We’ve all heard of Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser and Denmark Vessey. All of these men lead slave revolts in North America. Until watching a PBS Special called “Secrets of the Dead: Slave Ship Mutiny” I had never heard of Meermin rebellion.
The Meermin was a Dutch slave ship carrying slaves from Madagascar in 1766. Eventually a member of the ship’s crew broke the rules by unchaining the slaves and allowing them to stand on the deck. Adding insult to injury, the the crewman wanted the slaves to “clean” their traditional weapon and shortly after that all hell broke lose. The slaves took over the ship killing many of the dutch crew and wanted to be taken back to Madagascar. They were tricked into sailing to South Africa, which had been a commercial settlement for the Dutch VOC company. The VOC was strict about archiving so every detail was written down. We are able to know about what happened on the ship from a message in the bottle that one of the crewmen penned while barricaded in a room on the ship. This same letter would eventually lead to the capture of Massavana and the surviving Madagascans. Massavana was actually sent to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela – another freedom fighter would be imprisoned almost 200 years later.
Thanks to the log books which were kept by the VOC, the testimonies recorded during the trial and hearing once Massavana was captured. and the message in the bottle – we can literally put history together. As a scrapbooker I am an avid archivist but I am also fund of journaling, letter writing and all forms of documentation. Were it not for the surviving documents we would never know about The Meermin which eventually sank. We must ask ourselves what are we doing to tell our stories? What will happen in 100 – 200 years when your journal, your photographs or your artwork are the only items that represent American society or culture from this era?
Read more about The Meermin here: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/24/world/africa/24iht-africa.html and http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/featured/slave-ship-mutiny-about-this-episode/674/