Short summary - Tamango - Prosper Mérimée

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - Tamango
Prosper Mérimée

Captain Ledoux was a brave sailor. Having entered the service as a simple sailor, after a while he became an assistant helmsman. But in the battle of Trafalgar, in the heat of battle, he crushed his left hand, which later had to be amputated, and the once daring warrior was written off from the ship. In order not to languish from idleness, Ledoux began to study the theory of navigation, studying books bought with savings and waiting for a suitable opportunity to go to sea again. A few years later, already versed in shipping, the cripple became a captain. After working for some time on a privateer lugger, Ledoux switches to a commercial ship, despite the ban on the trade of forced blacks.
Taking part in such a risky venture, Ledoux, with the consent of the ship owner, builds a fast and capacious brig "Nadezhda" - a ship designed specifically for the transportation of "ebony".
The one-armed sea wolf quickly became famous among the slave traders, only he was not destined to revel in fame for long.
On one of the voyages, Ledoux landed on the shores of Africa to buy slaves from the Negro leader Tamango. After exchanging courteous greetings and drinking several bottles of vodka, the interlocutors began to carry out the sale and purchase. The captain did not like the goods offered by the chief. He "shrugged his shoulders, grumbled that men were puny, women were too old or too young, and complained about the degeneration of the black race." For the strongest and most beautiful, Ledoux was ready to pay the usual price, while he agreed to take the rest only at a large discount. Tamango was outraged by these terms of the deal. They shouted for a long time, argued, drank a monstrous amount of alcohol. As a result, the almost completely drunk African lost to the stubborn French. "Cheap fabrics, gunpowder, flints, three barrels of vodka and fifty somehow repaired guns - that was what was given in exchange for one hundred and sixty slaves."
There were still about thirty slaves - children, old people, sick women. Not knowing what to do with this stuff, Tamango offered it to the captain a bottle of "fire" water apiece. Although the ship was completely full, Ledoux nevertheless accepted such a tempting offer. He took from thirty slaves twenty of the thinnest. Then the negro began to ask only for a glass of vodka for each of the ten remaining. The captain bought three more children, but said that he would not take any more negroes. Unable to think of anything better, Tamango decided to kill seven sickly useless slaves as unnecessary. The first shot from the gun knocked the woman down. It was the mother of three children whom Ledoux took. One of his wives prevented the leader from killing the rest of the slaves. Angered by such an insolent act, Tamango, in a rage, hit the girl with the butt and shouted that he was giving it to the Frenchman. The native was young and beautiful. Ledoux readily accepted such a generous gift. The six surviving slaves were exchanged for a snuffbox and released. The captain hastened to start loading his goods onto the ship. Tamango, on the other hand, lay down on the grass in the shade to sleep it off. When he awoke, the brig, already under sail, went down the river. Suffering from a hangover, the African leader demanded his wife Aisha and was incredibly surprised and stunned to learn that she was given to the service of the white captain. Wanting to correct the fatal mistake, Tamango ran to the bay, hoping to find there a boat on which to swim to the brig. Having overtaken the slave ship, he asked his wife back. “They don’t take the donated back,” Ledoux replied, ignoring the hysterics and tears of the Negro, who “then… rolled on the deck, calling on his dear Ayse, then banged his head against the boards, as if he wanted to take his own life”.
During the dispute, the senior mate reported to the imperturbable captain that three slaves had died during the night, having vacated their places, and advised to make servitude the one who not so long ago had himself engaged in such an ignoble occupation as the slave trade. “Ledoux reasoned that Tamango could easily be sold for a thousand crowns, that this trip, which promised him great profits, would probably be the last, that, since he had made money and ended the slave trade, does it matter what kind of fame goes about him on the Guinean coast: good or thin! ". Cunningly taking possession of Tamango's gun, he emptied the entire charge of gunpowder from the weapon. Meanwhile, the senior mate was twirling the saber of the weeping husband, and while he stood unarmed, two stalwart sailors rushed at him, threw him over on his back and began to knit. Thus, the foolish tribal leader became a living forced cattle. “Tamango's comrades in slavery, his former captives, greeted his appearance in their midst with dull surprise. Even now he instilled such fear in them that not one of them dared to outrage the misfortune of the one who was the cause of their own torment. "
Driven by a tailwind from land, the ship quickly moved off the coast of Africa. In order for the human cargo to suffer as little as possible from the tedious sailing, it was decided to take the slaves on deck every day. For some time, Tamango's wound did not allow him to go upstairs. Finally he was able to make this little journey. "Proudly raising his head among the fearful crowd of slaves, he first of all threw a sad but calm look at the vast expanse of water that was spread around the ship, then lay down, or rather, fell on the deck boards, without even arranging his chains more comfortably." But the sight of Aiche serving her French master threw Tamango off balance. The dethroned leader threatened his wife with the terrible Mama-Jumbo, punishing the unfaithful wives. The girl just burst into tears in response.
