Ral returned, and Ba’ Weeyums took drum and demijohn off to one side. There he poured rum on the goatskin head, rubbed it in, took a long drink himself, then spat a mouthful at the drum again. Between times he mumbled in a tongue which I recognized as Koromantyn. Then he poured a few drops of rum on the ground, and the baptism was over. This was for the spirit of the drum, he explained. Then he squatted over the drum again, and indeed it seemed to me that it was suddenly alive. Though the body of the drum was shallow, and it more resembled a square stool than any drum which I had previously seen, the tone was full and less staccato than before, and I was almost inclined to believe that it was alive, and that it was the spirit of some Gold Coast god come to life to grumble a protest against the long silence.

Gradually they returned, slipping from behind the coconut palms and up from the ravines and down from the mountains. I don’t know how many, because I was in the midst, and there was now only one kerosene torch and the rum was going the rounds and it all became unreal, though it all happened, because the dances are still very clear to me.

I might not have been present at all, for the difference that it has made. I am accepted. I am one of them.

The dance which I had interrupted was a myal dance.

 

Photo by Mateusz Piatkowski

 

Ba’ Teddy explained it as, fascinated, I watched Mis’ Ma’y and the old man. They were facing one another. The old man took the part of the myal “doctor,” and the dance was to entice into his power an evil spirit—the “duppy” of some dead worker of black magic. Ba’ Weeyums led a chant in Koromantyn, and the women answered. The dance interested me too much for me to try and remember the sounds of the words. The evil spirit circles around the doctor, hesitant, advancing and retreating. Her eyes were fixed, mouth clamped shut tightly, body rigid. The doctor squats in front of her, arms as though to embrace her, fingers wide open and hands trembling violently as he advances slowly toward her, his pelvis begins to move, and the duppy responds in like manner. They hesitate in front of each other, swaying. Then she eludes his embrace with a sharp convulsive bend and is on the other side of the circle, taunting, enticing, features still hard and set but body liquid and so full of desire that I can scarcely believe that it is old Mis’ Ma’y, a grandmother of goodness knows how many.

The doctor reaches out for her, gesticulating, grimacing, insinuating. Then she comes suddenly to life and the pursuit is reversed. The doctor is afraid of this thing which he has done, of this woman whom he has raised from the dead with these fleshly promises. They are face to face, bodies touching, both of them squatting now with arms pressed to sides, elbows bent, and widespread fingers quivering violently. The duppy leans over the man who cowers in fear from her, though their bodies are pressed tightly together. As I decide that I must close my eyes for a moment, Ba’ Teddy mutters, trying to calm his voice and appear merely annoyed in spite of his quick breathing. I open my mouth to speak, but he anticipates my questions and answers sharply. “Bes’ don’ ax no furder questions, Missus! Me don’ see dat fer long time, en hit bad. Dat mix up wid bad biznuss. Better fer missus ef she fergit!”