Saturday, December 9, 2006

PA KONKORO'S BUSH DEVILS - Later Mid-July, 2006

Pa Konkoro is an irreverent man. Having used that adjective… I’m second guessing. He’s a hunter; he taught Aaron most of what he knows about the bush; he’s deeply respectful of others in the village and he lives in the most traditional of ways as a Kuranko rice farmer in Foria. He also, as Aaron says, is completely candid and “tells the truths that everyone knows but that most will not dare to say.” He’s got a strange kind of objectivity that seems improbable for one to come by without any departure from the traditions and context that they have always lived within.

“Konkoro” is not a highly prestigious name. It’s essentially the name given to a ‘dust bin.’ A child might come to such a name if their parents had several children die. A name of complete insignificance would be given to the new baby with hopes that whatever evil spirits had claimed the lives of the earlier siblings would overlook the new child. Pa Konkoro was a namesake for someone in an earlier generation of his family… another way that children often come by names.

Aaron has recently been inquiring about getting a hold of or being able to see some of the old ceremonial masks that are used by the male and female “bush devils.” This has to be approached very carefully, as (in theory) women die if they see the male bush devil (men merely get elephantitus of the ‘balls’ if they see the female one..!). They are rarely seen out of their ceremonial context. To show or sell a mask would be an implicit acknowledgement that it doesn’t have quite the power that people say it does. It would be very important that this was not at all flaunted locally, and the seller would want to be clear that the mask would only be shown to people from another country, etc. where it didn’t hold the same power or meaning.
So, as there were just a handful of close friends of Aaron’s around, my questions surfaced: “What is a Bush Devil?” “Where do they come from?” “What power do they have?” “What do you really believe about them?”

Yegbeh was quiet. Pa Konkoro thought for a minute and then asked Aaron, “Have you ever seen a bush devil that came from the bush?” (Implied: we’ve seen the scars and calluses on legs of the bush devils who parade through town… and none seem too mysterious or unfamiliar…) Aaron laughed and replied, “Yes, the bush devils I’ve seen come from under the cotton tree.” (One of the men in town ‘known’ to serve as a ceremonial bush devil lives by a cotton tree) Pa Konkoro then chastened, “Now you have said too much Aaron!” (Apparently, specificity in countering traditionally held beliefs crossed the edge.) Then, Pa Konkoro went on to muse about how men enjoyed the emergence of the bush devil b/c it got the women out of the way and gave the men free reign to do their ‘stuff.’ Further, he speculated how ‘interesting’ it was that Pa Seku’s pineapples were always disappearing when the women came out with their bush devil… and how convenient it was to blame things on the ‘devil’…

From bush devils, we moved on to discussion of the ‘hunter’s shrines’… “Oh, that’s just the hunter’s being selfish,” claimed Pa Konkoro. “It’s easy to tell a village that meat must be sacrificed to the guiding spirit of the hunters (this in reference to the spirit of the first hunter ever, who came down from Mali to teach everyone to hunt). Then we make the young men cook us (the older hunters) a fine feast.

Conversations like this are fascinating, but I feel like they walk a delicate line. While, to all appearances, someone like Pa Konkoro is ‘debunking’ traditionally held beliefs, it’s also quite clear that the presence of these beliefs in the culture provides framework and ‘richness’ to life that is deeply valued. Revered, in fact. So perhaps Pa Konkoro is reverent after all. Or, in his own words… “an old cow in the corral.”

Cell phones, satellites, BBC radio… all these things are swiftly encroaching on this region. They haven’t made their way to Foria yet, but it won’t be long. What happens as more influences of ‘western’ and ‘rational’ and ‘linear’ thinking hit a region like this? We put great hopes in the positive things: medicine, education, etc. I wonder if we know enough about the traditions that are ‘replaced’ and ‘lost’ and what roles they serve.

Anyway, I’m finally recovering from rice farming. Kumba and Aaron got into a bit of a tiff this morning, as Kumba thinks it’s ridiculous that he should think of taking me into the bush before he has a ‘camp’ set up and knows how long of a walk it will be. She thinks I should come to the farm in Yarah with her instead. My Krio is still quite limited… but even I could understand her exclaim something to the effect of “you can only push the body as far as it can go… and then you must stop! What do you eat while you are in the bush anyway?” (Kumba doesn’t think Aaron or I eat nearly well enough. We’re going to cook up Mary K’s curry dish tonight to try to persuade her otherwise… but she is right concerning Aaron’s eating habits while in the bush.) So we have yet to figure out our plans. My ‘right’ boots arrived today, making many more options possible!

Warm greetings to all,
Emily (and Aaron too)

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