Ministère de l'information du Mali. 1971. Première anthologie de la musique malienne: 1. Le Mali des steppes et des savannes: Les Mandingues. Barenreiter Musicaphon, BM 30L 2501.
He who has no cauris (shells serving as currency) cannot drink the wine of Segu,
Ask Da Monzon for it.
This wine of Segu is called Koro koro kumba. As for Da Monzon, he is considered to be the organizer of the Bambara kingdom of Segu which he enlarged by cunning more than by force of arms. To this day Da Monzon is the most famous king of that kingdom.
Bird, Charles S. 1972. "Heroic Songs of the Mande Hunters." In African Folklore, ed. Richard Dorson, 275-93, 441-77. Bloomington: Indiana University.
The following episode is part of the extended epic cycle of Da Monson, the renowned king of the Segou empire, in central Mali on the Niger river in the eighteenth century. This version was recited in prose style by the bard Moulaye Kida of Segou, in Bamako in January 1967.
We have long been told that women have played important roles in establishing the power of many kings. We have also been told that women have played important roles in bringing about their downfall. In this story, told to us by the wise old men of our village, we will find out how the war came about between Da Monson and Samanyana Basi, two powerful kings of small states along the Niger River in what is today Mali. We will find out how Da Monson rose to fame and how Samanyana Basi fell to ruin through the wiles of a woman.
Everyone in those times had heard of Da Monson. His power was well established over the great kingdom of Segou, and his reign had lasted for many years. Not only was he a powerful man, but he knew the secrets of plants, animals, and men as well as many of the best-known wise men. Such was his fame that one could not find a man, woman, or child anywhere who had not heard of him.
Samanyana Basi was a king who reigned over the kingdom of Samanyana, to the south of Segou. He was a well-known king, but he was not as great as Da Monson. Samanyana Basi was a man of average stature, not too tall and not too short. He was, however, perfectly built. The people who had seen him called him an Apollo. In addition to his handsome features, he had a small, attractive beard on his chin.
The Bambara people, over whom both Da Monson and Samanyana Basi reigned, used to invite each other to drink millet beer and honey wine. On this particular occasion, Samanyana Basi went to the gathering place in Segou to sample the local brew. He had dressed himself up in his most resplendent robes, of the finest material and the richest colors. He looked so outstanding in his great boubou that Da Monson, when he saw him, found that he surpassed all that people had been saying about him. Da Monson kept looking until he found himself staring at him. Suddenly he got up, strode toward Samanyana Basi, and grabbed hold of his beard, saying:
"Samanyana Basi, that's a cute little beard you have!"
Samanyana Basi looked at him coolly and with a small smile replied:
"Well, my friend, don't you know what this beard is for? It allows me to predict the future."
These words were like a knife in Da Monson's heart. He felt that Basi was challenging his power. Basi's answer was an insult, a degradation before all the people who had gathered to drink and talk in Segou that day. Da Monson did not show his feelings. He held them inside himself, but he knew that he could never forgive Samanyana Basi. He wanted to kill him right there, but the laws of hospitality forbade his harming a guest. The desire for war came upon him. He wanted to besiege Samanyana and capture Samanyana Basi.
As soon as Samanyana Basi had returned to his kingdom, Da Monson started making preparations. He called np two of his best battalions and sent them to attack Samanyana. Although they were known as great soldiers and although they fought with their usual courage, they failed miserably. When they came to tell the bad news to Da Monson, he grew furious. He was also filled with shame. If you thought about it, you could understand how he felt. He was indeed so much older than Samanyana Basi; his kingdom was so much greater than Samanyana Basi's, and his praises were sung throughout the land in such a way that he would have preferred death to haVing the news of his defeat spread throughout the country.
What could Da Monson do now? He called all his wise men, seers, and sorcerers. In every part of the land, wherever his power reached, he sent out the call for all the wise men, seers, and sorcerers. He called them all-those who could see ten years back into the past, those who could see ten years into the future, whoever might be able to tell him how the matter could be straightened out, what sacrifices had to be made and what medicines and potions had to be prepared. Whatever person one could point to and say that he might have that ability, Da Monson's call came to him. They all came to gather in the center of Segou.
Remember that Da Monson was not only a king, but a man with a great knowledge of such secrets that only a few men ever get to know. In addition, he was crafty and very wise. There were few if any men who could set a trap for him and come back to tell about it. Before the wise men came, he spent a long time working in the place where he kept all his secrets, his potions, and other magical objects. After much consideration, it was finally the tortoise and the white rooster that he chose.
