The Short Road to What Keeps the Past Alive in the Present

Practicing for the Initiation
Practicing for the Initiation

On Saturday “Mom,” one of the matrons at the clinic, invites us to attend a gathering in a very small village a few miles from Kafountine.  We all pack into a taxi and travel the dusty road that is flanked on both sides by rice fields. These fields are family owned, women worked, and the rice produced is not for commercial use. In times not far gone, the young girls would work these fields with their sisters, cousins, aunts, mothers and grand relatives—this is women’s work.  Now, here as practically everywhere in the world, young girls want to be and look cool.  The western media has re-shaped their mind to the liking of Beyonce and Sharika and Rhinnanna (no Jill Scott, Eryka Badu, and India Arie are known over here).   The older men and women are chiding the boys who, when the young girls go by, pull their pants down to their hip bones—NO Further Down.  Senegal—that was the home of the Senegal mini braids in the 70s and 80s, where sistas with money would fly over here to get an intricate braid creation with individuals and layers—is now the home of weaves and wigs...all ugly monstrous materials, with skin bleaching (aka skin burning) in true Black Face creations…reproductions of the symbols of beauty that are they are bombarded with through the media.

But in Kafountine and surrounding small villages of the Jolla People, on this Saturday, we are off to participate in something different but the same.  Weekly dance practice for the Initiation Ceremony for the boys and men who were not here when the last one was held.

In August 2010 the Jolla men-children and men who were not here for the last Initiation in 1978 will go through one week of rites of passage; these rites are sacred. The Initiation is held when it is called for; it is not set by calendar. In an Initiation Celebration in 2007 in a nearby village the Drums of The Forest decreed that it was time for one in Kafountine and its surrounding villages. This Celebration will cost the villages a tremendous amount of money for people who have so little; outfits to be made, food and drink to be made and provided to all, a cow to be sacrificed each day.

Each Saturday the men-children, young men, and young girls and their families leave behind the tarnished world of 2010 to come together teach and practice the old ways of manhood and womanhood.  To teach and practice the dances for the Ceremony:  for the older men-children to teach the younger; for the women to cheer on in dance and movement the men-children as they perfect their steps and stamina; for the older men to call the boys to step perfection as good drill sergeants would do; as the old women step out to dance once again as if a young woman in tandem with the men-children.   For the flow of support and protection and pride is here in this time and place to kiss and carry every mother’s son who is present.  Every man-child knows in his core that he is loved, protected and respected by everyone present; he belongs to this community; he is never alone and unloved. He belongs and is kept in the hearts of each person present—his self esteem is sealed by this Ceremony he will take part in soon.

The women are carried to some place with their singing and beating of sticks that women’s energy only gets to go to…you cannot stop yourself from singing at the top of your voice because your voice is not yours it belongs to the group.

The Ceremonial circle begins with the drums and women’s voices.  The older men, the elder do a slow step at the front of the processional similar to the ones I have seen at Native American Pow Wows; the Bounce step done by the old.  Then are the middle age men who were initiated at the last ceremony (they wear skirts over their pants as a sign of being initiated—once the initiation Ceremony is completed in August all of the new initiates will be required to wear a skirt over their pants for 1 year); then the men who have been further initiated and wear special neck jewelry which indicated that they can be cut but do not feel pain, they are mixed with the men who carry metal tubes that are loaded with gun powder and other things (these guns are set off periodically). Next, the men-children, by age groups join the processional doing their appropriate dance step; finally the group of the little men-children.  Every man-child is taking this with full-heart seriousness and obedience; no playing laughing, lolly gagging; eyes are on you (and the girls are watching too) you must do your best.

The men-children are then separated into smaller groups by age and practice their steps with the aid of the drumming and the support of the women’s voce and beating of sticks.  The gun powder guns are fired , the drums are constant, and everyone is in the moment.  You could not stop yourself from joining—it is a tsunami—and your body’s shared collective DNA from being from this home-place this gene pool; it claims you and you want to be one with this community; with this family.

See images of the initiation practices in my photos albums...