Legends
Musical
Narrative

Kum Ba Yah

Kum Ba Yah

Informant: Okay, it needs to be dark, there needs to be a campfire, I got get myself in the mood here. Umm . . . okay . . .

In a deep, doth, darkest of Africa, there was a group of men who went into the mountain. They were thirsty, they were hungry, they needed to eat! They mined  for their families. They did everything they could, everything they could to find food and help their families! (pause)

They were in the mine, when a horrible, horrible, horrible, accident had happened. (pause)

The barrel of coal started from the top and started to head down deep and hit 12 men. That took all the shorings out and everyone of those men, were stuck in that deep mine.
Well you know how these men would be, they would be freaking out! Wouldn’t you? Right? Don’t you remember your great-grandma telling you this story, right? Of those men? Her brothers and sisters even! They did what ever they could to feed their families.

*A beat, informant becomes highly emotional *

(solemnly) Well it was a horrible, horrible, day. Back in 1886 in that mine and everything went wrong. Everything collapsed. (Raises voice) It was horrible! It was horrible! (pause)

And the men didn’t know what to do, they were out of their minds crying. They were frightened. They were crying . . . yet there was this one man who said, “no, we’re going to make it. We’re going to make it through this. We are not gonna perish today. We are gonna make it through”. (pause)

So this man he prayed. He prayed. “Come pray with me” he said. “Pray?” What are you talking about, we need to get out of here, we need tools, we need people to get us out!” said the others. “ Well” he said, “ we need to pray that we can get out of here”.

And the men started crying, (sobbing voice), “ what are we going to do, I don’t know what to do, how are we going to get out of here? We’re going to die in here!”. So the miner started singing, (in a singing voice) “Come by here, my lord, come by here. Kum Ba Yah, my lord, Kum Ba Yah”. He sang, he finally got the men to laugh. “ Please, laugh with me . . .laugh with me” he said. “Even if this may be our last day on earth, we can have a good laugh, we’re together, let’s hold hands. It’s pitch dark in here, there is nothing else that we can do”.

“okay”, the others said, “it’s worth a try”. They prayed, they laughed, they cried together because they were so frightened. Then the miner said, “I think were going to make it”. He started singing again (singing) “come by here my lord, come by here”. Louder! “Come by her my lord! Come by here!”. So all 12 men started to sing. Then something came over them and they started to laugh and they thought, “okay, this might work”.

Then they heard it. They heard it. (Takes keys and starts tapping it against table in a rhythmic tapping). “what’s that?” one man said. “It sounds like Billy-Bob, he’s on the top!”. “Billy-Bob we’re here, we’re down here Billy-Bob”, they all scream.

And so the men, started to all be so positive. They started to start clinking. “Grab the rocks, get your tools, pound! Pound! Pound into that rock! We’re going to make it! (rhythmic tapping). “can you here us up there? oh God! Can you hear us? Help get us out of here! (rhythmic tapping)

Ands all of a sudden there was this huge pound. Huge Pound! Huge Clink! (one final tap) and Billy-Bob broke through the rock. There was sunlight coming through, the men could breath. The lights came back on.

The roar could be heard all over town! “They’re alive, they’re alive! Sound the alarm, they’re alive”. And they were. Each man held his hand up and walked out of that mine and they were all saved that day. And that’s the story of Kum Ba Yah.

(singing) Kum Ba Yah my lord, Kum Ba yah.  (2 x) Oh Lord, Kum Ba Yah. And that’s why we sing Kum Ba Yah out at campfire, almost every night to close it. So we can think about how it is to be at camp. Looking at the last ember of the flame of the campfire and thinking about how grateful we are to be together.

Interviewer’s notes:

It is interesting to note the blatant religious motif such as the fact that there were 12 men, just like the 12 apostles. The story perfectly coincides with the Christian ideas of  YMCA camp by highlighting the rewarding aspects of having faith in God. As an oral story, the storyteller employs an interesting use of the rhetorical. This invites audience participation, which in turn enhances the memorability and thus the longevity of the story. Furthermore, the story has a direct connection to the song the campers sing each night at camp. This also ensures the resonance with the audience. Also repetition in the story, no only enables memorability, but is also in keeping with Olrik’s Epic Laws of Narrative.

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