by Cinque Brown
My name is ................
Since the death of Tupac Amaru Shakur, many people have shown themselves to be phony and/or opportunist (C. Delores Tucker, Biological Father, University of California at Berkeley) by now, challenging his estate, with multi-million dollar lawsuits. It is a shame that his mother, Afeni Shakur now has to deal with more legal obstacles, but this time they are civil not criminal and the reasons are economical not political.
One of my female students, who is very superstitious and a big fan of Tupac would always argue that "negativity" was going to continue to visit Tupac until he changed his name from "Makaveli" back to Tupac. She would passionately argue that since Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a evil, cunning, Italian Philosopher, he would be punished for changing his name from a "good name" to a "bad name". The Random House dictionary defines Machiavellian as (adj) unscrupulously cunning or deceptive. This was arrived at, from the name of the philosopher. She really believed that the Mafia had a "hit", put out on Tupac because he was ruining and distorting the "famous" or should we say "infamous" name, of one of their best. When he was subsequentially murdered, she was telling her fellow classmates that the "Mob" had him killed. Much of her hypothesis is obviously grounded in adolescent emotion but her correlation with name definition is powerful.
Tupac Amaru Shakur is one of those names that wields power, much like Cinque - :)
The original, Tupac Amaru was a Native American rebel, chieftain and freedom fighter. Afeni Shakur honored her son with this name because she grew up with the understanding that names brought pride, honor and dignity to a individual.
On December 17, 1996 a Latin American Marxist Group called the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Rebels (TARR) took nearly 500 people (mostly rich diplomats) hostage, in Lima, Peru. TARR, held many of these dignitaries for ransom, in exchange for political prisoners jailed by various governments (including the U.S.) The Tupac rebels released all, but 72 of their hostages within the first month without ever receiving one political prisoner in return. On April 23, 1997 the Peruvian Government launched an all out attack on the compound killing all 14 rebels and one diplomat. This event made International Headlines. For the first time many young people learned of the original Tupac Amaru from which the group also took it's name. The groups actions and the result of their activities added some history to the general populace about the notoriety of the name.
Similarly, I was named after a African Prince of the Mende Tribe from Sierra Leone, West Africa. He was a "mutineer" and a freedom fighter. His name was recorded in the annals of history as Joseph Cinque. Seemingly ever since the death of Marcus Moziah Garvey in 1940, African-Americans have honored Garvey's, legacy of racial pride and African consciousness with "Afrocentric" or African names. Cinque is a name which comes about through this tradition.
Cinque was also the name of the leader of a rebel group called the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The SLA killed a few people, committed a few crimes and mysteriously enough, white males took the fall for their efforts (most all SLA members were White or Asian). Like the TARR, the SLA received virtually no attention until February 4th of 1974. The SLA made international headlines when leader Donald Cinque, another black male and a white female; kidnaped Patricia "Patty" Hearst, the scion to the multi million dollar Hearst Publishing Empire. They are alleged, to have brainwashed her, to speak out against her rich father, his yellow journalism techniques and to sleep with black men among other things. She was "brainwashed" into committing crimes with the group and "changed her name to Tania". Her photo graced Time and Newsweek magazine covers as the rechristened "Tania" holding a machine gun during a SLA bank heist . Eighteen months later they were all arrested and Cinque was the first one, out of jail (This is another story).
Debbie Allen wrote up a script for Joseph Cinque's life story. It was shopped around Hollywood and NO black filmmakers were interested in making this movie. Oddly enough, Cinque Lee, is also the namesake of Joseph Cinque and represents the other half of the fourth tandem of filmmaking African- American brothers (behind the Hudlin, Hughes and Wayans Bros). Yes, this is the brother of Spike Lee.
Low and behold, comes cinematic genius Steven Spielberg. Spielberg accepts the script and tells the story of my namesake, Joseph Cinque in a film called Amistad. I only hope that he is as sensitive with Amistad as he was with Schindler's List.
Spielberg's friend, Steve Zaillian has already "reworked" the original script, its now, " workable". Now, it will focus on former U.S. President John Quincy Adams' court room testimony and defense of Cinque. This "workable script" is currently being fashioned into a book and will be accepted by many, as historical fact. Spielberg has also demanded that the frugal 56 million dollar budget be cut down to 36 million. He said, "I know we can do this for less", I hope he is right. Spielberg views Adams as the film's, "spiritual father" (I am getting worried). Outside of Schindler's List, Spielberg brags to Time magazine (5/14/97) how careful he is, "not to buck the establishment".
Joseph Cinque pronounced (sin-kay), led a mutiny aboard a Spanish vessel involved in the slave trade, called the Amistad- which eerily means "Friendship", in the year 1839. The Amistad was picking up Africans in Cuba en route to America. Actually, the original ship, Cinque was captured onto was a large vessel called the Tecora, which could hold about 300 slaves. Cinque and fifty three other Africans had their names and "passports" altered in Cuba. Cinque's real name is SENGBE PIEH pronounced (Shayn -bay- Pee-eh). This should have been my name. (But I guess, Malcolm X is still El Hajj Malik Shabazz).
Cinque did not know what was to become of them. There was a mulatto "cook" on board named Celestino, who communicated (laughingly) to Cinque, that they were going to be "cooked" and eaten. Cinque led a bloody uprising, of 49 males and 4 females, which allowed the Africans control of the ship. They MADE SURE they killed the "cook" first. They killed all but two of the other Portuguese captors. Having no African available to navigate them correctly back to West Africa, they ended up in Long Island, New York.
As history, would have it, there was a strong abolition movement in the North and many Whites were sympathetic to Cinque but others wanted him tried as a murderer. Cinque was very tired (especially being 2 months on the ocean) and simply wanted to be allowed to go back home. The Middle Passage Journey typically killed 66% of all Africans. His court case, threatened the whole institution of slavery. (Ironically, the Chief Justice for this case was, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, of the infamous Dred Scott Decision). They came before the Supreme Court with Adams acting as their counsel, Cinque argued in his native tongue (there was a translator also) so passionately that it stirred up the abolitionist (they did not understand the Mende dialect but they understood him) in the court room. Cinque and the others were free to go back to Africa.
After two years of fund-raising via J.Q. Adams, enough money was raised to allow Cinque and now 35 other Africans, to return to Africa. Unfortunately, not to his native Sierra Leone, but to the neighboring Liberia which at the time was being used as a safe haven for free Blacks under the care take of the American Colonization Society, he died in 1852. Starting today you may, call me ...... Sengbe Pieh.
Since the time I have thought about writing this piece, I have had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Joseph Cinque's great, great grandson. His name is Cinque Raha Amaru.
Cinque's story is one of rebellion, it is in the tradition of Nat Turner and many others who HIS-tory would led believe us to were believe were crazy.
Dedicated to the superstitious girl in my class who shall
remain anonymous, she knows who she is.
Editor's Note(12/9/97): To read Cinque's review of Amistad, go to the following site:
Another story about a man named Cinque with a struggle can be found at: http://dcwi.com/~magee/mumia.html