Union Jack

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Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Somé
dramatized by Shaun MacLoughlin

Part 2: With the Jesuits


MALIDOMA: My first taste of freedom was frightening.  For the first time in fifteen years I didn't know where my next meal was coming from.  I was going to have to make decisions as to where to go and what to do for the rest of my life.

I knew that home was to the east, but how far east I had no idea.  I felt like a domesticated animal abruptly released into the wild jungle.  I found a track and decided to keep walking as long as it was light.


I hid when a truck passed.  I saw one of the priests and the cook inside.  They were probably on their way to the nearest supply centre to collect provisions.  I wondered how far it was.


After walking all day fatigue overcame hunger and I made a bed of dried leaves and slept under a large tree.  That night I dreamt that a large bird picked me up in its talons and flew with me and later I found myself sitting on a soft hairy body that seemed to know me.  Both dreams gave me a sense of comfort, as if I were being looked after.  When I awoke I saw scratches on the tree that could have been made by a bird's claws and I saw bits of fur and feathers on the ground.  Something had happened in the night.  Strangely I felt as if something good were looking after me.  I rose and walked towards the rising sun.

I tried various fruits, but they were either too bitter or out of reach.  I was desperately hungry by now and thought of my fellow students who would be enjoying regular meals.  By the end of the second day I reached a city.


It was almost dark as I passed through a suburban shantytown into a large city.  I found a man who spoke French.
MALIDOMA: Bonsoir.
MAN: Bonsoir.
MALIDOMA: What's the name of this town?
MAN: Bobo
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) Wow! That meant I 'd walked a hundred kilometres in two days.
MAN: Where are you going?
MALIDOMA: Dano. Do you know if there is a bus there?
MAN: It will cost you 500 francs.
Dagara Elder
River near Bobo
(NARRATING) I didn't have 500 francs, so I kept walking.  I had all the time in the world to waste.  The countryside beyond Bobo was beautiful and mountainous.  There was a river in every valley with unpolluted water to drink and there was an abundance of fruit trees to save me from starvation.

But the beauty of the landscape was counterpointed by my guilt which seemed to follow me from the seminary and my anxiety about I would find in Dano.

(WALKING, ALOUD) What if everyone is dead?  What am I you going to do anyway?


(NARRATING) On the fourth day I recognized a huge marketplace lined with kapok trees.  This was Dano: my home.  People were speaking a language I did not understand, but a man addressed me in French.  I told him my story.
OUÉDRAOGO: (FRENCH ACCENT) Your house is across the river.  I'll walk you there.


So you are one of those who were chosen by God.  Independence has put an end to all that crap. Look me up when you come to the capital.  With your education you will get a good job.
MALIDOMA: Up to now I had only thought about getting home.  I recognized the chief's house, like a fortress with a guarded entrance.  We crossed the river.  It was the same as I remembered.  The tree, under which my mother had given birth to me, had been cut down.  At last I saw my house.
OUÉDRAOGO: I'll leave you here. I don't like emotional scenes.
Dagara Elder
A Dano Compound
I sat opposite my house under a nim tree.  There was nobody about. Chickens hunted for food. The compound did not seem as large as it had fifteen years ago. Something stopped me going inside.

I slept and when I woke there were naked children around me, all speaking Dagara, which I no longer understood.  A young woman carrying wood appeared from behind the house.  She spoke bad French.

(ALOUD) Is this the house of Bakhye?
SISTER: No this is my father Elié's house.  Bakhye was my grandfather.
MALIDOMA: She was my sister.  She brought me a calabash of white liquid: sour but drinkable.  Then an old man arrived on a bicycle.  He went inside the house.  And then an older woman appeared also carrying wood.  The young woman said something to her and she looked at me intensely.


She dropped her wood and rushed towards me.
MOTHER: Malidoma! . . . . Malidoma!

MAIDOMA: Her plump body swung to and fro as she ran her hands up and down my body.  Emotion begets emotion.  I cried too.  The man who had arrived by bike was led out of the compound by the young woman.  She pointed a finger at him and said something in Dagara.  I was led inside.
SISTER: (VERY POLITELY) Would you like to take a bath?
MALIDOMA: I realised it was eleven days since I had had a proper wash.  The bath was soothing and invigorating.  I lay down on a straw mat spread on a dirt platform.  I remembered this was where fifteen years ago Grandfather had lain, telling me about my future.  'Where is he now?' I wondered.

