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Home » General subjects. Excelsior, you Fathead! » JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Peru Part 8

JEAN SHEPHERD–Travel–Peru Part 8

Sol and Lee Chamberlain and I were in our hut and we sat around this little lantern and we just didn’t know what to say about it.  These people were so overwhelmingly kind and beautiful to us.  No connection with the “noble savage” concept or you’re idea of hospitality.  You could see they were doing all their little things that they could do for us.

Music

jews harpkazoonose flutes

Modern American jews harp, kazoo, nose  flute.

I want to tell you this little story.  This is one of the truly great experiences of my life and I want you to accept it as that.  I’m just telling you what happened.  After supper I went over to my bag and I took out my jews harp, and they were all looking, smiling.  And two little girls about two or three years old had attached themselves to me and they were holding my arm and sort of petting it.  Just beautiful.  I’d look at them and they’d giggle, and they loved my beard—they’d reach up and pull it.  They loved to feel it, and they were laughing about it.  It turned out that the reason that they loved me was that Indians are beardless—no beards at all but their ancestor had beards.  Tariri said that the children laughed whenever I said anything because they said that “He is the first big monkey who talks.” I was like a big monkey to them.

I said, “Dori, call them all around,” and they stood there.  They didn’t know what was going to happen.  I said, “Tell them I will play for them.  This is an American folk instrument.  This is what the natives of America play.  I’m a native of America.  I’m not going to play a violin or an organ or sing a hymn, I’m going to play what the natives just like you play.  I’m also a native.”

I took the jews harp and I sat up on the table and I began to perform.  And there was a moment—the kids giggled and Tariri looked, and Arushpa looked.  I played You Are My Sunshine, and I finished it and they were astounded!  And I said, “Now I will sing the song for you.”  They were so enraptured by that, their eyes were shining.  And then I took my kazoo.  I said, “Now I will play another native American instrument.”  You couldn’t believe it, they loved it so!  And then I took out my nose flute and that threw them, because they play flutes.  The kids died—they were rolling on the floor and Tariri was yelling.  I played You Are My Sunshine, and Red River Valley.

shep peru tape deck

Shepherd holding jews harp. Luden’s Lee Chamberlain

holding microphone, tape player in front.

Sol Potempkin must have taken the photo.

I played about five songs and then Tariri says, “We want to sing,” and they all sang for me.  Arushpa came creeping out with his long bamboo flute and he played the very intricate music they play, and the other boy brought his out and they both played.  And I said, “Now I will play with you.  Let’s all sit in together on a session.”  Probably for the first time in the history of music there was a headhunter/Madison Avenue, flute-and-jews harp duet and we really swung.  I caught the beat of what he was doing—their music is pentatonic—a five-note scale, a very minor-sounding scale.  Well, they led and I followed with my jews harp and my nose flute and the three of us played and the crowd went out of its mind!

We stayed till three and four o’clock in the morning playing and singing and the translator had faded off into the darkness.  They’d never had anything like this in their lives before.  Many white men come to them and give them medicine, white men come and preach to them, white men come and study them, but no white man ever came to entertain them and be part of them.

More to come.

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2 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    Great story; I’ve never heard it before. I have to wonder though, those kids look a bit too westernized for a tribe that supposedly hunted heads. I wonder if these people still exists as a tribal culture today.

    • ebbergmann says:

      The kids are westernized because the whole tribe was converted to Christianity by the Wycliffe bible translators/missionaries. Missionaries bring bibles and western clothing into the wilds.

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