Friday, October 14, 2016

Tabaye-Ho, or the River Festival of Djenné.

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,  is savagely 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 crisis.
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 bush rats. 
 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 would fail. 
 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’.   He went 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.  The Rimaybé 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  (see blog 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.  Mali is full of mysteries. The slaves of the Touareg are called the Bella. There are apparently both Rimaybé and Bella 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.


Blogger Pascal et Monique said...

Contents de te retrouver telle qu'on aime te voir! Merci d'assurer à nouveau ton activité de témoin-reporter de la vie à Djenné. Une corde à ton arc que tu ne mentionnes jamais au côté de toutes tes autres activités mais que tu accomplis toujours avec talent pour notre plus grand bonheur! Porte-toi au mieux...
Les Bryf de Lyon

8:02 AM  
Blogger David said...

Wonderful photos and narratives - moved that you were there this year to witness the spectacle. Djenne still yields up wonders, doesn't it?

9:40 AM  
Blogger marco pontoni said...

Thank you for your stories. I passed quickly by Djenne 2 weeks ago, goin' to Sevarè, but i didn't have time to stop to your B&B (even if sometimes read your blog). Next time i will do, inshalla.

Marco Pontoni

1:09 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

You should have stayed in Djenné Marco. Much nicer than Sévaré...See you next time!
Yes David, Djenné does. Time and circumstances are closing in on me now though.
Et Les Bryf de Lyon: Merci de votre fidelité et de votre enthousiasme!

4:18 PM  
Blogger mary said...

Such a wonderful vivid account which brought back many memories of the festival in Segou. Thank you so much. Although we quite understand your position it is sad to read that 'time and circumstances are closing in' In the mean time we look forward to more colour from Djenne and all its treats - and frustrations, for you.

10:11 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Dear Mary, thank you for your message; I don't think I have your contact- I would like to email you- can you email me on please?

3:32 PM  
Blogger jm.herraiz said...

Wonderful event! I would have liked to be there to film it.

9:38 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home