Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic, and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

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Putnam, 1994 - Body, Mind & Spirit - 311 pages
90 Reviews
"Malidoma, whose name means "be friends with the stranger/enemy," was born under the shadow of French colonial rule in Upper Volta, West Africa. When he was four years old, he was taken by a Jesuit priest and imprisoned in a seminary built for training a new generation of "black" Catholic priests. In spite of his isolation from his tribe and his village, Malidoma stubbornly refused to forget where he had come from and who he was." "Finally, fifteen years later, Malidoma fled the seminary and walked 125 miles through the dense jungle back to his own people, the Dagara. Once he was home, however, many there regarded him as a "white black," to be looked on with suspicion because he had been contaminated by the "sickness" of the colonial world. Malidoma was a man of two worlds, at home in neither." "His only hope of reconnection with his people was to undergo the harrowing Dagara monthlong initiation in the wilderness, which he describes in fascinating detail. Malidoma emerged from this supernatural ritual a newly integrated individual, rejoined to his ancestral past and his cultural present." "For more than a century, anthropologists and ethnologists have attempted to penetrate the worldview of indigenous peoples. Now a true son of Africa has come forth, with the permission of his tribal elders, to tell us with stunning candor about their way of life." "Today Malidoma flys the jetways writing on his laptop computer, seeking to share the ancient wisdom of the Dagara with the rest of the world and bring an understanding of another way of life to his village. His book is a courageous testament to the hope that humanity can learn to live in a global village and see the "stranger" as a friend."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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A Review by A. Ayinibisah Ayelah
Only a descendant of a man who had the audacity to declare that he was capable of preventing the sun from setting could write a book like this telling of the powers
of African Traditional belief systems without revealing its secrets. In reading Malidoma Patrice Some’s OF WATER AND THE SPIRIT - RITUAL, MAGIC, AND INITIATION IN THE LIFE OF AN AFRICAN SHAMAN, I am reminded of a legendary sibling argument that forced two brothers to abandon a land they claimed as their own to found their individual respective new lands one to the East and the other to the West. It is fascinating to read a book written by a cousin of mine who I have finally met and despite centuries of separation, are still so attached to each other as if the argument between our ancestors happened yesterday. Like Malidoma, I know our ancestors were spiritually powerful. They challenged each other in traditional spiritualism one daring to prevent the sun from rising upon his arrival to the East and other daring to prevent the sun from setting upon his arrival to the West. This type of challenge is similar to what Malidoma calls lobie in Dagara. In Gurune, it is lobe. Only people who had undergone the type of initiation Malidoma and his peers went through could confidently express themselves with such authority. Keep in mind that these brothers knew they were talking about the Sun God or Re (Ra) which they called Naayinne by the Gurunsi (Frafra) or Nawe by the Birifor. Our ancestors had the audacity to say the unthinkable or the unimaginable because they had passed through the spiritual realm and survived. Death was no longer anything they were afraid of.
A little history is appropriate. As a child growing up, I heard Gurunsi or the misnomer Frafra people hounding Dagarti or Dagara people for a mythical dog head the Dargarti supposedly owed them. Each claim always ended up with a denial without appeals. There were never hard-feelings expressed but rather friendly embraces or hugs.
Legend has it that the Dagarti or Dagara and the Gurunsi were brothers living happily together in one compound but as separate heads of households. One day they performed traditional prayers which included the sacrifice of a dog. After the meat was cooked and the second sacrifice or prayers were offered to the deities with food, the head of the dog was drilled into a pike of the tip of the Zangala in Dagari and Zonjo in Gurune. It would stay there overnight to be brought down and used for another prayer the following morning and then cut and shared among the men, boys and also to girls who are yet to reach puberty. But something strange happened the following morning. When the family woke up the dog’s head was nowhere to be found. Using Maldidoma and myself as our Ancestors, Malidoma accused my children of eating the dog’s head. Offended by the accusation, I defended my children but rather retaliated by accusing Malidoma’s children for the theft. Unable to understand each other and none admitting or accepting guilt, the brothers decided they could no longer live together. Even the land they had lived all this while had to be abandoned entirely if the brothers had to survive with their families. That was when my ancestor, the Gurunsi told his brother, the Dagara or Malidoma’s ancestor that he the Gurunja was heading East and upon his arrival, would prevent the sun from rising. In reply, Malidoma’s ancestor told his brother to do what pleased him but he the Dagara was heading West and upon his arrival, he would prevent the sun from setting.
Now let me get back to Malidoma’s Of Water and Spirit. I have read many books written by Africans and descendants of enslaved Africans in the Diaspora including Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, Philosophy Podium by Naba Lamousa Morodenibig just to mention a few. This is the first time I have read a book that has a narrative so revealing of myself and so close to my heart.
I have never seen the dead rise with my naked eyes even though I have heard how

Review: Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman

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This book is a real treasure. Malidoma is an indigenous medicine man of the Dagara tribe in Africa, who was kidnapped at a young age by the Jesuits and forced to learn to speak and write in Frech ... Read full review

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About the author (1994)

Malidoma Patrice Some taught literature at the University of Michigan.

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