Chapter 3; "Arrival in Tripoli"
"If one cannot say he has been a galeoto (galley slave), then he could not say that he has been a slave" -Jaoa Mascarenhas, Portuguese galley slave (1621-1626).
If I'd hoped for a quick release from the hold of the galley then I am doomed to disappointment.
We all know instinctively that we have arrived at our destination and we wait with mixed emotions for something to happen. The fact that we are still imprisoned in this foul place serves to unnerve us and from a personal point of view I want for nothing more than to be free of the vileness of our prison. Yet another part of me fears this; the uncertainty of my fate weighs heavily on my mind. What awaits me beyond the confines of the galley's hold?
We listen to the sounds of much activity above us. We can hear the galley slaves being unchained from their benches and being driven under the whips of their overseers off the vessel -to where we don't know. We overhear the happy chatter and laughter of our captors, no doubt happy to be home and looking forward to the rich bonuses they'll receive from such rich booty as we now provide.
Then we hear the sound of strange, exotic music which is alien to my ears and played on instruments unknown to me. I can hear the shrill blaring of trumpets, the loud beating of drums, the clashing of cymbals and the softer, lilting sound of flute-like instruments accompanied by the frightening ululations of many female voices. The music is alien to my English ears and I feel vaguely uneasy. If I stood on the deck of the galley, I would see the reason for my uneasiness. The residents of the city are gathering in large numbers to watch the disembarkation of the newest slaves to arrive in Tripoli.
It is traditional for the city's residents to turn out in force to watch as the galleys arrive home safely from their raiding missions and they are welcomed with much fanfare and noise. The city regards the Corsairs as heroes and not as pirates as we do. They see the pillaging and enslaving of Christians as part of a holy battle against a hated religion and the return of a galley from a successful voyage is reason for much rejoicing. And they are eager to catch sight of any new, Christian slaves being unloaded and driven naked through the crowded, narrow streets to the bagno to await their sale. They are in festive mood and wait impatiently for us to be unloaded.
And as we wait in the hold of the galley, we are unaware that we are to provide them with such a spectacle.
Suddenly the hold is flooded with bright sunlight as the hatch is thrown open and some of our captors descend into the gloom of our prison. Shouting incomprehensively, they kick us to our feet and herd us up the steep wooden steps onto the deck of the galley. Standing waiting for us are yet more overseers armed with whips which they viciously use to herd us along. We aren't given time to regain our land legs or to take stock of our surroundings and they hurry us along the walkway to the gangplank leading down onto the wharf and the waiting crowds.
The rowing benches are empty; the oar slaves have been taken away to begin their land based labours and so all attention is now focused on us. As we crowd along the walkway between the rowing pits, I catch a glimpse of the empty benches; there are thirty three benches on either side and each is capable of holding four or five slaves. This is a raiding galley and as such must be powered by the maximum number of slaves possible. I don't have time to do the sums but if I had time, I would see that it takes between two hundred and sixty-four to three hundred and thirty miserable wretches to row this monstrous vessel.
What does impress itself on my mind is the filth and squalor of the rowing benches. Each is only about forty centimetres wide - barely wide enough for a slave to sit upon - and is covered in some type of animal skin. It's impossible to say what type of animal these skins came from - perhaps a sheep or goat – for each is discoloured by the sweat and other bodily fluids of the naked slaves whose posteriors they protect from the friction of the rough, wooden benches. As a galley slave, I will become well acquainted with these skins and loathsome and noisome as they are, I will nevertheless be thankful for the protection they provide against splinters or a blistered arse.
The empty chains and fetters are still in place awaiting the return of the rowers and the deck below the benches is awash with their excrement and urine which is slowly seeping through the gaps between the planks into the bilges below. The slaves are absent but their scent lingers on.
The oars, so recently employed with much vigour, are now resting aboard the galley and await removal to the warehouses where they will be secured under lock and key and kept under armed guard as a precaution against any attempted escape by the slaves. This is merely a precaution; all bids for freedom are futile and are rewarded with mandatory and gruesome execution.
Once the cargo has been unloaded and the holds are empty, teams of slaves will haul the galley into shallow water where its hull will be careened, scraped clean and greased for its next voyage. A galley's speed is of the utmost importance when pursuing its hapless victims at sea and it's necessary to keep the shallow hull free of any impediments that could slow it down.