Just hefore the assembled seers were to come to him so that he could explain their task and confide it to them, he got a great, black wooden bowl. He put the white rooster under the bowl and covered it with a black cloth. He then took the tortoise and put it under a white calabash. Da Monson began to get nervous, but he had created a good trap. Whatever person, if he wasn't an evil eye, if he wasn't a sorcerer, and this did not happen before his very eyes, if he didn't hold the truth in his hands, if his secrets and his acts did not lead to the truth, he couldn't possibly know what Da Monson had put under the bowl and the calabash.
In this way Da Monson sprang his puzzle on the wise men. When they all came, before putting them to work he said:
"You all know me. I want the pure truth. Those of you who are not lost in obscurity, those of you who have not fallen into incomprehensibility, those of you who believe in yourselves and in your own powers, tell me what is under this black cloth and this white cloth. Those of you who find out what it is should come and tell me. If I believe that what you have said is the truth, you will become my workers."
Going from the cowrie-shell tossers to the sand drawers and on to the pebble tossers, and on to the fetishers and the owners of talking icons, each and everyone of them consulted their own particular magic. Many tried, but both the honest and the dishonest ones came to Da Monson and said that they could not tell him what he wanted to know. Finally an old seer came to him and said: "The thing that is under the black cloth is covered by night. It is like white cloth and you might say that the white cloth had blood spilled on it."
The old seer really spoke the truth, because the wooden bowl was black like the night and the rooster was white but his crest was red like blood. Da Monson seized him by the arm and nodded his head in assent.
The man now studied the second pmt of the puzzle, the white cloth under which was the turtle. After studying it for a while and consulting his secrets, he said: "The thing that is under this white cloth is covered by day. It is like a small stick and resembles a lizard's head. It keeps still and then moves."
Again he spoke the truth. The white calabash was like the day. A turtle is hard like a stick and its head is like a lizard's, and if you have ever seen a turtle, you know that it moves a bit then keeps still.
Da Monson took the man into his house and said: "I want you to tell me the secret that will let me raise an army, attack Samanyana, besiege it, destroy it, and capture Samanyana Basi."
The old seer who had told the truth about the rooster and the tortoise said simply: "Samanyana Basi will never be taken unless you can get his first handful of food from his evening meal, the hat on his head, and the old sandals on his feet. If you can't get these things so that I can work on them, we'll never arrive in Samanyana, much less capture Samanyana Basi. It just can't be done!"
Da Monson then called all the men in his kingdom whom he could trust, who would not betray him. He explained the matter to them and asked them to find someone who could get Samanyana Basi's first handful of food from his evening meal, the sandals from his feet, and the hat from his head, and bring them to Da Monson.
Da Monson's advisers searched the country for someone who could do the job, but they had no success. Finally a woman appeared in Segou. She was without doubt the most beautiful woman ever to be seen in the land. To look at her was more than a pleasure. Her figure alone would make men leave their families. Her smile was hypnotizing. If a man only set his eyes on her once, the second time he would have to lower his head to save himself. If a man didn't love her as a relative, he would have to adore her as a lover or even as a wife. This woman declared herself willing to help her king, Da Monson. One of the king's counselors came to him and said:
"There is a woman here in Segou called Ten. She is the daughter of a praise singer. She is without a doubt the most beautiful woman in your kingdom. In addition, she is very crafty and knows every secret for entering men's hearts and destroying their minds."
Da Monson called Ten to his court so that she could explain her plan. Ten arrived and kneeled before the king, surrounded by his counselors, saying:
"This whole country, its trees, its animals, and its people, from the little river far to the south to the great river far to the north, belongs to you. If something is bothering you, it is we who must correct it. If you will allow me, I think that I will be able to solve your problem."
Da Monson listened to her words, nodding his head with approval. When she had finished, he said:
"What do you want me to give you?"
Ten said, "Before I go, I want the best jewelry brought to me, gold, silver, precious stones, cowrie shells, the most beautiful and elegant cloth, and the finest blankets made in Masina. In addition, I want you to call your master brewers to prepare their best beer and wine. When they have finished, I will treat it with spices. Once a man has drunk the beer that I shall prepare, he will no longer be a man. He will lose his reason and I will be able to do what I want to with him. I will go to Samanyana and Samanyana Basi will drink his own downfall."
