Tag Archives: slavery

“for to carry you to freedom”: a remembrance day song

helping hands blog awardin a few days, november 11, it’s remembrance day here in canada, or veterans day in the U.S.

many wars were and are still being fought, and many struggles. writing a novel about a slave on a louisiana plantation, one of the struggles that is foremost in my mind is the one against slavery in the U.S.

may we remember then today the women, children and men who fought against this horrible injustice, starting with capturing people from their homelands, to the unimaginable suffering in the middle passage, to the inhumane exploitation of slavery on farms, in factories, on plantations.

some of these women, children and men fought by jumping on the underground railroad to canada, from where they helped more to escape into freedom.

one of the songs from that era, legend has it, is follow the drinking gourd. the drinking gourd is the big dipper. look up at the sky, it says, and look for the big dipper. follow it north, “for to carry you to freedom”. watch this video and listen to the song. here are the lyrics:

when the sun comes back,
and the first quail calls,
follow the drinking gourd,
for the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom
if you follow the drinking gourd.

follow the drinking gourd,
follow the drinking gourd,
for the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom
if you follow the drinking gourd.

the riverbank will make a very good road,
the dead trees show you the way.
left foot, peg foot traveling on,
following the drinking gourd.
the river ends between two hills,
follow the drinking gourd,
there’s another river on the other side,
follow the drinking gourd.
when the great big river meets the little river,

follow the drinking gourd.
for the old man is waiting
for to carry you to freedom
if you follow the drinking gourd.

(more renditions and an interesting history of the song here)

i’d like to dedicate this post to sojourner. if you visit here regularly, you already know about her sunday inspirations.

sojourner doesn’t only inspire on sundays. she does it all week long. she inspires and reaches out, reaches out her hand to continue the human chain of peace and compassion that is so strong all throughout the blogosphere, just like less than 200 years ago, our ancestors were giving each other a hand on the way to freedom.

the other day sojourner gave me the huge honour of her helping hands award. this is probably the best blogging award i have ever gotten. today, i just want to shout out a big THANK YOU to sojourner. in the next week or so, i’ll tell you a bit more about the award. it deserves its own post.

this is part of my remembrance day songs series.  interested in more?  

  • the last remembrance day song for 2007: canto libre by victor jara view post
  • remembrance day songs for a different kind of soldier view post
  • remembrance day songs for 2007 view post
  • remembrance day songs, part II view post 
  • remembrance day songs view post

obama: yes we can!

obamaslavedriver in brazil“yes we can!”

i’m imagining the hero of my NaNoWriMo novel, joe – or kosi, his african name – watching obama’s acceptance speech tonight.

“yes we can!”

my novel spans close to 250 years, starting with a west african amazon who ends up a slave in louisiana. joe is her grandson. he dies and – well, he hangs around, learns things, starts to help people.

when he was a slave on that plantation by baton rouge, what would he have said if someone would have told him that in 200 years, a black man would become the president of the united states? and not just any president – a president committed to unity.

if someone would have told joe, a man who enjoyed the love of a man as much as the love of a woman, that this president, within the first few minutes of this historical speech, promised to bring together “young and old, rich and poor, democrat and republican, black, white, latino, asian, native american, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled” – would he have run away from the plantation, to die at the edge of the swamp? would he have stuck around and said,

“yes we can?”

how impossible that would have sounded for him back then.

yet later, when joe decided to hang around even after death, he began to learn … and maybe it’s the same lesson that obama learned.

but i don’t know what obama learned. what i know is that he is one of the few politicians who has ever captured me. there is something of gandhi and dr. martin luther king about him. what i know is that obama’s message goes straight to my heart:

“yes we can!”

would obama have been able to send that message 200 years ago?

i don’t think i’m making much sense right now. i am awestruck by what i have just witnessed.

“yes we can!”

i’ll let that take seed in my heart, and i’ll send the seed to my joe, and ask my muses to water and shelter it and send it good sunshine, so that my novel will blossom and be of service to the world; a tiny little metaphor, i’ll hope, for a peaceful, united, and affirming future for this great country to our south, america.

dia de los muertos and NaNoWriMo

dia de los muertos - day of the deadit’s dia de los muertos today, day of the dead. thought i’d give you a little excerpt from my novel, right when the hero dies, slumped against a tree after running through the swamp. the hero is joe, who lived as a slave on a sugar plantation in louisiana.

anyways, here i was sitting against that ol’ tree. big gum tree, man, and the stories he can tell (yup, a he tree, i know a thing or two about gum trees). i was just sitting there and i knew i had come to an end. i was surprised, mostly. not that i had come to an end, either there or at my age; no, i’d been ready for a long time. i’m telling you this, guys, because you don’t think that like here [note: he’s telling this story to a present-day audience; he died in 1830]. but back then, at the plantation, dying is always happening, you get used to it, and it sure isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. something to think about.

anyways, the reason i was surprised was the feeling of life seeping out of me. i mean, i had kind of seen it, seeing other people die, but feeling it, that was totally different. there was no fear. yeah, i was surprised at that, too, i’d thought that might be a scary feeling. but it was just interesting, you know. like all those little bacteria that the dutchman talked about, them all just quietly packing up and leaving, leaving town. that was another surprise, that there was a town left.

at the same time, i noticed, somewhere far away, mr james-patterson and elise standing over me, elise’s hands touching me somewhere, somewhere on my body, i couldn’t tell anymore where but i still recognized it was her (the PEOPLE, they were easy to recognize, maybe i’ll tell you why later, once i’m done with this here), and it was strange, this seeping away and the far-awayness of the world and at the same time, this strong, clear knowing.

and then it was over. they know what they’re talking about when they say it’s like the last grains of sand running out an hourglass. just like that.

but the “it” that was over was just one thing. because what happened next was that somehow i knew i had to make a decision. it’s like there were, all of a sudden, all kinds of ways before me but i HAD to choose one. why i had to, i don’t know. it was like a horse and four running, there’s no way to stop them, so you gotta turn them left or right.

