Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Celebration and remembrance at the library

The Djenné Manuscript Library has been awarded its third Major Digitization Project worth £50 000 from the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme! This will run for another two years and it means that with the other conservation and cataloging project with the University of Hamburg which runs concurrently there will be ten people working full time at the Library! Not a bad thing in a town with virtually no work opportunities. I went there yesterday to greet the workers back from their annual holiday, and was lucky enough to receive the long awaited email from London just before I left so I was able to announce the good news and much jubilation ensued.
But there was other news too: Yelpha, my favourite Grand Marabout  de Djenné (in the hat centre picture next to me) announced that he was taking a fourth wife. It seemed to me that we had only just gone through the subsequent scenario a few weeks ago, when I had rolled my eyes in disbelief and offered my opinion that he was completely mad , and did the young lady in question even know about it? In fact a year has passed since Yelpha took his third wife.  And now, just as then, he replied that the family was in agreement- I don’t believe he has actually spoken to the girl… ‘How many children do you have Yelpha?’ I asked.  He had to think for a while before replying that he had twenty one children. It appears he wants to out-do his father, the one -time Imam of Djenné who had thirty two children by five different wives. Seventeen of these children survived to adulthood- this was regarded as quite a good innings. This brought us all to talking about Djenné in the nineteen seventies and eighties when the older ones among them grew up.
Everyone agreed that child mortality has been reduced significantly in Djenné, and mainly thanks to the vaccinations against small pox which began in the early nineteen eighties. This disease was a major killer every April and May when the hot dusty air carried not only smallpox but also meningitis. Yelpha, in his capacity of Grand Marabout is asked to wash the bodies of the dead. One day in April  at the dispensary he washed  the bodies of no less than eleven children.
 ‘There was no communal water tower in Djenné then and the wells were not treated’ Babou explained. We all went to wash in some stagnant ponds behind the village. ‘There was no water to wash in or even to drink at the end of the dry season. Vivid memories now seemed to return to them all: Yelpha remembered Al Hadj’s little sister Nana and his eyes shone when he spoke of her. Nana was thirteen years old and  Babou remembered her too. Everyone loved her he said. Nana contracted smallpox one hot April day – the following morning she walked to the dispensary, but collapsed on the way and died on the road there and then.
Death  stalks Djenné even today and infant mortality is high- but the two diseases that now pose the greatest threat are malaria and typhoid fever. 

Meanwhile it rains and it rains  and if it hadn't been for the joyous library news I would succumb to my normal grizzly rainy season bad temper. But Keita is here too - a little subdued but feeling calm and hopeful and not in  any immediate danger. He had a blood transfusion today again and one yesterday: he is being  kept stable waiting for the all important drugs to arrive from Paris.


Blogger Susan Scheid said...

Congratulations on renewal of the grant!

10:55 PM  
Blogger David said...

Fabulous news - also congratulations, and maybe this is another strain you can add, getting oral histories from the Djenne folk you know about what changes they've experienced. I see at least several useful books coming out of this!

3:52 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Well actually David, I am just in the middle (or the beginning) of something important to do with this...It has to do with the Djenné Museum ... but you will certainly read about it here very soon!

6:39 PM  
Blogger Laurent said...

Wonderful news for literature and preserving the past. Best wishes to you all!

2:32 AM  
Blogger Laurent said...

Just read about a terrible incident near Mopti in Sévaré. Hope you are all safe.

2:34 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Yes thank you Laurent Djenne is calm as always but of course the few bookings we had at the hotel have been cancelled..

2:46 PM  

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