Monday, 17 October 2016

Commentary: Why do Good Girls fall for Bad Boys?

This Fulɓe tale, set at the dawn of human creation, takes something mundane and humourous “why do good girls fall for bad boys?” and makes a myth out of it.

Scientifically speaking, good girls fall for good guys just as often — it's just that it doesn't strike our attention as much.

, it might be attraction to the dark side repressed in ourselves. In the union of opposites we become whole again.

, good cannot exist without bad and in the mystery of their fertile union, we see hidden order and meaning in what seems at first paradoxical.

, what are good and bad anyway — based on what value?

A myth raises all of these avenues to perceiving and understanding the world. It inspires its listeners to read actively, interpreting and creating meaning. It is not literal truth, but metaphorical truth. It touches us on many levels. It imparts subliminal truth.

As in Genesis: “God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” The story opens with the simple human experience of awe at the morning sunrise. Human beings are sent off by God on the path to the promised land of Paradise. At the superficial level, the promise for the ladies is sumptuous dwellings and fine jewels (safety & luxury), and for the men it is the ladies themselves and knowledge (love & wisdom). Already this is making assumptions about the priorities of each gender. It is satisfying a primal need for order with far too comfortable stereotypes.

At a deeper level the path the men and women must take is of course a spiritual path. The women have three days head-start, but the men are three times quicker at chasing them down. The implication is that women are more spiritually gifted, but that men are more devoted. There is also something lustful in the imagery of the chase, as male desire is harnessed in the pursuit of both women and wisdom. Woman becomes both the path and condition for wisdom. Just as luxury is the apogee of safety, wisdom symbolises the apogee of love. Likewise for the women, a man becomes the condition for safety and access into the promised land. There is a mutual want and need. 

Is the path nothing more than the path to one’s desires? So it seems at the beginning. Both women and later men spread out along the path following God’s instructions to make good speed and not let another overtake them. The message is surprisingly individualistic and different from the values we assume to be embodied in African culture. The implication at the outset is: you are alone on the spiritual path!

Yet it is the Manakapous women bringing up the rear who have the idleness to stop and the bravado to question, who give up their desire to push ahead of each other and begin to love themselves as they are, finding presence and community on the path itself. By a feat of karmic good fortune, they will turn out to enter paradise first, for God’s karma works in mysterious ways. As God insists to those who cry foul, things are exactly as they should be. What is this but a myth of radical acceptance, without judgment, of things as they are. There is something almost Christian about it: “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the Earth” (Matthew 5:5)

What then are the values embodied in this myth, the measure of “good” and “bad”? To begin with it is merely speed, or interpreted spiritually, the combination of intelligence and faith. Deeper, it is balance and wholeness.  Culturally speaking, this means usefulness to one’s partner, family, community, country and beyond. Spiritually speaking, it is opening to the other, making peace with the other and loving the other. Ultimately, it is not an individual value at all, but harmony of the whole community and the whole universe, symbolised by the carrier-ox with a well-balanced load. God has a greater plan that includes and transcends all human values. Each of us has to look after not only ourselves, but also our corner of the greater mosaic of the universe and that begins with the partner we choose.

Finally, unlike some cultures historically which separated people by caste or creed and only permitted marriage within the same grouping, believing perhaps in notions of purity of blood (or as it was termed in 15th century Spanish Catholicism “limpieza de sangre”), this Fulɓe tale by contrast celebrates and encourages hybridity and unity across these separations. Although Fulɓe culture has a distinctive identity and diverse origin myths which attempt to trace and explain the source of this identity, we are encouraged to question any ideology of a particular and singular origin and perceive truth in the multiplicity of these different tales, a multiplicity indeed strikingly represented by the Fulɓe symbol of creation of the hermaphrodite cow with dappled skin of many colours. Just like the symbolic cow, every part of a community is an essential part of the whole.

Image:  Sir Edward Burne Jones,  
King Cophetua & The Beggar Maid

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