Lumina Sophie dite Surprise (extracts)
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LUMINA (very youthful in appearance), ROSALIE, and SIMONISE
THE CHORUS OF PETROLEUSES, waving lighted torches
Before the curtain rises, voices are heard ; demonstrators are chanting slogans.
All enter in procession, worn out but uplifted. LUMINA heads the procession, crying “LONG LIVE LUBIN ! DEATH TO CODE ! LONG LIVE LUBIN ! DEATH TO CODE !” The chant follows the rhythm of the war drums. Each woman snuffs out her torch in the bonfire, then places it on the pile, except Lumina. She lays hers on a tripod and begins to read, while Rosalie gently wipes away her sweat.
Each Pétroleuse indulges in cleansing herself and busies herself with her chores, washing her scarf, drinking from the barrel, reanimating the flames.
Simonise prepares her magic ointment with the help of bizarre grasses and exotic vials.
LUMINA (having taken a newspaper and perused a few lines, outraged) : Twenty-two new carêmes , Rosalie, have dried out our Southern lands since we have been free people…
The Chorus verifies the state of the trench that is in the process of being dug and reinforces the barricade with the help of sugar sacks being carried to the structure in wheelbarrows.
Rosalie, quite attentive, first takes care of Lumina before worrying about herself.
ROSALIE (fanning Lumina with her madras) : You were born, dear Lumina, oh yes !
THE CHORUS (stacking sugar sacks) : You were brought into the world, O Light, with the same break of day as your people…
Simonise lights a torch under the “three points” of the pyramid of the fireplace and prepares a potion.
LUMINA (tapping on her newspaper) : Yet I have the impression I’m always being oppressed by the yoke… In the end, they did put an end to slavery, but the Master is still a tyrant, and the slave is still a slave.
ROSALIE : What good is it to be a self-proclaimed free individual, if it’s only just to stay stuck in the same situation without the right to change anything, since these dirty Gueydon laws ?
LUMINA : To go from being servants to being paid workers ?! Mi couillonnade , you have to present your work papers and your passport every time you want to go from one neighborhood to another – if not, you’re accused of being a vagabond !
ROSALIE : And what’s more, if you have your passport, if Mr. Mayor wants to issue it to you, as soon as you’re 16, you have to pay taxes ! (throwing her hip out in disgust) And what are you supposed to pay it with, this tax ? With what money ?
LUMINA (reading excerpts from the newspaper, ironically) : “Article 28 : Whoever does not have his or her passport shall pay a fine of 5 to100 francs…”
ROSALIE : Which means 5 to 100 days’ salary…
SIMONISE : Which means an impossible amount…
THE CHORUS, growing louder, a solemn and ironic tone : Which means DEATH for us !
LUMINA, proclaiming sardonically as she reads aloud : “Whoever does not pay the fine within fifteen days is lawfully obliged to work at the Disciplinary Workshop in Fort-de-France…”
She continues to read, now silently to herself.
Simonise tastes her pimentade, grimaces, and spits it back out.
ROSALIE : You have to see them, the people who get through it – you’d think they’d have really been through the ringer ! And the women that come back from the Piton Camp ? Zombies. I have seen some sneeze out their teeth !
SIMONISE : You think they send them off to Foyal to do forced labor to do them a favor ?
ROSALIE : Me, personally, you are all talking, but I’m not hearing anything in all this.
Lumina lends Simonise her ear.
SIMONISE : All you need to get out of that is that there is still a way to make us slave away for nothing.
LUMINA (waving her newspaper) : If you had learned to read instead running around with your little friends, it would be easier for you to understand…
ROSALIE : Hush ! You, coming out of Morne Raquette…you could get by going to class in Marin. But us, at Riviere-Pilote, we were the last to be served. The Sisters just opened an Elementary School for Girls over there. And did we have the chance to go ? Honey, we were already grown up !
LUMINA (violently slamming her newspaper down and then waving it at the Petroleuses) : So ? There are some things that you have to know ! And most of those you could find there. This, for example – I am not making this up. This comes from the General Assembly…a big planter who blabs and blabs…
ROSALIE : Yeah ? And what is he going on about ?
SIMONISE : I do not care what they are blabbing out, those torturers !
THE CHORUS : You are wrong – knowledge is power.
LUMINA : Instead of whimpering and whining, let me read to you how Massa dared to shoot his mouth off (she clears her throat and reads) : “When I strike an employee, it is because I think that his obligation and his best interest should follow mine ; I am convinced that I am defending the general interest, and any time that this interest requires it, I will not hesitate to fulfill what I consider a duty to protect it.”
ROSALIE : You are lying to us – that cannot be true ! Let me see that… !
SIMONISE : She is holding the thing upside-down !
ROSALIE : You, dirty kouli, you be quiet – you do not know how to read any more than I do !
