While I try to be open minded about the experience and identities of others, I can’t help but be drawn to strong, black women. I know its because I see something of myself in them that I can identify with: a shared culture and world view that you can only understand if you’ve not only walked in the shoes of the black woman, but worn the bra of and shaken your hips as only the black woman can. So recently, I’ve been compelled to write a fictional story inspired by a group of incredibly strong black women that I’ve met in London.
The story is loosely based on their past and present lives. What is remarkable about their story is that their mother gave birth to seven girls and raised them largely without the involvement of their father. They came from prominence and aristocracy, but, following the abandonment of their father, faced much poverty and hardship. Yet through it all, the eight of them maintained their sense of family and steeled their faith against breaking. Their strong wills helped them to come out of terrible experiences whole and together.
Also, parts of the story are juxtaposed onto that of a Nhara or senora or signare, who is an ancestress of the main characters. These Nharas were strong entrepreneurial African women who secured wealth and status for themselves often by marrying or forming business arrangements with European men who wished to export slaves out of West Africa. By many accounts, these women were forces to be reckoned with. I’m still doing research about these fascinating historical figures, particularly in the regions of West Africa formerly controlled by the Portuguese, so that my Nhara character can be at least plausible if not historically accurate.
I want to complete this novel, publish it and dedicate it to strong black women everywhere. From the Nharas to the fictional Santiago sisters (and the non-fictional sisters on which they are based), this is for you: the strong black women who continue to inspire me. Perhaps one day, thanks to you all, I may just yet mature into an equally inspirational strong black woman.
~ L. Astounded
Preview of the Seven Sisters:
I am the very youngest of seven. Yes, seven. All girls.
I’m obviously quite happy with the number. Any less and I wouldn’t exist. ‘But why so many as seven?’ one might ask. The answer to the question is a simple one: I have African parents.
They weren’t just any run of the mill African parents. My parents were aristocracy. My father did not simply claim that he was descended of kings, as is en vogue to say with certain members of the African Diaspora. My father had the wealth, influence and history to prove it.
He was a politician of some sort. I’m not sure what exactly it was that he did. I never bothered to ask or cared to know much about him. However, I knew that his job took him to different parts of the world, which is why some of my sisters have really exotic birthplaces: Madagascar, the Netherlands, Malaysia, and Turkey. I was born in London, my two oldest sisters (for those keeping track) were born in my father’s native country of Cape Verde.
As with any typical man from a largely patriarchal society with traditional values, my father wanted a legacy, someone that could carry on the family name when he passed: in short, a son. Shortly after my birth, his seventh ‘failure’ as he so affectionately put it, he came to the strongly coerced conclusion that my mother couldn’t give him that which he desired most. The sum of a loving wife and seven daughters was not worth as much to him as that elusive son. So, he abandoned my mother in Europe to conquer a younger, fresher, dumber womb.
He didn’t just leave my mother, my sisters and I. He took our passports, all of our legal documents and blocked any funds that my mother had access to. He subsequently had their marriage annulled without her consent, absolving him of any financial responsibility to my mother or us. Remember, he was a man of politics; he knew what channels he had to visit to make things like that happen. What was more, she was stranded in a country (Belgium) where she did not speak the language well, with seven children ranging from several weeks to eleven years of age.
That coercion that I mentioned earlier wasn’t just against her supposedly sex-specific infertility. It was also laced with years of accusing my mother of infidelity and placing doubt on my father’s paternity to more than one of her children, me in particular. If my father had been a man of logic, he would have realized that his inability to have a son had nothing with my mother. He would have perhaps relied on modern medicine to address this situation. If he were a man of reason, he would have had the paternity of his children tested, as is reasonable when in doubt. It was the early nineties; the technology was available and he was a rich man. My father was, if nothing else, proud and passionate. As a man of passion, he acted according to his slighted pride at his wife’s supposed infidelity and at her inability to give him sons. Well the joke’s on him. From what we here about him, twenty-three years, two more wives, and a dozen more daughters later, he still can’t have sons.
So, at the debut of the nineties a penniless, single mother of seven young children from a previous opulent, spoiled, pampered life had to learn to be independent. It’s not where most people would have wanted to start, but it’s where this story, my life, started.
That’s all I care to mention about the man that fathered me. This is not about him. It’s about the six best friends and worst enemies that anyone could have been given. And me. I’ll try to share this story without getting those who follow lost in the potential chaos that so many breasts and egos inevitably bring.