It was wonderful to sleep, unmindful of threats, in a room again.  When I awoke my mother brought me millet porridge.  She fed me.  It was warm and good, like the heart that fed it to me.

But I began to burn with anger.  Why in all those years had no one come to look for me?  And then my father entered.  He looked like a condemned man.  He spoke to me as if he were trying to justify himself.  My sister translated.
SISTER: Father says the spirit of the family is great because you are still alive.
He says he has been making sacrifices that you come home.
MALIDOMA: I felt cheated, as if I had been robbed of the two hundred miles I had battled home.

(ALOUD) Why didnŐt he just ask that damn priest on the hill to bring me back?  Ask him that! Ask him!!
SISTER: Father says ancestors predict.  Nobody can prevent.
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) I was furious.  It was so frustrating that I couldn't speak Dagara.

(ALOUD) I am among idiots.  God is a fool.
FATHER: God , mmm . . . God.
MALIDOMA: (ALOUD) I'm going for a walk.

(NARRATING) I sat alone underneath the baobab tree where Grandfather's funeral had taken place.  I wondered about my vocation to be a priest.  I loved much of what Christianity taught, but could not bear the hypocrisy and cruelty of many who practised it.


I wandered and found myself by the river.   I heard a voice behind me.
MALIDOMA: It was a boy of about 14, but as tall and muscular as me.  He was looking at me intently, with a vast smile.  He sat beside me and announced his name.
NYANGOLI: Nyangoli.

MALIDOMA: We sat throwing stones into the river.   His presence took away some of my loneliness.
NYANGOLI: I am your male mother's son.
MALIDOMA: What's that?
NYANGOLI: I am the son of your uncle, Guisso - your mother's brother.
Water Diviner at Dano
Water Diviner
at Dano
I came to understand that the father must efface himself for the son to survive; and that only the male mother could soothe my anger.  Guisso represented the feminine side of man who carried the energy of peace and reconciliation.


Guisso was also a diviner and healer for the entire village.  A month after my return father took me at dawn to Guisso for my first divination.
GUISSO The spirits woke me in the middle of the night. They do not care whether we need rest or not.
MALIDOMA: A person who spends a long time from home leaves a portion of his soul abroad.  Guisso was going to find out what ritual would make me whole again.

He laid out his medicine objects.  They were bones and stones and old pieces of metal.  For the old man power was in the trivial thing, the thing that looked weak and valueless.  He picked up a V-shaped stick and as he asked questions it went of its own volition to various objects.  From this mystery Guisso understood certain things.


Later he sacrificed several chickens and then anointed me with oils.  In the days that followed I felt some kind of transformation.  It was as if I had been given an emotional painkiller.  Meanwhile my sister and Nyangoli helped me to start speaking Dagara again.


One night my father came to my room.
FATHER: Today I met with the village council.  There have been several meetings about you. You are the first to carry the White man's spirit into the village.  The you sitting here is like the priest who took you away from us fifteen years ago.  You are not here yet.
MALIDOMA: Am I responsible for allowing my soul to be stolen?
FATHER: You know you're not.  No-one is looking for someone to blame.
MALIDOMA: Why am I of such concern?
FATHER: The white people who came here are possessed by the troubled ghosts of their ancestors.  Because their dead are not at peace, the living cannot be either.  But because you were born here, you must be helped to find the way of love and come home completely, instead of succumbing to the way of fear and bringing the village to the white man's ways.
MALIDOMA: So what do the elders say?
FATHER: Some of them look on your experience among the whites as a good omen.
They have seen you read and write, but they also want to quiet your terror.
The white man's whiteness is made of terror.  He wrestles with it to stay alive.  The elders want you to quiet the white man in your soul.
MALIDOMA: How can I do that?
FATHER: By Initiation.  It will teach you the way of your ancestors.  It will bring your soul back home and stop you being a stranger.  There is a ghost in you that is going to have to die.  Initiation can be very dangerous.  Every year some initiates die.  If this happens to young men, who have never left the village, what will happen to you?
MALIDOMA: What happens in initiation?
FATHER: Telling you will not protect you.  If I told you I would have to protect you and my protection would be deadly.
MALIDOMA: I don't understand.
FATHER: The night is late.  The elders want to meet us tomorrow evening.

MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) Before we went we knelt in front of two statues, the Dagara symbols of the ancestral masculine and feminine, so important to the maintenance of a home.
FATHER: (PRAYING) We are going to meet the council of the elders.  I ask you to inspire us to speak the truth.  All I want is peace for this family.
MALIDOMA: At the meeting place were six stone seats for the six elders.  And in the middle was the statue of the god, Dawera community lawmaker.  He had a face like an elder in a trance with his hands outstretched.  On either side of his body pours water, while from his feet burst flames.  The Chief of the elders spoke.
CHIEF ELDER: We are here tonight to water our garden.  A few months ago this grandson of ours found his way back to his roots, coming out of the wilderness, where the white man lives - the one who hunts men.  When the spirits have a plan for someone, he survives even the unsurvivable.  I have summoned you here to discuss whether this boy can pass through initiation and learn what he must learn.
MALIDOMA: Another elder objected.
FIENSU: (A GRATING VOICE)  Are we letting a stranger trouble the peace of our council?  Should we let an uninitiated child disturb our sacred circle?
Our ancestors will judge us for this.
CHIEF: Fiensu, you cannot deny the dawn hides the coming day.  The destiny of this grandchild has been known since his birth.  We want to make him an offer, a risky offer, and we want to hear him say, 'yes', so our plans can proceed.
FIENSU: I don't think someone, who paints language on paper should be trusted.
He has no respect.  He yells at his family.
CHIEF: His grandfather told us everything we need to know.  He was a good boy with a good spirit.  How can we throw him out when he has crawled across the earth to return to our hearts?
MALIDOMA: Father then pleaded with the elders.
FATHER: He came back from the wilderness because he cares about us.   He doesn't want to leave the village like other children dreaming about being modern.
If we let him go, our civilisation will die.  And we will be responsible.
CHIEF: Yes.  What he knows can be good for us.
FIENSU: Do you think it's good for a boy to teach his elders?  Should we allow him to infect everybody with his illness?
CHIEF: Fiensu, let me finish before you infect everybody with discord.
When I consulted the ancestors they told me he came back because his grandfather told him to.  They said that he will be our mouth, and through him the white man will become our friend. We shall offer him initiation.
Now I want to ask his father what he wants for his son.
FATHER: Thank you.   What my son wants is what I want.
FIENSU: Do you hear that?  Here is a man who does not know his role towards his own son.
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) I could not let my father be humiliated in this way.

(ALOUD) He wants me to be initiated.  The chief wants me to be initiated.
I will be initiated.  If something happens to me that's my business.
FIENSU: Who asked you to speak?  Since when do babies speak to their elders without being asked?
CHIEF: Stop!  Do we want this boy to think this is the way we conduct our meetings?  We must give this new sun a chance to shine.
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING)  A page of my life was being turned.  I was going to be initiated as soon as the harvest was over.  The night before my initiation I dreamt my grandfather appeared to me.
GRANDFATHER: Know that this is going to be another journey of pain.  I hope you are going to be strong. This is your real school.  If you see a kontomblé, a being from the underworld, remember you have met them before.

MALIDOMA: The next day I knelt down with my father in the medicine room.  He prayed to the spirits.
FATHER: Here is another one who leaves his warm home and comes to you seeking the path of memory.  The road is dangerous, but with your protection, he will return to us as a man.  Let him come back alive.
MALIDOMA: On parting, he said to me.
FATHER: I may never say anything to you again, until . . . I have done what a father should do, the rest is in your hands. Please come back to us.


The dramatisation continues until, after his initiation, Malidoma is required by the Elders to bring the Dagara's ancient, healing wisdom to the West.

For more information please go to The Healing Wisdom of Africa, Malidoma Somé's Website. and to Drums of Change, Drums of Spirit for some inspiring you tubes.

I should like to thank John Minshall for introducing me to Of Water and the Spirit.

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