Ghosting, Memory + Time (A Haunting)

The act of revenge as liminal space haunted by the ghosts of rememberings, aching for present-future materiality in Djbril Diop Mambéty’s ‘Hyenas’ (Hyènes, 1992)

Colobane is moribund. A scene of arrested development. Its inhabitants are shadows of themselves. The viewer arrives in this place to experience a little warm death, served coldly. Workless men covered in indigence amble, downbeat, to haunt Draman Drameh’s (Mansour Diouf) store-cum-bar, where they cannot afford a drink. Its municipality is shuttered, as the Town Hall is retired, its contents carried off by creditors. There has been no progression. Time has stood still. The present a fulsome nostalgia. There is no industry, no livelihood and no trade. Trains no longer stop and go there. Colobane is nowhere. “This town, is coming like a ghost town”1, but it is not forgotten so much as it is engaged in informal acts of forgetting, and for which it is unforgiven.

Communality, though, can still be located in this town; it is the resource that has survived the ravages of intemperate economics. ‘Colobane was, despite its poverty, characterized by a spirit of community and cooperation. The men in the pre-opening sequence move together into Draman’s store. The women who come into the store wait patiently together, joking with one another.’2 Draman – a man of the people – supplies the men with drink, though they have no money, and in gratitude they in turn carouse with him. Emeakaroha posits: ‘The philosophy behind the African communalism, therefore guaranteed individual responsibility within the communal ownership and relationship. The prosperity of a single person, says an African adage, does not make the town rich. But the prosperity of the town makes persons rich.’…”Poverty was a foreign concept…It never was considered repugnant to ask one’s neighbours for help if one was struggling…”…This explains why a community may have poor people but it may not have beggars.’3 Song and dance is interrupted by a rousing train track delivering a revenant, who provokes an unofficial act of remembering, impugning this morality as perhaps a song-and-dance itself – a phantasm.

hyenas5

Before the haunting begins possession takes place. Linguère Ramatou’s (Ami Diakhate) divestment impoverishes Colobane and its duppy conjures memories of a betrayal that sets off an unravelling where the one thing left that holds the town together, falls apart – a ghosting. The repossession of the Town Hall and the Mayor (Mamadou Mahourédia Gueye) telling his wife, “…go to hell if you want” are the little earthquakes that portend the bulldozing to come. Linguère is returned after 30 years. She is not as she was then, when she was falsely accused by her then lover Draman; shamed, exiled and left pregnant, outside of her community, to fend for herself in the world – a ghosting. She is old, “…rich as the World Bank…”, and it appears is only partly human – her body crowned by two phantom limbs of gold. Is she living, is she dead or is she both? She occupies the town’s periphery watching patiently as Colobane dissembles at the prospect of receiving her wealth. Her haunting has given rise to what Fela Kuti called iUnnecessary Begging4.

In the temporality Linguère has brought with her and placed Colobane in, encomiums and eulogies border each other, as Draman, the Mayor and the other Town Councillors meet at the old ‘Hyena Hole’ and desperately resurrect her as a fabulation of who she was (and what they were) – ‘…stories that emphasise a completely imagined and publicly constructed view of her as selfless and generous and that sentimentally position her as a long-lost daughter who is finally returning to the place she belongs’5. False memory producing yet another ghosting. We can surmise that it was these accomplices who banished Linguère; the accompanying ignominy and isolation making her a ghost of herself, transmuting her body and the values it embodied, forcing it into a life of prostitution. Involuntary dislocation also made a ghost of her baby after just one year, yet she remains remembered and loved in the spectral landscape of revenge.

hyenas3

Revenge is a liminal space where memories remain vivid and each facet of time (past, present and future) exist at once. For Linguère it is a place of agency, isolation (as a choice), materialistic individualism and justice. ‘She returns in order to exact a toll: she wants revenge (not compensation) for the previous injustice done to her and she wants a revision in [C]olobane’s public memory.’6 Conveniently, the sinner is now regarded as the town’s saviour, “…only she can pull Colobane out of its abyss…” She offers 100,000 Million CFA, half of which the townspeople can share amongst themselves, on the condition that she is able to buy the Court and “…if someone will kill Draman Drameh.” “Ancient history”, “…not important…” and “…the case is over now,” are the protestations of Draman to the bounty that has been placed on his head. However, in revenge, past, present and future coalesce, so the ghosting of Linguère and her daughter is simultaneously recent, critical and extant. Asked by Draman, “Who can turn back time?”, she answers, “I can.”

Despite the western trappings and the marked individualism revenge speaks to, as a temporality at least it can be seen to be consistent with Linguère’s heritage; Emeakaroha states, ‘In the African culture, time is polychronous in the sense that a person can do three [past, present, future] or more things within a given period but simultaneously.’7 He also asserts that time within African cultures is socialised, ‘”Thus time apart from being reckoned by such events as the first and second cock-crow, sunrise, sunset, overhead sun, or length of shadow, is also reckoned by meal-times, wine-tapping times, time of return from the farm and so on. These factors are not arbitrary. For instance, the use of meal periods does not imply that all eat their meals at exactly the same time, but that everyone has a reasonably accurate idea of what is meant.”‘8 The spectre of Linguère, the outcast, has long motivated Colobane’s routine of forgetting, delineated by events such as those listed above, but she is long unsocialised – apart from their communality – her exile is a single act repertory and “…she has a phenomenal memory.”

All that glisters is gold in Hyenas, but is of no intrinsic value. Linguère is literally made of gold but she evokes no warm sentiment in the people of Colobane. Her caché is in her riches, and the towns citizens ‘act according to a master narrative in which the lost child returns to the fold and the social order is set right’9, so as to get their hands on them. The indignation at her indecent proposal, where the Mayor waxes, “We are in Africa but the drought will never make us savages…rather starvation than blood on our hands…”, is temporary. The indigents that introduce the film are suddenly shod in ‘golden’ leather shoes from Burkino Faso, the Police Chief has a new gold tooth, the local place of worship is flooded in the crystalline sparkle of its new chandelier, and the town’s women are blinded by a horde of white goods. These things either serve no practical purpose or reify an absence that was never felt in the first instance – high end work boots where there is no work and electric fans where there is no electricity. ‘It becomes apparent that the imported commodities are a mere illusion, not only for their “useless” nature, but the way they are owned, and more importantly, given away at the carnival…’10 The opalescence of Linguère’s things is so desirous that no kind of exorcism (shunning, exile, death) is ever contemplated.

hyenas2

Le Professeur (Issa Ramagelissa Samb) and the town’s Doctor attempt to shatter the illusion, to assure Colobane’s recovery is more than just a promise of wealth, and so visit Linguère. “We need credit, so we can work and our economy can flourish again.” She refuses to underwrite the town’s recovery, telling them that she already owns everything and that is was she that closed the factories and snubbed the potential gold mining and oil drilling. In this moment the reality is clear – this wealth is without currency for Colobane; it is a phantom born of its ghosting of Linguère and “This place, is coming like a ghost town”11, because it haunts her. Yet the two visitants suspend their disbelief and participate in a murderous act of joint enterprise in the final scenes of the film. Colobane, understandably given its dire straits, declares several times in the film, with an element of novelty, that Linguère is as “rich as the World Bank”, but the Senegambian region of West Africa, as part of the Empire of Mali, has a rich legacy of vast wealth. Robin Walker says:

‘In a recent book, Cynthia Crossen, senior editor of the prestigious financial newspaper Wall Street Journal, wrote: “You’ve heard about the extraordinary wealth of Bill Gates, J. P. Morgan, and the sultan of Brunei, but have you heard of Mansa Musa [I], one of the richest men who ever lived? Continuing this theme, Mrs. Crossen comments that: “Neither producer nor inventor, Mansa Musa was an early broker, greasing the wheels of intercultural trade. He created wealth by making it possible for others to buy and sell”. He then refers to Dr. Basil Davidson who suggested the rulers of Mali were, ‘”rumoured to have been the wealthiest m[e]n on the face of the earth.”‘12 ‘Musa I embarked on a large building programme, raising mosques and universities in Timbuktu and Gao.’ …Timbuktu rose from obscurity to great commercial and cultural importance.’13

Perhaps this record of former glories transferred through the iiijeli (griot) tradition, unconsciously fuels Colobane’s expectations of Linguère, but incalculable wealth is the point where she and Mansa Musa diverge. Musa, celebrated for making the Malian Empire (c1230-1670) an epoch of world renown and Linguère who will, “…make the whole world a brothel.”

