During the dark era of slavery, colonial masters implemented various brutal techniques to exert control and dominance over slaves. One of the most horrifying methods employed was the use of metal masks.
These masks served multiple purposes, all aimed at subduing and dehumanising slaves. The metal masks were used to prevent slaves from eating fruits, chanting spiritual songs, teaching local dialects, and as a means of punishment by starvation.
To begin with, the metal masks were utilised to prevent slaves from indulging in the fruits grown on the plantations. Slaves were expected to work tirelessly in the agricultural fields, harvesting crops such as apples, pineapples, oranges, cashews, bananas, plantains, and sugarcane, to name a few. The mask, made of sturdy metal, effectively blocked the mouth, preventing slaves from consuming the fruits they had laboured to cultivate. This intentional deprivation further undermined the already minimal nutrition given to slaves, leaving them malnourished and physically weakened.
Furthermore, the utilisation of metal masks aimed to suppress the spiritual songs of African slaves. These songs not only provided solace and a sense of unity but also fueled resistance and rebellion against their oppressors. Slave masters feared the power of these songs, as they instilled a sense of identity and strength in those seeking liberation. By silencing these spiritual chants, slave masters attempted to strip away the culture and heritage of the enslaved individuals, extinguishing any hope for freedom and autonomy.
In addition to suppressing spiritual songs, the metal masks were used to prevent slaves from teaching their native languages to their children. Colonial masters sought to erase the African dialects and replace them with foreign languages, mainly those of the oppressors. By denying slaves the ability to pass on their languages to future generations, slave masters aimed to sever the ties between the African heritage and the enslaved community. This systematic destruction of local dialects sought to further marginalised and disempower slaves, leaving them isolated and detached from their roots.
Lastly, metal masks served as a method of punishment by starvation in the slave camps. Slaves who were deemed unruly or disobedient were subjected to this harsh penalty. The metal mask would effectively seal off the mouth, rendering the individual unable to eat or drink. In some instances, slave masters would cruelly force-feed a whole apple to the slave before attaching the metal mask with heavy padlocks, preventing them from engaging in any form of communication. This brutal practice left slaves on the brink of starvation, inflicting immense suffering and reinforcing their position as powerless objects of control.
The use of metal masks during the slavery era is a haunting reminder of the depths of cruelty and dehumanisation inflicted upon enslaved individuals. These masks served as tools of suppression, denying slaves the basic rights to nourishment, cultural expression, and communication. The scars of this horrific period in history still resonate today as a testament to the resilience and strength of those who endured unimaginable suffering.