No Boys allowed in the Bois!

Despite the distance and the many differences, there are in fact some
fascinating similarities between the Jóola and the Dogon. In appearance
even, the indigo cotton woven panya is the traditional style of dress and
many people wear the same twisted iron bracelet around their wrists and
ring fingers. However, the Jóola seem much more open about sharing their
culture and customs with outsiders. Even after years among the Dogon,
there’d be a painted pillar covered with libations and feathers, so obvious
a fetish, but upon inquiry all I would get is, ‘oh that…it’s nothing’.
Here, in The Kingdom, people are like, hey, wanna see my fetish?ǃ It’s
really coolǃ Take a look and pour libations on it if you want but it only
likes palm wine and it speaks only Jóola Bandial so be careful otherwise
it may get pissed at you and curse your generations.

A central aspect of Jóola tradition is the ‘bois sacré’, the sacred
forest. To me, this was another level of entry and my clearance wasn’t
high enough. Until Davide from Essyl, better and widely known as Ocholo
throughout the Kingdom as a former football star, my Royal transcriber,
informed Kris and me about a newlywed ceremony. When he told us about the
ceremony, we had in mind that there would just be a normal dance affair,
open to the public, but when we rode up to Enampore yesterday morning and
said, where’s the party, even people who know me well looked us up and down
skeptically inquiring, who told you about it? Name dropping plus the fact
that I was wearing the ancient indigo Jóola wrap skirt that Rémy had
given me in Bandial payed off because in the afternoon one of the women
from the impluvium lodge took us by the hands over to a group of even more
skeptical women drinking palm wine at the edge of the village. I was
surprised to find that the women, not in the usual finest festive gear,
were dressed either as men in suits or boubou’s and hats, or simply
ridiculously like Halloween costumes gone wrong! They were hilarious! Only
two were wearing the expected indigo cloth and adorned with beads. Some
elderly women were also sitting apart in a fenced in area, topless.

Marie-Antoinette, our guide from the impluvium, explained our wishes to not
intrude but only see and document what we could. To all of our complete
surprise (Marie-Antoinette included), not only did the women agree to let
us join them, they took the opportunity that I was already half dressed as
a newlywed to adorn the both of us completely in the tradition of the
custom. Still had no idea we would be following them all the way deep into
the sacred forest until they told us we could ‘only take pictures from
outside’, which implied only one thing. Because ‘what happens in the sacred
forest stays in the sacred forest’ I can’t divulge much except to say that
we were no longer considered as strangers.

Two other villages participated, Essyl and Nyasia, until dark when everyone
separated to return home. Each village escorts its new brides to her own
house. As we do not have a house save for the impluvium lodge in Enampore,
the entire Enampore group took us back there! Our whole troop actually went
dancing and singing in full form all the way out to the lodgeǃ The folks
that work there couldn’t believe it. From the morning’s skepticism to the
night’s welcoming they, even being from the village, were stunned and so
pleased. Speeches were made, songs were song, wine was poured and drunk,
and the celebrations continued on into the night.

(a note: the ‘we’ is Kris Dreessen,, a photojournalist who is here documenting our project and the local culture. Accompanying photos will be posted by her or me with her permission as they become available!)


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