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Double Culture Day in Mali


From: Melissa Enderle (melissa_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Nov 05 2000 - 15:21:00 PST

The day started off peaceful enough, but soon emerged to be a day
filled with culture. In the morning, I heard some drummming (which is
not unusual). First it sounded rather novice, as if someone was
simply plunking on the drum. I continued what I was doing in my home,
continuing to keep an ear out just in case there were further
developments. Later,the drumming sounded more significant and
refined, peaking my interest. With a small digital camera in my hand
(just in case), I proceeded to start walking towards the
nearby-sounding drumming.
After the second turn, I heard my name called out. Here it was Wasa,
the downstair teacher's housekeeper. It was not the Wasa I was
accustomed to seeing though. Instead of the plain purple overlay that
she typically wore, Wasa was dressed up in her finest. A dark green
dress (West African style) with multicolored ornamental decorations
and a U shaped neck was worn. Around her shoulders draped a white
veil-like scarf. Most impressive was Wasa's head. Each small section
of hair was wrapped in glistening black coils, forming a decorative
pattern. By the ears the coils also revealed small golden-yellow
small balls, about 4 or so cascading down in an ornamental fashion.
In her ears were beautiful gold earrings and around her finger was a
matching ring. A headwrap from the same fabric as the dress covered a
fair amount of her hair. Around the headwrap was a woven band that I
had seen before. Instantly, I knew Wasa was involved with a wedding.
Wasa invited me to join her at the wedding and asked me if the
downstairs teacher was awake.

I quickly went home to the duplex to get the downstairs teacher and
her 4th grade daughter. This time with two cameras, I went towards
the source of the music. Like Wasa, the women were all wearing their
finest clothing and jewelry, with the addition of a special hairdo.
Underneath the large tent, women began gathering for their portion of
a wedding celebration. After we were introduced to several women,
Wasa encouraged us to sit down. For the next several hours, I
witnessed women celebrating their portion of the wedding celebration
under the tent.
I will need to find someone who can explain all what occurred, but I
will now present my observations. Several other women were also
wearing the striped woven band, just as Wasa did. The middle part of
the long narrow band which was tied around the forehead revealed the
woman's name, carefully woven in capital letters. The bands were
golden yellow with another contrasting color such as black, purple,
or maroon. Two female singers and three male drummers provided the
music. I am assuming that the singing was either general wedding
music or words specifically directed towards the bride, etc. Women
would get off their chairs and join a procession of women, already
forming a line towards the music. Typically the "train" would repeat
its course and go towards the music a few times before the women once
again took their seat. Sometimes a few women would then begin doing
the energetic West African dancing. It appeared as if the main
drummer's hands and the dancers were talking to each other. Typically
one woman danced at a time, before the next woman took her short time
in the spotlight.
Interspersed throughout the time of celebration that I witnessed were
a few women who directed some words towards the crowd. I think they
might be part of the griot family, which does the storytelling and
recounts memories/events. During this talking, the arm of one of the
women wearing the bands would have their arm raised by a neighbor,
evidently recognizing that person. There was a lot of socializing
occurring, women "sharing" the darling little ones with other women,
and even some passing of money to a select few women. Some of that
money appeared to be given to the drummers, but I'll have to inquire
I'm sure a lot of the subtleties (and perhaps the not-so-subtle parts
of the ceremony) passed by without my knowledge of what I was seeing
or perhaps not seeing it at all.

Well, I better sign off for now. Tomorrow or soon I will email the
second cultural happening. Ahh, such a culturally rich society here
yet. I sure hope that they retain it even if technology and outside
influences increase.

| Melissa Enderle |
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/ / / / Melissa Enderle