"Western Africa 2012" story # 15

Bango, Senegal           July 20, 2012

And so, I returned from the baobabs of central Senegal to the northern village of Bango.
     I returned to my room in a cinder block building within a sand courtyard. The owner of this room, Modou Ndiaye, worked in tourism and was interested in birds and botany.
     He told me the local kids asked me for money, because French and Western tourists often gave it to them. It would be better, he said, if Westerners bought goats for the villagers.
     Modou spent little time in the village of Bango, actually. I was left alone to share my sand courtyard with its other inhabitants:
     ... a slim, young man who competed in Senegal's national sport - which resembled sumo wrestling. He was hard-working, sweet, and very muscular.
     ... a family who wore Muslim skull caps, owned a small shop, and seemed constantly in an unfriendly mood.
     ... a tree with wide-lobed, mango leaves and inedible fruits resembling green brains. The locals believed that if a person stepped on these puffy fruits in the morning, no harm could come to him that day.
     As I replenished my energy for the next push towards Guinea-Bissau, I returned to my custom of eating "rice with fish" in the home of Ayoub the Fisherman.
     Ayoub had recently seen three hippopotami, including a baby, while he was setting his net in the river. These dangerous animals could've swum under his wooden boat and flipped it over with their backs. Ayoub said that when he would go to retrieve his net, he would strike the side of his boat three times with a stick. If a hippopotamus was around, it would surely lift its head out of the water to see what the noise was.
     I often swam in this river. Kids swam here, too. The other day, I was alone in the peaceful river; a boy looked towards the mangroves and said, "L'hipopotame est la." (The hippopotamus is there.) Another boy, too young to speak French, walked by and pronounced: "Hi-po-pah-tah." I was sure these kids were just playing a joke on me. Nevertheless, I decided to cut my swim short.
     An English-speaking Senegalese man called the hippopotamus a "funny" animal. He told stories of women who banged on pots at the river's edge; the hippoes supposedly danced in the water. They blew water into the air. This man said, hippoes wanted to be happy.
     I had never seen a hippo dancing to women playing pots. I would've liked to. In Bango, I only got to see women dancing to men playing tam-tams.
     At around midnight in the center of the village, a band of a dozen men struck bongoes with sticks and smashed them with their bare hands. A hundred girls and women sat in a wide circle surrounding the band. They wore bright and colorful dresses, and were ready to dance. Young men and other non-dancers and I stood around them, listening, watching.
     Inspired by the music and courageous, a female or two got up and danced. She bent her knees inward and stomped. She waved her arms and elbows. She jumped and kicked her feet in awkward directions. A man holding a bright light came to shine it on her. She danced for five or fifteen seconds, shook her butt sassily to the beat of a drum, and raced to her seat.
     A slim, commanding vixen wore straight hair and a long black dress that sparkled with glitter. In her confining dress, she slowly twirled and jumped.
     A short girl wore a maroon-purple tanktop that struggled to hug her round breasts, and a red-and-black Hawaiian lei over this. Though I liked her for more superficial reasons, I also liked her because she had a lot of energy. She clapped when she wasn't dancing. Dancing, she jumped and sprayed her arms around as if she was trying to leap into the atmosphere.
     I liked this scene. The only things I didn't like were the fact that only one person danced at a time, and she had to do so with a bright light shown upon her.
     But, after watching enough girls hop and land at the exact moment the tam-tam drums were struck, I realized something. The dancers weren't following the music. The music was following the dancers!
     The dancing individuals began to control the band for longer periods of time. I would later be told that the drummers knew how each dancer danced.
     Everyone danced bare-foot. Two young men wearing white danced. One made high, kickboxing kicks to the smash of the drums. To "pass the dance" to his friend, he swung his butt in the other's direction.
     Girls made pelvic thrusts at the band. They performed the signature move of the "tahagon" (the name for this dance): they pointed their index fingers up in the air twice, then turned them downwards and tapped the air twice. This was accompanied by light racing beats and two flat notes. "Burreka, burreka! Tak, tak!"
     The awkward angles in which girls kicked up their legs probably had something to do with timing? The heights to which they jumped certainly did.
     Occasionally, a girl led the band very smoothly. When she finished her dance and ran towards her seat, a half dozen band members got up and chased her. They returned her to the center of the circle and made her dance more. A short-bowl-haired girl in a purple skirt and yellow t-shirt moved creatively, and she was forced to perform two long dances more than she'd planned.
     It must've been an amazing feeling, to control a band with your body movements.

There should've been more "tam-tam" parties in the days to come, but an old woman died in the village. She should've stepped on one of my green brains.
     As a result, all parties were canceled for a week.
     In spite of this, tam-tam drums could be heard in the village a few days later. Apparently, nobody told the "faux-lions" (false lions) their party was canceled.
     Bare-chested men had decorated their muscular bodies with: feathers; fake leopard and dalmation skins; shells; skunk tails and ferret skins; hot pink and neon green and white ruffly pants; and black-and-white facial paint. They were holding a man by his arm and hitting his back and forcing him to kiss a girl in the middle of the circle, when I first saw them. I'd been told the faux-lions "caught" people who hadn't bought tickets to their show. But, this was scarier than I'd expected!
     I sought to buy a ticket - quickly! The girl selling tickets approached me. At the same time, two faux-lions galloped towards me. Oh, no! I was cornered. One grabbed my wrist with his oily hand. He grunted. He showed me all his fingers. This meant I was to buy a ticket for 1,000 Francs ($2). This was four times the normal price. A man near me explained that the ticket cost 250 Francs, but if the faux-lion said I was to pay 1,000 Francs, then the ticket was a thousand Francs. I understood this very well.
     I bought my ticket and, along with kids who used to have 250 Francs, watched the show.
     The faux-lions jumped high, and the tam-tams crashed. The faux-lions straddled the air, and they bent their neon legs inward then outward. They lowered their bodies and snaked, while walking around the circle.
     Occasionally, these lurking lions exploded and sprinted after kids or young men. They brought their prey to the center of the circle. Using force when necessary, they made their victims kneel or lie down at their feet. They poured oily water from a tub on their victims.
     Other times, they simply made their victims dance.
     A young man dressed like an American rapper swayed from side to side, thrust his pelvis, and jumped high in the air. A faux-lion kicked him in the butt to say, "Be more creative. Try harder!"
     Another guy balanced on his tip-toes, maneuvered his body through the air as if swimming through a dense substance, thrust his arm downward, pointed his knees in and out. His body was a human song. And then, he stretched his arms out and slid his open chest through the air to slooow the band down.
     This was so cool.

"Burreka, burreka.
"Tak, tak!"
the Modern Oddyseus

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