Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

November 27, 2008

A Sunday Holiday of Fifty Negro Boys

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A friend of mine bought an old house in Fitchburg, Massachusetts last year.  Inside one of the walls as if for insulation, was an old magazine, a publication called “The African Missions of the White Fathers,” which lists an address of 37 Ramparts Street, Quebec.  This particular issue is dated 100 years ago:  “First Year. No. 3.—March,.1909.”

Inside the periodical, and now shown below, is a letter sent from Uganda a year earlier than its publication.  It is not poetry, but I offer it for Thanksgiving Day from here in New England.  Yet, isn’t it more a letter to us from a brother?  And instead of talking about our grandfathers, isn’t he still talking about our children?  You’ll see what I mean.  I hope you enjoy it.  This grandfather/grandchild identity reminds me of, and for me, gives new meaning to the song, “I’m My Own Grandpa” written by Dwight Latham & Moe Jaffe in the 1940s.  Below the article is a YouTube presentation of that song, sung by Willie Nelson.  Aren’t we all one big family across time? 

Happy Thanksgiving, wherever and whenever you are.

Yours,
Clattery Machinery
 

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The African Missions of the White Fathers, March 1909 cover

The African Missions of the White Fathers, March 1909 cover


 

 

A Sunday Holiday of Fifty Negro Boys

A letter from Rev. Father Eug. Déry to his youthful brother.

Mitala-Mariya, March 10, 1908

 

Dear Maurice,

I am sure that at your age a holiday is much more pleasant than the few hours spent in the class room.  Let me then have the pleasure of relating to you some incidents of the long walk which my school boys enjoyed the day before yesterday.  This picnic had been promised sometime ago, but had to be postponed on account of unsuitable weather.

The long wished for day was finally fixed for the 7th. of this month.  I noticed that three or four days previous to this day, our boys attended school more assiduously, behaved somewhat better, and would work as never they did before.  Fancy, what a pity it would be, should any of these dear boys be prevented from enjoying so delightful an acting !

In the morning of the 6th. I sent one of the eldest boys to the chief of the Province, to ask him if he could give us lodging and board till the next day, a Sunday.  Kaima—that chief’s native name—informed me that he should be delighted to give us hospitality, and that he had ordered his people to prepare meat (!!…) and mashed bananas for their guests.

We started on Saturday evening.  The head of the file comprises a drummer and two flute players ; behind these is your brother, followed by his fifty urchins :  such are the rules of etiquette here in Uganda, when any great man travels (and the Fathers are great men here).

I forgot to mention a concertina.  The awful noise they made with it !  They are better drummers.  Our drum is a Feast Drum, the evening drum for singers and dancers.  They beat it with their hands, very softly and rhythmically, indeed.  Uganda flutes are simple reeds with four holes.  The natives do wonders with such poor instruments.

Whilst our musicians beat the drums, play the flutes and tease the poor concertina, the other boys sing songs and hymns.

After three hours’ walk—nothing at all for a Uganda party—the runners from Kaima arrive two by two.

“Kaima sends us to see you (atutumye okukulaba i)

“Well, how is he (Ao, atya) ?”

“He is seated, all goes on well (Gye ali, atudde).”

And while I receive Kaima’s messengers, he receives mine, hears the same greetings and answers in like manner.  It is a point of honor for a Muganda messenger to repeat exactly what he has been ordered to say, and to do it quick.  Therefore they must run hard, sweat, puff and blow till they reach those to whom they have been sent.

At length, Kaima himself is seen coming slowly with his drummers and flute players, and followed by hundreds of attendants and other subordinates.  There then rises a deafening uproar !  On each side the drums sound as thunder.  You must know that all the petty chiefs who accompany Kaima, have their drums, and that each drum is beaten in a different way according to the degree of the chief who owns it.  Now all the people on both sides shriek and shout until the two parties meet, and even somewhat longer, noise being a sign of joy.

Having arrived in the middle of Kaima’s people, every one made it a point of duty to congratulate me on my happy journey ; and Kaima, for the honor of having such a guest.  Meanwhile we reached Kaima’s chapel, which we entered to thank God by a public recitation of the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary” and the “Glory be to the Father.”