The egalitarianism that undergirds Colobane’s communality, earlier insinuated to be a ‘song-and-dance’, later proves to be a phantasm that is carnivalesque. ‘After Ramatou’s revelation…the community spirit disappears, even if it is constantly invoked as a justification for killing Draman. Fights and disputes become the norm among the men. The women waiting at the store no longer enter together; they jostle each other for position, talk over one another, and are no longer cordial.’14 If it is communality predicated on a ‘solidarity in adversity’15 that renders everyone equal, it does not however, make them feel that they are the same – the spectre of money disrupts the equilibrium of the ii‘Clan vital’ (the living clan)16. The cordiality of inconvenience cleaves the community together then apart. By the time Draman is offered a rifle to kill himself a second time, by the previously indignant Mayor, the man of the ‘clan’ has himself become a ghost, haunting the town in search of security from townspeople to whom he is already dead. ‘The viewer is gradually primed to witness Draman’s murder as an ultimate expression of the greed of the townspeople disguised within an appeal for revenge.’17 ‘Ramatou [who] is able to buy the ‘soul’ of Colobane with the promise of consumer happiness.’18 What is left after such a transaction is unhuman, another kind of walking dead to join Draman in this ghosting of Colobane.

Hyenas4

‘Death [in Africa] is a natural transition from the visible to the invisible or spiritual ontology where the spirit, the essence of a person, is not destroyed but moves to live in the [community of the] spirit ancestors’ [living dead] realm. (King, 2013)’19…as long as the living dead is remembered and continues to influence the actions of the living.’20 Mambéty, with a little sleight-of-hand, subverts this understanding of death: Colobane is the community of the living dead and Linguère’s revenge both interweaves their connection and makes herself remembered in the actions of the town, as it is pushed towards an acknowledgment of her story. In Baloyi’s conception of death, quoted above, one must be part of a community that actively engages in the act of remembering for one’s spirit to ascend. Linguère was forgotten in her death (defamation, exile and shame) and became ghoulish. Draman too, gradually becomes immaterial to the citizens of Colobane, soon to become subject to the ultimate act of consumerism. ‘Draman represents a blockage in multiple senses of the term. Not only does he block access to an otherwise attainable goal but his presence remains a constant reminder of an unfinished or inadequate confrontation with the past. In other words, he reminds the town of its own blockage of memory. His presence threatens a constant return of repressed material.’21 ‘His death is also the death of what made us human in the first place – our morality, which was itself developed to keep tyrannical behavior in check for the survival of the community or band.’22

Revenge is not the only malevolent presence corrupting Colobane. A 2010 report on gender opportunities in Senegal for USAID says, ‘Despite the encouraging legislative and policy environment, women and men in Senegal face very different sets of opportunities in most spheres of life…Cultural beliefs typically support the dominance of men in social life, and women are first and foremost expected to be good wives and mothers. Thus, women do not yet have equal rights with men…especially in rural areas…’23 Hyenas appears to be set in 1975 and was made in 1992; then as now the eidolon of patriarchy remains and is the root cause of Linguère’s very real suffering and pain. She buys the local court because the law permits the cowardly lies of Draman, the alcohol inspired corrobarating fictions of two other men and the town’s all male jury to conspire in determining her fate. ‘Discriminatory legislation persists, notably in family law, as well as harmful traditional practices, such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, widespread violence against women, limited access to education, employment, decision-making positions, health services and land. Moreover, women remain widely under-represented in public and political affairs.’24

Hyenas (2)

The patriarchate haunting is so extreme that it has taken possession of the women in the town. There are none that keen for her. The first two people to jump to Draman’s physical defence in the face of Linguère’s proposal are his wife, Khoudia Lo (Faly Gueye) and another woman. The only woman that wields any influence in Colobane is Khoudia Lo, whose threat is that of a ‘harridan’. Khoudia Lo is clearly much more business savvy than her husband and yet with congeniality his only accomplishment he is feted as the town’s next mayor. Despite Draman’s unavoidable guilt and Linguère first instruction on her return to Colobane being to set up a “Colobane Women’s Fund”, no woman supports her nor chastises him or his accomplices. Linguère must become as rich as the World Bank and own the processes of law, to have agency enough to obtain a sort of justice. In this place, where not a single citizen contemplates an ‘amende honorable’ or personal apology, Linguère’s haunting of Colobane exacts an involuntary atonement by ensuring “This town, is coming like a Ghost Town”25.


Fool’s paradise

Was it very nice?
People living in the world for material things
Love has a playful heart
That’s where the hatred starts
Causin’ harm and replacin’ the joy true love can bring26


I look forward to your musical responses to this mixtape. Click here for a full track listing.
 

END

 

 

Notes

i. Fela says ‘Unnecessary begging’ in area (Ghetto) rules is not done—it is not necessary. In the ghetto, if you give your word, people believe you for such words until you do otherwise. African ghetto thoughts and deeds are the traditional way of life of the people. They are based on age-long belief that: ‘words are like eggs, when they drop, they cannot be taken back—it is not necessary. However today, sings Fela, some of us in the spirit of trust believe in our governments. We go into agreement with them to provide us (the people) good houses, good roads, keep the economy buoyant. What do the people get? No government. Corruption at the highest level, etc.! With all this, there are still some academics who preach patience, ‘Intellectuals’ and ‘leaders of thought’ who try to justify the mismanagement of African lives by those in government as ‘problems of young democracies’. Fela says this is Unnecessary Begging. He calls on those in power, to beware of the day when the people will revolt against this situation. It will be a day to render accounts, there will be no room for any Unnecessary Begging.
[Mabinuori Kayode Idowu, https://felakuti.bandcamp.com/album/unnecessary-begging-1976]

ii. Communalism in Africa is a system that is both suprasensible and material in its terms of reference. Both are found in a society that is believed by the Africans to be originally “god-made” because it transcends the people who live in it now, and it is “Man-made” because it cannot be culturally understood independent of those who live in it now. Therefore, the authentic African is known and identified in, by and through his community… The community is the custodian of the individual hence he must go where the community goes…This community also, within this transcendental term of reference (god-made), becomes the custodian of the individual’s ideas. This is why, beyond the community – the clan – for the African, “there stood the void in strong and ever-present contrast. Outside this ancestrally chartered system there lay no possible life, since ‘a man without lineage is a man without citizenship’: without identity, and therefore without allies…; or as the Kongo put it, a man outside his clan is like a grasshopper which has lost its wings”. The clan here is ‘clan vital’ that is ‘a living clan’.
[http://www.emeka.at/african_cultural_vaules.pdf]

iii. Griot, Mande jeli or jali, Wolof gewel, West African troubadour-historian. The griot profession is hereditary and has long been a part of West African culture. The griots’ role has traditionally been to preserve the genealogies, historical narratives, and oral traditions of their people; praise songs are also part of the griot’s repertoire. Many griots play the kora, a long-necked harp lute with 21 strings. In addition to serving as the primary storytellers of their people, griots have also served as advisers and diplomats. Over the centuries their advisory and diplomatic roles have diminished somewhat, and their entertainment appeal has become more widespread. [https://www.britannica.com/art/griot]

References

1, 11, 25, Ghost Town by The Specials
[7”, Single, Two-Tone Records, CHS TT 17, UK, 1981]

2, 14, Of Cowboys and Elephants: Africa, Globalization and the Nouveau Western in Djbril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas – Dayna L. Oscherwitz
[Research in African Literatures, Vol. 39, No.1 (Winter 2008) p.232, 232]

3, 7, 8, 16, African cultural values – Dr. Emeka Emeakaroha PhD.[http://www.emeka.at/african_cultural_vaules.pdf]

4, Unnecessary Begging – Fela Kuti
[No Bread ‎(LP, Album), Soundworkshop Records, SWS-1003, Nigeria 1975]

5, 6, 9, 21, Dependency, Appetite, and Iconographies of Hunger in Mambéty’s Hyenas – Burlin Barr
[Social Text, Volume 28, Number 2 103: 57-83, 2010, p.67, 67, 68, 76, 77]

10, 17, The Representation of Globalization in Films About Africa – Abdullah H. Mohammed, PhD
[A dissertation presented to the faculty of the College of Fine Arts of Ohio University, In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree, Chapter 1: Hyenas: As Violent as the World Bank, p.44-91, August 2012, p.66, 86,
https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/ohiou1340130831/inline]

