Ma Parole S'achète: Money, Identity and Meaning in Malian Jeliya
This study argues that material compensation and caste status are essential to the signifying practice of Malian jeliw ("griots") and its continuing relevance. As Mande society's hereditary "masters of the word", jeliwÂ entrance their listeners with accounts of ancestors' heroic deeds, sometimes in the context of epic recitations and sometimes in popular song. These genealogical narratives function as praise in a society that understands descent as an essential constituent of personality. Indexing an imperial social order with inherited bonds of obligation between patron and client, this praise reproduces the status of the jeliw. Gifts of cash and goods to the jeliw on the occasions of these performances concretize the traditional obligations of nobles and, thus, realize the nobility of the givers. Material compensation makes jeli flattery true in ways it would not otherwise be. These gifts defy both the Maussian discussion of gifting and the Marxian analysis of commodity exchange. The jeliw's semiosis is performative in the sense that they help to create the historical imaginary to which their utterances refer. Thus, performances of jeli praise may help Malians to negotiate the marginalizing effects of globalization.
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The Anatomy of Jeli Praise
African amakalaw artists Baba Sissoko Babani Bakary Soumano Bakary’s Bamako Bamana baptism behavior Bubu Sali Camara cash caste chief clan names clients commodity concert Conrad and Frank context create culture depend described Diabaté Diarra discourse earned Ebron economic epic fact fasa father francs CFA French friends Fula gifts give griot guests Hale Hoffman hɔrɔn individuals Jansen Jarama jatigi jatigiya Jeli Baba Sissoko jeli exchange jeli families jeli praise jeli-jatigi jeli’s jelimuso jeliw jeliya Jiguiba Kamissoko Kandia Kouyaté Kangaba Keïta Kela Kela Bala kind knowledge Kouyaté lineage Mali Mali’s Malian maloya Mamadou Diawara Mande Massa Makan Diabaté meaning Mory Soumano N’Diaye narrative noble obligation one’s ORTM past patrons payment performance person political praise-singing production radio recitation reference relations relationship reputation role Salif Keïta Segu sing singer society someone song Soninké speech status Sunjata symbolic capital texts tion tɔn traditional women Yamuru