Zora Neale Hurston
Then he sat and smoked his pipe in silence. Finally he seemed to discover that I was still there. Then he said brusquely, “Go leave me ’lone. Cudjo tired. Come back tomorrow. Doan come in de mornin’ ’cause den I be in de garden. Come when it hot, den Cudjo sit in de house.”
So I left Cudjo sitting in his door with his bare feet exposed to the cloud of mosquitoes that swarmed in the shade of the inside of his house.
The King Arrives
The next day about noon I was again at Kossula’s gate. I brought a gift this time. A basket of Georgia peaches. He received me kindly and began to eat the peaches at once. Mary and Martha, the twin daughters of his granddaughter, wandered up to the steps. The old man’s love of these children was quite evident. With glad eyes, he selected four of the finest peaches and handed two to each little girl. He scolded them on off to play with affectionate abuse. When they were gone, he looked lovingly after them and pointed to a little clump of sugarcane in the garden.
“See dat cane?” he asked.
I nodded that I did.
“Well, I plant dat cane. Tain much, but I grow dat so when Martha and Mary come to me and say, ‘Gran’pa I wantee some cane,’ I go cut and give ’em.”
There is a large peach tree in the yard that bears small but delicious clingstone peaches. They were beginning to ripen. The old man gave me one or two and put away one for each of the twins.
I was shown all over the gardens. Kossula was genial but not one word about himself fell from his lips.
So I went away and came again the following day. I brought another gift. A box of Bee Brand insect powder to burn in the house to drive out all the mosquitoes.
He was in a vocal mood and could scarcely wait until I set the powder burning to talk about his Affica.
So we settled on the porch and he talked. I reminded him that he had been telling me about the chief’s losing a wife under such unfortunate circumstances and about his grandfather’s compound.
“I doan fuhgittee nothin. I ’member everything since I de five year old.
“Yeah, my grandpa, he a officer of de king. He be wid de king everywhere he go, you unnerstand me.
“Derefore, you unnerstand me, one man he kill a leopard, well, de king doan keer ’bout he kill a leopard, but de law say dat when a man kill a leopard, he got to bring it to de king.
“De king doan want take de beast away from de man what kill it, you unnerstand me, but he got to take de big hairs (whiskers) dat grow round de mouth. Dey very poison, and de king doan want none de people to gittee kill. Some mens dey wicked, you unnerstand me, and dey take de hairs and make de poison. Derefore, you know, de king say when any man kill de leopard, he got to cover de head so no women kin see it and bring de leopard to de king.
“Den de drums go beat and callee all brave chiefs come discuss dis leopard dat been kill.
“De king he keep de head, de liver, de gall and de skin. Dat always belong to de king. It all makee different medicine. All de body, it he dried and makee more medicine too. But some tribe make fetish and eat de flesh, so dey eatee de medicine, you know.
“Derefore when a man kill de leopard and take de hairs before he let de king know he kill de leopard, dey kill that man. He a wicked man.
“One man you know, he kill a leopard. He cover de head and tie de body to a young tree. (Tied by the feet to a pole so that it could be carried.)
“Well de king call all de chiefs and they come lookee. Dey take off de cover from de head and de king look at de hairs. He see one hair it gone from de hole in de face where it grow. All de chief dey lookee too. Dey see de hair ain’ dere. So dey call de man.
“De king say, ‘Well, you killee dis beast?’
“De man say, ‘Yeah, I kill him.’
“‘How you kill dis leopard?’
“‘Wid de spear, I kill him.’
“‘Did you touch de head?’
“‘No, I doan touchee de head at all. I only a common man and I know de head belong to de king. So I doan touch it.’
“De king lookee at de head and lookee at de man. He say, ‘How is it dis beast got de hole for de hair but one hair not dere. Tell me where de hair is. I see where it pull out. Who is it dat you want to kill?’
“De man say, ‘I doan want killee nobody. I ain’ touchee de hair. Dats de truth now. If I touchee de hair, let in-si-bi-di’ (that is, may I be turned over to the executioner. Insibidi being the name for the executioner).
“Well dey search de man and find de hair. Den dey try him. All day dey talk palaver. So nex’ day dey find him guilty. So dey say he got to die. He a wicked man what speck to killee somebody wid de hair.
“Derefore, you unnerstand me, dey tie him by de left foot and wait for aku-ire-usen (King’s day, or great day, all executions being saved for this day, though a few are executed on the Queen’s day) den dey takee him to de place of sacrifice.