The brewers brought Ten their finest wine and beer. After putting many secret herbs and spices in it, she sweetened the beer with honey and added both red and black pepper. The brew was so strong and fiery that the average man, such as you or me, could not even smell it without losing his senses.
Now Ten was ready. Da Monson gave her his fastest canoe. It was well over thirty feet long, sleek and shiny, and it cut through the water like a great boa. Da Monson sent her his four best Somono fishermen, the champion canoe men of the Niger River. These four young giants, anns like the trunks of trees, necks and shoulders like bulls, seized their great bamboo poles and sent the canoe laden with the beautiful Ten and her many riches shooting upstream. When the river deepened, without losing a stroke they took their paddles, making the canoe fly against the current. It seemed as if the great river held its strength back in awe, overwhelmed by the beauty and perfection of the canoe, its crew, and its cargo.
Ten was stretched out under the open cabin, which she had covered with a royal tapestry woven by the masters from Mopti, to the north. When they reached the open river, the crocodiles, the hippos, the great Niger perch and fierce dogfish, even the river tems sang their praises to the beautiful Ten. She saw every bird, beast, and fish that she had ever seen and many that she, or any man, had never seen before. Ten did not lose herself to these wonders, however. She was deep in thought, working out her plan of attack against Samanyana Basi.
The canoemen poled and paddled, paddled and poled, until finally, their whiplike bodies glistening in the orange light of the setting sun, they guided the bow of the canoe to touch gently on the sandy beach of Samanyana.
The women who had come down to the river to get water, those who were there to bathe, those who had been washing clothes, every one of them stood transfixed. They could not move their eyes from Ten. Some said that she was the daughter of some great king, who was just passing by. Some said that she was on her way to marry a powerful prince. Others said that it was Samanyana Basi himself who had called her to him. Rumors flew. Speculation grew. But Ten never set foot on the beach. She spent three days in the canoe on the beach, never even mentioning that she wanted to greet Samanyana Basi.
The news finally reached Samanyana Basi that a woman had arrived who was so magnificent that she surpassed the limits of men's most imaginative desires.
Samanyana Basi was very suspicious, but he was also too curious. He said to his counselors, "Whoever this woman is, I think she has come here to do someone's dirty work. However, we do know that, from what people say about her, she is not a woman to be neglected. In any case, if she comes before me, we'll soon find out what she is up to. Go and bring her here."
The messengers went up to Ten's canoe and told her that Samanyana Basi wanted her to be in his reception hall in the wink of an eye. Ten was radiant with jewelry and the finest cloth. She walked up the bank and through the village with such assurance and majesty that the people fell away before her as they would before a great queen. She swept into the reception hall, knelt before Samanyana Basi and greeted him before his courtiers.
It was the custom of the country to offer visitors, whether men or women, a large gourdful of millet beer so that they might first cut their thirst before explaining the purpose of their visit. They filled up a gourd and gave it to Ten. She drank it down as if it were water. They filled up another gourd and she drank that one down even quicker than the first.
"By Allah," they exclaimed, "woman, you must bave been about ready to die of thirst to drink our beer like that. It's lucky you came up from the beach when you did, but you'd better not drink any more of our beer like that, if you want to stay on your feet."
"What!" Ten replied. "Was that your beer? Why, in Segou that's what we give to our children when they come in hot and sweaty from an afternoon's play. I surely didn't think that this was the beer that you drank together with your great king here. That's why I drank it the way I did. You certainly must know that it's not very strong and surely you wouldn't call it a man's drink!"
"Well," said some, "the conversation is getting interesting. As our ancestors have said, if a woman goes ahead and swallows a turtle, a man must then swallow a lizard."
Everyone fell quiet, waiting for Samanyana Basi to speak.
"Do you think, woman, that Segou Da Monson's beer is better than this?"
"Why, this doesn't even come near it!" replied Ten. "You just can't even compare them. If you call this stuff beer, just a little sip of Da Monson's would make you dizzy."
"And who," asked Basi, "knows how to make this famous beer?"
"I do," Ten replied quickly.
"All right, then. You're going to stay right here. I need you in my court. You aren't going to make beer for anyone but me."
"I agree," replied Ten. "I came here looking for the man that I have heard people praising tbroughout the country. I have heard that Samanyana Basi is greater than any man alive. However, from what I've seen here, I don't think you're the man 1 was looking for. Nonetheless, if you say I should stay here, I'm like tbe fruit tbat has fallen into tbe basket. I happen to have a sample of Da Monson's beer and some aged honey wine down in the canoe. I'll bring tbem up and you can try them. If they please you, I'll stay here and make more for you."
