We are south of Senegal, maybe Guinea, maybe Ghana, or maybe as far east as the Congo. In any event, there is a woman and she’s smiling; putting her body and her hands to work to the multitasking of the rhythm of hips, rolling shoulders and the calming beat of the sounds that influence them. You must not however get distracted by her dancing as if of some stereotypical performance the Africans must put on, for her tribes have always been comprised of dancers and musicians. After a wedding, and even after battle, the men assemble their drums and the women their bodies to tap into a spiritual formation of triumphant celebration. So, the woman is dancing, and showcasing the bright red and blue colors against her skin; the dyed cloths her mothers have handmade from fresh berries. Her hair is braided in plaits; it is strength like strong rope. The woman is gorgeous and the men stare as her chocolate skin glistens in the sun, soft and smooth like silk. He nods, returning her smile. She blushes, rolling back and forth to the appreciation of his hands, slamming with authority against djembe drums, a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum, as if massaging against her skin. The year is 1619, and she has just turned seventeen. Waiting this day to which he would smile at her since childhood.
Abba looks her way, it is what she calls Papa Joe, forcing her to turn off seductive eyes and transform into his innocent little girl giggling away in mama’s arms. Placing her index finger on mama’s lips she hopes she has gained enough trust in her to keep silent for daddy must not ever find out about her secret love. If so he may begin to think she no longer belongs to him, for in her village it is custom that when a woman found a man her father gives up his reign, and it now belongs to her husband. And this she can’t bring herself to fathom, that one of those fine strong men will take her away from King Joe. The one who have always protected her and was known for treating mama like a queen, yet it is what she wishes for, to be queen. For a chance to wear golden nose rings and flaring dresses— yes, to be queen is what she wants. The sounds of the village men still heard in the background of her thoughts; slamming strong hands into drums in time for her body to move in that way.
The night has come, and Papa prepares the tent for sleep, driving the stakes into the ground. The roof is thatched with reeds, the walls and floors covered with mats. She lays awake, this woman. No, better yet this princess. Her eyes wander from the plantain from which her bed is made, to the mats three feet below her. Her eyes cannot stop to think of morning when the village men will approach each tent in that they may search out their future wife. This was done every year to service the anxious seventeen year olds, young women who’d prepared for this day since infancy. Seventeen because the number seven is symbolic of perfection, and it is their belief that seventeen years represented the completeness of their womanhood, perfectly fit to become someone’s wife. For this reason alone she cannot sleep, there is just too much excitement! She would never be seen as a child again, for on this day she would officially become a woman. A man would soon leave his father and mother to cling onto her. And she would serve her husband like mama does Papa Joe and her children she would raise to be the most upright of all her country. If only upon the awakening of the sun it will rest on the heart of him, to choose her.
Yet the night is not complete. Mama screams, obliterating her thoughts into pieces of confusion as storms of men with pale faces invade the village. She cannot catch herself before falling, ropes that smell like death have embraced her space and blood creeps in from outside the tent; and then there was darkness. Pitch black darkness as if the moon, that usually sent pieces of light tapping against each tent, had suddenly run away from the men with pale faces and yellow teeth. Baby girl had never seen them before. They could have been men or they could have been monsters, she didn’t know, and had nothing else to do but wait. This woman or better yet, this princess. This semi-woman waiting in the darkness to become queen.