Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Koumen: The Final Battle

The Final Battle
—Table of Contents—

Having uttered these words, Koumen disappeared from Silé’s sight, and Silé found himself at the spot where he had first encountered Koumen. “Here I am, I have returned to you O my brothers, sons of my mother! I have come back from the domain of Koumen who opened the twelve clearings for me. I saw Foroforondou who only shows herself to one who loves and protects the cattle. I entered the pond and was ritually bathed there. I circumambulated the termite mound and trod on the soil of the anthills. I rested under the manifold tree having sat astride the hermaphrodite cow whose urine is a purgative and whose milk is a nutritionally complete food and a pleasant drink. I am now clairvoyant having seen Foroforondou untie her hair and expose her breasts to the sacred bovine. Husband and wife gave me ownership over ndett without my even asking for it. This bestowal liberates me from all external dependency; I have no judge but my own conscience which will never leave me, even when I shut my eyes in sleep.

gumbaw! miɗo iwri jeeri        gumbaw! I come from the jungle deep
gumbaw! miɗo faati waalo    gumbaw! I go down into the valley
gumbaw! mo talkel hore        gumbaw! I carry an amulet on my head
gumbaw! jam jaɓɓam            gumbaw! May meeting me bring peace.[1]
Eurika Urbonavičiūtė, Lion
“I am awake, I see everything, I control everything and I always win.”
Silé lay in wait. He realised this must be the lion against which he had to fight. The lion continued its litany, for it truly was the lion singing:

“My gait is noble; in the forest I am a king without rival. My voice precedes my step. It announces my presence. When it falls in the midst of mammals, it makes them prick their ears. Koumen and his wife have armed an enemy. They have ordered him to kill me. But I fear nothing; strength reigns in my front paws and agility in my hind legs. When I jump, I reach the height of my enemy and I claw him to death. I never fail in battle. He whom I knock down, I break the neck or collar-bone if not the vertebral column.”

Silé taunted him, “gumbaw, you come from the deep jungle; gumbaw, you go down into the valley; you carry at the top of your skull a sought-after amulet;[2]only death will come from our meeting.

I am Silé armed with kelli, Silé armed with nelɓi. I attack with vigorous strength, I hit with nimble agility. If you jump, I will fly like a bird. Against your claws, I have a blade of tempered steel and against your teeth, a trusty mace. Against all your strength, I can induce a magical inertia and against all your agility, an irresistible sleep.

The lion raised its head but could not get a glimpse of Silé. It roared in anger and broke the branches, running right and left in its frustrated searching. It repeated its battle song. Silé repeated his own. More crazed than before, the lion exhausted its energy in wasteful movements. After this had repeated itself several times, the lion lay down spent under a bush.

At the moment when it was about to jump on Silé who had just popped up before its sight, it received a blow from the staff of kelli. It fell down and lost consciousness, not simply under the force of the blow, but also as a result of the force of the incantation addressed to jalaañ:

“I submit myself to Doundari who is creator of secrets and of nature. I submit myself to Sambanji, initiated by Dultakko; Dultakko initiated by Dembateko; Dembateko initiated by Dembanaago; Dembanaago initiated by Kogoldi; Kogoldi by Jafaldi; Jafaldi by Dikore Jaawo. The latter is the vigilant guardian of the great watercourse gayabeele,[3]from which the feminine principle originates and the “watering hole of the guinea fowl”, beelel jawle, where the masculine principle was revealed. The two were united for the procreation of ndurbeele, the hermaphrodite bovine, source of wealth for the just and joy of the Fulɓe people.

O “secret of waters”, lodged in an iron tube, you cause devastation around you; located in a bull’s horn, you cut short the days and the ancestral line of the silatigi who makes offerings to you; but left in a bundle of roots, your elements are pacified if not tamed and your inherent goodness becomes manifest emanating from your 18 arms under the combined effect of their 122 magical knots.

