Tuesday, February 14, 2017

 Women, Resistance and the Power of Song “The ability to use song as a weapon of social control is a valued skill in Haiti, as it is in several other Afro-American settings. Where the social norms emphasize the avoidance of direct confrontation, singing, typically under the transparent veil of nondirected, objectified discourse, serves asa vehicle for venting hostilities and exercising power.  ( Richamn, 1987)

Singing and dancing as a means of resistance and self identity in Haiti

 From the book, Where Hands are Many
This community song, speaks to my country, as well.
 Home Folks Where Are You? Home folks where are you?Let us join together to advance the struggleThe struggle is hard, we must move forwardLet’s get together and see if we can do it. We’re living in a country torn by animosityPeople are betraying their friends for moneyThey’re assassinating a population for seeking after libertyHome folks where are you? Women, where are you? You must say where you stand!The struggle has room for all,And women have a role at the helmTighten your headscarves, hold hands and let’s forward.Where are you women?
   In Haiti, everything of importance begins and ends with a song.   Mothers are taught the warning signs in pregnancy through song.  The matrones are taught sterile technique through song.  Singing is woven into the fabric of life. Once I was helping to support a protest of cutting old growth forests in Oregon.  It went on for many days and nights.   When we decided to sing, a person stopped us and said, “Singing is for the 60”s.   We don’t sing anymore.” I considered the possibility of resistance without song; of all the civil rights songs and labor songs.   I think of how song united generations to oppose unjust wars and oppression. 
 “We don’t sing anymore.”    That moment has stayed with me.  In a protest; one person telling another that they cannot sing.
 My country loves singers but not necessarily singing.   Our Grammy winning singers make statements for us but, we, as a culture, don’t sing.  We listen to singers.  We have famous singers at our rallies and protests but singing is difficult.
 Singing is related to talent in the US.  We have popular television shows about talent- not the joy of singing.  In Haiti, singing is part of being human, a part of the community, of being Haitien.
 I once started a school, in which we agreed that we would start each day with a song.  This was back when we were dreaming up a perfect school day.  When we tried to think about the importance of the flow of a day and not just what was taught. 
 At first, everyone loved to sing.  It was a powerful part of the school day and the teachers all 100% sang too.  The songs taught cultural norms of kindness and respect as well as concepts of ecology and history.  Being a “good “singer was not important.   We sang with love and joy.  It was a form of joyful resistance to mainstream education.   Back then; we had many partnerships with Native American groups who reinforced the belief that singing was a vital part of any day.   It was a means of offering gratitude. Overtime, the singing was cut back.  Teachers rarely sang with their classes.   A specialist was required to lead singing.  It became a subject and not a core part of the human experience.   The children, learning from the adults, also stopped believing.   It no longer was a core identity. It was a tradition without belief. 
 Some people believe we are all born with a song that will take us through life; a note, a phrase, a sound that stays with us.  We only have to find it and bring it into the world. In these post- inauguration days, I wonder who will write and sing our collective songs of common identity and resistance?  
 At night, in Cabestore, I listen to drumming and singing that goes on all night long.   People walk many miles to places I cannot see and sing in unison for hours.  Someone says, “Are you afraid?”   But I am not afraid.  I am in awe. My generation sang their way through the Civil Right movement and Vietnam.  But at some point, the collective song gave way to entertainment and rock icons and millionaire. I was at Woodstock.   This was later called a defining moment of my generation.  The Woodstock generation is in the white house now and in congress and it is anything but a “Summer of Love.”   We stopped singing, sat back and bought more and more technology to listen to music; not to be the music.  We became iPods and iTunes but rarely “we sing. “   We karaoke but even that is competitive.
 At Woodstock, Country Joe and the Fish screams,  “There are thousands of you out there and I can’t hear you sing.” and he tried again. “One, two, three, four, what are we fighting for.”   But neither the song nor the movement lasted for long.
  Pete Seeger kept saying, “You need to learn to sing together. I will sing with you but not for you.” For over twenty years, I hosted a Family Sing but over time, the guitar players left to become performers and the singers felt too lost without them.
 And so in my lessons learned on resistance from Haiti, I offer the suggestion of song.    When Haitien women sing, I can see that they have transcended poverty to a place of power and self-identity. 

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