THIlS VOLUME HAS BEEN
dru n. _
REB3E L D ES TI N Y
lI is jaid: lI' a pe~rl~rso jirj upC a hole,
h; swill finrd :c'hat is inr it.
--Bush Negro proverb
Li illi '~*5~?r~
'1 7 "~-~
~( I pi
1\1 111 '! (i
1 L~'r ~r
i~ G I: ~
I r I it.1 I ('1) I I-,
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ol/710Hg / C i1/3c eTg/'ocSr ? Zrtc ///C irand
1\lELl'ILLE J. HERSK;O\ITS
FRANCES S. HERSKOl'lTS
bMecGRAW -H I LL BOOKJ CO! .\ P N Y, I nc.
NrEWl YORK AND~[ LONDON
I *)J .
Copyrrght, 1934?. b.', th
AlcGuit-HILL 800i CoLIPray, leNc.
All riihts rcerene.1 Thii beck. or pirts thereof,.
rr3x, nor be repre..dued .n jn, foun w~tho~ut
permirrion 01 the purbli hers.
Mclrat\..-Hu.i. Il~oos Cones~i ih.I.
Pri tri an tle t' na.it.net.:a .inar:,.a!<
T'.: .11s;.'s Pre C...mpu s, Y.:.rr Pa.
ELSIE. CLEWS PARSONS
THE pagees that fo~llow describe scenes in the li\es off
a Negro~ people li\ing in iso-lation in the interior of
Dutch Guiana, South Am~erica. These Neeroes are
the descendants of runaway;r! slavs\ imported from Africa,
wrho tiook refuge in the dense Guiana bush arnd established
African villages alongJ the rivers w:ho:se rapids are their
fo:rtifica-tio:ns. The end of the seventeenth century already
fo~und these Negro:es in constaintly grow~:ing: numbers up
the Suriname River, and before the middle ojf the next
century they weree suffciently organized to~ make repeated
raids on the plantatio:ns fo~r guns and gunpowvder, for
machetes and w~omen. Several campaigns wrere coc-nductedl
against them, but eventually hnal treaties mrere concluded
wi~th the Dutch owners of~ the colo-n\, which duaranteed
theml their freedom. Today w;hen a Bush Negro: drinks
writh,- a hite man his toast is F~re!"
Three tribal grolups go to make up this Bush Negro
popu-lation. The Saramacca tribe, of wrhoim wer wirite, is
found in the heart of the colony alongS the upper reaches
of the Suriname River (ccalled by the Bush Negroes the
"Saramacca." and hence so named in this book'r, nd
farther south alo~ne the Gran Rio~ and the Pikiien Rio This
tribe has had the least cojntact w~ith outside influences, and
it is the Saramacea laneuace which ditfers most fro~m that
spoken by the Negroes o-f the coa~stal regi~on. The second
is thle Awkal~ tribe, foulnd mainly along the Alaro\nyne
( Marojni' River. wvhich forms the bolunjdry between French
and Dutch Gu~iana; there are in addition several Awvka
villages on the lowe'r Suriname. The third tribe, the 80ni,
is relatively small, and is localized in the interior ofl Frenchi
Guiana. notc far from the Dutch boundary-. In any co:n-
siderartioni of the GuLiana Negrioe, yet a fourthli groIup must
be kepr in mrinJ~-thst of the- Neg~res of the coastal region,
whoi~ remasinedl enlslaved until their emaincip atrion in 186:;.
Th~e coujntrs of the Saramacc3 people is reached from
Parmarbe. th caita an pot the co~lony of~ Suriname
(Du~tch G~uiana). b\ the neerll:1 trasin wh.lichl rees~ sOme
ninet\-five m~lcs toj Kaberl. \the~re ther ra lis-, m~ees the
ri\cr. Fromr Kabhel transpolrtation intoi the far interiolr i::
bi. djueout canoe,~L' ie.\ned. and mannedl bi\ Saramacea men.
TIhe country above~ Ka~bel. which the SaramaTc~ca People
call the "'blg bushl." is jungle. Over th~e .catecrshedi lie the
A\mazo~n basin andl the fojrests of northern Brazil. O~nce
in thi; region.. the traveclcr has nor con~ltact w~ith Euro~pean
ciivilizatio~n. through he is still under, thle plroteCtion of the
Dultch Gor-crnmne nt.
T'he pictures whlich we~ dra: ofi the Saram~c~ca peopIILe Is
biased upo~n twoi tield trips to~ Dutrch Guiana, undertake: n
in the su mmcr j of~ 19:S anid 139 9 During our seco~ndi trip .i
\ic traveirged the e~ntire~ stretch of thle Saramna ccr a cou~ntr y
from~n below\l I;bel. wheilre the Aw\~l:s villages are locatedci
to7 the last nathe ha~bitation o;n the' PIkIe:n Rio. beyvond
wh Iich are so~me fields, then uninha~bitated miiles ofi wIilder-
ness t~ thle Brazilian borderr.
Theli cthno:loerical w:ork; ccnducted amuJne the Sarraman~cc
tribe of Buish NeFrloes andi th-e Neru' oes of the coasstl rseion
of1 Suriname represe~nts a7 porcionl ofi an inve.rStigatio iltOO
thle ph!'sical and cultural characterirrici o~f thle Neg~ries
oj rlhe N-\i \\'orld. Th~ig research. whIich is still in progress.
has includedi field woirk in the~ Unitedl Status. in Dutch
Guia~na, and in Afirica, and1 some~ compasrabler ~ ;udy in
the islands of the Caribbeanrr. It began in 193' ulth sn
inquiry into. Neg~ro-whlite crlossing in the Uinited Stalte .'
AsI the; wo'jrk progr~esse it be~came eideijnt that the pro~blem
F.:r the remi:ul -f thii Fortrsj of Ihe ir~.ve-.r ljarno. tee AI. J. Her L.-,:in; ,
--The Am erican Nu~r-:, r Sturi~ il KRaiil Cr.:..einE" (io.' ; rnd "'The A-nthr:-
pornerr! ol the Arnerkadn Negro") (1II1.')
l \i l
demanded more know:ledee of the sources of the slaves
w~ho compose the Negro- ancestry of the Americain Negroe~s
than wa';s available.. This know~ledgje, nwhich historical
documents do, not give u;, wa3s, therefore, to: be s~ughit in a
comparison of Negro cultures in the Newl W\orld and in
As the researchl wasg continued, m~~TorecTve it became
apparent that the scientific problem of the Negro in the
New World held implication; of~ larger significance, and
that thle history of the Negro in the New W~orld has con-
stitutd3 a v.aSt "ialboratory" experiment in thle processes
of racial mixture and of cultural contacts. The Neg~roes
wvho w\ere bro-ught to the New~ W~orld came of various1
We'st African stocks, and here they ming~led their bloodJ
w\ith the English? the French, the Dutch, w~ith the~ Danishi.
Spanish, and Portuguese wh'lo became their masters. and
rthey absorbed in va7rying~ degrees the culture of these
masters. At the ame time, ther came in conract writh
abo~riginal Indian peoples writhi wrhomm hey Also mingled.
But the Negror has not oinl. absorTbed; he has also givein.
The c~onclusion, still held by many student;, that the Negro
slave~ came to, this cou~n~tr a sava.ge child w~ith or) wit~hout
his loin cloth, and as nak;ed culturally as he as sarto7riall,
is one which cannot todays! be nccepted.
At the beginning of o~ur Reid work in Suriname, o~ne of us
went up the Suriname Ri\er to 2stud! thle Buih Neg~roess
and the other remained in Para.marTibc. to~ collect[ folk loreC
from the tow~n Negroes and to ascertain w~hat Africanisms
could be disicerned in their berlicts and bhavs\ior. W\hen \;e
met a7nd compared notes, so~me striking things came to
light, for bush and tow~\n Negroes wecre, as the evidennce in
hand sugges;ted, mnuch more closely allied culturally than
had been realized, while both were seen to havet m7ny
aspects of culture that clearly link them w~ith We'st African
and other Newv W\orld Negroes.
Thus, in buish and tow~n, the NegrToes hold the samel
concept and ot'fer the same explanations of the soul and
its infuenc~e on the life of man. and both employ the wvord
akra for soul, a wrord used on the Gold Coast of Africa
exactly as it is in Gjuiana. ~The day names associated writh
the soul are Gold Coast day3\ names,5 knownl in famaica
and heard in the United States, as well. In the bush the
Saramacca people are "p~ossssesed" by the g~ods and by
obia; in thle tow~n the Negroes are "po~ssessed:' b :cirli, a
word meaning windl and the uise of~ wrind as a euphemismn
for the gods is common in Dahomey and Ashanti. Ma~n!
of the pods o~f both bush and tow,\n are the same, and the\
are Afr~ian gods. invoked today in Niger~ia, in Dahomey,.
in Tlogo, in Ashanti. and invonked also in the islands ofj the
Caribbean. INyani~ompon, the Bush Neg~ro name for the
S k God. is the Gold CoastI na me. The Aia roone of Ja ma ica
knowr this deity under the same designation. Dago:ler is
a snake cod in the Suriname bush and in tow~rn-trhe
Haitianr and Dahomeasns Jance to~ thle 'amne snake: cd,i
wehom rthey call Dangbe. In \\esjt A5frica thle silk-cotton
and loko tree are zacred. In the Saramaces villages and
in the towrn of Parimaribao they. are sacred as well, and the
names areC Dahomean names, k~now\n also in Haiti. In buch
and towrn the people dance to_ the ri\er godls, as do thei
NcEroes in A-frica and the Caribbean, and the pattern of
the ceremonies has been preserired in part in Negcro baptis-
mal rites in the Ulni~ted States. Bush and tow~n in\-oke the
buzzard. OprEte, so named in Ajshnti, and saic- \crd eveyhere
in \\'est Africa, and the zrtyle of Jalncing resemnbles certain
o~f the dances of the "aints"' w~ho "shout" in the Necro
SanctiFied Churches orF the Urnited States.
Between bush and take\rn there is, however, this diletr-
ence-the bush is Africa of the evententth cenuryr~. In
\Vcst Afirica today', for example. the' roof of thiatchl ha.s
almost ever!-where given wayR~ to the white man's metal
roofing. In Dahomey,. where thatch it still found, wre dis--
covecred a strip of naRll m-ade of wer~en palm fronds, such
as is found on the Saramaces, in a village wrhich hadl been
enslaved by the Dahomcan kings in the nearly se\enteenth
century! and had remained enslaved until the conquet~i
of the Dahomean kingdom by the Frenc~h. All other wa~lls
are of sw~ish. Today in Wrest AJfrica the automobile and
sewing machine have found their wayi! into remote corners.
But mnore important t still than these changes wrroug~ht by
European ci:ilizations, wvhich have made inroads chietly
on the material life of the Africans, are those resulting from
intertribal wars, wvhich followedr the introduction o-f Funs
and gunpowder into Africa and which helped to establish
the grea t West~ A~frican d yna sties. The result of the ccnq uei t
of one native people by' another wass constaint cultural
interstimulation which made for changes in the indigenous
In the Guiana bush, however, where these runaways
Negroes and their descendants have been living, the for-
tunes of Africaan kingdoms, the culltural contacts that have
a~ected the AlfriCans, have not touched their onwn tribal
destinies. Neither has the civ~ilization o~f the white man
nojr that of the Indian introduced basic changes into~ their
manner of living or thinking.
There are no roads in the GLuiana bush, and w~hait foot-
paths exiist to connect o~ne \illage w~ith another are difficult
to follow and, moreo\er, are noit for the strangerr, whether
he be w~hite or mulatto. For such as these the highway is
the river, wiith native paddlers alert in their surveillance
of a stranger's activities. The old men on the river ha\e
mlade a tradition of recalling the strucgle of the anicetors
for freedom and su~rvivial, and it is not w~itho~ut significance
that one of the three wrorst crimes among the Bush Ne-
eroes-one that ranks wit~h incest and mnurderr-is inform-
ing on a Negro to a white mnan.
In contrast writh this isolation of the Bush Neeroes, the
Neeroes of Pairamaribo have k~nowin close contact w~ith
the w~hitei, wvith Caribi and Ara~akk Indians, and in more
recent years writh the Hindu and Javanese laborers brought
to the colony. Only sweestions of the manner in which the
beliefs ofi ton~ n and bush cojrrespo~nd or ditfer c~an be included
here, sinic this account concerns itself rrith the Saramaicc
people. Yert for the u~nderStanding of this study it must be
empha"sized that w~hateverr thie di~ffrenes, much of A~frica
remains in the coastal region. Thus, to cite an instance,
at a :.';rnti dance in Pasramaribo one night, the drumimers
w~ere grumbilng about the slocness wvith which possession
was3 cojming on. At last the priestrss, pos~isessed by Le~bb,
the Nige~rian-Dahomeanl god of the crossroadls, began to
dance. \\Yhereupon an eldlerly drummer flung up his hands
and cried out, "Praise God, idolatry is not dead yet!'
The wrord he used for idolatry was Dutch, and he pro-
nounced it in Negro-English, afk~odrai.
The importance of the Bush Negroes for the student orf
Negro cultures, then, is that they live and think todJay
as did their ancestors who established themselves in this
bush, which is to say that they live and think much as
did the Negroes who were brought to other parts of the
New World, and who became the ancestors of the New~
World Negroes of the present day.
In planning this book, therefore, it has reemedj morei
important to stress the Bush Negro's attitudeS towrd~~~
his own civilization, and his own logic in explaining his
customs, than to give a more conventional Jescription of
an integrated village or the tribal life of a prim~itive people.
Such attitudes, moreover, whether analyzed among~r Ne~rotes
in Africa, Guiana, the Caribbean, or in the Ulnited State,
can be studied most advantageously when they are ju::ta-
posed against the factor of outsiders--in this case ourselves,
a man and a woman, who came as friendly whites.
This book, however, is not an ethnographic treatise.
The scientific discussion of these data will appear in morno~-
graphic form, while the correspondences between bush and
town Negroes, and between these and other Negro: rgroups
found in the New World, are included in a memoir ojn the
folk lore of the town Negroes of Paramaribo which is now\?
in press. The situations to which we have given emphasis
are those which have a direct bearing upon the belie~fs and
practices of Negro peoples wherever they are found rtoday,
but they are presented as they would--and Jid-a3ctually
occur amolng the Saramacca people. Nothing has been
included either in descriptive detail, in the spoken or
unspoken thoughts attributed to a Bush Negro, or in
characterization, wihic~h has not been given us by our Bush
Negro informants or has nojt been wiitnessedl by ourselves.
If the thoughts of Aloa~na Y'anku~se or of any of the elders
w\ho tipure in the book seem sophisticated w~hen contrasted
wvith the simnplicity of the miaterial life of the Buish Neroeiis,
then it is because the stereoty~!pe of the childlik~e, carefree
Negro has been so wridely accepted. The subtlety and
astuteness of a ma~n lik~e Aloana Y'anlbiso, o-r of Sedefo~,
our chief paddler and the right-hand man of Yasnkuso's
strongest rival, Or of A-panto, the sorcerer, cannot be too
In viewr of the political fac~tiojns on the river, and our
concern lest these make capital of the fact that a village
had been generous in the confidence given the whites,
several villages do~ not appear under their own names. For
Hea ma n Aloana Yasnkusa w as an old man wihen wee visited
him, and alliances for the succession to his high office wiere
at that time already being formed, alliances which, since
his death some three years ago, have unldoubtedly been
consolidated and made elective for the time
successor is to be named. \'illager, therefore, are in some
instances given the names ofi rapids in the riverr, and not
necessarily the names ofi the rapids fo~und nearest to the
villages of which wve are wiriting. In thiI manner w~e have
sought to preserve the anosnvmity of the villages writhouc
violating the authenticity\ of place names. Mlen and wo~-men,
as wrell, wvith the exception of the priestess Amasina, Aloa na
Y'ankusel his daughter W~ilhelmina, the bass3ia of his villaPCe
Bibile, and the Captains ofi Baikutu, S'ei, And Dahomey! do
not appear under their owrn names, but under other typical
Saramancea Necro names.
~\York of the typFe wve have attempted cannot be accom-
plished wirhoutr the coloperation ofi many persons, and \:e
are privileged to ackinowvledge here o~ur gratitude to those
w~ho have helped us. To Professor Franz Boas and Dr.
Elsie Clews~ Parsons, wrhose interest and scholarly advice
have stimnulated wiork onl this problem; to Dr. Parsons,
the Columbia University Counc;I for Research in the Social
Sciences, and No~rthw~estern Uni.-ersity,, for the linancial
support that allowed us to make the field trips o~n the results
of which we base this book; to His Excellency, Dr. H. H.
Rutgers, Governor of Suriname and the Honorable F. J. L,.
Van Haaren, Attorney-General of the colony, and their
staffs of officials, for their generous cooperation; to Dr.
Morton C. Kahn, to whom we owe our initiation into life
in the tropics and many memories of congenial travel
together; to Mr. A. C. van Lier, Mr. R. M. Sc~hmidt, Alme.
Gay Schneiders-Howard, and above all, M~r. A~lexander
Woolf, at whose balata station we made our base ca~mp,
for their great help in making contacts for us w~ith the
natives with whom we worked; to Mr. Irvingl Breger, wvho
in making the illuminated map has so ably met the chal-
lenge of the Bush Negro artists; to the international body
of scholars, especially Jhr. L. C. van Panhuys, Dr. Gerhard
Lindblom, and the late Dr. H. D. Benjamins, nthose w~rit-
ings afforded us a background and a starting point for our
own studies; to all of these we wish to express our deepest
appreciation. The first thanks of any ethnolog~ist, however,
must be to the native informants and friends wvho have2
given him his material, and it is with regret that, except
in the case of that remarkable personality, the late Hea;d-
man Moana Yankuso, we must acknowledge our indebted-
ness to these Saramacca friends without naming them.
We do so out of the regard we have for them, a nd i n rre ogn i-
tion of the manner in which life is lived in the bush. O'ur
gratitude to them is not the less lively because \rce do nojt
name them individually.
MELVILLE J. HERSKOl'lTS.
FRANCEs S. HE1R5KOVITS.
LIST or~ ILLUISTRATIONS, XVII
DEATH AT1 G.1NKILr E,
\\'HILE THE Ril'ER \ As3 HIGH, 22
ON THE S.unstIACC.x RIVER, 41
THE SHRINE TO THE RIn ER Goos, So
THE PROVISION' GKouNo, 89
PAKENr~Ts, CHILDREN, AND GRANDCH[LDRENI
A NIGHT AT S'El, 146;
r\T THE COURT OF THE Gunstashl~ 168
THE COUNCIL OF THE. ELDERS, IS5
~Os1EN' AT 1 'ORK, '0"'
THE Goos SPEAK, 2:S
GRa\uL,w~ RIAou Y'ANKuISO, 148
THE ARTIST OF RA LOBBI, 268~
CH APT ER
CHAPTER I. .
CHiAPTER S. .
CHAPTER S .
CHAPTER SX 1. BAYO. THE. PL~~veov. 27
CH.APTER S\ II. SAR.uMAuccA Om<,l 307
CH.1PTEh S%\111. 'One .\ CO r.IE ,-s' 3 -
(3;LOSSARY. AND LINGUIISTIC NOTES, ]4"'
'The Saramacca River below~ the Alama~am falls
A Ga nkwe da ncer .
l illage elders orn a ceremonial visit .
In the rapids .
Just aborve the Alama~am. Detail ofi boat--
feline head o:n CcrsspCeee
Baikatu, Chief Fan~ya'j tillage.
Dw~elling houaces. CarTved jdec of a madn'j house.
A gilJz. wron.l-man'j perjonal house ..
Shrine of~ the Apuku gods. Kro~mants Alama.i
--In the true. true Sarama3Cca . House of one recent\
jead. The apProach to the Taps \\'atai falls
Combr. the gifti o-f men tos women A tra l for
w~innowing ri~c (Si mbeham~r on pages 252-283) .
