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  • Lorraine Johnson

[103] The Hands In The Making

In the village, the chore always comes, be it child or not, with the silhouette of a woman or girl for this one, no doubt—though sometimes boys show up sporting their might. But at the mortar it's mostly the girls— pounding the pestles with a rhythmic thud—down, up, down, up, the ritual goes, as the mortar receives the pestle and creates its upward rise, like a living dance caught by willing hands.

After all, rice and beans need husking to remove hulls. Palm nuts need milling for oil, and spices need grinding to create richness for meals that await. And dried maize grains or cassava roots need grinding, to make flour or paste from its harvest—earned by time-honored tilling, planting and tending of earth.

With this timeless tool in hand, girls wholeheartedly submit to the physical, melodic chore—creating song and game in the moment, and cultural value as it echos across the land. I watched it a thousand times—one girl at the mortar, sometimes two in the same—speeding the process and making more fun in the game. And I too felt the magic, putting my hand onto the smooth strength of a perfectly carved wooden pounder, building satisfaction with every thud.

One day I heard this familiar sound in the distance, but then a clap-clap followed and laughter filled the air. So I followed this magnificent rhythm to find the vision. And there it was—a quick rise and a brilliant clap-clap, and even clap-clap-clap of the hands—if well practiced—before the typical catch that controls the fall, along with the laughter of the girls making joy from the chore—like cutting onions for a sauce, peeling apples for a pie, or grating carrots for a quiche—embracing the moments that make up a life.

While modernity continually bangs on our doors with more powerful objects creating more time from their use—it will always be the hands in the making, the pounding and grinding, that will forever bring the distinct, earthy aromas of good taste, and the enchantment of culture served on a plate, that memory will never, ever erase.


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