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13 - Patriarchy in Songs and Poetry by Zarma Women

Thomas A Hale Indiana University Press ePub

Aissata Niandou

Those unfamiliar with women's songs from the Sahel may be surprised at first by the subversive nature of the lyrics, as evidenced in songs recorded by many other researchers. Zarma society is not an exception to that trend, with women functioning within their own subculture. In their songs, as well as in other forms, they raise their voices against what they see as the unfair constraints of patriarchy that dominate Zarma society. But their songs raise a basic question: can they, in their verbal art, divest themselves of the patriarchal values that permeate not only their society, but also their own language and the deeper values that it conveys?

In this study, I will examine examples from a corpus of twenty-five poem-songs sung by Zarma women that are, on the surface, quite subversive of patriarchal values. But a close study of the poem-songs will offer evidence for a more nuanced view of the subversion conveyed by these poem-songs, and may suggest the need for new analyses of women's songs from other peoples in the Sahel.

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11 - Space, Language, and Identity in the Palm Tree

Thomas A Hale Indiana University Press ePub

Aissata G. Sidikou

One of the common themes of African literature written in European languages is the emphasis on identity in works that appeared both before and during the national era. But too often one gets the impression that concerns about identity were solely the product of the contact between Africa and the West, especially during the last half-century. But listeners to the oral art of West Africa cannot miss the same issue, whether the performance is an epic about the creation of an empire or a song about raising children. What is distinctive about these performances, especially those by women, is the recurrence of the themes of space and language as contributors to the formation of identity. This observation prompts several questions: how do women portray these themes, what do they mean for both the artist and the audience, and how do their concerns relate to African literature in written form?

A short answer for the theme of space is that it can convey a sense of belonging to a specific community, a sentiment that appears in all forms of African literature, oral and written. But this site of unity can also serve as a source for a code of signs, verbal and non-verbal, that force women to comply with the dominant norms—again, no matter the medium. There is much more, however, to the complex roles of language and space in the creation of identity in women's songs. In the analysis below of an exemplary song, published in French by Couloubaly (1990) and in English in my book, Recreating Words, Reshaping Worlds: The Verbal Art of Women from Niger, Mali and Senegal (2001), I offer some preliminary answers to the questions raised above. Two factors contributed to the decision to choose this particular song: the economical and rather direct concern about identity, and the themes of space and language that one finds in the powerful lyrics.

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6 - Saharan Music: About a Feminine Modernity

Thomas A Hale Indiana University Press ePub

ABOUT A FEMININE MODERNITY

Aline Tauzin

One of the major issues in gender relations in the Arab world today is the status of women. In Mauritania, a society governed by traditions that go back many centuries, women today are reversing some longstanding ways, especially in the areas of poetry and music. The purpose of this chapter is to document the nature and extent of those changes. Before turning to the specifics of these changes, it is essential to provide some background on a society that is not well known outside of Africa.

Mauritania is composed of two different populations: the light-skinned Moors and the dark-skinned Africans, whose roots are largely sub-Saharan. The Moors are the dominant population in Mauritania and can be defined very briefly as a nomadic group, at least until recently, living in the western part of the Sahara. They speak an Arabic dialect called Hassâniyya. They are Muslims and played an important role in the Islamization of West Africa.

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9 - Women's Tattooing Songs from Kajoor, Senegal

Thomas A Hale Indiana University Press ePub

George Joseph

One of the most common vocal genres across the diverse cultures of the Sahel is the tattooing song, sung while a woman undergoes the painful experience of having her face, lips, or gums inscribed in various ways with a thorn or a needle. Wolof woyu njam, or tattooing songs, are meant to accompany the process of tattooing the mouth with bundles of thorns and a black dye made of burnt peanuts and clay. The result is a blackening not only of the lips but also surrounding areas, notably the chin. The gums are also dyed black in a way that sets off more strikingly the whiteness of the teeth.

One might assume that this form of body art, created in an intimate space, reflects exclusively feminine values. In fact, when asked, women do assert that the only purpose of tattooing is to heighten the beauty of an individual. But on closer examination, it appears that tattooing and the songs women sing to accompany the person undergoing the process are more deeply embedded in a wider range of social values that go far beyond the concern for beauty. What, then, are these values, how do the singers interpret them to listeners, and what is the wider significance of tattooing and the songs that mark what is becoming a tradition no longer practiced by many women? By analyzing here a corpus of songs that I have collected since 1973 in the area of what was once the Wolof kingdom of Kajoor, I will offer some preliminary answers to these questions.

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8 - A Heroic Performance by Siramori Diabaté in Mali

Thomas A Hale Indiana University Press ePub

Brahima Camara and Jan Jansen

Jelikèw (male griots) and jelimusow (female griots, or griottes) have many roles in the West African societies in which they practice their profession. There are some differences in what they do, however. For example, jelimusow do not normally play the same instruments as jelikèw. In the Mande world, jelikèw play stringed instruments while jelimusow sing songs and strike the karignan (or nege [Bambara] or neoo [Mandinka], which means “iron”), a notched narrow metal tube held in one hand while the other rhythmically scrapes it with a thin metal rod (see Charry 2000, 87). But one of the most widely studied functions of these performers is the narration of epics.

In the 1990s, Hale (1994) and Sidikou (2001) raised the question as to whether women are totally excluded from narrating epics. We feel that any answer to this important issue1 will be framed by four analytical dimensions:

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