12, 13, When We Ruled: The Ancient and Mediaeval History of Black Civilisations – Robin Walker
[Reklaw Education Ltd, 2nd Edition, ISBN: 978-0-99310-200-4, 2013, p.442, 444]

15, 18, Postcolonial African Cinema: Ten Directors – David Murphy, Patrick Williams
[Djibril Diop Mambéty, pp.96-109, Manchester University Press, ISBN 9780719072024 (hbk.) ISBN 9780719072031 (pbk.), 2007, p.107, 104, 107]

19, 20, The African Conception of Death: A Cultural Implication – Lesiba Baloyi
[Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital, Molebogeng Makobe-Rabothata, University of South Africa, South Africa, p.235-236, http://www.iaccp.org/sites/default/files/stellenbosch_pdf/Baloyi.pdf]

22, Neoliberalism and the New Afro-Pessimism: Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyènes – Charles Tonderai Mudede
[e-flux, Journal #67 – November 2015, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/67/60719/neoliberalism-and-the-new-afro-pessimism-djibril-diop-mambty-s-hynes/]

23, Gender Assessment, USAID/ Senegal Prepared by: Deborah Rubin, Team Leader, Cultural Practice LLC with assistance from Oumoul Khayri Niang-Mbodj, DevTech Systems, Inc.
[This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was prepared by DevTech Systems, Inc., for the Short-Term Technical Assistance & Training Task Order, under Contract No. GEW-I-01-02-00019. June 2010, p.11, http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/Pdacr976.pdf]

24, “Gender inequalities and development: a picture of Fula women in the border area of South-eastern Senegal through a gender analysis” – Giovanna Basso
[An Individual Study Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master degree in Cooperation and Development, Academic Year 2013/2014, p.9, https://www.ong-aida.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/An%C3%A1lisis-de-g%C3%A9nero-sobre-la-mujer-peul-%E2%80%93-Senegal-2014-EN-.pdf]

26, Fool’s Paradise – Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
[Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan ‎(LP, Album), ABC Records, ABCD-909, US, 1975]

Bibliography

  1. Neoliberalism and the New Afro-Pessimism: Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyènes – Charles Tonderai Mudede
    [e-flux, Journal #67 – November 2015, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/67/60719/neoliberalism-and-the-new-afro-pessimism-djibril-diop-mambty-s-hynes/]
  2. THE HYENA’S LAST LAUGH: A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety – Frank Ukadike,
    [Transition 78 (vol.8, no. 2 1999), pp. 136-53. Copyright 1999, W.E.B. Dubois Institute and Indiana University Press. Posted with Permission. View at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2903181., http://newsreel.org/articles/mambety.htm]
  3. Touki bouki: Mambéty and Modernity – Richard Porton
    [The Criterion Collection/ CURRENT, 10th December 2013, https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/2988-touki-bouki-mambety-and-modernity]
  4. Dependency, Appetite, and Iconographies of Hunger in Mambéty’s Hyenas – Burlin Barr
    [Social Text, Volume 28, Number 2 103: 57-83, 2010]
  5. The final scene of Hyenas. A parenthetical incorporation – Kowdo Eshun, Goldsmiths, University of London
    [Re-visiones, Number 6, ISSN: 2173-0040, http://www.re-visiones.net/ojs/index.php/RE-VISIONES/article/view/173/244]
  6. Of Cowboys and Elephants: Africa, Globalization and the Nouveau Western in Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas – Dayna Oscherwitz
    [Research in African Literatures, 2008, https://www.academia.edu/11171127/Of_Cowboys_and_Elephants_Africa_Globalization_and_the_Nouveau_Western_in_Djibril_Diop_Mambetys_Hyenas%5D
  7. Reviews: Hyenas – Esi Eshun
    [New Internationalist, 5th October 1998, https://newint.org/features/1998/10/05/review]
  8. Postcolonial African Cinema: Ten Directors – David Murphy, Patrick Williams
    [Djibril Diop Mambéty, pp.96-109, Manchester University Press, ISBN 9780719072024 (hbk.) ISBN 9780719072031 (pbk.), 2007]
  9. The Representation of Globalization in Films About Africa – Abdullah H. Mohammed, PhD
    [A dissertation presented to the faculty of the College of Fine Arts of Ohio University, In partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree, Chapter 1: Hyenas: As Violent as the World Bank, p.44-91, August 2012 https://etd.ohiolink.edu/rws_etd/document/get/ohiou1340130831/inline]
  10. Mambety’s Hyenas: Between Anti-Colonialism and the Critique of Modernity – Richard Porton
    [Iris 18, Spring 1995, pg. 95-103]
  11. Cinematic Wealth vs. Spiritual Poverty: Mambety’s HYENAS – Phillip Maher
    [Facebook, October 6, 2010 at 5:34pm, https://www.facebook.com/notes/fandor/cinematic-wealth-vs-spiritual-poverty-mambetys-hyenas/156111951088355/]
  12. African cultural values – Dr. Emeka Emeakaroha PhD.[http://www.emeka.at/african_cultural_vaules.pdf]
  13. African Concept of Time, a Socio-Cultural Reality in the Process of Change – Sunday Fumilola Babalola and Olusegun Ayodeji Alokan
    [Journal of Education and Practice, Vol.4, No.7, 2013, ISSN 2222-1735 (Paper) ISSN 2222-288X (Online), www.iiste.org, http://www.iiste.org/Journals/index.php/JEP/article/view/5290%5D
  14. Long Past, limited present and no future: a critical discussion of John Mbiti’s African concept of Time – Hendrik Barnard, St John Vianney Theological SeminaryStudent, Undergraduate
    [https://www.academia.edu/7289018/African_Concept_of_Time]
  15. Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in Sub-Saharan Francophone African Film – Melissa Thackway
    [Chapter 4: Memory, History: Other Stories, p.93-119, Publisher: Boydell & Brewer (1 Dec. 2003), ISBN-10: 0852555768, ISBN-13: 978-0852555767]
  16. Speaking with revenants: Haunting and the ethnographic enterprise – Katie Kilroy-Marac, University of Toronto Scarborough, Canada
    [Ethnography, 2014, Vol. 15(2) 255–276, ©The Author(s) 2013, DOI: 10.1177/1466138113505028, eth.sagepub.com, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1466138113505028]
  17. African Modes of Self-Writing – Achille Mbembe (translated by Steven Rendall)
    [Public Culture 14(1): 239–273, Copyright © 2002 by Duke University Press, http://ghostprof.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Mbembe-African-Modes-of-Self-Writing.pdf]
  18. The African Conception of Death: A Cultural Implication – Lesiba Baloyi
    [Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital, Molebogeng Makobe-Rabothata, University of South Africa, South Africa, p.232-243, http://www.iaccp.org/sites/default/files/stellenbosch_pdf/Baloyi.pdf]
  19. When We Ruled: The Ancient and Mediaeval History of Black Civilisations – Robin Walker
    [Reklaw Education Ltd, 2nd Edition, ISBN: 978-0-99310-200-4, 2013]
  20. “Gender inequalities and development: a picture of Fula women in the border area of South-eastern Senegal through a gender analysis” – Giovanna Basso
    [An Individual Study Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Master degree in Cooperation and Development, Academic Year 2013/2014, https://www.ong-aida.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/An%C3%A1lisis-de-g%C3%A9nero-sobre-la-mujer-peul-%E2%80%93-Senegal-2014-EN-.pdf]
  21. Women in Senegal: Breaking the chains of silence and inequality – UN Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
    [United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, 17th April 2015, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15857&LangID=E]
  22. Gender Assessment, USAID/ Senegal Prepared by: Deborah Rubin, Team Leader, Cultural Practice LLC with assistance from Oumoul Khayri Niang-Mbodj, DevTech Systems, Inc.
    [This publication was produced for review by the United States Agency for International Development. It was prepared by DevTech Systems, Inc., for the Short-Term Technical Assistance & Training Task Order, under Contract No. GEW-I-01-02-00019. June 2010, http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/Pdacr976.pdf]
  23. Fool’s Paradise – Rufus featuring Chaka Khan
    [Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan ‎(LP, Album), ABC Records, ABCD-909, US, 1975]

Talking Timbuktu (Re-Definition)

An exploration of the idea that in the subtext of Abderrahmane Sissako’s film ‘Timbuktu’, women embody and are active purveyors of the Malian griot/tes (jeli/muso) tradition, thus the primary threat to and innate resistors of foreign insurgency

In Timbuktu life is the first thing threatened. The opening moments of Abderrahmane Sissako’s film reveal invading ‘jihadists’ stalking a young gazelle in a militarised truck, through a striking desert backdrop. In the following scene, life is the first thing taken, as idling insurgents kill beautiful wooden female African statuettes. These inaugural images are portentous, and it is immediately apparent that it is women in this venerable city who are most in extremis. Female bodies, both ligneous and corporeal, are loci of herstory, heritage and culture – everyday actors in the region’s iMande Music or jeli ii(griot) tradition. About this Lucy Durán says, “Women are the ‘animateurs’ at every traditional ceremony – whether clapping and singing to encourage the dancers or playing the iron percussion rod (nege), their presence is essential…”1 They are of deep-rooted significance in this intersection between African and Arabic iii(Islamic) traditions, that often appear to be in contradiction; either to be “tire(d)” out like the gazelle or subdued by a gradual effacement, as imperialist ideology deracinates and seizes control.

Timbuktu12

The jeli  tradition traces its roots to the formation of the Islamic ivMali Empire of Sunjata (or Sundiata) Keita in 1235, where he “…instituted a universal constitution for all subjects of his new state called the viKouroukan Fouga… [which] instituted social and economic reforms including prohibitions on the maltreatment of prisoners and slaves, [and] the installation of women in government circles…”2 Ibn Battuta (1304-1369) recalls from his time in the Mali Empire city of Walata, “The condition of these people is strange and their manners outlandish. As for their men, there is no sexual jealousy in them. And none of them derives his genealogy from his father but, on the contrary, from his maternal uncle. A man does not pass on inheritance except to the sons of his sister to the exclusion of his own sons.”3 In what seems to be a form of matriarchy, it can be inferred that women would have been conspicuous in the making of Mande music. Although a patrilineal occupation, “…[t]he profession is by no means a male prerogative. There are many women griots whose talents as singers and musicians are equally remarkable.”4 The patriarchy of Sissako’s jihadists constantly attacks the institution of vmusic (mostly performed by women) in Timbuktu, banning it because it is not ‘sacred’, when it is the prohibition that is in fact heresy. Achille Mbembe (2015) elucidates this: “In Africa, music has always been a celebration of the ineradicability of life, in a long life-denying history. It is the genre that has historically expressed, in the most haunting way, our raging desire not only for existence, but more importantly for joy in existence – what we should call the practice of joy before death.”The jihadists are also extremely aware that “…music is an expression of cultural power…”6

In an interview with Conversations in Cinema Sissako says of Timbuktu the city, prior to its real-life invasion by Ansa Dine in 2012, “…Timbuktu, back then, [was] an exceptional place full of tolerance and exchange…That was the real Islam. This is why the occupation of Timbuktu by foreigners was so symbolic…”This resonates with how African dynasties co-existed with Arabic influences as incipient Islamic states: “From the eighth to the thirteenth century, contact between Muslims and Africans increased and Muslim states began to emerge in the Sahel. Eventually, African kings began to allow Muslims to integrate… [between the West African empires of Ghana and Mali] …Over the next few decades, African rulers began to adopt Islam while ruling over populations with diverse faiths and cultures. Many of these rulers blended Islam with traditional and local practices in what experts call the mixing phase. Over time, the population began to adopt Islam, often selectively appropriating aspects of the faith.”In the epoch of epic empires, their integrity was maintained by an understanding that the variegation of people’s religious and cultural identities was the essential vitality of those nations.

timbuktu6

Fela Kuti suggests in his song ‘Water Get No Enemy9 that water is essential to human life, only a fool would dare go without it. Likewise, the people and the body politic are a nation’s lifeblood. They populate the land, power the economy, and preserve its culture. Only a foolish government would fight or antagonise its citizens. To Timbuktu’s misguided insurgents, heterogeneity is the enemy. It is why female wooden statuettes die, and why everyday jeli (meaning ‘blood’ in Maninka) like the young woman, Safia, can be kidnapped into a forced marriage (and implicitly raped) by a would-be ‘suitor’, Abu Jaafar (Damien Ndjie) – a young jihadist, who is rejected by the woman’s mother for not following their local tradition. The agency implied by the Kouroukan Fouga for this society’s lifeblood, and tolerations borne of hybridity suggested by centuries of ‘mixing’10, is so diminished that Safia’s mother cannot intercede on her own behalf in the cause for her daughter. She has no choice but to make her plea through a local ‘moderate’ male Imam.

Women are the final frontier in the ultimate capturing of Timbuktu. They should not be heard, nor should they be seen. An edict is passed prescribing that women should wear gloves and socks. A fishmonger in the market will not wear gloves because it is impractical; she cannot wash her fish. She shouts that she has already been forced to wear the hijab to cover her hair and challenges the wandering militia men to cut off her hands when faced by their pedantry; and before being taken away to face some brutal reprimand. In a scene of increasingly quotidian menace, a young woman ‘decently’ attired in a burqa is arrested by a gang of intimidators who disbelieve her insistence that she was on her mobile phone to her brother. She should not be on the phone at all. Another brave woman (Fatouma Diawara), sentenced to eighty lashes for making music with friends and forced into a hijab, sings in defiance while the mutaween whip her. The film climaxes when Satima (Toulou Kiki), whose contented Tuareg family life is interwoven throughout the film’s tableaux, is killed attempting to rescue her husband, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino), from public execution. Timbuktu’s women’s defiance and resistance makes them defenders of herstory, heritage and culture, linking them again to the jeliya (jeli-ness) tradition that reaches back millennia, where they can be seen being both ‘ngara’ and ‘ngana’,

“…the art of the jeli, finds its most profound and deeply appreciated embodiment in the ngara, a master of extraordinary integrity, knowledge and skill…The ngara, whose field of play is speech and music, has a complement in the ngana, a hero whose field of play is action. The complementary relationship between speech and action – between the ngara and ngana – and the similar social forces that motivate them are fundamental aspects of Maninka social and creative thought and practice.”11

Sissako crystallises this latter thought in describing the reality of Timbuktu’s women being both, special rapporteur and social justice activist, and also fundamental to the health and wellbeing of their communities: “In all societies, women are stronger than men. This is more obvious in situations of crisis. It is them that hold everything together…Men tend to drop their pants.”12

timbuktu11

Manthia Diawara encapulates with simplicity, the ironical nature of the kind of imperialist engagement being explored in this essay: “Timbuktu depicts the arrival of a fundamentalist and absolutist Islam in that famed city, which, one notes, had converted to Islam nearly a millennium ago and has for centuries served as a meeting point of the cultures and civilizations of Northern and sub-Saharan Africa.”13 The jihadists have a singular view of Islam and jihad and speak to a schism between the ancient and the modern, as if both are fixed, one good, the other bad. These intransigent designations are the twin terrors of colonisers, demagogues and those with hegemonic power. Imposed but not necessarily followed, they expose inconstancy and hypocrisy. “…Besides being addicted to cruelty and bullying, these partisans are enslaved to their modern devices such as mobile phones, cars, video cameras…and of course weapons…”14

Abdelkerim (Abel Jafri), one of the jihadist leaders, visits Satima (not for the first time) timing it so that Kidane is away. Abdelkerim clearly covets her, (his visit is ‘haram’) but he chides her for having her hair uncovered, saying it is “indecent”. However, she is in the middle of washing it and no-one would be present to see her if he had not driven out into the desert to insinuate himself into her story; she dryly tells him as much. Yet, glove-less fishmongers, young women on the phone to their brothers and people who have families outside of wedlock are guilty of ‘indecency,’ and are beaten and stoned to death; but Abdelkarim’s illicit smoking and his colleague’s outlawed dancing are classed as guilty pleasures. “…Timbuktu is no longer tombouctu la mystérieuse, the magical place of legend, but a harsh, grim, unforgiving place of bigotry and fear.”15

timbuktu7

Since the time of Sunjata, Timbuktu has practised an intersectional Islam, understanding that the ancient and modern are part of a continuum that reflects and informs itself, and not a static inward, blinkered and illusory binary state. The jeli tradition again explains why everyday jelis and the city resist the invaders: “…Traditional and modern in a Mande context do not refer to opposing sides of battle with impenetrable lines, or to blind adherence to colonial lexical categories and mentalities, but rather reflect states of mind that can be fluidly combined and respected in innovative and often humorous ways.”16 Olivier-Jean Tchouaffe analysis of Sissako’s work suggests a way of being that mirrors jeliya: “Sissako’s films participate in these new ceremonies. His cinema synthesises related themes of tradition and ancient mythologies and contemporary forms of alternative African rationalities. These new forms negotiate spaces for optical and sound waves as a new prophetic tradition made flesh and forms of knowledge against conventional realism and into the eyes and ears of African history that reflect the real formation of an extra-cinematic political subjectivity in Africa…”17 and “…Hence, the capacity of the camera-eye is to operate as a cultural resource to produce and create alterity and therefore an expression of democracy as opposed to theocratic regimes that consider image production as the source of idolatry and iconoclastic practices.”18

