Harvester, Southern Nigeria

Jessica Sequeira

We come at night, when it is cool. The palm fruits are heavy, with bristling surfaces that scrape our hands. We toss them down to the others waiting. The work is repetitive and exhausting, for us and for our wives, who trample the fruits to get at their oil, the soul of the fruit. Where does this oil go? Why can’t the whites in other lands use something else for their cooking, their candles, their machines? Our hands are callused, our bodies bruised. Sometimes when I am up there, just below the heart of the tree, I whisper to it: “Sister, I apologize for taking your fruits. Sister, I am sorry that I cannot leave you to ripen what you bear in peace. The men are planning a revolt but you cannot tell anyone, sister. We will make our plans while inside your womb. We do not want anything from you, just as we do not want them to take anything from us. Sister, listen. Soon it will be over, I promise. Some people think that the business of palm oil replaced slaves, but it is not true. The business of palm oil depends on slaves. We harvesters are needed to pick the palm fruits, to climb the trees. Our women on the other hill cook the nuts until they’re soft, so that the oil can be extracted. Then they stomp it in vats like wine. The men harvest, the women do the rest. Three hundred pounds of fruit make thirty-six pounds of oil, they tell us. They say that we need to be more productive, that the English are waiting, cash in hand. They say that we are lucky to be here, on an individual smallholding, rather than a big plantation. They say that in those places, there is no talk like this, only the sound of the whip that gives lashings. Above us the moonfruit shines bright in the sky, far away from the people who will buy your fruits, far away too from this interior of the Bight of Benin. We can imagine nothing worse than our fate in these lands. Sister, be patient with us. It will not be long.”

From A Luminous History of the Palm, Sublunary Editions, 2020

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Versión en Español

Jessica Sequeira hat den Roman “A Furious Oyster”, den Erzählband “Rhombus and Oval”, den Essayband “Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age” und das Hybridwerk “A Luminous History of the Palm” veröffentlicht. Sie hat zahlreiche Bücher lateinamerikanischer Autoren übersetzt und wurde 2019 mit dem Premio Valle-Inclán ausgezeichnet. Gegenwärtig lebt sie zwischen Chile und Grossbritannien, wo sie am Zentrum für Lateinamerika-Studien der Universität Cambridge promoviert.

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