Before the revival of the drama in France by the rise of the romantic school; before ‘Henri III et sa Cour,’ before ‘Hernani,’ and while Marie-Joseph Chénier, Lemercier, and Ducis were still masters of the stage, we had in Louisiana a tragedy which may be read with some interest. Le Blanc de Villeneufve, an ex-officer in the French army, wrote at the age of seventy-eight, a drama on an episode of Indian life. While employed by the government among the Tchactas, from 1752 to 1758, he heard the story of the father who had sacrificed himself to save his son’s life, and he says that many years afterwards he thought of writing a play on this subject, in order to defend the Indians from the imputation of having been savages without any human feelings.
This work, ‘Poucha-Houmma,’ is a regular classical tragedy, and the unities of time, place, and action seem to be well observed. The style is somewhat too grandiloquent and Cornelian for Indian personages; for instance, the play begins thus:
Très illustres enfans des enfans du Soleil,
Enfin voici le jour, ou la saison prospère
Va payer vos travaux d’un précieux salaire:
Ce jour, vous le savez, jadis par nos ayeux,
Fut toujours mis au rang des jours les plus heureux.
Je n’ai jamais manqué d’en célébrer la fête,
Depuis soixante hivers ecoulés sur ma tête.
Que vos cœurs satisfaits s’expriment par vos chants;
La terre, sous vos yeux, a placé ses présens:
A notre bienfaiteur offrez-en les prémices.
Puisse-t-il agréer vos pieux sacrifices!
Pour moi, triste jouet du sort le plus cruel,
Je ne puis présider à l’acte solennel.
L’ancien de nos vieillards pourra prendre ma place,
Je dois me retirer, je le demande en grâce.
Malheureux que je suis, un rêve me confond....
We see then that, as in ‘Athalie,’ a dream is pursuing Poucha-Houmma with its sinister omen. He does not wish to preside over “la Fête du Petit Blé,” the most important of all the festivals of the Hoummas. Tchilita-Be, Poucha's brother, exhorts him to attend to his duties of chief, and asks him to relate his dream. The latter says that he had dreamed that his son Cala-Be, who had escaped after having killed a Tchacta, was to be put to death the next day. In the second act, Cala-Be, accompanied by his wife Fouchi whom he had married among the the Attac-Apas, returns to his village. In the third act, is related the festival of the “Petit Blé,” one feature of which was that the children were to be flogged unmercifully by their mothers on that day. While the “Petit Blé” was being celebrated, arrives Nachouba, a friend of Poucha-Houmma, who says that the Tchactas are coming to claim the murderer. The Houmma chief, thereupon, orders his son to escape from his enemies, and there is a touching struggle between the father, who wants to save the son, and the latter and his wife who want to brave the enemies. At last, Cala-Be and Fouchi withdraw, and Poucha-Houmma receives the Tchacta envoys. There is an assembly of the tribe, and the Houmma chiefs offer all their treasures for the life of Cala-Be. The Tchactas insist, however, upon the law of retaliation, and Poucha surrenders himself to save his son. The tribe, in consternation, allow their chief to be led away. In the fifth act, Cala-Be returns to submit to his fate, but he only arrives after his father has been put to death, in his place, and he listens with horror to Nachouba's recital of the last moments of Poucha-Houmma.
If we consider that the author of this tragedy was seventy- eight years old when he wrote it, and if we remember ‘Agesilas’ and ‘Pertharite’ of Corneille’s old age, we must admit that our first Louisiana drama was, under the circumstances, a work of some merit. At our last Exposition, was the portrait of Mr. de Villeneufve dressed as a Tchacta chief.
- ‘Poucha-Houmma.’ Le Blanc De Villeneufve, ‘Poucha-Houmma.’ I Vol. 12mo, 58 pp. Imprimerie du Courrier de la Le, Nouvelle-Orleans. 1814.
Text prepared by:
- Bruce R. Magee
Fortier, Alcée. “French Literature in Louisiana.” Transactions and Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America 2 (1886): 31-60. JSTOR. Web. 19 Jan. 2015. <http:// www.jstor.org/ stable/ 456047>.