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Brown Sounds: The Poetry of Henry Dumas

Ethipian Cabbage and Potatoes

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

Voodoo is the Creole religion, profoundly affected by slavery and freedom won at a high price. Voodoo is the spirit of Africa transplanted and recreated in Creole society. It has inspired outstanding achievements and great art as well as Catholic and Masonic liturgy. More than a religion, Voodoo is a way of life and inspiration to its sculptors, painters, and poets, such as Hector Hippolyte, Georges Liautaud, and Henry Dumas. Haitian Renaissance, after the second World War and developments in New Orleans with French and black patois mingling, reflect both pagan and Christian ritual, infused with incantation, sacrifice, sacrament, and politics. Poet Henry Dumas’ verse is ultimately about a quest for relevance. These are songs of Awakening for the Songless.


The great god Shango in the African sea/reached down with palm oil and oozed out me.


Peas in the pod/peas in my gut/peas in the belly roll/doing the strut./Black-eyes over/black-eyes down/black-eyes brown-eyes going to town.


I made a yamship for my belly with my spoon/and sweet riding jelly bread kept me til noon.

The poems of Henri Dumas draw upon overlays and constant shifts in word groupings to convey black attitude, pride, and identity. Hybrids of evangelism such as Voodoo become metaphors, designs for liberation through the revival of imagination. Voodoo conjuration is portrayed as a healing mode of cultural reclamation for urbanized and spiritually desensitized society. It facilitates connections through a “ceremony of souls” with the revitalizing power of generations of ancestors. Voodoo spirits provide a means of confronting alienation in black communities.

Dumas’ verse is ultimately a quest for relevance. “Take This River” has the allure of a silent film. The charisma of water is all that the poet needs:

“We move up a spine of earth that bridges the river and the canal, and where a dying white log, finger-like, floating off the bank, claws at the slope. We stumble and we laugh. We slow beneath the moon’s eye. Near the shine of the river’s blood face, the canal’s veil of underbrush sweats frost, and this ancient watery scar retains the motionless tears of men with troubled spirits. For like the whole earth, this land of mine is soaked …”

Akan, Dogon, Swahili, and Egyptian cultures flower in New World African-American traditions and recipes.

Ethiopian Cabbage and Potatoes


1/2 cup olive oil
4 carrots, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 head cabbage, shredded
5 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes


Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the carrots and onion about 5 minutes. Stir in salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric, and cabbage. Cook another 15 to 20 minutes. Add potatoes and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook until potatoes are soft, 20 to 30 minutes.


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