The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race
I. THEIR BASIC SAVAGERY1Fat black bucks in a wine-barrel room,
2Barrel-house kings, with feet unstable,
3Sagged and reeled and pounded on the table,
4Pounded on the table,
5Beat an empty barrel with the handle of a broom,
6Hard as they were able,
7Boom, boom, BOOM,
8With a silk umbrella and the handle of a broom,
9Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
10THEN I had religion, THEN I had a vision.
11I could not turn from their revel in derision.
12THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
13CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
14Then along that riverbank
15A thousand miles
16Tattooed cannibals danced in files;
17Then I heard the boom of the blood-lust song
18And a thigh-bone beating on a tin-pan gong.
19And "BLOOD" screamed the whistles and the fifes of the warriors,
20"BLOOD" screamed the skull-faced, lean witch-doctors,
21"Whirl ye the deadly voo-doo rattle,
22Harry the uplands,
23Steal all the cattle,
26Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM,"
27A roaring, epic, rag-time tune
28From the mouth of the Congo
29To the Mountains of the Moon.
30Death is an Elephant,
31Torch-eyed and horrible,
32Foam-flanked and terrible.
33BOOM, steal the pygmies,
34BOOM, kill the Arabs,
35BOOM, kill the white men,
36HOO, HOO, HOO.
38Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
39Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
40Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
41Listen to the creepy proclamation,
42Blown through the lairs of the forest-nation,
43Blown past the white-ants' hill of clay,
44Blown past the marsh where the butterflies play: --
45"Be careful what you do,
46Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
47And all of the other
48Gods of the Congo,
49Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
50Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
51Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you."
II. THEIR IRREPRESSIBLE HIGH SPIRITS52Wild crap-shooters with a whoop and a call
54And laughed fit to kill, and shook the town,
56With a boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, BOOM.
57THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
58CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
59A negro fairyland swung into view,
60A minstrel river
61Where dreams come true.
62The ebony palace soared on high
63Through the blossoming trees to the evening sky.
64The inlaid porches and casements shone
65With gold and ivory and elephant-bone.
66And the black crowd laughed till their sides were sore
67At the baboon butler in the agate door,
68And the well-known tunes of the parrot band
69That trilled on the bushes of that magic land.
70A troupe of skull-faced witch-men came
71Through the agate doorway in suits of flame,
72Yea, long-tailed coats with a gold-leaf crust
73And hats that were covered with diamond-dust.
74And the crowd in the court gave a whoop and a call
75And danced the juba from wall to wall.
76But the witch-men suddenly stilled the throng
77With a stern cold glare, and a stern old song: --
78"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you." ...
81Canes with a brilliant lacquer shine,
82And tall silk hats that were red as wine.
83And they pranced with their butterfly partners there,
84Coal-black maidens with pearls in their hair,
85Knee-skirts trimmed with the jassamine sweet,
86And bells on their ankles and little black-feet.
87And the couples railed at the chant and the frown
88Of the witch-men lean, and laughed them down.
89(O rare was the revel, and well worth while
90That made those glowering witch-men smile.)
91The cake-walk royalty then began
92To walk for a cake that was tall as a man
93To the tune of "Boomlay, boomlay, BOOM,"
94While the witch-men laughed, with a sinister air,
95And sang with the scalawags prancing there: --
96"Walk with care, walk with care,
97Or Mumbo-Jumbo, God of the Congo,
98And all the other
99Gods of the Congo,
100Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
101Beware, beware, walk with care,
102Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom.
103Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom.
104Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay, boom.
105Boomlay, boomlay, boomlay,
107Oh rare was the revel, and well worth while
108That made those glowering witch-men smile.
III. THE HOPE OF THEIR RELIGION109A good old negro in the slums of the town
110Preached at a sister for her velvet gown.
111Howled at a brother for his low-down ways,
112His prowling, guzzling, sneak-thief days.
113Beat on the Bible till he wore it out
114Starting the jubilee revival shout.
115And some had visions, as they stood on chairs,
117And they all repented, a thousand strong
118From their stupor and savagery and sin and wrong
119And slammed with their hymn books till they shook the room
120With "glory, glory, glory,"
121And "Boom, boom, BOOM."
122THEN I SAW THE CONGO, CREEPING THROUGH THE BLACK,
123CUTTING THROUGH THE FOREST WITH A GOLDEN TRACK.
124And the gray sky opened like a new-rent veil
125And showed the Apostles with their coats of mail.
126In bright white steel they were seated round
127And their fire-eyes watched where the Congo wound.
128And the twelve Apostles, from their thrones on high
129Thrilled all the forest with their heavenly cry: --
130"Mumbo-Jumbo will die in the jungle;
131Never again will he hoo-doo you,
132Never again will he hoo-doo you."
133Then along that river, a thousand miles
134The vine-snared trees fell down in files.
135Pioneer angels cleared the way
136For a Congo paradise, for babes at play,
137For sacred capitals, for temples clean.
138Gone were the skull-faced witch-men lean.
139There, where the wild ghost-gods had wailed
140A million boats of the angels sailed
141With oars of silver, and prows of blue
142And silken pennants that the sun shone through.
143'Twas a land transfigured, 'twas a new creation.
144Oh, a singing wind swept the negro nation
145And on through the backwoods clearing flew: --
146"Mumbo-Jumbo is dead in the jungle.
147Never again will he hoo-doo you.
148Never again will he hoo-doo you.
149Redeemed were the forests, the beasts and the men,
150And only the vulture dared again
151By the far, lone mountains of the moon
152To cry, in the silence, the Congo tune: --
153"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you,
154"Mumbo-Jumbo will hoo-doo you.
155Mumbo ... Jumbo ... will ... hoo-doo ... you."
1] The 1923 collection adds below the title, "(Being a memorial to Ray Eldred, a Disciple missionary of the Congo River)," and concludes with this note by Lindsay: "This poem, particularly the third section, was suggested by an allusion in a sermon by my pastor, F. W. Burnham, to the heroic life and death of Ray Eldred. Eldred was a missionary of the Disciples of Christ who perished while swimming a treacherous branch of the Congo. See A Master Builderon the Congo, by Andrew F. Henesey, published by Fleming H. Revell." (p. 184). See The Dial, 57 (Oct. 16, 1914): 281-83, for an account of this poem. Back to Line
37] Leopold's ghost: Leopold II, king of Belgium, died in 1909 after decades of ruthless exploitation of the Congo. Back to Line
53] juba: Afro-American dance with much clapping and stamping. Back to Line
55] guyed: mocked. Back to Line
79] shotes: shoats, young hogs. Back to Line
80] cake-walk: an Afro-American competitionin walking fancily, strutting and prancing, rewarded with a cake as a prize. Back to Line
116] Jacob, and the golden stairs: Jacob's dreamed-of ladder at Bethel, on which angels came down and ascended (Gen. 28.12). Back to Line
Vachel Lindsay, The Daniel Jazz and Other Poems (London: G. Bell, 1920): 41-49. PS 3523 I58D3 Robarts Library. Collected Poems (New York: Macmillan, 1923): 178-84.
Publication Start Year:
The New Poetry: An Anthology, ed. Harriet Monroe and Alice Corbin Henderson (New York: Macmillan, 1917)
RPO poem Editors: