I've been an avid Dungeons & Dragons player since the sixth grade. Even wrote my own grimoire in 9th that included age appropriate spells like Great Balls of Fire, which the caster could use to attack their opponent with twin fireballs that homed in on their opponent's...well, never mind. The point is I'm OG. One key world and character building component of D&D was the distinction between clerics who received their power from their deity, and wizards who achieved it through years of study in the mystical arts. In Burkina Faso however, like much of Africa, that's a line so smudged and smeared as to be functionally nonexistent. A whole lot of multi-classing going on. Also, and more to the point, magic on The Continent is not a game.
I've come to Burkina Faso during the rainy season. Torrential storms sucker punch you all summer. Though everybody has smart phones, the weather reports is similar in many respects to a bad joke, like Rush Limbaugh caught in a Florida hurricane flood; either they're laughed at, or ignored. Yet, here we are forty minutes outside the capital-Ade, her father, the Big Monster, and I- and somehow not sitting under a tarp while we wait for Chief Titinga to start the ceremony anointing a new village chieftain.
Burkina Faso politics are a tangle very much worth unraveling. We'll tease apart one such knot to put this ceremony into context. When West Africa was colonized, the Europeans-in this case the French-would often choose indirect rule over direct rule to cut down on the number of rebellions and the cost of occupation. To that end, they would choose (or more accurately, create) "strong men" within majority ethnic groups to determine the workaday fates of the African colony. Post independence, much of the indigenous, consolidated power structure remains intact, though changed by the inevitable post-occupation throne games.
So while there is a democratically elected president of the country, there is also a king of the Mossi people who make up at least 51% of the population. Modern day Burkina Faso doesn't function without dealing with King Mogho Naba Baongo II. The king in turn chooses chiefs, similar to bishops, responsible for administering large swaths of the country. They will often install village-level chiefs. We were there to witness the replacement of the deceased village chieftain of one of the most powerful villages in the area.
"What kind of power?" you might ask.
Theirs was the power to control the weather.
More next week.
On my first day and a night in Burkina Faso, the birth place of my partner Adé, we witnessed a lunar ellipse. I can't speak to the eclipse's meaning elsewhere in the world beyond our goat-haunted neighborhood, but right then, in the heart Ouagadougou, the eclipse heralded joy and drums. Homemade or homefound drums made from tin, plastic, wood, and calloused palms; struck by sticks, rocks, swinging legs, smacking hands, stomping feet, baby rattles, the femur of a goat. Thundering hearts on beating chests.
The kids came out from the dark like little bits torn free from its edges, animated with flashing grins and eyes in the island of yellow light created by the street lamps over the sky-blue door to Ade's family compound. You heard them before you saw them, an army gone hunting for the great cat that eats moons.
They seek to drive it out.
Youūng yonk kiougou, bassa ta loogé!
They dare to drive it off and demand it let her go.
Bassignè ta toudga sooré!
Even when the moon reappears, the children don't stop playing. There's really no telling when or if the hungry cat will come back. It's best to be thorough. Finally, one child-the girl on the right, I think-decides she must be the leader. The others follow her deeper into the night, chasing the cat back through his hole under the fence. From there, who knows where the wild hunt will take them. But we can hear the drums long after our camera has stopped recording. This is Adé's homecoming.
My love hasn't been back in her country for over four years, and then it was only for a week (the last eclipse she witnessed here was almost seventeen years ago). I suspect this trip is hitting her a thousand different ways. Or maybe hit is the wrong word, too violent.
Enveloping. Feeding. Nourishing.
For me, it was also a kind of a homecoming, but in the African-American-returning-to-the-motherland fable kind of way. It was fabulous, fantastic even, but in a way more in line with the speculative uses of those words. A narrative of suspended belief the meanings of which are still distant: about 400 years deep and 4,800 miles wide. Writing this blog is a way to help me process the experience. I'll make it mine by sharing it with you.
Not my real name, but it does roll right off the tongue, doesn't it?