Saturday, January 13, 2007

Of Marabouts, Toothache and Cement.
Last night Youssouf X, Grand Marabout de Djenné, made a visit to the hotel. He was receiving a high ranking official from Bamako, a relative, as a guest for a couple of days, and he wanted to accommodate him in a suitable manner. He asked me for a reduction in the price of the room, in exchange for his professional benediction on the hotel. I declined his offer as politely as I could. I had an uneasy feeling that he wanted to impose a sort of 'protection' in the time-honoured manner of Al Capone, and if I refused, his offer of benediction may well turn to malediction.
However, since we are neighbours, and since I want to stay on friendly terms with him, I offered him to throw the breakfast in for free for his guest, and he accepted.
The Marabouts of Djenné are an interesting but somewhat motley crew of assorted Islamic characters, ranging from a few genuinely devout and wise men, who are well versed not only in the intricacies of the Koran, but more importantly, in the intricacies of the human heart; and who are able to give generous and helpful advice to those who seek them out; and the other extreme who are almost indistinguishable from the old-fashioned African medecin men of the animists. The latter excert a strong and lucrative hold over the population of Djenné.
This morning, for example, one of my workmen who are cementing the floor of the restaurant complained of a tooth ache and wanted me to give him a pain killer. I did, of course, but at the same time I told him that the effects would soon wear off and what was he going to do then? I asked if there were any dentists in Djenné. He looked at me clearly not understanding. 'DENTIST' I said, slowly and loudly, pointing to my teeth. 'DOCTEUR DE DENTS'. I added, helpfully. 'Ah, oui, Madame' he replied, finally. 'We go to the Marabout who specializes in teeth. He puts three large nails into the ground, then he taps them in a certain order, we pay him a fee, then he tells us to go away and three days later the pain will be gone.'

My tailor Bob lost his mobile phone the other day. He went to see his Marabout, who told him to sacrifice some cola nuts ( and to pay him a certain sum), and the mobile phone would be returned . Bob complied with the requirements, and lo and behold, the mobile phone turned up the next day! In my opinion this miracle was less due to the faith of Bob or the magical skills of the marabout than to the fact that Bob had told all and sundry, and had also phoned his mobile. When it rang in the house of a juvenile whose father knew his offspring had no mobile and that Bob's had disappeared, the father simply took his little brat by the ear and marched him to Bob's workshop with the stolen mobile. Posted by Picasa


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