Written by sociolingo on 11 Sep, 2004
In Bamako I had seen people have their feet henna'd for celebrations such as weddings, Tabaski and big fetes, but I had never had it done myself. I was staying in the rural village of Zebala and one day I talked to my American host,…Read More
In Bamako I had seen people have their feet henna'd for celebrations such as weddings, Tabaski and big fetes, but I had never had it done myself. I was staying in the rural village of Zebala and one day I talked to my American host, Lucia, and mentioned this. She said that she'd always wanted it done too. So we arranged with the daughters of some Zebalan friends of hers to prepare our feet for the coming Christmas fete. What an experience!
The two young girls arrived at about 8 am with lots of old cloths and plastic bags. We had no idea what we were in for! We sat in state in the mosquito netting covered veranda of my friend’s house. The girls discussed with us what patterns we would like on our feet. The discussion was in Minianyka and French and got quite complicated. The girls started cutting strips of white first aid plaster. With these strips they made complicated designs on the sides of our feet and the top of our feet, leaving the soles blank. Once they were happy with their designs they mixed a paste of henna powder bought from the local shop with water. This made a khaki green 'mess'. This paste was then applied to our feet. Our feet were wrapped in plastic bags and bound up in rags. Then they left! We were told they would be back in the evening. The paste on our feet, together with the plastic bag made walking very difficult, so we just sat. We had decided that this was going to be like a 'spa' day, a day for refreshment and renewal. So we had brought puzzle books, and other reading matter out to the porch with us.
Later on two little girls of about 8 years arrived and asked if they could 'do our hair'. This involved washing our hair and then drying it…and for Lucia who has long hair…plaiting it. This was great fun and there were a lot of giggles. It was getting very hot and one of the girls ran off and arrived back with a huge palm leaf that she used to fan us with. We felt like royalty. Eventually the two big girls arrived back to check if the Henna had 'taken' by unwrapping our feet and scraping a little off. It had. So, they then they scraped all the paste off our feet. To our amazement the skin where the paste had been was orange. They then made up another paste with a powder they had bought in the shop and water. I don't know what the powder was. They warned us that this new paste would tingle a bit but that it wouldn't be for long. They applied the new paste to our feet and wrapped them up again. After about an hour they unwrapped our feet, scraped the paste off and then took the first aid plaster strips off. Our feet were BLACK! We had intricate patterns along the sides of our feet and a design on top. The soles of our feet were completely black, as were my toenails. The girls admired their work and then ran off home to get ready for bed as it was already dark. Lucia and I walked over to her friends compound to show them their daughters' handiwork and our feet were admired by everyone by the light of an oil lamp.
The black feet lasted for a long time. We had to be careful not to use soap on our feet so that it lasted longer. The black toenails lasted a lot longer! Next time I will get them to cover my toenails with plaster.
Written by sociolingo on 13 Sep, 2004
Zebala is a centre for cotton production. You'll see the cotton trees all over the village. In fact, it's hard to ignore cotton in Zebala. The fluffy balls blow around in the wind and get in your hair. Enormous lorries rumble into the village in…Read More
Zebala is a centre for cotton production. You'll see the cotton trees all over the village. In fact, it's hard to ignore cotton in Zebala. The fluffy balls blow around in the wind and get in your hair. Enormous lorries rumble into the village in the early dawn hour, shaking you in your bed. You'll think it is thunder and wait for the lightening! They come to collect the cotton which is stored in huge collection pits all over the village. Women walk in with huge bales on their heads and these are loaded into the pits, and later onto the lorries. In the evening, the whole procession is reversed with the huge lorries rumbling out of the village into the darkening bush.
But not all the cotton is sent out of the village to be bought by middle-men and sold on - some of the cotton is reserved by families. I spent one afternoon filming a lady spinning cotton into thread. It was a process as fascinating as it was deft. An age-old skill is still being maintained and the skill is passed on from mother to daughter. She took a hank of rough cotton, tweaked out a corner of it, attached her weighted spindle to that and then, almost by magic, the cotton thread began to appear. This was wound on deftly.
Another day, I was visiting the local tailor. He proudly showed me hand woven cloth that he had dyed himself. This was the next step in the process. He was a Bogolan specialist. Bogolan is a special Malian process of printing on cotton using mud-based dyes. The mud is "mined" from the river. The cloth is first dyed a reddish brown, and then black designs are printed on. It is a very specialized trade and again is passed on from one generation to another. The inspiration is from nature and often incorporates animal prints, or tracks, and objects from nature. I admired the suit that he had on and asked him if he would make a suit just the same for my husband. These Bogolan suits are very much admired and are often worn by hunters. The suit he was wearing had an all over print that was a bit like a leopards paw print. I was delighted when he agreed. Then we sat down for a cup of sweet Malian tea before agreeing a price.
Some weeks later, when I was back in the capital, Bamako, a parcel arrived for me. It was the Bogolan suit for my husband. Specially printed, with the year on the front! He is very proud to wear it. We found out later that it is quite rare to own one of these suits, and he has had several envied comments. We feel really privileged that this tailor was happy to make one for us.
There is a little church in Zebala that holds services in Bambara and Minianka. We were privileged to take part in their celebrations for Christmas on Christmas Eve while we were staying there. The service was very colourful and the music was great. There are…Read More
There is a little church in Zebala that holds services in Bambara and Minianka. We were privileged to take part in their celebrations for Christmas on Christmas Eve while we were staying there.
The service was very colourful and the music was great. There are various groups in the church and they all took part at different times in the service. The young women did a very moving telling of the Christmas story using one of their own young babies as the baby Jesus. The young people did a great musical item that was very vigorous and fun. The tiny tots came to the front and sang together with their teachers.
After the service, we all had a meal together not far from the church. We sat on benches around bowls and ate with the right hand (the left hand is considered dirty). I guess we were there about five or six hours.
On Christmas day, there were further celebrations, but we were involved in helping to prepare a local celebration where we fed anyone who wanted to come along and eat. Other families in the village were doing the same, and there was a lot of visiting going on. We took small bowls of food to friends in the village and others brought small bowls of food to us. It was an exhausting day, but great fun.