Read Barracoon Online

Authors: Zora Neale Hurston

Barracoon (5 page)


n the six days between my visits to Kossula I worried a little lest he deny himself to me. I had secured two Virginia hams on my trip south and when I appeared before him the following Thursday, I brought him one. He was delighted beyond his vocabulary, but I read his face and it was more than enough. The ham was for
. For
I brought a huge watermelon, right off the ice, so we cut it in half and we just ate from heart to rind as far as we were able.

Then it was necessary to walk it down so he showed me over the Old Landmark Baptist Church, at his very gate, where he is the sexton.

Watermelon, like too many other gorgeous things in life, is much too fleeting. We lightened our ballast and returned to the porch.

“Now, you want me to tellee you some mo' about what we do in de Affica soil? Well, you good to me. I doan keer, I tellee you somethin'. It too hot I work anyhow.

“My father he name O-lo-loo-ay. He not a rich man. He have three wives.

“My mama she name Ny-fond-lo-loo. She de second wife. Now dat's right. I no tellee you I de son of de chief wife. Dat ain' right. I de son of de second wife.

“My mama have one son befo' me so I her second child. She have four mo' chillun after me, but dat ain' all de chillun my father got. He got nine by de first wife and three by de third wife. When de guls marry dey like see how many chillun dey kin have for dey husband.”

“Aren't there some barren women?” I asked.

“No, dey all git chillun by dey husband. If dey doan gittee de babies, dey go talk to de ole folks. Den de old ones go in de bush and gittee de leaves and make a tea and give the girl some to drink. Den dey gittee babies for dey husband. Sometimes a woman doan never gittee no baby, though. Cudjo doan know (why).

“In de compound I play games wid all de chillun my father got. (See appendix.) We wrassle wid one 'nother. We see which one kin run de fastest. We clam de palm tree wid coconut on it and we eatee dat, we go in de woods and hunt de pineapple and banana and we eatee dat too. Know how we find de fruits? By de smell.

“Sometimes our mama say we run play 'nough. Dey tell us ‘Dat, dat do? Come set down and I tellee you stories 'bout de animals, when they talk lak folks.' Cudjo doan know de time when de animals talk lak folks. De ole folks, dey tell me dat. Cudjo like very much to listen.”

I said, “I like to hear stories too. Do you remember any of the stories your mama told you?”

“Well,” said Kossula, “I tellee you de story nexy time you come set wid me. Now I tellee you 'bout Cudjo when he a boy back in de Affica. (See appendix for stories.)

“One day de chief send word to de compound. He want see all de boys dat done see fourteen rainy seasons. Dat makee me very happy because I think he goin' send me to de army. I then almost fifteen rainy seasons old.

“But in de Affica soil dey teachee de boys long time befo' dey go in de army. Derefore, you unnerstand me, when de boy 'bout fourteen dey start train him for de war.

“Dey don't go fight right away. No, first dey got to know how to walk in de bush and see and not show theyself. Derefore, first de fathers (elders) takee de boys on journey to hunt. Sometime it go and come back befo' night. Sometime it two, three sleeps (nights).

“Dey got to learn de step on de ground (tracks). Dey got to know whether whut dey hunt turned this way or that way. Dey learn to breakee de branch and turn it so dey kin find de way back home. Dey got to knot de long leaf so de folks behind kin know to follow.

“De fathers teachee us to know a place for de house (a camp site) and how we must choppee bark of de biggest tree so somebody else whut go running (traveling) kin know it a good place to sleepee.

“Me make de hunt many time. We shoot de arrows from de bow. We chunkee spear we kill de beastes and fetchee dem home wid us.

“I so glad I goin' be a man and fight in de army lak my big brothers. I likee beatee de drum too.

“Dey teachee us to sing de war song. We sing when
we walk in de bush and make lak we goin' fight de enemy. De drum talkee wid us when we sing de song, ‘
Ofu, ofu, tiggy, tiggy, tiggy, tiggy batim, ofu ofu, tiggy tiggy, tiggy, tiggy batim! Ofu batim en ko esse!

