What is Cudjo’s experience in the barracoon? How were people selected for transport?

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Cudjo Lewis recounts his time in the barracoon as confusing and traumatic. He had been taken captive during a raid conducted by the Dahomey tribe, who profited from selling Africans into US slavery. Having seen many in his own tribe and family killed during this raid, Cudjo was marched to Benin and to the barracoon where he and his fellow captives (both male and female) awaited transfer.

Cudjo describes his three weeks in the barracoon, where he could see ships at sea as well as white men, a new experience for him. The barracoon in which Cudjo and his tribesmen were in was an individual enclosure from which he could see other barracoon, each with members of other tribes within. He describes yelling to the other captives, who were unable to understand his language (53). In many ways, this prefigures Cudjo's experience when he arrives in the US and is brought to a slave plantation. Because he was on an illegal transport, few of the slaves he encountered in the US spoke a tribal or native language, having already inherited English. Cudjo's remarkable story—and Hurston's transcription of his dialect—reflects the challenge of coming to America and being placed within a slave community and having to improvise a linguistic community since no one among whom one lives with knows one's language. That profound alienation seems to be at the heart of so much of Cudjo's memory.

The other element that the brief barracoon section represents is Cudjo's looking back with intense love and longing for his own family and tribe, the terrifying experience of the raid, capture, and march to Dahomey, and then the exposure to a plethora of new sights, sounds, and behaviors. This, too, is a microcosm of the trauma he experienced by being transported into slavery in America. That looking back with sorrow and looking ahead with uncertainty marks much of Cudjo's life experiences as Hurston conveys it.

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