Tuesday, November 28, 2006

To read Mungo Park's Travels into the Interior of Africa today with access to comments from a modern day Malinke is entertaining and revealing. All Keitas are of the Malinke tribe, descended from the great Soundiata Keita, the father of the Mali empire which in the thirteenth century became one of the richest nations on earth, awash with gold from the gold fields of Buré, stretching from the Atlantic coast to Gao in modern day Mali.
The Malinke is the same tribe as Park's Mandingoes, of whom he wrote: 'The Mandingoes are, generally speaking, of a mild, sociable and obliging disposition. The men are commonly above middle size, well-shaped, strong and capable of enduring great labour, the women are good-natured, sprightly and agreeable.' If this description seems patronising and raises a few heckles, let it also be known that Park had a genuine empathy with the Malinke. He enjoyed their company and was grateful for their generosity , kindness and hospitality without which he would almost certainly never have survived during his first journey through these regions 1796.
I continuously pester Keita with bits from Park's diaries. Although Keita is a modern city dweller he can still relate to many of Park's observations and seemingly little has changed in some ways in the last two hundred years. I read him an excerpt the other day in which Park describes the African village justice system. The village elders met under the bentang to discuss and pass judgements on disputes in the village. The day's deliberations were normally adjourned to the following day before a judgement was reached. Keita said that custom still continues, and told me the reason for this. I should imagine that even Mungo Park would have liked to know, because he would probably not have been told: the court session is adjourned at night so the men can go home and ask the advice of their wives! Posted by Picasa


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