The boys were next shown into a large reed house whilst I was introduced by Kaima himself into his own Palace.  I should like to give you a description of this palace ; but it would require too much space.  An idea, however :  here is the chief’s own hut ; there the cots of his attendants ; on the right side, a kitchen ; on the left, a large hall for the chiefs of the Province to meet, each Monday ; a little farther, a similar hall for strangers.  All this is surrounded by a reed hedge, with a number of inner hedges, the object of which is to separate one dwelling from another ; a real labyrinth !

Kaima is one of our first and most faithful Christians, and has been through every persecution.  He was the kings’ great gunsmith.  Like all the high-bred Uganda chiefs, he has cut more than one ear, and killed many a man.  But since his conversion to our Holy Faith, he has become very kind and engaging.

Do you remember the spectacles I asked you for ?  They were for Kaima.

The fact that my boys had heard before me, at our arrival, that an ox had been killed for us, was a subject of great joy and, mark well, they made it no secret.

The following morning, before sunrise, every body was up.  Sunday, was a great day for Kaima, because a High Mass was to be sung for the first time in his chapel !  In fact, even low Masses are seldom said in that place, being too far from the Mission.  But could the whole Mitala school spend Sunday at Kaima’s and have no High Mass ?  I should not be able to express the joy Kaima and his people felt.

After the service, a long program of sports.  The Blacks are so fond of sport !  Foot races, trotting matches, wrestling, etc. etc.

Now and then Kaima would leave us and go to inspect the kitchen work.  When all was ready, he himself gave orders for the distribution of the food.  Seated in the armchair, a large basket of meat was brought before him.  A tremendous business to perform, and a most important one too, on account of the number of guests to serve.  Every one must say before he leaves the place :  What a dinner I have had !  I have never eaten as I did to-day !

A whole leg of beef was portioned for the Priest, the Mukuru, your brother ; for his school boys, another leg ; for the chiefs, a shoulder ; for the village boys, the second shoulder ; and the remains for the Chief’s own household.  Nothing is lost, not even the bowels.

To all this meat Kaima added numberless baskets of Matoke (mashed bananas).

 

Kaima, his wife and two of his daughters

Kaima, his wife and two of his daughters


 

The sports were suspended and our people served from baskets.  No plates, nor knives, nor forks were used.  Every one ate well, having found the Mmere (food) delicious.

Soon after, the sports were resumed.  The first item of the new program was a rope tied to two trees ; to which, pieces of string with meat for the skilful to catch and eat.  The boys were placed under these baits and had to jump and catch them with their teeth.  Try to do that, Maurice, and tell me if it is an easy feat to do.  Of course, some were successful ; but what faces they made !  It was enough to make you die of laughter.

Towards evening, by torch-light we proceeded to Kaima’s mansion to thank him for his very kind hospitality.  Drums, flutes, voices and…concertina sounded in praise of that great chief’s liberality.  Now and then I expressed my gratitude to him according to the custom of the country :  “How well you have cooked !  Many thanks :  Ofumbye nno webale!” Or again :  “My boys have eaten exceedingly well:  bakkuse” And though relishing the compliments lavished upon him, he seemed not to have heard me in order that I might repeat the tickling address.

We took leave early on Monday morning.  According to the custom of the country, a great number of Kaima’s servants accompanied us till we reached the Mission, and remained for some hours with us.

You may well understand what a remembrance my boys will have of their visit to Kaima.  One will tell his friends that he was fed there with meat ; another that he got a double ration  …I not less than they shall remember that picnic ; “Johanna, if you do not work better, we shall go to Kaima’s without you !  …”

Eugène Déry, W. F.   

