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First Person: Courtyard gets a beating


Preparing the courtyard for beating.

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March 1, 2005
-by Lillian Haas

Orodara, Burkina Faso — “We will beat your yard two Tuesdays from now,” announced Mother Howa, the matriarch of the courtyard. “All you need to do is buy the sauce ingredients and meat to feed everyone.”

“No problem,” I said. “How much meat should I buy?”

“How ever much you want.” she replied.

“No, I need at least an idea. Do you want 1 kilo or 5 kilos or 10 kilos?” Mother Howa laughed. “Buy what you want!” she repeated.

“Okay,” I decided to try from another angle. “How many people will be there?”

“I don’t know. I told many people but I don’t know how many will come.”

“Well, how many people do you expect to feed?”

“How ever many people come and help.”

I took a deep breath, searching desperately for a way to get a precise answer. “How much meat would YOU buy if you were buying meat?” There, that should do it.

The old lady laughed out loud like it was the funniest joke she heard in a long time. Giving up, I stomped (as politely as I could) out of her kitchen hut.

“Why can’t they just give me a straight answer?” I fumed. “They want lots of meat but they are scared to say how much because what they say MIGHT be less than what I meant to buy so they would lose out and they don’t want to look too greedy by saying an outrageously high amount even though they know I would be stupid enough to buy it all without asking questions.”

I was so tempted to buy them one kilo just to see how they would respond. In the end I bought 6 kilos and everyone got a piece, down to the smallest child.

My yard was beaten two years ago when I moved into my new house but the rains came too soon and it had turned into a sandbox. Another heavy rainy season would wash my yard out to the fields. This is why I asked if it could be fixed. Pounding a courtyard leaves a hard, smooth surface like cement which is easy to keep clean – cats can’t use it as a litter box either.

Everyone took their part in the preparation for the courtyard beating. The teenage boys went to the woods to collect “sausage pods” which the women pounded and then put in water to soak for two weeks. This water turns green and stinks but is sticky, which makes a hard surface when mixed with mud. The little boys dug up my yard with dabas or hoes; then the little girls beat apart the hard clumps of dirt. The old women smoothed the surface out with their hands, taking out the lumps that were too large and levelling the area.


Beating the courtyard.

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On the morning of the beating, the old women gathered early and scattered gravel over the yard. The young women hauled water on their heads from the stream (the stinky stuff too). I even helped! Three musicians arrived and the old women prepared the area by sprinkling water on the ground. Then the fun part began. About ten young women got a ‘pounder’, lined up and started beating to the music. Everyone worked together and in time.

I can understand why the drum is the heartbeat of Africa because so much of their work involves pounding, which they do together, in rhythm. And they dance and laugh and goof off and have a great time. And the work gets done.

Lillian Haas (Bluesky Mennonite, Alberta) is a Mennonite Church Canada Witness worker who is developing a writing system for the Siamou speaking people in the region. This work is foundational to literacy teaching and Biblical translation. She requests prayer that village elders will grant permission to teach a literacy primer, that literacy teacher training will be successful, and that literacy students will learn to read.