up and taken over the islands slaves, resources and profits in the uprising.
It is guilty to explain but it feels weird to be that sad, standing in what is otherwise a peaceful tropical paradise. I remarked on all this misery to C as we stood looking up the hill from a coral stone floor attached to one of the mill silos. This series of structures being those set highest on the hill, he and I were standing roughly on the middle level, backs to the ocean. He gave me a hug and we just stood side by side, thinking, trying to imagine life as an African slave here. It was heavy to stand where people died so wretchedly. I can not really imagine how awful it was.
Just then, for a brief moment in my mind, I heard and felt a massive, shouting, tumult of despair. Like a huge noisy sports crowd shouting out at once in defeat when the wrong team scores the win. But this loud wordless mass of grief were also full of fear and hate and bitter rage-from a giant crowd of voices at once, and the sounds of field work. I was taken totally by surprise and it felt as though my soul was as shocked as my conscious mind.
The window of sound sort of opened in my mind, and I could hear and feel the shouting chaos as if in memory, then closed in a moment. I had no accompanying visions or words of thought. It was like having the window open while driving down the freeway and passing fast by a very loud construction site or walking past an entrance to a big stadium from the quieter area beneath the stands. Plain and loud and real, the noise was there and then gone or muted, suddenly.
At that point I went ahead and cried on my brother's shoulder. When I asked them both later, neither one had heard a crowd or people shouting. I do not know if I "heard" the sounds of everyday life, of the uprising, or the resulting slaughter. While I freely admit to being suggestible and growing emotional while I was there, it does not explain being hit so clearly and loudly by the soundscape from a sugarcane harvest or homicidal colonial massacre. I have both Dutch and Afro-Caribe (through Colombia) ancestors, but our genealogy on that side is incomplete because of slavery and colonialism. Could one of my contemporary ancestors have been at Annaberg when it was a slave plantation? I have no idea, maybe one of you readers has ideas.
The biggest questions raised, for me, is not why or what I heard, but how? Even if my mind was making it up- how did I project that level of volume and emotion into my own mind? It happened in just a moment, but the crowd of voices was big and loud enough to actually "feel" their noise level and feelings. How could I suddenly flash a sound that big in my own head? Do clairaudient experiences usually involve sounds in one's mind, or do clairaudients hear the sound outside their mind? Is it ever so loud as to be felt, either way?
I have participated in grieving, somber events in public crowds outdoors that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, like Race for the Cure or protest marches against the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. I have also been to the giant Rose Parade, outdoor rallies, and professional sporting events in big sold-out arenas where people were just as loud, but not with outrage or grief. So those are my points of reference in describing the actual wave of sound that came over me. None of those memories or real-life experiences ever contained at any time the intense level of rage and pure despair I felt at Annaberg.
In trying to corroborate my own experience I came across the YGS site. I have seen no entries about St. John or Annaberg. Please let me know, wise readers, what happened to me.