Carvings the wormen wrere eager Eo have admired.
co~mb. clo~thes~ beater, tra. .
Ceremnonlal benches inciied w~ith symborls of
fertilit) and magic .. .
Housje s nd housC poSjtj in Ala'lobbi. ... .
Bayoandl Tross3. Boxr and airrowr used
for jhooCtin; large tish .... .
A\ Saramaceaj rlder, wiho has Tiger spirit.
BaYIo inspects an obia~ leaf. .
AmongC thec BushFJ NegLroel of
DEATH AT GANKi\\'E
W E HA~D not thought to cocme upocn death on ojur
tirst night in Ehe Su~riname bush. \\'hat had k;lledl
Sedefo~'s brojtherr no, one could as l et ~sa, for the time
hadl not come to casll up~on the spirit of thle dead ma, to
speak;. Death, said thle Bush Negroes, was ravaging the
family. Kunu~, the law~ of retributlion, the tojol of ancestors
and gods, had found this latest victim an easy prey to: the
black magic~ which had bee~n invoked against himn. In
w\hispers they talk~ed about a quarrel at wo~rk w~ith a man
w\ho had a powierfull jsnae god.
"The man's family L~unu and~ thei enemy's Abojma god,"
w~e heard as a7 refrain to the lo\! mutrtering.
There woujld be dancing all that night for the spirit of
the dead, the natives to~ld us, and thley askedrj if we did no~t
wrishi to c~ome a7nd honor the dead. But1 an old man objected.
"Ler them wa.it until to~morrow,"' he said, "'let them w\ait
until they are Trested. To~ face the spirit of the desd thuiry
ow~n spirits mu~st be strong.'
That night w\hene\er we s tirred in oulr sle~ep rre trained
for the sound of the dru~ms, but theC w:ind blewi From the
east, and though Gankwe~c, where lhe deadl man lay in
state, wa.:s but a7 ten-minute run dow\n the rapidS, w\e could
hear not~hing. In the morning, howeve rl we heard them
plainly,. herdrj thec invocaj~tion s drummed b\ the grav'e
di~ggrs o~n their way) to the burial gro und deep in the bush
on the opposite bank.
Osl be Ydo.
"'On th-e sacred 3pinti drum Mce speak to the spirit; ~\e tell 17
it w~e go to dig the gra\e." So the drum spoke. Fromt the
shore \ie could see th-e ligures in the mall corial, and, as
they Camelr closer, w~e as also theC dIIC rum, the2 food~ thc mnln
carried, and the muddy hoe. The\- wol:uld do: this the ne. t
day! andj the~ next, fojr to dig a ilrave ta ke~S a long time.
Although- separated by many generations from their
A4frican places ofi origin, the Bush Negroes ofr~ Dutc~h G~uiana.
hale held to the traditions and beli'efs~of theiir ab~r~iilnal
home~. In the Suriname bush, as in Africa~, the responsibility
which an indhidiual bea rs towardn~ his socal group doers not
end with death. His clan, hiis \illage, an~ hi~s family look0
to: himi, wrhen he has jojined the spirits of his; an~cestors, toj
Pro'teCt thecm against the magic of their enemies, to help
theml in time ofi droughti or pestilence.,and at all times to
intericede for them w~ith the FCodS.
A\s in Africa, the SPirtj ofj ther dead is powerful fojr goodj
or ev.il, and the rires of dea th must be carried out as tradi-
tion demands,~ so that thc dead man, me-! ieel hec has
to~ the wsorld of the dead. As in Afirica, \se found that the
lirft ca3re for the dead is to place thei body on thec central
portion of a1 broken canoe; that rum and tibaicco Are in-
cluded in the wrater w:ith which the brds- is \stshed; th~at
in waRshin g the desd, thec baCk miust not be touched;
that thle number of those wrho w~sjh the body must no~rt b
an c\ en one-five it the number prefe~rred, through three
perSo~nS aIre' use, and seven; thatr those chiosen miust not
be young, for it takes age and the knowrledge of controlling
the 4plritS w\hic~h ag~e brings to: approach thle deadj without
While the bodyv lies in the open hoJuse of the dead,
relatives and the village eldersc are in attendance o~n the
spirit night and day. It is they \\hol all night te~ll stories
about theit tric~ksrter, spidler Anansi, to amuse the spirit, arnd
they wrho play traditional gasmes. The danics begin whelcn
DEATH AT GANKW'E
the body; has been put into the hezagonal cedar box which
is ornamented \v.ith the cross-like design called by the
natives kerer-oy'o, the eye of the commin
"'Howr many days to mak~e the cot~n ?" wve asked our
"O~ne day only,. but they do not start thie firSt day.. They
must go into the bush and hunt out a cedar tree and cut it
dow~n, and then there mTust be prayers."'
It became clear as \?:e talked w~ith this man, <*.*hoi so
reluctantly spoke of these rites, that death cannot be
"'It takes time." he said, 'hammocks andl cloths must be
gathered, and other articles to put into~ the cotmin. It takes
Before the body is put into the comm~n the ears and nos-
tril are packed writh tobacco and cottocn. and the head and
face are swathed in wrhite so that the dead man may3) be
recognized when hie wvalks abroad.
As wve rat and talked olf death, w~e heard the discharge
o~f guns and \rere told that the coffn was being closed and
that these shots wer~e to honor the spirit. "'They! dance \rell
at G~ankwve," said our friend, casting an ey'e in the direction
of the village and show~ing very' plainly his eagerness to be
off. But we detained hiim and brought the conversation
back to thec digging of the grave.
To dig a gra\.e takes a long time, w~e heard again. The
digging party fTIrs goes out to select a fitting place in the
"'big bush"' where the dead lie. Though it is not considered
imperative--some villages do not folloit the practice at
all--it is considered good form to consult the spirit of th~e
dead man whether or not he approves o~f the spot
chosen. Then all has to be done softly-.
haste. The men w~ho go to dig the grave mos~t be in th~e
prime of life, for they! must not tire easily, an1d even these
strong young men must wrork slowrly, that no drop of
perspiration fall into the upturned earth. If one drop of
perspiration wrere to fall into the grave, then the dead man
w\ould in rime claim the companionship of the living spirit
of him fromn whoml it hadJ dropped. The same b~elief in the
identification of the e~ssnce of orne's being wvith any part of
one's bodly which actuates so m3ny. prim~irive peoples, andl
is so characteristic ofj \\'est Africa, exists amolng the Bush
NearOes.. It is for this reason that w-hen an Afjrican or
a1 Bush Negro dies: away\ fromi homre come of hii hair and
nail parings are sent to his native village for ceremionial
burial. Andl it is for this reason, too, that for three mnorninrs
w~e 53aw ther party of tice youll~ng men go oul~t fro~m Gankw~\e
toI die the erave oi Sedefio's b-rothir andl heard thle rum's
in Voca tion.
t).i,-i 1, he c dvo,.
The niebt w~as still andi Jark. The natives sid thle moon
was3 dead andl this w:as the timie fo~r the danes to the river
fgods, bul~t since there wasl a death in Gankwi.e all thle godlS
might bje danlicdl to, for in times of imporrntnt ritu~als. lik~e
death oir the breaking ofi moui~rning or harveCSt ieStivals,, it
was~ notr nicssar! to wai3t for the dai) sacred to each god
"They Jane wetll at Cankwe,",1 said our informant, as he
sat bi-, andl then after listenina fcor a fewi moments he added,
" The:'re d n7i ne alread \."
We', toro, walked~~ out~j on the' pathI to listen, andl gradually
\ve separat'ud the round of the falls abovee our camp fromi
w~hat seemed likec the pulse ofi the night itself.
"It dosc'n't boomllli, jJoeS it?" we~ asked~c ech~~ oltheT, remlem-
berinS the accountr of imipres~sionable travele-rs.
Soion Sedefo h-imnself appeared andl another. aid w~e
s ta rted fo~r Gasnkwe~.
II'al-a kioni, Sedefio," called our host at camip as wre puct
o~ff. He was evidentl: u~nCasy ab~out us and aSked the
paddlers I.0 be~ cariful, for it ii not safe o~n the riverT at nlight
;with! the rap~ids below? and the spirirr that hover about.
T~he paddlsc cut the water so, soundlesslly that it dridi
seem as if the spirits were carrying~ the boat dlownstream.
DEATH AT GANKH'E
Ahead of us and all about were the various shades of
darkness which go to make the jungle darkness on a
moonless night-the dark water, the dark branch of a liana
which our paddlers skirted as if by magic, the dark wall of
forest, and the dark horizon. But soon there was loam on
the water, and then all the darkness seemed to break and
come to life. We heard the drums plainly, and the rattles,
the singing voices, and the chorus of approbation from the
young onlookers, breaking into the song. We were nearing
the rapids and Ganklve.
Up the bank, through the spiritual guard of palm fronds
which stretched across the path, and up the path are went
to the great village clearing, where the principal houses
are grouped and where stands the house for the dead.
In this open palm-thatched house the cofin, covered
over with a white striped cloth, rested on a rough bier.
Underneath the head of the cofin a calabash dish stood to
receive the Buid of the putrifying body, while in front of the
cofin a Brc smoldered and to one side a hammock was slung
where Sedefo. or in his absence an elder of the village, lay
to cuard the dead. The drummers and some elders sat in
front of the house facing the phalanx of singers seated on
their low stools some ten feet awar from them. There were
perhaps 61ty women singing, and as many standing about
to the left ready to began dancing again, or just standing
by to mark the rhythm with hand clapping and a slight
swaying in place. Here and there, hung upon forked sticks
which had been planted in the ground or placed on the
ground beside a stool, were a few lanterns. They cast a pale
shadowy light and brought into relief the ceremonially oil-
anointed shoulder of one, the shining anklets of another, a
brilliant red strip of cloth, the intricate pattern of another's
With our coming the singing and dancing had stopped.
The children grouped together meed towarJ us in a body,
and then took to their heels, repeating this again and again,
until the two or three we had already talked with at our
camp took courage and squatted down at our feet. The older
people kept their distance, and among~ them some pithy
proverbs wetre spoken toi bear iipon the shortcomings of the
.;.hite marn. One or tw.o of thiem turned tol repeat to: the dead
t:hat had been said, and there wras great laughter. Sedefo
ca me to assure us that the dead man liked i t very much. For
thec dead, it appeared, we're especially susceptible to humor
and to exceptional occasions.
About us, o~r edgling their w-ay toward us, wrere the
younger men in their ceremonial rres, the togas-like cloth
coverring their bodies, bult lear ing o~ne sho~ulder bared for
respect, and the wromen in their knee-length panh'i, or
cloths, hanring from the waist, and their shining brass
rings reaching from w~rist to elbow~ anld f~rom ankle halfwayci
up to the k~nee. Amon g the dancers, but standing some\?hat
alooi, could be seen a man or wvoman writh seed rattles about
the ankle:s. These w~ere the fine dancers. Of' them our
informant had spoken w:hen he said, "They dance well at
Car\ed stools wrere placed fo~r us facing the coffin a little
to the left ofi the singer. w~here we cou~ld best see the danc-
ing. One or twor lanterns ;?ere moved to give us better light.
Th~e drummeirs, wrho had notr left their places, took; up the
rhythm arain--one of the w~omen had us know: thrat the
spirit of the dead man hadn commllunii.tcate to the spirits
of the drummers, that he wanted toi see the dancing re-
sumed. The singing began--a woman's falsetto~ vocice and a
chorus; the hIand clapping of the singe~r and bystanders
emphasized the basic rhythm. It w~a lon. at first, then
quickened, and the Janc-ing became mo~re animalted.
"They dance sek~eti," whispered our friends. "Later
they w:ill dance aw~asa. '
The Ja,,ncing as con i ned to a com pa ra ti vel small s pace.
It began w-ith a~ barely perceptible motion of the feet of thle
dancers to the rhythm ofr the drums and thle hand clapping.
Then the feet began to execute tjgures in place, wit~hout
leaving the ground, the arms hanging loosely at the side.
This was continued for some time, until, arms le:.ed and
held ridid at the elbow:, and k~nees bent but r;igid, tooc, the
r 1 'C'Zr
A Gankwve dancer.
DEATH AT G ANK\\~' E
intricate steps began. Tlhe mov\ement of the feet, angular
and precise. wras reiterated by the o~utstrtchedri palmis,
while all the muscles of the hips took~~ up the rhytrhm. Now~r
oine ofi the men w~ith thle seed rattles at hi.. feet Janced facine
a w\omnli w~ho~ also had these rattles, and the dance becameli
theirs writh a ichorus of Janers moving molre and mo~re to
the side, k~eepinlg the rhvthm writh the feet. The Jrumrs beat
faster, the hand clapping became lo-uder. Those tw~o
balanced their bdi~jes as thc\ bent their k:neel-s loerr and
lower. all the while executing the 6gures writh feet, armns,
and hips., an hc,\. Linawrare the\! seetmed of the Rudienic!
A-nd ei'en of each other, folr \'hat3 awarTne'Ss there wras to
quickern the pulse ofi the dancing wass moi:re than o~ne mian's
awa.1reness :,j oine wo.iman. It mighr have been a dance to
Asaase--the great Earth nA~loter-bhut it wraS, in fact,
Dancing fear thle dead, for ther twc n:,uld turn nctgain and
again t.:, faic the rcofhn, as the otlher~s had do:ne, e::cepFt
during the inrtervals wrhen they retcalled the w~hite man and
??omanil in back, and tu~lrne to, dance to uj anJ o:ur
Sek;eti, awassE. . .The dances chanured, and the songs,,
anld the Jrum rhythmrs chasnged, too. Thle children at osur
feet had fallen askeep and lay do~ubled over, their heads
resting upon their to~es. MIore men joined the danicers. It
was5 rlong past midnictlr'ht. The women whoi~ had infants on
their back~s moved acsav silenrli in the directi:,n .:,f their
huts, but wrhen an elderly woma~nn tried to, gol, toj, she was
reprimanded and sat dow\\n again.
There w~s~ anotherr leader for the singing, and anothe~r.
A man's falsetto, wa~s he rd i n a long reci taRtive t ha t preceded
the dancint to the massed vo~icesl of the ichortl. H-e faced
now\ the dead, n.:,w us, as he impro\ised. O~nce mo:re it \Ias
The Jancing became mo~re and more spirited, but when a
dancer had contiinued in the circle fo~r Lsome time~, an1 older'
w~omalrn coming foirwarJ iro~m Rmong the bystanders wouildl
put her arml about her and e.claim the singsong, ".-ddooi.'
. Ado' . Aloo.'"' Ohers came forwrdnr to c;n-
RE BEL D ESTINjY
gratulate the dancer,? while another had taken her place
in the dance, only to~ be brought to herself again w~hen her
Jancing' had becomenli jil a baindoneJ that there wras danger of
falling or tripping. For it is alw'a!s ai bad thing for one's
akra-sjoul-tor fall fromi iexhausrion or even tc. trip while
Jancling, and i t would have been especially' Jangerous to
have fallen writh the spirit of thc dead so, close.
A4s timne p~a'.'ed, figures wercr seen edging away! into the
dark~ness. The kno~t ofi Jancers thinned. Nowr there we~re
but tw~o young womellln Janlcing. They wo~re identical cloths
of a new material, a pattern resembling thle clioth ovecr the
coffin. They were related to the deaid man. \\'hen all wselr
wearied, they had to go on dancing. .. D~awn would
not be long in coming.
We knew that it would not be long before the spirit of the
dead would be called upon to tell his fam1ily, fellowl villagers.
S and clansmen how death had come upon him. For, in the
AlGuiana bush, except for the very old, there is little natural
/dying. The deceased has been killed either by the godis
whom he has offended or by the black mnagic of a powerful
enemy, and it is of this which he must tell before hiis
burial. When Sedefo came to our camp the nest afternoon,
we asked him about the "carrying of thec corpse." as the
ceremony is called. We told him that his peo~ple in A~frica--
for the Bush Negroes know that their o~rigins a re A-frican--
also asked the spirit of the dead whi death- haJ carner upon
him, and we plied him with questions. \\'hat wrouldd they
do to be sure the answer was right' ?~h \\ahwuldJ ask; the
questions?' When would they estaiblijlh the facts olf the
killing ? And might we come and see i
There would be no trouble, he told us aimiably enough.
The spirits of the dead liked attentioJn, and for the Bakira--
the white man--to come so often to his bnroher's bier w\as
a compliment. We could return with himn, but wIe must
make haste--and it was evident tha t imp ortaLn t ceremoI~nies
were about to take place.
D EA TH AT GA4N ~l E
And so Once more wre were in Sedefo,'s ca noe running thle
rapids, and once more \ve pulled up at thle landing place.
It wras quiet enough there, and no one passing would have
noticed anything out of the ordinary. in the behavior of thle
one or t\.-0 w\omen w~ashiing clothes at the riverside, or of
the children playing about in the wat~er. Again wie climbed
the path to: the v.illagec, this time to the delightedj shriek~s
of the children, whose cries brought others, until we w~ere
su rro~unded by a fea rless, clamnori ng grou p, shou ti ng, call ng
after us. "Bak;'a, Amen'ica' Bak'a7!" Sediefor took us to: hir
house, wrhere \r'e mlet the senior of his t wo v?i\es, and turned
us over to? a yol-ung man, wvho had played one ofi the drums
in th<. ceremony of the evening before, to howv us the
village. This wras the routine of courtesy due any \isitor.
No~thing more tangible than a slight reserve marked thle
tension wh-lich made this village dil~erent fro~m \rchat it
would ha\e been on an\ midafternoon.~n
In front of the house of mourning all w~as quiet. Three
lerly,! mlen sat on their late stoolds, talking in late tones.
They greeted us as wre passed but neither engaged us in
conversation nor ofered us a seat. Inside the house th~e
small fire. still smoldered, and, where the hammock; had
been, note crouched, soundle~ssly, an o~ld wo~iman whol, wre
later learned, wss the dead man's maternal aunt. W\e we~ire
struck w-ith the number of houses that had s:mbo~ll of
spiritual protection oveir their doors--obias, they are
called-mragically treatedj to keep the spirits of death fromr
harming thle occupants. As \rve passed oine door\.ay, a
woman holding a hbaby hastily threwr a cove~ring over its
head, but not before w:e saw: that it had special nark~ings of
sacred w~hite clay on its face. The child was under treat-
mnent for so~me illness, and the mother, in these daysj wrhen
spiritual danger stalked about t, could take no chances of the
Bak~ra's magic obstructing the cure.
On the other side of the village, farthest away~ fn:rom the
house of death, life R7ov:d on vet more evecnly. But as wie
looked about, our guide stifecned, and soon wei too caught
the sound of the drumis which rapidly became louder. He
REBEL DE STINY
hurried us towrardr the river and had quite got awayi: from us
as wel came to~ the p~rincipal c hrine of~ the villagee a t' the head
of thi Path. As w~e starrted down, the hill to the river an
elder ofi Gankwre stopped us wvith an1 imperative. "Y'ou
murt notr go. '
\'ery loud and \er! lsjt the drumsr nowr scoundid--it w\as
the rhytrhm to~ liediampo, the Sky! God~J-and a moment
later the grave Jriggers appeared. They came not by' the
usual w~al and no~t under the spiritual guard. but along an
o~vergrown'' siJc path. There werce te.n or tw\elve mlen, five ofj
them miuddiedr from~ their laborrs, ca~rry.ing drumr aind
cutlasses. the others. villagers wrho had awaitedr them. The
men w~ho had been digging werre green pa"rrot's iatheri in
theiir hiair. and thi)y w\alkedl brickly and cilently in ring~le
file to the house of mournin~. ~There wvas a7 great stillneSe
alo-ng the pa th ofi the digg~rs. T~he children had disappeared
and the womeiln sought csheltr in their owr~n doo~rw:ays.
