THE CONGO

 

                                                                         A STUDY OF THE NEGRO RACE

                                                                           VACHEL LINDSAY (1879-1931)

 

I. Their Basic Savagery

 

Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room,

Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,

Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,

Pounded on the table,

Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,

Hard as they were able,

Boom, boom, BOOM.

With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.

THEN I had religion, THEN I had a vision.

I could not turn from their revel in derision.

THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,

CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.

 

Then along that riverbank

A thousand miles

Tattooed cannibals danced in files;

Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song

And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong.

And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,

"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,

'Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle,

Harry the uplands,

Steal all the cattle,

Rattle-rattle, rattle-rattle,

Bing.

Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM,"

A roaring epic, rag-time tune

From the mouth of the Congo

To the Mountains of the Moon.

Death is an Elephant,

Torch-eyed and horrible,

Foam-Banked and terrible.

BOOM, steal the pygmies,

BOOM, kill the Arabs,

BOOM, kill the white men,

Hoo, Hoo, Hoo.

Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost

Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.

Hear how the demons chuckle and yell

Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.

Listen to the creepy proclamation,

Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation,

Blown past the white-ants' hill of clay,

Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play:

 

"Be careful what you do,

Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo, And all of the other

Gods of the Congo,

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you."

 

II. The Hope of Their Religion

 

A good old negro in the slums of the town

Preached at a sister for her velvet gown.

Howled at a brother for his low-down ways,

His prowling, guzzling, sneak-thief days.

Beat on the Bible till he wore it out

Starting the jubilee revival shout.

And some had visions, as they stood on chairs,

And sang of Jacob, and the golden stairs,

And they all repented, a thousand strong,

From their stupor and savagery and sin and wrong,

And slammed with their hymn books till they shook the room

With "Glory, glory, glory,"

And "Boom, boom, BOOM."

THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,

CUTTING THROUGH THE JUNGLE WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.

And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil

And showed the Apostles with their coats of mail.

In bright white steel they were seated round

And their fire-eyes watched where the Congo wound.

And the twelve Apostles, from their thrones on high,              ,

Thrilled all the forest with their heavenly cry:

"Mumbo-Jumbo will die in the jungle;

Never again will he hoo-doo you,

Never again will he hoo-doo you."

 

Then along that river, a thousand miles,

The vine-snared trees fell down in files.

Pioneer angels cleared the way

For a Congo paradise, for babes at play,

For sacred capitals, for temples clean.

Gone were the skull-faced witch-men lean.

There, where the wild-ghost-gods had wailed

A million boats of the angels sailed

With oars of silver, and prows of blue

And silken pennants that the sun shone through.

'Twas a land transfigured, 'twas a new creation.

Oh, a singing wind swept the negro nation

And on through the backwoods clearing flew:

"Mumbo-Jumbo is dead in the jungle.

Never again will he hoo-doo you.

Never again will he hoo-doo you."

 

Redeemed were the forests, the beasts and the men,

And only the vulture dared again

By the far, lone mountains of the moon

To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune:

"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.

Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,

Mumbo . . . Jumbo. . . will . . . hoo-doo . . . you:"