Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Buying goats in the market.

Transporting goats in trunk of taxi.

"Offering" one of the two goats purchased. 

  Power objects and wildlife hide.  

Paris to Bamako

My cell phone rang at about 7am.  It was my teacher (Dembele) calling to tell me he was already at his office and was waiting for me.  "There is a lot of work to do," he said and hung up the phone.  I got a cup of coffee,  cleaned up, and headed downtown. Dembele was waiting for me when I arrived.  After we greeted we took a stroll out of the compound thatdodged busses, mopeds, and people as we wandered down into the central market.  We arrived at a wire transfer station, where Dembele received money that had been sent to him from a client in Paris.  She had sent 60,000cfa to aid my teacher in consulting the sands and preparing power objects to effect change in her life.  Apparently, she was estranged from her husband of 20 years.  There was another woman in his life.  She, my teacher explained to me, needed to be "taken care of."  We walked back to my teacher's office as he filled me in on the almost soap opera like tale of Madeline, his client in Paris. He had worked with her for years; sending him money just about every other month.  When we got back to his office we took a short break for tea and then made our way via taxi to the livestock market.  Dembele was greeted by a young man when we arrived.  His name was Diallo and he was expecting Dembele.  He guided us into the market to his brothers who sold goats and sheep.  Dembele was on a mission, he described to the brothers what he sought; one red and white female goat and one black and white male goat.  The brothers then went to work pulling out and presenting Dembele with his options.  Dembele looked over the goats commenting, "these are too young and those are too skinny."  It took some time but Dembele eventually selected a pair, a price was then determined: 30,000cfa.  The goats were trussed up with rope and taken to the waiting taxi and unceremoniously dumped in the trunk for us to take back to Dembele's office.  

Once we had returned to his office, Dembele explained to me that the red and white female goat was to be sacrificed for Madeline, while the black and white male goat was to be sacrificed for another one of his clients, a man that I had met several times, Keita.  Both required a goat, "male for male, female for female."  The female goat was to be first.  Dembele prepared the sands and then brought the female goat to stand over them. 
 He took off his silver bracelet and hung it on the rope around the goats neck.  Dembele then began reciting the incantations to call forth the spirits to see the offering that was to be made.  Afterwards, the goat was then taken outside around the corner of the building.  Another man, Troure (a devote muslim), performed the coup de grace.  Shortly there after the second goat (the male) was offered in the same manner, with Keita assisting.  His ring was placed on right horn of the goat and he placed his hands on it when Dembele called to the spirits.  The meat of both goats was divided into about 15 piles, which were then given away.  Many of Dembele's friends and clients took a share of the meat.  I was even given a leg.  The only part of the goats that was saved was the right front foreleg of each.  They were brought into the office and placed over the sands.  Dembele then began to prepare "bad magic."  This involved drawing out a set of designs in the blood of the goats that were sacrificed.  Using a bamboo pen, Dembele traced out the symbols and then sprinkled a little sand from his work area onto the scraps of paper.  He then wrapped each foreleg with one of the blood scripts.  "these," he told me as he held each up, "will take care of the other woman and the husband."  He then set the power objects in the corner as we enjoyed another round of tea. Work was not done.  Dembele prepared more power objects using a different set of symbols drawn in goat blood.  These were for Keita.  Each power object required a specific species of wildlife as the key ingredient.  In this instance, leopard and hyena were needed.  These items were acquired from the animal parts market across the street.  Once in hand the power objects were wrapped, one with leopard hide, the other in spotted hyena.  Dembele gave the objects to Keita and then gave instructions on how they were to be worn.  Keita thanked Dembele and gave him 2,000cfa in payment for his services.  

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Global Sex

A couple of days ago I was walking through one of the markets located in downtown Bamako.  While perusing through the goods the vendors offered I was shocked (and intrigued) to find this one.  This is a Malian sex shop.  Though it does not have an underage warning sign, its business is unmistakable.  I spoke with the vendor, her name is Toure, and she prides herself on her knowledge of sex and business.  From her you can purchase supplements to "give a man force," "to make sex better," "to make her want sex," as well as "to make him want sex."  I looked over her wares and was able to discern prepackaged creams, powders and pills.  Most of these were manufactured in China.  Alongside these manufactured goods can be found local products, including a special (and very expensive) branch from a tree.  Toure told me, "it will make a man strong for a very long time."  The makers of Viagra could learn a thing or two from Madam Toure.

Transnational Divination

The other day I was sitting with my teacher when he received a call on his cell phone.  It was a Malian living in Spain.  he had called for a consultation as he was unsure of his future economic security.  Shortly after the call the sister of the man in Spain arrived and took a seat in the corner of the room.  Upon her arrival my teacher began to consult the "sands" and found that the man in Spain had bad luck on his horizon.  So much bad luck that he prepared a "prescription" to counter the negative energies that surrounded the man.  He explained that the "prescription" was a special transliteration of the "sands" and was written in his own blood.  To formalize the "prescription" and direct its power, my teacher scribed the name of the man in need as well as his address and a few familial relations.  He then prepared the sacrifices that were required to ensure that the bad luck was dispelled.  The offerings included a large chicken egg, a white dove, a white guinea fowl, a terrapin turtle, the "prescription," nine white kola nuts, and a packet of milk.  Once these offering were ready, my teacher asked for my assistance in holding the live animals in place over the "sands".  I knelt for about twenty minutes holding the dove and terrapin while my teacher held the guinea fowl and recited the incantations to call the benevolent spirits to hear his plea.  He took each offering in turn and presented it to the spirits, holding it forth over the "sands".  Once all had been presented, he took the guinea fowl and sacrificed it, cutting its throat and letting the blood drizzle over his "fetishes" in the corner.  I use the term "fetish" as that is what my teacher calls his power objects.  He then prepared the offerings to be given to the woman sitting in the corner (sister to the man in Spain).  These preparations included marking the terrapin with symbols of prosperity and packaging up the items.  My teacher then gave specific instructions on what she was to do with the offerings.  The terrapin was to be eaten, while the guinea fowl was to be given away to a person in need.  I never caught what was to happen to the dove or the other offerings.    What is particularly interesting about this scene is the linkages between "tradition" and modernity.  At the same time there is an intersection between local and global as well as the use of local fauna to meet a extra local need.

Photos: top to bottom; "prescriptions" and notebook of transliterated "sands";  scribing the egg with symbols, in background are the "sands", guinea fowl, kola nuts, and milk packet; sacrificing the guinea fowl and "feeding" the fetishes; scribing the terrapin with symbols.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two days before Tabaski

Relaxing in the heat of the day.  Outside the calm of this room was the bustle of the city - it was two days before Tabaski - the biggest holiday of the year.  Travel through the city was next to impossible, so we sat and quietly talked the afternoon away.  In the process I was introduced to many Malians and came to learn of the burning need to earn enough money to buy a goat to celebrate the holiday.  In the course of this afternoon I came to understand that a "good" goat will cost as much as 60,000cfa.  In acts of desperation people will trade their motorcycle (mottos) for a goat, even a car.  In other instances families will purchase a goat on credit and pay it off the rest of the year.  In yet other instances, families will come together and pool their resources to acquire a goat.  The message of the afternoon was clear, you are not worthy if you cannot provide a goat for your family.