Saturday, November 3, 2007

Excerpt: Drumspeaker responsibilities

This is in no way intended to be a metaphor for my role as a blogospheric poet, or a novelist, or any other aspect of my life...

I sprawled on the floor of the hut, my head ringing. Hingol was standing over me, hand raised. "Nitsur! Nitsur, answer me!"
The side of my face stung. I touched it gingerly. "What... happened?"
He let out a gusty sigh of relief and sat down heavily. "You were sunk in the drumtrance and wouldn't come out. I had to hit you, Nitsur; I'm terribly sorry." I'd heard of other apprentices being beaten, but Hingol had never struck me before.
I picked myself up off the floor. "Didn't you go to Flambol's house?"
"I did. I've been there for hours. I came back. Do you have any idea what time it its?"
I looked at the door of the hut. The slant of the shadows said the sun was very low. "I was practicing."
"I know. You trance easily. Maybe too easily; you need to remember where you are, also." He studied me for a moment. "How do you feel?"
"Uh..." Suddenly I was weak and shaky. Ravenous. Cramped and stiff. My hands ached. "Oh." I fell over. Hingol picked me up and sat me on a stool. "Sit right there for a minute."
I put my head in my hands. Hingol made me drink some water, and then pushed a chicken leg into my hands, while he boiled water. When we each had a steaming cup of tea, he said: "This is your problem, Nitsur: you're not connected enough to your body."
"It's because I'm a visitor spirit."
"Maybe. As I said, that's shaman business. Drumtalkers need to be anchored. I don't mean you have to think about your body all the time; you already know you can't drum if you're thinking about what your hands are doing. But the body has to be there with you, understand?"
"I think so."
"You need an anchor," he repeated. "You weren't close to anyone in your family or your village, that's part of the problem. Woneiyal aren't meant to live alone, even inside our own heads. That's one of the reasons for drumspeech, you know; it keeps us all together. Any won, even one who isn't a drumtalker, listens to the drumstream and just takes it in, and so they know everything that's going on and no other won is ever a stranger to them."
"I hate it when people talk about me," I muttered.
Hingol frowned. "You're a drumtalker. You can't take from the stream and put nothing back. I don't just mean, by drumming; you have to let other people drum about you, give yourself to it, you see? That's how it stays alive.
"It's different for most people; they just listen. But we are the heart of the drumstream. We're the heart of the Woneiyal! That's the responsibility you take on when you become a drumspeaker. Listen, you know Banka?"
"She's a gossip."
"She's a very good drumtalker. Oh, there are plenty who can play better, but Banka understands the importance of news, of knowing. She shares it all. No-one within hearing range of Banka can claim they don't know if someone in Pamond is hungry, or lost a relative, or if someone's hurt someone else. Sometimes she goes too far, it's true: then someone in her village complains to the headman, and they have to sit down and talk about it. But the reverse is worse."
"What do you mean?"
"When people don't hear themselves in the drumstream they think they're not part of it, not part of Woneiyal. They begin to think they aren't won. They forget that what they do matters to the rest of us. They can cause all kinds of harm without thinking about it, like taking food that other people need. And if they have troubles, no-one hears about it and no-one will go help them. That's why it's terrible for a village to be without a drumspeaker.
"You have the talent to be a very good drumspeaker, Nitsur. Technically, you're way ahead of apprentices who've been in training longer: you have more vocabulary than some active drumtalkers, and you can hear nuances even I can't. But you have to learn to use your talent for the Woneiyal, for all Woneiyal. Otherwise it's no use. Understand?"
I stared at the floor. "Will I ever be a good drumspeaker?"
"Oh, of course you will! Nitsur--" Hingol pulled me to my feet and surprised me with a hug. "Listen, son-- " (He'd never called me "son.") "This is partly my fault. I forget that you're just a boy; I've pushed you too fast, and not given you time to do boy-things. But you learn so well, it's a pleasure to watch you-- and I'm proud of you. You'll never be just good. You're going to be a great drumspeaker."
I was too stunned to say anything but: "I am?"
"Yes!" Hingol sobered. "But it's going to mean spending time away from the drums. Just keep in mind that it's part of your training."

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