"I done been in sorrow's kitchen, and ah licked de pots clean." ~ Gullah

Amelia's Song
A SONG LED THEM HOME

In 1933 African American linguist Lorenzo Turner and musicologist Lydia Parish visited Harris Neck and recorded 53-year-old Amelia Dawley singing a song that had been taught to her by her mother.  The song, in a language unknown to Mrs. Dawley, had been passed down in her family from mother to daughter as far back as anyone in Harris Neck could remember.

 

In 1997 Amelia’s daughter, Mary Moran, and other members of the Moran family were invited to Sierra Leone, West Africa, where they were welcomed in Freetown by Sierra Leone’s President and then flown by helicopter to the country’s interior.  There, in the small village of Senehun Ngola, Mary and Bendu Jabati met and sang this song together for the first time.  Years earlier, Bendu’s grandmother had told her that this song, which had been passed down in her village from mother to daughter for centuries, would one day reunite her to long-lost relatives.

 

Through a series of amazing and perhaps miraculous events – and lots of hard work – beginning in the late 1980s, anthropologist  Joseph Opala first rediscovered this song and then, with the help of musicologist Cynthia Schmidt and others, traced the song from Senehun Ngola to Harris Neck.  

In addition to finding out where in Africa her ancestors were abducted into slavery, Mary Moran discovered the meaning of the Mende song.  

A processional hymn for the final farewell to the spirit, it was sung in Senehun Ngola by women as they prepared the body of a loved one for burial.

 

The Language You Cry In is the award winning film that traces the connections between the Moran family and the people of Harris Neck with those of Senehun Ngola.  It can be ordered by calling (912) 832-4549.

 

Here is the text of the song as it is sung in its original Mende and its English translation. 

 

(To hear the 1933 recording of Amelia Dawley and a recent recording of Mary Moran click the audio player below.)

Amelia's SongArtist Name
00:00 / 01:47

A GULLAH SONG IN MENDE

Sung by Amelia Dawley

 

Gullah Version

Ah wakuh muh monuh kambay yah lee luh lay tambay 
Ah wakuh muh monuh kambay yah lee luh lay kah 
Ha suh wileego seehai yuh gbangah lilly 
Ha suh wileego dwelin duh kwen 
Ha suh willeego seehi yuh kwendaiyah 

Corresponding text in Modern Mende by Tazieff Koroma, Edward Benva and Joseph Opala

A wa kaka, mu mohne; kambei ya le'i; lii i lei tambee. 
A wa kaka, mu mohne; kambei ya le'i; lii i lei ka. 
So ha a guli wohloh, i sihan; yey kpanggaa a lolohhu lee.
So ha a guli wohloh; ndi lei; ndi let, kaka. 
So ha a guli wohloh, i sihan; kuhan ma wo ndayia ley.

A GULLAH SONG IN MENDE

ENGLISH TRANSLATION

 

Everyone come together, let us work hard;  the grave is not yet finished; let his heart be perfectly at peace;

 

Everyone come together, let us work hard; 
the grave is not yet finished; let his heart be at peace at once. 
Sudden death commands everyone’s attention, 
like a firing gun. 
Sudden death commands everyone’s attention, 
oh elders, oh heads of the family. 
Sudden death commands everyone’s attention, 
like a distant drum beat

The Arts and Humanities: Support for the Arts. Government funding for the arts has been extremely limited and most artists are self-supported.

Literature: There are rich and lively traditions of storytelling across Sierra Leone. The most famous storytellers (sometimes endearingly called "liars") can manage to earn a living from their trade, though mostly these traditions are informal affairs, and start when children gather around an elder under the full moon once the evening chores are done. There are also critically acclaimed Sierra Leonean novels, such as The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar , by Syl Cheney-Coker (Heinmann Books).

Performance Arts: A few famous Sierra Leonean musicians have gained widespread appeal both at home and abroad, such as "S. E. Rogers," "Calendar," "Dr. Oloh," and "Salliah." There is even a national dance troupe that travels around the world. To a large extent, however, participation in the arts is widely diffused and informal; dancing, painting, singing, storytelling, tie-dying, weaving, and drumming, which is often begun in childhood.