Black Spirituality Religion : Esu-Elegbara/Signifying Monkey

Discussion in 'Black Spirituality / Religion - General Discussion' started by cherryblossom, Oct 14, 2009.

  1. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

    Feb 28, 2009
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    The Signifying Monkey
    A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism
    Henry Louis Gates

    Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s original, groundbreaking study explores the relationship between the African and African-American vernacular traditions and black literature, elaborating a new critical approach located within this tradition that allows the black voice to speak for itself.

    Examining the ancient poetry and myths found in African, Latin American, and Caribbean culture, and particularly the Yoruba trickster figure of Esu-Elegbara and the Signifying Monkey whose myths help articulate the black tradition's theory of its literature, Gates uncovers a unique system of interpretation and a powerful vernacular tradition that black slaves brought with them to the New World. His critical approach relies heavily on the Signifying Monkey--perhaps the most popular figure in African-American folklore--and signification and Signifyin(g).

    Exploring signification in black American life and literature by analyzing the transmission and revision of various signifying figures, Gates provides an extended analysis of what he calls the "Talking Book," a central trope in early slave narratives that virtually defines the tradition of black American letters....

  2. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

    Feb 28, 2009
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    "The Signifying Monkey"

    This is a relatively clean version of one of these songs which appeared in The Book of American Negro Folklore (1958). From the Norton Anthology of African American Literature.

    The Monkey and the Lion
    Got to talking one day.
    Monkey looked down and said, Lion,
    I hear you’s king in every way.
    But I know someone
    Who do not think that is true—
    He told me he could whip
    The living daylights out of you.
    Lion said, Who?
    Monkey said, Lion,
    He talked about your mama
    And talked about your grandma, too,
    And I’m too polite to tell you
    What he said about you.
    Lion said, Who said what? Who?

    Monkey in the tree,
    Lion on the ground.
    Monkey kept on signifying
    But he didn’t come down.

    Monkey said, His name is Elephant—
    He stone sure not your friend.
    Lion said, He don’t need to be
    Because today will be his end.
    Lion took off through the jungle
    Meaning to grab Elephant
    And tear him bit by bit. Period!
    He come across Elephant copping a righteous nod
    Under a fine cool shady tree.
    Lion said, You big old no-good so-and-so,
    It’s either you or me.

    Lion let out a solid roar
    And bopped Elephant with his paw.
    Elephant just took his trunk
    And busted old Lion’s jaw.
    Lion let out another roar,
    Reared up six feet tall.
    Elephant just kicked him in the belly
    And laughed to see him drop and fall.

    Lion rolled over,
    Copped Elephant by the throat.
    Elephant just shook him loose
    And butted him like a goat,
    Then he tromped him and he stomped him
    Till the Lion yelled, Oh, no!
    And it was near-night sunset
    When Elephant let Lion go.
    The signifying Monkey
    Was still setting in his tree
    When he looked down and saw the Lion.
    Said, Why, Lion, who can that there be?
    Lion said, It’s me.
    Monkey rapped, Why, Lion,
    You look more dead than alive!
    Lion said, Monkey, I don’t want
    To hear your jive-end jive.
    Monkey just kept on signifying,
    Lion, you for sure caught hell—
    Mister Elephant’s done whipped you
    To a fare-thee-well!
    Why, Lion, you look like to me
    You been to the precinct station
    And had the third degree,
    Else you look like
    You been high on gage
    And done got caught
    In a monkey cage!
    You ain’t no king to me.
    Facts, I don’t think that you
    Can even as much as roar—
    And if you try I’m liable
    To come down out of this tree and
    Whip your tail some more.

    The Monkey started laughing
    And jumping up and down.
    But he jumped so hard the limb broke
    And he landed—bam!—on the ground.
    When he went to run, his foot slipped
    And he fell flat down.
    Grrr-rrr-rr-r! The Lion was on him
    With his front feet and his hind.
    Monkey hollered, Ow!
    I didn’t mean it, Mister Lion!
    Lion said, You little flea-bag you!
    Why I’ll eat you up alive.
    I wouldn’t a-been in this fix a-tall
    Wasn’t for your signifying jive.
    Please, said Monkey, Mister Lion,
    If you’ll just let me go,
    I got something to tell you, please,
    I think you ought to know.

    Lion let the Monkey loose
    To see what his tale could be—
    And Monkey jumped right back on up
    Into his tree.
    What I was gonna tell you, said Monkey,
    Is you square old so-and-so,
    If you fool with me I’ll get
    Elephant to whip your head some more.
    Monkey, said the Lion,
    Beat to his unbooted knees,
    You and all your signifying children
    Better stay up in them trees.
    Which is why today
    Monkey does his signifying
    A-way-up out of the way.

    And here is an example of how another one begins:

    Deep down in the jungle so they say
    There’s a signifying monkey down the way
    There hadn’t been no disturbin’ in the jungle for quite a bit,
    For up jumped the monkey in the tree one day and laughed
    “I guess I’ll start some sh+t.”
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