Read Kayus Bankole’s contribution to Edinburgh’s Message From The Skies

Message from the Skies returns to Edinburgh this month, with five celebrated writers reflecting on Scotland’s relationship with our waters, coasts and maritime heritage. Their words will illuminate and animate landmarks around the city until Burns Night, 25 January. Here, Kayus Bankole of Young Fathers considers Scotland’s connections to the slave trade...
Kayus Bankole's words projected onto Edinburgh City Chambers as part of Message From the Skies PIC: Rianne WhiteKayus Bankole's words projected onto Edinburgh City Chambers as part of Message From the Skies PIC: Rianne White
Kayus Bankole's words projected onto Edinburgh City Chambers as part of Message From the Skies PIC: Rianne White

Sugar for your Tea, by Kayus Bankole

The seas are liquid roads with junctions and crossings that connect us; uniting us in moments of shared history. The wreckage of the past floats on the surface of our Scottish waters, the survivors and drowned wave their hands for us to take notice. It’s too late for rescue but we can offer a proper burial.Do we recognise our misgivings and acknowledge the participation of the Scots in the nefarious trade? Do I need to spell it out? Barons and viscounts, sons of vicars, businessmen all getting fat as they enjoy the bounty from the business of the boat, the transportation of tobacco, the cash from coarse linen cloth and sugar.

Denial is no longer an option. You, we, are now living good from the bad that has been done. That harvest didn’t just materialise out of thin air. The fruit in your fruit basket did not come from your ancestor’s sweat, their broken bones and labour. There was nothing sweet in the bitter exploitation of those who gave you sugar for your tea.

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How much blood makes a sea? How much blood makes us see? How can blood make us free? Have you seen the colour of black blood? It’s as red as white.

Witness me as a living memory, a ghost made flesh conjuring residual hurt.

Picture me as the African woman, dragged by the leg as the ground scrapes my back like sandpaper, then forced, squashed into an overflowing ship: toes creating C shaped hooks on the edge of the wooden deck. The pain so intense that it burns my soul like belly dancing inferno flames.

“I jumped, of my own free will, to become free, into the waves and the sea and belonged to no-one but my family, in memory and in hope.”...relief from pain, free in death, one thousand fathoms below.

What does it take for a woman or a man to choose the waves and the deep over breathing, over life? It takes nine knotted tails, it takes iron forged in Birmingham, it takes a young Scotsman proudly standing with his shiny buckled boot on a black throat. Freedom or a slow cruise to a slow death to make profit for the masters of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Imagine only being seen as an opportunity, being dragged across the salt sea of tears, to be worked like mules, machines, to be tortured, starved and to die in misery. They used my mothers and fathers like an orange, squeezed all the goodness out and threw away the carcass into the pits of the forgotten.

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From Freetown to the plantation to what you see around you now. If it wasn’t for the blood of my ancestors... those who were punished, pushed, pressed, pressured, peeled, poked and provoked... there would be only crumbs and dust and maybe whisky.

We are not our ancestors – how can we be? But, if your father stole from my father and you live in the house your father built using the wealth he stole from my father, shouldn’t we at least talk about it?

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If you try to suppress and sink the truth of the damage you will never be able to truly grasp what we may become. Aren’t we all Jock Tamson’s bairns cut from the same sheet of multi-coloured skin? Each one of us unique; custom tailored configurations, welded by the bang of the universe.
Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, spirit of my spirit, child of my mother. Is this not true?

Time to lift the veil. Speaking honestly about our history will give us a better sense of belonging to each other. We are no longer playing hide and seek. Don’t you worry, I’m still your brother, I am a person like you. You’re not a racist because of something your great great great great great grandfather might have done.

Around Scotland’s great cities we see memorials to these grandfathers on street names, buildings, statues and plaques. James Lindsay, Henry Dundas, Archibald Ingram, Andrew Buchanan, John Gladstone of Leith, just to mention only a drop in the huge sea of beneficiaries. 

Where are the names of my great great great great grandmothers and grandfathers written? There are no memorials. So I will create them in my own memory. I remember Mariatu, Jalevina, Adama, Tennah, Fatima, Tejan, Kwaku, Mensah, Akua, Funke, Aminu, Olaudah, Ayodele, Funmilayo, Dillyon, Jahshara, and I ask that you remember them too.

Devised by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay in partnership with Edinburgh City of Literature, this year’s Message From the Skies is subtitled Shorelines and marks Scotland’s Year of Coasts and Waters 2020 with texts by five leading writers reflecting on our relationship with our coasts, waters and maritime heritage projected onto buildings around the city. Supported by Creative Scotland through the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh Festivals Expo Fund, these literary illuminations continue until Burns Night on 25 January. For more information, visit