Prologue: It was just about dusk, when a group of the Asante people of a small village in Ghana gathered around a huge campfire. Minutes later, a gentle old woman came and sat down in the middle of the group. There was complete silence as she put on her colorful red and green kente. She proudly wore the colorful kente as she wrapped it fully around her body. It appeared as if the kente had special powers, seemingly transforming the old woman into a vibrant lively storyteller. As she began to tell just one of the many stories about the brave and heroic tales of the Asante people, there was complete silence. Even the animals of the night seem to respect the powers of the kente, becoming still and quiet. That was almost four hundred years ago. Since that time, the slave traders came into the village, pilfering and hauling all of the once prideful Asante people into the dark hulls of ships. They sailed across vast oceans to America. Their language and culture was gone. Their property and customs were gone. Their original names were gone. And, the magic of the kente was stolen…so they thought.
In a small town in Texas, the gloom and despair of dark clouds hung over the small Smith’s farm that was nestled on five acres of land between two large elm trees.
It was a very sad day as Momma gently folded her faded gray striped dress into her suitcase. Then she folder her blue church dress, and finally, her white blouse. Momma only had one dress for work and one dress for special occasions or attending church.
It was very hard times for our family at the end of the Civil War, and we did not have much money.
“Why do you have to leave anyway Momma?” asked Somer. “Why can’t you just stay here with Jessica, “Big Momma”, and me?”
“There is a lot of work being offered in the city,” said Momma. “And, due to the war, many men are still away from their homes. That means there is plenty of work for women. Maybe I can find a job working on the railroad, or in a steel factory.”
“Sometimes I just hate being poor,” said Somer. “Why do we have to be poor anyway?”
“Don’t you worry, it will be all right,” said Momma. “We just have to have faith in almighty God, and know that he will provide everything that we need.”
As Momma closed her suitcase and snapped the last buckle, tears quietly rolled down Somer’s cheeks, finally ending up on the dusty hard wood floors.
“I will miss you, Momma,” said Somer. “When do you think you will be coming back home?”
“Once I have made some extra money to get us through the year, I will be coming back home,” said Momma. “So until then, you try to help Jessica and Big Momma around the house. I will write and send some money back home.”
It was a lonely feeling seeing Momma gently climbing onto the back of Mr. Jesse Jackson’s old pick-up truck, as she waved goodbye. There were several people already in the back of the truck leaving in search for work in the city.
“Let’s go play,” said Jessica. “Come on lets go play around the house.”
Jessica was trying to cheer up Somer and get her mind off Momma leaving. However, Somer did not feel like playing at all.
The first night, she just sat by the window thinking about Momma, and when she would be coming back home. Somer stayed by the window all night long, gazing up at the stars, counting each star, one by one, until she was fast asleep still resting on the window sill.
Weeks passed with Somer and Jessica playing and working around the house. Early one morning, Somer was awakened by the sounds of footsteps coming closer and closer towards her bedroom.
“Baby Girl, let’s get up and go hunting,” said Big Momma.
Somer’s grandmother always called her “Baby Girl”. “Maybe we can spot a possum, “Baby Girl”, or a beaver for a good stew for when your mother returns back home.”
Somer ate mostly rice and red beans, because meat was very scarce. Normally, Momma would be the one that went hunting with Big Momma in the mornings. But, Somer had fun spending time with Big Momma while waiting patiently on some game.
About an hour later, Big Momma had a beaver in the sight of her shotgun. After picking up the beaver, Somer could head the distant cries of hungry wild hogs in search of food. “Come on “Baby Girl!” shouted Big Momma. “Let’s get out of here!”
After Somer and Big Momma ran back home, with their beaver still in hand, Somer asked, “When do you think Momma will be coming back home?”
“I don’t know child, but it should be soon,” replied Big Momma.
“Somer you are really doing a great job helping me around the house.”
That night, Somer could hear the sounds of dry coughing coming from Big Momma’s bedroom. At first, she did not think it was serious, until the following morning when Big Momma did not get up out of bed. She was still covered with two quilts and shaking with a fever.
“Child, I am sick,” said Big Momma. “Go and get Ms.Toni that lives down the road.”
Ms.Toni was a midwife and medicine woman.
Somer quickly got dressed and ran out into the cold frost morning air. It was a two-mile trip to Ms.Toni’s house, but Somer knew of a short cut that she and some of the kids had made while playing.
As she knocked on the door, Ms.Toni was in the kitchen cooking some red beans and rice.
“Ms.Toni, Ms.Toni!” shouted Somer. “Big Momma is very sick, and needs your help!”
Ms.Toni rushed to the door, and minutes later, they were both running back to Somer’s house.
“No, no!” shouted Somer. “Not that way. I know of a shortcut!”
“We it just in time, Somer” said Ms.Toni. “But, this potion of herbs and medicines should make your Big Momma feel all better.”
For the next several weeks, Somer was in charge of the house as Big Momma was getting better. She cooked the meals, chop the wood, and tended to the livestock.
One morning while feeding the chickens, Somer spotted the mail carrier approaching the house.
“I have a letter for you,” said the mail carrier. “And, it’s from your mother in the city.”
As Big Momma read the letter, she pulled out a new crisp $10 dollar bill.
“Your mother is working as a housekeeper in a steel mill, and misses you very much,” said Big Momma. “She will be coming home around Christmas Eve.”
Although we did not have much money, I thought about something special for I could do for Momma for a Christmas gift. Finally, it was Christmas Eve night as Somer waited for Momma to come home.
After getting the house all decorated in green and red ribbon, Somer waited patiently next to the fireplace. It was around 2:00a.m., when she finally heard the sounds of Mr. Jackson’s old pick-up truck coming to a squeaking halt. As the door was gently and quietly opened, Somer rushed to give her Momma a big hug and kiss.
Later that morning, while sitting around the kitchen table.
“I’m very sorry I don’t’ have a nice Christmas present for you Momma,” said Somer.
“But, here is a Christmas card that I made all by myself.”
“You have already given me the best Christmas present ever,” said her Mother as she read the card. “Merry Christmas, Love Somer.”
Later that evening, they all sat around the fireplace, as Big Momma, put on her red and green kente that was handed down from her great grandmother. Big Momma told mother all about how Somer took care her while she was sick, and the household while she was away.
Then she told them an old story their ancestors and the Asante people.
“Some day, this will be your kente,” said Big Momma. “And, you will have to keep the history and tradition of the Asante people alive through storytelling.”
Somer just smiled, and was happy to be with her mother and family.
Epilogue: And, a new generation is experiencing the magic of the Kente storytelling, history, pride, respect and dignity is passed on from one generation to the next. And, the magic continues…today.
©2007 Geary Smith