Ten had sprung her trap well. Basi's youthful pride was cut by her quick tongue. Not only did he want to show himself better tban Da Monson, but already half crazed by the beauty of her face and body, which would quicken tbe blood of the oldest of men, he wanted to show her that he was the man she had been looking for, who could satisfy her and make her love him.
The servants brought up two great jugs. Samanyana Basi filled his gourd witb Ten's beer and drank it down. Although he tried to remain impassive, his eyes could not help but show his pleasure at its sweetness and spicy flavor. He filled his calabash with tbe honey wine and drank tbat down. When he emptied tbe cup, Ten knew tbat he was now defenseless. Samanyana Basi could now no longer keep his eyes off her.
Like many rulers, young or old, who do not have tbe confidence of tbe people, Samanyana Basi distrusted everyone, even his closest advisers. He never ate a meal with anyone in fear of being poisoned. This evening, however, when tbe servants brought his meal, Basi, drunk with Ten's charms as well as her beer, ordered his counselors away as usual, but held Ten by tbe hand, saying."
"Woman, tonight you are going to eat with me. Before the night is over, you will not regret having come to seek Samanyana Basi."
Ten laughed, overwhelming Basi with her dazzling teeth and eyes sparkling witb a fire that promised more tban a man would let himself imagine. She slipped from his grasp and filled his gourd again.
"I'm also a very good cook," she said. "Why don't you let me fix a meal that you will never forget?"
Samanyana Basi, in his present state, could only agree, but bade her be quick since his desire for her left him nearly breathless. Ten prepared a heaping bowl of rice and covered it with a rich meat sauce in which the spices and pepper alone were enough to make a man lose his senses. All the while, she kept her eye on Basi's gourd. As soon as he emptied it, she filled it again for him. The meal prepared, Ten set it down before Samanyana and sat down close to him, brushing temptingly against him and letting his head fill with the aroma of the scented oils she had rubbed into her body. Samanyana Basi reached into the bowl, bringing out a handful of rice and meat. As he was bringing his hand up to his mouth, Ten reached out as if to dip her hand into the bowl and knocked the food from Basi's hand./
"Oh!" she cried. "Look how terrible I am!"
"What's the matter?" asked Samanyana Basi. "What are you crying about?"
"I am so clumsy. I've knocked the food right out of your hand onto the floor."
"So, what's the matter with that?" Basi replied. "Look at all that we have left in the bowl. We have more to do than to eat all that. There's no reason to cry about the little bit that's on the floor."
Basi took another handful and began to eat with great pleasure. Ten reached down, picked up the spilled food, wrapped it in her handkerchief and hid it to one side. The peppery sauce increased Basi's thirst and Ten was quick to fill his gourd. They ate and drank until the food was finished. In the last drink she poured for Basi, Ten slipped a strong sleeping potion. Basi, thinking of the night of adventure, drank down the potion. Moments later, he fell into a deep sleep. Ten quickly wrapped her robes around her, walked over to the helpless Basi and yanked off his sandals and pulled off his hat, as well as the amulets hanging from his neck. She snatched up her handkerchief containing Basi's first handful of food from his evening meal, and, carefully checking to see that no one was about, ran down to the beach, where the canoe and her men were waiting. The canoe flew downstream like a sliver of moonlight on the black water. The waves of its wake washing on Samanyana's shore were Ten's last caress to the young man who was brash enough to confront Da Monson.
As dawn was breaking over Segou, the canoe pulled into the port. Ten leaped out with her prizes and ran to give them directly to Da Monson. Da called the wise man and gave him the objects he had requested. After working a night and a day on them, the wise man discovered the sacrifices and potions that would allow Da Monson's army to break Samanyana Basi's magic charms and defeat him.
Da Monson sent two battalions to attack Samanyana. After one day of siege, they broke through the defenses, scattered Basi's soldiers, and razed the town. Basi, stripped of his magical protection, was just another man, helpless before Da Monson's power. He was captured and summarily beheaded.
There you see the deeds of Ten. By her beauty and her wiles, she helped build the empire of one king and destroy that of another.
A woman can be a beautiful thing, but she can also be evil. What is honey to one man may be poison to another.
May Allah protect us from them and send us only the good ones.
"The Vulture" ("Duga" in Bambara) is the oldest and most widespread song known in West Africa, recorded in early Arabic texts. It is a praise song for warriors and hunters celebrating heroism. This story begins with the song being sung for the King of KorÈ, but since Da Monson defeats him, the song becomes a tribute to the victor and was incorporated in the epic cycle for Da Monson. . . . It was customarily sung for the warriors who killed a lion, an elephant, or another warrior.