 

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November 4, 2006

Wrestling With Poetry in November


 

by Homer (ca. 8th century BCE)
 

translated by Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
 

The Iliad
 

Book 23: Funeral Games in Honour of Patroclus
[wherein Achilles bestows on Nestor the unawarded fifth prize, the two-handled urn]
 

            Achilles this to reverend Nestor bears.
            And thus the purpose of his gift declares:
            “Accept thou this, O sacred sire! (he said)
            In dear memorial of Patroclus dead;
            Dead and for ever lost Patroclus lies,
            For ever snatch’d from our desiring eyes!
            Take thou this token of a grateful heart,
            Though ’tis not thine to hurl the distant dart,
            The quoit to toss, the ponderous mace to wield,
            Or urge the race, or wrestle on the field:
            Thy pristine vigour age has overthrown,
            But left the glory of the past thy own.”

            He said, and placed the goblet at his side;
            With joy the venerable king replied:

            “Wisely and well, my son, thy words have proved
            A senior honour’d, and a friend beloved!
            Too true it is, deserted of my strength,
            These wither’d arms and limbs have fail’d at length.
            Oh! had I now that force I felt of yore,
            Known through Buprasium and the Pylian shore!
            Victorious then in every solemn game,
            Ordain’d to Amarynces’ mighty name;
            The brave Epeians gave my glory way,
            AEtolians, Pylians, all resign’d the day.
            I quell’d Clytomedes in fights of hand,
            And backward hurl’d Ancaeus on the sand,
            Surpass’d Iphyclus in the swift career,
            Phyleus and Polydorus with the spear.
            The sons of Actor won the prize of horse,
            But won by numbers, not by art or force:
            For the famed twins, impatient to survey
            Prize after prize by Nestor borne away,
            Sprung to their car; and with united pains
            One lash’d the coursers, while one ruled the reins.
            Such once I was! Now to these tasks succeeds
            A younger race, that emulate our deeds:
            I yield, alas! (to age who must not yield?)
            Though once the foremost hero of the field.
            Go thou, my son! by generous friendship led,
            With martial honours decorate the dead:
            While pleased I take the gift thy hands present,
            (Pledge of benevolence, and kind intent,)
            Rejoiced, of all the numerous Greeks, to see
            Not one but honours sacred age and me:
            Those due distinctions thou so well canst pay,
            May the just gods return another day!”
 

 


 

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I have been tired and often not feeling well the past couple months, nothing serious, just part of being me with the maladies I have. This is one reason for the slowdown in posts. I work well over 40 hours a week, and work on a poetry column that takes 20-30 hours a week as well, so the Bud Bloom time is what’s left after taking care of personal and family matters.

A second reason has turned up the past couple weeks. That has to do with the Pocha Pocha project, the Positive Change Poetry Channel. I want to get that off the ground, and I’m thinking that literature, visuals, and music forums should go up first, then possibly a mixed-media periodical, and then the development of a resource center for artistic expression, a site that is not nationalistic in any unnecessary sense, that reaches to be there for anyone, anywhere, any language. There are other steps that will become goals beyond the internet, some expressed in the post linked to above, but this is the beginning. I want PochaPocha.com to be up as soon as reasonably possible.

But the third reason is another online identity I have, which moved me to make this post. As a practical matter, I will be spending hours and hours this month with another pseudonym. The Massachusetts wrestling community knows me as “dansdad”. Seriously, I have walked into tournaments and heard “Hey, that’s dansdad”.

At MassWrestling.com, I am a moderator for the articles, and the College forum. November means that colleges nationwide (California’s a bit different) are beginning their programs, and have their rosters and schedules up online. I serve the wrestling community across the country by making lists of the colleges with wrestling programs, sorting them A to Z, and by state (and for you clickers, I don’t know how those “?”‘s got in there this past year).

I then take the up-to-date alphabetical list, and click into all the rosters of all the colleges, looking for the wrestlers from Massachusetts. I create directories of them by school and alphabetically. Someone’s got to do it.

So now, priorities get switched, because the wrestling project is time sensitive. I really ought to have everything up by the end of the month. Usually, I am jamming with my Thanksgiving Day time off, to get it all near complete.

I don’t know how this will work out. I have never been Bud Bloom and dansdad at the same time. In fact, I have only been Bud Bloom while looking forward to going to readings and festivals, never local meets and tournaments. I was at the high school tournament below, for instance, and will be there this year too. But I hope to bring some interesting and high quality poetry blog posts for you here this month.

Thanks very much.

dansdad
 

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