“De king come wid his seat and all de chiefs bring dey stool too. Dey seatee deyself and de drum beat. It speak wid de voice of de king. Den three insibidi come in de place and dance. One have a mouth-piece dat rattle. He shake de mouth-piece dat rattle. He shake de mouth-piece and sing.
“What he sing? Cudjo goin’ tellee you:
“‘On a great day like this, we kill de
One dat is evil
On a day like this we kill de bad one
Who would command the poison one
from the leopard to kill us.
On a great day like this we kill him
Who would kill the innocent?’
“He dance some more wid de drum and de other two dancee wid him. Den he sing some more:
“‘A great knife dat eats no other blood but human blood.
Let it killee him.
It a great knife—it feed de earth
A great knife dat eats no other blood but human blood.’
“Dey dances some mo’ when de king makee de sign, dey dance up to de man where he tied at and wid one lick, choppee de head off. De head fall to de ground and de mouth work so—it open and shut many time. But quick, they put a piece of de stick from de banana tree in de mouth. Den dey kin open de jaw when dey gittee ready. If dey don’t do dat, de jaw close and dey cain git it open no mo’.
“De body of de man, dey bury it in de ground. De head, dey put it in de sacrifice place wid de other heads.
“De king go back to his village, but de chief have court every day. All day somebody say to him, ‘Dis man, touch my wife! Disa man commit adultery!’
“Everything be done open dere. Not so many secrets. When a man kills somebody dere, he be tried open an’ all de boys and men in de village hear de trial.
“I doan know how come he done it, but one man killee anudder one wid de spear. So dey ’rested dat man an’ tie his hands wid palm cord. Den dey pick up de dead man an’ carry him to de public square, de market place, you unnerstand. Den dey send message by de drum to de king in de village where he at to come set on de trial an’ ’cide de case. In Afficky, you unnerstand, if somebody steal or commit adultery, de chief of de village, he try him. But if a man killee somebody, den dey send for de king an’ he come an’ ’cide de case. Therefore, when dis man spear de udder one through de breast, dey send word for de king to come.
“De ole folks, you unnerstand me, de wise ones, dey go out in de woods and gittee leaves—dey know which ones—an’ mashee de leaves wid water. Den dey paint de dead man all over wid dis so he doan spoil till de king come. Maybe de king doan git dere till de next day. When de king come, my grandfather, he come wid him.
“Befo’ anybody see de king, we know he is almost dere, because we hear de drum. When a little chief travel, he go quiet, but when de king go any place, you unnerstand me, de drum go befo’ to let de people know de king come.
“Dat night everybody sit up wid de dead man, all night, an’ eat meat and drink palm wine and banana beer. Late de next day, you unnerstand me, de king come, wid de chiefs of de udder villages, to help him
“De dead man is laying on de ground in de center where everybody see him. De man dat kill him, he tied where folks kin see him too. Derefore, dey try de man.
“Dey askee de man why he killee dis udder one. He say de man work juju against him so his chile died, an’ his cows dey stay sick all de time. De king say, ‘If this man work juju against you, why doan you tell de chief an’ de headman of de village? Why doan you tell de king? Doan you know we got law for people dat work juju? You ain’ supposed to kill de man.’
“So dey talk an’ all the chiefs settin’ round, dey askee him questions, too.
“In Afficky de law is de law an’ no man cain make out he crazy lak here, an’ get excusee from de law. If you kill anybody, you goin die, too. Dey goin’ killee you. So de king say, ‘I hear de evidence, but this man got no cause to killee dat udder one. Derefore he must die.’
“De man stand dere. He doan cry. He doan talk. He jes’ look straight at de king. Den all de chiefs dey gettee round de king and dey talkee while an’ nobody know what dey say but dem. Den all de chiefs, dey go back an’ takee dere seats again. Den de drums begin to play. De big drum, Kata kumba, de drum dat speaks lak a man, it begins to talk. An’ de man what is insibidi, he begin to dance. Dey lead de murderer out into de center of de square. De insibidi he dance. (Gesture.) And as he dance, he watch de eye of de king, an’ de eye of all de chiefs. One man will give him de sign. Nobody know which one will give de sign. Dey ’cide dat when dey was whispering together.
“Derefore de executioner dance until he get de sign of de hand. Den he dance up to de murderer and touch his breast with the point of de machete. He dance away again an’ de next time he touch de man’s neck wid his knife. The third time dat he touch de man, other men rush out and seize the murderer an’ take-a de palm cord and stretch him face to face upon de dead man, an’ tie him tight so he cain move hisself.
