Bassari Initiations

So two weekends ago some of my fellow volunteers and I went up to Agatch, a village about 90km from Kedougou to check out the Bassari initiations. We rented a truck to take us and all of our equipment, we were camping out for the weekend (yes I know, ME camping??!!!??), out to the village. So we piled 2 people plus the driver in the front, 4 people in the back and another 5 in the bed of the truck. I was lucky and got to sit in the front so it wasn’t too bad for me. After a 2 hour drive we arrived at the village and started to unload all of our things. Once we set-up came we wandered around the village, which took all of ten minutes, then we rested until the dancing started. The dancing was actually some of the older boys who have already been initiated walking around the village to the beat of whistles and bells on their feet. The continued to do this for the next  12 hours or so, well into the night. They were dressed up in their tradition clothes so it was fun to watch for about the first hour, then it got repetitive. After watching them for a bit we decided to start dinner which was a pasta, onion, and tomato mixture, not too bad for using basic ingredients. After dinner we decided to go into the village to partake in the festivities, which included drinking a lot of honey wine and honey beer. Since the Bassari people are “Christian, animists” they, unlike most Senegalese who are Muslim, are allowed to drink. So with all this alcohol going around the party lasted well into the morning.

After sleeping for a few hours we got up and started breakfast, which consisted of oatmeal, bananas, and Starbucks coffee (hey, just because we are camping doesn’t mean we have to drink bad coffee). Once breakfast was done we went to check out what was going on in the village. The boys who have already been initiated dressed up in traditional clothes and this time they had their masks on. they did some more dancing while the boys who were waiting to get initiated prepared themselves for the fights that were to happen next. Once the boys were ready all the men went off to the fields to watch the fights. Women are not allowed to watch the fights because the men do not wear their masks to fight and they feel that if one of the boys loses they will not be marriageable because they are weak and if they are too aggressive they will also not make a good husband. So I sat around with the women waiting for the men to get back. From what the guys we were with told us, there was a lot of slap flighting and some wrestling, apparently we didn’t miss too much. After the fights we started to prepare lunch which was rice and beans with taco seasoning, again quite good for what little ingredients we had. After lunch we just rested since we were tired from partying last night. Around mid-afternoon we decided it was time to head back to Kedougou where we got stranded on the side of the road for a bit due to a flat tire, if there’s one thing I learned here it’s whenever you are traveling take water with you, you never know how long it’ll take you to get from point A to point B.

I am really glad I got to see at least some parts of the initiation ceremonies,  I just wish I had a guide there that could explain to me the meaning of things, but all in all it was a great time and I’m glad I went!!

***IF you hover over the picture you will get an explanation of what it is. If you click on the picture, a new window will open up with an enlarged picture.

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