LAE - The poem, ‘The Painting of a Black Woman’, by Wardley Barry is a sonnet worthy of close attention.
Stanza 1 is a profound revelation of the black male mentality of owning the black female (painting her) and to raise her on male determined, and therefore accepted, societal norms (kaukau – actually less than 400 years old in PNG).
It raises other issues including to ground the black female in society’s values (‘the earth’, though giraun would have fit nicely); to beautify or to bewitch (kambang) her as a black man sees fit; and to teach her to be clever enough to do as instructed and be independent (so that she doesn’t have to be told again?) - so long as she doesn’t talk back.
Stanza 2 describes the traditional commoditisation of the black woman and her marketability as improved and imposed by the traditional black man (‘I took her… / …I demanded’).
The self-centered desire that all her physical traits be left the way black man determined her to be best served (and serviceable?) and even her ‘heart still coloured’. No doubt for the benefit of the black man, whose heart must likewise be coloured, we are left to assume, and therefore worthy of her prize.
Despite this, stanza 3 discloses that the generosity of the proprietary black man is outstanding, particularly where the masta is concerned it seems.
Some form of free-trade agreement results, whereby the black man condemns himself to loss, to servitude through ignorance and/or idolisation of ‘the superior’ (?).
This master has his own ‘magical devices’ which begin to smudge the paint on the prized black woman, who now wears on her lips the mark of a foreign culture, indicating a mouth that is no longer meek – she talks back.
Moreover the talking back was aided by book learning (chewed papers). And, horror of horrors, she no longer abides by the male determined and therefore accepted societal norms (kaukau becomes cow cow).
In the couplet, the traditional black man, poor sod, meets the black woman he once painted at a modern day market and sees that she now has all that modern day bling and does not speak the same language as him anymore.
Very likely this is an easy enough metaphorical story to follow for those involved in the current raging gender debates, while others not on the same page may find it puzzling at first.
Nevertheless, it is pleasing to read the male chauvinist messages delivered in good form, and where the use of metonyms is also prominent, a rare device.
Well done, Wardley.
This sonnet raises some questions in my mind.
Why does the black man, kanaka-ed by giving away the black woman to the masta, not seem to understand that the prize would also be similarly changed in the process or as a result?
Why does the black man still seem to rue the deal and the superiority of the masta?
Does he blame the black woman for her changing?
Did he not take her to market with the intention to sell and then decide to give her away for free?
Isn’t this all his fault? Or, was there in fact a price to be paid that he doesn’t admit to or want to accept?
Are we to assume that the black man ‘maintained his colour’, eats kaukau and still sleeps on the earth?
The gist of it seems to be that the ‘loss’ of the painted black woman is yet another evil brought on by the masta mentality – the colonised mind of the kanaka.
Maybe the black man needs to value his black woman a little more, so that he never gives her away for free.
Maybe the black man should stop painting the black woman and let her be the colour she wants to be.