The Tar Baby and the Tomahawk: Race and Ethnic Images in American Children's Literature, 1880-1939


The Boomeo Boy.

"Who was the Boomeo Boy?" asked Ethel, as she sat in her father's lap, before the fire, while Willie was balancing himself on the embroidered foot-rest, after the manner of a circus-rider on the back of a horse.

"Why, my child," said the father, "haven't I often told you the verses beginning:

"There's a sound on the highway, a sound on the by-way,
A note as of musical joy:
Oh, run you, Maria, and light up the fire,
For here comes the Boomeo Boy!"

"Oh yes," said Ethel, "but you never go on any further. I don't know who Maria was, nor who the Boomeo Boy was, nor what they wanted to light a fire for."

"Yes," added Willie, "and I don't believe there ever was any Boomeo Boy."

"Oh, wont you believe it? oh, wont you receive it?
Oh, say, do you think it's a toy?
Oh, run get the water, my son and my daughter,
For here comes the Boomeo Boy!"

"Is that the second verse?" asked Ethel. "I never heard it before."

"Nor I, either," said Willie. "But what did they want the water for? Was it a toy, or was it a real live boy? and why did they call him Boomeo? Was that his first name or his father's name? I wish you would tell me all about him, Father."

"Oh, say, would you rather I'd be a good father,
And never my children annoy?
Or tell of the fairy, so very unwary,
Who was caught by the Boomeo Boy?"

"I don't understand you one bit," said Ethel to her father. "Are you making it all up, or is that the third verse? Now, begin at the beginning, and go straight on to the end. Begin in the regular way, you know: 'Once upon a time there was a boy named Boomeo, and he lived— in a cave or something— and'—"

He caught her. He caught her— the witch's fair daughter—
And taught her a different employ:
He first tried to throttle her— then tried to bottle her—
Terrible Boomeo Boy!"

"Please, Father, do tell us all about it, in the right way!" cried little Ethel. "Don't tease us any more. You have so often said you would tell us all about the Boomeo Boy, and yet you have never gone any further than the first verse, about 'Run you, Maria, and light up the fire.'"

"Oh, yes, please do!" chimed in Willie. "I do so want to hear about it all."

He lighted a taper, and searched through the vapor,
Determined to save or destroy;
From above, and from under, with a shout as of wonder,
They sat on the Boomeo Boy."

"Well, Father," said Willie, "I think you might tell us! I don't care to hear any more of this story. It troubles me so. I can not make it out. Who sat down on the Boomeo Boy? And what did they do it for?"

"A terrible rattle, which seemed like a battle,
With shoutings of 'Vive le Roi,'
Was heard on the highway, was heard on the by-way
And he vanished— the Boomeo Boy."

"Is that the end of it?" asked little Ethel. "Dear me, I do wish I knew what it all meant."

"Well, now, my dear children," replied their father, "I will tell you all about it, honor bright, from the very beginning, and with no poetry in it."

So they nestled in their father's arms, and he told them the story of the Boomeo Boy.

"You remember reading, a few months ago, a story in ST. NICHOLAS* about 'Mumbo Jumbo',who roams among the native tribes in Africa, and what a curious fellow he is, and what queer things he does. Well, when I was a little boy, I went away alone by myself to Brazil. It was a very long voyage, and we had a great many adventures on the way. At last, after forty days at sea, we arrived at Pernambuco, a city in the empire of Brazil. Here I spent the winter on a large plantation, traveling about the country, and visiting the different towns and villages, and seeing the many strange sights of that foreign land. One city which I used to visit was named Olinda. It was directly on the ocean, and was made up of a great number of churches and convents. Another place, where I very frequently staid with some friends, was named Cashingar, after a city in Persia. It was here that I saw the real live Boomeo Boy.

"One day, as I was playing with the little children and the poor little black slaves, in the court-yard of the plantation, I heard the lady of the house call out: 'Run, Maria! Light the fire— the Boomeo Boy is coming!'

"As she said this, we could hear the noise of a great company of people, with drums and trumpets, coming down the road. They all were black slaves, but they were dressed in whie and pink

*St. Nicholas for April, 1881.

and yellow ribbons, and they had feathers and fans, and flags and banners, and they were dancing and jumping from side to side on the dusty road. They had one old slave in a chair; he was their king. He had a paper crown on his head, and a gilt stick or scepter in his hand. This king of theirs was the descendant of their real king when they lived in Africa, before they were captured and brought as slaves to Brazil. They carried him along on a sort of sedan chair on their shoulders, and paid him the greatest honor, kneeling down to him every little while, and prostrating themselves before him. This day was one of the great festival days, and all the slaves belonging to this tribe were allowed to go out on a picnic into the country, and keep up their tribe honors.

"But back of all these slaves there was a man with a big false head, which he carried on a pole. He made it go up and down, and turned it sidewise and every way. The face was a dreadful thing, and looked like the face of an ogre, or of a giant. This man was called the 'Boomeo Boy' because he would cry out 'Boom! boom!' which was the same as saying, 'Look out— here I come!' The slaves would make fun of him, and laugh at him, and sing bits of song at him— something like the verses I have been repeating to you, and then the Boomeo Boy would run after them, and try to catch them.

"As he passed by the gardens and plantations, he would leap over the hedges and walls, steal fruit, and frighten the chickens; but wherever the people lighted a bonfire, there he could not enter.

"There was one woman in the procession who was dressed as a witch, and she had her little daughter dressed like a fairy. The witch and the fairy would teaze the big ogre, and then he would chase them; but if any person threw a bucket of water between the witch and the Boomeo Boy, it broke the spell, and the Boomeo Boy would have to give up the chase.

"Some people have thought that, in these plays, those poor slaves were keeping up the old customs which they had in Africa, and that the Boomeo Boy meant the Evil One, or an evil spirit. Other people say that the Boomeo Boy stands in these games for the slave-hunters who captured the poor blacks, and burned their villages, and took men, [illustration - The "Boomeo Boy" on his travels.] women, and children away in the slave-ships, and that the fire and the water stand for the burning villages and the ocean. But I only remember, as a little boy, standing by the window of the plantation-house in Cashingar, and seeing the crowd of slaves go by, their old king at their head, crying out: 'Boomeo Boy! Boomeo Boy!'"