Riddle me this: What kind of person does it take to turn a subject as wildly interesting and sizzlingly powerful as history into a painful reguritation of names and dates? If you answered, “a bad teacher”, you have my condolences.
While ambling through American history yesterday I found an African importation that fascinates me. The front porch didn’t appear in America until after the African slave trade found its way here. Since the victors write history it can be difficult to suss out the facts, but it’s not impossible. It’s often very hot in Africa. When it’s that hot people don’t like to be indoors and they don’t have the energy to do much. When I lived in the south it was not uncommon to see people sitting on their front porches whittling on a stick. It appeared aimless, but rarely was. Those whittled bits and pieces became useful tools, parts of musical instruments or whatever else might be necessary to ease the burden of life.
The front porch made its American debut in the south where some enterprising Africans beat the oppressive heat and sapping humidity with a shaded structure on the front of the shack. The idea probably made sense to plantation owners who began to have porches added to their own living structures. I wonder who built them?
The banjo was an instrument often made and played on the front porch. A carved stick, a hollowed gourd, cigar box or coffee can and a few strings joined together to make the sounds of a distant homeland. The marimba, also a few sticks and hollowed gourds to act as resonators for the sound made when the stick was whacked with another stick, may have been started on the front porch. The Kalimba was another small musical instrument introduced by Africans. Baskets were often woven from trees on the front porch. All of these things, and many others, were made by people who worked with wood to find ways to make life a bit less burdensome.
When you sift the politics out of history what you’ll find is people doing what people do. Selfish people usually do selfish things that lead to great evil. Most people just want to use what they find at hand to help them make the journey from birth to death bearable. A few people look beyond themselves and their families to some purpose bigger. They want everyone to benefit. Those are my favorite people. They don’t have to be woodworkers.
No person should live a life not rooted in a higher purpose. — Richard M. Nixon