Divas and Dead Rebels: Volume 4 (Dixie Divas)

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The throbbing tones hugged the low earth, too, like the sultry heat beneath the Southern moon, beguiling men from normal ways of thinking.

When old man Spiles appears in Union blue, beating his drum, some Southerners protest at the view of a Yankee uniform worn by a Negro but lawyer Chester, a respected white figure, placates them. In fact, the black grandfather is an ambivalent character. His harmless appearance and his claim that he is a general make him something of a jester.

Yet, his person and behavior carry a different message for the blacks. His claim that he was "bo'n wif a caul" 32 makes him an avatar of High John the Conqueror, the mythical folk hero. Matheus' criticism of segregation is incidental, however. The narrative soon focuses on the love rivalry between two blacks. Charlie is jealous of Malissy's musing over the heroic death of Jimmie whom, he claims, he could not rescue and, in the night he hears the beating of drums, re-lives through the terror of "going over the top" and the death of his friend whom, in fact, he shot in the back.

The villain is definitely black, not white, and when he betrays himself he is compelled to leave town by lawyer Chester, clearly an embodiment of justice. Ebony and Topaz, Zabette, a comely peasant girl and an excellent dancer is in love with Mougalou whose passion for drumming leads him to spend days in the mountains, with Gros Jean, another drummer.


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The tambour is described as one "made by stretching a goatskin over part of a tree trunk, varying from six to twelve inches in diameter, from two and one half to three feet tall, hollowed out and left open at the bottom" p. It is beaten with the bare hand, alternating the heel of the palm with outstretched, flexible fingers. Another, larger drum, a gourd filled with pebbles, and two heavy pieces of iron comprise the rest of the band's instruments. Mougalou claims that when he makes the drums talk, "they whisper the long lost secrets of the Congo.

They tell the story of black warriors crashing through the African jungles" 5. Their brawl is interrupted by the arrival of troops looking for Cacos. Those rebels may sometimes plunder the peasants but they are less brutal than the soldiers who take the drummers away on Coisac's accusation. In Scene Two, Coisac courts Zabette; he intimidates her into agreeing that the outcome of a cockfight will carry her acceptance of him.

But Coisac, unafraid of mamaloi and papaloi, shoots the snake. The old peasant then beats the drum and calls upon the spirits of the former leaders for help: "Ah Haiti, you have fallen from the days of our great founders Let the shades of Louverture and Dessalines and Christophe and Petion draw nigh and lead us out of that darkness" p. African-like proverbs are quoted "Before the hen, the cockroach is always wrong" p.

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In "Tambour" one could learn that a ouanga is a charm, often a love charm. From the start, the title of the opera makes this clear. Dessalines' ambitions have been interpreted diversely by local and American historians; here Matheus refuses to take sides; he simply chronicles the dire results of the Emperor's opposition to ouanga. The prediction made by the ghost of Toussaint Louverture in Dessalines' dream seems to condemn his policy; yet this is only a dream, even though the ghost vindicates fidelity to tradition for the benefit of the folk.

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The church bells ring in distant Port-au-Prince. Alone, the abandoned Dessalines sings of Haiti, of his love for his beautiful land, and mingled feelings of apprehension for her and his own fate. She invokes the curse with the cry of Ouanga. The sound of drums beating in the mountains sends forth the message of Dessalines' death. Indeed when White and Matheus decided to collaborate on an opera based on the story of the first emperor of Haiti, they visited the country to study its history and beliefs on a Julius Rosenwald grant.

The opera was performed in concert in Chicago in and staged very successfully in South Bend, Indiana, ten years later. Although this paper concentrates on the treatment of the African-based ethnic culture of black Americans, and by extension of the diaspora, an original element balances this "racial" perspective. Matheus may have accepted for a while the tenets of "the New Negro" movement but it does not entail that his views were primarily Afrocentric.

