Friday

The Child is Alive

Photo credit: photoglife from morguefile.com

(The following poem is inspired by the birth scene in the film Sankofa. A pregnant woman runs away. She is caught and taken back to the plantation. For her punishment she is given 100 lashes. The woman dies, her belly bulging in front of her. A midwife on the plantation decides to deliver the child from the dead woman.)

And a niece of granny Nanny
an Akan woman, a woman who can see far,
a woman with the knowledge of herbs
a woman who works in the field, cutting cane
a woman who speaks the language of her grandmothers
a woman who tells stories of magical animals, of talking
trees, and of fabled cities beneath mighty rivers
a woman who was stolen from her village when she was 14
a woman who was raped on the slave ship by a white sailor
a woman who flies to Africa when she sleeps

This woman, this niece of granny Nanny
take her cutlass and runs with the swiftness
of Sogolon Conde in her guise as Buffalo woman
this woman runs with her machete
an ancient chant rising from her throat
an ancient chant imploring the gods and all the
spirits that attend women in childbirth to come
to her aid
She calls her companions: "form a circle around the dead woman
breathe, breathe deeply, give her breath,
give her life."

This woman, this niece of granny Nanny enters
the cirle and with her cutlass, the ancient chant leaping from
her lips,
cuts opens the belly of the woman and releases the child
while her companions hum and chant softly.

Oh praise to the ancestors!
the child is alive
oh Onyame, take the spirit of the mother*
praise to the ancestors,
in the midst of misery and pain
in the midst of humiliation and grief
in the midst of this inhumanity
praise to the ancestors the child lives
oh Onyame, take the spirit of the mother

This woman, this niece of granny Nanny, this ancient midwife
dances with the child, backward, forward, sideward
spins and joins her companions dancing like the priestess
she would have been had not slavers stolen her away
from her people
the woman dances
east
south
west
north
she holds the child up to the sky
blessings

Oh praise to the ancestors
the child lives
oh Onyame, take the spirit of the mother
oh praise to the ancestors
the child is alive!
Woye! woye! woye!

(*Onyame is the Twi (Akan language) for God)

~ Afua Cooper

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