The Label Meanings
The meaning of the names of my labels, and the artwork, range from musical definitions (I’m also a musician) to things relevant to Black people which are also empowering.
Motif – a brief melodic or rhythmic formula out of which longer passages are developed; a recurring element. I chose this name because like some people say, “begin with bubbly and end with bubbly.” This wine is the perfect one to open up a meal or festive experience, as well as perfect for the last call. And normally, more than one bottle is consumed!
Caprice – the quality of having a sudden desire to do something. The first time I had a Custoza [wine] was my first time in Italy (2011) as I was there to attend VinItaly. I stayed in the town of San Martino Buon Albergo and for the first few days, I would travel into the main drag, settle into a nice bistro, and enjoy Custoza wines, both still and sparkling. The wine was the perfect after work accompaniment for just getting up and doing something.
Bakhita – this wine was named after Sister Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of the town of Schio, which lies in Vicenza (Veneto). I first came to know about her when attending a Christmas fundraising party for an African American Catholic parish in Camden, NJ whose church is under her name. I always try to find strong Black women for others to feel proud of.
She was born around 1869 in Darfur in the village of Olgossa. She was of the Daju people; her respected and reasonably prosperous father was brother of the village chief. In 1877, when she was 7–8 years old, she was seized by Arab slave traders, who had abducted her elder sister two years earlier. She was forced to walk barefoot about six hundred miles to El-Obeid and was sold and bought twice before she arrived there. Over the course of twelve years (1877–1889), she was sold three more times and then given away. Bakhita was not the name she received from her parents at birth. It is said that the trauma of her abduction caused her to forget her own name; she took one given to her by the slavers, bakhita, Arabic for ‘lucky’ or ‘fortunate’. She was also forcibly converted to Islam.
In El-Obeid, Bakhita was bought by a rich Arab who used her as a maid for his two daughters. They liked her and treated her well. But after offending one of her owner’s sons, possibly by breaking a vase, the son lashed and kicked her so severely that she spent more than a month unable to move from her straw bed. Her fourth owner was a Turkish general, and she had to serve his mother-in-law and his wife, who were cruel to their slaves. Bakhita says: “During all the years I stayed in that house, I do not recall a day that passed without some wound or other. When a wound from the whip began to heal, other blows would pour down on me.”
Suakin on the Red Sea was besieged but remained in Anglo-Egyptian hands. Augusto Michieli acquired a large hotel there and decided to sell his property in Italy and to move his family to Sudan permanently. Selling his house and lands took longer than expected. By the end of 1888, Signora Turina Michieli wanted to see her husband in Sudan even though land transactions were not finished. Since the villa in Zianigo was already sold, Bakhita and Mimmina needed a temporary place to stay while Turina went to Sudan without them. On the advice of their business agent Illuminato Cecchini, on 29 November 1888, Turina Michieli left them in the care of the Canossian Sisters in Venice. There, cared for and instructed by the Sisters, Bakhita encountered Christianity for the first time. Grateful to her teachers, she recalled, “Those holy mothers instructed me with heroic patience and introduced me to that God who from childhood I had felt in my heart without knowing who He was.”
When Mrs. Michieli returned to take her daughter and maid back to Suakin, Bakhita firmly refused to leave. For three days Mrs. Michieli tried to force the issue, finally appealing to the king’s attorney general; while the superior of the Institute for baptismal candidates (catechumenate) that Bakhita attended contacted the cardinal of Venice about her protegée’s problem. On 29 November 1889 an Italian court ruled that because the British had outlawed slavery in Sudan before Bakhita’s birth and because Italian law had never recognized slavery as legal, Bakhita had never legally been a slave. For the first time in her life, Bakhita found herself in control of her own destiny. She chose to remain with the Canossians. On 9 January 1890 Bakhita was baptized with the names of Josephine Margaret and Fortunata (which is the Latin translation for the Arabic Bakhita). On the same day, she was also confirmed and received Holy Communion from Archbishop Giuseppe Sarto, the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice, the future Pope Pius X
On 7 December 1893 Josephine Bakhita entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters and on 8 December 1896, she took her vows, welcomed by Cardinal Sarto. In 1902 she was assigned to the Canossian convent at Schio, in the northern Italian province of Vicenza, where she spent the rest of her life. Her only extended time away was between 1935 and 1939, when she stayed at the Missionary Novitiate in Vimercate (Milan); mostly visiting other Canossian communities in Italy, talking about her experiences, and helping to prepare young sisters for work in Africa. A strong missionary drive animated her throughout her entire life – “her mind was always on God, and her heart in Africa”.
During her 42 years in Schio, Bakhita was employed as the cook, sacristan, and portress (doorkeeper) and was in frequent contact with the local community. Her gentleness, calming voice, and the ever-present smile became well known and Vicenzans still refer to her as Sor Moretta (“little brown sister”) or Madre Moretta (“black mother”). Her special charisma and reputation for sanctity were noticed by her order; the first publication of her story (Storia Meravigliosa by Ida Zanolini) in 1931, made her famous throughout Italy. During the Second World War (1939–1945) she shared the fears and hopes of the townspeople, who considered her a saint and felt protected by her mere presence. Bombs did not spare Schio, but the war passed without a single casualty.
Her last years were marked by pain and sickness. She used a wheelchair but she retained her cheerfulness, and if asked how she was, she would always smile and answer: “As the Master desires.” In the extremity of her last hours, her mind was driven back to the years of her slavery and she cried out: “The chains are too tight, loosen them a little, please!” After a while, she came round again. Someone asked her, “How are you? Today is Saturday,” probably hoping that this would cheer her because Saturday is the day of the week dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus. Bakhita replied, “Yes, I am so happy: Our Lady … Our Lady!” These were her last audible words
Bakhita died at 8:10 PM on 8 February 1947. For three days her body lay on display while thousands of people arrived to pay their respects. Her remains were transferred to the Church of the Holy Family of the Canossian convent of Schio in 1969.