Abeng, by Ishion Hutchinson

I am sharing today the poem Abeng, which is from Ishion Hutchinson's Far District. The abeng is a type of horn, used ceremonially by the Maroons of Jamaica. Present day Jamaican Maroons are descendants of the slaves who ran away in the mountains of Jamaica, fiercely resisted enslavement, and eventually forced the British to sign treaties with them. Famous Maroons were Cudjoe and Nanny (national heroine of Jamaica).  Abeng is believed to be the Akan word for horn.


The colonel's face turns to mist,
the tasselled-horn trembles in his hand

before he raises it to his lips
and hears a goat's faint wail -

thin like straw grass he blew as a child
at the foot of the Blue Mountain.

They will come soon, the old people,
to the village centre, with no memories,

mist in their eyes, their mouths parched
at the once-a-month ceremonial meeting.

This is how culture dies, the colonel sighs,
watching as smoke goes through the leaves,

joining the horn's call, all one echo;
nothing from Cudjoe, or Queen Nanny,

neither long-head Accompong;
the smoke is just smoke,

but a flight of blackbirds
burst from the treetops.

He lowers the ranking ram's horn,
and says, At least some still runaway.

Copyright Ishion Hutchinson 2010. Far District. Peepal Tree Press Ltd. Leeds.
Reprinted with author's permission.


Charmaine said...

Hi Yasmin,

This is a very interesting poem. I have never heard of it before. I am very much fascinated by the Maroons and love to read anything about their culture.

Thanks for sharing that poem.

Yasmin said...

Hi Charmaine,

Thanks for stopping by the blog. I think "Abeng" is a beautiful poem which looks at Maroon culture in Jamaica. It is actually my favorite from Ishion Hutchinson's collection, Far District. Glad you like it.

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