At night, when almost the entire crew was asleep, a loud voice from Ledoux was heard throughout the ship, shouting curses, and the click of his terrible whip. The next day, when Tamango appeared on the deck, his face was all bruised, but he held himself as proudly as before, deciding from that moment to radically change the situation. Having asked Aisha to get a file, the leader urged the blacks day and night to make a heroic attempt to regain freedom. The authority of the orator, the habit of slaves to tremble before him and obey him helped to achieve the desired result. Blacks even began to rush the leader to carry out a riot.
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One morning Aisha threw a biscuit to her lover, in which a small file was hidden. After a long wait, the great day of revenge and freedom came.
Before one of the "walks" on the deck of the brig, "the slaves tried to saw their chains in such a way that it would not catch the eye, but so that with the slightest effort they could break them." Breathing a little fresh air, they all joined hands and began to dance, and Tamango started a song, singing which, he lay down at the feet of one of the sailors, as if exhausted. All the conspirators did the same. Thus, each sailor was surrounded by several blacks. Having unnoticed breaking his chains, Tamango lets out a conditional cry, announcing the beginning of the rebellion. A fight breaks out. Sailors tumble down under the onslaught of angry slaves. Tamango enters into battle with Ledoux and, in the heat of the battle, tears his throat with his teeth.
The victory was complete. Satisfied with revenge, the negroes looked up to the sails flying in the wind, hoping that Tamango would know how to steer the ship and take them home. Amid the vague roar of hundreds of voices demanding that the brig's path be changed, the newly acquired power leader slowly approached the helm, as if he wanted to postpone at least a little the minute that should have determined the limits of his power for him and for others. Finally, after a series of senseless manipulations, he abruptly turned the steering wheel. "Nadezhda" jumped on the waves, the wind hit the sails with a vengeance, from which both masts collapsed with a terrible crash. The frightened blacks arose a murmur, which soon turned into a storm of reproaches and curses. Tamango again let them down, signing everyone to a long and painful death with his ridiculous act.
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rest of the time, freed, but not free blacks exterminated the provisions stored by the sailors, excessively leaning on vodka. Slowly their number was dwindling: who died from the wounds received during the uprising, who died from drunkenness, who stabbed to death, who fell overboard.
Wanting to restore his authority, Tamango offered to leave the ship, loading two free boats with provisions and sailing to their homelands. "He imagined that if you row everything in front of you, then in the end you will definitely come across some land inhabited by blacks, because blacks own the land, and whites all live on ships." But for the successful implementation of the plan, in the absence of extra places, the wounded and sick will have to be left. Everyone liked the idea.
Soon everything was ready to sail. But, as soon as the boats were lowered into the water, a large wave rose and overturned the trough in which Tamango and Aishe were, without catching the second shuttle, which safely moved further and further, and then completely disappeared beyond the horizon.
Tamango and Aisha managed to survive or, more likely, only to postpone their inevitable death. Once again they found themselves on the deck of the Hope, along with the surviving bunch of creatures slowly dying of wounds and hunger.
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Some time later, the British frigate Bellona discovered a vessel without masts, apparently abandoned by its crew. There they found a dead black woman and a black man, so emaciated and dry that he looked like a mummy. The sufferer was saved. They did with him, as they do with blacks taken from a captured slave ship: they returned freedom, forcing him to work for the government. Tamango became a timpani in the orchestra of the commander of the 75th regiment, “... he learned a little English, but did not like to speak. But he drank excessively rum and sugar vodka. He died in the hospital from pneumonia. "