Baptisms by Fire – The Phoenix Soars

You´ll remember that a week ago today, the day of Aaron´s memorial service, I pedalled to the world´s end, rediscovered God, was made new again in the salt waters of the Casamance River, began the road where it stopped, fell into a dance, and gave warm goodbyes by the fire. Apparently this will be a weekly ritual. Here I find myself within the Impluvium of Seleky, having just completed what I consider to be my first official day of fieldwork this season.


Meet Remy Sagna is a fisherman from Bandial, the village that lies on the precipice of the earth. He was among the Casamancaises who welcomed me last Wednesday. When I told him I was interested in discovering the differences among the languages of the area, he launched into a tirade about how different the Joola spoken in Bandial was from the other Joola languages, which were also considered to be Bandial. At one point he even said that it was the tone that is different. It was like that “Did we just become best friends?” scene from Step Brothers. I took a brief vacation to the beach last week and he called me simply to tell me to bring a notebook and a pen when I next go there. When I arrived today he had already started his own notebook for me; here is a page from it:


The first thing he did was teach me his orthography conventions which (naturally) include the marking the difference between ‘light’ [-ATR] and ‘heavy’ [+ATR] vowels. (Did I mention that we are actually bffs? We even dressed alike yesterday!) Another topic we discussed last week (which feels like years ago now of course) was, one of my favorite games, who is better at life (Africans vs Toubabs). He was quite impressed with my iPhone’s ability to capture the internet in such a remote location (well, as am I in fact) so on the basis of that, he awarded the prize to the Toubabs. But, I countered; Toubabs can’t survive without all this technology (we can’t even build a fire, etc.). So, in addition to my notebook, a new shell for my collection to pass along to my mom, he also prepared fish caught freshly this morning and rice just harvested from the field this season. After lunch he let me take a nap in his enormous bed in his palace of a house – ten rooms – all constructed out of mud with a palm tree and grass roof! I told him it’s the Buckingham Palace of The Kingdom. Obviously, African team is awarded major points so for now it’s like most of the matches from the African cup of Nations this year – a draw.


But before we begin the real work of recording the comparative word list I have from the other team members, we go visit the chief. I was very pleased to do this of course as I do love the chiefs and I actually welcome this type of formality and bureaucracy. However, I had neglected to bring a gift for the chief, having only brought a box of wine for Remy. Fortunately, one of my other now dear friends, Nina, at whose house we spent the afternoon last week, a wonderful young woman who refuses the advances of Paco, the French fisherman, because he is already living with a woman at his island abode, has wine for us to buy. I hadn’t noticed it last time but my mom will so appreciate that her house has bottles built into the mud, which glisten in the sun.


The chief was gracious and in a notebook of his own, wrote down answers to the questions he asked me so that he could inform the village of my intentions. He was also thrilled that someone was interested in his language and discussed the differences between the documented dialects of Joola Bandial and their own speech, which he considered to be therefore undocumented. So much for my aspirations to become an armchair linguist; sitting around in comfy places simply analyzing the data of others. Well, I wouldn’t care much for that life anyways.

Now that the ‘doors are open’, we went through the first half of the comparative word list with ease since Remy reads and writes in French, Bandial, and what he refers to as the mixed language, ‘Brinois’, the Joola spoken in Brin. This fits perfectly with my own hypothesis that the language there is indeed a mixed variety, like a creole, but with no European superstrate. Not only is Remy proud of his village’s language, he, like many of the area, is also very proud of The Casamance. Many a Casamancaises I have heard say, this is not Senegal, this is The Casamance, but it is only Remy who today referenced Dakar as “there in Senegal” when talking about a friend who died there recently of supposed poisoning.


As today would have found me arriving in London, though it is in many ways quite difficult to be here without my companions, I am confirmed that this is the place to be for now.

(note that I wrote this up yesterday – the 21 January – but because the Impluvium lodge at Seleky runs on solar power and this being Harmattan season, the sun wasn’t strong enough to provide sufficient power to run the internet. Now I’m at the Impluvium lodge in neighbouring Enampore, but the photos aren’t loading in either.  Oh well, the Toubabs lose again.


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