As I stagger down the gangplank onto the wharf, I'm overwhelmed by the loud music and the noise of the waiting crowd which grows even louder as we are forced to huddle together in a tight group. I look at my fellow slaves and see we project a sorry picture. All of us a stark naked and our bodies are covered in the filth of our recent prison; my nose tells me that we are malodorous. Overwhelmed by the oppressive heat and deafening noise, I begin to tremble.
I guess the time to be close to midday; the sun appears to be at its zenith in a cloudless, blue sky and beats down on us with fierce intensity. Bewildered, I look around me and gaze beyond the waterfront into the town; I see a jumble of cube like buildings tumbling up the hills on which the city is built.
Predominantly white, these buildings gleam in the brilliant sunlight and are interspersed with others painted in pastel tones of blue, pink and yellow. And for the first time, I see grey-green olive trees, tall, stately palms and the glossy, dark green of citrus trees. The city is strange and exotic and the air is rich with a spicy perfume which is unknown to me. But I'm not disposed to admire it; I am swamped by fear.
The wharves around us are hives of activities. Everywhere I look I see gangs of near-naked slaves toiling under the lash of their impatient overseers and their suffering is all too obvious. I listen to the vicious crack of the whips, the cruel thwacking sound as leather comes into contact with naked flesh and the anguished cries of pain from the toiling, sweating slaves. And as I watch, I realise this is to be my fate.
I push closer to my fellow slaves seeking to lose myself among them. Others are of a like mind and soon we are a jostling huddle of human misery surrounded by a sea of unsympathetic observers. The whips are brought into play and we are ordered to "settle down". I don't know the words of this strange language but as the whip cuts across my shoulders, I do understand their intent. My cry of pain signals my compliance with the order.
Miserably, I stand with my fellow prisoners in a crush of excited spectators; I hang my head in shame as we are visually inspected and discussed by them. I don't need to know their language to understand their sneers and jibes are made at our expense and I know instinctively that we are being evaluated; by their animated conversations and gesticulations, it is obvious that our bodies are being judged as to what future labour we can be put to and what we are worth in monetary terms.
I'm not to know that this is a very important part of our sale into slavery. Whenever a shipment of new slaves arrives in port it is the signal to all potential buyers to crowd down onto the waterfront and watch as they are unloaded. This way, they catch a first glimpse of the slaves who will soon be offered for sale. These prospective buyers like to gather as close as possible to the wretched, new arrivals where they can appraise them without having to touch them. Such hands on inspections come later in the complicated sales process.
This first perusal of newly arrived slaves is used by the buyers to determine if there are any suitable prospects that warrant their further attention. If a buyer sees a suitable slave -or slaves – that interest him, then he will have an opportunity for a hands-on inspection at the public viewing of the slaves at the Badestan prior to them being sold at auction.
Naturally, I'm not aware of the complicated system that exists for the selling of all newly arrived slaves. But it is a system with which I'll become well acquainted over the coming days. The local pasha - or ruler appointed by the Ottomans - has first call on all new slaves and we'll be paraded before him allowing him to make his choice from among us. Usually he takes one slave out of every eight as his due and the rest of us will be returned to the bagno and prepared for sale.
Even then the system remains complicated; we'll be taken in small groups to the Badestan – or market place - where we'll be publicly displayed. One by one, each slave is lead around the perimeter of the market by a dilaleen or auctioneer loudly extolling the slave's good features and pausing to allow prospective buyers to inspect the slave. These inspections are always accompanied by much haggling and gesticulating as the auctioneer and a buyer debate the slave's attributes; the dilaleen drawing the buyer's attention to such things as the width of the slave's shoulders, his strong chest or the soundness of his teeth. The buyer, not wishing to appear too eager, responds by denigrating the slave as a poor specimen unworthy of his consideration. As the politics of the marketplace are played out, the buyers place their bids, one against the other for the right to own the slave.
But that isn't an end to the matter - not by a long shot. This is merely the firing of the first salvo. What has been achieved here at the Badestan is that the slave has had a reserve price placed upon him and this is the amount of money that will be paid to the Corsairs as their due for his capture and delivery to the slave-markets of Tripoli. The unfortunate slave still has one more process to endure before he becomes owned property.
