Ethnographic notes from a people group in Mali


Posted by maggie on August 19, 2008

When I returned to the village I heard from my guard, that T. one of our friends has not yet come to greet me, because he is in charge of the kondenbee, the circumcised kids, but that “they will go home the next day.” This means that I unfortunately missed most of the ceremony which does not happen very often. 😦

Another friend came this morning, telling me about it as well. He could not come yesterday either, because it was his turn to provide a meal. Since there are about 260 kondenbee, plus the helpers, there are about 300 people to feed. It took him three sacks of rice and two sheep for one meal. Every day another person has volunteered to feed the kids, starting with the village chief and the imam.

From what different people told me:

They were together for 15 days. Because the ceremony happens only every seven to eight years there are so many children, some are even too young. They stayed at the school compound during this time and were supervised by people like my friend T. Since the class rooms are not big enough to hold everybody, some of them slept outside. This is the reason that it has not rained during the last week even though we are already in rainy season.

Today I went to visit T. and see some of the ceremony before it is all over.

When I went to the school compound nobody was there. There were some men further to the edge of the village, slaughtering a cow. A boy helped me to find my friend T. He and the circumcised children were just walking through the whole village, chanting under the leadership of an adult, in order to thank everybody for their contributions. Most of them were dressed in blue, a few in green, some had only a loin cloth in white. The chanting leader had a rattle. Many kids had sticks, which they waved in the air when I took photos. Many women came to their doorways to receive the blessings, or followed them around and shouted blessing on the whole group of children. Some gave coins to the supervisors. There was also a crowd of girls, but they were chased away by the supervisors. At one point one of the supervisors encouraged the boys to go after them, and they ran away. But the other supervisor reprimanded the boys for doing this.

When I had stopped going around with the boys, the women showed me where they were preparing the meal. In front of the village chief’s house there were 10-20 (maybe 30) women busy pounding millet. Two large cooking pots waited at the wall. Older women were busy sifting the pounded millet. One women mixed water under the millet on a mat. K. seemed to be the main organizer, coordinating the efforts of the other women.

After this I went back to see what the men were doing. They had finished slaughtering the cow. Parts of it were on a huge grill roast. They told me that it was one cow and three goats. They were sorting the inner parts into small piles (probably as gifts for the people who contributed to the meal or dignitaries). Several elderly men were sitting on mats. One was using the fiber of a rice sack to make ropes for attaching animals. They asked me to give them some cola money. I did not have any money with me but sent them some cola nuts later through a friend.


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Birth rituals

Posted by maggie on August 3, 2008

The Nononke have several rituals connected to birth and name giving. Nowadays most women in the village give birth in the maternity ward which is part of the small village health center. Women who feel that their time has come walk to the maternity ward on their own and a few hours after giving birth they walk back to their home. If they live in a neighboring village they are transported on a donkey cart. Before giving the breast for the first time, they give nasi (‘quranic water’) to the child to drink. Only after their return to the house do the traditional taboos start to apply. The new mother and the baby have to stay on their mattress and if possible under the mosquito net for a whole week until the name giving ceremony. The baby is never left alone, even when the mother goes to the outhouse, then another child has to lie down beside the baby. Twice a day a traditional midwife, called the ‘washer of the newborn’ (yɛɛye ɲini ya), comes to wash mother and child. She also buries the placenta in a special place and it is over this exact spot that the mother has to be washed. She then washes the newborn seven times in the morning and seven times in the evening. Every time the newborn is soaped from head to toe and than rinsed off. One purpose is to prevent the newborn from becoming a smelly person by sweating a lot. Afterwards she does all kinds of physical ‘exercises’ with the newborn, that look fairly brutal to an outsider, by pulling the arms in all directions. This has the purpose to enable the child to become strong and do heavy work. She also massages the head so that it gets a ‘beautiful’ shape. Because of all these washings a lot of water is needed which is provided during the first week by other women of the village who draw water from the well and bring it to the house. There is a constant flow of visitors (with and without water) who come to say their blessings and bring gifts. Often they are honored by letting them hold the child. Frequently live chickens are given because the mother should be nourished through chicken broth and chicken meat. Nobody else will eat from it. From the first day on the mother will force pure butter into the baby’s mouth. There is also a certain way of braiding the hair of a new mother. The mother is not allowed to leave the house or she will die.

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Nono who?

Posted by maggie on August 1, 2008

The Nononke are a people group in the inner Niger delta of Mali. Many refer to them as Marka or Marka jalan (lit. dry Marka), but because the term Marka can be misunderstood, we started using the term Nononke which is what they call themselves. (Marka in Bambara means Soninke, which is the origin of some Nononke, and “dry Marka” refers to the fact, that they no longer speak their original language, Soninke. However, there are other groups in Mali who are called Marka and who speak neither Soninke nor the same language as the Nononke.) The Nonoke that will be mentioned in this blog are mostly Jenaama speaking (lit. the language of Djenne), often also called Sorogaama (lit. the language of the Soroge or Bozo; Sorogo sg, Soroge pl). Jenaama is one of the four Bozo languages, which are spoken not only by the Bozo people but also by the Somono fisher and the Nononke. The other Bozo languages are Tieyaxo, Tiemacewe, and Hainyaxo.

The Nononke are mostly rice farmers in the inundation zone of the Niger river. Besides growing rice and two kinds of millet (sorghum and millet), the people have small patches of peanuts, corn, manioc and potatoes. The women usually have garden patches for growing onions, tomatoes, and gombo (okra).

Some writers refer to them as Nono. Some think that there was once a town called Nono, because Nononke could be translated as “man from Nono” (in Bambara). One of the common family names among the Nononke is Timbo. Their ancestral origin is Mandinka and they say that they came from the Mande main land (near the border of Guinea). Others, for example, people with the last name of Soumare, come from the Soninke or Sarakole, another Mande people group. Most references that I have found about the Nononke / Nono / Bozo speaking Marka where only an aside. So far I have not found any comprehensive description of this people group and their culture. This might be due to the fact that they have immigrated from other areas and adopted the Bozo language. Statistics about the Bozo people often don’t specify whether the Bozo speaking Marka and Somono are included. References to the Marka (e.g. in Segou) often don’t specify what kind of Marka they are referring to.

I plan to post bits and pieces of what I know about them and their culture, including some of their own stories.

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