African Slaves Thrown Overboard — Amanda Cook

The African slaves  in this book were treated like objects, where they would be thrown off overseas and it is normal. These enslaved people were being brought from Africa to Jamaica. The Zong crew threw the slaves off the boat because they were running low on water due to a navigational mistake. When the water became too low, the crew decided to throw slaves overboard into the sea. The author, M. NourbeSe Philip questions why this is not a crime. Why isn’t it the law? Slaves are property and can not be saved. Philip fights on how this should not be happening. Slaves were treated as property and animals not as human beings. 

In 1781, the author M. NourbeSe Philip revised the book Zong! He writes it in an unusual style. This is a form of a found poem. In this book the words are spread out, the words are repetitive and the stanzas do not make sense. The author makes this book unique on purpose for this book to stand out compared to all the other books. In order to understand this book you will have to read the end of the book, pages 189-211.It explains background information about the book. Honestly I was confused when I saw page 3. This is not a normal book. I had to think on a deeper level to read these readings.

The African slaves are spread out in the water thrown out overseas on the first page, the word “water” spread out represents the African Americans floating in the water (3). More than fifty people were thrown off. Slaves had a tough life, Philip states, “the more of of suffered did not exist sustenance water and want of dead” (12). Many African slaves drowned and nobody could save them.. These slaves are left lying dead on the bottom of the sea. More people had died over time. Philip wants the throwing slaves overboard to be illegal. 

In the slave ship there were African slaves that Zong departed the coast of Africa on September 6, 1781 with hundreds of slaves of slaves aboard. Due to the poor routes, many people were on the ship and spread diseases, sicknesses that were caused by deaths (Prezi). Zong’s owners declared to their insurers for the loss of the slaves. The insurers refused to pay, the court case Gregson vs Gilbert was held. The slave trade showed lots of horror and it was the mass killings of more than 130 African slaves by the crew of the British slave ship Zong. 

In 1783 was the Gregson vs Gilbert case. It  first started with James Gregson, the ship’s owner who filed an insurance claim for their loss. The Zong crew will not be getting any money. Gregson argued that Zong did not have enough water to sustain both crew and slaves. The insurance underwriter is Thomas Gilbert and it states that Zong had enough sustenance aboard when arriving to Jamaica.Therefore the first trial, freed slave Olaudah Equiana who brought news of the massacre to the attention of the anti-slavery campanigner Granville Sharp (Wikipedia). James Gregson did not let the Zong crew get away with this. Granville Sharp, worked horribly to have the ship’s crew proscuted for murder (Wikipedia). Granville Sharp was one of the first English campaigners for the abolition of the slave trade. Zong’s crew did not win on the first trial. The second trial, won with the insurers. The judge let the captain make a suitable allowance of water for each slave.

The captain of this ship is Luke Collingwood. He is a terrible human being who wants the slaves to die. Zong and his crew caused all the tragedies. He wants them to die a “natural death” (189). The Zong Crew are selfish, disturbing horrible people and they only care about their voyage. Philip questions, “the which, the when, the were, the who the throwing overboard” (15). It is not clearly stated who did it and when did it happen? Philips can not believe this is happening, this should stop. Philip shows humane throughout the book. 

Slaves are physically destroyed in the poems. Philips writes, “Slaves to the order in destroyed the circumstance in fact the property in subject in creature the loss in underwriter” (14). The insurance company found out about these people not killing the slaves, they did not pay for their claims. African Americans are destroyed, they are used as properties, and the underwriter is the safety of Africans. There was no safety. People were used, abused, hurt in such physical and emotional pain, nobody could forget this era. The slaves were malnourished and Zong Crew were ready for them to die. There is no hope for them. They were treated like animals not human (Umich). The Zong Crew does not know emotionally and physically to be thrown overseas. How can the Zong crew do this to the African slaves?

Discussion Questions:

  1. How did you feel while reading this unique book were you confused? 
  2. What were your reactions when you read that the African slaves were being thrown overboard? 

Work Cited

Philip, M. NourbeSe. Zong! Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT 06459, 2008. 

Zinnober9 Zong Massacre Wikipedia.

