Traditional Haitian Instrument
THE SINGING WOOD
Author: Marianne Poncelet
Once upon a time there was a little girl who lived on a lush, mountainous island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. This island had known many stories. Many people had come to the island, many had settled there. But it had always kept its splendour and solar power.
This little girl's name was Alizée. She was born in a family of musicians, because on this island, music was like air: an indispensable element of life.
She used to go in the forest with her grandfather and find the tree that would provide the necessary materials to build beautiful musical instruments. He was a Master-Rara, that is, the leader of the primitive brass band whose knowledge was transmitted from one generation to the next. The Rara was also a capacity to enter in contact with the spirits of nature and to invoke their protection with the help of musical instruments related to this nature, such as vaccines for example: long bamboo tubes into which one blows and which produce haunting and hypnotising sounds. There were also mannoubas - small metal slats attached to a box -, the ogan - an instrument to accompany the sacred music produced by two pieces of iron clashing together-, the graj, the ti-gambos and the flute. All these instruments composed the Rara, and Alizée loved to take part in it, especially around Carnival, when her island would take on a joyful and festive look.
That morning, she went lightly towards the nearby forest. She wanted to find the wood that would serve as the material to create the beautiful vaccine she dreamed of. After walking for some time among the tall bamboos, she arrived in front of a tall and straight tree raising its green head to the sky as an offering. It looked like the king of bamboos. Alizée knelt down in front of him, and asked his permission to take one of its branches. In return, she gave him a gift: a small statuette she had created with her own hands from clay of the nearby river. For the soul of the tree had to be able to live in its music, and for that it required his approval. Leaving him an offering guaranteed his good will.
Alizée cut a beautiful branch with her little machete. She smiled at the tree, stroked its bark and then returned to her grandfather's house. He adjusted the piece of bamboo, and inserted a small membrane into it to produce sounds more easily. He also attached a leather mouthpiece and gave it to the little girl, promising her that every time she would blow into the piece of bamboo, the wood would sing and perhaps the world would respond.
Alizée ran to the nearby sea and blew into the vaccine. A deep sound came out of it, so beautiful, so deep, so haunting, that the sea waves seemed to hesitate for a moment. It was like time was suspended. All of a sudden, a dolphin came out of the water and answered the little girl. They exchanged many sounds, full of laughter and splashes. Then the dolphin dove back into the sea and disappeared.
Alizée gazed at the horizon, then stroked her musical instrument. She not only had a piece of wood in her hands that sang, but she also had the key to a new world.
She left smiling, hugging her beautiful singing wood against her heart.