Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Koumen: Conclusion

The commentary and notes which have been included on the text of Koumen are only a tiny fraction of the explanations which would be given to future initiates and which require years of study.

For initiation is knowledge:[1] knowledge of God and of the rules which he has established; knowledge of oneself also by which knowledge becomes an ethos; knowledge equally of all that is not human, “since it was given to man to know what is not of man”. And this science stretches out to the whole universe, each of its elements and aspects forming part of a whole; the Fulɓe say: “Not everything is known. All that one knows is a part of everything” (kala 'andatako. ko 'anda kala, yo yoga kala).[2]

Currently, even among Fulɓe families in Jolof in the valley of Senegal, there are no longer any true silatigi. But they still exist among the Fulɓe educated in their traditions such as Ardo Dembo, Semba Mboderi, Aliw Essa, individuals conscious of the science and power of which they are living custodians, knowledge which they conceal as they say, “in the folds of the rags in which they are disguised.” They are not afraid to “point the finger”, that is to say to challenge the wisdom of anyone in the field of knowledge, even an educated marabout. Or else, if they judge their interlocutor inept, that is to say not in a physical, moral, intellectual or social state to receive, understand and assimilate the knowledge, it is not beyond them to “wear out the profane”, to “put the unworthy in the straw”, “while winking their left eye” and telling them a tall story that does not contain a single grain of valid initiatic truth.

Knowledge of the Fulɓe tradition requires the collection of texts and commentaries. It is hoped that the work undertaken here is developed and followed up with extensive and systematic surveys while there is still time, in Senegal and in Gambia, and that this research is extended to the Futa-Jalon in Sudan, in the Upper Volta (present day Burkina Faso),[3] Niger, northern Nigeria, northern Cameroon and Chad. We must collect the legends and tales, both humorous and fantastical, whose deep symbolism conceals traditional teaching.[4] We must conduct an in-depth survey of the pastoral life in the few remaining nomadic groups, particularly among the Bororo.Finally, we must study the initiations specific to different artisans and castes, which differ from the initiation of pastors. Woodworkers, leatherworkers, weavers and blacksmiths, like the pastors, receive special instructions for the exercise of their art.Such research will probably further contribute to the literature by shedding light on the origin and migrations of the Fulɓe.
Plate A1: Various representations of the Caanaba snake
Plate A2:Goats and sheep emerging from the sacred cow (Jabaren, 183). (Plates by Henri Lhote)
Indeed, knowledge of the Koumen text allows one to definitively attribute to the Fulɓe the frescoes of the bovine age collected by H. Lhote and his team at Tassili.[5] The various scenes that they depict, constructed around and responding to a specific object, show all the characteristics of representations linked to traditional initiatory concepts.These include the variety of colours of cow-hides, in seasonal migration or on the home turf,[6] the instruments and altars of the pastorate (the kaggu, shepherd staffs, calf ropes etc.), the milking, the sacrifice of cattle, and so on. The headgear in the images is identical to those worn traditionally by pastors. Caanaba appears in complex figures, in the form of a serpent accompanying a stylized cow, an image of the hermaphrodite bovine (Plates A1 & 2): from its chest emerge the heads of domesticated animals which emanated from him according to the myth. There also appear two superimposed cattle which represent, according to tradition, the twins Caanaba and Ilo. Finally, we find in the “clearing” of initiation, represented by a large circle, with the sun at its centre and around its perimeter the heads of cattle and different phases of the moon (Plate B2). The dating of these frescos would constitute a landmark of Fulɓe history within the African continent.

Plate B1. Various kinds of cowhide and the material of the pastorate (stakes, calf ropes, shepherd staffs) (Sefar, 497)
Plate B2. The sun in the centre of a "clearing" from which emerge cattle heads; The phases of the moon (Tisoukai).
(Plates by Henri Lhote)
Analysis of the text of Koumen and its philological study will probably make it possible to discern the relations between the Fulɓe and other peoples in the Mediterranean and the East, or to clarify the mutual influences between peoples of classical antiquity, as witnessed for example by the allusions to Solomon. On the other hand, although the Fulɓe initiation is centered on fundamentally different concerns from those of other West African peoples, such as farmers or fishermen, it nevertheless reveals strong structural analogies with them.[7] We have raised some of these parallels in the notes which precede or follow the text; many others could have been established, but would have required too great a digression to fit into the framework of this study. But these many similarities also raise the question of the influences undergone by the Fulɓe from their contact with the peoples they encountered when they arrived in this region. We hope that these studies will be carried out, along with those on the Saharan frescoes, by specialists and by Fulɓe instructed in their initiatory traditions and the rules of the pastorat

[1] Knowledge is meant in the sense of wisdom, or what the Bambara call “profound knowledge” (see G. Dieterlen, Essai sur la religion Bambara, p.  xvii, n. 1) and what the Dogon call “clear speech” (see M. Griaule, Le savoir des Dogon, p. 27).
[2] The same is true of initiations in other Sudanese populations, including the Dogon, Malinke, Bambara and Bozo. Initiation involves not only thorough knowledge of anatomy, physiology, psychology (both individual and collective) and moral character (both individual conscience and social morality), but also extensive knowledge of natural sciences such as botany, zoology, mineralogy, geography and so on. Recent studies have also revealed the importance of astronomy (and calendars) and specific numerical concepts.
[3] Amadou Hampaté Ba attended Yé (a Tugan circle) in 1929 at the funeral of the oldest bull of the herd. After the burial, the ceremony continued for several days;it ended with a vigil during which a text unintelligible to him was recited in Fulfulde, the language of the Fulɓe.
[4] G. Calame-Griaule conducted an inquiry into the esoteric meaning of the tales among the Dogon, Bambara and Bozo: this study revealed identical themes between these tales, which often involved animals, and stories of initiation (See G. Calam-Griaule, Esotericism and Fiction in Sudan).
[5] H. Lhote had hypothesized this attribution of bovine age frescoes in his unpublished thesis: Les peintures rupestres préhistoriques du Sahara, in a chapter entitled “Le problème ethnographique peul: identité des pasteurs à bovidés préhistoriques et des Fulɓe soudanais actuels”. See also “Les Peuls” by the same author.
[6] The frescoes have cattle without humps, whereas now the herds of Senegal and Sudan are humpbacked. This is not within our remit, yet as the story goes among educated Fulɓe, their ancestors had lost their herds when they arrived in Senegal and so acquired new livestock locally. On the other hand, while modern terracotta toys depict cattle with disproportionately magnified humps, similar objects collected in the loop of the Niger river and dating back to prehistoric times represent humpless bovines. (Information provided by Z. Ligers and collected during research conducted aboard the Mannogo, Vedette-Laboratory of the C.N.R.S).
[7] This is expressed by the Fulɓe when they say that “the ‘cow’ of the Dogon is the pegu shrub [Lannea Acida], that of the scarified is shea, and that of the Bozo the tineni fish [Alestes Nigri Lineatus].”

A. Hampâté Bâ & G. Dieterlen (1961)

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