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     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

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

Part 3: The Journey Home

PART 4: THE FIRST INITIATION - THE GREEN LADY


MALIDOMA: I joined the other candidates for initiation outside the village.  They were about 13 adolescent boys, all naked.  In our tribe to be naked is to be open-hearted.  I took off my clothes too.  We sang as we marched into the bush.

SINGING AND MARCHING IN DAGARA
MALIDOMA: (SPEAKING OVER) My little family I leave today
My great family I meet tomorrow
Father, don't worry, I shall come back
Mother, don't cry, I am a man

(THE SINGING AND MARCHING COME TO A HALT)

We arrived at the initiation area, two circular clearings in the savannah.
The larger area was for instruction and was the sleeping area for the initiates and the smaller contained a hut for the five elders.  We collected leaves for our beds and dry wood for our fire.  We didn't speak and the silence began to annoy me.  I spoke to Nyangoli, who was busy tearing leaves off a branch.

(ALOUD) Will women from the village bring us dinner?
NYANGOLI: (MATTER-OF-FACTLY) If a woman did turn up here, she'd be cut into pieces and roasted alive.
MALIDOMA: How are we going to eat then?
NYANGOLI: We didn't come here to eat.
MALIDOMA: How many of us are here?
NYANGOLI: Sixty three from five villages.

WE HEAR THE SOUND OF THE WÉLÉ
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) Our coach, a young man, who had been initiated the previous year, sounded the wélé.  This is a five inch flute with two holes on the right side and one on the left.  Dagara is a tonal language and is spoken like a chant.  It is customary on important ritual occasions to blow words through the flute.  I could not understand, so Nyangoli translated for me.
NYANGOLI: The sun is going to lie down for the night.  Soon the elders will tell you what is to be done.

RISE AND THEN FADE THE WÉLÉ AND BRING UP THE SOUND OF THE BONFIRE.
MALIDOMA: As darkness fell a bonfire was lit. The Coach directed us to sing a song:

OVER THE SONG IN DAGARA WE HEAR THE READER SAYS THE FIRST TWO VERSES:
READER: Oh light of burning fire
Clean the mud of the night
That sticks to the lids of my sight.

O instrument of my sight
Do not close the lids of my eyes
Even when you eat the wood to ash

THE FIRE FLARES UP AND THE SINGING CONTINUES BENEATH MALIDOMA'S WORDS
MALIDOMA: Then the elders made a dramatic entrance. Their bodies glowed with lines of white paint. They looked like skeletons. The fire grew taller and taller with violet flames rising six metres into the air.  It was like a ghost with flailing arms.  Knowledge poured into my consciousness.
Suddenly I knew what I was going to be doing for the following days.

LOSE INCANTATION

Later I discovered it was the same for the other initiates.  The elder then walked around the fire, explaining.
ELDER: The purpose of initiation is to find your centre.  It is different for each of you, but each one of you is like a circle round the fire.  The west of the circle, the setting part represents the coolness of water.  It bridges the gap between how we look on the outside and how we are inside.  It quenches our thirst.  Its opponent in the east, the rising part, is fire, the god that makes us do and feel, love and hate.  From the realm where the ancestors live, this fire can be seen in everyone.  It is the rope that links us with our real home that we abandoned when we were born.
MALIDOMA: I began to realise that I was unlearning western knowledge.  Book learning is very different from the knowledge that comes from within, from the soul. Here there was no difference between meaning and being.

(SAMPLED ELECTRONIC MUSIC)

That night, lying cold and naked upon dead leaves, two seductive eyes seemed to hang in the darkness before me.  I felt no fear and eventually as dawn broke they seemed to rise in the air and disappear.

(THE COACH'S VOICE INTERRUPTS THE MUSIC)
COACH: Up.  Everybody up!  As soon as the sun rises we must teach you the tree knowledge.  Without good sight you cannot continue your initiation.
MALIDOMA:
Yila Tree
A Yila Tree
We were each told to select a tree.  We were told to sit, stand or kneel about twenty metres from it and look hard at it.  We were supposed to see something but were not told what.  I chose a yila tree about ten metres high with a trunk less than a metre in diameter.  As the sun got warmer and warmer.  I stared at the tree for the next five hours.

It got more and more exasperating.  I thought about other things.  Hadn't I suffered more than this in the seminary?  Sweat fell into my eyes and made them burn.  I scratched around for leaves to rub them, when I heard a voice behind me.  It was Fiensu, my critic, from the Council of Elders.
FIENSU: Back to work - now!  You think cleaning your eyes will help?
MALIDOMA: I noticed some of the other students were strolling around. Why didn't the Elder pick on them?
FIENSU: You won't get anywhere if your thoughts are watching one thing and your eyes another.  Those boys have finished their assignment.
MALIDOMA: I went on staring.  As evening approached I heard Fiensu talking to another elder about me.
FIENSU: In his belly he is a full-bred White.  He can't see.  He can't push through the veil.  Can the White man's power can only be experienced, if he first buries the truth?
MALIDOMA: He came up to me.
FIENSU:






MALIDOMA:
Yila Tree
A Yila Tree
That's it for the day.  If you cannot see in the light, do you imagine you can see in the dark?

ROAR OF FIRE AND SINGING AND DANCING.