Master! having the ability to act by means of a mechanism of seventeen thin cords with seven knots and an eighteenth, a human tendon, knotted in three places that controls the whole mechanism.[4] If I should press on the right knot of the tendon, then opens the place where the past is enclosed and may the corpse in the tomb confess to me of bygone days. If I should press on the left knot of the tendon, then opens the place where the future is enclosed and may the yet unborn foretell the future for me. But should I press on the middle knot, O jalaañ, enter in me and me in you: may the veil be lifted so that the darkness dissolves that I may see the forms, that I may hear the sounds and that I may discover the word.

It is here that in the village, a shrill cry pierces the silence and continues on. It is a call for help. The good commands me to answer it. As sacrificer, I shall drive out the bad by means of propitiatory words. Here is the sound, here is the ash; I have kneaded them together and I will use them to coat the body of the individual. Approve my invocation: Heera, this is peace.[5] Sovereign, this is water. Before supplicating, give water to the sovereign. I proposed marriage to jalaañ according to the custom of serfs, but I married her according to the ceremonial fashion of nobility.

As long as we live together in union, three times ten cubits of thin cotton bands, without fail and without abating, a ten-year old white rooster, without fail and without abating, a three-year old calf, without fail and without abating, these will be my constant offering as a devoted servant and attentive husband that I am.

On the other hand, anyone procreated from the seminal fluid emanating from the genital organ, whose substance came from the loins one evening, and ended up in the womb one night, dwelt there nine months, was born, touched the earth and himself was touched by knowledge and swaddled in a cloth made of three strips of cotton and who will say: “I do not wish to see you, either by day or by night”[6] he is referring to the enemy who goes by cursing you, concocting stratagems against you and making false promises to you, sweet-talking you with honeyed lips covered in butter, all the while directed by a heart full of jealousy and burning with rage, showing white teeth set in cavities dripping with blood. Rid him O jalaañ, from among those who are up and running about and put him among those who are asleep.[7]

To this end, I summon you into the white in accordance with the magic rite: Heera, this is peace. Sovereign, this is water. Before supplicating, give water to the sovereign. Lord, it is kneeling down that I pour you something to drink. Drink, my lord; to drink is to incorporate life into oneself, life! life!

When I summon you to cast a spell, I place myself in the dark without a moon; the old moon has disappeared and the new not yet come. Therefore, I say: “Take the eyes of the enemy and may they turn yellow like ɗooko crushed by mortar and pestle and dissolved into a solution of molten sulphur; pulverise it by raining down frenzied blows; unleash on it devastating spears whose edges will not blunt on any being nor be repelled by any surface; spears which once they enter a body make the reclining position painful, the vertical position painful, the sleeping position painful and make the individual find itself completely and everywhere in pain, moving towards pain and run through with pain.

If it takes up water, may it transform to cause deterioration in health, if it drinks milk, may it become a cause for a deterioration in health. Whatever it eats, chews, munches or laps up, once in its stomach, may it become cause for a deterioration in health by virtue of these words, enunciated, magically charged, combined and repeated constantly:
tugu muuse
sugu muuse
yaa say bankun
kesen yaakabeeri
ya kenden yaakabeeri

Kesen is to be not in good health; cercer is to be ritually unclean.[8]
There is nothing to whisper
There is nothing to prevaricate over
The sovereign must not hesitate
The monarch has nothing to disguise
The king is one who defends.

The king is moreover one who gets everyone engaged even if the sun shines with great splendour at the highest point of the sky when it is situated directly above one’s head.

Give up acting out of kind indulgence, because this is not always a fair way of acting; give up acting as an antidote because this is not always a fair way of acting. But the fine way of acting is that which is inspired by truth and good character.[9]

If the individual is an egotistical wrongdoer worthy of punishment, then seize him roughly, smother him hard, execute him at once, by killing him through the forces: duufun bafaali; fintun bafaali; wulo kono sibo; combined in the most powerful of carnivorous quadrupeds: yen ten ten, who in entering does pajaj, and in leaving does saybankun. He does this all in the way of his grandfather wole wote.[10] This latter, summoned to be brought to justice, took away the life in a violent manner of he who summoned him. Defendant, he killed the plaintiff, and plaintiff he shall be avenged against the defendant.