Stooli \rere not offered us-there wias serious business at
All the men in the village had gathered here; they c toedd
in a semicircle about the front of the open shelter. Trhe
old woman slowly arose and, taking a small strip of white
cloth, passed it once along each side of the coffin and o~nce
over the back as though she were ceremonially iclancing
it. Four of the earth-stained young men now took up the
coffin, lifting it from the bier and placing it on the grouind
in front of the house, raising and lowering it th-ree times
before it was finally set down. A fifth brought out \iwe pads
of green leaves, and two of the bearers put these o~n their
heads. T~he questioning was about to begin.
As they raised the coffin with the putrifying bodyJ! within
it on their heads, their muscles stiffened. With eyecs hall
glazed, and expressionless faces, they seemed there but to
do the bidding of the spirit of the dead man iihoser bodyl
they supported. They swayed forward and back, fromi
side to side, without moving their feet, and the co~in
swayed with their swaying. And then they- began to
advance, slowly at first, but after a few steps brirkly, to~ a
DEATH AT GAN~ll' E
group of three elders w~ho stood to the left of the death
house. Three times thev advanced, and three tirnes re-
treated. and each timel as thev reached the three men, one
of the elders would put up his hland, touch the end of the
wvooden bov, and the bearers wrould retreat.
Sedefo took his place writh the th ree and asked a question.
The conifn advanced,J retreated. Sedefo rpo~ke again; wrhat
he said \\ce could not hear. fo~r his voice wras so, lowv that it
reachedi.us as a murmur. The response too thie second ques-
tion wras disquietring; the m~en retreated without m-o\ing
toward the questioner, step by step they moved slowvly
backwa~rd in a circle before us, and then, ritho~ut any
hesitation, they started on a run into the village along the
path to our left. Twno of the gra\e diggers follow~ied thern,
for wrhe~n the dead spea ks, his replies to the questions asked
him~ must be interpreted and~ a[t~~test.
Serious conse~quennces may fo~llow~r the expression of fact
exposed by the dead. Repeated visitss to a given house wrill
point the singer of suspicion to the one w ho lives there, and
a heav ~ine' at best, or expulsio~n frolm the village to~ certain
death in the unproteccting buih at the w~orst, may be his
late. Supernat'ura forces are bei~ond~ control; here som~e
man's destiny was being sealed by the automatic move-
ments o~f tw~o others under the h!pno-tizing influence of the
spirit of the dead. Back came the coffn and the questrioning
wvas resume~d. This tim~e the mlan wrho~ took up the inquiry
stood upwind~, J and wecould bear his low\ v.oice.
"'Did a white man slav vou?" he ~ahked. \\'e wathched
anxiously. \\'hat if the answer should be that our coming
to the bush had broueht death in its train. ? ut the bearers
re trea ted w\hen t hey came w\.here t he quest ioner wa'3s st an i ng.
'"Did someone at Gansee slay you?" Again the advance,
and the backwards steps to the mourning place.
Did someonee at Gandya \illage slay yrou? The answerr
'"Did someone at Gankw~e slay\ y.OUll" nd w~ith the
question, the corpse and its bearers once morre disappeared
from sight into the village, the wom~nen fleeing before it and
REBEL DE STINY
heaing, the children before rhemn soi that thev\ w~ouild be
upwind from the~ cotin and the sriench of dec~aying flesh.
As the!- returned the rear bearer was relievede; the tension
eased for a momnient, but there wras one mann w~hol did not
smiile. And it wass w~hispe~red that he lived in the part of the
village wrhere the corpse invariably went. The scene
changed slightly;I Sedefo, w~ho had stopped questioning,
rresumed his etfojrts, and Ijve, ten, (ifteen times~ the be-arers
advancedj toward, him and retreated fromn !hrelcr he stood.
Sometrimes n-e caughtr our breath, the corp~Se was coming
towardJ uF; but alwaigs the bearers swerverd before ther
reached us, going no farther than the gro\e of thorn palms
that PCreir near the ho~use- of death. T`hen once more the\
broke th rough t he ra nk~s of q uestio~ne rs a nd, followedcl by the
w~atchers, were ojtT in thle direction of the village council
ho~use and the dwelline o~f thle chief.
The bearer wvho had been relie\.ed Came~ fo~rwr.rd; the~
corpSe, he said, wa'~nted to spzak; he muist be allowed~ to
csrry the body asain. This timle theCre was3 little relief w\hile
the change wias being mae,~ for the man was3 pO~SrSesse and
the air vibrated w\ith the intensity of the- spirit which
sninmated him. But appCare~ntly there werre still di~ficulries.
Agae3in,, andagin the questio~ns w\ere asked, again and again
the biearers aIdvanced,, retreited. Sedefo kept insisting
IlYu mull taki. Yo1u lrana ~t.7 sea!" anld again the col:fin
ad. n~j rerated, andj then once more w~ent toj our left
Clouds .vr~se r;sine to wrindw~ard; the sun ?3s lowv on the
horizoln.'`i The bearers returned. sjdvans cd to the villace head~
onire. tw\ice, again, annd asain, and thein thle ~cotfir~n ws
placedI on the glround,~ raised three times,. and left the-re fojr
a momen~lt before othecrs tool: it into the house a7nd rrplaced
it where it had been wrhen ?.ve tirst salt it. The ceremnony
wa~s~ ojvr; the elders of the villace w~ent to holdJ co~uncil and
to inerp~ret wlhat the dead man had said.
In the swift tropical Jlusk. Sedefoc and his son camer to:
take: us back to ourl camp. The drummers s:ere adjusring
the drums for the night's Juncing. "'He spoker ai," he told
DEATH AT GANKH' E
us wrhen w~e asked hirn. But w~hat the prono~uni cme~nt had
been we~i w~ere not to learn.
'"It takes a strong spirit to stand before the spirit of the
dead," said o~ur host when wre returned to camp. "I don't
wocnder that you are tired."
The burial to~ok place on the seventh day,, of deah,
our sixth in the Suriname~ bush. Sedefol, who had pro~mised
to come kor us sol that wC could see the ceremlOnies, had not
appeared fo~r tw\o days,,, and w ie certam that he wrould
fail us. But oin that day~ he appeared. just as ite had eaten
our nooan mleal. W'e do norlt hurryT the spirir," he exsplained,
"btu t the burTia mus bTU' e O\er before r he su n has go\ne. Make C;
ha St~!"' AInd ~a i n wre ? en t to~ Ga n ku\e.
The dancing e ~ had seen onl thle nitght of our tirst \isit
had been spirited, evcn gay. The carrying of the corpse
had beeni terriiying~ in the spell ofT mag~ic it had cast and in
its grim po~tentiahties. To:day I.hat we sawr was sadden-
ini. For today. thc deaj nd mn waS to' sa' E'Oodbye to his
friendsj,~ his familly, and his 1-illacEe.
All the preparations had been made~, and as wre camel~ in
sight orf the house ofi mourning the ceremo~nies wre bcEgin-
nint. The men wrere aboutt as befiore,. but there were wocmen,
too, and even a few~~ of the o~lder boys. Stooclj we~re offered
us, andj as: we sat down.l the cma~fn \ras braclht o~ut ofi the
but into, the open space in front of it. Oncie more fOur of the
you~lng men ?.-ho~ hadJ dog the tgrave tnook it off~ its bier;
ther raised and loweredr it rhree times beforee it w~s
finally set dow\~n upocn th~e earth. A\nd the same twoC bearers
who~ had carried the coffin on their heads wvhen the spirit
ofi the dead had spoken weci' ICre now~ to carr it ~nce more.
TIhis rime, hiowrever, the foirwrdrj bearer placed. a broad bit
of pa~lm leafj on his head before he took~l up the co:~fin. Fo~r
after seven days1. in thle tropic~al heat, protection against
the drippings of the co~rpse could notr be dispe~nsed with.
Evecri-thine that hiad been used in the ritual of death
wasg toI be taken awayR wiith the body'. The calaasih con-
taining the drippings w~as taken ~away by two-l )oung men to
be emp Ftied, a t h ird poingl a head to :ra rn ofi
The Hoor of~ the molurning holuse was suept by twoi others.
and thle swee~tpings carefull!; collected andJ placed,~ with the
calabash, in the bunrgolo, the brokFen boat on wrhich the
corpse had laini until the comiln was mde. The tire v.-as
extingpuishrd; the open bult ws to be le~ft as it had beecn
before death had iiome.
TIhis timeii the' co:rpse \
goodbye. O:ut and baik, o~ut and back~ ;t \went. First tol the
village~ kr:~wu :co.in!- thc council house-whellire the dead
mani inI life as a bo\ had ~s a and lii tenecd toi his elders debate
the: affirs ofi the village, and wvherr he as a full-lBedged
member ojf thle comlmun~ity had "Falone aside" wlithI a group
oi hi~s iellow\ls to talk over mo~re pri\ately solme propoCsail
played before the men by the coruncil ofi orld men and the
village head. Thenl his body..i was rriedJ to the portion
of Gasnkwre nearest the river and back,\ and linall\. to the
his little bo\ had beenl li\-ine inc~e his: mother's death. Andl
n-ou, fo~r the first time. we hearJ wsibng..' "He is go-ing fro~m
me. My\ children are gonec:" w~as the lamentn tioni, as the
cOfnn stopped, back.ed attai, returned olcer miore and y.et
onic~e aeain to~ sav a finllB farewe\ill.
The eyes ofi many~~ of the: people uwho w~ere standing about
so quietl were moist. Another member ofi the v~illaLge hadJ
rcone. anJ k~unu had again takenl its toll[.
Now\ the: bod! rested upon~i the grou nd bef ore the mlou r nin
ho~use. Toi the rear ofj the cojtlin we~ire the three drumIs anld
the druimmiers read\ to play. TIhe rhythlms began last and
lo~ud. w~ithl the bir arida drumi caRrr\ine the ba.Sii beaRt
anld the apinti tal;i~ng to the spirit of the deasd. Mo~re peo'ple~
psthered; \cnamen \enturedc nearT inl PCreatr nulmbers and
Sedefio appeared with his sho~teun to render the final
salutes toj the spirit.. As the reve~rbe~rationrs endedr. Sedefoj
took~ up' a bon:I oft pow\~dered Sacred. white i1lay,11c and wlkingf;
w~ith measured step inl timie to thle drums, sprink~led the
ground so that a circle ofi white now e~nclo~sed thle: Space
about the iotfin. A girl began to da~ne \'odu- sjh e w~si
DEATH AT GANKW\~E
dancing no tht snake~ god by whomn she was~ possesed.
lklore people came, and these brought Fiirl lsf peanuts,
cassava3, SugarT cane, rice. T`he foodl was throwv n o\.er the
c~ofin and writhin the whlite circular path, on wh~lic~h a mlan
w~as nor Jaincing around and rournd in time to, the drumsi.
Faster and faster he twiirled hii w~ay abo:ur the comtn, and
no\\- another joined him while a third waRlked slowrly about
the wrooden box,. a bunch of plantainr in his hand, which he
slashedj from the stem wiith his ma~chete so- that ther, toor,
feill over the comttn.
Tlhe men ve re dancing to, the great Kirmannti spirits, the
tigerr-jaguar'--an the buzzaird, tw:o of the three formsr
which the dreaded~ Kromann i ob~ia can take. "CObia!! Huh!
Huh !" one ejacul ated, i mitasti ng the cige r. ai h is Ja nci n
became w\ilder and wildler A~s he rain abojut the tillagLe
he w\rested a b~ranch fromr- a tree andl blindli- jlashed about
hii with it. He ran thro-ugh the du~mp of thorn palms to~
our left and eme~rgeJ with another branch, atnd now\: thoire
abour w~ere on their gus rd, forr to- be struck w~ith those rhrorn-
wou~ld causc feriojus la~cratio~ns. B)ut the Jancer's spirit, his
K roma n ti obhia pIrotec ted h im aga in st suchiJ iCon:: Ue unc es, fo r
are notr the Kiroma-inti men immr-une to- anytrhing that woua~nds,-
are the nojt secuLre from Janger of~ the iro~n bullets of a
gun or the thiis rust of mahete? The cirl ::ith \'odu ran
away~: as he came near her.
Soon, how-ex-\cr, the drums were sile~nr, and another shot
wasJ fred--the scionJ :alute tol the deaJd. One of the clders
of the village, bearing a bundle ofT sev~ral lojng greecn
brran~lches, took his plae o-n o-ne side of the ~comfn, a younger
man o~n the other. \\'e could not hear w~hat he said, but as
he finished rpeaking he struck the~ other th~ree rimes over
thle bare back;, the fi rsr twoi Irokes ligh rly, but a t the [hird
he slashedj as hard as he wasi able. It introducedj the one
note ofi merriment that afjternooin. The pe~oplce -randing
about laughled aloudli as thle ceremolny was repeated. A~
womann, and then northern r man, werle s\:ithchd.
A\s this ended, Sedefo- tojok the plaic of~ the elder, and in
hi hand w~as another k~ind of branch. Thii, tooS, waiS long
bur exept fo~r a tuftr at its very end it hadJ been stripped of
all its leaves, while the b-utt ofi the rtick was whitened w~ith
Nown the ceremony was5 jdrainC to` a close, and the leave
tak~ings iiere to be sa;d. Sedefo~ thrust the bra-nih ov\er the
coffin. where it !was LgraSped at its w~hitened e~nd by the
dan~cer whllo a fewv mo~ments acna had been so- frenzied.
T`he 13lanhter ofr an instant before wa~s stilled; there wa~s no
wvailing. Distinctly the low? voice of Sedefuc came to. us as he
addressed thle corpe:
"~ The nihour ha.; '15cm then :ce naust par fr~o yu.t r
IIhatiJ In the Eacrth \has dcred stum ccannoht help 11haen dne
fo~r yourn :cheat :er c ld.1en haut rizj nJ youl c sad funera! R : rt
oh'~ i vou Youh nauit car~le for in Iii and u enu~c~h t hnJeinv r
fromv tll e;lcr :hat enaJ comeun me."pz een ~a
As~c he~ fn ched, \:hei s~lash the braon cf h i twoe wtith on
uickl stroker ofhis machete, so \that the~fc danCe~r hel in i
drird hen rneturn i to the llae and\ the cotin.o tejccs j
andj talking the Janicr's place across the co~tTin hei graspedj
the w~rhitened end as thle ojthe~r had do~ne. The separation
From the group of mein w\ ho~ had Kromanti spirits had taken
place; thle dead1r man .*;as nex't to: lr be sepa~rate from his
p\'rotc hlin, that hecli m ray ch lue in helt~heJ and propeit
holding the child Sedefo? followired the Kiromanti brother
DEAT H AT CAN4 ll' I~E
of the deceased with the samle slowr sad pace as he tooCk the
little boyV and thie wrhitened stump to the riverrside toj awarit
the embarkation of the burial party.
\\'hart ha~ppened rto thei thiird branch ;'.e did not See. Asj
the elder's \oice Iaded away,. the twoc bearers helped by
their fellows once mo~re took~ up the coftn and amidJ the
reniewedj wa~ilino ofi the wromecn started towardr the rivr..r
Thle villag~ers followedj, aind we tooe toiok the path to the
waterIde. But after a1 Fe.*: sreps wei wrere halted by) the
peo~ple~ aheadj of us; so~me rite w.as being performed. Wh'len
we werre inally abtle to proceed,. the com~n was3 beinE plaice
in thle boa~jt that was3 tor take it across~ the river to the burial
grjund. But just outside the spiritual guard, wvhere it I ad
been thrown [o theC Side of the parth. we~ no~ticedl thle longli
g~reen portion of the branch w~ith its freshlyl cut wvhitened
end.~ It wasj here that thec dead man had been separated
fro~m his 1-illace~.
N~o wromen went to: bury the Jeadi. Thrllce canoes,! ecnh
w~ithi its complemelntt of men. tarted of, acrorr the riter.
In the tirst bocat, restine o:n the Lnruwale~s. the~ com~~n hadl
been pljaced, n ;n, rlnt and behind it we-re the bearers to
stead.\- it. U;nderneat h was the broken boat w~ith the s:\eep-
ines ofi the houser of dearh, the calsabah in which thle
drip;p;ngs haJ bee~n, andj the short wrhitened enlds of the
..ang~rcqui branches by men-iil o~f whichi the spirit ha~J been
partt d from the living. As the canoe movedc ORf ulth its load~
ofi com~n and paddlers, drumr-s and dreametr-,, two~ more
shot were ired as thle final slutss ofj the villae. The third
canse came back; twice; o~nce for twro broken p~ieces of iro~n
wh~lich hadJ been frc.,-otten, o.nic fo.r the ican. But thei c'~ano
was not1a turnedlj ablut;; the boa1t was paddled backw~~arde
toward, the landing; place, and jomeoine ?:aded,~ o t o hanJ
tlthe des,,ire bject to tht men in tht bo~at. Toc turn around
would be haz3rdlous; death~l is clnge~roulS. and they) could1
not ~ ~ c tempt dagrb ing rhe spirit hoering abour a clue
whelire to~ return. W\e suood and watchc- d the little totilla
disappear aboutr thi bend. andJ w~ith us s[tood the heavy-
eyecd men and wvomen. T~hen.; when wre hnd all wassheJ 3 way!
the taint ofi dearh in the HR,\:ing ri\er. we turned andJ inic
more climbed ther pth to, the \ illage.
The mutffle sou~nd ofi a gunllh<.t ime toa us as i*.e; sat in
the hu ofc~ the headjman, spea kingp of ct~ fneral. "A-nu~ther
child rcone." he said, "'Soo~n he wrill be safe in the earth."'
W\e hadlr not: beein pe~rm-itted l: t~o go acros~ the rivecr to
writness the buirial. '"It is a dangerous place for those~ \
do no~t k~ncw it," the headmain said. "Ogi;-ev~il things--are
there, bad 1:pi ri ts wIho ha rm~ those wholr aire nit CrP reparJ. a nd
no. J<. noit want r_;il tol comei tol i-ou. Seve~ral vears ari there~
wa3s ai Bara here w:hen ute buried ano~ther G~ankite man.
H-e asked to g, al~ nd \:e granted him his2 <*.ish. Bu~t the SpiritS
of the bad bush 3icross the ri\er harmed~ hnim and he died,
A- seco:nd shotr tld~I us that the bea~rers had reached the
gravc afjte r their ma rch th rouglh the deepF bush i*.heret living
man seldom~ came. ThIICI had Suneit thc j'ana aggr~!' i-the
dirgesi-- whii h arIe in tined as2 the dead li borner too the gra ver.
Onic arri\. ed the-ri Lnd the invoCa~~tions pro3nou~n~ced, th
salute fired, and the godsj prpcia;;,ted, t\*.o mten wou~ldI
descend into~ the dleepF hole there to, lift J..wn the c<~tiin
and pl~ce it inl thec tunnel-lik~e excavati..:.n Jur unldcr thle
undisturbedl earth to~ the side ofi the laire opnlng:: i; .Ld~I
plaic it soJ that the falling rarth might nut disturb the spirit
Thec bo~dy- \*.s in tht graver. The heapF~ing of earth. w:ith
the bucrial ho, :.c. ithl feetc an d with fingers, b~ack into~ the ho:le
that hadl breen soa labo~riousl!-- dugi had comme~necJ. The sun
wa.s2 getting lowc and Jarknc-s:- ~comes c3arl in the big bu~sh.
Now the last shot told us of the final ceremony. The food
that had been brought for the last offering was being placed
on the mound of heaped-up earth. The strip of white cloth
to the spirit was being pushed into the ground on its stick.
The burial party was backing away from the grave, slowly,
slowly, so that the spirit would not be alarmed, so that it
[ 20 ]
DjEA TH AT GAN h:~ E
v.ould not guess that thle living wrere eager to desert himi.
And then all would turn and ruin as last as the couldll to
the ri\er's edge, where the unwashed dirt that had accumu-
lated during the digging of the grave, and the more serious
Ipiritull3 contamination to which they had been exposed in
handcling the body, w\ouldr be washed away in the safety
of th~e i-owing water.
