Sunday, 13 November 2016

Koumen: Fourth Clearing

“Greetings Koumen. Greeting to he who accompanies Koumen if he knows how to keep to the discipline.”

“Listen to my imperious voice!” said Koumen. “The voice of a master. Look at my forehead. It is noble and wise. Grey hairs adorn my head. They frame my temples and embellish my jaw. Look at the upper half of my body. But don’t you dare cast your gaze down to the hollow of my navel or you will be bowled over, your females made sterile and your livestock ruined.[1]Silé has just learnt how one must speak to malignant spirits.

The East gleams brightest. The West is wracked with blood. The South is veiled by the dark forest. The North is full of farmlands, good pastures and white men.[2]Open and make way for Silé. Do not resist him. He is going to Foroforondou who imposes sentences from which there is no going back, her judgments binding. She subjugates the sorcerer, subdues the wicked and sees through the cunning.”

“Does Silé,” asked the spirits, “know the four Fulɓe family groupings so difficult to define, but all of whom equally and entirely agree to roll in the dust and ash to possess, feed and protect the bovine, the animal of Ilo Yaladi Jaaje?”[3]

“Silé is Pullo,” Koumen replied. “He does not groan except for cattle. He would undertake a thousand labors in order to acquire the bovine.

If he peels the sacred baobab,[4] it would be to make the rope with 28 magical knots, protecting the sacred space of his turf. 

The ngelooki or sabara plant (see footnote)
If he strips the leaves of the ngelooki,[5]it would be to bathe the beasts in its beneficial energies by fumigation. He will know how to point to the place where affliction has taken root in a being, and how to charm the fingered leaf with the appropriate words. He will vanquish bovine illnesses.”

“Koumen,” cried the spirits, “Go in peace. Make sure Silé follows you so he comes back well-instructed.”

Koumen said, “Silé will be harmonised like this plant which around its single stem arranges leaves, branches and flowers.”

The spirits rejoiced, “Silé! anointed with butter and gorged on milk, Silé, you may pass.”

[1] Koumen’s grey hair and beard symbolise his manly wisdom and his understanding. The navel is the central, sacred point and it should not be encroached upon. For a being without moral decency or modesty, it is said, “I saw everything of him, including his navel” (mi yihi fu makko, fay wuddu). Koumen’s navel also symbolises the essence of his teaching, so not looking at the navel suggests this knowledge should be accessed gradually.
[2] The four cardinal points and associated colours correspond also to the four family groupings of the Fulɓe.
[3] This is Ilo son of Yaladi (of the red ears), twin of Caanaba after the latter was adopted by the Yaladi family, Yaladi the son of Jaaje.
[4] Every part of the baobab plant can be used, so it represents the maximum of utility among plants, just as the bovine represents this among animals. In particular, the rope of 28 knots which Silé will have to unriddle in the twelfth clearing is made from the bark of the baobab. The bark fibre can also be used to make clothing, the seeds can be used to make cosmetic oils, the leaves are edible and can store water and the fruit is extraordinarily rich in nutrients as well as being the only fruit in the world to dry naturally on the branch.
[5] The ngelooki(Guiera senegalensis) also sometimes known by its Hausa name sabara is medicinal and even anti-cancerous. Its dried leaves are burned under the belly of the animals whilst they are penned up. It is an incense and a protection. If it rains, one puts a little branch of ngelooki behind either ear when one is outside, or inside in one’s own home, as a protection against lightning. The ngelookialong with the ɗooki (Combretum ghasalense Engl. et Diels) are two plants capable of struggling against death and sometimes even triumphing over it. A legend tells how this power was revealed to man. A very young Pullo child was momentarily put down under a tree by her mother who thought he was ill and was looking around the area for plants to treat him, accompanied by an old woman. Left alone, the child started speaking: “These are the remedies against death: dooki and ngelooki.” Before the child had finished, the old woman heard and interrupted him: “Here is a nursling who speaks. This is the end of the world...” and the baby was silent. Thus man only discovered the first two plants for the elixir of life and the recipe was incomplete. The “fingered leaves” of certain plants capture energies depending on the number of their veins: the words are carried by the “hand” that directs them on the patient according to established correspondences between the different elements of the universe. Each man is associated with a plant and each plant with a day or a time of the year. The date and the lunar month are all involved.

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