Union Jack

     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Somé
dramatized by Shaun MacLoughlin

Click here to return to Part 1

PART 2: WITH THE JESUITS

MALIDOMA: There were ten other boys at the Mission, most of whom like me, had been kidnapped.   I asked Father Maillot:
MALIDOMA AS A BOY Why have I been taken away from my mother?
MALIDOMA: He locked me in a room

BANGING ON DOOR

and when I banged on the door

DOOR OPENS

He called me by my French name
FATHER MAILLOT Bend over Patrice

SOUND OF WHIPPING AND YOUNG MALIDOMA CRYING
MALIDOMA He seemed to enjoy beating me. We were also beaten into learning French.

SOUND EFFECTS OF CHALK ON BLACKBOARD
TEACHER: To know the way of the White man you must be an artist.  Just as our carvers do with wood, you must carve speech.

I obtain the first sign by moving my hand upward with this white thing called chalk, then downward.

Finally I link the two pieces of wood together.  See, it looks like the roof of a hut.  It makes the sound Aaaa.  Repeat.
BOYS: Aaaaaa
TEACHER: The next one looks like a child with swollen belly.  It makes the sound Beee.  Repeat.
BOYS: Beeeee
TEACHER: Good.  The third one is even easier.  It's like a ring with one half missing.
The white man calls it Ceee.  Repeat.
BOYS: Ceeee.
MALIDOMA: He pointed at letter B and called me by my Catholic name.
TEACHER: Patrice, what did I say this letter is called?
MALIDOMA: Petrified my mind went blank.  He picked up a stick.
TEACHER: Perhaps this will remind you.

WHACK OF THE STICK AND HOWL OF BOY'S PAIN
MALIDOMA: Once we learnt to speak in French, we were told it was a sin to speak in Dagara.  Once I learned to read it was a wonderful escape. Books were a world into which we were authorised to escape.  Thus my life at the Mission was like a dream.  At the age of twelve we were told that our life had now been an adequate preparation for our journey to meet Christ.

TRUCK TRAVELLING ON BUMPY TRACK

An African Seminary
An African Seminary
As the truck took us the 170 miles to the seminary, every mile seemed a further separation from my family

The boarding school was a beautiful fortress - a garden of flowered pathways and glaring white houses, bursting out of the African jungle. There were over five hundred boys between the ages of twelve and twenty. We were from every country in West Africa.

In the evenings we were given tedious lectures about saints. To listen about God on an empty stomach is like refraining from laughter at the grimaces of a monkey.

The first three years at Nansi Seminary were lived almost outside my body. There are certain wires in the psyche that one must cut in order to survive.

LAUGHTER OF AN OLDER BOY
OLDER BOY: Ready for the water baptism? . . . Better be. Ah! Ah!

THROWING A YOUNGER BOY INTO THE RIVER. SPLASH
MALIDOMA: I was taught to swim by an older boy, which involved being nearly drowned.  And I was ordered to strip naked by a priest, who told me not to mention it in confession.

CHOIR SINGING THE SALVE REGINA

Singing was a major part of our life.  It was good for the psyche.  It established an independent relationship between us and God.

BRING UP AND FADE SINGING

From the age of fifteen at the senior school, I channelled most of my rage into studying.  But I still got into trouble when it came to rhetoric.  Father Joe, the only black priest in a sea of white, was a fine example of European brainwashing.  He asked us to write an essay proving that the middle of the day was night.  I wrote that light could not occur without its opposite and that the presence of one was a sign of the coming of the other.  Then I became crafty and added that this applied to the present domination of the world by Europe.
FATHER JOE: What do you mean by this essay?
MALIDOMA AGE ABOUT 16: It was a tough topic.  I knew I did not have much chance.
FATHER JOE: This is not the kind of thinking that the Catholic community is spending money to train.  The things you are insinuating are very grave.
MALIDOMA: But I did nothing.
FATHER JOE: You insulted God's work.  You insulted the effort of thousands of people to make this a good place for everyone.
MALIDOMA: But I was asked to write a paper.
FATHER JOE: You can't say anything you want.  What's in your damn brain that you can't get this one damned lesson into it?
MALIDOMA (NARRATING): Suddenly I understood the power of the written word.  My last three years in the Seminary were devoted to dissidence, ego and intellectual pursuits.