Timbuktu16

It is the rash conflict between two men, Kidane and Amadou (Omar Haidara), that escalates from impatience to tragedy, that has negative repercussions for women. Amadou fed up with constantly having to warn Issan (Mehdi A.G. Mohamed), cowherd for and nephew of Kidane, to mind his fishing nets, kills Kidane’s prize cow, GPS, when it transgresses one time too many. Kidane, incensed by yet another ‘humiliation’ goes to confront Amadou, with a concealed gun that Satima warns him against taking, and accidently kills him. The Director may be subtly suggesting that the conditions of this conflict, poverty, Saharan Desert creep, water scarcity and Tuareg-African ethnic and cultural tensions, are the same that bred Islamic extremism, “Why struggle with cowherds and fishnets when you can just grab a Kalashnikov, interpret the Quran in a different way, and strut around as the ruler of one of the world’s most iconic cities?”19 Kendrick Lamar puts this another way, ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst‘.20

Importantly and more profoundly, the wise counsel of Satima is left to fade – effaced by male obliviousness to external factors and to a broader context, just as in the European colonial project “griottes seemed to fade into the background of the outsiders’ focus on the continent…”21 As a result, Amadou’s mother is inconsolable and cannot forgive, Satima dies, her daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed) is left an orphan, running through the desert alone, women are jailed in large numbers and the fate of the rest of Timbuktu’s citizenry is uncertain. What becomes apparent is the authenticity and status of jelimuso (griottes) as repositories, conveners and conveyors of herstory, culture and tradition; they are the front liners in African-Arabic schism of Timbuktu and truly, declaratively, despite what a jihadist leader proclaims on their own behalf, “…the guardians of everything.”

“She’s got a paradise camouflage
Like a whip-crack sending me shivers
She’s a boat through a strip-mine ocean
Riding low on the drunken rivers

She’s alone in the new pollution
She’s alone in the new pollution”22


I look forward to your musical responses to this mixtape. Click here for a full track listing.

END

 

Notes

i. Linguists have used the term “Mande” over the past century in grand classification schemes to refer to a major Niger-Congo language branch spoken by peoples in perhaps a dozen or more countries.
(Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music Of The Maninka and Mandinka Of Western Africa, Eric Charry, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637, ISBN-10: 0-226-10162-2, Published 2000 p.xxi)

ii. Griot, Mande jeli or jali, Wolof gewel, West African troubadour-historian. The griot profession is hereditary and has long been a part of West African culture. The griots’ role has traditionally been to preserve the genealogies, historical narratives, and oral traditions of their people; praise songs are also part of the griot’s repertoire. Many griots play the kora, a long-necked harp lute with 21 strings. In addition to serving as the primary storytellers of their people, griots have also served as advisers and diplomats. Over the centuries their advisory and diplomatic roles have diminished somewhat, and their entertainment appeal has become more widespread. (https://www.britannica.com/art/griot)

iii. While the presence of Islam in West Africa dates back to eighth century, the spread of the faith in regions that are now the modern states of Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Nigeria, was in actuality, a gradual and complex process. Much of what we know about the early history of West Africa comes from medieval accounts written by Arab and North African geographers and historians. Specialists have used several models to explain why Africans converted to Islam. Some emphasise economic motivations, others highlight the draw of Islam’s spiritual message, and a number stress the prestige and influence of Arabic literacy in facilitating state building. While the motivations of early conversions remain unclear, it is apparent that the early presence of Islam in West Africa was linked to trade and commerce with North Africa. Trade between West Africa and the Mediterranean predated Islam, however, North African Muslims intensified the Trans-Saharan trade. North African traders were major actors in introducing Islam into West Africa. Several major trade routes connected Africa below the Sahara with the Mediterranean Middle East, such as Sijilmasa to Awdaghust and Ghadames to Gao. The Sahel, the ecological transition zone between the Sahara desert and forest zone, which spans the African continent, was an intense point of contact between North Africa and communities south of the Sahara. In West Africa, the three great medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and the Songhay developed in Sahel.

The history of Islam in West Africa can be explained in three stages, containment, mixing, and reform. In the first stage, African kings contained Muslim influence by segregating Muslim communities, in the second stage African rulers blended Islam with local traditions as the population selectively appropriated Islamic practices, and finally in the third stage, African Muslims pressed for reforms in an effort to rid their societies of mixed practices and implement Shariah. This three-phase framework helps sheds light on the historical development of the medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay and the 19th century jihads that led to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in Hausaland and the Umarian state in Senegambia.
(The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century, Margari Hill, Stanford University, January 2009, http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century )

iv. Early in the thirteenth century the West African Mande (or Mali) empire was established by the legendary warrior and hero Sunjata and his allies. The Mande homeland (also called Manden or Manding), situated along the Upper Niger River roughly between Bamako in southwestern Mali and Kouroussa in northeastern Guinea, gradually became the center of one of the largest and wealthiest empires in West Africa. At its height in the fourteenth to the sixteenth century the Mande empire extended from Gao in the east and Timbuktu in the north all the way to the Atlantic coast in the west. As the Mande peoples dispersed throughout the West African savannah they assimilated various local cultures and spread their own. Their descendants today make up significant parts of the population of many West African countries: in Mali and Guinea they are known as Maninka (or Malinke in French writing); in Senegal, The Gambia, and Guinea-Bissau they are known as Mandinka (or Mandingo in British writing).
(Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music Of The Maninka and Mandinka Of Western Africa, Eric Charry, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637, ISBN-10: 0-226-10162-2, Published 2000 p.1)

v. Various kinds of music in the Mande world have been influenced by the long association of Mande peoples with Islam…Islam has shaped and been shaped by local cultures wherever it has taken root.
(Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music Of The Maninka and Mandinka Of Western Africa, Eric Charry, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637, ISBN-10: 0-226-10162-2, Published 2000 p.22)

vi. Sundiata instituted a universal constitution for all subjects of his new state called the Kouroukan Fouga. At a site just outside the town of Kangba, he formalised the government and established the Gbara or Great Assembly. The Gbara would serve as the Mandinka deliberative body until the collapse fo the Manden Kurufa in 1645. The Kouroukan Fouga state instituted social and economic reforms including prohibitions on the maltreatment of prisoners and slaves, the installation of women in government circles, and placing a governing system between clans. Also, Sundiata divided the lands amongst the people, assuring that everyone had a place in the empire; he also fixed the exchange rates for common products.
(An African Journey Through Its Arts, Fima Lifshitz, AuthorHouse, 2009, p73)

 

References

1, 21, Griots and Griottes – Thomas A. Hale
(Indiana University Press, 601 North Morton Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47404-3797, USA, 2007, p.54, 222)
2,  An African Journey Through Its Arts, Fima Lifshitz
(AuthorHouse, 2009, p.73)
3,  When We Ruled – Robin Walker
(Reklaw Education Ltd, ISBN: 978-0-99310-200-4, Second Edition, 2013)
4,  African Music, A People’s Art, Francis Bebey,
(Lawrence Hill Books. Brooklyn, NY. 1969, 1975)
5,  Beyond Violence In Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu – Victoria Pasley, Ashford University
(African Studies Review, Volume 59, Number 3, December 2016, pp. 294-301 (Review))
6, Dr. Pascal Bokar Thiam: “From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta: How West African Standards of Aesthetics Shaped the Music of the Delta Blues”
(Talks at Google, Published 10th July 2017, 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69TRnKHNhHY)
7, 12, Interview with Abderrahmane Sissako by Watersed,
(Conversations about Cinema, 28th May 2015, http://www.conversationsaboutcinema.co.uk/ioc/timbuktu/671/a-film-is-a-conversation-interview-with-abderrahmane-sissako/)
8, 10, The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century, Margari Hill, Stanford University, January 2009, (http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century )
9,  Water Get No Enemy by Fela Kuti
(Expensive Shit, LP Album, Soundworkshop Records, SWS 1001, Nigeria, 1975)
11, 16, Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music Of The Maninka and Mandinka Of Western Africa – Eric Charry,
(The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637, ISBN-10: 0-226-10162-2, Published 2000 p.54, 24)
13,  Frames of Resistance: Manthia Diawara On The Films Of Abderrahmane Sissako
(Artforum, January 2015)
14, 15, Timbuktu review – a cry from the heart – Peter Bradshaw
(The Guardian, Thursday 28 May 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/28/timbuktu-review-abderrahmane-sissako-africa)
17, 18, The Poetics of Radical Hope in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Film Experience – Olivier-Jean Tchouaffe
(Lexington Books, ISBN-10: 1498539815, ISBN-13: 978-1498539814, 28 April 2017, p.7, 140)
19, Ethics on Film: Discussion of “Timbuktu” – Alex Woodson
(Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 25th February 2015, https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/ethics_onfilm/0015)
20, Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst by Kendrick Lamar
(Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, LP Album, Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment, Interscope Records, B0017695-01, US, 2012)
22, The New Pollution by Beck
(Odelay, LP Album, Bong Load Records, BL30, US, 1996)


