Friday, 25 November 2016

Kaydara: The Opening Scene

Kaydara (1964), like Koumen (1961) published already on this blog, is an initiation tale collected by Amadou Hampâté Bâ (1900-1991) and rendered by him in verse translation in French. Without further introduction, what follows is the opening scene of this epic tale:

A tale once told, a tale I tell again.

   But is it true this tale?”

“For the little ones who play at night by the light of the moon, my tale is but a fantasy.

When the winter nights draw in and lengthen, at the late hour when the spinners grow weary, my account is a pleasant tale to hear.

For the bearded philosophers and rough-heeled travellers, it is a truthful story that has much to teach.

Thus I am futile, useful, instructive.”

   Go on and tell it to us then!

It was in the mysterious far-off land of Kaydara which no man can situate exactly to tell us when and where our story happened.

O dear son of my own father! Manna[1]who was the first to tell this tale located it a few years after the mountains had hardened[2]and the genies were finishing carving out the river gorges.[3]

Hammadi[4] left his home at the hour when the horizon was illuminated with a soft golden glow whose halo lights up the One-Eyed King[5]when he rises with the dawn and sets at night. His eyes transfixed, he walked with indecisive step up to a large crossroads[6]and stopped. Hammadi[7]was lost in the beauty of the heavens and did not notice Hamtudo, nor hear his loud footsteps, coming down one of the three paths[8]ending at the crossroads. Hamtudo was likewise enchanted by the beauty of the dawn and the spectacle of its multi-coloured clouds resembling servants at the royal house decked out to attend the rising of the great King. Hamtudo's eyes were riveted and delighted by this grandiose display, and his ears oblivious, bewitched as he was by its beauty. He too did not notice the man in front of him.

A little later, Demburu came down to the edge of the crossroads. He stared at the two who had come before, arriving at the same place without glimpsing each other, still lost as they were in their fascination with the clouds.

“Oh son of my own mother!” cried Hamtudo, “Bow low because the great servant of the One-Eyed King will soon lift the veils of fog that were preventing your eyes from seeing his rising with thousands of luminescent arms.”

The enchantment was broken and the two men came out of their rapture. They both turned to see who had spoken to them and all three found themselves arranged in a triangle like the three stones in a fireplace.[9]

Then a thundering voice was heard:[10]“Oh you there, fascinated by the light![11]Go penetrate the sacred ancestral-forest of the first hamlet you reach. Hunt for game. Run, pursue and catch it.[12]The first animal you find, slit its throat and make of it a burnt offering.”[13]

Hammadi, joined by Hamtudo and Demburu, raced through the undergrowth. They beat the ground with sticks and flushed out an anteater,[14] killed it, skinned it and took it to the middle of the crossroads. They lit a great fire, and threw in their catch. They stayed and waited for it to be burnt up. When the flame had consumed the flesh, they heard a voice which cried out loudly:

“Oh Hammadi! Oh Hamtudo! Oh Demburu! The sacrifice you have just made is accepted. Your journey to the land of dwarf-spirits[15]will be an adventure with a favourable outcome. Go and clean the place[16]where the fire swallowed your anteater before the air has swallowed it up, the same air which has already swallowed your burnt offering in a single breath.”[17]

The three friends went to clear the site. As soon as they did so, they discovered a flat stone[18]which they measured on all sides. It was a triangular stone whose perimeter was nine cubits, three on each side.[19] One face of the stone was painted black, the other white.

A voice from the air said: “Dear friends! Put on your sandals,[20] pick up your travelling bags and swing them over your shoulders. May each of you take up a staff to lean on from time to time when you have the need to urge on your carrying animal.”[21]

At the same moment, instantaneously, a force like an invisible hand turned over the triangular stone. It hid the surface painted black and revealed the side coated white.[22] A stairway with nine steps leading underground appeared before them and they took it without hesitating at all.[23] The stairway guided them to where they found three carrier-oxen awaiting them, laden with water and food for their journey.

“Greetings to you who are going to the land of dwarfs! Here are three carrier-oxen to serve you. Further on, you will be given others by one who is the source of scientific knowledge and a termite-hill of wisdom.”