W\e strained to see the returning party as our canoe was
being paddled and poled upstream through the rapids to our
camp. B~ut it was too dark, and we heard nothing but the
sound of water over rocks.
whileL E THE RIVER ~\\AS HIGH
N O\\' this w~as a busy time of the !.ear, andl the ri\err
so full of canoes that a man foating dow~n a lumber
raft to the railhead might expectr to~ meti ten
or tvelve dugouts in a day.~
lRlen in laden carials wereT returning fro~m the French side
fo~r the hanr\ st festivals. They hiad been away75 eighteen
months or longer, andl now~ they werer cominLg back to burn
new\ rice and caSsava9 fields fo~r their wYomen, andj to beg'et
new children. \\'hen the har\esting was doneC was3 a fine
time for lover, and a w'cman writh a child in her w~omb wvas
the ver! luckiest for planting~ a field. Thesce returning men,
in the primie of life, withh powverful bod~ies n muscles that
w\ere as1 SO man:, great snake:s coiling~ and unco~iling under-
neath the gleaning mnoist skins wrerel defereintial toward
strangers. Foir it would hale been unseeml: to thrurt
at the first comer their adventures on the Alamwev\nel Ri\er,
and a man wrho was~ returning writh many passessions hadl
to, exercisei particular care that he angered- neither menl nor
gods. Yect among themsel:es they couldl not k~eep from a
certain amount o:f swragger.
"'Ai ba! Ai mati!" they exclaimed to~ ech; other in reply
to, thre most. casual i:>imment. Indeed, brother! Ye~s.
friend!" This ws no moree thap the moJe of address of the
Aw\~ka peopFle w'ho live along the Masrowne~. but "'AEi ba!
Ai mati!"' stoodj for the passwordIT ofi the larger outside
WHILE THE RIVER W~AS HIGH
world, and they tung it at each other proudly, for it stood
for the experience of making their wayR among strangers and
earning sums w~ith which to fill a large co-rial, and much
The men w\ho hadJ remlained on the ri\er fojund special
pleasure In imparting to these returning ones sometl weighty
"A ht G an k we thev a re bu r vi nE Sedef~S o's yoncer brot he r,"
the) said as the~ boats parssed each o~ther. snd they' we'nt int[O
the details of Zimb;'s death and the kunu which was
decimatine the family.
"As\ikanu has been chargedj w\ith adulter) by Alatafo.
A~sikanu's family i ctfering a ereat fine, but it is far from
AII this wa'S by way) of preface. To come to the real newis
without casual prelimina rie would have been the wayE1 of a
child, but a hlan Nengere. a full-grow\\n Negro, k:newr better.
''Last year a w~hite man camie here w~ith another jne--
a doctor. HeI said he u*OUld come' back with his wrife. HeC has
bro-ught hi wrife. He says they are: going up the rivecr. He
says5 they are going to the Granman's countr)."
UpC and dow~n the great stretches ofi water as the boalts
passed each ot he r, the new\s wa'~s given. Wo~-rd a nd co njc t ure
floated dow;n rivecr and into the creeks, reaching e\en the
"The Bakrai told me Ankla is an Arfrican wo~rJ. There ij a
Place in Afirica c~alledJ Awvka, and a People in Afrrica called
Awkl~a people. Hre k;now\s A-frica!"
'' Kye, ba! K ye. ma ti !"
Wo'crd andl conjelctu re were~ carried up ri\.er in thr boats
wrh;ch were being poled upstream against the rapids. It
would be some timie yet before there wrould be legends, annd
songs about the A~merican wrhites w~ho had made their wayg
into this bush. Nowi there could o~nl; be tllk:. The Bak;ra
had a machine *.hich talked baick to yoju, if youi talked into~
its born, and whlen it talkedJ back, it saidj the same thiing
you did, sang back: the same song, andl if you laUghedj, it
And dJj men Spea~k inrio the hiorn. anJ ing? Would there
be; no~ hairmI to the ak'a--the soul~1
Theiir ow~n trickster, Anains, the spider. wolrk~ing~ with h-is
iabulo.us cunninu, could nor have spu~n the~ sturies abo-ut the
wh~lites sister than hadJ the passing boats. From bojat to
boat, from bl.at to. shu~re. from uhoire tlo i-illager the news8
wetnt. Hadr the whlite man CCome w~ith guns,1~ C had7 hie comel
acco:mpanied by many others, then. toj be~ 51ur, it would
have. beeCn a matter for the drums. Blut the \.agairies of a
w:h ite' mni I coming with his wife are of no~ ri tu al coincer n. The
drums would only sound on occasion of mloment; to~ sum-
mon the men for a council of the clan o~r to ask, ritu~ally, fo~r
the health of a chief; to tell of death; olr to, spea k to the gods
themselves. But for a white man w\ith hit: \;oman, go~ssip
was good enough to carry the news.
Up and down the river, in the v~illages ir here they had
visited the year before, many a woman to~ who~m the Bakra
had given a string of yellow beacs, or a larLe glirrtering
safety pin to put in her hair as an o~rnament, or, better
still, a large tin can out of which her hlusbalrl Indr had ah-
ioned a broad band to be worn o~n her arm, one i.hich
glistened as it reflected the pale light ofi the moon~r during a
dance--such a woman heard of the co~mina of the Bakra
with pleasure. She had them all, thee giitft safe in the
carved calabash on which she had inicisedl the ainuolius lines
of the snake spirit that gave her fertility,. and riew.~ that the
gourds were ripening once again, she nwoulj d cane another
to hold the new things that the whites~ woiuld bring hier.
The young men, too, heard of their co~mingr w~ith pleas-
ure. For would not the strange ways: ofi the Bakra3 and his
woman give. them many witty new: thints to put intoi
words and sing to the traditional sek~et~i tunes. the secular
songs that they would later sing in the initervals of~ the
religious dances ? It was good to makte up new~ wvords, which
made a man the center of the dance A-mbe! Butr the ?women
loved the man who could put clever new~ woirds to their
The children heard the news with fear. fo~r at lour. at
five, they were not too young to have~ learned of the enormi-
[ 24 1
1 village cldecrs on a ceremonial visit.
WHILE THE RI\'ER \YAS HICH
ties of thet white men of lo3ng ago and the deeds ofi their
slaveC ances5toTS rs wh had wron for t hem7 freedoml i n this bush.
Buit w~hat of the old mien i W\hat of them wrho, governl anrd
know proverb anld parable to it all ceremocnial occasions.
wvhosel word is hnal in clan councils' W~hat of thiose who
call the god~sand SpeakF to the a nce stores a nd wrho. surpas sing
all else in uisdom, kno\? how~ to conltrol Otia, the creat
healing spirit wh~ich Nyankomprn on. the Sky God, created
after her had br~ughtr earthi and wa.te'r into being, so that
man might li\ei At the landing place o3f the balata campIF a
groCup of suchi metn were gathered and stoo~Jd bo~ut talking.
A~ LOaneo elder w~ho, was on hiis or~\ to vifit his relat~i\e s at
Kady,~ his low~er river clan village, had espied ai ilanimnis
on thec shore and had come up in his bo~at.
"A mn11 and a w\omn31 came. A\nd they are going up the
ri\er until .. until be.-ondlj rie Alamadal and B~aikutu.
until .. past the Felulasi Falls, until .. the! comne
to the Tapa Wate~r and Into tht: Pekien Ric., and until.
they arrive at the G~ranman's v'illac."
The speaker,' !a ynger man wIho had -come from up river
to the death ceremonies at Ga3nk\\e sp~oke with a certain
eagerness, and made o~f the telling a long re~cital. Jraw~ing
cout thle singsong word ,"u-until- morer andl more w~ith
each reperition,ii and in this wayv intensiifying both the
d is tanic and thIe h ardsh i p i n these vas andr 3 a s3ter t re~tches.
"Ay\!o! A4 lo~ng way3. W~ill the Ga'ma' let them cocme ?"
Ya3-hai. [io)! YCu mujt ask. \nillI the godS let them co~me!i"
Kere. kere! Y~ou muSt ask if thie ancestors \till let them
"Tlhey carry no Puns."
"Tlhen they bring us their godj."
Kweti-k net;!i A~nd that's what3 I don't u nders tand. They
say. the\y co~me to learn."
"By Ando! But \?hat does~ that1 menlr "
"\\Well, they! speak1 the proverb dow? n below,~ they say:
'It isn't fo~r nothing thart thC normm crawrls frmn side to
'"Alassa Ncen'e, but it's true. true."
"The white man \?ants reo ge~t thle black man's obia."
"The w~hitej hale wasr against each other. .. "'
"Ou L~r 4 ncetors . "S
BEfore thle last speaker could finish. a mian broke in with
a1 prs)yr. His \oidce as conversational snd Jrounded as
though he were addressing someone present.
"Great Sky God,
Mother of the Rivrer,
Grant that if the white man comes for evil
His race end.
Grant that if the white woman comes for eva~
Her womb wither, her line perish."
But the Loango headman shook his head and said. "The
gods will deal with them, have no fear. Do you r~nemember
the man who was drowned at the Mamadam, a nd the~ one~
who died way beyond the Granman's country, nd that
other one, the soldier ? They came with evil in their hea rts.
The gods killed them. The gods will deal with the~se, to~o."'
And another said: "Let them go up the river. Tife -pds
know all. The ancestors know all. This is our land. and olur
earth spirits will protect us, and they will kill our e~nemies.
This is our river. Our river gods will protect us, and kill our
enemies. This is our bush. The gods of the bush a re strong.
The gods of the bush know their bush children. The:, k~nowr
their children's enemies."
Then the Loango elder spoke again: "We have~ the gods
from Africa. They are more than all gods. The Afiricani
gods know all. They will watch over us. We have thle Cab;:
spirits, the African obia spirits. Mati, friends, let them go
up the river. Have no fear. Our gods are with us."
The men's soft, sober voices spoke the words w~ithoult
emotion. Theirs were the voices of destiny. Well might thle
answering chorus intone the affirmations, while theC colloquy
went on of leader and chorus, leader and chorus,. now~r one
taking up the main theme, now another. To us the cade~nced
speech came floating softly on the still air.
H'HILE THE RIVER \\'AS HIGH
The sun stood 0'..er the sacred silk-cotton tree tow~ard the
Gankwe side of the land. Across the path leading from
so~mewrhere in the back of our shelter the parasol ants, each~
writh its strip of green many times its size, made their way.i
toward an unknown spot where no shelter stood, and no
one trod. Like a wave the w\ide ribbon of green rose and
fell as it crossed the ridges of the pathways!. In unending
numbers thiey came, and the lizards darting in and out of
the brush swverveJ in the direction ofI the shelter to a\oid
the marching line, so that at ojur feet things moverd non
up, nowr back again.
\\'hile the men werce at the landinge plaie, one of the
women wrho~ wa5 Jryingl rice ojn the high Rat rocks opposite
our shelter pac~dled over in her boat, and, passing7 the men
w~ith a formal greeting, w~alked on and stoppcJ to talk withh
u;. She wass not a young woman. Her time for childdbearing
wvas long over, her wrrinkled breasts sagged almost to her
waist. The cicatrized designs ?.\hich once had stood out 5o
clearli. and in her youth had been so vaslued, w~ere but
faintly penciled on her face and about her breasts. Had
she cared, she might ha\e reopened the cuts. might hav\e
had ashes rubbed into them to~ make the k~eloids stand out
black~ and alive against the dark. browrn of her rkin. But
wvhat need had a noman her age to care ? \\'hat need to
urge life into symbols of fertility on face and between
breasts and about her navecl, w~hen her time for fru~itfulness
was5 oer ? Of wrhat use to reanimate the incised scrolls
between her thighs, wrhen the legend they told in terms of
reproduction :,as for hier a deadj legend ?
She came toward us slowly, balanicing a b~ottle on her
head~. A faded cloth cove~red her from \:aist to~ k~ne, and at
her w~aist a bit of the kerchief necessry to the attire of the
ma~rried woman, e'.en at wrork:, could be seen. She w'.ore a
fewp beasj on a cajrd about her neck. but she had no other
ornaments, forT ornamecnts were for iesti\e occasions, and
the cloth tied aboutc the neck: and w~orn cnpe fashion wa~s for
women who had children to cairry -traddling their backs.
and uomen garters belowr the k~nee were conceits of the
1 27 1
yocung Once he, tool:, hadl likcJ to~ havec her call loo~k rouIlnd
"Wil yu eschange th~is bottle of palm oil Tor tobacco "
she asked. showingf her empty clay pipe.
She camei in. saying she woculd lik:e to~ rest, anJ began
urnfastening her to:p tunic~ ro that she might make a pad of
it oin which! to sit dow:n oln thle gruclnd, fo:r thle earth spirits
forbid wocmen wrho hadj recihed pube~rt! to sit upon the
bare earth. In her seconldd tunic, somewhatl~ fresher than the
to~p o~ne, she stood~ hecsitating, look~ingT about her fo~r a place
to: Sit JI:\\n, until w\e birolughtr her a carve~d stol-li w~e hadcj
brought the day befo~re. Insteasd of putting on the top pangi
again. the used it to~ cover her k;nees.
"BUct'a move,~i" she~ said, whitee wolman. yocu ouz~ht to
C\cve \-our~ knic5. too,~l when \cou sit."
And ;itting there. examirung asr and our belongings, she
murttred her iommentt~ s bout o~ur appearancelii and dress
as she smoked, and miutteriner she su-al-ed slirhtly, until
the swaysing rhythm seemed to bring2 a melody! intol he~r
headJ~, an she beenl to, sin~g.
"L Thel .Intrr,*ican~ Bal'a
\~'il te mn n hae chome retlkc f n ar.~ i 1'"'ci
fr~j tc~k~c~Toe rc thi Saramane roeo rindsn:ti
invocaio~i~ n for our Safety,. forgettlng for the moment that
we w;ere wvhites,. wrhom th~e ancesto~rs ha~ted.
"Y IOu hiave so m~uchi wetalth," she raid to the \white marn,
looking abo~ut her at o:ur provisionl boxes. "yo~u must have.1
Andi baick again shec w~ent~ to~ her so~ng, repeatring the wo~rds
over and rver. u~ntil seeing people approach ihe ros~e slow\~ly
and we.nt back to~ thle ri\er where her rice was dry ing.
WHILE THE RIVER W~AS HIGH
Toward us5 came Ten\e. a youing frienJ of last year, and
tw~o small bo!s. She had seemedc but a child the year before
wchen she had Janced bandamba w\ith the other little cirls
while the mein wecre cettine ready- for the Kriimanti Jance.
Bu1.t nowr she loorked quite' grownn and instead of the small
apro3n Phe had wo~rn, was wearing a cloth of: a woman.
''You'v~e grow\n, Tenye."
'.-?.dy a hisi bc~b~i kaba," one of the youngsters said. She
ha3S her breasts already," and he went on to say that soon
she w~oulid mrarry~. "(Two moons more," he said, showing two
Y'oui will soon have many bracelets, Tenye, and when
you dance !.ou \ ill be splendid."
AL," the boy went on speaking eagerly, "Abane will
teach~ us howc to dance when he comes back. He went to the
French shore. A~bane made Tenye, and he made me, too.
Iam Yamatl, and he made Sabape, here." But they had
not the sam~e mrother, nor did they live in the same village.
" \\'hen I g~ro;; u~p," the child went on, "I will dance with
seed rattles at. my ankles. I will dance like Abane." The
rattles his uncles would have to buy for him, or when
grown he might buy them for himself, but his father would
give him his gods when he was of age, and good dancing,
too, was a thing of the gods.
\ \'ho w~ill get Abane's seed rattles, Tenye ? Will you get
theml because you are the oldest child of the first wife?"
A~h, no!"' both she and the indomitable Yamati ex-
claimed at the same moment, and then both lowered their
headjS and would say no more, while the small Sabape
Now:\~ wec had the year before discovered why we were so
often miet by young and old with the phrases, "I do not
k;nowr" or better still, "Massa Gadu sabi-God alone
know:s.," ihen it was evident that the speakers knew the
answer vcr! well indeed. The reason lay with the will- of the
G'an Y~orka, or the G'an Zombi, or the Nana, as the ances-
tolr are variously called. The ancestors it seemed had long
[ 29 ]
ago, so long tha t no one k;ne w j ust w~hen i t happened, i ns truc t-
ed that no, one might impart to another, a stranger, more
than hal f of w~ha t he~ k:new~. Moreover, no you~ng person da red
to speak at all ofi the 9upernatuiral, and such m~atters as
inheritance were~c regu1lted byy thi laws of the godsl and
ancestolrs, \ ho punished infractions w~ith the scourge c~f
kulnu-a term Le~e we'cre to hear so much in this Suriname
Tcnyc's head as ?.ve look~ed Jose~n uipon it !.cas a mound of
\ilIol, w~ith little braids, each no m~ore than an inch or an
inch andl a half long, fastened b\ a bit ofi black thread. each
b-rirai po-inting upwardIS.. This w\as called ..tatali,. ite k~new,\
and tol change: the subject \\ce talked about thie sty-les of
hairJressing. A child's hair usually w~as clo~sely cropped,
and ther headrs of both Yamati and SabapeC looked as SmootL~h
as blackened Pourds. Tenve's hair had been cut but A little
i'.hile ago. a m~oon perhaps, w\hen the braids had grow n so
long' that it hand be~en too miuch brother even to mak~e the
hair look~ uwell in the fashion ofi \thar <\as called the coiled
herad. or the earthl furrow\ style. Both of these types of hair-
dressing consistedj of braids wihich~ dive~rged from the center
in man! roires, appearing at the oulter edget at intervals of
one inch, or rlightly molre. Therse ends i?-ere caught~ up and
re~braided around the head, to form~ either thei one co~il of
"lollo 'ede," or the several coil.: of "gon iti." Therec !tere
also, the sing~le long braidrs--the "pitte"- and the "pina
bonsu" wcay of hair combine. w~here the head w-~hen properly
dressedi makes a design of narrow strips of scalp shiow\ing
between fla ribbons of braids, which lookl like so many
snak~e \ertebrae, radiaring frolm the middle of the head
"W~hen you comec back from up river, I w~ill dress yo~ur
ha3ir," said Te~n!e to both of usr. "Yo~u." she- said. pointing,
" will be~comei an Cabia mian in :our white country, and yo~u
will look. so itell that \our husband w~on'tecverT renlmemer to
go to his other v! ives."'
Bult note' Ten!e's maternal aunt w~ho haJ approa"chedl
unobserved~i came to call the children awvay. She wvas notr in
WHILE THE RIVER WYAS HIGH
good humor, and looked writh disia\or onl the friendly
converrsation betw~een u~s. Her bad temper, w~e learned
later, had earnedj for her the name of M~other Snake, givecn
her by a w~itty towrn servant of a lumber factor. The idea
of dressing ouir hair apparently appealed to~ the woman,
howrevetr, for it would certainly only be a reckless white
w~ho wrould offer his hair for combing to a stranger, since
w~ith hair any number of supernatural things might be done.
\\'ith the proper formula, a few hairs, and the required
ingredients she might fashion an opo, let us say. Now an
c~po ser\es many purposes, but its essential quality is
that it givezs its owner power over the one whose essence is
captured in the form of hair, or a scrap of garment, or
Enger nails, or whatever else had touched the person against
w~hom one has designs. The power of the possessor of the
opo~ is to, dominate the will of the other, and its particular
attribute bright be to function in love, or in a court of
justice, or in matters of getting employment, or of receiving
gifts. But an opo would be the least dangerous consequence,
for an cpo is not to be conceived of as being in the category
of bad magic. There is the danger of wisi--a word which
has the double meaning of poison and black magic--and
hair, or linger nails, or the menstrual cloth of a woman, or
perspiration are the very best materials for working
And so the good woman, known when she was among us
as T-ita, and as Mother Snake otherwise, saw that we
ot~ered no cause for alarm and added her advice to Tenye's
in pointing out powers which we might acquire and use to
spectacular advantage in our white country.