It was sung by Bakoroba Kone, an elderly bard, in Segou, April 1968, accompanied by two female singers, Penta Donte and Hawa Kone, who sang the songs inserted at intervals in the epic recitation (indicated by indentation).
Mawula! Mawula! Karadige,
no man speaks against the vulture
when the eagle is not on wing.
The beer drinkers behind the river
and bitterness never meet.
the brave is a man of the moment
but where are the braves of yesteryear?
No matter how good a man may be,
words will be said behind his back.
Ah! Karadige, I call to you,
little man, great man.
In the name of Allah,
whose prophet is Muhammed,
the matter turned badly for the cursed child.
It is the truth she sings.
This was sung for the Old Vulture of KorÈ,
the king seated in KorÈ.
This was sung for him by his bards.
No matter how good a man may be,
words will be said behind his back.
One time having drunk too much
and lying about in his palace,
he told one of his slaves
to tell Da Monson of Segou
that Da should know there was thread
to weave in KorÈ.
"I've yet to find a weaver for it.
Tell him to come weave my thread.
Go quickly, come back quickly!"
The day that Baguinda Mari fell,
the eagle was flying;
and that day of battle in Nyamina . . .
No matter how good a man may be,
words will be said behind his back.
The servant came and delivered the message to Da.
Da spoke to his bard:
"Dante, great master of truth," he said,
"Didn't you hear the words of tbe messenger?
He said we should go.
He said he had some thread.
He said that Segou should come weave his thread.
He said he knows not of Segou,
but our weaving."
And he said, "Master of truth,
send him on his way."
He spoke to tbe messenger, saying:
"When you arrive, tell him
that Segou will come and weave his thread
so that it will be beautiful.
O Vulture of majestic flight!
Vulture of beautiful flight!
One bird, four wings.
O bird who floats in the skies
and yet can scratch the ground.
When the bird lands,
he gouges a well,
a well of God,
like a well in tbe Mande mountains.
Da Monson spoke: "Master of Truth,"
he said, "what is your thought on these words?"
"Because of these words," he replied,
"I think of one thing,
a measure of gold.
If you take one and
give it to a man
to give to the Old Vulture's first wife,
so that she will help us in this matter,
then, the way to the Vulture of KorÈ"
she will tell it to us."
O Eagle, only treachery can destroy familial love.
Descendance from the woman,
descendance from the woman has ended.
But descendance from the woman is better than sterility,
and sterility is better than an evil child.
They took out a measure of gold
and placed it in the hand of a man
who gave it to the first wife of Vulture,
telling her that this was the cost of kola,
saying that Segou spoke thus,
that this was her gift,
and as such, the rest remains in Segou.
She must, he said, apply herself
and tell us the way to capture the Old Vulture.
That is the work you must do for us.son
Oh! In the name of Allah!
The bird suffered much.
He slung the quiver on his shoulder.
He grabbed the bow in hand
to go seize Jakuruna Toto,
right up to Jakuruna;
and he cut off his great head
at the wide opening of his throat;
and his head rolled on the ground
hke a sacrificial bull of a Mande brave;
and he, he got off with great effort
to seize Samanyana Basi,
right up to Samanyana.
The woman sent a man
to tell them that her husband
was a man who already knew his destiny.
He spoke with a crocodile.
She said that
if they did not move to the west of the village,
they would spend a year without defeating the Old Vulture.
As soon as the messenger came to say this to Da Monson,
and as soon as they understood these words,
they took the camp baggage,
and moved between the village
and the setting sun.
The first wife ran out to them
throwing herself On her knees before them:
"Dante, Master of Truth, tell the king I have come."
"Did you receive the message," he replied.
"Yes, I received the message."
"Wonderful," he answered. "This is but a gift for you.
The rest awaits you in Segou,
so that you will help us in our task."
In the name of God,
whose prophet is Muhammed,
a man is not God.
Koliko Duga Sirima became angry
and angrier and angrier.
He jammed his quiver On his head,
seized his bow in one hand,
and went to capture Sobe Masa
Come quiet, Bajubanen.
When they finished talking,
she returned to the village
and assembled her servants.
They carried water and
brought it to the powder room,
where they wet all the powder.
When the powder was all wet down,
she sent a man to tell Da Monson:
"Surround the village.