“What is he called and where can he be found?” asked Hamtudo. “And you yourself who speak to us,” he added, “Where are you?”[24]

“You will know when you know that you do not know.”[25]

Painting: Emile Claus, Sunset over Waterloo Bridge

[1] This address and reference to Manna is a traditional preamble to storytelling. In former times, Manna was a title of kings who had been initiated and it became the name of the legendary initiate King whom one encounters in many initiatory stories.
[2] According to the origin myth, the mountains were soft at the outset, like vegetable butter. But Guéno (the Eternal God of creation) gave the power to the One-eyed King (the sun) to harden the mountains under the intensity of his gaze.
[3] This indicates that the world is still in formation. According to the origin myth, having had the waterways carved out by the genies, Guéno had them filled by water-carriers who revolted and were turned into clouds, condemned to wander. It is the water-carriers who give us rain, as they perpetually break their water jugs; and it is they who are pitilessly whipped by their jailers, the winds, whenever thunder is heard.
[4] Among the Fulɓe there is a double system of naming children. The first is secular, by which parents give the new-born the name they wish, preferably that of an ancestor. The second is religious, and its code is the following: Hammadi is the name of the first son consecrated in honour of the god Ham; Samba, the name of the second, consecrated to Sam; Demmba, the name of the third, consecrated to Dem; Yero, the name of the fourth consecrated to Yer; Paate, the name of the fifth consecrated to Pat; Njobbo, the name of the sixth consecrated to Njob and Deloothe seventh consecrated to Del. If it happens that a man has an eighth son, the series is started over and he is named: Hammadi-ɗimmo or the second Hammadi. These religious names are used in ritual ceremonies and initiations, as here. In fact, it is of some use to know, for the sake of understanding the text, that legendary heroes are divided into three categories: Hammadi, the hero prototype, the “stallion,” is known throughout his village; and any village he stops in is immediately aware of his having come; Hammadi-Hammadi, the “stallion of stallions,” more worthy even than the first, is known throughout the village and country; if he travels neighbouring countries soon learn of this: Haman-ndof is the mediocre one, the botched; even his family takes little note of his absences and his host barely notices his arrival. To these three types of men correspond three types of women: Santaldé, the good wife who sees to what her husband says; Mantaldé has more initiative and intelligence and as “proprietess of the war drum,” waits for no one in finding her way through things; finally there is Mantakapous, who, when food is brought to her for preparation, lets it rot, and who complains and lets insults fly when nothing is brought to her.
[5] At the beginning of time, the sun was Guéno’s own eye. Then, when the creation was finished, Guéno removed it from its socket to produce the “one-eyed king,” since his single eye was sufficient to see everything that occurs on earth and to heat and light it as well.
[6] Fulɓe shepherds go by various paths. Whenever they come upon one another in a clearing, they name it “meeting place of the crossroads” or residence (hoɗorde) and the site becomes sacred after a certain rite; the silatigi, who is an initiate of sacred things, enters in relations with the spirits of the site, whether in a dream, or by using specific plants; depending upon the density of the occult aspect of the site, it will become an encampment or crossroads meeting for two, three, four or more days. The rite will be performed on command of the spirit of the site: a spotted goat will be sacrificed, or a sheep or steer; the silatigiwill have seen the animal in a dream or vision or else some event will have brought it to his attention; the revelation can also be performed on another member of the group; or the silatigi may interpret the cries or movement of the turtle-dove, for “she is the messenger of the gods and her heart is without aggressiveness.”
[7] Hamtudo and Demburu are names of captives; respectively, captives of Demba and of Hammadi. Even from the beginning of the adventure, therefore, there is a difference between the characters, and their whole behaviour will be affected by this indication of their origin; only Hammadi will conduct himself as a nobleman.
[8] Reference to the Fulɓe triad. In fact, there are three sorts of shepherds: those who lead caprines (goats) to pasture, those who lead ovines (sheep), and those who lead bovines (cows); three is also a highly esoteric number, as are two, seven, eleven, twelve in Fulɓe initiation; in this tale there are three travellers, three stones for the sacrifice, three loads of gold, three words of advice. It is said that three is the product of incest by “oneself and one's flesh,” for unity is hermaphroditic and copulates with itself to reproduce.
[9] This is also an illusion to the family hearth of the traditional African kitchen. Here it is the “kitchen of knowledge.” The family kitchen, in addition, is a sacred site; and the mother's womb is called “the hearth where the infant cooks.” The three stones “are united by the great pot, like the father, the mother, and the child in the family,” the three irons between the stones of the hearth are like “the bank, the fruit, and the seed of truth.” Likewise here, the three men are united in adventure, in the common voyage, predestined fate dictated by the gods.