Yes, you must make pina bonsu," she said, adding her
approval, "and then your husband will prefer you to his
other wives. But if you want to keep him all to yourself,
y.ou must let us cut kamemba--cicatrized designs--on you.
AJn ingi kodjo here on each cheek to begin with," turning
to Tenye and smiling.
And so it was all planned. The Indian cudgel, a euphem-
ism for the buttocks, and procreative symbols were to be
riven to~ the white woman wrhen she returned from up river,
)et w~ith it all thle thighs woculd still necd to be cicatrized.
"Then,"' she said, speasking of the cicatrized thighs,
" the n hie si mpl nI on't thi nk ofi any one else, because a mong
!ou, y.ou wyill be the only one_. We; wvho all ha\.e the ka-
mecmbs must see that it looks wrell, but you w~ill be the
Thle boys remained w~ithi us, amusing themselves by
giving us their wo~irds for the various cbjc~t about us.
'The strings about their wasists, which formed their only
clothiing, the fiber cilrd wvith thle bell about Sabspe's neck,
the w~ord for garter, and machete, and shoes, boess, and
wa~iter jsr, and all elsc they could see wecre named. A
f13lsligh was8 a diam-ond fire, and a coillapcible cha~ir a
harmmock chair, and if we show:ed them something they
had never seen it w\as a Bak~ra sani;-a white man's thine.
Sabape spoke little. for h-e \ras a timid child and
look~ed sluggish. I-l had but few~ cuts o~n his (ojdy, w\hile
Ya~m~~,ati, whe5 wa bout the samle ago, had already several
full! ou1tl ined designs.
\\'h have ,ou nothinE aboIut your neck. Y'amati "
''Oh1, but I have. I have cuts. Y~ou can either have an
obia cut. or an Obia reta~l-a striner. It is to make us live.
AllI children havc it."!
".-And wheln doi thev start mlakine kamemba?"
"A- loing time ago they start. If it doesn't hurt tooi much,
they cut o~ne molre, and s~oon ol ne ore. But if it hurts too~
mnuch, they) wa~it until . he said, finishing oin the
wo?rd r; .. in the characteristics wayi~ of the Lrow~n
narrator whJlo uses thle mo~nosy11l~lae toi intensify space and
time and danger and boulnty.
Y~amati found so, much delich-t in his r.$1e as teacher that
he b~came- i stern writh us and had us say the wrords over
again and aga~in. There was thec wo~rd for firefly which
pleased h-im not at all. "Ali tabi, mri taki-(! a~oha-nyrnc-nr-
I say, I am saying .. "I:"if)v yo.u uld butli;Stn,"!his voice
\\'HILE THE RIVER W'AS HIGH
implied), and he repeated the w-ord o\er and over, until this
led us to talk about singing, and at last wre had them
consent to dance susa for us. It had to be done very quietly,
in the slight clearing in back: of the shelter. usa Is an
African Jance. It is danced by mern only1!, in pairs, and is
something of a game. The one wYho \wins '' kills his opponent.
The enrth spirits are said espeCially' to likeC it, andi it is
danced in the tields or in the villages for them.
There they stood, Y~amati and Sabape, facing~ each other,
their enlarged nal-els almost touching. O:ne agreed to~ be
"'in," and one "out," and as thel, began, their jaws cameic
forward in A patterned, puEgnaciouss w~ay, and their arms
movesd to reproduce in pantromime shleld andspear, while
the feet crossed and r~c~rojssed.
Go to dan~cc .iusa
I/lnk, hrehi, h ub.'
They sang the Song7 ove.r and overC again, pa~nting at the
end of each \erseto dra~jmatize combat.
"I killed him," said Yanmati. HIe had \:.on, and the\
bean aeain. If the o~ne wrho had arcred to be "in" hadl his
foot on the outside as they clashed, then he lost-h]e was
As the) we~re dancinP.. wre noticed a \'oulne man wre had
neverr seen before. He wa~s sta nd ing \:aRtch ing the 'OU nfg te rs
at their play. smiiling~ as though he enjoyed their contest.
He wa.S very da rk even for a Bu sh Neg ro, short a nd stock k !,
witih unusual mulscular development of armi and chest and
thigh. His age, one w would judge, wias nineteen or twe.nty'.
He turned his smile on us wrhen he realized we w~iere noticing
"'1 heard that you are buying things w\e make, as you
did last year illnl my illage. I hav-e come w\ith balata from
my uncle, and I brought a stool to sell. Would you like to
see it ?
A-nd so Baveo brouieht us his stool. It was not well carved.
Indeed, compared \with e\en the least skilled carvings on
benchles and combs~ and trays and food-stirring paddles,
the wrorkmianship- was crude. Buit one does not refuse a
protfered article bruskly, and n'e sat dow\n to talk w~ith
It wras Bayo w\ho gave us our first insight into the mean-
ing of Bush Negro designs, gavec us our tirst information
about thiis, as about so many other customs and practices.
W\hat is carvedj on the \stood which the men wrork writh such
care has sienifcance, and carries mieaninpful symbols
which the Bush Negro is unw~illing to reveanl. That there
might be symbolism in the art we had before sulspected, but
usually. w\hen w\e asked~, wc hea~rd the skillful e\asions: of
which the Bush Negro is master. He did not know\. Only the
carver himself could sa!, buit the carver w'as aw~ay or long
dead. O~r \rce w:oulld hear that it w~as car\'ing, that it wa~s
carvecd to beautilv it, that it wras of an in-and-out design.
O7r, with carefully pointing 6nger that indicated the
ornamentation,, the Bush Negro w~ould say.' "This is wood."'
SoJ :e talked to Bay~o about his stool, expecting to hear
one of the usu1al replies. But this timle and without any'
"Loo~k," he said, tracing out the lines of the interwrovcn
pattern, "this is a man, thiis a wroman. This is her head,
those her breasts, thiis her w~omb. Here are his head, his
arms3, his legs. W~e call this :comr~ii-ko-m!(yec-ma n-and-
wroman. Here are the children wrhichi they w~ill makee" and
his hands traced another series of designs on the top of the
W~e bought his stool, and he stayed and talked of many
things. Did. wc w~ant to, buy\' an obia--a charmi ? One day he
would like to become an obia man. Already he could make
obias which protect the nerarer wrhen he w~alks on the water.
W~'HILE THE RIVER W'AS HIGH
Had \\re provided ourselves with the necessary obias with
which to travel to the country of the Granman? He had
neverr been so far up the river. He would like to~ go there.
Ai-yo! He would like to go and see Dahomey, the sacred
city, and look at the Tapa Wa:ta falls, and visit the Gran-
man's villagee. Did w~e have all our pad~dlers ? He wras
strong, and he liked to mnake a boat wvalk up the rapids.
He could get his father to come w:irh him as steersman.
His father had stri:ne obias and knewr the rive~r. We't could
not gol until the rive~r wrent dlown, but he would stay with
us here and wrait, and ifie w~C rished it he wrould~ go, back~
upstream7 to: his village,, andge his father and food, and be
ready for us in time. He Ireededc the moi~ney~ the Bakra would
pay, toor, for he wranted to be married soon, and he wrould
have to buy ma~ny things folr his woman and her mother.
W~hen he left us, he w~ent to one of the little enclosed
houses that wrere there for travelers, choosing the one
closest to us, and built ai small hre. His younger brother
and the wrhite dog that camelc in his b~oat sat with him~. Th~e
dog wrore a cord about his neck, covetred w~ith red ochre,
to keep him safe in the bush. That night as wre ate wre could
see Bayo, his brother, and the dog squatting close to the
tire and eating, too~. And all the next ;day, and for several
days to come, as \rce w:aitedl, Bayo wcas writh us, talking,
laughing, explaining, andl mTaking and buying obias for us
to carry us safely on our journey to the Granman.
In the afternoon one of the political chiefs of the neigh-
boring Christian village came to hear our phonograph.
But w~hen wre asked himl 1o sing9 intlo it, he Isid. "Ask mec
later. Now. I am alone. W~e Saramace~a people never do
anything wrhen wre are allone."l We had the yea~r before
acquired a powrerful obia against slander and bearing fa~lse
witness against us, and found the occasion uset'ul fojr
corroborating the invocation wey had been givcn. T~he mann
however, spoke writh the greatest reluctance and looked
vastly rcliev~d w~hen he saw several boats pull up at the
It appeareJ that these new~comers we.reC also interested
in our photograph, but that no, one~ would consent~n to be
the first to sing, until at last a -ioungr boil came up.
I'll'1 sing fo~r you." he said. anJ it was5 at o~nce wh.liSpered
that the boy came fromr a family of powerful obia men. that
he w!as sure of his spirit. "I'll sing, yes, but youjL must let
m~e tell thec machine~ something first."
\\'hat he said wras an invocatiojn to his so~ul and hij
personal gods,J and he~ ,poke:c it by puttingr his face into~ rthe
horn of the phonog~raph and talking in a rapid whisp~er,
maksing audible the ojne phrase: "Bakra obia isn't m)
obia." Subsequently wrhe~n w;e Jiscu--ed this oc~currence
with older m1en, they made the mlatter clear to us. He had
asured his spirits that he was no~t co~nceding an2-thing to~
o~ur madec and that ther\. nereT neither tc. icecl slightedj no~r to~
relas their \igilance. The gods favored the strong and the
pro\en, and a yo~ung man had to be careful, for the 'odjS
were not~ co~nceived as especCia lly' Clogical or ra'tionllal or
inexrablyD1 just, sol that one had to guarJ against becom~ing
the victim ofi their caprice.
Bo:at after boat pulled up at the shore, and up the road
came a long line ofl callers. \\'irnien with infants straddling
their back~s. a breast draw~n to the~ side So: that the child
mriaht feed ar it rented there; children :\ith cojrds about
their wraists; young girls and boy!s, each w~ith a Sqluare of
apro~n across3 the fro~nt, o~r a lo~in clolth; aind the men w~irh
togas and addjle~s, JignihedJ and solemnn. Jraw~ing neare~r
On ourl rCoviSio~n boxScS atI thoCSe w~ho had come~ early,
particularly wcme~n nursing children, or o~ld womenin w~ho
looke:cd on w~ith tired woinder. O~n rthe folor ev~er\?wh ere abou
oiur feet and against the posts sat the children wre k~newv,
w~hile thosc w\ho~ had co~me fo~r thec flrSt timle anld wecre. rtill
feariul k~ept their distance, hiding: behind so~me relative.
It wais a g~reat o~ccasion. a spectacle of w~hite man'r miagc,
andJ they\ wetre there tc. verifi it for themselves. Nowr there
\\'HILE THE RIViE R \\' AS H IGCH
was6 much of white man's magic~ that wras not astonishing.
Old men and y.oungi mnen had hea rd of machines w~ith people
on themn that F1re lik;e birds, but had thei not their o\?.n
stories aboutr the sacred vultu~re, the oprie, that carried
one of their warrior ancestors at.'a i rom slater, across
the river and into this bush.' He had simrply mountedj
the bird and said to it, "On your back: is; my home. Y'ou
can By over land, and you can 1-y m,~er wiater. I hater nol
boat. Y'ou mustr carry me." ALnd the opete too; him. Then
there are beings wvith wvincs that range the sky,. and SOmne of
them are birds, and some of them are spirits. No~, a machine
that fdewn like a bird wras not asto~nishing mag~ic. Then there
wras the k~ino~-shadows~ appearing and moving about like
the living--that you could see in the cities. M~en on the
French shore, too, had seen the kino, but it was a gift any
mnan mighr hav~e to see things. But here wa~s sometphingr
i?hich talked back at you.. .
"Alassa Nen'ge!-Mastecr Nigger!"
Ala Nen'g . !"
And even, our towvn servant exclaimed. M/i Gado-MyI~
Now~ all this wa~s very' we'll, eC.Yept that rhe Bakra, no~t
satisied w~ith the ordinary seketei dance tu~nes, k:ept arking
for Kromanti soncs--the wasrrior-spirit songs-a-nd the
bush-god songs, and rile~r-god songs. From one man and
from another came the expeted, "I do not knowe such
songs."T'Ihe womenn did not even jare approach the maic~hine.
A~t las~t APanto came. His hair wass braided and he woreTc a
jaguar tooth o~n a cord about his neck. He w~ss not so~
mu~scular as other men ofi his age, and when he went about
there wasr a softness in his mo\ements thatr was unacciount-
ably disquieting. His hands w~ere not the h-ands of~ a wolrkerr
of lumber, nor of a boa3tman w~ho~ was accustomed to- pole
heavily loaded boalts. They were smaller, and his tineers
we~re narrow: at rhe ends. Apanto, wre discovered later, wars
wrhat the Bush Negroes called a "tiger Agl~hter." In a
quarrel, he did not cuif and strike out wVith his fitl, butl
R EB[EL D ESTI N Y
scratchied lik~e a --tigri"-a tiger, for this is holy the Bush
Negiroes name the jaguar. Later, wvhen wre iaw~ him dance
the Tigrii Kromanti daince, ice witnlessedJ o~ne of the most
realistic feline interpretatrions imaginable. Bur that is
Now. Apanto w:as an obia man to be reck~oned wrirlh, andj
his Fellowv villagers and the villagers of neighboring settle-
ments treated him wrirh a defernce that hiis age alone
could nevecr haver commanded. And it wvas this Apanto \rho
note came up and saidJ that hie would sing~ the sacred
K~romsntii songs for our phonograph.
'" Y~ou wrill not understand the song~s. T~hey will be in the
K~romanti language," hei warnedlr us. --They are strong, and
the machine must be strone to carry. them."
It h appe ns tha t a telJ ph;'nograph is a nyth ing bu t s trong.
The mechanism is simple, since the instrument must be
liehr enough to be carried about, and yett it oten is Sub-
jected to all manner of hard usage. T'o this is added thle
hazard of the climate. The turntable is actuated by a belt
running from the mechanism inside the case, and the etnds
of this belt are glued together. This, to be sure, w~e dis-
covered later. A\t the moment, \ice met A~panto'S challenge
w~ith assurance. \\'e JiJ not Joubt that the machine wss
\\'hat he saidi about the Kromanti language wa's trUe~.
The K~romanti tongo,, of which \re hadJ been told during our
Arst visit here, w~e w~eret ending~ to be an actuality, and
although wec took; down the wordjS as5 he sang them,. aided
in hearing them by- the rep~etirions, their meaning~ wras
unk~now\rn to us. Some of them w~e learnedj later. Some of
them wet k;new. "Obia" \ve knewr conce~rnedj the spirit,
the \aeue force know~:n by- that name, while "Amba"' wass
a deiry sacred to Saturday, and wrar given as a "'day namec"
to women born on that day of the w~eek. This, then, is w~hat
Obia t 11l< nera dji~ni n~o-ho
WHILE THE RIV'ER W~AS HICH
Amlnba djenlryi, obia-lni yi-yd
A~lanr die~ni no-h~o
Amb~a djenli-r-i, obia-i-i
A~lanl djeni nor-hoJ, obia-i."
The music wvas slowv and soft, and in Apa~nto's aippealing
voice the song took on a strangely movingg quality. But
as he sang, a stir w~ent through the peo~ple w'ho werre
"iHe calls his abia, ai."l
His obia wrill fight the sp~irit of the machine."
"'The Bakra is cunning, but obia is strong. \\'e shall see."
The song came to an end, the recorder :.-as lifted. \\'e
looked at ALpanto. "\\'ill you sing another." S~ee the thing
is notr finished. There is rooim for more."'
He looked. Yes,. one could see there w~as room for more.
Yecs, he would sing more. This time the song w'as liveclier,
louder. As Apanto sang, he seemed to force the song into~
the horn, and this time there weere no murmlurs froml those
J- yen)-ho-ho nro
And w~ith this the machine began to give wray. There
w~as a rattling sound, a scratching. The machine w~ent more
slowvly, then stopped. Abouit us the murmullrs became
excited. Hasrily are fittedil a newr cylinder, hastily w~e tested
it. It wras no- use. W~e soon found the cause. Thle slue had
softened in the tropical dampness. and the ends had pulled
loose. It was almost dark, and there was5 nor sun to dr> a
newly applied coat of glue.
[ 39 I
Apanto' looked at us. "The Bakra is cunning," he
repeated. But cobia is stronger. In the bush obia rules.
K~rimanti is tooe stro~ng for the spirit of the machine."'
Swviftl! the dark ofi the bu~sh came do:;n. T~he people w~ho
had been watschinc, listeningr to wrhat had passed, wvere
leaving to go to. their villagess and to~ Fread the newvs of
the power" of obtia, and how Apa~nto had defeated the spirit
olf the machine thatr talks back w~hat has been iaid toj it.
Andj with the gathering dark, we could ense the pulse of the
drumS and hear a faint echoi of the shrill cry of the w~omen
dancing at Garnk\we for the spirit of the dead man w~ho lay
there in the house of mourning..
I 40 ]
O:N T'HE SARAMIACCA RI\'ER
ON THIS, thle second morning after the burial of
Sedefo's bnroher. Bave started dowrnS~team fro~m
the village of Djamungo before daybreak. \\'ithi all
the vigor of his yocuth anld the freshlness of the morning, he
pushed off from shore, and w~ith sharp, short strokes ran
his canoe into midstream and through the fo3'ming rapids
belowr thle village. In and orut, andj in. w\ent~ the paddle, until
he was5 CPSt the rough water wvhich made a tumbling folrtit-
catio~n for his village. H-is eyes \:andered back for an instant
as he js t there, ta king i n at a rla nce the dark o~utlinecs of the
twro silk-c~orton trees which reared themselves above the
line of mrtted jungle. and the gleam ofi natural clearing o~n
the opposite, uninhab-ited bank. w here trees stooid singly
here and there above the low- underbrush. "Ai-vo!"' he
exclaimned half alolud, think~ing howr wecll it was3 w~ith his
village. It was goodJ to have been bornm wrhre twrin silk-
Ccotton trees jtooid and across the river fro~m wheire the
Ap`uku-t~he little people of the bush--held council at
night. It wa'S the Ap~uku, to be sure, wiho~ had seen tO this
pleasant open place, and lirnosi ma )n, htever his need, would
put to use this land which the gods had acco-mmodated to
their oj~n n prpojses.
TIhose rapids, too, w~ere higher than any on1 the lower
rivecr, he thought, as he paddled vigoro~usly in the still
wa~ter. To havet thoiughit ofi the rapids at all, whlile going
REBEL DE STINY'
through them, would hav~e meant courting the displeasure
olf the spirit which animated the troubled stretch, and
would have beeni dangerous. He wiai a MIan Nengere and
knewi all this we~ll, for was~ he not ready to marr! Dida any
time now.i He woiuld have\. to wrait as yet, but perhaps
during the ne-t planting her breasts would come, and
then in a mo~nth. two~,, three, she would be ready to marry.
He was, in fact. in the moodii even toi cast about for a second
w~ife, though his marrying her wo~culd have~ to wrait many
yeari. AllI that wouild come, for wrhat with the money he
already had earned, and the sums he woauld get fo~r the
wood he might b-ring dowvn the river later, anid thiis money
the Baklra wuc~ld give him, he would have enough to pay
for the hammick,, the cloth pangi, the handkerchiefs, the
bracelets and beads, and w:hatever elie a man neededl to
gi\e to~ his woman and her mother for a tjne miarriaige.
Going through this stretch of still water. which Bayo
always!- found Jull, hie thought o~f this and that, for there
wasi no worklr for his muscles but the monotony of the dip
and strok-e of the paddle. Going upstream it \?as ditlerent.
There thie challenge of the slipping pole-stick against
submerged slime-coi-ered rock made a masn prose himself.