Prezi User Gregson vs Gilbert Prezi.23 September, 2016.


Ece. Umich. The Zong. University of Michigan.

17 Replies to “African Slaves Thrown Overboard — Amanda Cook”

  1. Hey Amanda! I really enjoyed reading your post! To answer discussion question one, when I first started reading I was so lost, I didn’t know what direction to read in, or what Philip was trying to coney. However, as I read on, I began to understand why the author did this. The broken up element makes the reader uneasy, as does the content of the book. When Philips writes, “Slaves to the order in destroyed the circumstance in fact the property in subject in creature the loss in underwriter” (14), the author shows how African Americans were destroyed, and how poorly they were treated. Which makes me feel uneasy, as the layout of the book made me feel.

  2. Hey Amanda, great post! In the interest of answering the second discussion question, I was not only shocked but in certain ways, it made me feel sick to my stomach. I feel as though every life is precious and when I read “the good of overboard justified a throwing of property fellow creatures become our portion of mortality provision a bad market negroes want for dying” (16) there were a lot of things going through my head. First off, why is this book written like this, i’m so confused. But after I got passed my confusion, I felt total anguish. It made me sick to my stomach. They were called property, and creatures and they were treated so poorly that they had a want for death. They craved it. I cannot imagine an instance where someone is treated so poorly that they would rather be dead than live their life. It’s truly disheartening.

  3. Hi Amanda, to answer the first discussion question, when i was just starting to read the book I was super lost and confused as to what exactly was going on while I was reading it. I was unsure of many things such as what direction the lyrics were supposed to be read in, and how I was supposed to understand what the author was saying in the lyrics. There were a few lyrics that I felt I could have overthought the meaning to and a few that I maybe just weren’t able to understand the full meaning of. Most of my confusion was when I first started reading and as I continued on I was able to see what Philip was trying to convey. Philip wants us to feel uneasy while reading the book, she wants us to not quite know whats going on. This happens when Philip says “first: the which the when the were the who the throwing” (15). Philip want us to wonder what was happening during all of the confusion.

  4. Hey Amanda,
    When I was reading this book it was not confusing, it was just a different reading experience. In the very beginning of the book it was very confusing. In “Zong! #1” the poem states, “waa wa wa w w waa” (3). This is very confusing and page three and four are the same in this instance. No matter how much I reread these two pages I can not seem to understand them. Other than these two the book is not too confusing once you get used to the different style.

  5. Hi Amanda,
    To answer your second question, I was unsurprised to hear that African slaves were thrown overboard from the ship. It is difficult for us to understand why these actions were taken, since it seems like such a horrible display of humans hurting other humans. But unfortunately, as Philip notes, the African slaves were not considered human, they were considered property. Throwing them overboard, as horrible as we know it is, was like throwing over any sort of property overboard to the men on the ship. They were also emboldened by the justice system, which also did not recognize the massacre of the African slaves as such, since “what was destroyed, being property, was not capable of being murder” (191). Thus, Collingwood and his crew literally got away with murder because of a disgusting mindset of the lives lost not being human, but cargo.

  6. Hi Amanda,
    I wanted to elaborate more on the symbolism that Philip employs with her use of the words and how they are placed across the page. I feel like another important aspect of this symbolism is how she created these found poems. In the latter section of the text that we reads, pages 183-207, we learn a lot more about the process that Philip took as she was writing. I believe that she is using a rhetorical device that I learned was called “form follows function.” It is when the text is doing an action that is described. In Zong! the author is describing how “the lives of these men, women and children were mutilated, ” how they were murdered (193). To describe how these people were murdered, the author states that “I murdered the text” (193). The text has been ripped apart to mimic what us happening, the ripping apart of lives. Even further, the text is organized in this way so that our eyes are “trying to order what cannot be ordered, trying to ‘make sense’ of something” (192). This is meant to parallel the way the slaves on the ship must have been trying to make sense of what is going on, especially because most of them must not have spoken a word of English, which is also mentioned later in this section. The entirety of this book is not just a description of an event, but almost a performance of it. The words are acting out what happened to the people they were talking about.

