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"Alabama Coon"

"I'se a little Alabama coon,   I'se not been born very long ... "   This is the correct text.   "I'se" is an abbreviation for "I is," misprinted as "It's" in some versions of the text of the play.


This is a real lullaby that my grandmother, Mrs Seow Poh Leng  used to sing to her grandchildren in Oberon.  I have never seen it the song in a book and I reconstructed the words form childhood memory (not quite correctly) .  I didn't know whether this song even really existed until  after a performance of "Emily," an Australian man came up and said, "My grandmother used to sing that song."    Later I found it on YouTube.   


“I’s a little Alabama 'coon means, "I’m a little black child from Alabama," which is supposed to be the cute broken English of a negro baby or picanniny.  This is one of several such songs, popular in the 1930's, which purported to be the songs of happy darkies on the cotton plantations of the Old South of America.  Other songs by Stephen Foster included "Way down upon the Swanee River,"  "Old Black Joe," and "My Old Kentucky Home." These songs were favourites in many Peranakan homes. 

So this is interesting – here were these Peranakan families who had never been to America and never seen a black person, singing about black slaves who were happy and contented in their slavery.  Were they totally ignorant of the realities of slavery?  Or was the idea of keeping slaves a comfortable and familiar one? -- certainly, many Peranakan families kept bond-maids who were slaves in all but the name.

What about the race issue? Peranakan families tended to be racially bigoted.  Most Nonyas would have been horrified if a child of theirs brought home a black person as a future spouse.  Isn't it fascinating, that they could call their babies "little picanninies?"  Isn't it odd, that they didn't mind their teen-age sons painting their faces black and and being "nigger minstrels" in groups such as the "Moonlight Minstrels?"  Maybe the idea of a "Nigger" was as unreal as the idea of a "vampire" in today's society --  a harmless and amusing game, with nothing to do with real life.

Does this suggest one way in which Peranakan society, in the glory days of the 1930's, was insulated from the realities of life? --Stella Kon

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