It spoke' to the wa~rrior blood in him, wrhich found noi outlet
in these quiet times. But this was3~ only idling, and his mind
fojund pleasure in wandering, ~espeially if it happenedl, as
nowi, to be Ja~rk~ enough~ to mak~e it wrorthless for him to
look about for the things that grewr and stirred in the
Ye~s, it w?ou~l be almost three hours b~ef~re the sun was5
hligh, and wihen it st(-oo there--he indicated the place
in the heav~ens to~ himself wijth hiis eye2-he might be
loading thie Bak~ra's boats to go up river, for wrord had
come fromn top~-side that the lhlamaJam wiouldl be sale in a
few~ days, and nowi if the Granman meant foir the Bakra to
get toi the upper river, he wvould be sending wocrd dowvn
almost any time. And he,. Bay.o, wasi ready. for the journey.
Here in the blue canister, which he had brought in the city
on the Oween's asjt birthday writh part of the money he had
1 42 j
O N T HE A R AMhA CCA R V E R
got for the timber he and his great-grandfather had
floated down, the river, he had twvo fine cloths. One wras
older and wvas intended for ivisiting the v;Ilages on the away,.
and the neww one wvas for the Granman's village. For this
occasion, too, he was saving a pair of newvly coven garters,
though he would wear the twvo strands of small coral and
yellowv beads in some of the villages on the wvay. At Lami.
Ai-o! He wrould see to it that he Iolooe~d wrell at Lame,
for Lame had handsome women, and at Lame the wvomen
knewr how to love. Hii owrn powerful love obia had come
from Lame, and there it was in hij canister and there
beside it wa3S a potent fighting obia which his uncle, wvho
was surpassed by fewv on the river in the strength of his
obia spirits, had made for him. Some da, w~hen Bayo
wras older, he, too, would k~now all these secrets, for his
uncle had given him some of his godsJ, and at Jances he
already showed that he had a strong spirit. UTntil that time
came, he had the obia From Lame to wrin for him the love
of his fellow~ men, and should it not avail against the magic
of some surly fellow- who w ished him ill, then he had the
other which w~uldJ serve him in trouble. And on his upper
arm was his K~rOmanti obia--the magically potent iron
band-w~rhich. by tigh tening, wrould warn him whel1n
trouble w~aS impending. That was the wvay to go through
life-a man asked the gods to help him meet a hatever
might come, the good spirits writh good, and the bad writh
vet greater evil.
UP above, whirling past him in the pale dawvn, the
parrots flew:, making a screeching chorus in the stillness,
and rousing him to the murmur of the ne:;t rapids which he
\Yhat wa~s that i." A oat. Going downscream, he wvas soon
Tio~, greetings," he called tor the man, speaking in the
subdued ceremonial voice.
"'Thank you, tio," answ\ered the older man, for he
addressed a stranger.
And after they had inquired of each other's health, they
wrere wrell past each other. making~ in opposite directions,
but continuing their colloquy.
Bayo said, "I am on my way to the Bakra's camp. I am
to be one of his paddlers. Today we start up the riverr. He is
going to the Granman's country."
"I am going to Tunkahai. My sister's son died on the
Marowyne. His wife is to come out of mourning. W~e shall
have good dancing tonight."
Bayo's boat was disappearing in the bend of thle rive~r.
"Adiosi, adiosi-0. Adiosi, adiosi-o!" he sang out his
goodbye, pitching his voice so low and so well that it
seemed to penetrate not only the entire river, but the very
thickness of the forest which hemmed it in. The response
came back to him as a faint, cadenced song.
"O00 00 00 .. oo!" he sang out, placing his hland
against his mouth to make the sound carry. And the
answering call came back true as a bird's call.
Now he was in the rapids again, and stood at the stern
with dilated nostrils and head thrown forward. W~hen he
was through the whirling eddies and in quieter waterc once
more, he adjusted his loin cloth carefully and sat dowrn and
began paddling. The green-heart trees were beginning
to bloom. Fine trees. They belonged to another clan. He
and his great-grandfather went for their timber belowr.
There was plenty of timber in this bush of theirs. T~he- gods
of the bush were strong, and the ancestors had done well
for the country. In a week these channels would be go~ne.
Right about him everywhere jagged rocks would show~. In a
week, or before then, they would play the drums fo~r thle
gods of the river, sounding their call to the sun to come and
dry and warm them, and the sun, hearing the call. wvould
send his fire to the river banks, and the rains wc~uld end.
Was that a boat overtaking him ? The cool of thle mocrning~
was a time to be about. Who was that ?
"Tio, greetings," he said to the man, who seemed in a
"Thank you, tio. .. "
I 44 1
ON~ THE SARAMIACCA RIVER
A-h, but they k~new\ each other.
Bayo began paddling faster to keep up writh him.
"T'here is to. be a council meeting: at G~ankw~e. I had to
hurry Rraway last night, and I must get back there in time.
\\'e: must have permission from the spirit of the dead masn to~
go backl~ to~ work;, and Sedefo has to find out if he can start
up the ri\er, and if he do~es go, wre must all pray' to the
anc~estors because four men wrill be going from Cankwer~, and
the Granr Stmbi-the: villagee: elders--have things to de-
cide .. "
Nowr, fearing that he might havet said too much, he
doubled his speed, and Bayo0 underStood that thle other
preferred to be- alone. The~y belonged to different clans,
Bayo to the samec as the headman of the tribe, and the
Gankwre people to another. Gankw~se wras sending important
men to tak;e the Bak~ra up the river. The chiel's owvn
brother, A-sik:anu! wa~s to go, although it was said he wass
being sent out ofi the wray while his adultery case wsas being
settled. There had been talk; about thi~s case up and dowvn
the rivecr. T~he Gankw;:e can head h~ad gi\en a chief's
sancruary to the offender because he was his owrn brother,
people Said. ~\\'CIl if the inj ured husband commnitted suicide
as5 he threatened, and sent a k~unu to the' family of the
brother, and even the villaget and clan, it would be an ugly
thing. But so it w~as w~ith trouble about w~omeln. It wa.:S as
S/rep is dleath
He half chanted the proVerb and smiled, for he looked
forw~ard to his trip up the rivecr writh an eye to a v'isit in
Lame, wrhere the uwomc-n k~newr h~ow to~ le~.e. An d he began
singing the sek;eti song wrhich he liked so well. Bocth the
melody. and the w~ords werCe old, but hie sang the refrain as
i fi t e re q u ite h is owrn -w~h a e ver ha rds h ips t here wec-re on
the ri\er, at Lami one slept w~ith the women!
At the v.illage of Akunkun an old mian and a boy~ of
about nine wereTc at the landing place ready to~ start. Bayo
recognized the coat of a village chief, and by the size oif the
boat he knew~ that it belonged to~ the upper river, far, far
beyonJ the stretches he had yet penetrated.
He spoke the greeting in the fainte~st of w~hispers. out of
deferenice to a man of age and rank, and stopped his boat,
for this village belonged tc, his ow~n ilan, ainJ it w\as here
that he wrould get from his mother's sister the cassava
bread which she had got ready for his journey up river.
He got out of his boat gently; Jecsorum Jemanded that he
subdue his energy before the mian of position. His palms
resrted on his knees fo:r an instant, as he stood sIjghtly
inclined before the older man, and w~hat questions he
answezred, he did in speech which wans punctuated w~ith the
ceremonial ta mmeri ng demanded by the occa- ion. He had
put hit toga-like~ cloth o\er himi and stood hesitating
wihether or not to take his paddle to the village w~ith him.
for he wvas so well know~?n here that this settlement was
Almost as familiar to, him as his own. But at last he leaned
down and took up his paddle. This mature formality, in a
village where he was still often looked upon as a boy, wras
prompted perhaps by this meeting writh the chief, or by
the new~ feetline of confidence he had, since he wra- taking the
Bakra's boat up the river. But he~re he wrar, going up the
embank~ment writh the firm, slowr step of the stranger.
The old chief had already startedj having Brst made his
sac~riker of rum to the spirit of his boat by squirting it over'
the finely carved head which appearedj in relief on the
prowr. And nowv, as he guided his canoe w~ith the sure strokes
of his large steering paJdle, he sang his prayer.
Sacred ancestrorj,, anrd my~ a'ha,
I amr taking th ij joucrney dow~n the' rive~r,
I am going to thi city~,
G'rant that Itraw~l in safety,
Grant that ther trip be joyorti,
Grant that 1 meet writh frilcudsi,
OIN THE SA\RAMAICCA RIVERK
Create Sky God,
Mother of the Riv~er,
I thank you."
BEfocre the sound of the old chief's voice had died away,
Bay.i was: on the bank again with the great disks of cassava
breadl in his arms. He covered them carefully and was on his
waya. HI-I aunt had provided nicely for him. She had given
himi a l rge bottle of palm oil as well, and now, if he could
b~ut jhoot a monkey or a macaw while going up the river, he
w~ould have excellent food. The Bakra would be certain to
have a drink or two for his paddlers, and some leaf tobacco;
a nd, though he himself was not old enough to snuff tobacco,
he woiuld save it for a gift to the father of his betrothed.
He went back to his seketi.
M~a, a Lami
A sib' ko' de muye."
On the bank of the next village several women were at
work washing clothes. W7ere they young ? Ah, but he must
hurry. Twice he had been overtaken.
"Tia, odi! tia, odi! tia, odi!" He spoke to each of the
three women separately and finished his "Adiosi" with an
extra flourish, for he knew as he paddled away that the
circle of cicatrized kamemba and the snake incised in the
small of his back below it would gleam in the sun and look
alive to the women who watched him make off.
That Lami obia was a powerful thing!
At Gankwve they had been up all night, for yesterday was
the eighth day after death, and that night the ceremony of
B'oko Dei had to be cared for--until night met day, the
villagers said, there would be Anansi stories, and then,
after the dawn, the elders would hold council, for one's
1 47 ]
head was clearesr in the quiet of the early~ morning. A
EtillnZes so, pronounced that ?re Ccould feel it surrToundedj us
at the base camnp. fosr at Garnkwe the drum had been
replaced in the shrines ofi the goids folr w\hom they! Cpeak,
and no mo~re guins salurrd thet ZpintI of Zim~i. or wasrned
away1! the evil dead writh the pon~;ider which w~as distasteful
to ghorSts. Zimbi ws buried, the grav\e diggers had bathed
and put on fres1 Iloin clothe, the village had beeni purided,.
and all1 wiaI still.
Friom our shelter. vatchin thle ha~ze lift. \?e could see
thatr thle rivetr had falle~n; the tang~led grasse at theit
brank howetd frlly a hand's breadjth ofi fresh brown thir
had thle day before been under wa3ter. \\'ith the coming ofl
the sunl thlinP5 began to Stir. The lizards appea~red, the
chiicketns camc toj p~ckl at our shoe~s. looking fo;r crumbs. and
boats begar n to makn~e shadows~ across the; opposite~ ba~nk, as
the Ga~nkwer~ ?.vmen in their small coirial
fields. At the bou~ wouTld b~e a little eirl. or a \-et smaller
boy--as young as four perhaps, for the older ones went
with the men to learn a man's work--helping to take the
boat up the fast water. All this went on quietly, until we
espied three boats running down the rapids and pivoting
about in the still water toward our landing place. As they
came nearer, we could see that the boats carried no load.
and our host, the director of the balata-collecting station.
explained that these boats were new and were being taken
down river for sale.
"All the large boats come from top-side," he said.
"The men take them clear around to the Marowyne River
by way of the canals and there carry loads in them to the
stations in the interior. The Saramacca men are fine canor-
men. They like them on the Marowyne. .. You cou!d
use a large boat for your trip up river. Maybe the man will
The man in charge of the little flotilla stood more than
six feet tall. His face was intricately cicatrized, and he
carried himself with a dignity and reserve that surpassed
even the way of the village chiefs.
ON THE SARA!lIACCA DRIVER
Seeing himi. O~ur host ga\e an exclamariojn of pleasulre.
"But thi i.: Ajake, the husbandl of Granman Ya3nkuso's
our answe~ir was,15 Jjakro. k:rna-A~j3oko gjood mo~rnine."
H-ad \:e awake;~ned, no?' Thir, in the Saramacca.- idiomi,
wiaS hor; ojne askedr~ if wve were we~tll, if wre werei alive. since
the eulphe mism forr dea th is gleep. W\e 3 answered himi in their
"Hailu o.co, n~e 3aid, uiing their equi\alent for fairl!
well. ojnly hali ro.
A.jako laugh-d. The wh~ite ma.n had~ learned. ".Are !.au
noc better? I hear the godsj liker !iu iiecll," he rephed..
And fo the cojner~stionn ;ient on, each giving~f account oj
Finaly Aakesaid "Grnma 1'aku:- wats fr yu,
Bak;ra. He sends \.ou hir ereetines. and says5 he w~ill \1-elcorme
\-ou in Asindepo Lantin-c,~ his village. You havei hthe freejDm
of the river. The vi;llge chie~F; k;now of your corming. They.
i ill received yo~u. The river is no~t too: hig~h now?', fo~r topF-side
the rainss are at 31n end. Here on the loweir river, too,, rocks
that today are underT \water will appear lomoirrow~' ojr the
next day.~ The water is not too hig~h no'.~ Th- Grainman
jendsr wo.rdr tor yoru that yoi:u can jtrt. '
But ;:hat of himnl ? Wojuldr he not come~ w~ith a~s aS our
chief paddJle~r, to showr us rthe way thro~uth thel many1)
channds*i But he zmiled and aidi he ws~ going to the
Alarolvy)n- He could not turn back;, he told uis, for he had
the boats to~ sell, and m~oney~ tor earn theiri, while hir w~ife
was$ nuiriing her infant. \\'hen rlhe child was~ SeveCnteen,
eighllteen months old, then he wvould be back: w~ith his w'ife
again, cutting~ newF Belds for her, 3ndr ma~king hildlren.
While the infant w~a s t the breast, he; woluldJ b- 3.:ar~
There was3 morje talk:, laIc.Jng gently-.cair;, softly,! as the
Bush Negro himself says--co the subject of certain un-
Friendly villagess. There we~re to.*o of them up the river that
had no:t actLed wecll toward the Granman. It woculd bie best
if we didl nost stop there. A~t the others the Granman could
assure us hos~pitalits. Then there was talk ofi hauling wood
and makine, raftS, forJ oju hosjt, wh~lo knre these people w'ell,
moved~J safid too. until he at last felt the momentt had come
to talk about bu\ine a boait fromn Aliaka.
W\hen the arranrcments ofi the sale w~ere coincluded.
A~jake came backl tol talk w~ith us3. He had heard tha~t w:e ha~d
a mlachine w~hic~h the Kromanti spirit had brok~en.\ was it
truei ? Di it reall? go again ? They said the Balra had
miuc~h cunning. Tlhes- said ther Bakra knew Af-~rican madeic.
T'he Bakra said he knewi sc:~methine abo:ut Airic~a. T'he
As hanti people, for instance, we.ire a tine pecople.
are Saramacca. .. "' But he wo~iuld ea no fu~rther, havine
spoken osnly one sy.llable of the wiord forr peoplle. He became
cuarded. Y'es, therre were somne A-nagoI people froim A-frica
o~n this Saramacca River, and Dahamey, 3nd~ L~onange and
Fanti; the 150o peopFles werre nott oln this rii-er. . And
senin he w;ould sai- nc. more. Later, w~hen wei had chanrce
thei subject, he said as if in both grraitude and e explanation?
But he would sine int~ or~~ m~c~hine. if wec liked. He
wouldl sine Krromanti, if w~e wIanted him~ tor do: Sc. "i I wcin't
ticht i-our machine.!" he said, smiling.
'"The wi~ll understand this in Africa," hie said, gravelp.
and then he movi~ed towarrd the doorwayn? and stood there
ON THE. SARA.11ACCA RIVER
looking out on the rivrr. W~he~ther it w~s a get~jure thalt he
would sing no more, or not, we coujld not say., butr when hie
turned again to us h~ liOoked thoughtful.. "W~hlte man,11 how
far .iwayi is Africa. W~ouldJ ther! kill me if I went therer
Coluld I get a woiman,, dl en.tn there?"
We' sent him~ Someli Flood to, his boa~t aj An e:-:pressioln of
hojpitality., and w:ordJ cameir back that w:hen we had done
eating,. he would himself come and thank us. W7hen he did
comei, it was to speak his thanks and to say goodbye, and
hle didJ not come alone. WVith him was the young man who
was~ his traveling companion, and this young man carried
iifts to US. Bayo, who had arrived a short time before,
rce~ivi\ed the gifts of fig bananas and rice for us, as was the
custo~m of these people, for to have given or received a gift
in person would have been the way of a boor, just as it
\:ould ha ve been bad form to stand about and watch us eat.
I1 he le-ave-taking ritual, as that of greeting, is as formal-
izedJ as5 a litany and almost as solemn.
Ide.:..ci, adiosio--waka bont, yere. Tan bon--Goodbye,
travu~l wecll, hear ? Keep well." Ajako carefully laid away
his top c~loth in his woven closed basket, straightened his
loin ilothi, and paddled away briskly from the landing.
Later, boats pulled up bringing the Gankwe men.
Sedefo, we have a fine boat for you. It's large, and it
w\ill takei a great deal of load. It's a new boat, just come
dow'n from top-side."
The men busied themselves with bringing our provisions
fromn the shelter to the landing place so that the loading
miiL'ht beg;in. A tent had been made of palm leaves for the
boa~t in which we ourselves were traveling, so that we might
be shielded from the glare of the open river, from sunstroke
and the: sudden tropical downpours, and the men decided to
load this boat first.
NQ?'. there was a murmur among the Gankwe men.
Sede~fo wIas passing his hands over the new boat, as though
i t ??.e re a human form, touching its "head," running his hands
o\.ir the "ribs," the "belly." Then he balanced himself in
it., nd shook his head.
REBE L DEST`INY'
"; It is not good,"' he said aloud to us. Its balance is no~t
right. Lolok, it rolls . andr besides, I have a kunu. I w~ill
go up`inm "'~'..' nboat .
And. 5.0 it was5. Sedefo too-k his ow~n boat up river, and
another Ga3nkwe~ boat was~ obtained, andj there w\ere four
boa3ts instead~. of three, and eight padjdlers insteadj of sis.
"Ya~'-hai! I~unu i' osr~tly for the white ma~n as w\ell a: thle
black," Bayo said. to Bibifo. his g~reat-granj~n fther, for it
wadS not his father, nor hiis grandJfather, as he had later
promised, w~ho appeared to steer the boat in whJiCh1 Bayo
was5 taking the Bak6ra and his wo~man up the river.
Bav. re w st hi best onl the river. He lo\ed it, and it
treaited him well. In the prow~ of the boat, cinging his
pole-stick; handl o\r hand, he rteadil! urgedl thle boatn
upstream against the current, and. sang a.s he poled.
O\er and o\er he repeated the seketi, w~ith tantalizing
va~riatio-ns in rhy\thmn and meloJ\ on the tradlitionail air, to-
which he knew~ sol many- se t of wol-rds. In and out w:ent the
yole-stick;. In, until it struck the sanJnd ith a soft caressing
glide,, then a hardTc push, and three short steps back alongt;
the boat until Bay.O'S hand recheiid thec upper end of the
,ood, and a ~inal thrust. then pull, and O\.er, and in, and
onIce again the three short steps.
Tihe other boats~ harjd gt aadJCi. In the diStaince CcloSe to
the bank the\ kollowedc ojne another.
J/i:roeu! lint:ecen-Hurr\- !" raid oldj Bibifo in bac-..
Bayo turnedl and grinned. "'.-l, rldl:
Yes, hlurry, friend, hlirry," he~ twit ted hisgrear-g~ran dfather,
OlN THE SA\R A i AC C A RI 'E R
but he did face abo-ut. and fojrgetting hiis sekerti began
to: po:le in earnest.
