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The National Association of educational broadcasters presents America's African heritage recorded in Africa by Skip Westfall program 7. The singing boatman of a crop here is Skip Westfall. It's early morning now. Sunrise on the bay of a cry off the coast of Gaza. Our ship the African Pilot is slowly creeping along between two other freighters anchored nearby and we're about ready to drop anchor. There are five ships already anchored here in the bay waiting to unload their cargoes. There is no port here to cry and all of the cargo must be taken ashore on surf boat paddled by an African boatman. Ever since leaving New York members of our crew have been telling me stories about this unusual unloading operation and I've been looking forward to it with a great deal of interest. Until about two years ago before the railroad was built between here in Takoradi They even brought automobiles to shore on the new surf boats at the owner's risk. The car was lowered from the ship onto a platform placed across two boats
and the boatman would paddle their cargo to shore a distance of a mile and a half. The waters here are often very rough and more than one automobile never reached the shore. In fact on one trip two automobiles plunged into the waters to the bottom of the bay. One wonders how many automobiles and sewing machines and bags of flour are lying on the bottom of a crab Bay. Already we can see the boats approaching from the mainland. In fact two of our neighboring ships have begun unloading. There's a whole fleet of these small boats approaching from a distance they look like canoes. The bay is dotted with them. If we had not been told about this operation we could easily have imagined that we were about to be attacked by a band of Guyana tribesmen in a few moments. We should be able to hear their chant as they draw near. We're going to thank her.
Now you should be able to hear the chant of the boatman. I've been debating whether I should venture ashore on one of these boats. However if the boat should upset as they quite often do the captain tells me it's every man for himself. The boatman would make no effort to try to save a passenger with a camera around my neck and an £18 tape recorder. Fraid it might be a most unhappy experience even if I should wear a life preserver. The boats are drawing nearer No. Man what a beautiful sight. And the men are stripped to the waist some of the crews all wear red trunks and red scarves. Others are dressed in blue or yellow. The blades of the petals are all painted white and the gleam in the
sunlight has eight paddles rays in unison to the command of the head stern of the boat. Load. I just can't resist the temptation to get into one of these books. Perhaps the captain again arranged for it to give us a few minutes we'll see what would work out. Hear the splashing of the oars in the boat now. I had to climb over the railing chimney down a 20 foot rope ladder by one of the crew lowered my tape recorder and camera over the side with a rope. That bell like sound you hear is made by the man in the stern of the boat. He holds in his
hand something resembling a cow bell. He has a heavy metal ring on one finger which he taps against the bell to get the boatman to pull in unison. Now they are about to begin their chant. There was some good harmony in that boatman's song wasn't there. Now that I'm in the boat I think I'll stay with these boys for a while. We'll continue the recording after we get back aboard the ship. We're back on deck now looking over the starboard right will be watching the loading of bags of
flour into the boat so there's a good deal of competition between the various crews to get the cargo whichever boat happens to be in the right spot at the right time gets the cargo as it is lowered over the side of the ship. Sometimes a rough and tumble fist fight develops. I'm sure you can tell by the shouting going on that the competition isn't too friendly. The sea is quite choppy today in this loading operation is risky business quite often just as the net filled with 25 bags of flour is about to be lowered into the boat. The craft lurches to one side and the whole load drops into the sea. By the way and the flour bags are lined with plastic to keep the flour dry and also to keep it afloat. If the boat should upset will take time out now for a moment and the minute one of these spills takes place we'll try to give you a description of it.