In the same way, his ancestor wole wote, summoned to be brought to justice, caused the death of the one who summoned him. Defendant, he killed the plaintiff, and plaintiff he shall be avenged against the defendant. Wole wote! Old mind-bender, old knotter, old tracer of the illegible kulikuntekumpa dolente tambon, biti kaama, kamanaa kaana.[11] 

Samba Sankalanka! second-born (among the Fulɓe) who gives generously.

Dembanyassoru! Hyena with the rugged mane, third born of beldunla who digs up corpses and feeds on their flesh.[12]
mayseyaa! ilooyaa! fariyaa!
tamboyaa! siti wutulaa!
dambo wutula! keleke mayse

yakunta! yaala dabaare

O spirits ete ete, enthusiasm and warmth.

O spirits nenye nenye, grief and sadness.

O lundenjaw! Great danger: deep hole dug in the ground, theatre of a terrifying and pitiful event which takes place between two important spirits.

O gumbalaakaw! Great danger: a considerable quantity of synovial fluid regulating the cadence of movements.

O jigijaw! Great danger: metalic tube mounted on a barrel, history of heroes.

O kefajaw! Slaughterer, great danger: long stick lined with iron to take down the heavenly bodies.

O jamberejaw! Great danger: metallic instrument to cleave and cut or to arouse laughter.

O silamejaw! Great danger: blade cutting on one side, denouement of remarkable incidents.

O daahaja! Great danger: stick of an old man and mark of great dignity, agreeable combination of sounds.[13]

In this, by this, for this and with what I say of my submission to Doundari and calling upon the chain of which I am but a link, come, O spirits! From 13 to 21 inclusive in each lunar month. Order your subjects that they look into my eyes, without bothering me, without troubling me of things that are hidden.

Greetings to jom jam, “master of peace”, who comes gently jam jam; jam, this means peace, jom jam is the one who provides it.”

This litany, recited and spat out on the staff which Silé used, was the real cause of the lion’s blackout. Silé cut its neck and seized the tuft of fur situated between its eyes. He made the talisman as Koumen had instructed.

When night fell, he went to sleep putting the talisman under his head. He saw in his dream an old shepherd who came out of a vast expanse of water grazing a herd composed entirely of white animals. The old shepherd sang, “Ahoy! White cattle at the front, let them cross the waters and enter the turf. May they produce enough milk to wash the chief of the “great village” (or the city).”[14]

When Silé saw this shepherd, he went towards him. The shepherd said, “I know your wish, you who come towards me. You have come looking for the name of the sacred bovine: the hermaphrodite with the polychrome-dappled coat who grazes alone in the clearing where the two suns shine down by means of their seven combined rays. I will give you the name, but you will keep it to yourself. You will whisper it in the ear of your successor in spirit, at the moment when your soul will be summoned at the meeting in the twelfth clearing where Doundari sits and decides your ultimate fate.

Silé placed his ear against the mouth of the old shepherd. The latter recited the name to him under his breath. Silé closed his ears and eyes and mentally pronounced the name in front of the herd. All the white cattle followed him while the old shepherd remaining on the shore made signs to him with his hands imitating the gestures of milking.[15]

What is the secret name of the bovine?

It has been pronounced once during the course of this narrative; therefore readers uninitiated in pastoral affairs who do not see the cow as but a supplier of meat and milk, in order to know its true name, it is necessary to have evolved and learned to love the bovine, animal designated by God, Doundari, to symbolise both usefulness and mercy.[16]

