Thursday, 17 November 2016

Koumen: Sixth Clearing — First Sun

Sixth Clearing — First Sun
“I am Koumen.
Tinki mbam, tinkaati mbaam, jaati jaati mbaam, mbaam tongo rongo.[1]

O sentries! Ready and on guard at the sixth clearing, I bring Silé. He has triumphed over the faults that corrupt man penetrating through his eyes, ears, nostrils and mouth and those that man catches through his sense of touch. He can see the colours and warm himself by the rays of the sacred suns. He has passed through the five clearings end to end. His senses have remained composed and he is ready to open his eyes to see the sun with violet ray.[2]He knows how to stretch out his arms, as he must, to make his three tempers appear.[3]Open up, open up:
jigin bantam bantam, bantam.”[4]

Koumen then turned to Silé and said to him: “Shut your eyes to protect your soul from wandering which can happen when entering this special clearing.” For several moments, Silé felt his body lifted in suspended animation, but he did not know if he was rising or falling.

“Open your eyes,” Koumen commanded. “We are in the clearing where the violet sun shines.”

Silé opened his eyes and saw the sun shining through the trees, but he had no time to admire it. Hideous beasts with strange movements were rushing upon him. Koumen, seeing that Silé had taken fright and was on the brink of running away, whispered this powerful spell to him: “Violet sun, you who directs your ray in the midst of the groves, veil my eyes from the sharp teeth of your beasts. Stop the barking of your dogs that have rage in their hearts. Let fly to me but a single ray of your light which sends happiness and brings peace. I promise to graze cattle and sheep in grasslands perfumed with kooliflowers.[5]
Kooli jumaani; mulli jumaani; min tan, laamɗo tan[6]

At the enunciation of these last words, the violet sun shone with sudden splendour. Silé saw a big dog come towards him, its tail wagging, squealing little yelps of joy.

“I am the shepherd’s companion,” said the animal. “I bark against the hyena and I warn whenever the panther is on the prowl. Since the day when the shepherd made me his friend and helper, I have not ceased from showing him my intelligence and loyalty, which I owe to the emanations of the seventh sun. I stand on my hind legs in front of the turf. I show my teeth which do not smile at strangers and I say:
haw! haw! haw![7]

Koumen asked, “O shepherd dog! turf warden, what are these trees in the midst of which you reside?”

“O Koumen, you are more knowledgeable than I, but since I must speak: I live in the midst of beautiful trees which transform blood into milk and protect the turf from evil-doers.”
Erika Pochybova, Tamed (Saatchi Gallery)
Koumen turned abruptly to Silé, “Keep fast your tongue.”[8]Then, turning back to the dog, “Greetings dog, who knows how to remain faithful and stay vigilant in its corner. We shall walk without fear by imitating your yelps: haw! haw! haw! When the monster which bars our path comes towards us, we shall keep a distance while persisting our haw! haw! haw! He can do nothing to stop what is willed by providence.”

[1] Although incomprehensible as a whole, baam means “mule”, and o tinki means “he will take care of” (the mule), while tongo rongo refers to the little fairies of the bush who are anatagonistic to Koumen.
[2] The ray of the first sun is violet (murfe).
[3] The “three tempers” correspond to the “three forms” of matter: solid, liquid and gas. We conjecture they might also refer to the three pillars of the Fulɓe moral code (known as Pulaaku): semteende (humility, dignity, morality, to be without shame), hakkiilo (sound judgment, wisdom, to be without falsehood) and munyal (patience, generosity, cheerfulness, equanimity, to be without fear).
[4] The onomatopoeic jigin bantam etc. represents stepping through water with force. Koumen knows that just a drop of this water would render one blind forever, never to behold the light of the first sun, on which of course depends the possibility of witnessing the light of all the other suns. This explains why he will order Silé to shut his eyes.
[5] The kooliis a fragrant flower that grows on river banks.
[6]min tan, laamɗo tan” means literally “I alone, God alone” or “I alone with God”.
[7] Even in Islam, which traditionally considers the dog to be an impure animal, the shepherd dog is nonetheless accepted as a loyal and effective companion. Here it symbolises the guarding of knowledge. It demonstrates to Silé that he must be vigilant and faithful, and must not turn back even under adversity.
[8] As well as this being a reminder to Silé to stay silent, it is also because Koumen’s “we” in what follows refers only to himself. If Silé were to imitate the dog also, there would be the sound of two dogs which would spoil Koumen’s disguise.

A. Hampâté Bâ & G. Dieterlen (1961)

English Translation:

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