THE CHORUS : Beware of the koulis …they will serve sugar to the Massa…
ROSALIE : Who is bleeding us dry like we are nothing more than pigs ?! You dare to open your mouth ? Bloodbath ! You stick your nose up in the air, lifting it higher than the tallest cane stalks. You want what is coming to you ?
THE CHORUS : Bloodbath !
ROSALIE (looking at Simonise) : They think that we did not see them celebrate the death of Louis XVI like a bunch of dirty Royalists every twenty-first of January ?
Rosalie restrains Simonise, but Simonise continues to scream at the Chorus, who surrounds her, yelling aggressively in her ears. Simonise is cornered.
THE CHORUS (forcing Simonise toward the edge of the trench ; she falls backwards into it) : A real kouli, it seems we have here. A band of heathens, these Indians are ! They cook things up with the colonists – they make pacts with the devil !
The Chorus begins to chant with an ironic and empathetic tone, accompanied by war drums, as well as Rosalie, while Simonise pounds on her own ears :
Gran, me gran
Gran, ladivinite gran
Gran, ladivinite gran
Mwen ke rete isi o prochen numero !
(Grand One, O Grand One
The Grand One is Divinity
The Grand One is Divinity
I will stay here until the next number !
[The abolition of slavery occurred in 1848, in vain.])
LUMINA (her attention drawn from her reading by the racket) : That is enough ! (The Coryphee, looking guilty, bends down to help Simonise up.) Enough with all of you ! (Reading from the newspaper) At Rivière-Salée, Marin, Holy Spirit, Vauclin, Lamentin, and all the way to the outer edges of Gros-Morne, Indians and Blacks are now fraternizing – even at Rivière-Pilote ! (The Coryphee brushes the dirt from Simonise’s dress with exaggerated motions.) There you can see what can truly unite a people – this is how a nation is founded. Together, we will conquer.
SIMONISE : For me, all that is nothing ; it is better to be one who eats dogs than to be a dog ! I will take my long braids over the steel wool hair that some women here have.
LUMINA (heatedly throwing the newspaper and jumping on the wheelbarrow to continue her rant) : What is all this commotion ? (She calms herself ; The others, sheepish, go back to what they were doing.) We are never going to get anything accomplished if we waste our time trying to figure out who is kouli, who is Black, who is mixed. We are women of this country, human beings. That and that alone is what counts, and we should only consider ourselves as such. Being women, we have rights, but we also have obligations. First of all, not to disrespect one another, not to judge one another based on skin color. When you squabble with one another like this, do you not see that you are allowing those who wish us to be divided to have exactly what they want ?
Everyone seems entranced by Lumina’s words. They gather at the foot of the wheelbarrow, now an improvised grandstand. Simonise shoves Rosalie aside to get closer to Lumina.
ROSALIE : Shh !
LUMINA : Our union is our strength. In arguing over little things like hair, you are really serving the interests of our enemies, who gain strength from all our heads in turning us against one another.
Unnoticed by the characters, the first few measures of the “Allegro con brio” section of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, this “classical” European music to which the Pétroleuses are impermeable, begin to play.
THE MUSE (invisible, solemn, and hyperbolic, aside. Meanwhile, the Pétroleuses, dumbfounded, do not know where these strange sounds are coming from. With the exception of Lumina, they are almost as impermeable to the Muse as they are to the classical music playing.) Even with the Whites, one night, you will feel that solidarity…you, if not through youm then through your descendants ! (The Pétroleuses, intrigued, look all around, wondering who is speaking.) This is the end of the story. Your békés [Whiteys], you will protect them like the apples of your eyes ! You will form one people with one body, each part dependent on the rest, guaranteeing your survival. (Directed toward the audience in the balcony seats) But shh…If I reveal this to them, they will tear me to shreds ! At any rate, I am not permitted to change the course of History. I am a witness, not an actor. (To Lumina, cupping her hands around her mouth as a director would do. Lumina jumps, startled, with every order called out.) Action ! Move ! Like you mean it !
LUMINA (inspired) : I am certain that victory is near ! This is not the time to crumble ! We will triumph, we are firebrands to them ! (She beings to read her newspaper aloud one more) And yet Mista Gov’nor of Loisne sends all this against us : 110 sailors, 150 elite gunmen, 450 Marine infantrymen…
SIMONISE : And that does not even count the police on horseback !
ROSALIE : And that does not even count the dogs…
THE CHORUS : Everything they need to keep us down !
LUMINA : A real arsenal to snuff out the fire of our light ! But they will not have us.
The Muse disappears, wings beating, satisfied.
