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Two Years in the French West Indies By Lafcadio Hearn Characters: 4213

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


Night falls;-the maskers crowd to the ball-rooms to dance strange tropical measures that will become wilder and wilder as the hours pass. And through the black streets, the Devil makes his last Carnival-round.

By the gleam of the old-fashioned oil lamps hung across the thoroughfares I can make out a few details of his costume. He is clad in red, wears a hideous blood-colored mask, and a cap of which the four sides are formed by four looking-glasses;-the whole head-dress being surmounted by a red lantern. He has a white wig made of horse-hair, to make him look weird and old,-since the Devil is older than the world! Down the street he comes, leaping nearly his own height,-chanting words without human signification,-and followed by some three hundred boys, who form the chorus to his chant-all clapping hands together and giving tongue with a simultaneity that testifies how strongly the sense of rhythm enters into the natural musical feeling of the African,-a feeling powerful enough to impose itself upon all Spanish-America, and there create the unmistakable characteristics of all that is called "creole music."

-"Bimbolo!"

-"Zimabolo!"

-"Bimbolo!"

-"Zimabolo!"

-"Et zimbolo!"

-"Et bolo-po!"

-sing the Devil and his chorus. His chant is cavernous, abysmal,-booms from his chest like the sound of a drum beaten in the bottom of a well.... Ti manmaille-là, baill moin lavoix! ("Give me voice, little folk,-give me voice!") And all chant after him, in a chanting like the rushing of many waters, and with triple clapping of hands:-"Ti manmaille-là, baill moin lavoix!"... Then he halts before a dwelling in the Rue Peysette, and thunders:-

-"Eh! Marie-sans-dent!-Mi! diabe-là derhò!"

That is evidently a piece of spite-work: there is somebody living there against whom he has a grudge....

"Hey! Marie-without-teeth! look! the Devil is outside!"

And the chorus catch the clue.

DEVIL.-"Eh! Marie-sans-dent!"...

CHORUS.-"Marie-sans-dent! mi!-diabe-là derhò!"

D.-"Eh! Marie-sans-dent!"'...

C.-"Marie-sans-dent! mi!-diabe-à derhò!"

D.-"Eh! Marie-sans-

dent!"... etc.

The Devil at last descends to the main street, always singing the same song;-follow the chorus to the Savanna, where the rout makes for the new bridge over the Roxelane, to mount the high streets of the old quarter of the Fort; and the chant changes as they cross over:-

DEVIL.-"Oti ouè diabe-là passé lariviè?" (Where did you see the Devil going over the river?) And all the boys repeat the words, falling into another rhythm with perfect regularity and ease:-"Oti ouè diabe-là passé lariviè?"

DEVIL.-"Oti ouè diabe?"...

CHORUS.-"Oti ouè diabe-là passé lariviè?"

D.-"Oti ouè diabe?"

C,-"Oti ouè diabe-làp passé lariviè?"

D,-"Oti ouè diabe?...etc.

About midnight the return of the Devil and his following arouses me from sleep:-all are chanting a new refrain, "The Devil and the zombis sleep anywhere and everywhere!" (Diabe épi zombi ka dòmi tout-pàtout.) The voices of the boys are still clear, shrill, fresh,-clear as a chant of frogs;-they still clap hanwith a precision of rhythm that is simply wonderful,-making each time a sound almost exactly like the bursting of a heavy wave:-

DEVIL.-"Diable épi zombi."...

CHORUS.-"Diable épi zombi ka d'omi tout-pàtout!"

D.-"Diable épi zombi."

C.-"Diable épi zombi ka dòmi tout-pàtout!"

D.-"Diable épi zombi."...etc.

... What is this after all but the old African method of chanting at labor, The practice of carrying the burden upon the head left the hands free for the rhythmic accompaniment of clapping. And you may still hear the women who load the transatlantic steamers with coal at Fort-de-France thus chanting and clapping....

Evidently the Devil is moving very fast; for all the boys are running;-the pattering of bare feet upon the pavement sounds like a heavy shower.... Then the chanting grows fainter in distance; the Devil's immense basso becomes inaudible;-one only distinguishes at regular intervals the crescendo of the burden,-a wild swelling of many hundred boy-voices all rising together,-a retreating storm of rhythmic song, wafted to the ear in gusts, in raifales of contralto....

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