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Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 214-215

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Book Review

Maghan Jan et autres récits des chasseurs du Mali, de Ndugacè Samakè

Maghan Jan et autres récits des chasseurs du Mali, de Ndugacè Samakè, ed. and trans. by Annik Thoyer. Paris, L'Harmattan, 1999. 183 pp.

This second volume of hunters' epics from Mali continues Annik Thoyer's reprinting of epics published earlier (in 1978) in Mali, and makes a new set of four texts available to a wider audience. The four texts are presented in bilingual format, with Bamana original and French translation on facing pages; the lines are not numbered, although this would make cross-referencing and citation somewhat more easy.

The brief introduction, referring back to the general introduction given in the first volume of texts [Annik Thoyer, ed., Récits épiques des chasseurs bamanan du Mali, Paris: L'Harmattan, 1995, pp.11-25], sketches out the role of hunters' and hunters' music, offers a short biography of the performer whose pieces are transcribed, and introduces the four texts. The notes, given at the end of each piece, are essentially glosses on certain linguistic terms: the names of animals, birds, or plants, identification of hunters' functions, and some interpretation of idioms. Judging by one enigmatic note ('duanin: sens à vérifier', p. 67), the task of annotation was not completed, and certainly in contrast to other edited Bamana texts, the notes could be much fuller and much more informative. Thoyer's work makes little use of the material provided by Youssouf Tata Cissé in his study, La confrérie des chasseurs Malinké et Bambara: Mythes, rites, et récits initiatiques (Paris: Arsan/ Editions Nouvelles du Sud, 1994) or of other edited hunters' texts. Readers should know that in the Mande world (the territory and peoples related to the old empire of Mali) hunters are gathered into associations, and that these associations have specialized performers who provide the music for their gatherings. These performers, quite significantly, are not griots or jeliw by birth; they are nonhereditary musicians who have come to their calling through avocation and talent. Such hunting associations are in fact found all across West Africa, as are many of the stories about hunters, and one feature of some importance for their significance in the Mande world is that they do not, in principle, recognize external social divisions such as lineage, birth, or rank; all members are equal as hunters, and rank is granted according to seniority within the association.

In other words, the four epics are sent almost bare out into the world, and the reader will be left to make of them what s/he will. There is some overlap with the texts of the first volume; the second piece, "Misiba," describes the death of a great hunter at the hands of the animals and his burial by three carrion-eaters, and so recalls the text "Banjugu" in the first volume (Récits épiques 99-129). "Bolinyana" and "Bilisi Ngoni" play with the [End Page 214] motif of the preternaturally active child who becomes a culture hero (in "Bilisi Ngoni") or avenges his father (in "Bolinyana"); this motif is also found in the version of "Kambili" performed by the late Seydou Camara and available in Bamana or English (Seydou Camara, Kambili, ed. and trans. by Charles Bird, Bourama Soumaoro, Gerald Cashion, Mamadou Kante. Bloomington, Indiana U Linguistics Club, 1974; Bamana text in 1976).

The most interesting text is the title piece, "Maghan Jan," which describes the fate of a hunter who weds an animal (an antelope) who has taken human form. They have children, but eventually the secret of her origin is discovered (through the mischief of the hunters' apprentices, in this case) and she returns to the bush where she is killed by her husband. The children refuse to eat their mother's meat; Maghan Jan dies when he does so. This version of the story clearly plays on notions of social identity and acceptance; the wife is not the only transformed being. Maghan Jan also has changed...


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