Bibliography

  1. Griots and Griottes – Thomas A. Hale
    (Indiana University Press, 601 North Morton Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47404-3797, USA, 2007)
  2. An African Journey Through Its Arts – Fima Lifshitz
    (AuthorHouse, 2009)
  3. When We Ruled – Robin Walker
    (Reklaw Education Ltd, ISBN: 978-0-99310-200-4, Second Edition, 2013)
  4. African Music, A People’s Art – Francis Bebey,
    (Lawrence Hill Books. Brooklyn, NY. 1969, 1975)
  5. Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu and Its Controversial Reception – Phyllis Taoua
    (African Studies Review, Volume 58, Number 2, September 2015, pp. 270-278 (Review))
  6. Beyond Violence In Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu – Victoria Pasley, Ashford University (African Studies Review, Volume 59, Number 3, December 2016, pp. 294-301 (Review)
  7. Interview with ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO by Watershed,
    (Conversations about Cinema, 28th May 2015, http://www.conversationsaboutcinema.co.uk/ioc/timbuktu/671/a-film-is-a-conversation-interview-with-abderrahmane-sissako/)
  8. The Spread of Islam in West Africa: Containment, Mixing, and Reform from the Eighth to the Twentieth Century – Margari Hill, Stanford University, January 2009, (http://spice.fsi.stanford.edu/docs/the_spread_of_islam_in_west_africa_containment_mixing_and_reform_from_the_eighth_to_the_twentieth_century )
  9. Mande Music: Traditional and Modern Music Of The Maninka and Mandinka Of Western Africa – Eric Charry,
    (The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637, ISBN-10: 0-226-10162-2, Published 2000)
  10. Frame of Resistance: Manthia Diawara On The Films Of Abderrahmane Sissako
    (Artforum, January 2015)
  11. Timbuktu review – a cry from the heart – Peter Bradshaw
    (The Guardian, Thursday 28 May 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/28/timbuktu-review-abderrahmane-sissako-africa)
  12. The Poetics of Radical Hope in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Film Experience – Olivier-Jean Tchouaffe
    (Lexington Books, ISBN-10: 1498539815, ISBN-13: 978-1498539814, 28 April 2017)
  13. The Rough Guide to World Music: African & Middle East, Vol 1 of 3
    (Rough Guides, ISBN 13: 978-1-84353-551-5, ISBN 10: 1-843-53551-3 September 2006)
  14. Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu Is Shattering by David Edelstein
    (The Vulture, 28 January 2015, http://www.vulture.com/2015/01/movie-review-timbuktu.html)
  15. Deep Focus: Timbuktu by Michael Sragow
    (Film Comment, 29th January 2015, https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/review-timbuktu-abderrahmane-sissako/)
  16. Review: Timbuktu by Elisabeth Lequeret
    (Film Comment, Issue: January-February 2015, https://www.filmcomment.com/article/review-timbuktu-abderrahmane-sissako/)
  17. Timbuktu review – defiant song of a nation in peril – Jonathan Romney
    (The Guardian, 31st May 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/31/timbuktu-mali-isis-review-abderrahmane-sissako)
  18. Timbuktu, film review: Satire combined with lyricism and a sense of mounting tragedy – Geoffre Macnab
    (The Independent, 28th May 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/timbuktu-film-review-satire-combined-with-lyricism-and-a-sense-of-mounting-tragedy-10282921.html)
  19. Timbuktu by Chris Cabin
    (Slant, 1st October 2014, https://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/timbuktu)
  20. Film Review: Timbuktu – Tola Ositelu
    (Afropean, 29th September 2015, http://afropean.com/film-review-timbuktu/)
  21. Ethics on Film: Discussion of “Timbuktu” – Alex Woodson
    (Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, 25th February 2015, https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/publications/ethics_onfilm/0015)
  22. Timbuktu first-look review: an eloquent and complex Malian j’accuse – Geoff Andrew
    (Sight and Sound, Updated 24th May 2017, http://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/reviews-recommendations/cannes-2014-crying-timbuktu)
  23. Film Review: Timbuktu
    (Cinemagic, 3rd June 2015, http://www.cinemagic.org.uk/blog/film-reviewtimbuktu)
  24. Timbuktu – Review by David Ehrlich
    (Little White Lies, 29th May 2015, http://lwlies.com/reviews/timbuktu/)
  25. Abderrahmane Sissako’s film Timbuktu complicates the Jihadist narrative – Andrew Hernann
    (Africa Is A Country, 9th February 2015, http://africasacountry.com/2015/02/abderrahmane-sissakos-film-timbuktu-complicates-the-jihadist-narrative/)
  26. Timbuktu: Sequence Analysis
    (A World of Film, 11th March 2017, https://aworldoffilm.com/2017/03/11/timbuktu-sequence-analysis/)
  27. “Timbuktu”: A timely African film on Islam – and a spectacular breakthrough – Andrew O’Hehir
    (Salon, 30th January 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/01/30/timbuktu_a_timely_african_film_on_islam_and_a_spectacular_breakthrough/)
  28. Abderrahmane Sissako’s ‘Timbuktu’ (2014): Film Africa, Review by African in Words Guest, Sarah Jilani
    (Africain Words, 15th November 2014, https://africainwords.com/2014/11/15/abderrahmane-sissakos-timbuktu-2014-film-africa-review/)
  29. London Film Festival Review: Religion Unites With Hypocrisy in Abderrahmane Sissako’s ‘Timbuktu’ – Wendy Okoi-Obuli
    (Indiewire, 9th October 2014 http://www.indiewire.com/2014/10/london-film-festival-review-religion-unites-with-hypocrisy-in-abderrahmane-sissakos-timbuktu-157764/ )
  30. Griots – Mali’s Historians and Musicians – Robin Edward Poulton
    (Virginia Friends of Mali (website), http://vafriendsofmali.org/education/teaching-timbuktu/teaching-the-community/griots-malis-historians-and-musicians/)

Video

The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu
A BBC Production, 2009.
In the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, thousands of scientific and religious texts have been hidden for centuries. This program examines the rich history and variety of Timbuktu’s lost libraries. Scholars from across Africa and the Western world elucidate how valuable these fragile treasures are to our knowledge of Africa, Islam, and the growth of literacy outside the Western tradition. The program also asks: how differently would Africa have developed if the libraries hadn’t been forced underground by colonial interests?
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzBCl9kcdqc)

Dr. Pascal Bokar Thiam: “From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta”
Talks at Google, Published 10th July 2017
From Timbuktu to the Mississippi Delta: How West African Standards of Aesthetics Shaped the Music of the Delta Blues
Pascal Bokar Thiam was born in Paris, France, and raised in France and in Senegal, has a Master’s Degree from Cambridge College, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Doctorate Degree in Education with honors from the University of San Francisco, CA. In this talk, Dr. Thiam explores the influences of West African music on the music of the Mississippi Delta, tracing the origins of blues, jazz, bluegrass, swing, funk, and other American musical styles. He discusses how music evolves over time and across cultures and how it impacts our culture and history.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69TRnKHNhHY)