THE CHORUS : We remember…the last times were the hardest…They did not want to let us go. They knew that we would escape them. So they let the dogs go instead, and they came…
LUMINA : France was so far, and her beautiful laws protecting freedom had not yet arrived here to us ! They could always sink the fangs of their dogs deep into our black flesh. With all the ferocity of despair and all the human cruelty of lost causes…(Rosalie begins to shiver). Rosalie, she remembers…she was barely getting into her seventh or eighth hivernage …She saw the big dogs’ jaws tearing apart brown legs… (To Simonise) You never lived through that. You were not born on an estate, in the chains of slavery ! As for me, the Ancestors told me…I will never forget it. It is engrained in my memory, branded into me with a red iron ! I still have cold sweats thinking about it.
SIMONISE (overcome with emotion, impatient) : So we are going to sling mud on those people, then, and that will be that ?
LUMINA : No, the rural masses are rising up, facing the utopist hope that some nostalgic people have of re-establishing slavery here. We are a force, revolting against the subjectivity of “justice” here, which shows the leniency shown toward the Whites and the too heavy hand brought down on the Blacks.
ROSALIE (frenzied) : Instead of just standing here and watching such misery, if I could, I would burn it all down – factories, grinders, sugar mills, every last bit of every sugar remnant ! (Rosalie collapses, as though she has been struck down, and rolls on the ground).
THE CHORUS : Mi manza ka tonbé léta.
LUMINA (kneeling, taking Rosalie’s head in her hands to calm her) : You can do it. We will set it all ablaze – the cane fields, entire plantations… (She caresses her tightly spiraled hair.)
THE CHORUS (bowing toward Rosalie, as if they were giving an offering) : the sugar warehouses, the indigo factories, the Master’s house…
ROSALIE (hysterical) : Always !
THE CHORUS : Like the fireworks from their festivals ! The crowning moment ! We are going to make them dance to the Congo minuet without violins ! They’ll be so sweet on it, such a sweet biguine dance. Rat ké bay bal ! (Drums pound. The Chorus begins to dance with swaying motions).
SIMONISE (accenting the first name of each estate) : All of it ! Burned ! Erased from the Earth ! The Gustave Garnier-Laroche Estate, the Desmartinières Estate…
ROSALIE (in the same manner) : The Joseph Garnier-Laroche Estate, the Saint P—
THE CHORUS (still in the same manner, growing louder) : The Symphorien Garnier-Laroche Estate, The Jossaud Estate, the Beauregard Estate…
LUMINA (standing upright, bringing the declarations to a peak) : The Codé Estate. If we have to, we will destroy everything !
ROSALIE : If she says it, she will do it. When everything is consumed, she will have run and galloped around so much, that we could say without the slightest need to lie or exaggerate that Lumina Sophie called Surprise set ten habitations on fire – not one more, not one less !
Simonise helps her to her feet, reconciling the two.
LUMINA – Of course I will do it. I will go all the way to the end of the path you see there, lighted by our torches. No matter what it costs me ! I have nothing to lose. If all we have is the right to earn one franc per day, then I do not see what we have gained from no longer being slaves !
SIMONISE : But even that one franc – we never really see it ! As if by magic, it becomes zinc or cardboard and you cannot use it in any stores. Do you think we can really go too far with these damned people ?
LUMINA : Shh ! They pay you with one hand, they take it back with the other. Everything could be justified if we could buy something, anything, to feed our families. There is never enough. All we do is fall further and further into debt.
ROSALIE : We, the unhappy ones, we are part of the tiers-état, so says my grandmother.
THE CHORUS : We are in a good spot !
LUMINA (glancing over her newspaper once more) : To say that we had to fight like tigers at the Grand-Gosier Estate just to get them to give us one and a half francs – ladies and gentlemen !
Lumina throws her newspaper down and grabs her torch. She makes a grand and authoritative exit, compelling the others to follow.
ROSALIE (still turning in her trance-like state, then following in her footsteps) : The things you have to go through just to get two francs – alas…
The Chorus repeats the “alas” and sways their hips. The exclamation becomes a song. Everyone leaves the stage humming, as in a traditional chant, and dancing.
Woy ! Woy ! Woy ! Woy ! (repeat)
Mussieu Michel pa lé bay dé fwan
Yo brilé kann béké
Yo insendié bitasyon yo
Magré tou say o fé a
Mussieu Michel pa lé bay dé fwan
Wé ! We ! Wé ! Wé ! (repeat)
Mussieu Michel pa lé bay dé fwan.
Manman lagrèv baré mwen (repeat three times, growing louder)
Mussieu Michel pa lé bay dé fwan.
(Alas ! Alas ! Alas ! Alas ! Mr. Michael doesn’t want to give us a two-franc salary
They burned the white colonists’ sugar cane plantations
Burned their houses
Despite all they did there
Mr. Michael refuses to give them two francs
Oh la la, the strike has taken me hostage
Mr. Michael doesn’t want to give them two francs !)