“When de executioner touch de murderer wid his knife, dat is a sign dat he is dead already. So dey wrap de cord around his neck and around de neck of de dead man. Dey wrap de cord around his body an’ around de body of de dead man. Dey wrap his arm an’ de dead man’s arm wid de same cord. His leg is wrapped as one wid de leg of de man he done killed. So dey leave him dere. His nose is tied to de nose of de dead man. His lips touch the lips of de corpse. So dey leave him.
“De king an’ de chief talk palaver ’bout other things while dey watchee de struggles of de murderer.
“Sometime if he be a strong man, an’ de person he kill be little, he manage to get up and go a little away wid de body, but if de corpse be heavy, he lay right dere till he die.
“If he cry for water, nobody pay no attention to him because he is dead since the machete first touch him. So dey say, ‘How can a dead man want water?’ If he cry to be cut loose, nobody pay attention to him. Dey say, ‘How can a dead man want to be loose? De udder dead man doan cry. How come this man cry?’ So dey leave him dere.
“But people watch until he die too. How long it take? Sometime he die next day. Sometime two or three days. He doan live long. People kin stand de smell of de horse, de cow and udder beasts, but no man kin stand de smell in his nostrils of a rotten man.”
When dey try de man dat steal de leopard hair, it de time to cut grass, so it don’t choke de corn. Before de grass be dry ’nough to burn, my grandpa he take sick in his compound. How come he take sick, Cudjo doan know. I a li’l boy and I doan know why he die.
“But Cudjo know his father takee him to de compound of his father. I didn’t see him after he died. Dey bury him right away so no enemy come look down in his face and do his spirit harm. Dey bury him in de house. Dey dig up de clay floor and bury him. We say in de Affica soil, ‘We live wid you while you alive, how come we cain live wid you after you die?’ So, you know dey bury a man in his house.
“De coffin settin dere just lak he in dere. De people come fetchu presents and place dem in de coffin. De first wife she set at de head of de coffin. When somebody came she cry. She cry with a song. De other wives dey join in and cry wid her.
“When we come in, de chief wife of my grandpa got up from de head of de coffin and throw de veil off her face. De udder wives throw off de veil too. De chief wife she weepee very loud and said, ‘It is forty years since he married me, and now you find me a widow. Only yesterday he was worried about his wives and chillun and here he lies today in need of nothing!’
“My father say, ‘Oh de ground eats de best of everything.’ Den he weepee too. De chief wife she cry some more and de udder wives cry and shake de voice, ‘Aiai, Aiai, Aiai!’
“De chief wife say, ‘He was a wonderful man.’ Den my father say, ‘Dat is true, de ground kin prove it.’
“Den we set ourselves on de floor and de wives cover up dere faces and gittee quiet.
“De men sorry he dead too. Dey come bring presents and lookee at de coffin. Dey drink palm wine and sing sorrowful for him a song. ‘O todo ah wah n-law yah-lee, owrran k-nee ra ra k-nee ro ro.’
“Den somebody else come and de chief wife she rise and start de weepin agin. It very sad. Dey see de head of all de wives is shaved. Dey see de cover over de face. Derefore, you unnerstand me, everybody feel sad.
“De first wife, she cry and say:
“‘How long since we were married?
And now we are nothing but a widow
De husband what know how to keep women
De husband what know how to prepare a house
De husband what know every secret of women
De husband what knows what is needed
And gives it without asking—
How long since we were married?
And now we’re nothing but a widow.’
“Dey call my grandpa brave and praise-giving names. Den dey cry with another song:
“‘Whoever shake de leaf of dat tree
(a sweet shrub)
We are still smelling it.
Whoever kill our husband,
We shall never forget.’
“De wives cry lak dat every time somebody come in. When nobody came dey set quiet. Two years they must be widow. One year, dey don’t touchee water to de face. Dey washee it always wid tears. In de Affica soil de women grieve for dey husband lak dat, you unnerstand me.
“All day, all night de people come, and every time somebody come, de women cry.”
Kossula got that remote look in his eyes and I knew he had withdrawn within himself.
I arose to go. “You going very soon today,” he commented.
“Yes,” I said, “I don’t want to wear out my welcome. I want you to let me come and talk with you again.”
“Oh, I doan keer you come see me. Cudjo lak have comp’ny. Now I go water de tater vines. You see kin you find ripe peach on de tree and gittee some take home.”
I put the ladder in the tree and climbed up in easy reach of a cluster of pink peaches. He saw me to the gate and graciously said goodbye.
“Doan come back till de nexy week, now I need choppee grass in de garden.”
In 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 him. For us 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.
“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.
Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes