The Compassionate State

By Etienne Ys

August 26, 2023




It’s the year 1005[1] of the Kayamaga[2] calendar. For over three centuries, the world has bowed down to the mighty Asante Empire. A kingdom richer and larger than ancient Rome ever dared to dream off.

From Asanteman[3], the Asantehene[4] reigns over a large part of Africa, Europe, and the new continent of Kusi Asasetam[5]. Kumasi, the capital of Asanteman, is the world center for trade, science, and art. The Golden City.

The Ashanti people have spread their culture, language, and religion all throughout the Western Hemisphere. However, governing the vastness of the empire has become increasingly difficult. At the end of the previous century, the Asantehene began to allow more self-government to the conquered territories. The subjugated peoples were given more rights and slaves more freedoms. Scholars and philosophers in Kumasi speak of an era of awakening.

One of the territories that gained more autonomy was Botan Po[6], an island in Kusi Asasetam that has become rich and powerful through its gold and trans-Atlantic trade in enslaved Europeans. Since 990 of the Kayamaga calendar, Botan Po has been allowed to call itself a kingdom and its ruler a king.

Botan Po is proud of its new status but skeptical of the liberal ideas emerging in Kumasi and elsewhere. These ideas are not widely endorsed by the conservative Botan Po.

It is in this time of tension where old and new values collide, that King Yaw of Botan Po is faced with a great challenge: how can he secure his throne for the future?

  1. Pater Noster

Yaro is dragged out of the dark catacombs onto the precipice of the palace square. His hands are bound behind his back, and a ring of guards surrounds him.

His sudden appearance on the square ignites a roar of a blood thirsty crowd that has been waiting for this moment.

Amidst the wild cheer of the crowd, he hears the pounding of the atumpan drums, accompanied by the sharp clanging of various metal dawuros. He knows they’ve been entertained all morning by the brutal flogging of other captive slaves. Their thirst for spectacle is insatiable.

Two of the five guards grip Yaro’s arms, pulling him forward at a solemn pace, parading him past the spectators like a sacrifice lamb.

His eyes finally acclimate to the brightness of the sun, allowing him to see the massive crowd in its morbid excitement. They look like wolves, eager for their prey.

Along the barriers stand the Royal Guard, enforcing order.

Across the square, against the towering walls of the palace, he sees the grandstand for the Royal family, dignitaries, and privileged guests.

There, right in the center of the square, a gruesome structure looms. The gallows. His heart pounds relentlessly as he fixates on the noose swaying from the beam. The executioner, whose face is concealed by a mask, stands ready to fulfill his duty.

The beautiful white palace square where the Akwasidae and Awukudae festivals are held every year has been transformed into a ghastly arena of death and despair.

With each rhythmic jingle of the ankle chain, Yaro shuffles forward, flanked by the five guards in a somber pentagonal formation. The short chain dictates the pace of his steps, and his calloused feet shield him from the sharp ends of the gravel beneath. The freckles on his face and bare shoulders, are the only protection against the scorching sun.

“Death to Yaro, death to Yaro!” roars the crowd. “Savages!” he says to himself. He is at a loss as to how people can find enjoyment in such cruelty. He refuses to give in to his feelings of fear. Determined not to give the crowd that satisfaction, he gazes up at the sky, whispering a prayer to Almighty Jahwe for strength and support. His lips barely move, unnoticed by the guards at his side. High above, a bird circles in the sky, perhaps a vulture, but the sun prevents him from keeping his focus.

In front of the crowd, he sees a vast group of male and female slaves who are forced to witness his impending doom. His fate must serve as a warning for the other slaves. He notices the intense emotions surrounding them. Some slaves call out words of encouragement, assuring him that God stands by his side and urging him not to fear. Others promise to carry on the torch. Amidst the uplifting cries, a group of slaves begins to chant: “Marcus, Marcus, Marcus!” Yaro’s heart fills with gratitude at the honor of being compared to the revered old Roman emperor.