African History Timbuktu Journey To The Empire Of Knowledge
Dr. Abdullah Hakim Quick, Published 27th March 2011
Timbuktu with its thousands of manuscripts and its deep legacy destroys racist notions of Black inferiority and educational backwardness. Timbuktu gives solid proof of a powerful African past and an unbroken chain of African scholarship. Timbuktu also brings out Islam’s great legacy of development in Africa and its proper place in the annals of African achievement. It’s well preserved lessons of spirituality and peace making may very well hold some of the answers to today’s complex problems of war and never ending conflict.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LN5D_ZGPuZc)

Talk to Al Jazeera – Abderrahmane Sissako: ‘The Islam of Timbuktu was taken hostage’
Al Jazeera English, Published on Aug 29, 2015
Abderrahmane Sissako, one of Africa’s most prominent filmmakers, talks to Al Jazeera about his artistic vision and intentions behind his films, religion, events in Mali, and the future of the continent. Mauritanian filmmaker’s latest movie,Timbuktu, talks about occupation, resistance, extremism, and above all, about humans, including fighters in all their moral complexity.
(https://youtu.be/T7JLtSbjC8c)

DP/30: Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako
Published 10th November 2014
Timbuktu is an intimate portrait of seemingly simple lives that are complicated by all the moral and emotional choices that we all make.  The filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako, talks about the film (in French) with David Poland.
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vErZ1bauX2g)

Timbuktu Interview With Director Abderrahmane Sissako
Into Film, 16th December 2015
Reporter Dylan talks to Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako about war drama Timbuktu which takes a look at the brief occupation of the North Bali region by militant Islamic rebels. Timbuktu is a poignant exploration of the effects that war and extremism can have on a civilian population. Watch Abderrahmane talk about the stylish approach he took to filming some of Timbuktu’s tougher scenes and why he feels his story should be seen by a wider audience.
(https://www.intofilm.org/news-and-views/articles/timbuktu-interview)

 
Music

Water Get No Enemy by Fela Kuti
(Expensive Shit, LP Album, Soundworkshop Records, SWS 1001, Nigeria, 1975)

Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst by Kendrick Lamar
(Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, LP Album, Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment, Interscope Records, B0017695-01, US, 2012)

The New Pollution by Beck
(Odelay, LP Album, Bong Load Records, BL30, US, 1996)


Production

Directed:    Abderrahmane Sissako
Produced:  Sylvie Pialat, Étienne Comar
Written:     Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall
Music:         Amine Bouhafa
Cinematography: Sofian El Fani
Edited:        Nadia Ben Rachid
Production company:  Arte France Cinéma, Canal+, Ciné+, CNC, TV5 Monde
Running time: 96 minutes
Released:   2014
Country:    Mauritania, France
Language: Arabic, French, Tamasheq, Bambara

Wake Up (Civilité Reprise)

A discussion of ‘Civility’ as an axis for exploitation and subjugation of post-colonial Senegal in Ousmane Sembène’s film ‘Black Girl’ (La Noire de…)

The French colonial possession of Senegal began in 1884 and subsequently its ‘citizens’ had to submit themselves to the French ‘code civil’, part of the French policy of assimilation. Beyond the control of the people’s wealth and its production France espoused an additional goal of transforming the African populations within its sphere into French citizens;1 to, as Brand Nubian put it in their song ‘Wake Up’, ‘…civilise the uncivilised…’2 However, this was not the empowerment of the African diaspora as proposed by the group, but as a way to perpetrate subjugation. The French Civil Code and its imposition spoke to the political, the economic, the judicial, and the rules and laws that governed them. There are also rules of propriety, that have a formality of their own; behaviours that indicate a shared and equitable humanity. A code of civility. It can be observed in Ousmane Sembène’s ‘Black Girl’ that it is the absence of ‘civility’ that leads to a cultural and political awakening in its central figure Diouana (Mbissine Thérèse Diop).

In Dakar, Diouana was contented as the nanny to the family she re-joins in Côte d’Azur. She relocates expecting a continuation of that role, and is also thrilled at the prospect of ‘…beautiful people, appealing consumer items, and adventure…’3 Dakar, along with Gorée, Rufisque and Saint-Louis, formed the ‘quatre communes’ of Senegal which were the only African territories in the French colonial period where African inhabitants (- *originaires4 -)  were granted the same right as French.5 Originaires political and cultural navigation of colonialism and subsequent privileges resulted in the development of a hybridized identity – a combination of Senegalese indigene and French citizen, that construed in the imagination a sense of ‘**special status’6. Perhaps it is this chimera that informs Diouana’s naïve expectations of her life in France. She is summarily disabused of them all.

black-girl-magazine

Diouana’s voluntary dispossession immediately ushers in drudgery not glamour, a ready confinement of cooking, laundry, cleaning, babysitting and immobility. On arrival at the family’s modest apartment, she is greeted by Madame (Anne-Marie Jelinek) with a perfunctory handshake, a sunless greeting for someone who the audience comes to know is a trusted caretaker of Madame’s children. This moment is bereft of ordinary civility as Diouana is offered neither a drink, food or a seat after her long transatlantic journey by sea. Instead, she is given a tour of the domicile she is expected to maintain and only shown Côte d’Azur, France, at a distance through a window.

The inhospitality of this new terrain is portended in Diouana’s landing. She is met, as she disembarks, by Monsieur (Robert Fontaine), who simply says, “You made it,” and “Let’s go.” No greetings are exchanged. In the car, only a perfunctory conversation ensues. Silence accompanies the rest of journey. This ‘citizen’ views the ‘mother country’, at a distance, through the windscreen, captive, within the enclosure of the car. This new landscape lies in stark contrast to Diouana’s remembering of life with the family in Dakar. There, her role was solely that of nanny to the children, not an assumed factotum as she is in Côte d’Azur; she is gifted cast-off dresses, slips and shoes by Madame, and she is paid. Her employer’s munificence, though, is a mask, or as Black Star put it in their song ‘Thieves in the Night’: “Not compassionate, only polite…Not good but well behaved…”7

Black Girl Diouana remonstration

A wooden mask is the first site of the incivility Diouana is to experience in her relationship with the couple. Bought from her brother (Ibrahima Boy) as a gift for her new employer, she presents it to Madame. She does not expect a ‘thank you’, but nor does she receive one. Rather Madame simply asks, “Is it for me?”, quickly followed by an exchange with her husband in which he makes an economic evaluation of the object, “Looks like the real thing.” The status they believe they hold is suffused with an entitlement that forestalls even polite gratitude – something that acknowledges the equality of their humanity. In the hands of the couple the symbol becomes a thing – civility is reduced to commodity. The status Diouana holds in their estimation means that she is regarded as: transactional, artless, object.

For the Black Girl propriety has no place in polite society. Body, mind and spirit are objectified through lenses of both the exotic and erotic at a luncheon where it is demanded she cook ‘African’ rice for the couple’s guests; rice that Madame and Monsieur never ate in Dakar but served to people who talk about Senegal, but not to her. One male guest does not possess the civility not to nakedly ogle her, or the restraint not to invade her personal space, as he has never kissed a black woman before. Diouana is offended and angry, but there is no reproach for the guest’s transgression. Madame minimises this bad act with a forced, perfunctory ‘apology’, following it immediately with a request for coffee for the party, including Diouana’s assailant. The ‘civil’ regard her only as uncivilised. She is not a ***gourmet8. This attitude is amplified when a guest remarks on her ability to function with such limited French, saying that she must understand it “instinctively…like an animal.”

