Saturday, 13 December 2008


Version two of the epic mali sarjo (Mandingo folklure) by Suntou Touray
Due to time constraint, the version of Mali Sarjo was delayed. To further the discussion and answer to private letters and request from the Jali community and others interested in Mandingo folklore, i present to you the version two. Just to clarify one issue, as a non-student of history, the research conducted is out of personal ineterest and may not satisfy some Jalis who are seeking both contextual and the high standard Mandingo story telling. I held my hands up from the beginning and apologise in advance if my style dissatisfy you. Mali Sarjo is an integral story in the oral history of Manden people; I was contacted a day ago by a western musician who was indeed pleased with the version one. He stated the wisdoms gain in that narration, to eliminate the suspense, here I present version two.
Manden Epic, Mali Sarjo
As passed on from our ancestors, the tradition to convey wisdom in manden culture takes the forms of story (talingo), strict codified teaching, secret male societies (kewulo) and the counter-part for women (bumba) women secret societies and many other forms of infusing vital codes of conduct and manners in future generations. Story to an average Mandingo is not just about the unverifiable nature of them, as it is near impossible to authenticate some of them, but it is about the central message hidden in the words. Language is a sophisticated mode of information transmission and stories become a sure way to unravel ‘what need to be known’.
Like other tribal communities, stories are also regarded as important periods for bonding between adults and young people. This is the same regardless of the language or racial group. The attempt here is to convey what really happen to Mali Sarjo (the hippo).
Mali Sarjo
In a place part of the dwelling In Manden, some say near present day Niger close to Mali lays a river. This river is not any ordinary river but different. In the sense that, the river attracts young people and women to its banks and waters. Well, you may start to wonder, all rivers attract young people and women. The uniqueness in Bafula (conjoin river) is that, two different taste of water flow into each other. The local manden people find this fascinating and uplifting.
In Bafula, the name of the river lives a Hippo. The Hippo is named by local people as Mali sarjo. Every Mandingo who comprehends the language and tradition understands what the verb Sarjo means.
A person or thing is referred to as Sarjo when the mother first gave birth to twins and then followed that by giving birth to a single child. What is relevant here is why the local people named a Hippo as Sarjo?
Well, to get an accurate answer one must first understand the world of the Hippo. That part will be left for another day. But the nature of the song story points to the people visualising a lonely hippo that goes out by itself and do the hippo things unaccompanied. Again, there is a Mandingo name for animals that moves on their own. They are called kunkiling tala (literal meaning, single head walker), More appropriately, a loner.
Just to elaborate on the title kunkiling tala, the word is also use more commonly on monkeys. There is a specific species of red monkeys, sulawulen. It is very common for adult males to regularly compete for dominance among the group, the deposed or overthrown dominant male is banished to look for new park to lead or move on its own.
The people must often be encountering the hippo to name it Sarjo by observation and deduction. Or they may recognised the hippo’s mother with twins and then later spot the mother after some time with another young hippo given birth on its own.
But for clarity and compactness, the relationship between the people and the Hippo is the key message in the song. What sort of relationship warrants numerous manden musicians to compose a song for a hippo?
It must be a very strong relationship one would guess. It is significant to pause here for a moment. The Maden like other tribes in Africa enjoy praise singing, infact a whole Jali industry is based on Batufa/ Jalo relationship. the late lead singer of Bembeya Jazz band Demba Camara once sang that "jamano kuma foo mou jalil leetati" the narrations of the events about the world should be left to the griouts.
Who is a batufa? A batufa is in short a patron, one who looks after the jali or other cast communities. To be a credible Jalo, you have to understand the lineages of your chosen Batufas. The more the song goes deep down the line of the targeted Batufa’s ancestry, the more gifts and presents a Jali is accorded. Famous jali’s with skilled knowledge about such trade is the late Lalo Kebba Drammeh, Sory Kandia, Sekouba Bambino, Foday Musa Suso, Fabala Kanuteh, Jali Nyama Suso, Jaliba Kuyateh, Kandia Kuyateh, Bamba Suso and many other renown Jalis.
The Jalis can be more appropriately label as the engines in a tribal society. They make folks tick! A famous incidence i narrated a while ago was a fatal error perpetrated by the chief of Jali to Almamy Samory. Samory was given many titles among them is Fama, Morro, Mbemba, Jawaro, Kele Mansa etc.
It is related that, Almamy Samory’s younger brother, who many would have heard the likes of Kandia Kuyateh, Sory Kandia, Salifu keiter and many other famous Manden speaking Jalis composed memorable songs about. The lyrics of a song that any manden jali can sing without hesitation is best labelled as Mandinkalu. That song is sung by all credible mandingo vocalist across time.
So the head of the jali’s in the midst of happiness and joy at the winning of a famous battle by Samory’s Army headed by his younger brother who was also his general became overwhelming for the jali community. Such occasion demands poetry, the power of the spoken word and how to imprint them in the hearts of men till eternity becomes all the more significant. Yes, caving words I mean.
There and then the lead Jali rouse to his feet and utter the famous mandinka praise word Jatta!! (lion). Everybody was delighted that such an accolade was given to Keme Burama . Keme Burama means a man who is worth a hundred men.
To shorten the whole episode, Samory was incensed, flabbergasted. “How can you refer to my younger brother whom I made a man to be the lion of the territory I rule? Is there any conspiracy going on that I needed knowing remarked Samory”?
Of course there was no conspiracy going on and Samory knew that very well. But he also knew, in ancient societies, title and names means everything. He wanted to see what other word or words the Manden Jalis can invent to surpass calling someone a lion. In fact many other tribes refer to their gallant men as lion. Samory wanted more from his Jalis not the usual stuff.
The Jalis were given an ultimatum, which is they either come up with a suitable word to praise Samory or lose the lead Jali. As the saying goes in manden, dola koro, dola kaira (one man’s meat is another man’s poison). Some younger Jalis wouldn’t mine replacing the lead Jali as this will put them in authority. But that day all the jali’s united.
Among the group of the Jali was the man who can neither sing nor dance. All he can do was increase the group and mimic the tunes. That is all he was known for. After several intense and hot hours, the lead Jali couldn’t think of any word to please Samory.
The insignificant member of the Jali group shouted Wuula! He saved the day, when the message reached Samory, he was delighted. Wuula means jungle or forest. The meaning here is that of the place where even the lion finds peace and safety. However brave and fearless a lion is, it must hide in the forest or jungle. Samory also became known as Wulabaa.

Back to Mali Sarjo.
The hippo swims and comes close to shores of the river. There visitors and women come to be very familiar and close to the hippo. People’s familiarity and love of the hippo became well known in many areas of the river region. The hippo they say became tamed and people friendly.
Sadly, the hippo died due to old age. Its death prompted overwhelming sadness and show of emotion. Regular visitors to the river missed the swims and displays of the of the hippo in thw waters. To remember Mali Sarjo, a song was composed to mark its death. The songs vary, but they all tribute to the sad end of the hippo. Aahn mali sarjo baafula ben mali sarjo.

I hope i at least expose some few things about the epic of mali sarjo. kuma foo mandiya.

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