I have done my work!"
The battle raged for three days.
Segou could not break through.
As soon as the original rifle charges were exhausted,
those who went to get fresh powder
found the powder wet.
They went to Vulture saying: "King!"
"And the powder, wasn't it made ready?"
"It was made ready," he replied.
"Well, it has all become water!"
"Then," he asked, "who will go to Segou?
Is it we who will be captured by Segou?
Now, that's an incredible thing!"
He left to go look,
and found all the powder wet.
Three days passed.
They were finally able to crack through to the
Old Vulture's wells.
They destroyed everything without value
and carried off the rest.
The Old Vulture ran off to the men's house,
where the great crocodile awaited him.
It swallowed him and went to lie in the pond.
Da Monson's warriors looked everywhere for him,
but they didn't see him.
They began an investigation.
"A man's secret is always held by his woman.
A man's secret is always held by his woman.
Ask the woman!"
They called the woman and came with her.
The woman said her words were true.
"The great pond to the east,
That is where he and the crocodile speak.
That's who is his total master.
If, therefore, you empty the pond completely,
and you find the crocodile,
You will see him."
They all worked together,
completely emptying the pond.
The crocodile tried to flee,
but they grabbed it and cut open its stomach,
pulling the Old Vulture from inside.
"Old Vulture of KorÈ!"
"You said Segou should come weave your thread,
and thus, we have come.
Give us some thread to weave for you."
They brought the Old Vulture of KorÈ out,
and sat him down in the village square.
They called the Vulture's bards.
The bards having been called, Da Monson said:
"That which you have sung for the Old Vulture of KorÈ,
You will sing before us now for all to hear,
because today you will go to Segou."
When this was said,
the Old Vulture, seated among his bards,
grew angrier and angrier.
In his great anger, he transformed himself
and Hew off into the sky.
He circled about in the heavens
and then Hoated back down.
"Da," he said, "you alone are not able to defeat me.
It's my wife who betrayed me.
If she hadn't betrayed me,
you never would have defeated me."
He sat back down among his bards.
Again he grew angry
and again he transformed himself
and again he flew off into the sky
until he could calm himself.
He retmned once more and said:
"Da, you still can't defeat me,
but I will not leave my bards in your hands.
Do with me what you will."
"What would please us," Da replied,
"is to bring you back to Segou."
And the Old Vulture responded: "That cannot be me,
Segou will never lay its eyes on me.
You'd better put that idea aside."
"Well, your bards," Da suggested,
"we will take them to Segou."
But the bards were quick to reply,
"Segou will never lay eyes on us.
We have drunk honey wine together.
Should it be a question of a more bitter drink,
we'll drink that together, too."
On saying this, the bards all killed themselves.
The Old Vulture turned to Da
and said that Da could never kill him,
that Da could never capture him,
but if Da would permit it,
he would kill himself.
If permission were not granted,
no one would be able to defeat him.
The Vulture took all the amulets from his body,
then grabbed a rifle and shot himself.
This done, the woman ran up, saying:
"King, as you have requested, so have I done."
He answered her, saying, "Thank you for your help.
You have greatly pleased us.
That which you have done for us,
its reward is not here with us.
That which you were given,
do you still have it here?"
"Yes, it is here," she replied.
"Then bring it here to us.
Didn't we tell you.
the remainder awaits you in Segou?
It is being kept there for you."
The woman returned with the gold.
"Thank you," Da said, "you made no mistake.
But, Dante, Master of Truth, tell this woman
that we are right to fear her.
We cannot take her to Segou.
If we were to take her to Segou,
once my power was established,
if anyone were to try to crush me,
she would help him find my secrets.
I cannot take her back.
Add her to her man over there."
They bashed in her head
and threw her body by her husband's.
And Da, calling out to his drummers,
his trumpeters, and his bards, said,
"Well, let's be off to Segou
and those things of which you will sing;
if you are to sing them in Segou,
you'd better prepare them well!"
Ah! The offering of white kola by evil kin
None of that is new to the Vulture.
Who would speak against the Vulture?
Samanyana Basi spoke against him,
and his head was cut off
at the opening of his great throat
You might say a sacrificial bull of a Mande brave.
It is said that the poor man,
if he should speak of the affairs of kings,
will be given away as a gift by the king.
They returned to Segou;
three hundred battalions in Segou.
They gathered together
and sat in the square.
There was much beer
and honey wine.
Thus they celebrated right down to the fieriest brew.
