A Great Sunday
We had been forewarned on Saturday that the minister of Culture and Tourism was to make a brief visit to Djenné and that she wanted to look in at the library. This in itself is quite a triumph, considering that the manuscript library is still in a prolonged feud with the Imam of Djenné and hence with the local authorities, and any previous ministerial visits had studiously ignored our existence, guided by the local authorities. Nevertheless we now have a powerful ally in the National Director of Heritage – Lassana Cissé- who may be unaware of any of these local problems: he had spoken glowingly about us and the minister insisted on a library visit. She turned out to be a charming and utterly cultivated woman of the type that one meets occasionally in Bamako and sees on the
television but very rarely in the provinces.
She wanted to know what I was doing in Djenné and spoke to me in perfect English having apparently been educated in Canada. I was then interviewed by the Malian TV team which formed part of her entourage on her request. It should be on tonight... I didn’t really expect that and I would have preferred the others to speak about the library- it looks better. But Babou was not there, he was otherwise occupied with a family wedding and that moves us on to the best part of the day: the big wedding and fatia in the Sakore Quarter of Djenné. Babou had made sure that I was invited to the fatia of the Tenentao family which was held in connection with his wedding.
I was not really that keen, feeling even lazier in the afternoon after the morning’s excitement at the library. However, it is a rare honour to be invited to such an event so I felt I should make an appearance. I did not regret it. A fatia in the Sankoré district of town is a squashed-in affair, much more intimate than the previous fatias I have attended: the event was held in one of the tiny streets with an awning spread across it and the men who take part in the Koran chanting take up most of the space, all dressed in
their most gorgeous boubous,
flanked by the little boys, some of them beautifully dressed like little princes.
When a dignitary arrived he was shown a place by one of the Tenentao family.
As usual I allowed myself to enter into a gentle trance-like state, enjoying the monotone but charming sound of the chanting and feeling how very powerfully such an event binds the community together and forms its very identity. I also reflected that this is the real Malian Islam: far, far from the rigours of the extremist views of those who occupied the north and who are still a threat here. They would not approve of the unveiled women and this melodious and joyous way of declaiming the Koran.
Having stayed for some time at the melodious fatia I decided to take my leave but it was impossible to leave where I had entered so I found myself at first in the back road which was lined with women who had not been lucky enough to find a space under the awning.
Then I lost my way in the labyrinth which is the heart of Djenné...
but soon I came upon these five friends by the signpost for the sacred well of Wangara,
and just next to them sat Babou resplendent in white boubou in front of his house which boasts this sacred well in its courtyard.
He is a direct descendant of the Moroccans who conquered Djenné in 1594. Legend has it that the sacred well can communicate with another well in Timbuktu. Some marabouts have told me that during the Jihadist occupation of the north the well was used for this purpose...
The whole of the ancient Sankore Quarter seemed like an enchanted place last night towards sunset: around every corner I turned I saw a view even more wondrous than the last, with everyone enjoying the soft evening sitting on mats in the street talking laughing and drinking sweet tea.
Finally I arrived at the space which opens out enough for motorcycles to be parked and here I took my leave, passing by the market place where the women from the villages had already arrived with their calabashes ready for today’s market.