Personal note -- To quote from the flyleaf of How God Fix Jonah:
"While serving as a missionary in Liberia in the 1920's, Lorenz Graham encountred startling retellsings of the stories of Jonah, Ruth, and other figures from the Bible. He discovered that the familiar tales had been transformed into a new literature when told in the idiom of West Africa. In 1946, Graham's exquisite renditions of these stories were published in How God Fix Jonah."

A revised edition with two new stories was published in 2000, illustrated with blockprints created by Ashley Bryan (the one for this story is shown at the left). Lorenz closes his introduction with the following lead-in:

"Then read aloud and picture standing before you an African lad who has heard the old stories of gods and devlils and loud-spoken kings and fearless slaves. Her him say,
    Long time past
    Before them big tree live
    Before them big tree's papa live
    That time God live."

I suspect we had the book long before I first encountered the David He No Fear story, but it was in Ashley's lively rendition of that story at one of the annual "Islesford Literary Evenings" after the book came out that first made me really aware of the book. David is just one of many delightful stories, but because it was "my first," it has stayed with me.

I approached the prospect of ever doing this in public with some trepidation -- a white man trying to do a piece in West African dialect, based on a number of cues Lorenz provides in his introduction. I talked with Ashley about it, and he categorically put that concern aside. To Ashley, the stories must live, and to live they must be given voice, and to him it is unacceptable to limit that voice only to the people who originated the story. So I've worked over this for a long time, and although my dialect is hardly West African, I give it my best shot.

Meanings -- Lorenz mentions various unfamiliar words and expressions in his introduction. In this story, the word palaver is not just "word", but connotes many words in discussions or the conducting of business, sometimes with an implication of trouble. Chop is food. To humbug someone is to bother him or her, and when your heart lay down, you are at peace.


David He No Fear
Lorenz Graham

See also the printable, pocketable PDF
and the vocal presentation
(back to Poetry)

David mind the sheep for him pa.
Every day he drive the sheep
He find good grass
He find sweet water
He mind the sheep good.

David don't humbug nobody
And most times nobody don't humbug David.
When he mind the sheep him heart lay down
And he make songs.
He make songs and he sing him songs.
He make harp with plenty strings
He play him harp
He sing.

Bye-m-bye the war palaver catch Judah country
And all the mens must go.
The young men
The strong men
Take up spear and cutlass
And they go.
David's brothers go
But David self no be a man
So he stay by and mind the sheep,
David and him pa.

Bye-m-bye the word come back
The word say war go bad for Judah.
The word say other people be strong too much
And giant be for their side
No Judah man can fight him.
And David hear the word.

David go fore him pa face.
He say
    "Pa,
    Make it I go find my brothers.
    Make it I carry them chop
    They can be hongry this time."
The old man say "I agree."
When David come to the place
He walk about to find him brothers
And while he look he hear somebody say
    "Oh! One man make war for we!"

Then David see the giant.
He be high past ten men
He be strong same way
He got iron helmet on him head
And more iron on him front.
He walk about and laugh
He say
    "Ho-ho-ho!
    Them funny Judah mens!
    They no can fight.
    Come out now so I kill you
    And if you no can fight
    Go home and find you mommies.
    Ho-ho-ho!"
And Judah mens do fear for true.
The Judah mens they fear to fight the giant
But David, he no fear.
David take him sling
He pick up round hard rocks
He walk out fore the giant and say
    "We God going fight for we!"
The giant say
    "Ho! Small boy done come to say how-do."
David say
    "I come for fight!"
Giant say
    "Do you mommy know you out?"
David say
    "Now I kill you!"
Giant say
    "Go from my face less I eat you!"
David stand.
He put rock in him sling
He turn it all about and round and round.
The giant coming close
The sling leggo.
Hmmmmm . . . . . . . . . . . . Bop!

The giant holler out
He hold him head
He turn.
He try to walk
He fall.
He roll
He twist about
He die.

David walk up close
While all the Judah people shout
And all the other people run.
David take the giant cutlass self
And cut the giant head from off him neck.
Then David's brothers come and say
    "You fool!
    The war palaver be for men.
    Go home!
    Go home and mind the sheep."
And David say "Now I go."