I love my hair and I whip it back and forth; I love me

Sesame Street and Willow Smith have decreed this week (and last week) days of empowerment for black girls/ladies/women everywhere.

As I was thinking about this, I came across this poem we used to recite, back in primary school. It’s by Bernard Dadié, a reknown and notable African author. I don’t know if grade school students in America have poem recitation in their curriculum, but I’ve seen people do public reading in my classes, when we first came to the United States. No life, No emotions, no gestures. Many even dreaded being picked to do it. I remember primary school. The first poem you learned is, “Ma main. Voici ma main, elle a cinq doigts…” As you were reciting this with all the other kindergartners, you were learning French, learning to count and learning the names of the different digits that made up your hand.

One year, the poem in the curriculum was “Je vous remercie mon Dieu, de m’avoir créé Noir” or “I thank you my God for having created me Black”. At the time, I didn’t fully grasp the meaning. Now, reflecting back on it, I’m getting a whole lot more out of it and I can’t wait to go back and re-read a lot of African classics.

Je vous remercie mon Dieu, de m’avoir créé Noir,
d’avoir fait de moi
la somme de toutes les douleurs,
mis sur ma tête,
le Monde.
J’ai la livrée du Centaure
Et je porte le Monde depuis le premier matin.

Le blanc est une couleur de circonstance
Le noir, la couleur de tous les jours
Et je porte le Monde depuis le premier soir.

Je suis content
de la forme de ma tête
faite pour porter le Monde,
Satisfait
de la forme de mon nez
Qui doit humer tout le vent du Monde,
Heureux
de la forme de mes jambes
Prêtes à courir toutes les étapes du Monde.

Je vous remercie mon Dieu,
de m’avoir créé Noir,
d’avoir fait de moi,
la somme de toutes les douleurs.
Trente-six épées ont transpercé mon coeur.
Trente-six brasiers ont brûlé mon corps.
Et mon sang sur tous les calvaires a rougi la neige,
Et mon sang à tous les levants a rougi la nature.

Je suis quand même
Content de porter le Monde,
Content de mes bras courts
de mes bras longs
de l’épaisseur de mes lèvres.
Je vous remercie mon Dieu, de m’avoir créé Noir,
Le blanc est une couleur de circonstance
Le noir, la couleur de tous les jours
Et Et je porte le Monde depuis l’aube des temps.
mon rire sur le Monde, dans la nuit, créé le Jour.
Je vous remercie mon Dieu, de m’avoir créé Noir.

Here’s the English Translation

I thank You my God for having created me Black

For having made me

The porter of all sorrows,

Set on my head

The World.

I wear the Centaur’s hide

And I’ve been carrying the world since the first morning.

White is a color for special occasions

Black, the color for every day

And I’ve been carrying the World since the first evening.

I’m happy about

The Shape of my head

Made to carry the world.

Satisfied with

The shape of my nose

That must inhale all the winds in the World.

Happy about the shape of my legs

Ready to run all the steps of the World.

I thank You my God

For having made me Black,

For having made me

The porter of all sorrows

Thirty-six swords have pierced my heart

Thirty-six fires have burned my body

And my blood on all the roadways has turned the snow Red

And my blood at every sunrise has turned Nature Red.

Still I am

Glad to carry the World.

Glad of my short arms

Of my long arms

Of the thickness of my lips.

I thank You my God, for having made me Black.

White is a color for special occasions

Black, the color for every day

And I’ve been carrying the World since the dawn of Time.

My laugh on the World, in the night, created Day.

I thank You my God, for having made me Black.

Advertisements
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to I love my hair and I whip it back and forth; I love me

  1. Mr. Black Man says:

    What a pretty depressing poem. The impression it gives me is that being black sucks but let’s just thank God anyway. Why should I be just “satisfied with the shape of my nose” and not ecstatic? Why must I be the “porter of all sorrows”? And why is black synonymous with the mundane?

    • That African Girl says:

      Hey Mr. Black Man,
      How’s it going? I don’t think this is a depressing poem, when you put it into context. Dadie was writing at a period when Africa, especially his country, Cote d'”ivoire was coming out of the colonial era. The French policies was to have their colonies believe that they were French, that by speaking the language, wearing their clothes and acting in their manner, one would be considered French. At the same time, they upheld their superiority over their black colonies. So, I think Dadie was looking around and saying, the whole (colonial) world may not look at Africa as worthy, (The 36 swords refer to the 36 colonial powers), they may draw black people as carricature, but Africa is worth it. Africans matter.

      His novel, Le Pagne Noir, deals with similar themes.

  2. Paula says:

    So interesting! Your narrative about reciting poems in primary school make me think about my years in Haiti. Sadly, instead of learning poems written by Haitians or other Caribbean or Black people, I only remember studying fables of Lafontaine– “Le loup et l’agneau”, “La cigale et la fourmi… I wish that all the girls in that school I went to could have the opportunity to learn and recite poems that reinforce their Haitian identity.

    I also appreciate your explanation above. A part of me felt like Mr. Black Man, but I could also sense something else. I think you’ve described well why this poem is important. Thanks!

    • That African Girl says:

      Hey Paula,
      How’s it going? Thank you for chiming in. I remember memorizing poems of La Fontaine as well. It was a mix of African authors and French authors. Looking back at it, it was a quite progressive education. All our textbooks had African characters with African names,doing activities that, we, students could relate to.

      I wish that meant that we felt empowered and secure in our identities. While we learned about African Literature, African heroes and stories behind Colonialism, there were also people around me that were bleaching their skin and people with light skin getting preferential treatment over dark-skinned people. It’s a dichotomy, duality that I’m still struggling to understand.

      If you were to delve today into Haitian Literature and poetry, which author(s) would you start out with?

  3. Adjo Kouadio says:

    I’m so glad that you posted this poem! Outside of the general theme of black and African pride, it really underscores the things that are going on in the Ivory Coast today. Colonialism still holds the country hostage-as evidenced by the recent election and subsequent violence. It all stems from a division that was created by the French…and is now being perpetrated by Ivorians against their fellow countrymen. My father is Ivorian and I grew up with this poem framed on our apartment wall. Even as a child, this poem said to me…”value the things in you that are ‘black’…embrace your African heritage and culture…and don’t allow the world to take it away from you or make less of it’s significance.” Thanks for reminding me to feel that way!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s