[1] The word “gumbaw” might mean a lock in the form of a grasshopper which only opens with the recitation of a litany which constitutes the “key” to this lock.
[2] The amulet is an allusion to the tuft of fur which Silé must snatch.
[3] The word gayobeele(from gayo meaning “it is here” and beele meaning watering holes) refers to the land of Gambia.
[4] The thin cords along with the human tendon together constitute a representation of jalaañ. See earlier note.
[5] Heera means “peace” in Bambara.
[6] Silé is here referring to himself and the vituperative address which follows is against his enemy, the lion. The tone of Silé’s invocation gets more and more nuts as it goes on. This can best be understood as an unleashing of super-human fury whereby the initiate transcends his ordinary self. As Mircea Eliade writes in his 1958 book, “Rites And Symbols of Initiation: The Mysteries of Birth and Rebirth” Harper & Row, New York. p. 84:
The martial ordeal par excellence was the single combat, conducted in such a way that it finally roused the candidate to the “fury of the berserkers”. For not military prowess alone was involved. A youth did not become a berserker simply through courage, physical strength, endurance, but as the result of a magicoreligious experience that radically changed his mode of being. The young warrior must transmute his humanity by a fit of aggressive and terror-striking fury, which assimilated him to the raging beast of prey. He became “heated” to an extreme degree, flooded by a mysterious, nonhuman, and irresistible force that his fighting effort and vigor summoned from the utmost depths of his being. The ancient Germans called this sacred force wut, a term that Adam von Bremen translated by furor; it was a sort of demonic frenzy, which filled the warrior's adversary with terror and finally paralyzed him. The Irish ferg (literally “anger”), the homeric menos, are almost exact equivalents of this same terrifying sacred experience peculiar to heroic combats.”
However, it is worth noting that as we see from the slaying of Hector by Achilles in Greek mythology or indeed the madness of Hercules induced by Hera, this urge to act resulting from a powerful overflow of emotion can often be followed by a deep sadness and regret. The Greeks called this pathos. Given the precarious condition of the West African lion today that makes its extinction an imminent possibility according to field studies conducted in 2014 (see National Geographic survey article “Lion Approach Extinction in West Africa”), if the indigenous traditions do not themselves go extinct before then, their followers will feel a similar pathos at the loss of this once admirable and worthy adversary. In the contemporary context, lions and their habitats must be respected to ensure this does not happen.
[7] The enemy to which this invocation is addressed is the lion. The image of the honeyed lips covered in butter signifies one who deceitfully pretends to be friendly. The invocation first calls on jalaañ to incapacitate the lion, then to annihilate its health and strength.
[8] kesendenotes the state of an apparently healthy body, subjected momentarily to a curse that afflicts it completely. cerceris the state of a being in good health, but in contravention of a prohibition and therefore ritually impure.
[9] The king is the one who promulgates the laws, forbids certain things and gives orders. To forbid, to act, to bring about, to promulgate, to order, all of this is implicit in this invocation.
[10] yen ten ten is the secret name of the lion. wole woterepresents not in fact the ancestor but the genie which accompanies the lion.
[11] Kamanan kaana could be related to the Arabic kaman kaana” which means “as it is”.
[12] Beldunla is the secret name of the hyena.
[13] The list of “spirits” invoked give the names of the principle silatigi who live in the Fuuta. The proper names cited in the incantation ending in jaw would be those belonging to the Jaw or Jawɓe family who live in the Fuuta. Lundan in Kassonke (spoken in Eastern Mali and Western Senegal) means “foreigner”. Jigi in Bambara means “ram, hope, hospitality, to give birth”, and also the imperative “go down”. Kefa in Bambara means “the man who kills”. Silam in Arabic means “sabre”. The Fulɓe distinguish three kinds of white weapons, the first a two-edges sword kafa ɗemɗe ɗiɗi(literally “two-tongued”), the second a single-edged blade kaafa ɗemgal (literally “with a single tongue”), and the third a thin and pointed dagger nepe.
[14] A song sung by the circumcised during retirement is part of incantations of Koumen when he addresses the herd of cattle: “O white oxen, crossing the waters, regaining the turf, to wash the chief of the great village” (eerel yo ɗi lumba ɗi ndaaɗo, jom wuro mango ɗi Loota ɓiraadam). It is also said, “A fine rain has rained like the rain of milk during milking” (miso misi misugol ɓiraaɗam).
[15] The old shepherd alludes to the retirement of pastors or “leaving the turf”, which takes place at 63 years old. He therefore breathes in Silé’s ear the name of the bovine just as Silé will do himself before his own retirement.
[16] However close a translation may be to the text, it can only give an imperfect sense of its style. We hope however that we have transmitted to the reader, as well as its essence, the vigour and poetry of the form which makes Koumen’s text one of the most valuable pieces of oral literature as well as of Fulɓe culture.

A. Hampâté Bâ & G. Dieterlen (1961)

English Translation:

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