(“When the day breaks the cock shall crow

When the day breaks the cock shall crow

When the day breaks the cock shall crow

When someone crosses our roof we shall tear

A nation down.”

The actual meaning is, “When we get there we shall make our demands and if we are crossed we shall tear down the nation who defies us.”)

“Every year dey teachee us mo' war. But de king, Akia'on, say he doan go make no war.
He make us strong so nobody doan make war on us. We know de secret of de gates so when de enemy come and we don't know dey come, we kin run hidee ourself in de bush, den dey don't see nobody dey go 'way. Den we come behind dem and fight till dey all dead.

“Four, five rainy seasons it keep on lak dat, den I grow tall and big. I kin run in de bush all day and not be tired.”

Kossula ceased speaking and looked pointedly at his melon rind. There was still lots of good red meat and a quart or two of juice. I looked at mine. I had more meat left than Kossula had. Nothing was left of the first installment, but a pleasant memory. So we lifted the half-rinds to our knees and started all over again. The sun was still hot so we did the job leisurely.

Watermelon halves having ends like everything else, and a thorough watermelon eating being what it is, a long over-stuffed silence fell on us.

When I was able to speak, somehow the name juju came into my mind, so I asked Kossula what he knew about it. He seemed reluctant to answer my question, but finally he did so.

“I tellee you whut I know about de juju. Whut de ole folks do in de juju house, I doan know. I can't tellee you dat. I too young yet. Dat doan reachee me. I know dat all de grown men dey go to de mountain once a year. It have something to do wid makin' de weather, but whut dey do dere, Cudjo doan know. Now, dat's right. I doan make out I know whut go on wid de grown folks. When I come away from Afficky I only a boy 19 year old. I have one initiation. A boy must go through many initiations before he become a man. I jus' initiate one time.

“One day I was in de market place when I see a pretty girl walk past me. She so pretty I follow her a little way, but I doan speak. We doan do dat in Afficky. But I likee her. One ole man, he saw me watchee de girl. He doan say nothin' to me, but he went to my father an' say, ‘Your boy is about breakin' de corn. He is getting to be a man an' knows de secret of man. So put goats down or a cow an' let us fix a banquet for him.' So my father say, ‘All right.'

“But first dey doan fix de banquet for me. Dey have in Afficky a small stick on a string an' when dey make it go 'round fast, it roar like de lion or de bull. Dey have three kinds. One, dey call it de ‘he' one de ‘she' and one
dey call it de dog 'cause dey make it bark data way. (The bull-roarer.)

“No woman mus' hear dis thing; if she do, she die. So dey stay inside and shuttee de door tight.

“Dey put me in de initiation house. After a while I hear a great roaring outside de door an' dey say to me, ‘Go see where dat is.' Soon's I went outside I doan hear it at de door no more. It sound way off in de bush. They tell me to go in de bush to hunt it. As soon as I go to de bush to find out whut it is, I hear it behind me. I hear it behind me, in front of me, everywhere, but I never find it. De men are playing wid me. Way after while, dey take me into de banquet an' tell me de secret of de thing dat make de sound.

“At de banquet dey make me sit an' listen wid respect. Dey tell me, ‘You are jus' below us. You are not yet a man. All men are still fathers to you.'

“There is plenty of roast meat and wine at de banquet an' all de men dey pinchee my ear tight to teach me to keep de secrets. Den I get a peacock feather to wear. In Americky soil I see plenty wimmins wear de peacock feather, but dey doan know what dey do. In Afficky soil a boy got to gittee plenty secrets inside dat he doan talk 'fo' he gittee de peacock feather.”


hen I gittee de peacock feather, I stand round de place where de chief talk wid de wise men. I hope dey see Cudjo and think he a grown man. Maybe dey call me to de council. De fathers doan never call me but I likee very much to be dere and lissen when dey talk.

“I likee go in de market place too and see de pretty gals wid de gold bracelets on de arm from de hand to de elbow. Oh, dey look very fine to Cudjo when dey walkee dey sling de arm so and de bracelet ring. I lak hear dat—it sound so pretty.

“One day I see one girl I lak very much to marry, but I too young to take a wife. But I lak her. I think 'bout her all de time. Derefore I go home and say to my folks, ‘Be keerful how you treat such and such a girl.'