Oh! Segou! One can succeed in Segou.
Oh! Segou! There is no one who doesn't go to Segou.
E! Even if a double-barreled king,
even if he were a king with a house of bards.
You are a great warrior, Karadige,
but Da was the greatest of warriors.
Sissoko, Bazoumana. 1972. Musique du Mali. Vol. 2. Bazoumana Sissoko, le vieux lion II. Barenreiter Musicaphon, BM 30L 2553.
A song dedicated to the memory of Da Monzon Diarra, one of the most famous kings, in the 18th century, of the kingdom of SÈgou (Segu).
Bird, Charles S., and Martha B. Kendall. 1980. "The Mande Hero: Text and Context." In Explorations in African Systems of Thought, ed. Ivan Karp and Charles Bird, 13-21. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Reprinted Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1987.
The Duga, "Vulture," tells the story of two enemy heroes who have become kings: Da Monson, King of the Segou Empire, and Duga Koro, great warrior and hunter, King of Kore.10 At the beginning of the story the Duga is sung only in praise of Duga Koro, who, sure of his power and spoiling for a battle, insults his enemy, Da Monson. Da Monson marshals his forces and besieges Kore, but cannot breach the walls even after many efforts. Duga, Koro's senior wife who is bribed into betraying him, reveals the secret of his magic to Da Monson, who then successfully attacks and seizes his fortress. Duga Koro commits suicide before he can be captured, but Da Monson's warriors sack the town for booty and slaves, and Da Monson claims the Duga song for himself.
10. The version of the Duga to which we refer was performed by Ba Kone in Segou, 1968, The reader is invited to consult Monteil (1924), Tauxier (1942), and Bazin (1971) for details relating to the reign of Da Monson and the Segou Empire in general.
Camara, Ladji. 1993. Les ballets africains de Papa Ladji Camara. Lyrichord, LYRCD 7419.
This song is about a chief warrior Dan [sic] Monson who is from the Bambara race in the Republic of Mali. Dan Monson lives in the city of Segou. In this empire the chief philosophy is... "do not take a women [sic] you have not married" and ... "only consider yourself a parent of a child if you are his or her biological parent".
Sissoko, Djelimoussa "Ballake." 2000. Deli. Indigo, 2576.
Hommage ‡ Da Monson Diarra, qui rÈgna au XVIIIË [sic] au moment de l'apogÈe du royaume de Segou.
Durán, Lucy. 2013. "Poyi! Bamana Jeli Music, Mali, and the Blues." Journal of African Cultural Studies 25 (2): 211-246.
Much of what we know about this late pre-colonial period of Mali's history comes from the recitation of oral epics by Bamana jeliw, published in numerous transcriptions and translations. These focus on the esoteric power of one or two rulers (especially Da Monzon Diarra 1808-1827) and warriors (such as Bakari Jan Koné). The most detailed of these is a line-by-line transcription of performances by Tayiru Banbera (Conrad 1990; Banbera 1998) and constitutes 'one of the longest epics recorded in Africa' (Johnson, Hale, and Belcher 1997, 34).21
The death of Biton Coulibaly was followed by a period of anarchy (1757-1766), with successive rule by three former war captives until a fourth, Ngolo Diarra (1766-1787), founded a dynasty that lasted until 1861. His grandson Da Monzon Diarra (ruled 1808-1827) is the most celebrated of the Segu rulers, remembered and revered by Bamana jeliw for his power, wealth, ruthlessness and generosity with the jeliw. Da was not a ruler to be trifled with; oral tradition has it that Da had only one eye, and therefore, no one in the land could pronounce the word 'one' without risk of being beheaded. The opening chorus of the song dedicated to Da Monzon says 'Ask Da! If a poor man even mentions the name of the faama [ruler], he'll be sold for the price of one barrel of beer',23 showing that he valued alcohol more than human life (Figure 8).
In February 2006, as part of our preliminary research for his album, Bassekou took me to visit the tomb of Da Monzon, which is located in Banankoroba, a village a few kilometres east of Segou. It was a simple vaulted grave made of cement, located inside the courtyard of a house, under the custody of family whose surname—ironically—is Coulibaly. Bassekou, for whom Da Monzon symbolizes the essence of Bamanaya, took his ngòniba out of its case, knelt down by the grave and in a solemn fashion began playing Da Monzon's fasa (praise song), over which he declaimed:
In subsequent discussion, Bassekou explained that these were the kinds of words that Da Monzon would want to hear at his grave, even if he, Bassekou, as a man of the twenty-first century, abhorred the idea of slavery and warfare. As we left the grave, I asked the custodian, Mr Coulibaly, how he felt about being entrusted with care of the grave of the Diara lineage, who had wrested power from the his own ancestor, Biton Mamary Coulibaly, founder of the Segu Empire. 'If Da Monzon had power, it's only because we the Coulibaly lineage lent it to him' was his reply.