The guards, always marching in precise formation, pivot, and lead Yaro toward the center of the square. The end of his difficult journey is near. The chain feels like lead on his weary feet, and his body drips with sweat. He’s exhausted.

His eyes fixate on the daunting stairs that lie ahead, leading to the scaffold. The executioner awaits him at the top. Nine steps separate him from death.

Al off a sudden, a surge of breathlessness paralyzes his movements. A forceful hand pushes him forward, urging him to take the first step. He stumbles but manages to gather his resolve. He takes a deep breath, widens his eyes, and straightens his back, while bravely placing one foot on the first step. He then carefully places the other alongside the first. Success! Now the second step, and the third one, and …

As he climbs the stairs, he hears his mother’s voice in his head: “Our king will grant mercy. He is a good man.” He tries to hold on to those words, but with each step he takes, the little hope they give him dwindles. Finally, he reaches the scaffold on his last breath. An overwhelming stench of blood from the slaves tortured earlier, assaults him. He sees splatters of blood all around. His knees threaten to give way, but he is determined not to falter.

Now he faces the grandstand, full of dignitaries and members of the Royal family.

But wait! The empty chair beside King Yaw catches his attention. It is meant for Crown Prince Juma. But where is he?

Yaro reflects on the previous evening when an unexpected visitor arrived at his dimly lit cell in the catacombs.

The Crown Prince stood before the cell, and they locked eyes. “Your Royal Highness,” Yaro uttered softly. The prince nodded in acknowledgment.

He gestured one of the guards to open the cell and stepped inside.

They stood still, gazing at each other as their shadows danced on the background wall of the cell, triggered by the flickering light of a few oil lamps.

The prince broke the silence and spoke, almost whispering, “We submitted a plea for clemency to the king this afternoon.” Yaro maintained an emotionless stare, unsure of how to react to the news.

“There are seven signatories…,” Prince Juma continued, “including the Prime Minister, two senators, and myself. We also convinced the envoy from Kumasi to advise the king to postpone the execution and consult with Asantehene Osei Tutu.”

The prince glanced around and motioned for the guards to stand further away from the cell before continuing.

“Tomorrow morning, we each have the opportunity to present our case to the king. He must understand that using your execution as a warning will backfire. It will fuel aggression among the slaves and escalate the risk of a rebellion. We believe a significant portion of the progressive population supports us.”

It went silent again as Yaro absorbed the prince’s words, allowing them to sink in. Should he derive hope from this? “And what do you think, Your Royal Highness?” Yaro asked hesitantly.

“As you know, the king can decide to stop the execution at any time until the last moment. We still have hope,” replied Prince Juma.

Yaro looked disappointed and lowered his head.

The prince took a step forward, placing a hand on Yaro’s shoulder, and lowered his head to meet his gaze. He whispered, “Yaro, you know I can arrange for…”

“What?!” Yaro interjected, “For me to escape?”

Realizing he might have spoken too harshly, he continued in a softer tone, “And how will you and the king explain my escape from the palace catacombs to the Confederation Council?”

The Crown Prince fell silent, unable to provide an answer. Yaro, wanting to reassure the prince of his loyalty, spoke, “Your intentions are noble, and I am grateful. I have trust in the king’s benevolence. Whatever may happen to me, I know you will continue to fight for a better life for the slaves.”

Prince Juma sighed deeply, took two steps back, and nodded with resignation. The guard opened the cell, and the prince vanished, along with his entourage, into the dark passages of the catacombs.

Yaro is jolted from his thoughts as the executioner pulls his arm. He stands beneath the gallows, the noose dangling above him, awaiting the king’s signal.

His gaze remains fixed on the empty chair of the Crown Prince. Why isn’t he present? How did the hearing with the king go?

A tense silence falls over the crowd. All eyes are on King Yaw, who is extending his right arm with the palm facing downward. He then closes his fist. The gemstones on his bracelets sparkle in the light.

