Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Maa Yea"

This poem is from the April 2016 [community profile] crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] chanter_greenie and [personal profile] siliconshaman . It also fills the "art initiates life" square in my 1-5-16 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. This has been selected in an audience poll as the free short epic for the half-price sale in Shiv reaching $1000. It belongs to the series Polychrome Heroics.

WARNING: This poem contains imagery which is likely to disturb many readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. Nigeria is a bottom-ten country because reasons. The poem contains canon-atypical violence, murder of children, grief, rage, berserk mothers, graphic descriptions of death, gore, discrimination and murder of people with superpowers, magic which is not evil but is in no way fluffy, vengeance, misogyny, Boko Haram, flesh trading, graphic dismemberment, drunk men pillaging everything, graphic poetic justice, and other mayhem. This poem is not woven into any major plotlines, merely presented as an example of life in a bottom-ten country, so you won't miss anything vital if you choose to skip it. Readers are strongly cautioned to consider tastes and headspace carefully before deciding whether to read this one.

"Maa Yea"

The baby had not yet received a name
when she was killed by the Boko Haram
for giving off a soft golden glow like sunlight.

Her mother crawled out of the childbed,
leaving a slick of blood behind her, and
took from the wall the wooden mask
that was meant for protecting children.

"Now I am Maa Yea," she declared,
taking the name of the mask for her own.

And the blood stopped flowing,
so that her body healed right up.

And her flesh became like wood,
so that bullets and machetes
barely scratched her.

And her arms became like branches,
her fingers like vines, her toes like roots,
so strong that she could break stones
and tear down buildings.

She walked through the villages
of Nigeria, following the stories of
other children born with ashé,
the vital cosmic energy.

Maa Yea protected them against
the Boko Haram and the flesh traders
and even, if necessary, their own neighbors.

It was her purpose.

She no longer ate or drank or shat.
She was sustained by the fierce love
of mothers for their children, which was
a thing that flowed without end.

She saved so many little ones,
and it gave her a sense of fulfillment.

It only filled the Boko Haram
with rage, though, and one day
they caught up with her.

The woman who had once been
a mother laughed at them.

"Do you not know what I am?"
she said. "I am Maa Yea!
You cannot kill me.
I cannot die."

"You are only a woman
wearing a stupid mask,"
they said. "Women can die.
We will tear off your mask,
and kill you, and be rid of you."

"Behind this mask there is
more than just a woman,"
said Maa Yea. "Behind
this mask there is an idea.
You cannot kill an idea!
So long as mothers love
their children, I will live."

"We will see," said the men.

They attacked her with chainsaws
and rocket launchers until they
severed her body in pieces.

They threw the pieces into a bonfire
and poured gasoline on logs and
kept it burning all night.

In the morning they could find
no sign of Maa Yea, so they
declared themselves finished
and went off to get drunk.

That night, the men went
rampaging through another village,
killing and looting and burning.

In one hut a woman flung herself
in front of her winged toddler and
screamed, "You will not have him!"

This young mother, too, had
a spark of ashé hidden within her.

Then the wooden face on the wall
spoke in her mind and said to her,
Take up the mask. I will give you
the ashé Maa Yea and you
will protect the children

So the woman snatched up
the mask and held it to her face.

Then her flesh became like wood,
and her arms became like branches,
and the power flowed through her.

"No! No!" screamed the man.
"You're dead! We killed you!"

"You cannot kill me.
I cannot die. I am Maa Yea,
and wherever mothers love children,
there I live," she said.

Then she tore him slowly in half.

The two women who now dwelled in
Maa Yea turned to each other in spirit.

The first recalled, Before my daughter
was killed, I was known as Coffi.

The second replied, Before I took up
the mask, I was called Gaddo.

So the two of them took the toddler
to Gaddo's sister, who loved him
just as much as Gaddo did.

Coffi and Gaddo learned
how to be Maa Yea together.

Maa Yea continued her journey
through Nigeria, protecting the children
as she went along the way.

Sometimes she needed to pause
for a day and find a new mask,
but it was never difficult, for
there was no shortage of
mothers loving children.

It was some time after
Maa Yea lost count of
how many Boko Haram
she had killed that they
began trying to avoid her.

They hid in bunkers and
caves and the bad parts of cities.

That didn't work out for them either.

"I am Maa Yea," she told them
as she pulled off their heads.
"You cannot run from an idea.
You cannot escape me."

People whispered behind her
in their different languages.
Orisha, said some, while
others said lwa.

She did not care
what anyone called her.
She knew what she truly was.

She was Maa Yea.