There are two main Bamana pentatonic scales, corresponding roughly to CDEGA (major pentatonic) (for example, as in the song 'Da Monzon') and CDFGB flat, sometimes described as minor pentatonic (because of its flat seventh) (for example, as in the song 'Bakari Jan' or 'Sarafo'). However, these scales are not tempered, and intonation of particular pitches can vary in both vocal and instrumental performance, especially the second degree of the scale, which may be either flattened or sharpened as to sound between a major and a minor third, once again strongly reminiscent of the 'blues third'.
The Bamana repertoire consists mainly of a series of accompaniments and pre-composed songs that relate to specific rulers and warriors of the Segu Empire, in particular Bambugu Nce Diarra, son of Ngolo Diarra; Da Monzon Diarra, who ruled from 1808 to 1827 (as discussed above); and Bakari Jan Koné, a warrior by that name who was a contemporary of Da Monzon (see Conrad 1990).
One of the difficulties of assessing the scope of the Bamana repertoire is that musicians may collapse the time span of these characters and sing about all of them in one song, moving from one tune and chorus to another without a break. This is the case, for example, of one of the best-known recordings of Bamana music, an LP dating from c. 1977 by the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, entitled Dah Monzon ou l'épopée bambara, played frequently on Malian radio.33 It features a large ensemble with various Mande jeli instruments, a male speaker, a female chorus and a solo female singer, Hawa Dramé. Part 1 (side A) begins with a slow version of the 'Bambugu Nce' song, which, like many Bamana fasaw (praise songs), is a lament. Its chorus mourns the passing of several rulers, by saying that 'their (alcohol) drinking days are over'.34 Then at 5'' 21 it goes into the tune for 'Da Monzon', which remains the accompaniment until 15''40, when it changes into a faster, minor tune known as 'Segu tònjòn'. Part 2, on side B continues with the story of Bakari Jan. After the first minute of Da Monzon's tune, (including the chorus 'Ask Da' as described earlier on), the ensemble play Bakari Jan's tune35 (Figures 10 and 11).
During the height of Mali's dance band era, the Orchestre Régional de Ségou, later renamed Super Biton de Ségou, were the pioneering modernizers of the Bamana style and repertoire. They were the first orchestra to perform an arrangement of part of the Bamana epic, at the first Biennale of Arts and Culture for the Young in 1970 (Mazzoleni 2011, 81). The song, titled 'Da Monzon', is 12.14 minutes long—much longer than most recordings by local dance bands of the time. It includes the traditional accompaniment and chorus, Da nyininka ('ask Da'), and a spoken recitation of excerpts of the story, over a full horn section and electric guitars. At c. 8.45 minutes into the recording, the tune changes to Segu tabali tè (Figures 12 and 13).
Evidence for the existence of the ngòni as the favoured instrument of Segu Bamana's rulers comes from oral tradition, as in the following extract from an epic recitation by Kabiné Sissoko:
Da Monzon reigned in Segu, the city of balanzans [acacias]
where the tonjons [slave army] had built
a palace with seven vestibules
Thirty-five guitars [ngònis] flattered the ears of the king (Kesteloot 1993, 34)48
This may be hyperbole; it is usual for jeliw to boast of their importance in pre-colonial times. However, a twentieth-century descendant of the Diarra dynasty, Gaoussou Diarra, attested that his ancestor Monzon Diarra (who ruled Segu from 1787 to 1808) had in his entourage 740 jeliw who were 'fearless warriors, a law unto themselves ... They took the best horses, chose the best women, and wore a silver bracelet on their left arm and a gold earring on their right ear' (Sauvageot 1965, quoted in Kesteloot and Dumestre 1975, 10-11, fn. My translation). Tayiru Banbera's epic recitation places the jeli Tinyetigiba Danté at the centre of the intrigues that unfold at the court of Segu during the rule of Da Monzon Diarra. It is Danté who advises Da Monzon at all times on all matters of both war and love.
Courlander, Harold, and Ousmane Sako. 1994. The Heart of the Ngoni: Heroes of the African Kingdom of Segu. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.