“Dey look at me den dey go ask for de girl to be my wife when I git li'l older.

“One day derefore I in de market, three men come whut strange to us. Dey say dey from Dahomey and dey
wantee see our king. De king say, ‘Alright, he talk wid dem.'

“Dey say, ‘You know de king of Dahomey?'

“Akia'on say, ‘I have heard of him.'

“De men from Dahomey say, ‘Den you know all de strong names he got. You know he got one name,
Tenge Makanfenkpar
, a rock, the finger nail cannot scratch it, see! You know dey speak 'bout him and say, “
Kini, kini, kini
, Lion of Lions.” Some say, “A animal done cut its teeth, evil done enter into de bush.” (The “bush,” meaning the surrounding tribes who feel the sharpness of Dahomey's tooth.) Dis king send to you and say he wish to be kind. Derefore you must sendee him de half yo' crops. If you doan send it, he make war.' (See note 1.)

“Our King Akia'on say, ‘Astee you' king did he ever hear de strong name of Akia'on? Dey call me Mouth of de leopard? That he take hold on, he never let go. Tell him de crops ain' mine. Dey belong to de people. I cain send and take de people crops to send to de king of Dahomey. He got plenty land. Let him stop makin' slave hunt on udder people and make his own crops.'

“De king of Dahomey doan lak dat message, but Akia'on so strong, he 'fraid to come make war. So he wait. (See note 2.)

“De king of Dahomey, you know, he got very rich ketchin slaves. He keep his army all de time making raids to grabee people to sell so de people of Dahomey doan have no time to raise gardens an' make food for deyselves. (See note 3.)

“Maybe de king of Dahomey never come make raid in
Takkoi, but one traitor from Takkoi go in de Dahomey. He a very bad man and de king (of Takkoi) say, ‘Leave this country.' Dat man want big honors in de army so he go straight in de Dahomey and say to de king, ‘I show you how to takee Takkoi.' He tellee dem de secret of de gates.

“Derefore, you unnerstand me, dey come make war, but we doan know dey come fight us. Dey march all night long and we in de bed sleep. We doan know nothin'.

“It bout daybreak when de folks dat sleep git wake wid de noise when de people of Dahomey breakee de Great Gate. I not woke yet. I still in bed. I hear de gate when dey break it. I hear de yell from de soldiers while dey choppee de gate. Derefore I jump out de bed and lookee. I see de great many soldiers wid French gun in de hand and de big knife. Dey got de women soldiers too and dey run wid de big knife and make noise. Dey ketch people and dey saw de neck lak dis wid de knife den dey twist de head so and it come off de neck. Oh Lor', Lor'!

“I see de people gittee kill so fast! De old ones dey try run 'way from de house but dey dead by de door, and de women soldiers got dey head. Oh, Lor'!”

Cudjo wept sorrowfully and crossed his arms on his breast with the fingers touching his shoulders. His mouth and eyes wide-open as if he still saw the gruesome spectacle.

“Everybody dey run to de gates so dey kin hide deyself in de bush, you unnerstand me. Some never reachee de gate. De women soldier ketchee de young ones and tie dem by de wrist. No man kin be so strong lak de woman soldiers from de Dahomey. So dey cut off de head. Some
dey snatch de jaw-bone while de people ain' dead. Oh Lor', Lor', Lor'! De poor folkses wid dey bottom jaw tore off dey face! I runnee fast to de gate but some de men from Dahomey dey dere too. I runnee to de nexy gate but dey dere too. Dey surround de whole town. Dey at all de eight gates.

“One gate lookee lak nobody dere so I make haste and runnee towards de bush. But de man of Dahomey dey dere too. Soon as I out de gate dey grabee me, and tie de wrist. I beg dem, please lemme go back to my mama, but dey don't pay whut I say no 'tenshun. Dey tie me wid de rest.