  7. Hey Amanda, interesting post! To answer the second discussion question, my reaction was heart breaking, African slaves were mistreated, malnourished, physical and mentally broken on board. The ships captain was a prime example of how cruel and unjustly they were towards them, treating them like animals and beneath the likes of Zong crew. The crew even had water and it proves to be an unforgiving act towards the slaves on board and continues to label them as nothing but property, Phillip saying, “The some of negroes overboard the rest of lives drowned exist did not in themselves preservation obliged frenzy thirst for forty others” (Phillip 3). This type of behavior in society shouldn’t be, should not exist, but arose from the infamous slave trade and formed society as it is and as it was. The Zong crew was one of many examples of stories that are nearly erased in American society today because of the curriculum in schools and lack of education on figments in time that are passed upon in learning, serving to less people knowing this truth and the suffering of other human beings.

  8. Hey Amanda!

    Great blog post!

    To answer question one, I was very lost and confused as to what was going on. All these words were scattered across the page and I had no idea what to make of this. Some of the words were scattered across as if they were in a pattern, so I hope’d that this was going to mean something–but it didn’t so I had no idea why the words were written in the stanza they were and that gave me much confusion. I was also confused on the pages themselves. I couldn’t comprehend what I was reading. It seemed like the each page was a short poem at first and I couldn’t make sense of what the purpose or intent of this text was. For example, Zong #3 says, “the some of negroes over board the rest in lives drowned exist did not in themselves preservation obliged frenzy thirst for forty years” (6)
    Now this was written scattered and all over the place. If it wasn’t written in a stanza this would be a run on sentence. I truly had no idea what that meant because of the way it was written, so it was hard to understand what Phillip’s intent was.

  9. Amanda,
    my reaction to reading this poetry and background information was absolute disgust. First, I had never heard of this massacre- why did I not learn about it in high school? I feel as if it’s an incredibly important historical event in understanding the mistreatment of slaves in colonial history, yet I had never heard of it. Also, the style and format of the writing are different in a way that is unfamiliar to me. The spreading out of the word “water” that you said symbolized the slaves floating to their deaths symbolized something different to me (3). I saw this structure symbolizing the excessive amounts of water surrounding the people as they floated, with the last thing they saw in their terrifying final moments being water. And, that was all they’d ever see again. They had no chanced to grow old, or raise a family, or even be provided with the minimal sustenance required to live- only water. Philips writes that their lives were “mutilated” (193). By saying this, the author is conveying that their lives were not only ended, but disfigured or taken apart in a way that is irreparable. The use of “mutilated” reminds me of microaggressions and the way Rankine showed us that they can tear people apart over time, changing them for the worse in a way that can never be fixed. In the Zong case, however, the mutilation happened at the moment the decision to sacrifice lives was made for the sake of clean water and the selfishness of the crew. Rather than a slow, racist teardown of someone’s humanity, the crew who threw these people out to sea destroyed them in a single moment. So far, this book is extremely powerful because of its style and layout.

  10. Hey Amanda, to answer your first question when I started this book I thought I was reading it wrong because I was so confused. I knew what Phillip was trying to convey behind this broken up story but I didn’t know the backstory until page 189. I know how awfully slaves where treated but hearing stories like these still shock me. Because of navigational mistakes made by the Zong Crew, 150 slaves were murdered. The caption of the ship, Captain Collingwood, then went to trial twice to get the insurance to as Phillip says “to compensate the ship’s owners for their loses.” (189). The fact that Captain Collingwood tried to claim this act wasn’t murder is sickening. That throwing the slaves off the boat was a necessary emergency act to ensure the safety of all else on board the ship. This massacre isn’t even considered as a crime, the debate is over if the Zong should get insurance money for the loss of lives.

  11. Hey Amanda, great blog post! I regard to your discussion question I was very confused on how the poetry was set up when first reading it. I had to go back and re-read it a couple of times, to try and understand it a little more. I wasn’t sure what to make of the words and letters on the page. Even the very beginning of the book threw me off because it starts off with, “w ww w w a wwa wa t r er wa te wat er of w ant wa ter”(Zong 2). Looking at them closer together it is easier to see that it is talking about water, but when scattered on the page it was harder to tell. I was more so confused as to why there were so many “w”‘s and why it was set up like that. What does it mean? Because the words were scattered on the page, it was different than any type of poetry I have ever read. It was very interesting to see though.

