This joyous celebration of the Hunt and the River, perhaps
as ancient as the town itself, is a thriving, private Djenné affair where no
one cares that there are no tourists around.
The only tourists that ever witnessed this in the past happened upon it
by a happy coincidence. Just like that other eye- popping Djenné spectacle, the
mud plastering of the Great Mosque, the Tabaye-Ho is conceived as a neighbourhood
competition with the young men from the eleven neighbourhoods of Djenné taking
part and attempting to exceed each other in hunting and in pirogue racing.
The competition starts with their hunting prowess: the pirogues leave early in the morning for the
shores in the bush where the meagre remaining Malian fauna, already hunted more
or less to extinction,
pursued with spears and shotguns. The bounty is then hung on poles and
displayed on the pirogues as part of the parade up and down the river banks of Djenné.
The last time I was a spectator at Tabaye-Ho was in 2014, but that year hunting
for bush meat had been prohibited because of its association with the Ebola
The river is an inlet from the Bani which encircles Djenné
for most of the year, making it an island. Tabaye-Ho always happens sometime in
October when the water stands at its highest after the rainy season, and this
year the water is abundant. I was of course alone as a toubab spectator, but I
am now treated like an ‘honorary man’ and was welcomed by the town’s people by
being given a chair close to the Prefect
under the awning which is stretched out on the banks of the river
at Konofia. At about 2pm we saw the
proud arrival first of all of the large
and magnificent Konofia fleet of
pirogues, followed by the boys from Djoboro and later Yobokaina, no less
splendid, waving a hundred Malian flags and proud of their good hunt, displaying dozens of rabbits, a fox or two as well as some large
There followed the
4pm prayer pause after which I continued to the Djoboro neighbourhood in the company of Diakité, the new chef of
the Mission Culturelle in Djenné, who
was witnessing this spectacle for the
first time and confessed that he was impressed. He was taking notes, hoping to
bring this event to the attention of the world and to interest the Minister of
Culture for a visit next year. He wanted several changes to be made though such
as the building of proper spectator stalls rather than having the population
milling about in such a disorganized way; a nightmare for security staff he
said. I secretly prayed that his plans
We sat down in the shade of
a large Nem tree at the port of Djoboro, next to my old friend the super
elegant Badra, always in spotless grand boubou,
the kin- tigi (neighbourhood
chief) of Djoboro who I know through the library.
While we sat at the port of Djoboro the youths were getting
ready for the pirogue races , donning their neighbourhood colours and beginning
to practise. There were pirogues occupied by small boys only. I asked Badra if
he remembered taking part as a boy. ‘Yes of course’, he said. ‘ We all remember
it, it was the best day of the year!’ We
noticed a man swimming in the water: Badra told me he was a ‘fou’, an old man, Djennépo, who spent all his days in the water, praying
and laughing. A Bozo of course: the fisherman’s tribe and the people of the
water. The people on the shore greeted him kindly and soon he returned to the water.
Soon the racing pirogues from the other neighbourhoods
started to parade before us: none so
splendidly decked out as the Sankoré boys in their red hats.
The racing pirogues are made in a village near Mopti my
other neighbour told me. ‘I am worried about the future of the racing though’.
on to explain that
in other years a
great race is held in Kouakouro, not far from Djenné on the 22nd
September, the Malian Independence Day, and people come from miles away to take
part. This year, however the race was not held because Kouakourou is part of
the areas close to Djenné that have experienced terrorist attacks.
A pirogue appeared with a crew who wore elaborate and
interesting waist coats: ‘What neighbourhood do they represent?’ I
asked my neighbour.
‘They are the Rimaybé
of Dioboro, he
replied, to my astonishment.
were the slaves of the Fulani.
Nearly two hundred years ago when Sekou Amadou sent his army to conquer Djenné for
his Macina Empire his cavalry was Fulani and his infantry was made up by Rimaybé
slaves: Fantassins Rimaybé
The Siege of Djenné below). But now, there are no more slaves, surely? Why
should these men want to be associated by their former position as slaves? I
receive no satisfactory reply.
full of mysteries. The slaves of the Touareg are called the Bella. There are
apparently both Rimaybé
who are willing to countenance the
fact that they were slaves in the past.
I continued to the neighbourhood of Sankoré, passing by the stricken bridge where dozens of Djennenké were watching the races as the pirogues passed under it. At the lovely port of Sankoré a party was in full swing and the women were dancing to the sound of flutes and drums- they urged me to join them and I did of course, having first greeted Babou Touré the kintigi
of Sankoré and my collegue at the manuscript library.
By 6 pm the official
business was all over. I walked home slowly through the winding streets of Djenné in the soft evening, greeting many I knew on the way back who had brought chairs to sit by the river to watch the spectacle. It struck me how many people I do know now: the manuscript library has been a key that has opened a part of ancient, traditional Djenné to me.
Once back I repaired to my
sunset terrace where I continued to watch the last pirogues parade in the
distance. Tonight the boys will play the drums and the flutes and the girls will respond with
their calebashes covered by cowrie
beeds until late in all the
neighbourhoods of Djenné.