The slave, now with a reserve price placed upon him, is taken once more before the pasha who has the right of first refusal for any slave offered for sale. The price begins at the value set by the buyers in the Badestan and the difference between that price and what the pasha bids is paid from public monies. Any unfortunate slave thus bought by the pasha becomes state-owned and is employed on public works. Those slaves who don't interest the pasha mount the auction-block once more and sold to the winning bidder.
This then is the fate that awaits me - and my fellow slaves. But as we huddle on the wharf like a mob of terrified sheep, we are unaware of this and we have many vicissitudes to endure before we are finally sold.
We are surrounded by a jabbering, gesticulating crowd of prospective buyers who, because of our filth keep their distance from us. Bitterly, I am reminded of market-day in the village where I had spent my boyhood.
Often I had attended these with my yeoman father and watched with interest as the local farmers inspected and discussed the livestock displayed in their pens prior to sale. These market days had been exciting ones for me and had provided a welcome break in the drudgery of my rural life. I'd always enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of market day; the animated conversations of the farmers, the bleating, lowing and neighing of nervous animals and their earthy smells. And to my boyish delight, there were the delicious odours of the ales, ciders and hot, savoury, meat pies being sold at the various stalls set up around the perimeter of the market-square.
These thoughts of those past times and events-now forever lost to me – overwhelm me and I begin to weep and as I look at my fellow slaves, I see I'm not alone in weeping; they too shed tears for their loss of freedom and fear for the future. I recognise the similarities between us and the frightened livestock of my boyhood memories as they were sold on market-day in my home village.
Our overseers allow generous time for us to be visually inspected by any interested buyers and, as they wait patiently, they interact with the spectators who crowd around us. We don't understand their words but we know we are the butts of their crude jokes and the subjects of their lewd gestures as they point to our nakedness.
Then, a richly robed, turbaned man mounted on a horse - I wonder why it's necessary for him to ride a horse - decides the buyers have had sufficient time to inspect us and gives orders to his subordinates to move us along. Now, once more their whips are brought into play and we are forced into a long line of two abreast. I find myself on the left side at about the halfway point in this column of human misery. We stand motionless as the overseers quickly move down both sides of the column attaching long chains to our outer ankles and effectively joining us together one behind the other.
The mounted rider takes his place at the head of our column and watches as his guards and overseers take up positions on either side of us; the guards are armed with scimitars and spears and the overseers have discarded their long whips for shorter ones made from bulls' pizzles. I ask myself why these are being used over the longer whips that had been used to control us to date and how effective are they? I'm soon to find out the answer to both questions.
An expectant hush settles over the watching crowd and they move apart to form a narrow "avenue" for our column. They are still close enough to touch us should they wish to and indeed one or two - obviously not too concerned with the filth that covers our naked bodies - do lean forward to cruelly pinch the unfortunate captives nearest to them. Others choose to spit at us; we are all easy targets for them-and through my fear and misery I'm aware of the globs of their expectorations striking my face and body.
I'm reminded of the public hangings of two criminals I'd once foolishly witnessed as a boy. As they were dragged struggling and begging to the scaffold, they too had been subjected to the same shame and humiliation from their spectators that we now endure. I remember feeling great sympathy for the two criminals - surely their deaths were enough punishment without the additional contempt from the crowd - and I'd felt anger at the callousness shown to them as they went to the gallows. Then, I'd wondered at the cruel inhumanity of it all and now I do so again.
Then, with a shrill blast of a whistle from the mounted official and the loud cracking of the overseers' whips our two lines of human misery begin the slow, painful journey to the bagnio.
We are severely restricted by our shackles; our ankle chains force us to walk with an awkward shuffle and we are not yet aware that we should all step forward in unison from the same foot; confusion reigns as we stumble and fall over one another. Little sympathy is shown to us; the overseers whip us to our feet and our pain and discomfort are the sources of much merriment for the watching crowd. Under the cruel barrage of the whips, we scramble to our feet and struggle to keep in step with one another so that some semblance of order is established. But weighed down by our chains, it is difficult for us to walk and we can only shuffle forward slowly. Our journey through the town's narrow streets and alleys is to be a tortuous one.