Yaro looks up again and spots a vulture circling high in the sky. Suddenly, a black cloth is placed over his eyes, plunging the world around him into darkness. He feels the cloth being securely knotted behind his head. He is not granted a final say. The cloth partly covers his nose, making it difficult to breathe. The noose is tightened around his neck, and he gasps for air. The executioner grips his arm firmly. As the silence and darkness around him continue, panic sets in. His legs tremble, and his breath quickens, becoming shallow. A suffocating sensation grips his chest.

His life flashes before his eyes. The sweet scent of lavender from his mother’s dress, the moments he played with the young prince in the palace’s backrooms, and the last embrace of his beloved.

Then, the silence is broken.

“Pater noster…,” echoes through the crowd.

The chanting brings Yaro back to the present. The crowd gasps in surprise.

The prayer continues, “qui es in caelis, …”.

The slaves are praying in unison and with all their hearts, the prayer that Yaro, himself taught them.

“sanctificetur nomen tuum…”.

The crowd becomes clearly agitated. The blindfolded Yaro hears spectators exclaiming, “What is this?” “They’re praying to the false God Jahwe in the dead language of the Romans.”

The prayer goes on, louder and louder, “Adveniat regnum tuum.”

Yaro envisions hundreds of slaves kneeling in prayer, holding hands. The audience curses, “Blasphemy.” “Christianity is forbidden.”

“Fiat voluntas tua, sicut in caelo et in terra.” The commotion intensifies. “Why doesn’t the Royal Guard intervene?” “This is scandalous!”

“Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie, …”

Meanwhile, Yaro joins in the prayer with all his might. He feels a sense of calm. He thanks Jahwe for answering his prayers. The chanting grows louder, finding rhythm and harmony, as if angels are singing along.

“et dimitte nobis debita nostra …”

“I’m still alive,” Yaro whispers to himself. He can breathe deeply again. His strength returns. Every nerve in his body starts to tingle with energy.

The spectators grumble, “Why does the king wait so long?”

“sicut et nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. …”

Yaro feels at peace. The black cloth covering his eyes absorbs his tears of joy.

“Et ne nos inducas in tentationem: …”

He sees the light. He is convinced God Jahwe touched the king’s heart.

“sed libera nos a malo…”

He holds his breath.


And once again, a profound silence descends.

[1]1875 Anno Domini.

[2] Kayamaga is a West African king who ruled more than 1,000 years earlier.

[3] Modern-day Ghana.

[4] The emperor.

[5] Kusi Asasetam is the modern-day continent of America, named after king Kusi Obodom.

[6] Botan Po is the island of Hispanola that includes the modern-day countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

"His eyes fixate on the daunting stairs that lie ahead, leading to the scaffold. The executioner awaits him at the top. Nine steps separate him from death."

-Etienne Ys

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About the author

Etienne Ys

Etienne Ys was born (1962) and raised in Curaçao. He obtained his master’s degree in tax law in the Netherlands.Upon returning to Curaçao, he embarked on a twelve-year political career after a brief stint at the tax office. During this period, he held positions such as Minister of Finance and Prime Minister. After his political career, he started working in the financial sector for several years. And after that, he has been an independent consultant for some years now. Throughout his career, he has held various (supervisory) director’s roles in both the public and private sectors. In addition to his professional endeavors, Etienne Ys has been actively involved as a volunteer, serving as a general advisor for the Collaborative Funds. These are Dutch charitable foundations that subsidize projects in the Dutch Caribbean islands. Furthermore, Etienne Ys takes great pride in being the founder and chairman of Fundashon Tur Ta Konta (Foundation Every Child Counts), an organization that helps children with mathematics. In his younger years, Etienne Ys was known for his dancing skills. He performed and instructed in folkloric and Latin American dances, including the Argentinian Tango. He hopes to soon pick up that hobby again. Lastly, Etienne Ys aspires to add another accomplishment to his resume: that of a novelist.