“i” – that’s a whole different story. it’s a different “i” altogether – but never mind, that’s not what i’m talking about right now.

i coulda gone up to heaven. yessuh, i coulda done that. there was actually such a thing. and it looked like they woulda taken me. but that’s not what i chose.

also, there was a road, and it just disappeared, softly, into nowhere, or what looked like nowhere. that would have been the easiest one to go, for me at least, but i didn’t end up going there.

there were lots others. somehow i knew a bit about each one of them. but the one i chose, a little off to the left, it was, how can i describe it, at first glance it looked like a little cul-de-sac, right there, right off the road, right by that old tree.

i went in a little ways and i just sat there. well, as much sitting as i could do, let’s not forget i’m talking about something that’s hard to talk about, right? let’s not forget that.

that was probably the biggest surprise. that i went there, into that cul-de-sac. i mean, i hadn’t known there were so many places to go to, that there was any place to go to, and that there was that place there. and that i chose to go there. i had no idea how that choosing happened, i still don’t, but at the same time i know that i made that decision.

now what was there in that place?

… aaaand the other reason i’m presenting this today is because once again, i’m participacting in NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is short for national novel writing month. everyone who signs up pledges her or his hope (or iron-clad intention, as it may be) to write 50,000 words towards a novel in the month of november. that’s how i started with my novel last year. i’m a NaNoWriMo “rebel” because i choose to continue to work on an existing project (the official idea is to start with a brand new project although the 4-time NaNoWriMo writer i met at the kickoff party today declared that there was nothing wrong with continuing an existing project.)

what’s really, really exciting is that in our household of six, four are participating. can you believe it? my 11-year-old daughter (she participates in the young writers’ part), my husband and one of our roommates are writing, too! i’m so thrilled, atingle, elated, delighted, ecstatic, hopped up over this – as one of the characters in haroun and the sea of stories would say, by one of my favourite writers, salman rushdie. yes, yes, we writers love to read.

so. for the month of november, my task here on this blog is to relate every entry to NaNoWriMo (except for the wordless posts). there’ll probably be quite a few excerpts from the book, and all the other posts, well, maybe some of the connections i’ll make will be a bit hair-raising but then i think all of NaNoWriMo might turn out to be hair-raising!

image by buggs

freedom, redemption and inspiration

bob marley, black and whiteone of the people to whom i passed on my “brilliant blog” award, sojourner, has a meme, sunday inspirations. similar to wordless wednesday, it’s a day of the week dedicated to a theme. it was created in honor of sojourner’s mother

and is just one way to help get us through the week ahead, the trials we may face, and yes, to say thank ya … your weekly contribution may very well be the inspiration that someone else may need and has been looking for

sojourner’s place itself is a blog that inspires me, with a great mix of southern graciousness, politics, spirituality and an emphasis on the lives of professional african-american women.

so i’d like to participate today, with an excerpt from the novel i’m working on. it’s about a slave, joe (or kosi, his african name) on one of the first sugar plantations in louisiana. one day he runs away, and dies on his escpape. since i’m writing this novel in the shape of magical realism, it doesn’t end there. after he dies, he meets a cranky entity who offers to show him heaven. heaven turns out to be a bit boring, so they fly on over to africa, where joe/kosi meets animals and people he’s never met before, and is also confronted with becoming a new person. yes, yes, i know he’s dead – but as i said, it’s magical realism. here he sits, among a bunch of people gathered on a sunday evening somewhere in present-day louisiana and talks about his experience of starting to realize that he could become someone else, someone new, someone awakening. the song he refers to is a melody that weaves itself throughout the book.

people, this is hard for me to talk about, even after all this time, 200 years almost, the way you-all count it. so many feelings have left me, and i tell you, that’s a good thing, but sorrow, that’s one i still have. sorrow and joy. it’s not joyful for me to talk about that time but i know i must, i must tell my story, the way we all must. telling our true story, that’s what sets us free. and that’s what it’s all about. freedom.

i have sorrow for that man back there in africa, in dahomey, i know it’s called benin now. he was so sightless. both looking inside himself and looking outside, there was so little he saw. this was the time of his awakening, in his death he awoke, and that’s not an easy thing.

today i sit here, speaking through an old man, dick of all people, i know, that’s funny but who knows what’s going on in a mind? maybe when he wakes up tomorrow from his hangover he’ll remember a tiny bit of this, and maybe it’ll move him along to more freedom?

the song? you want to hear the song? i can’t sing it here, not with dick’s old voice; not because he can’t sing, that doesn’t matter and it’s a crazy notion anyway, that there are people who can’t sing. but his heart isn’t ready yet, it’s not in his heart yet, and that’s the only way it can be sung. where the voice and the heart come together. it’s gotta be not just there in his heart, lying there, it has to take root, that song.

but tell you what. you listen to this other guy, what’s his name, a brother, and i tell you, not just because he’s got dark skin, what’s his name, long hair, from down that other country, jamaica – that’s his song, anyway.

and dick, or joe, or whoever it was, started singing, in a quiet voice …

won’t you help to sing
these songs of freedom? –
cause all i ever have:
redemption songs;
redemption songs.

emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
none but ourselves can free our minds.
have no fear … have no fear … have no fear …

… these songs of freedom …

image by unlockok