Diouana and Mask

Incivility persists with its indifferent harm as Diouana is constantly accused of being lazy. She has not been bought a uniform, yet is further chastised for not wearing appropriate attire in the commission of her work. She is only permitted trips to the market, and because the couple do not pay her regularly, she cannot go out to explore.  She is offered no chaperone, something that Monsieur manages to find when he returns to Dakar towards the end of the film. The gentility gap can be measured by Madame’s remark to her husband that Diouana is “wasting away”, after first being denied food and later refusing food as a form of personal reclamation. ‘The fact that the couple perceive Diouana’s decline and yet fail to relieve her suffering is so profound an illustration of the young woman’s objectification…it remains the most evocative cinematic portrait of neocolonism.’9

It is Diouana’s inability to speak French, her ‘illiteracy’, that ultimately reclaims her from the invisibility borne of the incivility she experiences. ‘Language is one of the major ways that a culture is perpetuated…’10 – an assimilation policy that colonises the mind. According to Ngugi, “…cultural imperialism annihilates a people’s belief in their names, their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves…”11 She receives a letter from her mother, which she cannot read as it is written in French. It is read to her by Monsieur. What she hears is foreign to her. The language used is not her mother’s. She rejects this imposter, and the language that holds her captive and the culture that once captivated her, by tearing the letter to pieces. We hear her say, “I’m a prisoner here”, but as she removes herself from the room Monsieur as he writes ‘her’ response to her ‘mother’, the performance of decolonisation begins. Ras Michael & The Sons of Negus echo this renascence in their song ‘Mr. Brown’: “I hate Mr. Brown, I hate Mr. Brown…I am Ethiopian…How can a black man name Mr. Brown…All black man Ethiopian…No more slave man…”12

Diouana fed up

In 1966 Senegal is independent of colonial occupation by France but the ‘Black Girl’ is still being exploited in order to exact the maximum economic benefit, depreciating her in all aspects. However, the time of servitude and acquiescence is over. As one of the luncheon guests risibly announces “…their independence has made them less natural…” Diouana’s refusal to eat turns to a refusal to work, then a sleeping protest, which finally turns into a self-imposed isolation. Eventually, discarding her pretty western clothes (which at one point simultaneously symbolise her aspirations of a life in France and act as a mode of self-identification and expression), and returning to traditional attire, Diouana eschews the ‘false expectations of young Africans as they meet European culture…’13 – she civilises the uncivilised.

Diouana finally ‘wakes up’ by taking a final sleep. Her suicide is a type of ultimate rejection of this shadow ‘code civil’. It may suggest that 20th century Senegambian ‘citizens’ are courting an illusion akin to that of their 19th century counterparts: ‘the inhabitants of the quatre communes forged their own civilité which enabled them to participate in a global colonial culture on the basis of local idioms.’14 It is arguable whether their hybridised civil code – a form of resistance to a programme of dispossession – had any substantive worth. It is clear though that Diouana’s civility has no currency. It cannot return her home, it cannot send money to her mother and it barely merits a by-line in the local Côte d’Azur newspaper.  The paper tells of her passing in the now familiar perfunctory manner which ‘reveals yet again the French’s indifference to the African’s condition…’15 – the French code of (in)civility.

“What will it take to drive the truth home
As the media manipulation overblows
The fact the fiction the tricks and tricknology
Years too late with their half-arsed apology
I got no acre and I got no mule
But I’m cool man, I know what I got to do
I’m gonna put a few things together
A construct of that thorn in the side
I’m gonna put a few things together
That’s a spanner in the works of a devil’s design
We don’t go no trust for dem
It’s just big bad word and cuss for dem
Do 4 self, move yourself
Man a stay true to self (we do)”16


I look forward to your musical responses to this mixtape. Click here for a full track listing

END

*The terms originaire and habitant are equivalent. They describe the status of the residents in the cities of Saint-Louis, Gorée, Rufisque and Dakar when they obtained the status of fully empowered communes and their habitants acquired citizenship. They also establish and make clear a difference between the originaires and the metropolitans with whom they live, and the Senegambians (the natives), their neighbours, subject to autochthonous powers before their conquest, then integrated into the colonial arena as subjects.

**Thus the identities that they produce is part of the story of colonisation and the religious, political and economic pattern of the French colonial empire, while at the same time borrowing elements from an autochthony revised by colonial contact. It is in this perspective that one must understand the central idea in the originaires’ struggle: special status. At the same time that they were pro-claiming allegiance to a French citizenship on which were based their rights, duties and individual pursuit of wealth and the defence of their commercial interests, they buttressed themselves with a culture all their own – they were not French culturally, but they were French politically and economically.

***`the most intelligent of the Blacks, the closest to the Europeans’ (Boilat, 1984: 5), a group generally referred to as gourmets (Catholic Black)

References

1, 4, 6, 8, 13, The French Colonial Policy of Assimilation and the Civility of the Originaires of the Four Communes (Senegal): A Nineteenth Century Globalization Project – Mamadou Diouf (Development and Change Vol.29 (1998) 671-696 ©Institute of Social Studies 1998. Published by Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 108 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK; pg. 674, 674, 675, 680, 675)

2, Wake Up – Brand Nubian from the album One for All (Elektra, #7559-60946-1, US, 1990)

3, 14, 15, Politics and style in Black Girl – Marsha Landy (from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp.23-25; copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005, pg. 2, 7, 10)

5, 10, From Imperialism to Diplomacy: A Historical Analysis of French and Senegal Cultural Relationship – Aisha Balarabe Bawa, Department of History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto (pg. 2, 5)

7, Thieves in the night – Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star from the album Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (Rawkus, #RWK 1158-1, US, 1998)

9, Film Review: Black Girl – Maria Garcia (Film Journal International, 17th May 2016 – http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-black-girl )

11, Ngugi Wa Thion‟o, “Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature” Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers ltd.1981.

12, Mr. Brown – Ras Michael & The Sons of Negus from the album Rastafari (Grounation, GROL 505, UK, 1975)

16, Do 4 Self – Roots Manuva from the album Slime & Reason (Big Dada Recordings, BD123, UK, 2008)

Bibliography

  1. The French Colonial Policy of Assimilation and the Civility of the Originaires of the Four Communes (Senegal): A Nineteenth Century Globalization Project – Mamadou Diouf (Development and Change Vol.29 (1998) 671-696 ©Institute of Social Studies 1998. Published by Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 108 Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK)
  2. Wake Up – Brand Nubian from the album One for All (Elektra, #7559-60946-1, US, 1990)
  3. Politics and style in Black Girl – Marsha Landy (from Jump Cut, no. 27, July 1982, pp.23-25; copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1982, 2005, pg. 2, 7, 10)
  4. From Imperialism to Diplomacy: A Historical Analysis of French and Senegal Cultural Relationship – Aisha Balarabe Bawa, Department of History, Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto
  5. Thieves in the night – Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star from the album Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star (Rawkus, #RWK 1158-1, US, 1998)
  6. Black Girl: Lyrical Sympathy – Tony McKibbin (tonymckibbin.com – http://tonymckibbin.com/film/black-girl-2 )
  7. Introduction to Black Girl – Rahul Hamid (Senses of Cinema, December 2002, Cinematheque Annotations on Film, Issue 78)
  8. Ousmane Sembène’s “Black Girl” & African Storytelling Through Film – Hakeem Adam (Circumspecte, 27 January 2016, https://circumspecte.com/2016/01/ousmane-sembenes-black-girl-african-storytelling-through-film/)
  9. The “Black Girl” speaks, 1966 (Feminéma, posted by Didion, 20th March 2011- https://feminema.wordpress.com/category/films-by-name/black-girl-la-noire-de/ )
  10. Film Review: Black Girl – Maria Garcia (Film Journal International, 17th May 2016 – http://www.filmjournal.com/reviews/film-review-black-girl )
  11. Sembene Retrospective: Black Girl (1966) – K. A. Westphal (motion within motion, 7th October 2007 – http://motionwithinmotion.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/sembene-retrospective-black-girl-1966.html )
  12. Black Girl: The Criterion Collection – Trevor Berrett (The Mooske and the Gripes, 24th January 2017 – http://mookseandgripes.com/reviews/2017/01/24/ousmane-sembene-black-girl/ )
  13. La Noire de… : Sembène’s Black Girl and Postcolonial Senegal – Sylvia Cutler (B.A. English 2017, http://humanities.byu.edu/la-noire-de-sembenes-black-girl-and-postcolonial-senegal/)
  14. Black Girl review – Ousmane Sembène’s groundbreaking film dazzles 50 years on – Jordan Hoffman (The Guardian, 18th Wednesday 2016 – https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/18/black-girl-review-ousmene-sembene-groundbreaking )
  15. Ousmane Sembène: Interview with Bonnie Greer (The Guardian, 5th June 2005 – https://www.theguardian.com/film/2005/jun/05/features )
  16. Black Girl Introduction and Post-Screening Q&A, Walker Art Center (https://youtu.be/VCoD7FDPbgY) – Published 16th February 2011, Post screening discussion at the Walker Art Center led by Charles Sugnet, Associate Professor, English Department, University of Minnesota, as part of the film series Ousmane Sembene: African Stories
  17. “Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature” Ngugi Wa Thion’o, (Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers ltd.1981)
  18. Do 4 Self – Roots Manuva from the album Slime & Reason (Big Dada Recordings, BD123, UK, 2008)
  19. Interview: Mbissine Thérèse Diop – Livia Bloom (Film Comment, published 5th October 2015, https://www.filmcomment.com/blog/interview-mbissine-therese-diop/)