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Shake That Family Tree
Roy Blount Jr.
August 05, 1996
Thanks to a bond with a small African nation, a Georgian rediscovers his roots
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August 05, 1996

Shake That Family Tree

Thanks to a bond with a small African nation, a Georgian rediscovers his roots

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The biggest blowout is yet to come. August 3 will be Burkina Faso Night, and you can bet Linda and I will be there. My sister is coming in from Houston.

The official language of Burkina Faso is French. (Decatur has a cop now who speaks French. The other day he was interpreting back and forth between his fellow officers and Ouoba, the triple jumper. When I was growing up in Decatur, I'm not sure we had cops who spoke English.) Emily Hanna-Vergara, a historian of African art and the president of Decatur's sister-city committee, translated as I spoke with the dance troupe's director, Jean Ouedraogo, and with Lambert Ouedraogo (no relation), vice president of Boussé's sister-city program. Jean was wearing a shirt hung with horsehair tufts and goat-horn danglers. "A shirt worn by priests," he explained through Emily. "Priests that outsiders typically call sorcerers. The priest acts as a liaison between the world of the living and the invisible world of ancestors and spirits."

It occurred to me to suggest that we step over to the ROY A. BLOUNT PLAZA plaque.

Emily translated the inscription for the Burkinabe. "My father would be honored," I said, "that you are here." In fact, if you had told me before this week that there would be an African seduction dance on my father's plaza, I might have said he would be turning over in his grave. But he was a genial man, even I know that. And maybe people in the grave like to turn over.

The two Burkinabe gave me looks that communicated very well. "They are very touched," Emily said. "They say that for them, your dad has not gone, he is here with us speaking your name to them. When they dance again, the first dance will be in honor of your dad."

It would be appropriate in this situation, Jean said, for me to make an offering to my father of a chicken or some beer.

"Unless he's changed his habits in the other world," I told John Randall later, "I think he'd appreciate the chicken more."

"Should it be a live chicken?" Randall asked. That opened up all sorts of theological and practical questions that hadn't occurred to me when the Burkinabe were telling me my father was there, with us, speaking my name, at his plaque. Because I was crying then.

I love you, man.

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