* * *


Maa Yea -- She is part spirit, part magic, part wooden mask, and part human. She lives in Nigeria, where she travels to protect children, especially superkids. Maa Yea is driven by grief and rage, which is eased only by killing people who prey on the young. She is ruthless and terrifying -- although not to children, who can sense her motherlove.
Origin: The first two women to become Maa Yea were Coffi, who took up the mask after her glowing daughter was murdered by Boko Haram; and Gaddo, who donned it to protect her winged son. Many more have joined their collective since then; like many orishas, she is both one and many.
Uniform: A wooden mask and human flesh. Whenever she is killed, Maa Yea enters another mask wherever someone's child is threatened, and offers the mother the power of Maa Yea. So far nobody has refused the call.
Qualities: Master (+6) Motherlove, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Tracking
Poor (-2) Traumatic Grief
Powers: Master (+6) Enchanted Mask
This meta-power includes Regeneration, Toughness, Vining Grasp, and Super-Strength. Her body is woody, resembling a tree or vines. She is sustained by the love of mothers for their children, and no longer needs to eat, drink, or eliminate. She can be killed, but this is only a brief inconvenience, as she simply inhabits another mask and finds a new mother to ride.
Limitation: Maa Yea is obviously supernatural, looks like some kind of walking mask-tree-creature, and cannot pass for human at all. That didn't stop the Bokor Haram from claiming she was just a woman, but they were too stupid to live anyway.
Motivation: To protect the children.

See the body and the mask.

Nigerian Wood Wall Mask, 'Protect My Baby'
Long eyelashes frame watchful eyes in a face that is sweetly feminine. Carved by hand of African African rubberwood, this beautiful mask is the work of Abdul Aziz Mohamadu. "Such masks are used by the Hausa tribe of Niger. It is placed in the room where a new baby sleeps so that the spirit of protection residing in the mask will ward off all evil spirits that try to attack the child, either during the day or night," he explains. He names the piece Maa Yea, a Hausa word that means "protecting of children."

* * *

“Behind this mask there is more than just flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea ... and ideas are bulletproof.”
Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

Nigeria is #14 on the list of "Worst Countries in the World" in Local-Earth and #5 on the list of bottom-ten worst countries for soups in Terramagne. It suffers from political unrest, widespread violence, and extreme prejudice across many divides. In 2013 the population was 174,507,600 and 44% of those were children under 15. That means a soup population around 174,500 of whom about half are children. Trouble markers include fatality ("foreign" superpowers are punishable by death, and local "witches" are often murdered), abridged rights (soups are banned from education, marriage, or property ownership; rape, torture, and other violations of bodily integrity; and forced removal of superpowers), and pogroms ("witch hunts" are common, especially against children). Another serious problem is water privatization.
In April 2011, Goodluck Jonathan, who was born with Luck Powers, won by a landslide what was arguably the country’s fairest presidential election ever. His opponents immediately claimed that he cheated, despite overwhelming popular support, and he was challenged by violent protests in the Muslim north which worsened the deep shear of ethnic, regional, and religious affiliations in Nigeria. His attempts to ease the oppression of people with superpowers have met with mixed reception among the broad populace and berserk outrage from extremists.
The Islamist group Boko Haram has killed over a thousand people since 2009, assaulting churches, schools, and even the U.N. headquarters in Abuja. They often abduct young people for use as sex slaves, cooks, and for sale. On April 14-15, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped a group of 276 female students from the Government Secondary School in Chibok On April 19, one of the abused cooks manifested Fire Powers, with which she freed 100 other girls and led them safely home. Aboka Gowon then joined the Witches and Wizards Association of Nigeria (WITZAN).
In July 2014, WITZAN declared war on Boko Haram. This organization is led by Dr. Oberhiri Iboi, who has Precognition. He predicts that hundreds more kidnapped schoolgirls will be rescued and sent home, and that President Jonathan will win the 2015 election again. WITZAN members are discussing how to use their superpowers to cage Boko Haram leaders and lieutenants. While I have altered and added some details, I have not fabricated Nigeria's current status as one of the worst countries in the world. Terramagne's bottom-ten list is compiled from research into human rights violations meant to project which places would be most likely to abuse people with superpowers -- or are actually doing that with people they believe to have extraordinary abilities right here.

"Mama Bear means a mother ferocious in defense of her children. See also "The Female of the Species" by Rudyard Kipling.

Orishas or lwas are divine spirits of African and Afro-Caribbean religions; see also Odinani, the sacred science of Nigeria. They are known for absorbing exceptional human followers who then serve as messengers, rather like the saints in Christianity, hence the parallel between them.

ashé -- vital cosmic energy
-- Santeria: A Religion of Divination, Magic and Animal Sacrifice
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, ethnic studies, fantasy, fishbowl, gender studies, poem, poetry, reading, spirituality, weblit, writing

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