[10] This voice of the voice-guide will henceforth not leave them; it is an emanation of Kadar who draws them on and will send them back once he has given them gold. This voice will be distributed in the four elements.
[11] Here the light was only a mirage, a backdrop. This is not where the interest lay.
[12] For the adept must make the effort.
[13] The victim must not only have its throat slit, but must be burnt over a slow fire.
[14] A mysterious animal in that it lives on ants and termites; the termite hill is seen as a world (cf. Die d'eau of Marcel Griaule). Hunters therefore consider the termite-hill to be charged with occult power, with dangerous effluvia. In the same way, the head of the rabbit and that of the hyena are charged, as is the entire body of the owl.
[15] For the Fula, there are three countries:
• the country of light where all visible beings live - men, animals, plants;
• the country of shadows where the “hidden ones” (suuɗiiɓe) live, invisible beings, but subject to incantations; among those are the dwarfs, pygmy-spirits, which surround Kaydara; these are his servants, who often appear as little old men with long beards; they are only two cubits tall, but have enormous power; they are polymorphous and bear the name yaamana-juuju, as well as Baagumaawel;
• the third country is the land of the dead, and is plunged into a deep night; all souls live there, those of men as well as those of animals and plants; for everything that lives has a soul, and this is why an initiate will never cut down a tree needlessly, nor will he pick green fruit, for by doing so he risks “aborting woman.”
[16] Purification ritual; the ashes are those parts Guéno has not accepted; they must then be returned to the earth, for “if it isn't useful to yourself, it is useful for something, and the earth will find a way of using it”; everything that is taken from a body and thrown away is returned to the earth, and any ashes are sacred and must be scattered over the earth.
[17] In nature, beings and forces mutually swallow up, annihilating each other. This idea will come up again later.
[18] The flat stone represents the two sciences: the exoteric (the white side) and the esoteric (the black side); the nine cubits around correspond to the nine openings in the body of man and relate to more of exoteric science (while the wife-mother has 11 openings that relate to esoteric knowledge). The stone is triangular, for it is a reminder of the basic Fulɓe triad; finally, the stone also represents the three countries: the two sides are the countries of light-and darkness, the thickness of the stone is the country of shadows; in initiation, the disciple asks, “How can I pass from the dark to the light without turning over the stone?” and the master answers, “You must turn yourself into toad oil,” for toad oil can penetrate stone; likewise, man does not need to move things in order to penetrate into their deepest points, he needs only his acuity of perception. This stone is therefore the symbol of the world, symbol of the two sciences, and bears the path since it is the limit between the country of the living and the country of the dwarfs of Kaydara. Finally, it is the primary force of Fulɓe cosmogony, from which the ten others will arise, which constitute the earth-force.
[19] A cubit is the length from the tip of the middle finger to the elbow.
[20] For the disciple-travellers will no longer be under absolute respect; they will have permission to ask questions, to “tread on the secrets.”
[21] The staff is the tutor, the master indispensable to initiation; the motif of “urging on the carrier-animals” only serves to mask the true meaning of the staff; in fact, only Hammadi seems to have understood it, for he will accept, following the advice of his masters.
[22] Because the symbols the travellers see will not be unveiled to them, even though they are already in the esoteric zone.
[23] Stairs are always the symbol of progression towards knowledge; if they rise up to the sky, it will be a symbol of the apparent world; if they go underground, this will, of course, symbolize occult knowledge. There are times when white represents higher knowledge, and black represents black magic. In Islamic esoteric science, going down nine steps means mastering the nine senses. In Fulɓe esoteric knowledge, there is no other meaning besides one more allusion to the nine openings of the body.
[24] It will be seen throughout the tale that the traveller’s questions will be eluded, despite their right to pose them. A Fulɓe proverb says, “He who is curious has bitter blood, but he does not lose his head,” which means he is importunate but knows how to proceed.
[25] An essential maxim for the neophyte initiate. Also, when he is no longer impatient to know, then he will know. In initiation, one listens a lot more than one asks questions; one waits until the master has finished his tale; for at his convenience he will one day provide the explanation for what is obscure; he intentionally tests the patience of his disciples; this is not to bully them with his intellectual prowess; for after the master has given his presentation, questions do arise or even a discussion. But the disciple must get used to not interrupting, to “feel” which question he may pose, and which he must not. This patience in knowledge is imposed as an indispensable condition; it is a true mental education and for the master its acquisition will be proof of the maturity of his student. From this he will know that he can confide secrets to his initiate, for the latter will have the necessary discretion not to go about divulging them.

Amadou Hampâté Bâ (1964)

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