Actually, after we had dinner yesterday – accompanied by a Gina band, a singer/player on a kind of a guitar and a duo of percussionists hitting a shifting washing basin -, we went into the village, Djodo Gasa, attracted by more music. The people here are Moussay, a local tribe with a strong cultural heritage, which is being preserved in the dancing ceremonies. The dancers that were going to perform for us, had already been doing so, for the rest of the village, for several hours. There was a real festive atmosphere. Not everybody was completely sober anymore, but that just added to the fun. A group of women dressed up with calabashes and bead strings and other ornaments was stamping so forcefully that a cloud of dust surrounded the group, and us spectators, permanently. A master of ceremonies tried to ensure that the right people danced at the right moment, or something like that – the added value wasn’t immediately obvious.
Next we moved on to a second crowd, where another group, men this time, dressed up as warriors with feathers on their heads, spears or axes in the hand, was performing a kind of a male wishful thinking-dance. Each of the six or seven dancers has tied a fake penis, kept in place by a fabulous harness of shells, and after a lot of jumping and turning then thrusted this instrument forcefully forward in the direction of the public. Which most found hilarious, and was received with roars of approval. The dancers were accompanied by a few drums, and a group of calabash shakers, the calabashes having been filled with small stones or grains, or something, to create a rattling sound. Here, too, the master of ceremonies tried to control, but it was obvious that there was significant competition between the warriors and the musicians, each trying to steal the limelight and so getting into each other’s way. What I then though was hilarious.
After a local breakfast this morning we first had a walk through the village, for a good look at some of the huts, the ancient fig tree, the family granaries and the way an important man is being buried. And then the dances of the previous night were repeated again, somewhat more formally, somewhat better choreographed.
The women’s dance, the Fulima, followed by the men’s – the warrior’s -, which is called the Gotoma. And as an extra, we also got a taste of the village magic. Firstly, the fortunes of our trip were going to be revealed, by a process of laying sticks in a circle, but this was somehow abandoned half-way, perhaps also because several of the villagers kept on interrupting the sorcerer. Then somebody was healed from a terrible guilt syndrome, somebody else, one of the warriors, suddenly fell down and stayed motionless, whilst 30 seconds earlier he had perfectly healthily been whispering with one of the sorcerers – he, too, recovered -, and a bad omen was discovered on the same ground.
Towards noon we said goodbye to the chief, a rather corpulent man again, and set off for the next village, Gounou Gaya. Where we said hallo to the chief, even more corpulent. After which the dance performance repeated itself, with a Fulima first, followed by a Gotoma and a sorcerer’s ceremony. The sorcerer was less impressive, the dances entertaining by not much different from earlier. And yet, the atmosphere here was distinctly different. Of course, a large crowd had come out to see this tourist spectacle piece – I have been told that we pay some 700 Euro for this type of performance.
In order to manage the crowd, some five or six guys in army fatigues, each holding a branch cut from the tree, beat the feet and legs, occasionally also the body, of those deemed to have come too close. Mostly children, of course, who crept to the front rows to see anything at all. One is even threatening with a belt. Mind you, there was no need: they cordoned off the performance circle well enough. Their taking action, at irregular intervals, was carried out with such viciousness, that it actually looked that they enjoyed doing this. When I commented on this to the NGO lady who organised this program, she said “this is normal, this is a violent society”. And when I insisted a little more: “this is absolutely necessary, otherwise you wouldn’t see a thing”. Hmmm. Did I already tell you she is Swiss?
Say goodbye to the chief, and off we went, in the now familiar convoy, to the next village. Which was quite far, so that we, once again, arrived in the dark, around 7 pm. We were welcomed by a large crowd, as usual, but this time the smell of stale beer was overwhelming, also because quite a few men, and some women, came up close to each of us, complaining. Why did we only arrive now, they had been ready from 10 o’clock onwards! Obviously, a lot of misunderstanding, or perhaps miscommunication, or an attitude of ‘who gives a damn’, but something had gone horribly wrong in the organisation, and the villagers were quite upset. And rightfully so, I would think. The atmosphere soon turned hostile, even aggressive; our Swiss lady host ordered us back in the cars. And then we left again. Very weird, but above all, very embarrassing.
Oh, and then there was a little hick up with a police permit we didn’t have yet. For which we spent another one-and-a-half hours waiting in another town, luckily with a bar and cold beer again, and some food. In the end we arrived, for the second day in a row, at 10 pm in the place where we would sleep. And then still had to set up our tents again.
Did we voluntarily sign up for this?
In fact, nobody in the group is complaining. We all know what we signed up for, a fair bit of driving, a fair bit of uncertainty, and quite a lot of time-consuming bureaucracy. But in such a situation poor organisation doesn’t help, of course, neither does taking on too much.
next: to the nomads