(Note: Based on a portrait of a famous victim of the Atlantic slave trade, painted by William Hoare – below)
The Ballad of Ayube Suleiman Diallo
There once was a man, who was clever and wise,
Who basked in the sun of West African skies.
He knew how to read, and would write every day
And recite, line for line, the Qur’an, when he prayed…
He prayed and he prayed and prayed and he prayed
And from time to time visit the river to trade.
But all of that praying, was sadly in vain
When he was kidnapped! And taken away…
“You! Black man! You’re coming with us.”
“But I’m Suleiman Diallo!” “Good for you – now shut up.”
And shut up he did, because he was wary.
These white men were cruel (and their weapons were scary)…
With binds on his hands, and chains on his feet,
Diallo was taken away, for a week
On a horrible boat, eating horrible stuff
On a horrible journey. (It was terribly tough)…
After a while, the ship came to rest,
At a strange destination – North by North-West.
Diallo was happy, the journey was done,
But little did he know there was much worse to come…
“Right then, Diallo,” the bad white men sniggered.
“We’re selling you off, to the highest of bidders.”
“But I am a man!” Diallo exclaimed.
“Yes, but we own you,” the white men explained…
The land he was in, was America by name.
The man who bought him was the owner of slaves.
Diallo was trapped. Captive. Not free.
He had to escape… and managed to flee!
Ragged and ill, he ran for his life,
And bumped straight into a man – who was white.
But while he was white, he was actually nice,
A lawyer, called Tom, who had some advice…
“Listen, Diallo, why not earn a few bob?
Reading and writing – it could be your new job.
Let’s get you cleaned up; you’re coming with me.”
Diallo was speechless. “Thank you,” said he.
And so, without much of a notable delay
(In fact, it might have been the very next day)
Diallo and Tom (who was actually a lawyer)
Set sail for England, on another long voyage…
England! The land of big hats and tea,
And Arabic translations, which Diallo did free.
He worked as a scholar, trading off his brain,
And, sooner or later, he came across fame…
“Suilleman Diallo…” murmured the Queen.
“He sounds quite exciting; bring him to me!”
And so he was summoned, and happily came,
To seal his fate, as a celebrity slave…
The people adored him; the Queen was delighted.
(I reckon she could have even had him knighted)
But though he was famous as famous could be,
One question remained: ‘Why isn’t he free?’
It grew from a question, straight into a mission,
A publically popular written petition.
“Suilleman D! He needs to be free!”
In time, even a portrait was commissioned…
Two-hundred and seventy-eight short years later,
I find myself staring at Suleiman’s face.
It’s an image of slavery, captured and freed
It’s a man with a story, looking at me.
It’s the eyes that burn quiet with fire and piety
Posing for portrait in calm and a quietly
Dignified gaze – born of an age of disgrace
But there’s strength in that face.
There had to be.