Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Koumen: Fifth Clearing

Satalaata, antalaata, matalaata, laarataako.[1]

“I am Koumen! Open, guardian sentries. Dread my anger which blazes like the very fire from heaven, and dread my teeth which saw through wood, stripping to its marrow the bark of the tree where the one-eyed jinn rules, who strikes a pool of molten steel and makes the sparks of discord shoot out in all directions.”[2]

Erika Pochybova, Aries (Source: Saatchi Gallery)
The spirits asked him, “Who are you that you speak like a master and convey yourself like a sovereign?”

“I am the master and the conductor of ceremonies. I introduce the successful novices and I dismiss those who must be rejected. I am the husband of the Queen, I am Koumen… 

Living in the land of expertise and knowledge, I have learnt and I know how to teach the art of dealing with both the noble and the reprobate. I know the signs betraying when intentions are malicious. Away with you, malignant spirits! …

Silé looked for me, Silé found me.
I looked for Silé, Silé found me.[3]

After we have left from this place, he will see the suns shining. They are seven in number. Silé will see the colours of the sovereign. He who chooses the perishable, he shall perish. For the serpent which is coiled would strike him with its deadly venom. That would lead him to “lose the turban”. That would prevents him from ever being a silatigi,[4]or even from being the humble head of a small family.”

[1] This incantation is associated with the jinn of war after whom the second day of the week is named (in French mardi after Mars, the Roman god of war, in English Tuesday after Tiw, the Germanic god of war, in Norse Tiwazor Tyr, even in Japanese 火曜日(ka youbi) literally means “fire day” and is associated with the planet Mars 火星 (kasei), literally “fire star”).
[2] The one-eyed jinn is the blacksmith and this clearing belongs to him. The blacksmith possesses “the eye of both external and internal knowledge”. There was a time when one never went to war without having been “washed” (purified) by the blacksmith. For he was believed to possess the secret to make weapons and iron projectiles respect the human body.
[3] Silé sought knowledge. Koumen sought a pupil to teach. When they crossed paths, Koumen who was hidden revealed himself to Silé. The fifth clearing marks the passage to other aspects of knowledge. The first four clearings corresponded to the four elements. Silé will now go on to see the seven “suns” of initiation. In crossing this clearing, Silé is passing from the stage of seeing the constitution of the universe out of primordial darkness by means of the creation and arrangement of the four basic elements to the stage when light appears and the world is organised.
[4] The silatigiis the priest of the community and the turban symbolises inner knowledge. He must be an initiated pastor (called aga in Fuuta and baanyaara in Maasina) of sufficient age and experience in pastoral affairs and mysteries of the bush who gradually accumulates his skills and knowledge to attain this prestigious title. The silatigi observes throughout his life a number of prohibitions such as not having sexual relations with women other than his own, and not knowingly lying or bearing false witness, even to protect his own parents. The status and functions of a silatigi are of course tied up with the welfare of animals: health, fertility, seasonal migration, rules of the pastorate, and so on. He knows exactly what must be done for the herd. The silatigi performs a number of regular rituals: daily, monthly and annually. He sings incantations at sunrise and at sunset whose text and conditions he knows by heart. He does the same three times every lunar cycle: the first crescent, the three days of the full moon (the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth days of the lunar month) and on the new moon. He presides over the festival of seasonal migration and determines the date of the ceremony marking the new year during which there is a general bath (lootoori) and ritual purification of the herd. The silatigi studies the classification of plants and all their therapeutic properties. He knows the incantations to be used with each one. Plants fall into three categories: trees with vertical trunk, climbing vines and spreading creepers. In each category, plants are distinguished as having thorns or not, having bark or not, producing fruit or not. The silatigi gives instructions by saying for example: “To do such a thing, you should take the leaf of a thorny climbing plant without bark, on such a day, when the sun will be in such a position, facing such a cardinal direction, and citing such a guardian spirit (laare).” He is also a soothsayer, reading symbols in the hides of cattle, and practicing geomancy after invoking Koumen or other supernatural spirits (lareeji) for guidance with his sacred stringed instrument (moolaru) which he plays by day in the shade of a nelɓi or kelli tree and if possible near a termite mound, or by night under a baobab tree, a caski (Acacia albida), a ɗooki (Combretum ghasalense Engl. et Diels), a kohi (Prosopis africana Tomb.) or a kahi (Khaya senegalensis), letting his inspiration guide him. The body of his instrument is all self-made with wood, hide or calabash, apart from its strings (cencenje) which are provided by the blacksmith.
A. Hampâté Bâ & G. Dieterlen (1961)

Text in French:

Amadou Hampâté Bâ

English Translation:
First Clearing 

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