Wednesday, July 09, 2014

The Bad Grandmothers of the Island of Mayotte.

And then, as if this wasn’t enough, the next day, there was Bernard, a notaire who commutes between the French islands of La Reunion and the tiny Mayotte between Madagascar and the mainland which recently became a French Departement on the request of its inhabitants.  Now, I must confess that to be a notaire always seemed to me the most lacklustre of professions. But not so Bernard who displayed all the best French characteristics in bucketfuls : clear and precise analytical thinking and an ability to explain things crisply and with elegant economy which I suppose is useful for a notary. But in his case these qualities were joined by a Gallic sense of humour too, and I can’t remember laughing so much for a long time.
The population of the French Islands in the Comores is mainly muslim. The French administration makes allowances for Sharia law and also for local traditions and customs within reason. It is up to Bernard and his sister, the other notaire on the island of Mayotte to keep some sort of order and to resolve any disputes which arises. To do this they need to understand Islam and to that end the French government lets Bernard travel extensively in the African Islamic countries. So Bernard was on a combined pleasure and research visit.
The biggest problem of the island of Mayotte is the relationship between the muslim Kadis- the religious leaders and lawyers- and the large population of African Bantu people who inhabit the island and who are matrilinear: the women are in charge and according to the local tradition men do not inherit at all.  Bernard’s interesting task is to try and make these two hostile and diametrically opposed cultures meet and adhere to the same legal system- the French Napoleonic code but with plenty of possibility for elasticity. Bantu women of a certain age and of impressive physical dimensions come and see Bernard to make wills for the distribution of their often considerable fortunes. Their daughters inherit, and through their daughters the female grand- daughters according to the traditions.  Their sons do not inherit and neither do their male grandchildren.  Bernard’s task is to make them understand that this is not legal in French law, and since they have opted to become French, they will have to abide by French laws. There is no point in arguing with these ladies, however.  Bernard realized that another strategy was necessary. He thought long and hard and finally decided to try a ruse: ‘ I am sorry, Madam, he says. ‘After some consideration I  have come to the conclusion that I will not be able to work with you, because you are a Bad Grandmother’.  This causes outrage of course. ‘Why am I a bad grandmother?’ asks the matron, deeply offended. ‘Because you neglect your girl grandchildren born from your sons marriage: these girls get nothing and your other girl grandchildren from your daughters get everything!  Is that normal? After some huffing and puffing the lady will admit that there is something in what Bernard says, and after that important breach in the defenses the negotiations will soon be sailing along admirably!


Blogger Pascal et Monique said...

Another very interesting post Sophie! We were waiting for News and actually for better News than in your previous post.
Good to see that your good nature is once again the strongest and that you finally overcame your doubts about your future in Djenne. Continue to be so lucidly positive!
Monique et Pascal

8:15 AM  
Blogger Andy Rayner said...

Wise man.... we worked with a matrilineal heritage ethnic group in NE Ivory Coast. The king and chiefs were determined by their mothers line. The inheritance issue was the same. The son inherited from his mothers brothers. He could work his life to develop his fathers plantation and his cousins benefited by getting it. The law made this illegal, but in the bush it occurred always. It was overwhelming the court systems.... interestingly the Agni still have a king to this day. One of the few groups who were able to retain their monarchy under colonization... like the Ashanti....

1:56 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Merci Pascal et Monique! Good to hear from you. And how interesting AJ: Thank you for letting us know about the Agni!I wonder how many such cultures there are- I am sure there is some interesting study on it...

2:53 PM  
Blogger Andy Rayner said...

Some encouragement to write...
"Two old African men were sitting on that bench, but there was room for me, too. In Africa people share more than just water in a brotherly or sisterly fashion. Even when it comes to shade, people are generous.

I heard the two men talking about a third old man who had recently died. One of them said, “I was visiting him at his home. He started to tell me an amazing story about something that had happened to him when he was young. But it was a long story. Night came, and we decided that I should come back the next day to hear the rest. But when I arrived, he was dead.”

The man fell silent. I decided not to leave that bench until I heard how the other man would respond to what he’d heard. I had an instinctive feeling that it would prove to be important. 
Finally he, too, spoke.

“That’s not a good way to die — before you’ve told the end of your story.” 

By HENNING MANKELL The Art of Listening. Published: December 10, 2011 

2:54 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

I love that, AJ!

3:08 PM  

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