Segu by Maryse Conde
Using specific illustrations from Maryse Conde's novel Segu, this is an essay that discusses how the coming of Islam to Bambar society affected that people's traditional, political, social and economic practices as well as challenging the Bambaras' religious beliefs.
Before the arrival of Islam, Segu and its people, the Bambaras, were extremely different world from what they became under Islamic rule. The Bambaras were proud people with a long history in farming, and the wealthy ones worked with hundreds of slaves and planted millet, cotton and fonio (p. 4). Their currency was cowrie shells and gold dust, and they hadn't even heard of money, which came with the white man. With the coming of Islam, manufactured goods from Europe and North Africa were making their way into Bambara households (p. 324). Conde described it: "It was not unusual to see well-born young men in boots bought from some trader. Many families had silver dishes in their huts, and the Mansa proudly displayed to his friends a service of fine Chinese porcelain that he never actually used." Fetishists, they turned to all manner of objects and all manner of gods to assure their good fortune. For example, Dousika used a tooth twig to increase his physical strength and sexual potency (p. 3). As Sira gave birth, Nya ordered plants be burned to drive away the evil spirts and help the milk come (p. 11).
Much of life was extremely magical, as evidenced in the way Tiekoro reacted when he first saw a man write with a pencil. The animist world of Segu was rocked when the Muslim religion took over. Segu was steeped in the traditions of story telling and the griot's song was the way the society passed on its news and traditions. The Muslim religion looks down orality, while the spoken word has its mythology in Baharan culture. As Cilas Kemedijo explains in The Curse of Writing: Genealogical Strata of a Disillusion: Orality, Islam-writing, and Identities in the State of Becoming in Maryse Conde's "Segou," (Kemedijo, pp. 124), "The progressive placement of elements of a cultural, ethnic, and symbolic confrontation between the two worlds operates throughout the exchange between Tiekoro Traore, child of the spoken word, and the imam of the mosque of Somonos. The narrator subtly presents Allah's disciple as the same age as Tiekoro's father. Their belonging to the same age-group suggests a possibility of rivalry between the two "fathers," with Tiekoro, the son, as the stakes. The two paternal references pertain to Segovian and Muslim cultures. Tiekoro emphasizes his social and political genealogy: he is the son of Dousika Traore, a yerewolo, whose genealogy is lost in time. By defining himself through his father's lineage, Tiekoro obliges the other father to prove himself worthy of assuming virtual paternity. This challenge to paternity will be seen as an invention of the written word; that is, in order to keep score in the ongoing silent, symbolic...