The Lost Boys may never receive their oral history songs. Based on a true story.
|Faheem felt comforted by the song Samir sang to their little circle of "Lost Boys" as they sat in the dark under the ebony Kenyan sky. He hoped the Milky Way didn’t reflect its starlight off his tears.
Just that day a list posted in the Kakuma refugee camp showed he was going away to a place called Chicago. Everyone expected Faheem to be filled with joy. All the lost boys wanted to go to America, but only a few were selected each week. If they suspected he was sad, they would be angry.
Faheem’s attention returned to Samir’s song. Actually, it was Samir’s father’s song. The words were the oral history of his clan, his direct ancestors’ actions, and his father's life events. It took two hours to sing it all. Samir was too young now but someday he would have his own song. It was the Dinka custom.
Before any young man married, he went to the village's oral history song maker. The young man spoke of the events of his life, and the song maker spend long hours muttering and pacing until the young man's song was finished.
Only once would he hear his new two hour song. As a result, most men brought a villager or relative with a powerful memory. As the song was sung by the song maker, the young man’s companion memorized the song. After that the companion sang the song over and over until the young man had it memorized too.
If Faheem went to Chicago, such a proud event would never happen to him. He would never have a song. His people's history would be lost. Without a history, without knowing his place in the world, how could he choose the right path for his future?
The next day, Faheem went to his uncle. "Uncle, I have a heavy weight upon my heart."
His uncle stopped carving a bull design onto the side of a tall drum. A big smile broke across his face as he welcomed Faheem. "Come tell me how such a lucky boy can have a heavy heart?"
Faheem explained his concern. "I am excited about my good fortune, but I will leave without any chance of ever having my own song."
His uncle frowned. "Let me speak of this to the others of our clan. You are not the only boy who is leaving without their song in the coming weeks and months. Oh, how my heart aches for those who have already left." With that his uncle leaned over his carving again.
"Uncle," said Faheem, "I have only 7 days before I must leave."
"Yes, yes. I will go immediately," said his uncle as he put down his tools.
Walking back to his hut where a group of lost boys stayed, his thoughts cast about seeking a solution. The songs were oral. His people had no written language or way to record a musical score. It was all memory based. Could he come back to the refugee camp someday? He knew from his school, that America was very far away. Could he find someone in America who could make him his song? Did Americans even have their own personal history songs?
As he neared his hut, a popular Egyptian melody reached his ears. Samir sat in the shade just inside the doorway. His cassette tape recorder lay in his lap playing the rich music. Faheem bobbed and gyrated in a silly manner. Samir giggled. An idea jolted Faheem. He froze. "Can this be it? Can it be so simple? Samir, come! Bring your recorder. We must find my uncle."
A tape recorder wasn't the whole answer. Faheem and the other boys who were going to America were still too young for their own songs. But they were not too young to take a portion of their heritage with them. It would fit nicely on a cassette in a child’s pocket.
Faheem's uncle and other relatives in the Kakuma refugee camp gave him a going away party. At the party they created his heritage tape. It began with prayers. Then each of his relatives gave him advice.
His aunt said, "Always remember where you came from."
A cousin said, "You are lucky. Don't mess it up."
His uncle said, "We cannot read or write. We cannot do anything to make a change for our people. But you are learning to read and write. You will be a great man."
Then to Faheem's amazement, his uncle sang beyond the family history and beyond his father’s history. He sang Faheem’s new song. Upon completion, his uncle said, "Yes, you are very young to have your own song, but your life has already been full of grief, danger, and suffering. Now go and do something good."
His uncle turned off the cassette recorder. Holding out the cassette to Faheem, he said, “You will never be alone, nephew. We will be with you always.”
This fictional tale is based on a Radio Labs podcast "Mixtape: Help?" 11-19-2021. The process for memorizing a 2 hour long oral history and how the Lost Boys took a cassette tape with them created by their families is accurate. I encourage folks to listen to this amazing podcast and history.