From Pointe-A-Pitre to New Orleans (Part 2): Je te tiens, Tu me tiens

Thinking back on the time I spent with my French side of the family, one thing immediately comes to mind and that is the little songs and hand games they played with us. My Great Aunt Denyse sung a little song about un petit oiseau drinking from a fountain. She clutched our little hands in hers, circling our palms with her fingers symbolizing the brim of the water that the bird was perched on. She also taught us Je te tiens, tu me tiens, which is probably the most memorable rhyme that stuck with me from childhood. It was fun to learn the language that way, even though at first I wasn’t even sure what I was saying. The lyrics of the song for the game are:

Je te tiens, tu me tiens

par la barbichette,

le premier de nous deux

qui rira aura une tapette!

In order to play the game, two people sit across from one another, hold each other’s chins, and sing the song. It is a staring contest until the first person smiles. The English translation is: “I hold you, you hold me, by our little goatee, the first one of us two who will laugh will get a little slap!”

After spending many years in New Orleans and Metairie, my great-grandparents decided to move to rural Covington in the late 1970s/early 1980s after my Meme moved there with her children. They owned a large piece of property. One thing I will always remember about Meme is her gardens. She had beautiful plants lining her driveway, walkways, and in the backyard. When they lived in their house in Tchefuncte Subdivision, there was a giant rose bush that lined the sidewalk. I can still smell the roses and feel the touch of the pink flower petals. Today, they are in their 90s and live in a condo in Beau Chene Subdivision in Mandeville. Meme still has beautiful flowers along the walkway to her front door.

Jack holding Drew’s great-aunt and uncle, Denyse and Ray, on the terrace of their home in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe in the late 1940s. Photo from the Kinchen family.

Part 3: Where it all began

Editor’s Note: This story is one of a series reprinted from the book A Guide to South Louisiana: Stories of Uncommon Culture. Each author was a student in Rachel Breunlin’s “Storytelling and Culture” course for the Department of Anthropology at the University of New Orleans in the Spring of 2017. The Neighborhood Story Project sponsored the project as part of its mission to publish collaborative ethnography in high quality books in which the authors receive royalties for their creative labor.


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