The doldrums of ‘another village Saturday’ had oozed in on me. The morning had been entertaining enough—I had taken transport with Amara to Masampe to go on a monkey hunt—then returned in time to cook a large lunch. I had marked or melted all the tests that cover my house like snow after exams, and having just finished This Side of Paradise I wasn’t wanting to pick up another book right away. I decided my afternoon activities must lay out of doors somewhere, so I passed time visiting with neighbors till the sun started to fall. I have a walk I like to go on in the cool part of the day, so I made my way down to the abandoned rice-processing complex where bats hide in the echoing buildings till dusk.
Being the dry season, it’s not uncommon to hear the bush societies testing their drums for a night of ceremonies or rituals as the sun goes down. This evening was no exception, and the popping started, sporadically, as the last of the birds found their perches for the night. I made my way back towards home thinking that the drumming was irregular. As I neared Morbaya, my neighborhood, the pounding became louder until I was passing a field of torches. Previously the football field of a primary school, fire and music had transformed it into a different kind of arena—the torches describing an ellipse around what would take me volumes to describe if I could manage to find the words. I stood and watched with the rest of my village for three hours before making my way home and going to bed, the drums still following their patterns in through my window.
I remember thinking that these are the things I don’t take pictures of. It wouldn’t make sense to. I don’t want to remember this as a snapshot, only as wide as the camera’s eye. I don’t want this blur of black muscle and ecstatic dance to be reduced to a cemented face and frozen form. Faulty memory turns torches redder, makes the half moon smolder and frenetic movements bolder. Which is how all this is meant to be taken in and kept—as a living, rich memory and not a frieze. This dance and its affectations aren’t for entertainment. This isn’t done so a man wearing a costume can have money thrown at his feet—all this show is to invite and invoke everything that exists outside of walls. This devil hasn’t left the bush to tell its story with dance, but has brought me to a torch lit place inside itself and pulled into this form from vines and jungle floor. I don’t want to remember that the devil’s right antler forks then twines, and I don’t want to be able to count the polished shells cascading through the thick green tufts on its back. I’m glad my weak mind will blend and distort it all until it’s a kinetic memory of how a breathing jungle interacts with us, it’s tolerated guests. Instead of as urgent beating on carved drums, the interminable throbbing will be remembered as a forest’s heartbeat. Instead of breathy pan flutes, memory will record the notes as the hundred birds that whistle to each other about the dangers climbing up towards their nests. The occluding dust that the devil kicks up with its staccato movements hide it like the morning fog near the river, till it blows high enough to catch the firelight, lighting it like one of the uncontrollable blazes that rack the dry season. You can’t photograph a jungle’s soul. It wouldn’t make sense to take a picture of this.