In a1 fee*. moments his body glisteneJ w~ith rthe exertion,
and ov\er the circle and snak~e ofi Lamemba in the small of
his back thle perspirationl ran dowun in s trickle. \\'hen he
hadt almost caught u~p he slackened hisj speed. and he~ and
B'ibile talk:ed about the rier. Old Bibifo~ knew~ the ri\er
wecll. He was bo:rn beyol:nd the Granman's coullntr!. A
snake swam across the path of the boat, Bayor said.
It was3 goojcd luck. "See, look," he called. His eyes were
shiarp. The old man saw it, too, and then he called to, us.
There. closee to the shore, a little ahead of us, a constrictor
t:.:inled its tail about a liana, hanging head down, with a
salamander slowly disappearing into its mouth. There was
a slight jerk, the liana shook, the snake swallowed, and
another bit of the salamander was out of sight.
Farther ahead we heard the report of a gun, and the
crying cof the mate of the wounded bird followed us for a
long a hile. Bayo and Bibifo identified each cry, called by
name the things that grew, planned about their timber
raftS w~hen they got back, until the next rapids were
reached and passed and the conversation could be resumed,
and then they talked about things which they did not care
to hate the Bakra know, and though they spoke none of
the eardrrs o~f their ritual language, we could not understand
anything they said. It was not until later that we learned to
ork~l out some of the elisions in their speech.
A~ striP o'f sandy beach showed where a village stood, and
as wre passed it, we could see the azang, the spiritual guard
of~ palm fronds, preventing evil 'spirits from entering the
\ illage. \\'e saw also a strip of white hanging from the end
of a7 stick which had been put up for the ancestors, and
beyond, the low shelter for the roughly carved and weath-
ered image holding an obia pot on its head. Under the
azang the path stretched like a narrow ribbon which was
soon los t as the walls of green converged.
"Is that another village?)" we said, pointing at a pale
stretch across the river.
"This is the entrance to~ the~ farm ofi a Gankte famliy!.
A-nd there, c~an !-ou ee ? That's a broken village. Alann\
plrople diedl there. The o:therf left it. This happened when
BaEn: wasn rmall."'
"Hote~\ many hourj, B:1l:ral" Base asked.i. He could tell
time bi- the uni andl ZCuessd almost~ exctvl;. "They are-
rtopping on the rocksi there. It's time to eat."'
The Busrh Neg~ro usuallv has tw\o m1eals a Jas-,. one in thle
ea~rl\ forerilnon and another ait night aftrrr dark: when wvork
is m\er. He entl little. These mern were o~n the riveir w\ith us
ten or elev\en hours a day-, po-lin; ulpstream, leading and
unloa~dinL7 thle boats
\ta impossible to taker the heavR\il pleaded boats acrossr
them, andl what wec sale themii eat \?.as 5romel idassava broad
dipped ini rivecr water tol oftenr it, andi some cold rice v? ith
a little palm~ o:il in it. They hadl no~ time to tish. anrd it
wasn a bad lear for fishing, tooi. OT ca~me there~ \\n little.
A~ fear? toucans and n monkl;-\ were all the ~could ret nlo~ne
thec sho-re~-eamei \;as jcare evern in the deep bush1. For
mreirc than a score of decade their anicstors~ hadl been
shonoting iame~ nlonr the ri\er, and nov. the animals kept
In the~ other boalts Asikannu \Ien the fir.t -ervedi-.
'' LookC; here it i o:ur food~."
T~he fronrt paddler put a calnbash filled w\ith rice and
somei~ cassava bread on the wa~rter, and the rtream carried it
Did yo:u ca tch i t "
In Sedefo~' boat the~ cassava cakes \?ere green wiith mold.
O ne bi- one~ t h ese disk o :~f a fi ne~r.s b~re ad th- in t hickInes a: indl
perhaPs thirty. inches in d;3iamterr were laid onr the hoct
ro~cks: to dry. Onr a trip 51uch asl this, e~noughl must be taken
to feed ar ma1n durine his entire absence fromn homec. We'll
in njdane a man's wife, or hiS iothe~r or ;ister, o:r a
matirrinl aunt wrill b~e toldl of such~ a trip ;io thajt he may~
ON TH E S AR AMiA CC.\ RIVl~E R
hale the nce~rssaryv time to prepare the cass~~ava A main
cannot count on finding food~ toi buy. Food~ is often scarce
and, especially w~hen cropsE hat~e not been~ go~od-a states of
affairs these Busth Neeroes k~note onl\ to:o well-easch house-
hold has need of all the foodi it has grown.
Asikanu,, whose cassn\.a bread was fresh, bathed in the
rive~r and chanced hij dripping lo~in cloth, spreading o:ut
the one he had rernml~ed fi that it might dry. Bao wvajhed
his seccond best cloth, for the sun was strong, and it it'As
w\ell to cet it fresh and uncreased. So the men busied them-
selves getting their supplies in order for the la~urney1 which
wass notr )t taxing, but would grow more difficult during
the ne::t few\ days, with heavy rapids, great distances
bet\;e~en villagess, and more exertion needed to strike a
village before dark overtook them.
Even soi it was time to be off, Sedefo decided, replacing
the i9assa.a cakes-which in a few moments had lost their
me.ljid-fo the next rapids were something to be reckoned
w ith. Again the four dugouts were on their way, and it was
a brns.e siight to see the four pole-men swinging their long
sticks wiith- measured regularity, and the upward leaping
three steps, and the down-running steps, and the seated
PaddJle-rj dipping their carved blades into the water with a
slight t\i~t stt the end of each stroke to counteract the
effect ofi the push of the man at the bow, to keep the canoe
headed straight into the current.
Ahead, in the leading canoe, the man at the bow waved
his handl to us, indicating directions to our men. W1e could
ree himi put the whole length of his pole in the water three
time, then lay it along the gunwvale of his dugout and,
taking, up his paddle, begin to stroke in time with the man
at the stern o~f his boat.
-1!'Alfunda." said Bayo to Bibifo. "Deep."
As we approached the deep water, Bayo with a fillip of
hi; paddle .sent our dugout heading into the stream, to be
~a ugh t uip by the current at the center and taken down and
across b! the impact of the water against the boat. The
boats in front had done the same, had cut across to the
other ba~nk,; andl noti' as we reaS~che the ojpposite shore, we
sa\'. the small ope~ning ofj a mino~r channel wh~lichi \ve wer.e to
ta ke. \\'ith astonishiing niec ty the tip ofj the juncture of the~
main stream andl this ma~ller channel was~ reached at the
Jsame in-stant. Loin cloth were adjusted, and rjnce` more
the~ pole-men rook; up theiir poile-;ticke and continuled the
4low' passagFe against the current.
The boants were now\~ again trave~ling close to the bank,
so that the Jetails of the forest whlich fringed the river
couldl be clesrly seen. Straieht frolm the water rose~ the
wall of sheer green, all of a1 dark, almost Jull purplish
color--a \5all of iifty, a hundred, a hundred and tifty feer
and mo~re, as the lianaS dropped dowvn from the upper
blranches ofi the great trees whI1ch1 gaVe these parascitic
grownthr their support. Here and there we sa\? a brilliant
wing~ of a bird, and a Bus~h Negro~. ever ready, to augment
his mieager food~ rupply, wrould ul-lnlmer an ancient rhotguin.
steady! himself, and hoo~t. In Sedefoi's canoe. Angita. his
pole-ma~nsau a blue and golden macan~ silhouietted as it
a t on a slender blranch. ~u t cadme the sho~tgun.'li The c~ maca,
sta rtclJ bu t ulnhi t, ten to ac another branch farther u pst reamn.
H~e crept lowvly, noirelessly ahead, snd w~hen wc !sere close
by Angita shot again, and missed again. The ma~can\ now.i Jid
not trouble to B\e away, and ;?hen AJnrita made aim once
more, Sedefor scopped himi.
No, miati-Let him be. friendly. T~he gods are protctcing
h-im. Put awayv yoiur gun.''
Again wre cut across, as \ice regained the w~id: cha~nne;l,
thic time so that the me~n m~ight spea3k their e~rrand to the
4Piril of their great anicstor, the god of the large creek;.
W~e didi not go too close, how~never, an d :ill \re could ee was:i
an szang acain, thle spiritual guard o:f palm frojnds,~ an
beyornd tle whliteniJ trunkofc~ a tree andl a slender stick~ w\ithl
a bit ofj white cotton attached to its end.
Sedefou spokei convers~ation ally.. i "..ho-alncesItor-w are
tgoing up the ri\er. W~e aire working fojr the A~merican
BKs~'a. Wec are onl our w~a\ to the G'am5's icountry. Grant
O:N THE1 SA4R A MA C:C RI 'E R
that icer walk~ the Bak'a writh pleasure, thant he treat u
well, that \ve walk11 in safets. Thank~ you."
The menr in the other ianoes, whlo had gather'rd aboIu[
Sedefo~'s boat. clappe~d rlheir hands. as Sedefo~ had done, and
said "'Than1 k you~L," then tjook up their paddlels.
\\'e had no~ti~ce that w~hen Sedefo~ spoke.. Bibifo's lips
had moe,?iJ as though he wecre either repeating~ the praye~r,
orT speaking his own, but w~hen the others joined in the
voiiced "G3ran' tangil" he was3 silent.
"Did you pray, Bayo?" we asked. Yes, he had. He had
prayed for us, too. Did Bibifo also pray for the white man ?
But before Bibifo could answer, Bayo laughed aloud.
"Bibifo is kerki vuma-a church man. Call him Adrian,
it will please him. I call him Bibifo, nothing else."
"And you, Bayo?"
"I--you will take me with you to Africa. I want to learn
African obia, and come back to the Saramacca, and be a
big obia man here on the river."
Old Bibifo accepted his great-grandson's jibes with good
humor. WVe were sorry for the old fellow who was so little at
ease with the other men, and was so mercilessly twitted by
the youngster in the bow.
If the old man were to make a suggestion to him about a
channel which Bayo had decided against, then he would
turn brazenly, and exclaim, "Massa cowl" This is part
of the proverb which says that a man who owns the cow
has the best right to say where it shall graze. If Bibifo
objected when Bayo attempted to do something that
seemed impossible, he would face about smilingly and say,
"The power which has raised the monkey from the ground
and taught it to live safely in the trees is not dead yet."
Bibifo," we said, making conversation with the old man,
" Why do we go close to the shore ?"
"'In the center the current is swift and the river deep.
When we go in the center, then we use only paddles. It is
[ 57 1
rooj deep for thel pole~-sticl:. ~'iI \\hen w o inl the center, it is
Ilow. .. Koti e..>!--Cut across!' he shoruted inl his shrill
\aice. as i:.ur boat and the .:thers afltr us 1-cered ov.er to
the other ',ide oi the streamn where the current was5 less
"Hot: do yocu 1:nost?\ just wheJreTr these.r pla3ces arer" we
asked.~ "There 3re soj man\ channels, so~ man,- islanlds.
Hoi.- cain \ou t'll ?"
"Ala, /:.io \\'hat w:ouild \u.? I belong to; this bush.
.An o~ld man k~now. his ri\er.'
Seadily- thle botsi~ we a\~1I :hia inl thlis long, quietly gsTtretc
Fo~r fills half an hour the m-en wvorkedJ in silence, dogedLfly'
go;ing upst'ream closed to~clc the bad:. until under the shade of
a7 t ree ther\. sa a.. boatl:8 resineil.
in thle boat.
"Tanei. tioj' Tiol. iodi."' the\ ainsc~ered echc~ one, until
lin31!rlly they~ j aid, j; 1"O i, Ba c, reetinr the stranger last,
as5 <\as thle cu5stain.
Ou)ir men e:.plained, "\\'e aire going to: the Saramancca
ou~ntry. up' the ri\er to the G~ranmain. He~i are carr!ing the
T'he~ trraveled in a7 fire ship fo~r trient],-o:ne nishts and days
maiti, w ~i thou t res ting. G'an r ami l;ii--A gre at tate of : aaiin ir."
TIhe ma~in ai di. \\ei clme fromn- the Ii ar.: \: ne. T~he river
is high. Theli nextr rapid2 aire- dliicilt. Let u2 travcl togetherr"
A~nd so~ \;e were th e canioes.. Ahead J.we coulId alreadyj; hea r
thle Jull mulrmlur which w~oulJ uo.nn cresrcndc. too the final
roa~r. Thl~is wasl the \s~tar pouring~ ove\r tle first rocks-: In the
\\`hrt rapidjs re these?"
He must no~t taI:nlk aut this here. \\'a7iL until we'r pass
the~m. If wre speak: the namlle, the spirit w~ill co-me, aind
part ofi our loadi."
Now' wre came closer 1.:. the linez Of wlirte, which rose
higher and highe~r. Ex!c~ept for the bit- ofj white lOam~ like
i d'' 1
ON THE SARAMlACCA RIVER
saliva coming Joiwnstream, the water belol: the rapid.s gave
in its calmness little hint of the turbu~ilence beyond. The
boati eathered fo:r a discussion.
"'This is the best place."
"iThere, to: the sjide."
The bo<*. men had jumpcJ ouit and w~ere reiconnoitering,
shouting at each other from their respective rock:s. A\t last
thle strangers' ideas pre\ailed. At the side wasl best, there,
close to the shorer, but an ovecrhanngne b~ran1Ch ory twoC would
have tor be struck~ off. Bayo S\itam back~ to o~ur boat toi get
hris mnachete and, wa~ding up the stream alo~ng the basnk,
slashed at the obstruction. He struck nwrain, and the, limb
bent, struck once more, andl downn it fell, coming, towa.~.rd u'
w~ith lightning rapidity As it <
of the cu~rrent.
"L.rOo out, Jlook out!" Sedefoji shlouted, aS the jarg~eJ
point' made for the boat ofl the strangers. But the men had
al~ready' peTrceived the danerr to their canioe, and o~ne of
them had jumped into the ;!ater and caught at somei twirs,,
diverting~ the main branchl so; that it only gra--ed the side.
Now-~~ all wanS clear, and thei- w:ere ready to strt. The
heaviest boat, that oF the trangcrs, w~ould be the firrt to
go. Bo~th the men in it toojk up pole~s and, writh a firm ashore,
their boat was i;n the thick; of it.
"Ha'i! ha'i!" they cried, anJ first the prowv man <*.ould
force the bnat slow~ly folrward and then w:ould hioldJ the
adrvantage he had gained while e the pole~-man in the stern
caught his stick in the rocky bottom and pushed with a
force that bent the strong wood.
Orur mien stood by, ready to help.
"The boat is slipping!" Sedefo cried.
A~nd it was true. Into the roaring water jumped Bayo
and Arngsta,, and swam out to reach the boat which was
losing more and more ground and might at any instant
crash dow~nwards. Balancing themselves on the slippery
rocks, hall wading, half swimming, they grasped its sides
and pulled in unison with the pole-man's urging "Hali!
hali, ba!-Ha-lul! haul, brot~her!" Now they had ftopped its
backwanrd motio~n. "Ha-Ilii" Non-u the~ boat gan edJ headway.3!
"Hl!" And thi timle the prow~ tilred clearr over the top
ofi the rapyids and, w~ith anotrher push and another, it wasn
in the still waterr abovei.
T`hreei men and not~ r;:. returned to take~ our~ bt~i3, for
wc we~re~ next, beine next hea~viiest, nd onl\ one mian wass
needed to! keepr the bola that had bte n through the da nger-
ousI stretch in its place in thet qieiit wi ater. In climbedt Buyo(-,
and Sedefio took~ thle oldi man's posrition. InrO the wa.lctr
jum~ped thei other tcwo, this tirne swimm~in g through the
iast \\ater further away~ fromn shclre toj where somel rocks
pro~jected- fro~m the~ w\hite folam. Fo~r Sedefoc had Jitlerent
ideas bo~ut the best passage~. \\'e we~re, in fact, to try to,
make~: it where~ the fo~rceI ofr the war~ter was;l greatestr, neanr the
center o~f the strean.
Koti go!. Okai no; mlo, okai nio I~o.o!- Cut acrors! Cuit
ovri\ m~re-, more!" s~hoiute Siedefr aj w~e headedi scrolss and
Joa\\n the river twrd~?~~ a parrtlly sbmerge d rock;.
AlaIssa Nencrre. 'kai no, mor!"
1131,. r.31, 1113tl.
\\'ith a grunt, he pushed in his polec-tick just a we~
reached it. holdjing fst as the bost so 'unf about,. and Bayr
conce~ molre dug amnlrn the ro:cks o:n thi bo~ttomri r!o obtain a
"Okali okbai!--Turn, tulrn!" he shoutedc abovec the- no~~ise of!
the- wate~r. Tlhe crimes wecre frantic, but Sedefo knew\ the
ri:ir too~ nll folr it to: trick him. andJ a5 the' headj of~ the.
boat was about to be- caucht and rrwirled broladside against
anotrher roc~k, the- trit ofi rlth menn fro~m the other bo~ats
caught it and righted it about. It v a~s as he had planned.
"Hali!" a-nd, w\ith four pairs ofi srorng armns ruging, we
could feel) the pull as thle boat wente forwa.rd amid the whlite-
capped waterr.'' H-ali!" aind the quice al the rivcr abm\e the
falls could be seein just bey!ond the prowY. Hali!" alnd weC,
tioo, were~ in still nare~r.
T`he old mian sfuin tooik his place in ocir boa~t. and Sedef~oO
wcnt back; tol brine hii owin dugout~~i throlucl. Tlhe three
OIN TH E SA R AMCCA4 RI'E R
smaller bots~ were to~ be brought up each by its ow\n men.
Each selected a place, and the shrill shouted directions
could be heard above the fallning wa~ter. Up, up. they came,
the main a7t the stern holding w\ith his stick,. thle man at the
head up toi his shoulders in wate~r. tugging. pu-llling, hauling
the boat~ o\'e. Once As~ikanu's pole sliCpped, and his boat
swu'~ng~ toward a rock, but it caugh t~~ gi n a nd he he~ld it w~i th
thle tirccness of a man defending himself against an
enemy, and then he, too, cut across and found the firmness
of thle friendly sandy bottom.
B~ut w\hen the five boats were at last together above the
falls. out came machetes to sharpen the ends of the pole-
stickls, for an encounter such as they had had the moment
before shredded the hard wood into fiber.
Ahead the water was still. The hard work of this day was
o\er. The men straightened their loin cloths and again
began to~ make their way along the banks of the river. The
village where we would camp that night was somewhere
before us. The sun was nearing the treetops, and the
shriek;ing pairs of parrots were flying over us to the west,
Seekling' their roosting places.
The short dusk was upon us.
It is: not far," said Bayo, speaking of the village ahead.
"\ Will we get there before dark ?"
Allassa Gadu sabi--God alone knows."
N;o f', Bak'a-Don't be afraid. Wle know the river."
The Bush Negro and his river! Seeing the prodigious
strengthi of the men, their great knowledge of current and
rcik2: aad channels, one was not afraid. Softly the pole-
sticks; slid into the sand banks, softly the paddles dipped,
and Bayo sang his seketi.
N'an g'wa a Lamk
A s'ib' ko' de muye."
E l'ENTS on the rive r, as it t urned out. show:ed Sidefo'
only tc<, werll proundcJ. It was3 to hliml that there
occiurrcd the oinl rn-isho~s of the- entire up-liverr jou~rne.
T~hat w~hat happeined prov~ed e to e nlo more -erious iwas,~
acordina to- the sineral ulnderstandingl of o~ur men, tco be
crreditrd to~ that per31ona~l bot?~~ o S~ledefo's w~hose~ spirit her
had3 tiied on man;. journel-. and haJ prop~itiated w~ith
ot~fer;nes of sacredJ rumi anJ prayecr.