There goes one now who followed a flower struck the side of the boat and spilled the whole back into the sea. Both men are diving in the water to keep from being hit by tumbling Florida. What a sight. Floating bags of flour and the bobbing heads of the swimmers they're making only now yet efforts to get that power back into the boat. This set is really dangerous work. Chief mate tells me that on the last trip when these boys were bringing bags of coke or board a rope slip. And a load of a thousand pounds of coke was what I dropped on the heads of the boat before they had a chance to dive for safety. Two of the boys were killed. There's a story behind your cup of cocoa and. And your chocolate candy bar. Perhaps we'll appreciate that a cup of cocoa a little. More when we realize. How these both on on the far away shores of Africa. Are actually risking their
lives to bring our cocoa to it. Let's move on down the back now away from the screeching of the winches and shouting of the man. I'd like to work in a bit of an interview at this point. The boys who were singing that chant that we just heard are unable to speak anything but on board the ship. Here is a boy from across. Who is speaking the quite well. Perhaps we can ask him to interpret for us the song which we just heard the voice singing. Your name is Joe Wright. There's What is your name Joe what Joe Huxley's money Joe henchman your job on the boat is what would you do. It's actually a little if you tell a you keep a record of all the cargo as it goes ashore. Joe you heard the boys singing out there a moment ago wouldn't you. I did a pretty good singer Don't you think. Really I think their harmony was beautiful. Now can you tell me give me an interpretation of the of the
song the boy and sang that first song they were singing. What were they singing about. Oh I don't give a good feel for what the song it was that the fifth vote is around and the don't want to vote me my gal had been taken away from me by that there and oh why didn't the parents take the girl away from the boy. But I have said the choir. He might have had a quarrel with the parents. I should think so. And so they've taken the girl away and then the song continues. When I'm done my being it most will also be that much of a guess whether he maltreated or unmotivated again that's what I think I would think you know for me. He perhaps make the girl didn't believe give her enough time being in a form and I mean in a more treatment in one week.
And then it goes on to say that once again I've been taking the wheel from him he had nothing to do. It's all over. So in the Curragh are doing to see that it's all over and the window wide are singing the chorus then they are singing it's all over it's all of our you might say he has worked it handled the whole affair so that's rather a sad song isn't it. It is really now that other song they were singing. Was that a sad song too it is just more more more more than the former one which the story of that song it was all about and often was left in the care of the uncle. Yes to please the rest of the public he made him a necklace of gold in the drawer in the form of a new one in the form of an interview. Why did he make this necklace for the boy when he wanted it
to be I mean what should he call it. He wanted everyone to think that he loved a lover boy and then what happened and then it happened that they had to travel and because of the traveling they came to a very big NEVER BEFORE THE UNCLE swam to the other side of the river. He put the rope up to you around there the weight of the boy a rope of Judah rope up to you. What did you mean. I mean the spirit if you know what yes oh he put a bad spirit into the rope. Yes and they were doomed. Determined by what across to the Moore started dying years or so after he had crossed to the other end he had tried to crawl to the other and he was dying. So we started thinking that's of course on
that air he had been left in the care of the uncle the uncle wishing to please the public put on their gold necklace around his neck in the form of a need to know that he had brought him around the river and put up with you in the form of a rock. And why do you suppose the uncle wanted the boy to die. My view that the uncle wanted to monopolize the whole of the. What you are going to hear it. They had things done by the father. He wanted all they wanted all to himself. Now Joe these two songs that the boys were singing for me this morning are both sad songs aren't they areally So don't the boys ever sing happy songs too. Will they do when do they sing the happy song in this NG it when they hear good news. For instance after the affinity a contract. All the above if you need a contract.
They start to sing in blues there I mean happy songs. You mean at the end of the day's work was sometimes at the end of the day's work and sometimes when they are finished their contract entirely and about to return home to their home town where I could understand their job at the beginning of the day before they started down load the cargo from the ship. They had a lot of work ahead of them and perhaps they're not feeling too happy but after the ship is all unloaded then they're going back home to their families and they feel happy so they sing the happy sound right. I say I don't know that I mean it is so. Sometimes though they sing their happy songs too while they're working don't force yes they do. I suppose that helps to make their work seem a little easier. They sing while they work. Though it's been very interesting talking to you. I thank you very much for taking the time out of your work to give me this interesting bit of information about these songs that have been most interesting to listen to the chant of the boatman and
hear your interpretation of the meaning of the chant of the boatman here had a cry off the coast of West Nile. This has been a program seven of Americas African heritage. These programs feature recordings made by world traveler skip Westfall on a recent trip to Africa. The series is made possible by a grant in aid to radio station WOIO Iowa State College from the educational television and radio centered. Production is under the direction of Norman be cleary. This is Reggae is he speaking for the National Association of educational broadcasters.
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America's African heritage
Episode Number
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Race and Ethnicity
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 4910 (University of Maryland)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
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Chicago: “America's African heritage; 7,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
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APA: America's African heritage; 7. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from