Thursday, February 09, 2017

Library stuff

Not writing much these days, I know. But I feel something stirring now so I might start again... it is something that is extremely interesting or could be quite boring really depending on one’s disposition that particular day... I have taken on the task of translating the Excel sheet that accompanies the images for the British Library project in the library. We lost Mohammed who used to do our English explanation of the contents of all our manuscripts; He got a better offer down in Bamako and that meant that he could be near his family, so understandably he left us. So now I have said I will get involved for the last nine months of the project. It is already proving quite challenging.. I am translating the information that Saadou and Ousman are giving in Arabic and French.
A thousand questions arises about a thousand things which throws light on both the similarities and the differences of our cultures. . Let me give a few examples: a typical entry, giving the description of the contents of an ‘esoteric’ manuscript:

“Instructions on how to become rich, treat certain illnesses such as sterility, head ache and  cough. How to protect oneself against witchcraft, weapons, bites of scorpions and snakes; become married,  be intelligent,  be loved, attract the admiration of people, be sexually potent and  successful in commercial transactions by the usage of verses from the Qu'ran.  Finally the virtues and merits of the chapters of the Qu'ran are given for the resolution of various problems.”

This is a manuscript for a Marabout, doing “maraboutage”, the age old speciality of Djenné, for which the town is famous throughout West Africa. This is presenting some of the universal desires of humanity: we are all looking for material comfort, admiration, protection against bad times; we all want to be loved  and successful. It is not quite clear to me what the manuscript means by being ‘sexually potent’ here. A lot of the esoteric manuscripts deal with this.  Does it mean being able to sire a lot of children? Or does it mean sexual performance during intercourse? In the West it may mean a man’s ability  to  please the woman as well as himself. Is that the same here? Do they care if a woman has sexual pleasure? Do I have the nerve to ask Yelfa about it? Yes, sure I do. Will be back with the result.
And more importantly perhaps, these ‘esoteric’ manuscripts, describing the maraboutage of Djenné, are exactly what would exacerbate any Jihadists if they were to attack Djenné. Their puritan Salafist faith  does not countenance any such practices: they see it as witch craft, tied to the earlier animist beliefs.


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