As we move away from the wharf, the crowd of onlookers continues to grow and our guards force them to make way for us. They laugh and jeer at us and suddenly one or two of them begin to chant in their incomprehensible tongue; even without knowledge of their language, I'm able to discern that they are merely repeating the same disparaging word over and over again.
Eventually all our tormentors join in a loud chanting of what is obviously a derogatory word or name for us. If I spoke their language I would recognise the word "slaves, slaves, slaves" repeated over and over. The crowd is in festive mood and they give full voice to their joy at seeing us - their hated enemies -so humiliated. For our part we do feel threatened and intimidated by them.
Ahead of me, a slave foolishly re-acts to the taunts of the crowd. His protest is short-lived and the whips of two overseers quickly subdue him and beat him into submission. His cries of outrage and pain only serve to further delight our tormentors.
We shuffle noisily - our chains add to the general cacophony - across the wide, sunlight area separating the wharves from the fortified walls that protect the town. Now we are besieged by beggars and beardless, pimply-faced youths who add to our misery. They are armed with canes, sticks, switches and palm fronds which they use to flail us as we pass by.
Our efforts to protect ourselves are discouraged by the whips of our overseers; it is made painfully clear to us that we must endure whatever taunts and tribulations the crowd wishes to submit us to. Our nakedness is an enticing target for them and, as we move forward, we are continually lashed with their makeshift whips.
For the youths, our arses are particularly inviting and they ply their canes to us with extreme vigour. I yelp each time I am viciously slashed across the buttocks and I see the burgeoning, red stripes on the shoulders, backs and arses of the slaves in front of me. It is impossible to put into words the shame and humiliation I feel at the hands of my tormentors. In my misery, I recognise that this is to become an integral part of my life as a slave of these accursed people.
There is some small measure of relief from our relentless tormentors as we pass through the massive gate tower into the town itself. The interior of the tower is so confined that it is only wide enough for our column to pass through. Temporarily, we are spared the whips of our overseers and the "make do" switches of our audience.
Passing from the energy-sapping heat of the day into the cool, shaded interior of the tower, I begin to shiver. I'm unsure whether this is caused by the sudden change in the temperature or from the fear and panic that grips me as I enter into the town.
Once more we are besieged; this time by the townspeople and as we pass along the twisted streets and alleyways, we face new tribulations.
The sun doesn't penetrate down into the cool, narrow canyons formed by the tall, two and three storied buildings lining both sides of the streets but the shade provided by them is most welcome to our slow moving column. My nose wrinkles at the pungent odours that permeate the air; my nostrils recognise the nauseating smells of decaying vegetable matter and other putrefaction and yet it also savours the scent of exotic herbs and spices and the delicious aromas of cooking food. My belly, which since my capture, has only known the tasteless, dry biscuits given to us by the Corsairs begins to rumble in a loud protest.
We continue along the mean, narrow streets of this slum and now we are assailed by a new horror. Small boys, no doubt intent on causing us mischief, dart between our legs and, pulling on our shackles, cause us to stumble and fall over in a heap. No time is wasted on us; we are quickly whipped to our feet only to have the whole thing repeated again and again much to the amusement of the watching crowd.
The residents of these streets have turned out in force to watch as we pass by and they add to our misery by pelting us with missiles of rotten eggs, decaying fruit and vegetables, all manner of putrid refuse and animal dung. But these aren't the worst of our tribulations. The inhabitants of the buildings on both sides of the street lean out of the upper story windows of their homes and shower us with the contents of their chamber-pots and commodes.
Vainly we cover our heads to shield ourselves from these assaults on our bodies and our dignity only to suffer further whipping at the hands of our overseers. Now, all too clearly, I see why they use the shorter, bull's pizzle whips on us; these streets and alleyways of the city are too narrow for their longer whips.
It is at this moment that my spirit breaks. The trauma of my capture and enslavement finally overcomes me. Naked, shackled and whipped I am covered in the filth of the galley slaves ordure and the putrefaction of this city. I am powerless to fight back and I have no other recourse open to me than to accept that I am now a slave to these people and as such I am reviled, despised and
subject to all the humiliation and pain they can throw at me.
As I begin to sob, I lower my head in submission and I shuffle forward in my chains to the bagno that awaits us.
To be continued...........................