Segments in this Video

A Story of Memory (02:32)


Time and oppression have not erased African heritage. Approximately 40 million African Americans live in America. We see individuals engage in singing and dancing. (Culturally accepted nudity)

Music in Harris Neck, 1931 (02:53)

Lois Turner recalls her husband Lorenzo's discovery of a 50-year-old woman who sang the longest African language text in the United States. Solomon Cook recognizes Mende in the song. Lois sings part of the song.

The Gullah Connection (03:12)

Anthropologist, Joseph Opala, explains the basis of the Gullah connection. Between 1785-1800, more than 45% of slaves arriving in Savannah came from Sierra Leon; many from the fort on Bance Island.

Welcome Home Gullahs (02:52)

In 1989, the African government hosts a Gullah delegation in Sierra Leon. Joseph Opala recalls the preparations for the homecoming; he finds Lorenzo Turner's recordings of Amelia Dawley's Gullah song. Opala decides to trace the song.

Origin's of Amelia's Song (02:47)

Joseph Opala and Tazieff Koroma determine the theme line of Amelia Dawley's song; the word tombe is an idiophone from the Pujehun district. Opala recalls playing the song in every village of Mende country.

A Song of Ancestry, Senehun Ngola, 1989 (03:42)

Cynthia Schmidt takes Amelia Dawley's song to Senehun Ngola; village women sing along. Bendu Jabati recalls learning the song from her grandmother and the ceremony it was used in.

Completing the Puzzle of Amelia Dawley's Song (04:56)

Chief Nabi Jah recalls the rites of an ancestral ceremony called Tenjami, a woman's rite. We see villagers perform the ceremony.

End of the Tenjami Ceremony (01:57)

Rice is at the heart of the Tenjami ceremony. Chief Nabi Jah's village abandons the ancient Mende rituals at the end of WWI when Islam and Christianity is introduced by soldiers. (Culturally accepted nudity)

Mende Song in America (02:07)

Mary Moran recalls the time spent with her mother, Amelia Dawley. Moran recalls dancing to the song that was a funeral hymn. Dawley, daughter of a slave, absorbs African culture from her elders.

Tracing Silent History (02:25)

Joseph Opala recalls playing the recording of Amelia Dawley's song to Mary Moran. The Moran family can trace their ancestry with confidence. Wilson Moran discusses being connected to a place in Africa.

Price of War in Africa (02:32)

Since 1991, war in Africa has caused 50,000 deaths and driven 2 million people from their homes. The Mende turn to the Kamajos for protection. Bendu Jabati recalls living in a refugee camp.

Beyond the Pain (03:04)

Bendu Jabati is sad that Mary Moran will see her village in ruin. Villagers slowly rebuild their homes and their lives. Moran arrives in Sierra Leon; she meets President Kabbah.

Getting to Know Sierra Leon (02:22)

Mary Moran receives a new name in Sierra Leon. She and her family receive African clothing. The Morans travel the country participating in ancestral activities. They visit a Mende church.

Walls of Pain and Sorrow in Africa (04:17)

Mary Moran visits the ruins of the British fort at Bance Island. She learns about the slave trader's practices on the island. Wilson Moran shares his feelings about visiting the site.

United by an Ancient African Song (05:19)

Mary Moran and her family meets Bendu Jabati. Hundreds of Kamanjo warriors circle the village to ensure their safety. Villagers from around the area join the celebration welcoming the Morans. (Culturally accepted nudity)

Memory is Power (03:27)

Mary Moran and Bendu Jabati sing the Mende song. Women reenact the Tenjami ceremony. Chief Nabi Jah explains why this song survived in America with a Mende proverb. (Culturally accepted nudity)

Credits: The Language You Cry In (00:58)

Credits: The Language You Cry In

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The Language You Cry In

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Spanning hundreds of years and thousands of miles, this program recounts the remarkable saga of how a nursery rhyme sung by the Gullah people of present-day Georgia was confirmed to be of African origin. When 18th-century slavers sent human cargo from Sierra Leone to America’s coastal South, they also sent a trove of cultural information that had been passed from Mende mothers to their daughters for generations—including a particular song that had been carefully preserved because it was used in funeral rites. With the help of anthropologists, ethnomusicologists, linguists, and the singers themselves, the “nonsense lyrics” of the song found in Georgia were identified as those of the Mende dirge. Portions in other languages with English subtitles. (52 minutes)

Length: 53 minutes

Item#: BVL49758

Copyright date: ©1998

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

“Informed by the expertise of anthropologists and linguists, and with echoes of Alex Haley’s Roots, this film is the kind of breathtaking detective story that will not let you go.”  —Johnnetta Cole, President, Bennett College      


“They all come together in this deeply moving film—the intellectually trained and driven investigators, the cultural carriers, and survivors of a people on two continents. And this film becomes the griot—staying outside of the story so that the narrative flows, touching me in the deepest places, creating spiritual sacred ground watered with my tears.”  —Bernice Johnson Reagon     


“A compelling story that helps us to examine violence and redemption, then and now. I am delighted that this moving and well-made documentary is just the right length to show to my history classes; it will prompt students to think about our collective past in fresh ways.”  —Professor Peter H. Wood, Duke University      


“Presents the most inspiring and poignant story I have heard in a very long time.”  —Professor Michael Montgomery, University of South Carolina       


“A moving and gripping film.”  William and Mary Quarterly     


“An informative and important scholarly document. Effective mix of images, instrumental music, song, and narrative comprises a touching and masterly presentation of facts surrounding the search for a lost song, its history, and its implications for our understanding of relationships between aspects of African-American and African culture.”  —Samuel A. Floyd, Jr., Director, Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago           


“Meticulous historical, ethnomusicological, and linguistic research support this beautifully-crafted film. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will use it in my classes.”  —Jo Radner, President, American Folklore Society

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