  12. Hi Amanda, nice blog. Answering your second question, my reaction when I heard slaves were thrown overboard was disgust and anger. I was disgusted at how one could even think that throwing another human overboard would solve any problems. It also made me angry because it was the captain’s fault that they ran out of water because of navigational errors. It made me sick how this was looked at with an economic angle, especially when the book mentioned that “the massacre of African slaves would prove to be more financially advantageous to the owners of the ship… than if the slaves were allowed to die of “natural causes'” (189). They wanted to murder slaves instead of letting them die naturally all for financial gain which again made me angry and disgusted.

  13. Hey Amanda, I was very confused when reading the first few pages since I’ve never read or seen any other books similar to this style. I was surprised to learn from your blog that on the first page with the word “water” (Phillip, 3) actually represents the African American slaves thrown off the ship. Following your second question, my reaction to learning about these slaves being thrown off board due to a navigational mistake is sickening to think since these innocent people were thrown overboard due to another person’s mistake. It’s also disheartening to hear that these people were considered nothing more than property and the physical and mental pain that these people went through on this voyage must have belittled them as a human being.

  14. Hi Amanda! While reading both the book and this blog post, I had negative reactions to the slaves being thrown overboard. During this time period, the British wanted to earn as much money as possible so if course the captain was going to go down the path of murder to get what he saw best for his crew. I not saying that this was right way to earn another buck, but that’s what Captain Collingwood thought was best. Even with this time period, if they thought the slaves were like actual people (which they are) then the slave trade would have never occurred. In the end, the British believed that they were the superior race and though their stubbornness, they killed innocent people who were mere objects. What really makes no sense is that the captain and crew weren’t charged for murder after the trial. Apparently, “since what was destroyed, being property, was not capable of being murdered.” (191). So, the crew weren’t charged for murder since the slaves were only property and destroying property isn’t murder. This case makes no sense since they killed 150 slaves which are humans but according to the people in 1781, slaves are only property. The killed slaves deserve justice for the harm that they went through and Zong! gives them that justice they deserve.

  15. Amanda,
    I really enjoyed your blog post and to answer your second discussion question, I felt horrified to say the least. Philip writes, “This is not was or should be. This be not should be. This should not be” (7) and that describes perfectly how I feel and how all of us should feel. It shouldn’t have happened and the fact that it did and people at that time defended the man who did is sickening.
    Amanda,
    I really enjoyed your blog post and to answer your second discussion question, I felt horrified to say the least. Philip writes, “This is not was or should be. This be not should be. This should not be” (7) and that describes perfectly how I feel and how all of us should feel. It shouldn’t have happened and the fact that it did and people at that time defended the man who did is sickening. Also in that quote, Philips says that it’s not was. This stuck out to me because while this specific situation would probably never happen today but things like it certainly do like police shootings and beatings of African Americans and those perpetrators still get away with it to this day.

  16. Hey Amanda!
    Great blog post! To answer discussion question one, I was extremely confused while reading the first few pages of the book. The way Phillip puts the words on the page and how she organizes her thoughts and ideas is really confusing when first opening the book. I wasn’t really sure of how to read it or what to make of it. However, I was able to understand a bit more when reading the last few pages. Phillip explains that “the lives of these men, women, and children were mutilated (193). Because of this, she wanted readers to feel a similar effect that these poor people felt their whole lives. To create this effect, she “murdered the text” (193). The way Phillip wrote this book symbolizes the ways that these people’s lives were treated with such malice and violence. Like their lives, Phillips’ text is broken and mutilated.

  17. Hi Amanda,
    I really liked your analysis of the use of the scattered poems and the fact that this book does not follow a traditional outline. To answer your discussion question, I was very confused when I started reading this book. The words had powerful meanings though, such as, “This is not was or should be,” (7). However, once reading the pages at the back of the book it was easier to understand the context, and I believe gave the unique outline of these poems more power. I feel as though these poems are structured this way to not only give insight to the unjust acts that slaves went through, but to show the frazzledness of the situation as well.

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