Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
--John F. Kennedy, inaugural address, January 20, 1961

Have you ever felt like a kingdom? I don’t mean like a king, I mean like a kingdom: Purple mountain majesties swooping down into fruited plains, giving way to ample hips and a belly round and swayed with fat--and when I say fat I smile as I say it and I mean it for the good thing it is: fat of the land.  

Swing your arms out, child. Feel the rain caress your body. Feel it sink into your bones of granite and lime. Feel the sweet sun kiss your face. Feel what’s live, the vibe erupting out in a cacophony of trees, their hungry roots sucking on your sweet flowing breasts, the birds in your hair, the dandelion seeds cascading over your leafy skin, the sky in your eyes which are bright pools. Think like a mountain...

Feel your people. Feed your people, your countrymen, from your bounty. You are the Mother and the Father of the nation. Your Abundance nourishes the future, Abiding the past.

Listen, child, and you will hear the steady drumbeat, moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. From the blolo, where the spirits of the ancestors reside, you can hear their drums. Follow them all the way across the waters, to the First Country, between where the Comoé and the Bandama flow. Here you will find the story of the Old Man, who was a king, and a kingdom.

When Old Man was born, he was a king, a chief, and his relatives called him Dia, “The Magician.” As the day grew older, he became a doctor. As the day grew still older, he became a plantation boss, a union leader, a member of the French Parliament. And yet Old Man was every bit still a king, and the bounty of his Inner Country became that of his Outer Country. When the other nations starved, his nation prospered. When the other nations fought wars, his nation had peace. When other nations built weapons, he built churches. His reign was called “the Miracle.”

When a great person arises, and puts their great talents to use for the good of the whole community, the people have a name for this virtue. They call it N’giouele (Giftedness).

Seventeen years ago today, the great African statesman Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first President of Côte d'Ivoire, passed away. Originally a village chief of the Baoulé people, “Papa Houphouët” became a doctor, plantation boss, union leader, and member of the French Parliament before rising to guide his country out of the colonial era. The success of his regime was known as the “Ivorian Miracle.”

Within each of us lies an undiscovered country--an Abundance of talents and gifts. How do we cultivate this Inner Country, whose fruited plains feed our fellows? How do we, like Dia Houphouët-Boigny, manifest our own N’giouele?

May we see the gates of N’giouele, and perhaps make a home there.

Image of painting Fruited Plains, by artist Elfred Lee, gratefully acknowledged.

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