Research in African Literatures 33.1 (2002) 213-214
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Des hommes et des bêtes--Chants de chasseurs mandingues
Des hommes et des bêtes--Chants de chasseurs mandingues, ed. Jean Derive and Gérard Dumestre. Classiques Africains 27. Paris: Association Classiques Africains, 1999. 281 pp. ISBN 2-912839-00-9. (Distributed by Les Belles Lettres, Boulevard Raspail 95, 75006 Paris.)
Their decades-long experience with Mande oral tradition guaranteed that Derive and Dumestre made a very fine selection of hunters' traditions for the series Classiques Africains. The book contains a well-informed general introduction and three stories with short introductions (some of them published before in hard to find books): "Manou Mori and the Hill that Seizes the Married Women," "Dakouda," and "Dyifinbamba" ("The Crocodile of the Dark Water"). To these, five "hunters' songs" and five "bush songs" have been added. All texts have been re-translated by the authors. The material comes from--different areas (Côte d'Ivoire, Mali), but the themes are recognizable as dealing with the same phenomenon, and thus the book implicitly demonstrates the dynamics of Mande oral tradition. The title of the book has been inspired by a remark by a storyteller who distinguished the history of man and the history of the animals (163). The authors convincingly argue that the stories show metaphysical dimensions: there is both a collaboration and a n enmity between the hunter and the animal. Animals often help the hunters as a sign of respect (61). The hunter therefore should respect his game, too.
Although animals' traditions formally are the domain of the hunter-singers and stories about humans are not, these themes tend to be mixed in performances, since the main goal for a hunter is correct social and biological reproduction ("assurer la lignée"--105). Thus, though this selection will be read as "typical' hunters" stories, the authors stress that "hunting" cannot be isolated as a story theme or a particular genre; themes and names of hunters can be found in a wide range of other traditions. Well-known examples are, of course, Mande Mori (=Manou Mori), who is also renowned in Mande oral tradition as Sunjata's younger brother, or the ravaging solitary buffalo. The youngest son as the survivor among a group of twelve brothers is also a theme that "travels" through genres; in Sunjata epic versions it has been noted by Delafosse and Pageard. Personally, I was happy to find in this book several names of persons and objects that I knew from alleged "local" stories collected during fieldwork. I wish the authors had added more of such variations in footnotes; they undoubtedly must know a lot of them.
This work contains many plausible translations of esoteric terms (from which I learned a lot). However, for a nonlinguist some choices should [End Page 213] have been more extensively annotated. Why, for instance, in hunters' song 5 (253) has the same Malinke sentence been translated with different sentences in French? However, this criticism is negligible (maybe even irrelevant) in relation to the work accomplished by Derive and Dumestre. Ayi Dansoko!
Jan Jansen is with the Department of Anthropology at Leiden University in The Netherlands.