“While dey ketchin' me, de king of my country he come out de gate, and dey grabee him. They see he de king so dey very glad. Derefore, you unnerstand me, dey take him in de bush where de king of Dahomey wait wid some chiefs till Takkoi be destroy, when he see our king, he say to his soldiers, ‘Bring me de word-changer' (public interpreter). When de word-changer came he say, ‘Astee dis man why he put his weakness agin' de Lion of Dahomey?' De man changed de words for our king. Akia'on lissen. Den he say to de Dahomey king, ‘Why don't you fight lak men? Why you doan come in de daytime so dat we could meet face to face?' De man changee de words so de king of Dahomey know what he say. Den de king of Dahomey say, ‘Git in line to go to Dahomey so de nations kin see I conquer you and sell Akia'on in de barracoon.'

“Akia'on say, ‘I ain' goin' to Dahomey. I born a king in Takkoi where my father and his fathers rule before I was born. Since I been a full man I rule. I die a king but I not be no slave.'

“De king of Dahomey askee him, ‘You not goin' to Dahomey?'

“He tell him, ‘No, he ain' goin' off de ground where he is de king.'

“De king of Dahomey doan say no mo'. He look at de soldier and point at de king. One woman soldier step up wid de machete and chop off de head of de king, and pick it off de ground and hand it to de king of Dahomey. (See note 4.)

“When I see de king dead, I try to 'scape from de soldiers. I try to make it to de bush, but all soldiers over-take me befo' I git dere. O Lor', Lor'! When I think 'bout dat time I try not to cry no mo'. My eyes dey stop cryin' but de tears runnee down inside me all de time. When de men pull me wid dem I call my mama name. I doan know where she is. I no see none my family. I doan know where dey is. I beg de men to let me go findee my folks. De soldiers say dey got no ears for cryin'. De king of Dahomey come to hunt slave to sell. So dey tie me in de line wid de rest.

“De sun it jus' rising.

“All day dey make us walk. De sun so hot!

“De king of Dahomey, he ride in de hammock and de chiefs wid him dey got hammock too. Po' me I walk. De men of Dahomey dey tie us in de line so nobody run off. In dey hand dey got de head of de people dey kill in Takkoi. Some got two, three head dey carry wid dem to Dahomey.

“I so sad for my home I ain' gittee hongry dat day, but I glad when we drink de water.

“Befo' de sun go down we come by a town. It got a red flag on de bush. De king of Dahomey send men wid de word-changer to de town and de chief come in de hammock and talk wid de king. Den he take down de red flag and hang a white flag. Whut dey say, Cudjo doan know. But he bring de king a present of yams and corn. De soldiers make fire and cook de grub and eatee. Den we march on. Every town de king send message.

“We sleepee on de ground dat night but de king and de chiefs hang dey hammock in de tree and sleepee in dem. Den nothin' doan harm dem on de ground. Po' me I sleepee on de ground and cry. I ain' used to no ground. I thinkee too 'bout my folks and I cry. All night I cry.

“When de sun rise we eat and march on to Dahomey. De king send word to every town we passee and de head-man come out. If dey got a red flag, dat mean dey 'gree dey ain' goin' pay no tax to de Dahomey. Dey say dey will fight. If it a white flag, dey pay to Dahomey whut dey astee dem. If it a black flag, dat mean dat de ruler is dead and de son not old 'nough to take de throne. In de Affica soil when dey see de black flag, dey doan bother. Dey know it be takin' advantage if dey make war when nobody in charge.

“De heads of de men of Dahomey got 'gin to smell very bad. Oh, Lor', I
dey bury dem! I doan lak see my people head in de soldier hands; and de smell makee me so sick!

“De nexy day, dey make camp all day so dat de people kin smoke de heads so dey don't spoil no mo'. Oh Lor' Lor', Lor'! We got to set dere and see de heads of our
people smokin' on de stick. We stay dere in dat place de nine days. Den we march on to de Dahomey soil.”

Kossula was no longer on the porch with me. He was squatting about that fire in Dahomey. His face was twitching in abysmal pain. It was a horror mask. He had forgotten that I was there. He was thinking aloud and gazing into the dead faces in the smoke. His agony was so acute that he became inarticulate. He never noticed my preparation to leave him.

So I slipped away as quietly as possible and left him with his smoke pictures.