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  • Entretiens avec Bala Kanté: une chronique du manding du Xxème siècle
  • Sory Camara
Entretiens avec Bala Kanté: une chronique du manding du Xxème siècle By Jan JansenLeiden: Brill, 2006. x + 154 pp. ISBN 90-04-14695-4 paper.

In his presentation of this book, the editor affirms: "Bala Kanté gives a 'Mande' view point par excellence "(vii). Jan Jansen does not hold himself at arm's length from this venturesome postulate in his introduction. Bala Kanté, happy to find an attentive and thoughtful disciple, shows his good will by treating a variety of themes whose eclectic nature is initially disorienting to the reader. Nevertheless, throughout all his remarks, he deals with old customs caught in the grips of modern practices, which have led to the changes upon which he comments. Jansen cites, in an epigraph, the following words from Bala Kanté: "Le modernisme [nouveau] n'est pas maîtrisé, la tradition est abandonnée, nous sommes au carrefour" 'Modernism [the new one] hasn't been mastered, tradition has been abandoned, we're at a crossroads' (61). That is precisely the situation for Bala Kanté himself: a favorable position at the genesis of imaginations that are inclined to a nostalgia that has collided with the rush of syntheses that are as numerous as their narrators.

According to Bala Kanté, the ancient custom of burying money in canaries, like the modern practice of building houses covered with sheet metal, is related to poor management of goods, because such a fortune does not benefit the community. He explains that it is a fortune lost due to competition by brothers born out of polygamy, thus exposing a flaw in Mandinka solidarity; in this observation, Bala Kanté reveals his talent for social criticism.

His remarkable considerations on the transformations touching on marriage, the dowry, and their consequence—prostitution—call upon a plurality of causes, among which demographics and monetarization play an essential role. Here, Jansen's commentaries follow Bala Kanté's thoughts.Yet, when Bala Kanté discusses the history of Samori, grouping historical figures belonging to different historical periods, rather than seeing it as confusing, Jansen finds in that situation the illustration of his interlocutor's literary creativity. Regarding analogous facts, Jansen offers two different explanations (87n139). Using an approach linked to psychoanalysis, he considers his subject unconscious of the source of his words. He then proposes a surprising association of ideas: Je vois un certain parallélisme [End Page 230] entre le train qui roule et la façon dont une cassette s'enroule dans le magnétophone, ce qui peut expliquer pourquoi dans l'imagination populaire, la voix de Samori est diffusée par train" 'I see a certain parallelism between the moving train and the way a cassette is wound in the tape recorder, which can explain why in the popular imagination, Samori's voice is diffused by train' (9n6). Jansen's hypotheses obscure Bala Kanté's perspectives. Caught in the trap of partisan polemics on the existence or absence of a Manding epic, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, confronted with the complexity of this people's literary data, the scholar finds himself in trouble.

At this point, we can ask: What, in the final analysis, is the Mandinka perspective? What is meant by "authenticity"? What criteria and what method would allow the establishment of this authenticity? Assuming that these questions can be answered, how can the author exclude from his work the version of Soumaoro and Soundjata's battle as recounted by Bala Kanté, which is considered too confusing? In the episode that pits his ancestor against Soundjata, Bala Kanté rehabilitates his forebear: "Magan Soundjata s'est investi du pouvoir. Depuis ce jour jusqu'à maintenant, les gens du Mandé ne se sont plus retrouvés" 'Magan Soundjata assumed power. From that day forward, the people of Mande have never been able to agree again.' Jansen offers this commentary on the passage: "Voilà la perspective des forgerons! Bala nous présente une inversion de l'opinion courante selon laquelle Soudjata a donné la paix aux gens du Mandé" 'That is the viewpoint of blacksmiths! Bala gives us an inversion of the contemporary...


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