Thursday, March 30, 2006

Music Festival (Sun, 26 Feb.)

Once I left the folks with whom I had shared the audio recordings, I resumed my course: heading for the music festival under Loru. If I understand correctly, they have this event on the last Sunday of each month. Some folks called it a music “competition.” But after seeing it, I term it a “festival,” for there does not (to my eyes) seem to be much of competition about it. Instead, it seems to be everyone doing their best, and all the watchers/hearers appreciating them.

As I approached this gathering – even from a distance – I could tell it was a “big deal.” Folks were gathering from near and far.

I came in alone, and began circling the crowd in search of a good vantage point. Eventually, I found a space that I thought was good, with a clear line of vision. But about the time I settled into that space, a man who (I later observed) was functioning as "emcee" approached me. He held his stick out to me, and made it clear that I was to move. I thought he was doing so because I had broken some rule. But no! He was leading me to another spot – to a seat in the inner circle. And then I saw that Sandy was also seated there, so sit I did.

The singing was wonderful! Group after group came forth to offer their performance.

And this is one reason I said it is not a “competition,” but a “festival.” Once I had settled in, and the first group I heard finished their singing, there was no applause – as we would expect in the U.S. Instead, the guy who functioned as emcee did this interesting thing. He “warmed up” his hands, and raised them up high, then led the whole group in one loud, simultaneous “clap.” Then he did the same “warming up his hands” down low, and led the whole group in one “clap.” Later, somebody explained the two “claps” to me: They make one clap to God (up high) and one for us (down low). I like that. But I also like the other dimension that I perceived: By making only two “claps” for each group, you don’t have the situation where one group might get thunderous applause and another get only minimal applause. Everybody gets exactly the same applause – one high, and one low – for their offering.

We saw and heard group after group singing wonderful music and doing marvelous dance.

One of the groups did a performance that I can only describe as a “morality play." They paraded in as all the other groups had done. But then one girl, who was leading the line, was approached by someone who whispered in her ear. Then somebody else whispered in other people’s ears. Then those folks started gyrating wildly. Eventually they fell down on the ground in spasms. Then one character appeared, with a paper bag over his head on which were painted the markings clearly meant to identify him as The Devil. And this guy did a great “Devil” impersonation – flicking tongue and all! In the drama that unfolded, you could see that he had seduced these people. But then some of the other people around piled brush in a square pattern and threw him down into that brush pile and set it on fire!

In the center of this photograph, you can see the “Devil” character with the paper bag “mask” on his head. He is being subdued by the people, and you can see a young man to his left setting the fire.

After the “Devil” was “killed,” the people who had been seduced by him fell down on the ground, and other people splashed water on them – suggesting the waters of baptism or purification. And then they arose whole and healthy again.

WOW! What theater!!

And over all this experience, I was mindful that these folks were assembled under the Loru tree – symbol of their oppression, liberation, and newfound hope.

In the midst of all that energy, my own little drama pales by comparison. You Episcopalians reading this are well aware that we just do not pray extemporaneously! But the Episcopalians of Lui do! And roughly midway through this 2- or 3-hour music festival, one of the Lui folks approached me and said they had decided I should offer the closing prayer at the end of the event. YIKES!!! Me, asked to pray, and my Book of Common Prayer nowhere at hand!

My anxiety was all the greater because I had – by this time – been living with these folks for three days and had heard their most earnest, intense prayers – delivered extemporaneously. I would have to “wing it.”

I have no idea how the prayer “sounded,” but I can assure you it was the most intense prayer I ever prayed in public.

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