Sans soleil

Neither did I, apart from the fact that the faces of the market ladies at Itoman
spoke to me more of Gauguin than of Utamaro.

For centuries of dreamy vassalage,
time had not moved in the archipelago.

Then came the break.
Is it a property of islands to make their women
into the guardians of their memory?

I learned that—as in the Bijagós—
it is through the women that magic knowledge is transmitted.

Each community has its priestess—the noro—
who presides over all ceremonies with the exception of funerals.

The Japanese defended their position inch by inch.
At the end of the day, the two half platoons formed from the remnants
of L Company had got only halfway up the hill,

a hill like the one where I followed a group of villagers
on their way to the purification ceremony.

The noro communicates with the gods of the sea,
of rain, of the earth, of fire.

Everyone bows down before the sister deity
who is the reflection, in the absolute,
of a privileged relationship between brother and sister.

Even after her death,
the sister retains her spiritual predominance.

At dawn the Americans withdrew.
Fighting went on for over a month before the island surrendered,
and toppled into the modern world.

Twenty-seven years of American occupation,
the re-establishment of a controversial Japanese sovereignty:

two miles from the bowling alleys and the gas stations
the noro continues her dialogue with the gods.

When she is gone the dialogue will end.
Brothers will no longer know that their dead sister
is watching over them.