Research notebook? Check. Fully charged phone doubling as a recorder? Check. Diapers for the baby? Check.

I headed out to the refugee camp to meet some well-known Naas musicians with my 5-month-old baby in tow. As we ducked down to enter the low door of the first home, my Naas friends who accompanied me said, “This man is very big (famous)!” 

The gray-haired man greeted us with a stern face and reached for his instrument. He strummed and started singing, and an elderly woman sitting next to him started tapping her feet. When she could no longer contain herself, she sprang to her feet and ululated joyously, stamping an accompanying rhythm with her feet. Other women heard the shrill noise and came in, and soon we had to move outside as the cloud of dust kicked up by their energetic feet enveloped us. By this time the man had a twinkle in his eyes, and when the song finished, his face was wreathed in a proud, pleased smile.

“Another!” the women cried. And motioning to me, “Come, dance with us!”

And so began my morning of visiting with artists, hearing their songs, and recording new cultural information in my notebook.

I learned that each type of song has a certain time of year when people sing it. If you sing the wrong type at the wrong time, you’ll be taken before the elders and made to pay a fine of a goat! I learned that one genre of songs tells the history of the people, and I had the privilege of hearing one of the newest songs in this collection — it’s about the coronavirus.

By the end of the morning, my sweaty baby and I were both ready for a break. On our bumpy ride home in the Land Cruiser, my imagination stirred. What if, in years to come, people are singing history songs about when the Scripture arrived in their own language and God began speaking to them in a new way? Will they put the stories of the ancient Israelites, whose culture so resembles their own, to song? Will they add to their oral history the story of God coming to Earth and living as a man? Will they stomp their feet joyfully in worship of their Maker?

Who knows what beautiful, inspired artistry the Naas people will come up with as they come to know their Creator. But this I know — it will be glorious to behold.

Miriam Lake
Miriam Lake is an ethnoarts specialist, the mother to three young children, and the wife of a Bible translation specialist. She loves dancing, sharing cups of hot tea, and learning about the artistry of minority people groups. She and her family make their home in Africa.
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