It was. also w~hi3Fpered. amo':nr our mern that the Bakra's
expaincd to, the Bush Negroes. Ourl abilit;. to do or w:ith-
standJ things that wereT no;t expectr d ofi us-blad sometrhing
ti, do al;th it, too. Fo~:r k~uniu wa.s3 kunu and the onC in
Sedefol's famil? had show~~n its. hand but to~o man!- times of
la.te. Hadr notr thc fam ili- los~it another mal n onl aI-~i few mnicth P
earlier ? HaJ notr Zimb~ j ust b~e n ~u ried ? .\nd Zimbi's w ife,
jead less than a :.car beforel.
Thanks. theni to~ his boat, Sedefoi'3 life had been
spared.~ It was~ nit for nIothing~ that he had taken every)
care whein makine th-is boa~t, that before h!e hiad flled the
to thc sirit ofi thc treec e:-plaining that he had~ need
ofi its \ood l.:.r a boa~t, that he .could~ therefore cut it dowrn.
He haJ rendejred hii thianks for the spirit's pecrmissio~n, as
vas needful, and since then he had often made~ prayer to his
boat, and the boat had carried him safely.
But this is what happened.
On our fo~urth day! up the river' \:e w~ere o~n o-ur way! earl,
because the men said the falls ahead uwre dithesult, and
rhey wanted to~ b-e thlroughp them before theyl stopped to
eat. It tool. us more than an ho~ur to pass. the rapidS, for the
land rose higher and higher. andl the \rateTi3C7r'i jascdedfr
one ledge toz the~ nest, often in cuir'.-ing: channels ofi sw~ift
w'.a ter that w:ere tooi deep) tol allo.< t he use oj poleC-stii ck s, andll
too swr~ift for the paddles to COpeI with.
There w~ere also those stretches which wrere~ wIitho~ut the
piled rock~s to gi?.-e the mien a footiing for pulling ther boats
over, so that a rirpe had to. b'e u~Sed, and thle go~ing iwas slow\
and tre~chro~us.. Each of the dugocuts had this loing rope~
fasterned to~ its prow, and ahead, on the Ijrst ledge,' w~ere tw~o
or more of the m-en, the other end ofi the rope in hand,J wiait-
ing for the signal to7 start hauling, wi.hile holding on to- the
slides of the boat as ther' 31wam w.~er as mn13 y men a; could
be spared. so that if the rope broke, the boat \rould noit
be swecpt dow?\nstream, to go irashling: against the rocks.
These men w\ho faced the last water ofi their ri\er, wrorked~j
as though at the Sight of it their KrTomantii tig~hting spirit
had entered their bodices as if not me~n wet~re there, but an
impersonll1 force pitting itself against the force of the river.
Even where the water \ras notl to3 deep, and they) could
haul1 the boat, care could not be ls~ladined for an instant--
3 wrrong turn, and the boat would be capsi~ze, or, wrhnt
wo.uld be a~s Seriou1S, the im-pact ofi a rockl might cut a gash
in its side o~r botto~m. Allini it w;ith wate~r faster than they
could manag~e to~ bring it to a bank. But at last the sound
oi the falling wanter as behind us, and the men. o~nic
they w~ere in the still water again, nent on w;ith1 the casual-
nes; that ther\ fell into~~ with their rivecr uhen the dancer wa, S
over, and cast about for a pleasant place to, Stop and
All at1 onlce thi-e ru l 3a aShou~t from11 behind us. Each boat
echoed it shrilly. What's thatI ?Whose boat ?
It was~ Se~Jfo's boat. there in the distance,. tiltedj to one
side in \schat -looked to~ us like still \\ater. Thell other canoes
r~rcilhe hii boat befoi:re the\. Couldl come11 alo:npside h~imi
and was9 off de:li~n rhe- riveir to~ recvc~;er \\hat he had lost.
T~he water haJ ilaimed the baske ac fth apal
covered load, andJ a car\ed paJJle which hadj slipped ot
whein the canoe tilte-d. The backer bilonzed to- Scedefo. It
held hi; ioodI fo~r the jouirney up rive~-r nd the- Jme\rngoin g.
The paddle~ \i
intendedj for icremo~nial usage- \then he called as spo~kesmni7
fo~r us o-n villagee hadsJ askling fo:r a night's hospitality,. and
particularly at the Gra nma n's ;illag, a nd still later on1 thie
:\ay home, w~hen he brougiht apolitical messages. in behalfi
ofi his clain to~ friendly ilans alu~ng the \itay he pared. I-le
also lost his best cloth; it \i
cotton ai man bo:ught in the wrhite mnll's. store; it hadj been
patientlrl andJ de~turo~usly piece togcther frolm mainy pieces
ofi cloth, plain and triped, in A pattern wh~ichl <
to the ancesrtorr. His 1-uune secondJ wrif had made,; it fr
him. I-lcr tirit child \rias an infant rct her b~reast. \\~hun shu
heardr about this, she wrould thinkl ofi Sedefo's kuinu.i and be
ofi his \r~ife'f famil; too?;
This i :\hat thet me~n said wrhile the- boats ;iaiteJ ior
Sedefo~ rco return frolm hiis 1-in iarch Joain theC rap~ids. The
men had notr expctedJ himi to recovr,\ c the things lostI. \\hein
1:unuI. tool:,. there :ass nothing that couild be Jolne. And It
\i.as kucnu. Thec Bal~ra-.mdri-r-the hiile mian's rlhings- b~a d
remained in the boat unharmed! \\fe looked at the felt
r~cks: arainst which the boa~t had crashedj. Thes-\ ShowedC
plainly abover the water. and the cu~rrelt abo~ut themr maje
soc .;mall ai bre~ak in the~ still wa.:ter that the' spirit ofj thi``
ru~te-J piece hadj neveri. difC1~tlos itS name. hadJ nTlc.-e be~fore
reciiived notice. TiheI three~ other CanoeS hadj cne throCIIh
wrirhoutr ~\eve rie g~runts from the paddlelrs which camne wihe-n
the Poingr ;as hard, fo~r all thar wa~s nccssary was~ to go
straight frc the ro~cks, let the current s\\ing the boatt
aro~und, give a strong thrust with the pole-scick,, and the
ianoe was through-a3 bit ofj child'S play..
W\e were soo0n aeain to~ see Sedcfo~'s k~un~u strike. This
time it was almost at Jlusk. The men. it appeared, would
not be able to~ make the \illage weI had planned o~n for the
night. In hali an hourr it wiould bei dark, and here w~e were
fully tw~o hours' iiast trav.eling~ from ou~r intendedj destina3-
tio~n. Oiverhead clo~uds were c~oming up from the east. The
sky was3 rapidly beCmingi l ovcrcast. Rain-asnd evcryw\hereC
the imprctnbetrbe wanll of green, rising Jark and fo~rbidding.
To maket camp w here we were woulclld\ hat kei at least
timeo hours. and it was5 PTrowinP jdarker and darker. TheC
men refused to clear the underbrush in the dark.
It seeimed, how~revetr, that lie minutes upstre~am o~n the
opposite bank and only a little to thc south of wheiire we
hand stopped to~ talk thiings ove~r w~as a \illage, the name ofi
which when wre heasrd it :we recog~nized as o~ne ofi the two~
we had been askedr~ no~t to visit. Thecre wasii nothiling to doc but
to brav\e thec dlispleadSUre oj the Granman and jtop there;
so~ t u r n i g w~e he-adedj., hou r bas towardT t he oFpposite- shore.
In midstream a great wcindl came up. a w~inld tha in
suddelnesss and force is olly mnec in the rropicj. The men~
shrieked and sho,,uted and struggled until o~ur boa~tS preached
sho~re. Bu~t Sedefo~'s bo(at, which .a-s the seconddi, SeemedC~
to~ be liftedi bodily' outl of theC water. \\'e could see a black
mass be-ing heated up .. the black tarpaulin \as m~\er-
bo~ard goiing dow\nstream, and Sedefo after it.
Thle w\ind subsidled as quickly as it had sprung up. and
wrhe~n Sedefo came back sometimes later, he carried the
dr;lippng tarpaulin ojn his head. He: did not drink the ruim
we gave to, warm him, but po'ured it o\.er his handls and
his boat as ani otferinlg.
The ne.1: Jay wre talked w~ith Bave0 ab~out kulnc.
"W~~hy is it, BayoD, that SedefoO loSt his foodc inl thle Itill
water? \Vas it becau~Se he. fel[ sale and didn't take care in
such smll raFids?
"No."" he 53;d promptly, "that'sl hou\ kuniu wo~rks. A
man travel on the river all his life. He co~es mrr small
[ 6 :
rapids and large rapids. He carries loads and returns to
his arecn village. But then something happens. His boat is
goojd. He wal1;5 ks~ hoi-canrefully-but hle loses3 his foodg, o~r
hiis entire lo:ad, or his boat, or evenl hiis life. Something~ is
working~ against him. It might be wucr-badd magic; It
might be kunu. If yo~u hav'e kunu, then your enemies can
make their bad mangic wrork against you. So~ it is."
'"ButI <*hat is kunu, Bayo!"~
We'i assured him that there wa~s no harm in o~ur asking.
W\e had been hearinr so much about it, first about
Zimbi, and how~i he ha~d died from a ucu wi.ith hiis machete.
Now\~ this machete had worke~d for him since he was a
boy!, and then h c~ut hiimself, and then, having cul himself,
hie became jick and died. People said dow~n below this wvas
kunu. W~hat did it mean.'
But he still hesitated and lookedc about him until at
last whelin he spoke, hie gave the answer icet we~re corning
answer that w~as the sirnal that not alo~ne nIlassa Gadu, but
the one w~ho in\oked hiis name in projteiciojn against
Bakra questions, k~new~ the answrr quite \terll but meant
to~ keep his ow~n co~unsel. For to ta~lk of these matters i;, not
good,~ we~ had been told befoire by Sedefo,.
It w~as Bibifo wvho: brouclht up kunu again w~hen Bao
stepped out of the boat for anl instant.
Better nor ralk to Ba\o about ku~nu, Bakra. There is a
very ble kunu in Bavec's famil\. He does not mea~n to lic
to the Bakra when h-e doesn't ralk, but it is better for him
not t, tell y !ou a bou i t. We Sa ramacca people sa:'A s nakIe
bit me. I see a worm, I am afraid.' D~o not ask; him more."
But the Bush N'egro has many sayings, and it w~a- a
different proverb from that which Bibilo had quoted to us
thiat guided us in ojur tortuous corilSe in search ofi an
under standing of kunu.
said: 11a( person stirs up a hole, he w~ill fnd w~hat is in it."
A~nd so, it wa's that very. night. wrhen wre w~ere camrped
oin an island near the great falls. with the roarT of the wa'terT
sounding in our ears like the verry sig~nal drums w~e w~ere
to~ld the ri!'er gosCJ w~anted soiunde that the sun~ might
come and wrarm; and dr)- them after thle lo~ng rains, tchat
wer learned morer. K~asanyah, the captain of the fourth boa~t.
had conducted himself soi unobtrusiverls, that w~e barely
k~newr he wasi there. He wa'S almo~St as o~ld as Bib~ifo. but
strangell y silent. He w~as tall and spare, w~ith pay)ingt~ hair,
and eyes thiat w~ere rimrmed w\ith red. We' had notr sought
him our particularly to make conversation w~ith him
because he- had ug~l!. open' sores onI his body), the result o~f a
virulenr case ofi bush va\les. which show~edj when he sat
paddling in his loin clolth. W~e had k;now~n him duringour
first year wrhen he had been more w~illing to be friendly,
more ready to talk.. From him, in fact. wre had learnedl
to play one ofi the Bush Negpro games that the ancestors
had broudhr from Afri~ca.
K~asan?a came oer to ask~ us whether we~ had mledicine
for him. His head ached 5o until .. he could barel?- see.
There is that about white mian's medicine in the bush, it is
toi be had free. and there is no harm in trying it.
"'"Will you make us a game aboard like thle one \ice bought
from your villagec last year. Kassanya;' n,-0 asked him.
"Ye-s. but y.ou must have twro oif them, on- flat atnd one
cur\ed like a boatr. It is nolt goodi toi haive onl?- one. W~hen a
mian is ali\e he- playsj the game. W~hen he dies and comes
back. to visit the living, he wa'nts to play,. too. Now if there
II a board for him, he w~ill plar on that. B~ut if' there is but
the one., he w~ill play' w~ith the lilng and that is notr goodi."
"Y'ou k~nose a great deal. Kiasanya."
"Asar, yes, but l'm an old man already.. I've had much
trouble. Last yea3r after :.ou left the third Soin I made~ died.
Nowr I have no one. K~unu has takeni the three ofi themi andJ
mi' wife Is asleep. too."'
The man loolked sol moved by what h to~ld uE that w~e hadl
qualms about continuing the sconversat~ionl with him about
his dead family. anid sol nre asked him about the came
aboard. "\\'8< is it, Kasan,a. that young~ Amnirika of yoiur
village said he could not mak~e us a game boasr, fint car\err
that he is?' YouL .Courself know\\ that the bord3r is just a pecze
ofi woodi~ ,,th holes in it foir the seecdj. It is no~t beautiful;
there are noj decoiT~rations Co it."
It is because he is you~~ng. His hair irin't w~hite like~ mine.
Making an adji boardj is a big thing~. It's no~t a little thing.
It is o~n this wve play wvhen the body ofi the de~ad lies in the
hoI:use of mnourning to. entertain his spirit. his yorka. Only
anr o~ld man w~ho ha' Ilost hiis w ife ma\ make~ a b3a rd fo~r this
game which i laye fo!J ir the deadl.
"But suppose he JiJ maket it.*"
"'Then he w\ouldd cet a k~iunu Bakra," he said w~ith anl
impatient cluck; whlich ws3 intended toj deplo~re the white
manl'j inability to, unJerstand simple things~.
A~nd so- aenin wec came to~ kunu, and since he himself hadr
brougLht it up, wC decidedl t5o stir the hole oncl~e more to, see
w~hat w~as in it. K~a~snva talked wvith less hesitation than
\ie had coime to~ expect. It is easier fo~r an o~lder man w\hol has
had expe'irienc e w\ith the spirits and k~no::s their ways!s to,
tal. abo~ut the suipernatural. He unlderstands what he may
and may, not, do. andi then. too. \with his creatcr know\~leger
he can tell mo~re wvitho~ut o~ffnding the spirits w~ho
disapprove of:, a man31's te'lling' O L~too rt a part ofj his Store,(.
"lc Ye Bakra. kunu ij a diffic-ult thine fo~r yocu. a whlite
ma~n, o uindersjta nd. B~ut \ve black~ people k~now\ w\hat brings
L:u n u. MaIsny t h i ng bri ng k~u nu. Look, I mlade th rce ch i d rern.
Fine menil all thlrce. O~ne died, the second died, the third
Th`~is w\as his stor!. His wriie'I mother's bro~ther brought
the curse on his family. He had cut a new\i field, and the
trees he hadj felled and the brushi he hadl cuit hadl been flying
folr solme timec as wasn proSPer that the dead woodc~ might
be burned o~ff to clear the erounid so? that the ash miaht
[ 68s ]
e~nrich ther soil. Now~ befrore a feld is chosen for cutting~, it
must ber surve~\red carefiull\ to see that there are~ no' snnakes
to7 be ;njured; that no: trees wh'Jich ha9ve s~tont' spirit hke~r
thei silk-icotton tree`, or the~ parasitic aka;tasi. \rill be
de'S[Ttroyed that no7 nnt hill whetherhr on the ero;und or
on a tree be disturbed-. But Kiasani-a' ::ife'5 mothecr'sJ
brother 'was care-les. r unluckyi. AJ small ant hill had
escaped his notice.
"'The A~kalruam~rul god is powe~rful. It is a bad god,"
Kasanyan said over and ocer. mak~ing of it a refrain to: hir
~\'l'hn the. ant hill was de~St~royed, jtS SPirit 6.xeJ itself
upon the family. Kasanya'3 w\if'S mother be~came ill. and
altho:ugh the co~ntents of o~ne obial Pot afterT ano~ther. !were
used upF in bathing hier writh sangrafu and the scrabaki and
chemb-ne lers<-es, she did not get betrter. Her hulsband, an
able obia masn, madec special charmrs for hier to \wear about
her ne~ck,: and sprinkledi- her w.ith mledicine writh the feat~her
of the sacre~d opete,~ the~ :ltre,~ but still heir illness keipt on.
A~t last1 the'\ went to~ a dliviner. To0 the \illsve of Danhomer~
they\ went, the tillage where th-e most powerfrul obin was
lodgd'J, an there sher learned thatr the Ak~antamasu rod
had~ comei to~ the family. The diviner told herT how\\ to~ Se'~rv
rlth god so rhat she might hav~e respfite--th e d-ays that wrere~
sncred to him, the~ dances she mr-ust Jance on these days5, the
rncrikeccs to makec. T~he\ I;next~ that it w\ouldJ never be a
friendly god to thinm, for it had c'ome as a kunu. Thec~re was
more~ trouble nnd mrore.. The famil gave many offerings,
and thec pos sisicJ woms n Ja nc`'J w~henever the spirit seized
hecr, but soon jhe die1d, and~ the othec:rj h3\ve been dying
"\\'hat happened to: the man wvho destroyedi- the ant hill
D)Id~ hei gt the Alca3ntamasl scu .nu"
No, not he himself. His miotherr, and- his sister, and his
"Bu~t wh\1~ "~
The answer was that kunu worked that way, and he went
on to tell us about his sons. The first son had gone to the
[ 69 1
RE BEL DE~STINY'
Alaronynen to earn mioney that he neededJ fo:r marry!ing.
H-e *.VarS in igood health, andi he learned about thle river
"rO te-until .. he k~new~ how~ to travel oin the rive~r
~sfely. But after hec had beeni away~\ only a sho~rt timie,
wordT~ caml~e to Kasans-a's \.illaee that he w:a~ ill, andJ before
he coujld be broug~lht horne,e he diedJ. The\ brought back; his
hair andl nail clippings so, that his spirit might re t amlong
his ow:n people~. They held a big i-cire ::orc-:.vu-wae- for
him forr rsi Jays.. in the \illage, w:ith the little coffin and the
o~ffrine~ which we~re to accojmpanir the spirit, and danlcingp
and A\nansi stories and the adjii igame, ju t as through he had
jied at homle. There \itere mlan;, 61un:, too:. E\.-erythinl7 was3'
Jon, and, the sp;ir;ito the dead~ son wvas asked t.oo help rhe
family against the k~unu which was1 brouicht to- them b the
deed of hi; mother's mrother's brother.
The second so~n die-d in the bulsh.. H1 i_ own eun~ went otTf
a-ccidentally a- he tripped on a hidd~en liana and k~illed hnim,
though Kiafan! a had provided him w:ith all the hunting
obi~as a man would \want, and he him:cli lj ha a srong~
Kronanlnti ;pirit,. so: that no qu n ;<: as SUpposed toj hase powe\'lr
to hurt him~. The third it-as mlarriedj when he diedl. His boat
item ma\r in thet rapids. Hisi bodyl~ was;1 never. recovered.J
"Tomo~rrow~: \vc thaill all go and pray to the M~otherr of~
thc R~i~vr th-at -he carr! us wellI, that our journey' be
pleasant, that we recih the G~ranman's villge~ safely....
Therre across the rier is hier shrine."
It Eoon became clear that tw~o things dominated the fore-
ground of the spiritual life ofi the bush-Jdeath and. k:unu. In
the las;t analysris, however, the t*.:'o are perhaps3 but'cne
force, for kunu slow~ly, inexo~rab~ly, bringsi death to one
memblter afterr alnother ofl the offe~nder'z kin, and it is large~l!
the dcadr a nceT torS and1 thre gods who a7re irresponsible for the
meainE o~ut ofj kunu~, in order that thle ancient traditoions
and behef~s mayi go, on. .-\nd~ jo it was3 that daily', and mny3
times daily, incidents nojt of our rpecial jeeking aro;e to
documIlnen t o:ur know~ledg~e ofi kunu.
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