That night first we painted each other.
Then we sang and danced around the fire.  I began to experience the other people there through a different sensory apparatus than the usual five senses.  I experienced indescribable joy and had a vision of a river flowing golden like lava.  I jumped into it and blacked out.
FADE SINGING AND DANCING
The next day I was ordered to resume my gazing exercise.  I was more relaxed than before, but there were a lot of elders watching me.  I was determined to concentrate.
BUZZ OF INSECT, GRUNT OF PAIN AND THEN LAUGHTER OF ELDERS
It got hotter and hotter and then an insect bit me on the back.  I scratched where it hurt and the elders started laughing.  I decided I was not going to torture myself for the sake of a tree.  I decided I would trick them.  I called out.
MALIDOMA: (CALLING) I see an antelope sitting on its hind legs.
(NARRATING) I kept my eyes fixed on the tree as if in fascination.
FIENSU: (LAUGHING WITH THE OTHER)  An antelope sitting on its hind legs?  Keep looking.  (TO THE OTHER ELDERS)  What did I tell you?  He has become a liar like the white men.

LAUGHTER DIES AWAY
MALIDOMA: I was crying.  I'd failed at my first initiation.  What's more I'd been caught out in a lie.  I went on looking at the tree.  Then I began speaking to it as if it had a life of its own.  I told her it was not her fault, but mine, I couldn't see.  I was empty.  It was mid afternoon when I felt a flash in my spirit like mild lightning and a cool breeze ran down my spine and into the ground.  The sun, the forest, the elders and I, all began to realize I was in another reality and witnessing a miracle.

MUSIC

The trees around my yila were glowing like fire.  I felt as if I were at the centre of the universe, weightless, weak and innocent.  For a moment I experienced deep fear, as one must feel when death is approaching.  I looked at the tree again, I became aware that it was not a tree at all.  Out of nowhere where the tree had stood appeared a tall woman dressed in black from head to foot.  She wore a veil, but somehow I knew she was extremely beautiful and powerful.

I felt intensity emanating from her and was pulled towards her, as one is to water after a day in the desert.  She lifted her veil revealing an unearthly face.  She was green, light green from the inside out.  Her eyes were small and luminescent.  She was smiling.  Her teeth were violet and there was light emanating from them.  It was as if her body were filled with green fluid and that this green was the expression of immeasurable love.

Illustration by Stephen Daigle
Illustration
by Stephen Daigle
Never before had I felt so much love, but it was not like a romantic or filial love.  I was grateful to heaven for releasing her back to me.  We flew into each other's arms.  My body became millions of conscious cells all longing to reunite with her.  I felt as if I were moving backward in time and forward in space.

She embraced me as if I was a small boy in her powerful arms and she spoke softly and tenderly to me.  No human could sustain this degree of happiness for even a day.  I cannot divulge what she said to me.  That is a secret that must be honoured.  I lifted my face and read departure in her eyes.  In despair I clung hard to her soft body .....

FADE MUSIC

But the hardness became rough under my hands and when I opened my eyes, I realised I was clinging to the tree.  The elders had moved closer to me.
ELDER: (GENTLY) Go and find something to eat and make your bed for the night.
MALIDOMA: Back at camp Nyangoli was waiting for me.
NYANGOLI: You're still alive.
MALIDOMA: Of course.  The day was challenging, but not too bad.
NYANGOLI: You are slowly becoming a bush person.  I was afraid for you; but I can see from your eyes you are getting over to the other side.
MALIDOMA: What is the other side?
NYANGOLI: When you arrived here, your soul was out of you.  That can be dangerous.
You need your soul to make sure you can get back to this side of reality, after you have done your learning.  Somebody must have done something to heal you today.
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) My experience with 'seeing' the lady in the tree helped me understand that we are often watched by beings we cannot see.  When we do see these otherworldly beings, it is only because they have given us permission.

Traditional education consists of three parts: enlarging one's ability to see, escaping the body's habit of being tied to one plane of being, and the ability to travel to the other side of life and to return.

INTONATION OF FIRE DANCE RHYTHM AND BEATING OF DRUM

That night one of the elders intoned a fire dance rhythm while another spoke.
ELDER: Fire is seeing .... Fire is dreaming .... Fire is living.  In the belly of the fire lie our ancestors.  We must merge with the fire to become who we truly are.
MALIDOMA: In Dagara culture the drum is a transportation device that carries the listener into other worlds. This magic only works when the drummer coaxes special rhythms.

DRUMS BECOMING SYNTHESISED DREAM MUSIC

I entered a dream world, in which the voices belonged to red people, on a carpet surrounded by stars.  I had never seen such beings before.  Yet I seemed to recognise them.  I was both observer and actor at the same time.  On an altar in front of me were three baby girls.  I stretched my hands to the altar and said something I could not hear.  A beam of light encapsulated the girls in a planetary sphere and then shot southwards.   Somehow I had been expecting this.  I lowered my hands.  The red people bowed and gave thanks.  I had been in the dream world for a long time.

My fellow initiates had also entered a dream world and were slowly waking up.

LOSE MUSIC. JUST HEAR THE FIRE.

PART 5: THE SECOND INITIATION, THE LIGHT HOLE

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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