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Griots at War

Conflict, Conciliation, and Caste in Mande

Barbara G. Hoffman

Publication Year: 2000

Griots at War
Conflict, Conciliation, and Caste in Mande
Barbara G. Hoffman

An extraordinary account of conflict and peacemaking among griots.

"... a compelling study of how social identities and relationships are constructed and reconstructed through action, specifically through speech.... The book succeeds marvelously in conveying the voice of the people who are, in every sense of the word, its subject." -- Robert Launay

In 1985, while she was an apprentice griot or jelimuso, Barbara G. Hoffman saw and recorded a remarkable event in the small town of Kita, Mali. For four days, thousands of griots from all parts of the Mande world gathered to talk, sing, and make music in celebration of the opening of the new Hall of Griots and the installation of the recently named Head Griot. This unprecedented assembly also marked the end of a deadly two-year conflict fought with griot weapons -- words, reputations, and sorcery. Hoffman captures griots making speeches, singing songs of praise, and dancing in honor of their restored unity. Her discerning interpretations of the speeches not only explore the art of griot oratory but show how the use of history, metaphor, religion, proverbs, and praise can mend a community torn apart by war. The speeches, often marked by a keen edge, also reveal what it means to be a griot in a casted society and to demand that other castes recognize and respect this unique identity. The griot's formidable linguistic abilities come to the fore as they negotiate, reestablish, and assert their cultural power. This exceptional book, including generous extracts from the griots' speeches in Mande and in translation, offers surprising and important insights into the multiple meanings of Mande culture, caste, and identity.

Barbara G. Hoffman is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Cleveland State University. She is author of many essays on Mande culture and producer of ethnographic videos on East and West African cultures. She is known to the Mande griot community as Jeli Jeneba Jabate.

Prologue: An Invitation to War
Power and Paradox: Griots and Mande Social Organization
In the Hands of Speech: Mande Discourse
A History of Fadenya: Interpretations of the Kita Griot War
Making Boundaries: When Griots Speak before Nobles
Breaking Boundaries: When Nobles Speak before Griots
The Healer Who Is Ill Must Swallow His Own Saliva: When Griots Speak to Griots
Caste, Mande Style
Epilogue: A Wound Cannot Heal on Pus

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-xiv

The first time I ever met a griot, I had no idea what a griot was or did or even that there was such a person. It was in August of 1978 in north central Coˆte d’Ivoire where I was attending the funeral of a dear friend’s uncle. It was my first African funeral and many strange and wondrous things went on, things I could not explain or make any sense of at the time. ...

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pp. xv-xvi

In the Mande texts, the orthography follows that in the most recent publications of the Malian National Office of Functional Literacy and Applied Linguistics (DNAFLA). Several different systems of transcribing Mande languages are now in use in Mali as well as in printed materials throughout the world. The following chart shows the equivalences of the symbols that ...

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PROLOGUE: An Invitation to War

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pp. 1-7

April in Mali is burning and dusty. It is the time of the harmattan, a desert wind that blows from the north, from the Sahara, carrying with it not only inescapable heat but also the grit of desert sand. The temperature can reach a low of 90 degrees Fahrenheit at night and quickly climb from there once the sun is up. It is a difficult month to get through, long after harvest when ...

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ONE. Power and Paradox: Griots and Mande Social Organization

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pp. 8-17

My tɔn-sisters and I joined thousands of griots ( jeliw)1 in the town of Kita, in western Mali, for a three-day period of discourse, song, music, and dance in honor of the installation of the new Jelikuntigi and the opening of a newly constructed Jelibolon. Jelikuntigi, Chief Griot in colonial parlance, is better translated as Head Griot, more faithful to the Mande word.2 We were called ...

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TWO. In the Hands of Speech: Mande Discourse

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pp. 18-34

A Mande proverb states kuma tε mɔgɔ bolo, mɔgɔ de bε kuma bolo, literally “speech is not in people’s hands, people are in the hands of speech.” To have something in your hand is to own it, to possess it, control it. In other words, we may think we control what we say, but in reality what we say exerts some control over us; it affects our lives in many ways, some obvious and overt, ...

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THREE. A History of Fadenya: Interpretations of the Kita Griot War

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pp. 35-52

The war of the Kita griots was, like all wars, an event with many different possible interpretations. Both sides in the conflict had fluid, changing rationales for their positions, and the allies of each faction, spread like fingers throughout the core Mande areas and even into the fringes in southern Coˆte d’Ivoire and Gambia, also constructed their arguments, their justifications, ...

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FOUR. Making Boundaries: When Griots Speak Before Nobles

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pp. 53-84

The continual generation of social distance between groups with different cultures living together in the same community, or schismogenesis, occurs frequently in heterogeneous societies. In most diverse communities, numbers of groups must live and interact with one another while maintaining their differences through a kind of mutual agreement that may, at times, permit ...

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FIVE. Breaking Boundaries: When Nobles Speak Before Griots

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pp. 85-164

Throughout the three days of the celebration, the notion of the oneness of all jeliw and their distinction from the hɔrɔnw was repeatedly expressed in speeches, songs, and dances, by both men and women griots. There were celebrations morning and evening on Saturday, including a masquerade by the Guinea delegation, numerous songs praising the clans of the most important ...

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SIX. The Healer Who Is Ill Must Swallow HisOwn Saliva: When Griots Speak to Griots

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pp. 165-233

On Monday, after three days of celebrating the installation of Makanjan Jabate as the new Head Griot of Kita, the leaders of the griot delegations gathered at the home of Simbo Keita along with the principals of the warring griot factions to talk with one another. Their discussion provided them with one more opportunity to arrive at a consensual interpretation of the footing ...

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SEVEN. Caste, Mande-Style

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pp. 234-251

A recurring theme at the 1985 gathering of griots in Kita was the celebration of social difference. The songs and speeches of the event did not spotlight the distinctions between rich and poor, schooled and non-schooled, farmer and civil servant (although all these distinctions were mentioned at various points) but rather they highlighted the ancient ways of dividing the Mande ...

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EPILOGUE: "A Wound Cannot Heal on Pus"

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pp. 252-264

In July of 1999, I returned to Kita to learn what had transpired since the Kita Griot War of 1983–1985. Most of the bards who had worked so diligently to put an end to that war had passed away by that time, including Kela Balla Ba Jabate, his brother Yamuru Jabate, their cousin Siramori Jabate, the Guinean bard Sanasi Kuyate, and several of the principal participants from Kita. ...


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pp. 265-281


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pp. 282-291


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pp. 293-298

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108937
E-ISBN-10: 0253108934
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253338051

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 33 b&w photos, 2 figures, 14 color photos, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2000