I joined a group we called the Garibaldis, after the Italian nationalist, who was a master of guerrilla warfare.  One day my friend Francois had some startling news.
FRANCOIS: I heard the fathers talking about loosening the rules here because of the end of the colonial era.
MALIDOMA: What does that mean to us?
FRANCOIS: It means we are free from religious colonialism.
MALIDOMA: Impossible. We can't be free from our own shadows.
FRANCOIS: (HE LAUGHS) We can be free in the future.
MALIDOMA (NARRATING) Later I was given an assignment to write a play about a figure of authority.
I depicted my grandfather as possessing supernatural powers and leading the tribe to victory against the colonial oppressor.  I had the French general kneel down and ask grandfather's permission to learn the wisdom of the ancestors.

Miraculously Father Superior selected the play to be performed at the Seminary's anniversary celebrations.  As I played the role of grandfather I felt I was restoring the honour of my ancestors.

BOYS ROARING THEIR APPROVAL

At the end of the play the students roared their approval, but the reaction of the priests was reserved, even confused.   The next morning I was summoned to Father Superior's office.
SUPERIOR: What is this ancestral nonsense about?
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) I kept silent.
SUPERIOR We can't tolerate any suggestion that we are here to encourage anyone to remain in ignorance.   (PAUSE)   Did you have a grandfather?
MALIDOMA: He died shortly before I was taken away.
SUPERIOR: You mean your vocation began after his death.  Were you close to him?
MALIDOMA: Very close, Father.
SUPERIOR: Was it him you were trying to play?
MALIDOMA (NARRATING) I lied.

(ALOUD) I don't know Father.

(NARRATING) I learned later that Father Superior was an anthropologist who had studied the relationship of African cultures to the divine.  I felt that the spirit of my grandfather was precipitating me into another stage of my tumultuous life.

One morning, when I was twenty, Father Joe was giving us French dictation.  As I was checking my work, he stood next to me and pointed at a word I had misspelt.   As I was about to correct it, he pushed my hand away.

(ALOUD) Why?
FATHER JOE: I found it. You didn't.
MALIDOMA: But this is correction time.
FATHER JOE: It doesn't make any difference. You didn't find the word.

NOISE OF BOOK SLAMMING ONTO FLOOR
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) I flung the book on the ground.

(ALOUD) Take it then, since it has become yours.

NOISE OF SLAPPING MALIDOMAŐS FACE

(NARRATING) He slapped my face.
FATHER JOE: You undisciplined brat. You fail this exercise.
MALIDOMA: (ALOUD) You could never dream of having a son like me. You have no right to hit me.

ANOTHER HARDER SLAP AND SOUND EFFECTS AS DESCRIBED IN NARRATION

(NARRATING) I head butted him. He swung at me but I ducked and he missed. I landed a couple of blows on his ribs, while he pounded my back. I grabbed his leg and pushed hard. He crashed through the window.

LOUD SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS AND A YELL FROM FATHER JOE.

(NARRATING) Father Joe sat in the dust outside. Grimacing like a monkey. Students from all over the seminary gathered around him. I had irretrievably altered the course of my life. Nobody tried to stop me as I left the seminary and disappeared into the jungle.

BRING UP SOUNDS OF THE JUNGLE. THEN FADE.

PART 3: THE JOURNEY HOME

The dramatisation continues until, after his initiation, Malidoma is required by the Elders to bring the Dagara's ancient, healing wisdom to the West.

For more information please go to The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Malidoma Somé's Website. and to Drums of Change, Drums of Spirit for some inspiring you tubes.


I should like to thank John Minshall for introducing me to Of Water and the Spirit.


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