On the contrary, largely because he was well-travelled, he came closer to the multiracial and multiethnic conception of America sketched in Jean Toomer's "Blue Meridian" As late as the s, Matheus would make non-nationalistic choices. He also explored the black and white conflict in terms of the "twoness" of the African American soul stressed by W. B DuBois, i. In that respect, a most revealing play is certainly "Ti Yette," in which a New Orleans Creole of color starts hating his sister when she dates a white man during the Mardi Gras season.

Matheus was very close to many of his contemporaries of the Harlem Renaissance, notably Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes. Among the more original aspects of his writings are his interest in African cultural extensions coupled with a reluctance to idealize this heritage. Not all blacks are positive characters in his fiction.

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True, when blacks are pitted against whites, the latter emerge as villains. But this often occurs only in the characters' eyes. The author's own approach is widely humanistic and leads him to transcend racial categories, to adopt a multi-ethnic perspective recognizing the differences between various European minorities as well as between social classes.

Contrary to the "melting pot" ideology, the acceptance of ethnic variety helps in establishing democracy and equality. Matheus admittedly advocated integration, meaning acceptance on equal terms, social and cultural, not assimilation via the "melting pot" As a result, his works take on a special resonance today and deserve to be remembered and studied.

Matheus, edited by Leonard A. Slade, Jr. You can suggest to your library or institution to subscribe to the program OpenEdition Freemium for books. Feel free to give our address: contact openedition. It saves more than just antebellum homes from total destruction; it also saves volunteer firemen from unnecessarily dealing with hysterical, half-dressed, fully-drenched women. When I returned to the porch, Bitty set her drink on the wicker side table and took the bottled water for the dog.

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My upbringing was different, although not as much as one might think. Bitty learned the proper function of every piece of dining utensil from a cocktail fork to a fish knife. My siblings and I learned not to throw dining utensils at the table. That makes Bitty and I first cousins.

The best friends part of our relationship happened when we were around six, and held strong all through our childhoods, until young adulthood took us down different paths. Even though I married and moved off and only returned to Holly Springs a little over nine months ago, we picked up right where we left off in terms of friendship. In a world that often seems to have gone crazy, this continuity is comforting.

As well as a bit dangerous at times. Since returning home, my friendship with Bitty and a group of local women in a club known as the Dixie Divas has encountered The oddest situation being murder. Until this past year, I had never known anyone who was murdered or a murderer.


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  • My education has broadened quite a bit. By that, I certainly do not mean that she is in any way to blame for the actual murder or murders. Or murderers. Despite my occasional jest at her expense—and only in the most loving way—I am well aware that Bitty just has the bad fortune to know most everyone in and around Holly Springs. A few spiteful people have mentioned that she seems to draw trouble these days, but I am not one of them. His unexpected death and the subsequent investigation had tongues wagging from the east to the west coast, I understand. If most of the proposals had not come from the prison population, Bitty may well have embarked upon another adventure.

    Thankfully, Jackson Lee Brunetti, her attorney and chief male admirer, does an admirable job of keeping away the riff-raff. Bless his heart. What could be more perfect? That afternoon on her porch, I had actually begun to think the drama and danger of the past few months just might have ended forever. After all, we had gone for nine weeks without a single bit of trouble out of the ordinary.

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    By that, I mean no one we knew had gotten murdered. Or arrested for murder. I felt congratulations were in order. Bitty lifted her freshly waxed eyebrows at me. Parrish and Patrice Hollandale won their lawsuit against me. Since Philip is dead, your alimony payments would have stopped anyway. Jackson Lee just got you a really nice settlement instead. She should have. I have since learned that I have a tendency toward premature congratulation. One would think I would have realized that before.

    In retrospect, maybe I am still vulnerable to insanity. After all, I had recently divorced my husband of nearly thirty years, quit my job, and after long phone conversations with my elderly—and unexpectedly mobile—parents, decided it would be best if I came home to care for them.

    It probably took me longer than any normal person would have required to figure out that my return home to nurse feeble parents was in reality a new position as travel agent and caretaker to an endearing, if neurotic, dog and a couple hundred feral cats. My parents require no nursing, just chauffeuring to and from airplane and boat terminals.

    I am willing, if not delighted, to oblige.