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     English Wordplay ~ Listen and Enjoy

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

Part 7: The Fourth Initisation, The Burial


MALIDOMA: When I returned the water initiates were being interviewed by the elders and it was my turn.
ELDER: The next two days are important for you. Do you know this area of the wild?
MALIDOMA: I don't.
ELDER: It doesn't matter.  You must return to the mountains and look for a cave shaped like an egg.  Enter it and allow yourself to be guided to the kontomblé world.  There is nothing to fear.  You must return with what these beings will give you.  Have you understood?

(NARRATING) I did not think I was authorised to ask questions.   A grown Dagara is not nosy or suspicious.  Questions are the mind's way of trying to destroy a mystery.


That night as I was climbing the mountain to the cave, I was followed by an animal the size of a raccoon.  I picked up a rock to smash its head.  On the way home I would take it back to the camp and roast it.

But my hand froze.  She began to speak to me, telling me of my journey to the underworld.  She was the rabbit I had attacked when I was three.
RABBIT: (LIGHT FEMALE VOICE) You still don't get it, man, do you?
MALIDOMA: Her voice did not appear to come from her mouth, but to be infused into my being.
RABBIT: After all these years, you are still eager to hurt me.  When you were a kid I tricked you into following me to my father.  Do you remember what he said to you?  He is waiting for you.  He will be your guide.
MALIDOMA: And she was gone in a flash.  The cave was a narrow tunnel, seeming to lead to another world on the other side of the mountain.  I finally reached it at dawn.  Where was I?  The question came screaming back at me.

I soon discovered that in this underworld thinking was excruciatingly painful.  When I put my hand up to my ears I discovered they were wet with blood.  "I have to stop thinking", I said to myself.

Finally I achieved silence and the pain receded.  In silence meaning is no longer heard, but it's felt.

As my mind cleared and I came out of the inside of what seemed like a loudspeaker, I experienced a peace similar to that which I had enjoyed with the green lady and on my water journey with the dolphin.


Here nature was much more beautiful than in the world I had left behind.
The abundant green and violet that surrounded me gave the sky a special colour.  The trees were far larger and of different species.  I felt both at home and not at home.  The valley before me was crowded with animals along the shores of a river.  I felt the urge to move towards them.  They paid no attention to me.  They were busy grazing or chasing one another or making love.


As I approached the river I felt fully in the present.  I also felt the presence of somebody.  Perhaps it was the kontomblé guiding me.  I felt a pull to enter the water.  I realised I was walking on top of the water which felt warm and agreeable to the touch.  I looked down and saw my foot between two large crocodile eyes.  I must have walked across three or four crocodiles to reach the other side of the river.


Eventually I came across a great tree.  It was elevated on huge branching roots.   Under the roots was a blue-violet stone.   As I grasped it, it began to glow fiercely and I felt my body growing colder and colder.   It stuck to me and I could not let go of it.  The violet colour spread to my body and my tears began to freeze.  I felt I was in the middle of a huge violet egg.


It was then I began to see series of my past lives, beginning far back in time.  I was in a village, in which the houses were made of living, growing trees.  Everything about our lives was magical.  We were a family of dwarfs who played at being giants and we rode in a chariot through the clouds.

Next, because we cut down a sacred tree, the angry gods expelled us and we were migrating downstream through a barren land.   Eventually we found some vegetation and we built an altar to a female divinity.  The green life came back, but we could not regain our magical powers.

The next time I returned from the light I lived in the forest as hunter.  But the hunter who mistakes a supernatural animal for a simple one invites serious trouble.  One day I shot a poisoned arrow at a deer.  To my astonishment it changed into a bull and charged me.   Remembering my last life how to change shape I turned into a bird and flew into a tree.  But the bull turned into a vulture; so I flew down and turned into a porcupine.  I was immediately enveloped by smoke.  I turned into a bush but the next bush to me threatened to invade me.  So I gave up and said:

(ALOUD) Do with me as you wish. I am at your mercy.

(NARRATING) So saying I changed back into a human being and the other bush turned into a very tall and beautiful white lady.  She took me to her world that was reached through a hole in a rock.  The men there were naked and almost half the size of the women.  The white lady took me to her room and slept with me.
WIFE: You will be my husband. I will teach you how to enter the dreams of humans .
MALIDOMA: We had three children.  One night there was a meeting of the medicine women at the same time as the warrior women's meeting.  I wanted to see what role my wife was playing, but by a mistake I stumbled into the wrong meeting and was caught by one of the guards.   Because I was a man I was sentenced to death.  My wife was distressed, but there was nothing she could do.  She whispered to me:
WIFE: (WHISPERING) You will be returned to your human family as a child of your own grandson.
MALIDOMA: Then I was pushed off a cliff. The downward motion reminded me of my fall through the light hole into another world.


I screamed in order to survive.  Suddenly I found myself still underneath the great tree where I had come from.  I was still holding the glowing stone in my hands but it wasn't sticking to me.  There is a saying in my village that with death, one world grieves a loss, while another celebrates a birth.

Now that I had accomplished my mission, I felt a pressing need to return to the initiation camp,  but I had lost track of the hole in the mountains by which I had entered.   As if in answer to my thoughts I saw a girl, a real village daughter.  I asked her the way.  She pointed to the west.
VILLAGE GIRL: You see those three mountains?
VILLAGE GIRL: Go to the one in the middle and cross to the other side.  There is a cave there.  That is your way home.
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) As I walked into the cave, I began to notice stars twinkling and realised it must be night in our world.  It was nearly dawn when I emerged from a different cave, fifteen kilometres to the west of the one I had entered.  I was still clutching the stone and when I finally arrived at the camp I handed it to the elder who was waiting for me.
GUISSO: Look at me.  (PAUSE)  What do you see?
MALIDOMA (NARRATING) The dark holes of his eyes contrasted with his white painted face.
GUISSO: Look hard.
MALIDOMA: (NARRATING) I was a little embarrassed to be looking so boldly into the face of an elder.
GUISSO: I am Guisso - the same Guisso, who worked on you, when you returned from the white man's initiation.  Don't you recognize me?  (PAUSE)  Are you pleased to know the way of your ancestors?
GUISSO: It's all over.  We shall be going home now.  The last mission was the most dangerous and you made it.  I am happy.  You have a real hunter's blood under your skin.
MALIDOMA: Who was that girl I met in the underworld?
GUISSO: I don't know why it was a girl.  That's your experience.  You have the rest of your life to figure it out.  For me it was a snake, who showed me the way out.  I am glad you saw a real person, even though it must have been a transformation.  (PAUSE)  Now you need to rest.  You have the rest of your life to figure out all your experiences.
MALIDOMA: Back at the camp, Nyangoli was snoring. I slept and when I woke, he was sitting beside me.
NYANGOLI: Are you hungry?
MALIDOMA: He went into the bush to find something to eat. That night I slept soundly.
A man asleep is like a child in nature's lap.



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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