Content warning: This blogpost contains material that may be considered very disturbing to some. Discretion is advised.
When doing research, I sometimes stumble upon very lurid stories. This is one of them. The following text contains an English summary of the newspaper article displayed in the image below.
Semire, an enslaved woman of about 30 years old, was a sickly woman. She was suffering from what has been described in the text as incurable sores, a disease which was very common among the enslaved population at the time. On Monday the 15th of May 1837, she called Davina, a 6 year old enslaved child into her hut at plantation Nieuwstar, where they were both living. Semire shared her hut with fellow enslaved Toetoeba, and Davina had been living with her brother Prins since their mother had died. As soon as Davina entered Semire’s hut, Semire placed the child on her knees and proceeded to strangle her. Immediately after, she cut up the body into pieces which she placed in a basket next to her sleeping mat.
That evening Prins, Davina’s brother, went searching for his little sister all over the plantation, asking several people, including Semire, if they had seen Davina. No one had. The plantation authorities also did whatever they could to find the missing child, but to no avail.
Tuesday came and Semire proceeded to hide the body parts in several places underneath the floorboards of her hut, with the head tucked away deeper in a pit so that according to her ‘no eyes would see it’. That Monday and Tuesday night Semire cooked part of the loins, the heart, the liver and the lunges with bananas. She also served the dish to her roommate Toetoeba, however Toetoeba was unaware of that what had transpired and what she was actually consuming.
On Thursday of that same week, Semire and other enslaved women suffering from the same disease had to report to the plantation hospital to be subjected to research on the effect of a newly imported medicine. Due to a misunderstanding Semire thought that she had to spend the night at the hospital, and therefore she asked Toetoeba to fetch her sleeping mat for her.
Toetoeba obliged, but when she lifted up the mat, she smelled a strong odor of rotten meat. Not knowing where the smell came from, she went to investigate by lifting up some of the floorboards. It was then that she saw a small hand and several other body parts. She immediately raised alarm and informed the overseer, who in turn informed the warden and owner. They interrogated Semire who at first acted as if she couldn’t speak. However, with gestures she confessed to the killing and also to eating some of the body. With her direction, the authorities found the head which upon discovery was recognized by the overseer and the other enslaved as that of Davina. Semire stated that she knew that not just killing but also eating human flesh was wrong. She said that she had done it out of frustration with her own ailment. But also because she just longed to eat something nice.
Semire was born in Africa to the Demacoecoe ethnic group, an ethnic group rumored to be accustomed to eating human flesh. Semire was giving the most extreme sentence, not only because of the gruesome nature of her act, but also to discourage members of the same ethnic group living within Suriname at the time to do the same.
She was sentenced to death by hanging. After death her head was to be severed from her corpse and spiked. The spiked head was to be displayed. Her body was to be buried underneath the gallows.
The above picture is a scan of a page of the slaveregisters of the heirs of Hananja de la Parra, the owners of Davina at the time she was murdered. These registers contained some information regarding the enslaved like their names, or age. It also contained the date any modification took place, with a modification being them being sold, the enslaved getting manumitted, or death. For Davina the recorded modification was death: ‘15 mei 1837 op pl. gewurgd‘ (15th of May 1837 strangled on the pl.).
I don’t know know what happened to poor Prins. The modification for him involved being sold on the 28th of November, which would have been later in the year the murder took place. The last track I have of him is a registry in the registers of plantation De Drie Gebroeders in 1839, a plantation which was owned by the same family. I can’t find any man by the name of Prins on the list of emancipated people that fits his description. Nor on the list of the manumitted. Maybe he was able to escape slavery. Or maybe he just died. Both possibilities would probably have been a blessing considering all the sadness and anguish he must have carried with him from such a young age.